It’s been a whirlwind few months for the Whitecaps FC Girls Elite program, who joined League1 BC for the inaugural season this year.
After an action packed slate of matches against some really good teams, the young ‘Caps emerged to qualify for the championship match against Varsity FC – fittingly scheduled by the league on BC Day, this coming Monday, August 1 at Swangard Stadium (kickoff at 1 p.m. PT for the women’s final and 4 p.m. PT for the men’s final, tickets at tickettailor.com/events/league1bc/727922).
“It’s a great opportunity for the girls to compete in a final,” said head coach Katie Collar. “Not a lot of players or teams get to compete in a championship game, and they’ve been able to do it in their inaugural season. So it’s a pretty cool opportunity and we’re just excited to see what we can do.”
The ‘Caps, though a known name, were not necessarily the favourites to reach the title tilt. Coming in with the youngest group and facing accomplished players at the university, and even national team level, was never going to be easy. But they grew throughout each match.
“I think it's been a great season,” added Collar. “Coming in, I think everybody had questions around how the team is so young and how they were going to do and there wasn't necessarily a lot of expectations put on results, versus some of the development pieces or outcomes that we were looking at. As the season got started and progressed, we saw what the young players were capable of.”
While they started the season undefeated, their biggest challenge came with the departure of their oldest players preparing for their freshmen seasons at university, leaving the group with 17, 16 and even 15, or 14-year-old players.
“I’m proud of the young ones that have now stepped up when we said goodbye to our grade twelves. We obviously missed them and wish them well, but it's been a really good opportunity and learning for not just the kids, but also for me.”
That competition for the young players has been key, with a number of them pushing to earn a spot on Canada’s roster at the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup in India this fall. For Collar, the level of the league has been exactly what they’ve needed.
“I think that the overall level has been fantastic. A number of teams have done a great job of putting together a group of experienced players who have great attributes, not just at the university level, whether it's here in Canada or the NCAA, but also at the international level. So, that’s been great for our young players that could be going into a U-17 World Cup soon, and some of our younger ones that are currently in Florida with our U-15 national team. It's been a really high standard and has been able to push them and challenge them to get to that next level and prepare them properly.”
Collar is looking forward to a tough match against Varsity FC, who took both matches during the regular season. And she’s familiar with head coach Jesse Symons – who also leads the UBC women’s soccer team – during her time as an assistant coach at the University of Calgary.
“Varsity is a fantastic side. Jesse’s done a great job building that group. They’re organized, they’re an attacking threat from multiple sides of the field. They don’t just have one player that is their superstar, they’ve got multiple. So they’re hard to beat, hard to score on, solid backline. So I expect a great game and a good challenge.”
After watching the club win a trophy at BC Place on Tuesday, Collar is excited for what Monday’s match can mean to her young team.
“I think it would be unbelievable to have that moment as a group and just the memories created. The ability to get through some of the adversity would mean a lot to the players and it would really be such a credit to all of the work that they've done this season to get to this point. It would just validate that the young players are ready, they're good enough, and that we need to believe in them.”
As for the future of League1 BC and women’s soccer in Canada, Collar is excited for what’s ahead.
“I think that the league can only get better. It's been a fantastic first year and all of the clubs have learned and have taken things away from this season. The amount of fans that some of the teams have got out, the settings they've created, the atmosphere from TSS at Swangard, Altitude in North Van, there's been some really, really cool things to build off of. From a Canadian perspective, I think this year is a pivotal moment because we now have the three leagues that have come together for League1 Canada from BC, Ontario, and Quebec. In Alberta, we've got the two UWS franchises in Calgary Foothills and St. Albert and the success that they had this year in that league. The country is moving towards the readiness to have a women's league.”