Residency celebration 2012
Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Atlantic leaders thrilled with player pathway, look to follow in hockey's success

“Understand the opportunity that moving into a professional club is.”

That’s the advice from Liam Elbourne, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia and a member of the Whitecaps FC Residency program in Vancouver from 2012 to 2013.

On Monday, the club announced partnerships with the provincial governing bodies of three Atlantic Provinces: Soccer Nova Scotia (SNS), the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association (NLSA), and the Prince Edward Island Soccer Association (PEISA). Together, Whitecaps FC will work with each province to create a professional development pathway from coast to coast.

Elbourne said that he was “over the moon” to hear about the ‘Caps coming to the other side of the country.

Today, he is thriving in his return home as a member of the St. Francis Xavier University men’s soccer team. He just returned from a month-long trip to Vancouver where he caught up with ‘Caps midfielder Kianz Froese who was a teammate in the Residency program, his former billet house mate, and now one of his closest friends. He also saw the likes of Gordon Forrest, now first team assistant coach and head of high performance and formerly one of Elbourne’s coaches in the Residency program. 

Elbourne (far right) with former Residency teammates Kianz Froese (far left), Sean Melvin (middle), and Nicholas Prasad (second from right)

It’s clear from Elbourne that he looks back on his time in Vancouver fondly.

“The club finds the best players they can from across the country and puts them on a field together every single day,” says Elbourne. “That in itself is remarkable.”

While Liam found his way into the professional system, others in his shoes haven’t always had that opportunity.

“This is one of the main reasons why the partnership was pursued,” tells Soccer Nova Scotia director of high performance Graham Chandler. “Some players never really got a chance to display their talent at the highest level. In Atlantic Canada, hockey players have more than one high performance pathway to follow, now soccer players who are dedicated to the extent that they want and select to pursue this stream will have that opportunity afforded to them."

And Nova Scotians aren't the only ones who've felt that way.

“I believe a large number of players from PEI have slipped through the cracks,” added Lewis Page, the province’s manager of high performance. “We have always lacked the ability to expose them and move them in to the next level.”

Pathways. It sounds simple enough, but it can be hard to achieve.

“The ceiling is different for every player,” tells Elbourne. “Unless you move on to bigger things before that point, it can greatly stunt a player's development."

Newfoundland and Labrador player development director Mike Power called the opportunity to work with the ‘Caps player pathway a “no brainer”, with the club having had more than 40 players called up to Canadian national teams in the past year alone.

“The Whitecaps have a reputation for being the clear leaders of player development in Canada,” said Power. “We could not have wished for a more professional and productive partner. The club services both male and female players, and are a key figure in the Canadian soccer landscape from player and coaching development, right up to providing talent for Canadian national teams.”

All three provinces agreed that beyond just creating a pathway for players, it’s the coaching education and development that will instill longer term benefits.

“The training, knowledge, and experience they will be able to share with us will be incredibly valuable,” added Page.

Power referred to the partnership as a “game changer” for the local soccer community.

“Talent exists everywhere, but at the end of the day it's the environment and the exposure of that talent that will determine how far a player will go. With this partnership, a player has every opportunity to go as far as their talent and hard work will take them.”

Nova Scotian hockey star Nathan MacKinnon juggling a soccer ball with his Colorado Avalanche teammates before an NHL game

Development of course takes time, results won’t necessarily be immediate. But in time, each province sees a ripple effect for the future.

“It would be historic for us to have a player from PEI represent Canada and play in MLS,” tells Page. “I believe with this partnership with Whitecaps FC we can make that history a reality.”

Chandler added that Nova Scotians have seen the impact that NHL stars Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, and Brad Marchand have had on the development and popularity of hockey in the province. Similarly, PEI has had Brad Richards, and Newfoundland and Labrador have produced Dan Cleary and Michael Ryder. The Atlantic Provinces all now see an opportunity to produce future national team and professional players in soccer.

“That’s the dream isn’t it,” summed up Power. “To see a Newfoundlander playing at the highest level of professional soccer, in Canada, would hopefully beat down the door for more to follow.”

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