The new pro soccer Canadian Premier League is set to announce today that a team based in Greater Victoria will be playing in the inaugural league season, which begins in April 2019.
The Times Colonist has learned officials from the league are in Victoria today to meet with the three principals behind the Island team. Owners of the Victoria franchise will be former European pro and Canadian national team players Josh Simpson of Victoria and Rob Friend of Kelowna, and Vancouver-based financier Dean Shillington, founder and president of Knightsbridge Capital Group.
“This is not an official team launch yet, but we feel quite confident this is going to happen and that a pro team will be coming to the Island in 2019,” said Simpson, who played in 43 international games with the Canadian national team over two World Cup qualifying campaigns, and played pro soccer in England, Germany, Turkey and Switzerland before suffering a career-ending leg break.
Simpson said the group will divulge more details today. “We have been working on this for quite a while and our ownership group is in the advanced stages of arranging the details. Our ownership group is looking to bring a CPL team to the Island for the opening 2019 season.”
Friend was in 32 international games for Canada and played pro with German clubs Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha BSC, Eintracht Frankfurt and 1860 Munich before concussions ended his career.
Simpson is moving his family back to the Island this summer from Zurich, Switzerland: “This is a dream come true to return home for such a project. I was not going to return to Victoria just yet, but this opportunity presented itself.”
The team is expected to play at Westhills Stadium in Langford. Simpson acknowledged Westhills is not yet up to league standard. But that may only be a matter of time.
Langford Mayor Stew Young said last month the city is “close” to resolving the issue of B.C. Hydro poles that have so far prevented construction of a second grandstand at Westhills. Young said he envisions a capacity of 5,000, if pro soccer were to come to Langford, with the ability to go to 8,000 in the years ahead. Current capacity is 1,718.
“We see Westhills Stadium as a regional facility,” Young said.
A temporary second grandstand could be erected for the 2019 season if a permanent second grandstand could not be ready in time for next spring, he said.
Simpson said Victoria has a great soccer history and is known nationally as one of the hotbeds for the sport.
“We are looking at the kind of attendance — 5,000 to 6,000 fans per game — that Victoria is currently not used to for soccer,” said Simpson. “We see this team representing the Island and drawing from Sidney to Nanaimo.”
The top current Island soccer team, the Victoria Highlanders of the amateur Premier Development League, draw only a few hundred fans to its games at Centennial Stadium.
The best-drawing Island sports team is the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League, who averaged 5,307 fans per game last season at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Six Canadian Premier League franchises have already been announced. The Winnipeg and Hamilton teams will be associated with those cities’ CFL teams and will play out of 33,500-seat Investors Group Field and 24,000-seat Tim Hortons Field, respectively. Calgary has announced its team will play in a 5,000 to 7,000 seat stadium at Spruce Meadows, the horse-jumping ground. The Halifax franchise is scheduled to play at the 7,000-seat Wanderers Ground and an Ontario team in the York Region out of 3,000-seat York Lions Stadium.
Simpson said Victoria is expected to be the lone B.C. franchise awarded for 2019.
The Canadian Premier League motto is “For Canadians. By Canadians.” The concept underlying the league is to foster the growth of Canadian soccer talent.