After one season in the Pacific Coast Soccer League, the club is returning to the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League for 2016.
The Highlanders previously played in the PDL from 2009 to 2014.
“Our fans told us they wanted a higher level [than the PCSL],” said Highlanders head coach and co-owner Dave Dew, from the PDL league meetings Friday in Clearwater, Florida.
The PDL is considered the top amateur development league in North America.
“The league’s catchline is the ‘Path2Pro,’ ” noted Dew.
The Highlanders, which relinquished their PDL franchise in 2014, have acquired the former Puget Sound Gunners franchise to move to Victoria.
“It worked out better this way because we only have to pay a $5,000 transfer fee to the league [plus an undisclosed purchase price to Gunners’ owner Alex Silva] rather than the new-franchise fee of $75,000,” explained Dew.
The Highlanders will again feature top players from the Vancouver Island Soccer League winter season and recent UVic Vikes grads. Because of cost, Dew said importing players will not be a priority, as it was in past Highlanders seasons in the PDL.
The PDL season runs from May to July. The 2016 schedule will be announced next month, but tickets are on sale now through the Highlanders’ website or Select Your Tickets.
There will be 67 PDL teams spread across North America in 2016. The Highlanders will play in the Western Conference’s Northwest Division, which in 2015 included MLS development teams Seattle Sounders U-23 and Portland Timbers U-23, along with the champion Kitsap Pumas, and Calgary Foothills, Lane United of Eugene, Oregon, Washington Crossfire and the now-defunct Gunners.
The Highlanders’ home-park details have yet to be confirmed. Dew said Royal Athletic Park, Westhills Stadium in Langford and Centennial Stadium at UVic are all being considered.
“The PDL operates with a professional environment, and we know in Victoria the support is there for soccer of this level,” said Silva, who said the Puget Sound Gunners organization has decided to concentrate more on its youth teams.
The Highlanders were about the only team in the PCSL doing any sort of off-field or in-stands game presentation last season, a tradition it carried over from its previous years in the PDL. It will be good to get back to that, said Dew.
“The PDL is better suited for us in terms of how we present and market the games. It’s what we heard from our fans is what they wanted,” said Dew.
According to the league, 189 players during the just-completed 2015 season in the North American top-level pro MLS were PDL alumni, while 295 players in the second-level North American pro USL were PDL alumni.
CORNER KICKS: Former Highlanders striker Josh Heard, who plays NCAA in the Pac-12 for the University of Washington Huskies, is one of three Canadians invited to the MLS Scouting Combine Jan. 7-12 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The combine will be a chance for MLS general managers to size up the 59 top-rated NCAA players for the 2016 MLS draft on Jan. 14 in Baltimore.