Hundreds take a kick at pro soccer career at Canadian Premier League open trials

It is more than just a ball they are chasing on the University of Victoria turf field.

A total of 226 hopefuls paid their own way from as far as England, Japan and Africa to pursue their dreams of pro soccer in the fledgling Canadian Premier League.

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The last of seven open tryouts across the country concludes with the two-day trial Monday and today at UVic.

“I heard that Canada was going to have a pro league, and am passionate about football, so I said let’s do this,” said Yuniel Lopez Mera, a goaltender from Montreal, who played First Division pro in his native Cuba for Villa Clara.

Defender Roberto Bosadas, studying at Simon Fraser University, played pro in the second division in his native Mexico.

“I see talent here,” he said, in what is considered a weaker northern cousin to Mexico in CONCACAF.

Kazushiro Hamaguchi, who has been a training player with FC Dallas of the MLS, came up from his current club ASC San Diego to try to impress the seven CPL head coaches and their assistant coaches who have gathered in Victoria for the trial.

Between 60 to 70 players will be invited back for a second look today at UVic.

“A few of these players could end up with roster spots,” said Josh Simpson of Victoria, the former European pro and 43-time capped Canada player, who is president of Pacific FC.

Pacific FC is among seven charter franchises that will begin playing in the CPL’s inaugural season beginning in April at a revamped Westhills Stadium in Langford.

The CPL import rule, however, restricts the use of foreign players to only five on the pitch at any time.

“The CPL is about developing Canadian players. And the only way you do that is by playing them,” said Simpson.

The cross-country CPL tryouts were conducted by Alex Bunbury, the former pro who earned 65 caps and scored 16 goals for Canada.

“The CPL is showing Canadian players that they don’t have to go to Europe to develop,” said Bunbury, in-between conducting the trials at UVic on Monday.

“The MLS does not develop Canadian talent. So the CPL is a much-needed commodity in soccer in this country and will help our Canadian junior and senior national teams. This is a Canadian league for Canadian players. Everywhere we’ve gone, from Halifax to here, we’ve seen Canadian players enthusiastic and passionate about the opportunity of having a truly Canadian pro league. They are excited about their futures. It’s very much a build it and they will come situation. This is telling the world that Canadians too are lovers of football.”

The establishment of the CPL — Canada is the only developed nation without a domestic pro soccer league — is part of what appears to be a sport on the threshold in this country. Not only is the national team showing youthful promise with the likes of potential European Premiership pro league breakout players such as Alphonso Davies and Ballou Tabla, but Canada will also co-host the 2026 World Cup with the U.S. and Mexico.

Simpson and Bunbury went through several World Cup qualifying campaigns only to fall short of advancing to the big dance. The aim is to change that and qualify for 2022 in Qatar before hosting in 2026. National team coach John Herdman said the CPL has a key role to play in that ambition.

“Everything is falling into place, and aligning at the right time and right place, and Canada seems to be riding a wave in soccer,” said Bunbury.

The future is being built with the likes of Logan Rutherford in mind. The 15-year-old Gorge FC and Lambrick Park Secondary player was among those trying out Monday, although he knows the chances for a call-back today might be slim against players much older and more experienced. This was more for down the road.

“I dream of playing pro soccer. But I know that will take hard work and determination,” he said.

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