Deal close for bringing pro-soccer team to Greater Victoria; would play at Westhills

Pro soccer looks to be on its way back to Victoria.

Sources say Victoria is set to be awarded a franchise in the new professional Canadian Premier League, which begins play next April.

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The Victoria team would play out of an expanded Westhills Stadium in Langford.

A name associated with the potential Victoria franchise is Island-produced former professional player Josh Simpson, who earned 43 caps 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.

“Yes, I am involved, but nothing is set in stone just yet,” said Simpson, by email, from his home in Zurich, Switzerland.

“It’s very exciting if we can make this a reality. I can certainly give a lot more [information] as soon as I have more certainty on a few points.”

Sources said a memorandum of understanding between the league and potential Victoria team officials is close and that an official announcement is about two weeks away.

Langford Mayor Stew Young, speaking during the Canada Sevens women’s rugby tournament last weekend at Westhills Stadium, said the city is “close” to resolving the issue of B.C. Hydro poles that have so far prevented the 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, if needed.

“We see Westhills Stadium as a regional facility,” Young said.

Sources say the backers of the possible Victoria Canadian Premier League soccer team want to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the founding of the league and be part of the inaugural 2019 season, rather than join in later seasons.

“You only get one chance to do that,” Young said.

If a permanent second grandstand could not be built in time for next April’s start of the league, a temporary grandstand could be erected for the first season.

Six franchises have already been announced. The Winnipeg and Hamilton teams will be associated with those cities’ Canadian Football League teams and 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 conjunction with Spruce Meadows at a 5,000 to 7,000 seat stadium at the famed 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.

The only B.C. franchise announced is one to be based in Surrey and is being called Port City. Stadium plans are to be announced.

The Canadian Premier League motto is “For Canadians. By Canadians.” The idea of the league is to foster the growth of Canadian soccer talent.

“It’s a fantastic idea and Calgary certainly has solid financial backing with Spruce Meadows,” said Thomas Niendorf, coach of the Victoria Highlanders in the amateur United Soccer League Premier Development League.

About having a Victoria team, Niendorf said: “I would love to see it. It’s an unbeatable soccer environment in Victoria and I have the network that could get the players. But it’s a matter of having the financial support with the right people who have the resources.”

Niendorf played a key role in the signing of Calgary-born, English international Owen Hargreaves by German club Bayern Munich, 50-time Canada-capped Nik Ledgerwood with 1860 Munich and Canadian internationals Adam Straith of Victoria and Kevin McKenna of Calgary with Energie Cottbus and FC Koln.

Victoria was also part of the last attempt to create a Canada-wide pro soccer league. The Victoria Vistas played two seasons in the Canadian Soccer League in 1989 and 1990 at Royal Athletic Park. That league lasted six seasons before disbanding in 1992 as the cost of travel across a vast country, and paying players pro salaries, proved too much.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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