Back in 2014, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and BC Soccer took on a Regional EXCEL Centre (REX), collaborating with Canada Soccer in their efforts to produce the next generation of stars for Canada Women’s National Team. Young talents from across British Columbia were given a direct pipeline to the highest level.
On Tuesday, that partnership stepped up another notch as the ‘Caps program with BC Soccer now becomes a Super REX Centre, welcoming some of the best players from not only the province, but across the country, to attend school, train, and play together daily.
It’s the next evolution in a strategy that is already paying dividends.
“Players that are in that system, you know there’s a foundation of technical, tactical, and physical development that’s being laid,” describes John Herdman, Canada Soccer Women’s National Team head coach. “So when you bring a player in, you already have a sense of certain things they’re going to bring.”
In addition to the BC REX program, Canada Soccer now benefits from a standardized national curriculum in provinces from coast-to-coast, which includes participation from Whitecaps FC provincial partners in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia.
From REX, players who have been developed through their provincial centre are moved along the pathway and selected for the National EXCEL (NEX) program to compete with Canada’s youth national teams.
The BC REX program recently saw seven players called into Canada’s U-17 and U-20 national teams for trips to China and Australia, as part of NEX. Those BC players will soon be joined by six more of their national teammates from those tournaments, challenging each other year round in the Super REX set-up.
“The reason why we added this extra tier was that we felt we really needed to push our NEX players to another level,” notes Joey Lombardi, Canada Soccer’s REX director. “This provides an intense, best with best environment, and allows us to better centralize and track players.”
Lombardi travels across the country for player evaluations, course development, and quality assurance. He’s supported by two former Canadian national team stars in Carmelina Moscato and Rhian Wilkinson, who act as regional EXCEL talent managers and do quarterly visits to each centre.
“It’s allowed us to get a better handle on our player identification system,” explained Lombardi. “Now centralizing to Super REX, we can see like-minded, driven, and talented players competing together. That gives us a better evaluation as we look to move players into the National EXCEL system.”
Three years in, the Whitecaps FC BC REX program has already pushed striker Jordyn Huitema into the senior national team, and at just 16-years-old. Earlier this month, she made Canada Soccer history by becoming the first player to score for the U-17, U-20, and senior national teams in one calendar year.
“REX helped accelerate her development because of the amount of hours and daily training she’s received as part of the program,” tells Lombardi. “Having lived in a high performance environment has made her better prepared for the senior environment.”
The ultimate goal, as has been repeated, is to develop more players by design, not by chance.
And with increasing standards and common goals, that design is starting to produce for Canada’s Women’s National Team.