BY IAN WALKER
Bob Lenarduzzi is walking the grounds at John Oliver Park just off Highway 91 in East Delta, his eyes squinting in the bright sunlight as he surveys the future home of the National Soccer Development Centre.
Over there, the Vancouver Whitecaps president points, will be a state-of-the-art training facility, clubhouse, player’s lounge and medical facilities. And over there, his arm moving in a wide arc to his west, the fields. There’ll be seven in total, two of which will be exclusively for community use — including soccer, rugby and football — while the other five will be primarily for Whitecaps player development.
There will be mix of grass and turf, more of the former than the latter, and at least half of the fields will have lights.
There will also be a community clubhouse independent of the main two-storey structure, and it’s hoped that one of the four lit fields will be covered.
These are still only plans at this point, Lenarduzzi cautions, with final approval still needed. But ideally, the $31.5-million project — a partnership between the Whitecaps, the provincial government and the Corporation of Delta — will be complete by the fall of 2010, before the start of the Major League Soccer season. Still, Lenarduzzi can’t help but think, “if only.”
“We had Everton all lined up to come here, but they’re going to Seattle because we didn’t have anywhere for them to train,” he says, of the historic English Premiership side.
“They were here for a site visit and I had nowhere to show them that was up to their standards. They would have been here training for five or six days, including an exhibition game against us. Instead, they’re heading two hours down the road for five days, and they’re not even playing a game there.”
Lenarduzzi playfully kicks the grass, showing a glimpse of the form that made him a household name in this country.
“I hate it — I just hate it,” he continues. “If only we had something like this already we’d be playing the sixth-place club in the Premiership at Swangard Stadium this summer. Imagine. It would have been an incredibly intimate atmosphere, never mind the other things having them here would have allowed us to do. We would have had them here training and been able to pick the brains of one of the most storied sides in soccer. These are things we won’t miss out on in the future.”
More than that, the facility will also be available for use by our struggling national teams, which often are cap in hand looking for training grounds. There’s nary a facility in all of Canada like the one the Whitecaps have planned. And no other place in the country holds the climate advantages of the Lower Mainland.
He’s cautious of saying too much at this juncture, but the Canadian Soccer Association’s Peter Montopoli is confident the centre will prove to be a valued commodity and will only help the country in its quest to join soccer’s elite. It’s been more than two decades since the Canadian men’s team competed at the World Cup.
“We need more formal discussions, but in general, for the sport, having another training centre is only beneficial,” says Montopoli, the CSA’s general secretary. “Anything that enhances the sport is good for the game. The Whitecaps and provincial government should be applauded and we look forward to working with them in terms of where the national concept will fit in.”
Provincially, the facility’s reach goes far beyond B.C.’s 120,000 registered players.
“In terms of impact, from a coaching, refereeing and player development [perspective] … the pros are endless,” says B.C. Soccer Association president Bjorn Osieck. “Not to mention the possibility of hosting provincial championships and other tournaments. It’s an immensely exciting time at the grassroots level. I see a lot of extensive effects. It truly appears the vision is sound and diverse, with the Whitecaps inviting all aspects rather than it being a singular focus.”
Osieck shares in Lenarduzzi’s frustration of not having something like this already in place.
“It’s unfortunate and embarrassing to hear about Everton — it’s a sad side note,” he says. “Once again, it speaks to the ambition of the Whitecaps.”
The B.C. Liberals have committed $17.5 million towards the project, with the Whitecaps and Delta sharing the remaining cost.
The defending United Soccer Leagues First Division Whitecaps will join MLS in 2011, with a major perk being the guarantee of international friendlies. The Seattle Sounders, who just began play in North America’s premiere soccer loop this season, have a pair of games lined up with powerhouses Chelsea and Barcelona this summer.
“Look at the Sounders, they have Chelsea and Barcelona coming to town and there’s
going to be more than 68,000 people watching,” said Lenarduzzi. “That’s the same Seattle team we were playing a year ago. So a facility like this, it’s not just the MLS that’s on the horizon, it’s the sport globally. We’re going to get in on the game at that level.”
Better late than never.
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