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WHERE HE WAS: Bruce Wilson was born in Vancouver and grew up in Burnaby, where he played his youth soccer.
Following high school, Wilson attended the University of British Columbia (UBC), graduating with a teaching degree. During that time he played locally for Vancouver side Columbus Clan FC. He was on the path to begin his teaching career when his life was changed forever in 1974.
“I had been offered a job teaching when the new Vancouver Whitecaps team offered me a trial,” remembers Wilson. “After the trial I was offered a contract to become a professional soccer player in my hometown, which I could not refuse – even though I felt bad having to turn down the teaching job, as a number of people went to bat for me to get the job.”
Around that same time, Wilson was also called up to play for Canada’s men’s national team, starting the journey on an illustrious career.
Wilson was on the field for the ‘Caps in their first ever match vs. San Jose Earthquakes on May 5, 1974. After making his debut, the local star made 92 appearances at left back for Whitecaps FC, scoring four goals.
“The first game was obviously special playing in front of a big crowd and many family and friends,” recalled Wilson. “But the game in 1977 against New York Cosmos in front of 30,000 fans, which we won 5-3, really turned it around for the Whitecaps. The team was made up of mostly Canadians and after that game it really turned the page for our organization.”
WHERE HE WENT: In 1977 Wilson was traded to Chicago Sting, making 60 appearances over two seasons in 1978 and 1979. Following that, the gritty defender moved to the star-studded New York Cosmos in 1980
“Playing in Chicago was great, but the year in New York was really special playing with great players like World Cup winners Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto,” tells Wilson.
To conclude his career, Wilson played four seasons with Toronto Blizzard. “I got to the Soccer Bowl twice with the Blizzard, with the one in 1983 being at BC Place where again I got to play a big game in my hometown,” remembers Wilson.
The highlight of Wilson's career came in 1986 as he captained Canada to their first and only appearance at the FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
“It was a proud moment for me to play and captain my country on the biggest stage,” says Wilson. “One moment I will always remember is the press conference after the game against France, who were one of the favourites to win the World Cup. A journalist asked French captain Michel Platini how it was possible they only beat Canada 1-0, which he replied ‘you have to give Canada credit on the day and we are very happy that we won’. That filled me with pride coming from one of the best players in the world playing on one of the best teams in the world.”
Overall, Wilson made 51 appearances for his country between 1975 and 1986, including the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles where the team made it to the quarterfinals before losing out to Brazil on penalty kicks.
WHERE HE IS NOW: Wilson has left a lasting legacy in the Canadian soccer landscape. In 1990 he was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame, in 2000 into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, and in 2003 into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame. In 2004 he was given the FIFA Centennial Award of Merit, and in 2012 he was named to the Canadian Soccer Association’s All-Time Canada XI team.
And he’s still a part of the soccer scene today. Upon retiring an opportunity came along to become head coach of the University of Victoria men’s soccer program. Wilson took hold of the opportunity and has called UVic home for the past 26 years. In that time, he has coached the Vikes to three Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) National Championship titles (1996, 2004, 2011), and nine Canada West conference titles (1987, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009). He has twice been recognized as CIS Coach of the Year (1991, 1996) and Canada West Coach of the Year for a record nine times (1991, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2011).
“I love my job and it is great to help these young men grow and to see some of them make it in the professional game,” says Wilson proudly. “I am blessed to still be involved in the game. And I never did get to use my teaching degree.”
Maybe not in the classroom, but certainly on the field.