It was a proud moment for the Saskatchewan soccer community on Tuesday as Saskatoon’s Brett Levis made his debut with the Whitecaps FC first team. Not only that, but he came in against an English Premier League team as the ‘Caps faced Crystal Palace FC. Levis impressed, recording an assist on the tying goal from Kendall Waston.
While the province enjoys the success of Levis, the next Saskatchewan prospect is already emerging.
Next month, Whitecaps FC Saskatchewan Academy goalkeeper Thomas Hasal will move to Vancouver to join the ‘Caps U-18s in the full-time professional Residency program – one step away from the pro ranks where Levis is currently playing.
"It's an amazing opportunity," says Hasal. "It's not just big for me, but for everyone from my coaches, to teammates. We have all been working hard for this."
Hasal - who has been a part of the Saskatchewan Soccer Association provincial team program, including the 2015 Western Canada Games team - was one of the first players in the 'Caps Saskatchewan academy when it came to town in 2013. He describes his game as commanding and vocal, which are important traits for a goalkeeper.
“He is very determined,” said Whitecaps FC Saskatchewan head coach Bryce Chapman. “He has really bought in to making this a reality.”
Like a number of prospects, Hasal persevered and improved before earning his opportunity.
"It doesn't always happen overnight," noted Whitecaps FC Residency goalkeeper coach Raegyn Hall. "Thomas had been in on trial with us two to three times before getting the offer to join us this coming season. After each visit, he took the feedback and went home to Saskatchewan to get back to work. This may not be the case for everyone, but it shows that the pathway works, and it’s a real chance for players to earn a spot in the club."
Hasal joins a very talented group of Whitecaps FC Residency players. This past season, the U-18s made it to their second United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) championship game – the final two teams out of 74 to start the season. They ultimately fell 2-1 in extra time to fellow MLS academy side FC Dallas, but Hasal was impressed by the tempo and energy of the 'Caps.
Many of those players are graduating from the program, but an equally talented crop of U-16 players will move up to the U-18 level. Hall sees Hasal fitting right in.
"Thomas has created a strong foundation with his time in Saskatchewan. He is eager to learn and very coachable. Technically, he is a good shot stopper, and aggressive and confident in one-v-one situations."
The idea is that with the internal competition that players face every day in training, it will challenge them to reach their full potential. Among his teammates on the U-18 team will be fellow goalkeeper Aidan Aylward, who came up large on several occasions during the academy final four, including a last-minute highlight reel stop (in the link below).
With coaches like Hall, Mike Norris, and MLS goalkeeper coach Marius Rovde, Hasal joins an esteemed Goalkeeper Union at the club. He will have the opportunity to study one of the best goalkeepers in MLS in David Ousted, who he said "makes hard saves look easy."
"The Goalkeeper Union at this club is so strong, top to bottom, because the keepers aspire to be as good or better than their predecessors," noted Hall. "They feel positive pressure from their peers to be better day in and day out, and they push each other to be the best they can be."
Chapman is confident his young Saskatchewan Academy product will continue to push himself as he moves up to the next level in Vancouver.
“He has a maturity about him, a presence on the field and professionalism in his training,” tells Chapman. “He was extremely happy to get this opportunity, but it has actually pushed him more in training now. He now sees the opportunity that sits in front of him.”
Hasal is another player benefiting from the ‘Caps vast academy network – stretching from coast to coast.
“You can only rely so much on video,” said Whitecaps FC Residency recruitment officer Frank Ciaccia. “With the country being so big, you count on trusted people. Our academy centres and coaches are invaluable to track who is progressing.”
No longer is it a long shot dream for a talented Saskatchewan player to follow a path to pro soccer. There’s ample opportunity to find the next Brett Levis, or the next Thomas Hasal.
“I think this is going to motivate players, but also show our Saskatchewan soccer community that it is realistic for our players to strive for these opportunities beyond our borders,” notes Chapman. “Sometimes it may seem so far away, but now we have two cases from a small province that have made this step, in Brett and Thomas. This gives young players role models and goals that they can relate to and chase now. It makes the game they play exciting.”