With several players with BC ties heading to the World Cup later this month and a new professional football team set to launch in Vancouver, those involved in the sport say BC football is booming.
When the Canadian men embark on their first World Cup quest in 36 years later this month in Qatar, the province will be represented by Vancouver Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini, with local talent Joel Waterman also hoping be part of the team.
“For me, it’s honestly an honor. It will be an honor to play for our country. Playing a World Cup is huge,” Cavallini said.
Alongside the World Cup campaign – which is also set to feature former Whitecaps Alphonso Davies – the future of soccer in British Columbia is growing with the launch of Vancouver FC, a new professional soccer team that will play in the Canadian Premier League from 2023.
The “Golden Age” of Canadian Soccer
According to those connected with youth soccer, all of these factors are contributing to increased interest in the sport in British Columbia.
Jason Elligott, executive director of BC Soccer, said nearly 117,000 players are registered with clubs across the province, marking a five-year high.
Elligott could not pinpoint the reason for the increase, but he wrote in an email that “having local professional teams and clubs is a great way to generate interest in football which could lead to more players to play”.
Jeff Clarke is Technical Director of Surrey United, one of BC’s largest soccer clubs, overseeing over 2,000 youth and adults.
He says the club has seen a slight increase in enrollment over the past year.
“I think [it’s that] a lot of those kids can actually reach out and touch some of those opportunities, or see some of those professionals in their cities,” he said of the heightened interest. “And that’s part of the development and the growth… In terms of the national team and how well they’re doing. This is clearly the golden age of Canadian soccer. »
Homegrown talent from British Columbia to Qatar
It also helps that a former Surrey United player was called up to play for the Canadian men’s team.
Joel Waterman grew up playing soccer in the Lower Mainland, notably for Langley United and Surrey United SC, and is now a defender at CF Montreal.
Waterman, 26, played in Canada’s men’s pre-tournament friendly against Bahrain on Friday. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
The news that Waterman cracked the roster comes as no surprise to Clarke, who coached him as a teenager.
“He was a great kid to coach, one of the best players on the pitch. As a coach, you enjoyed every minute you spent with him,” he said.
“Joel was going to make it, whether it’s Surrey United or any other club… We’re incredibly proud and grateful that he chose Surrey United. It’s very humbling.”
Canada will announce its official World Cup roster on Sunday, 10 days before the opener against Belgium.
As they head to Qatar, the men hope to follow the path of the Canadian women’s team, which also has strong leadership in British Columbia. With the help of Julia Grosso from Vancouver and Christine Sinclair from Burnaby, the women’s soccer team conquered the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, placing first, and qualified for the 2023 world cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Build the infrastructure
As the players count the days until Qatar, some promising players already have their sights set on the 2026 Men’s World Cup, which will take place in North America, with Vancouver being one of 16 host cities.
Thomas Hasal is well known to Vancouverites as the Whitecaps’ starting goaltender, and he’s been named to the MLS Team of the Week — a team made up of the best players — three times this year.
He will be cheering on team-mate Cavallini and former Whitecap Alphonso Davies when they play in Qatar – and he hopes to join them at the World Cup in 2026.
The 23-year-old said breaking into the national team ‘would mean everything’.
“To play the World Cup… It would be worth it, all the struggle, all the sacrifice. It would mean the world to me and my family,” Hasal said.
The first edition9:08Canadian players prepare to leave for Qatar ahead of 2022 World Cup