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Highlanders say they can co-exist with new Victoria pro team

Pro and amateur soccer are two different levels, two different things, say the Victoria Highlanders.
photo - soccer - Highlanders

Pro and amateur soccer are two different levels, two different things, say the Victoria Highlanders.

The amateur Highlanders say they can see themselves co-existing with a franchise in the professional Canadian Premier League, if one comes to Victoria next year in the inaugural CPL season.

“We want to see pro soccer be successful in this country because it’s important for Canadian players,” said Mark DeFrias, a part of the Highlanders’ ownership group in the United Soccer League Premier Development League.

Highlanders players concur.

“My goal is the MLS [Major League Soccer] and I can see the new CPL as being a stepping stone to that goal,” said Highlanders standout defender Callum Montgomery of Nanaimo, who graduated from SMUS, and was named first team all-conference this season in the NCAA Div. 1 with North Carolina-Charlotte.

The CPL gives another option for PDL players looking to follow in the cleats of Highlanders alumni such as Canada-capped Jamar Dixon and MLS pros Brett Levis of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Matt Polster of Chicago Fire.

Marcus Campanile from Edinburgh, Scotland, also a leading Highlanders player, said he is glad to have another pro option to shoot for in his emerging career.

“I want to stay in North America and play pro. My goal is to play in the MLS, or now, the CPL as an option too,” said the former U-20 player for Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen, who led the University of Cape Breton Capers to the U Sports national soccer championship last fall.

Sources say that a Victoria franchise will be part of the CPL’s inaugural season beginning next April. An announcement is expected in two weeks.

“If it does happen, we will look to support the Victoria CPL team in any way we can, because it [CPL] is important for the development of Canadian soccer,” said DeFrias.

After all, he noted, the mission of the PDL is to move players up to the pro level. It wouldn’t hurt to have that option right in town for the Highlanders players.

Yet, to be answered, however, is how the teams would divvy up the Island soccer fan base. It is estimated CPL teams will need to draw between 4,000 to 5,000 to make a go of it. PDL teams across North America normally only attract a few hundred fans to their games. Even though the PDL is considered the top amateur developmental soccer league in North America, with nearly 70 per cent of MLS draft picks since 2010 having PDL experience. There are more than 220 players who have played in the PDL on 2018 MLS rosters. Those players, however, are usually listed as having been drafted from their NCAA collegiate teams.

The professional CPL plans to operate on a level below the MLS, much as the AHL does to the NHL, but with a heavy emphasis on developing Canadian talent.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders lost their first two games of the PDL season 1-0 and 2-0 last weekend in Calgary against the Northwest Division-favoured Foothills. The Highlanders’ PDL home opener at Centennial Stadium is Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. against divisional-rival Portland Timbers U-23.