VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC have seven Canadians on their MLS roster.
Two of them, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese, call Manitoba home. And with the launch of a full-time, fully-funded Whitecaps FC school program in the province, the hope is that there will be more to come.
Starting this fall, Manitoba will be home to Whitecaps FC Boys Residency Prospects and Girls Elite REX Prospects programs in partnership with the Manitoba Soccer Association (MSA).
The goal is two-fold: to enhance the future of soccer in Manitoba and to build a pipeline to Whitecaps FC – the top players in Manitoba will filter into the ‘Caps Residency and Girls Elite REX teams programs based in Vancouver.
As far as Whitecaps FC Academy Centre director/head coach Bart Choufour is concerned, it’s a win-win for both the ‘Caps and the MSA.
“I think it’s really exciting to have our first out-of-province partnership with a provincial association,” Choufour told whitecapsfc.com. “They really believe in our philosophy and methodology and they want the best for their players. And it’s really good for us as well. Certainly, it promotes our brand and it’s really good for scouting and development.”
“For us, it’s a no brainer,” added MSA technical director Marinos Papageorgopoulos, who will serve as Whitecaps FC Manitoba head coach. “We’re recognized by the Canadian Soccer Association as the governing body for Manitoba so our responsibilities lies within the CSA’s pathway. And it’s clearly defined within the CSA’s pathway that the pro clubs are the environment we want to get our best players in for our country to continue to have success at the professional level and the national level.”
It’s not by chance that this is happening in Manitoba, either. It’s a market that is hungry for soccer.
Don’t believe it? Consider this: over 28,000 fans attended last year’s friendly between the Canadian women’s national team and the U.S. at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field. Winnipeg is also leading the country in terms of ticket sales per capita for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup.
And as the ‘Caps have seen with Bustos and Froese, it’s a market with no shortage of talent.
There are several players from Manitoba currently in the Residency program, including U-16 striker Daniel Sagno, who has a team-high 14 goals so far this season. The others are recently-acquired U-16 midfielder Georges Mukumbilwa, U-18 midfielder Ali Musse, and U-18 defender Andre Baires.
“It’s a proven ground,” said Whitecaps FC Residency technical director Craig Dalrymple. “The beauty of this program is that it enables us to identify players younger, track them for longer, and probably most importantly influence them in terms of training, playing habits, and some of the philosophies that we drive into players early here in Vancouver.”
Further to that point, Dalrymple said the Whitecaps FC Manitoba coaches will be fully briefed on what the ‘Caps are looking for in terms of on-field playing habits like passing/receiving, one-on-one attacking and defending, and similar traits. And as we’ve seen with the first team, the club places a massive focus on a player’s intelligence and character.
“It will be a first screen for us with coaches and staff that understand the type of players and people we’re looking for,” Dalrymple added. “And if they do well there, then of course we’ll bring them into Vancouver for an extended look. For us, it’s just going to enhance our identification of players in that region.”
Already, young players from Manitoba strive towards playing for Whitecaps FC, according to Bustos. The Winnipeg native speaks from experience.
“For sure,” Bustos said. “I mean, Kianz and I strived to be here. And now that there’s going to be an affiliation … every kid there that wants to be a pro will want to come through the Whitecaps. Having a program like this in Central Canada is a big step to something great in this country.”
“Having a program like this in Central Canada is a big step to something great in this country.” - Bustos
This is just another example of Whitecaps FC expanding their footprint across Western Canada. The club already has an Academy Centre established in Saskatchewan and it’s very much starting to serve its purpose. For example, the Saskatchewan Academy recently had one of their young talents join up with Whitecaps FC Pre-Residency for a Canada Soccer national U-15 identification competition.
And according to Choufour, this is just the beginning.
“Absolutely,” he said. “And it’s not only for scouting purposes. It’s also that we really believe in our philosophy and methodology to develop players. If we can touch more and more areas with that, I think it will really help the development of soccer in Canada, which will in turn benefit our MLS team and the Canadian national teams. It’s a win, win, win.”
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