Earlier this month Vancouver Whitecaps FC held what has become a rather unique event among professional soccer clubs – the Academy Centres High Potential Player (HPP) Camp, bringing many of the country’s young talent together.
Over 110 athletes – 55 boys and 58 girls – were selected from across the club’s nationwide Whitecaps FC BMO Academy System to participate in a week of training, match play, learning, and evaluation in Vancouver.
“The High Potential Prospects Camp is one of three players identification camps that we hold throughout the youth calendar year,” explains Marinos Papageorgopoulos, Whitecaps FC BMO Academy Centres head coach. “It mainly focuses on 14-15 year old players from across our network. Our head coaches, partnerships and affiliations on the ground identify these players and they get sent in to Vancouver to spend a week with us, for us to get to know them and understand them. We then identify a handful of them to come back for Phase Two and Phase Three. The ultimate goal is for the player to be invited to our full-time, fully funded Boys MLS Academy and Girls Elite REX programs.”
Players and coaches came from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and as far as Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island.
“Ultimately it allows the player to measure him or herself with every other player in the country [from the Whitecaps FC BMO Academy System] to see where they stand on the scale of their ability to move on to the next level. Sometimes players come here and are humbled, and sometimes players come here and are inspired. Other times players come here and feel that they are really close and go back and push for the next step to get better.”
While the ‘Caps have partnered on regional programs with provincial and local associations throughout Canada, and hired nationally and UEFA licensed coaches in those areas, the competition within each market can only push players so far.
“They are all in certain environments, but they can’t get in their local communities the kind of environment that they get here,” said Bart Choufour, Whitecaps FC Pre-MLS Academy head coach. “Bringing these players together and having them compete with each other is invaluable. We’re looking at every single player that is in this camp to improve, and I think that we have accomplished that.”
“For us it’s great, coming from Nova Scotia we don’t get this kind of exposure at this level,” added Matt Holton, talent development coach for Soccer Nova Scotia. “It’s a huge country, geography is a huge issue. But to be able to bring players from all over that would otherwise get lost in the system I think is a great positive for the Whitecaps.”
Players from these communities will hope to sign a pro contract like Saskatoon's Thomas Hasal or Winnipeg's Georges Mukumbilwa, and to make their mark in MLS like Ottawa's Theo Bair and Edmonton's Alphonso Davies. They will look to represent Canada at a U-17 World Cup semifinal like Calgary's Andersen Williams and Chilliwack's Jordyn Huitema.
In the end though, coaches and club staff are not looking to sell any false dreams or promises. They make it clear in their presentations and evaluations that very few players will in fact progress to the professional level, no less all to the first team of one professional club. What they do want each player to do is benefit from the experience and continue to strive for their personal best.