Island soccer healthy, but retention an issue

The ripple effects from this year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil are being felt at all levels of the sport, says an official with the Vancouver Island Soccer League.

“Registration always goes up in a World Cup year … the visibility makes [adult] players think about getting back in the sport. But it’s a matter of keeping them,” executive president Vince Greco said on the eve of the 2014-15 VISL season.

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Retention is an issue across the country.

“The drop-off from youth to adult soccer is huge — about 80 per cent,” said Greco.

“That’s something that is on the radar of both the Canadian Soccer Association and B.C. Soccer. But overall, the health of men’s soccer is strong on the Island.”

There will be 92 teams in the men’s VISL, from Division 1 through Division 4 as well as Masters and U-21 categories.

The 10-team VISL Division 1 season kicks off under the Friday night lights at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, with Vic West meeting Bays United Liquor Plus at 8 p.m.

That is followed by games Saturday between Westcastle United and Cowichan (6 p.m. at Goudy Field), Castaways and Lakehill McLaren Lighting (6 p.m. at Finlayson Field) and Nanaimo United hosting Saanich Fusion (7 p.m. at Merle Logan Park). Comox Valley United, which, along with Westcastle United, won promotion from Division 2, makes its Division 1 debut by hosting Gorge FC on Sunday at 2 p.m.

“Comox Valley has a good core of young players and could be solid for the next 10 years,” said Greco.

The biggest off-season transfer splash was made by Cowichan FC, which signed scoring star Cooper Barry and VISL MVP Patrick Nelson away from Saanich Fusion. That makes Cowichan, which is already strong, the preseason favourite and the team to watch this year.

The VISL Sir John Jackson Cup, first awarded in the 1914-15 season, will celebrate its centenary when presented for the 2014-15 season after the final to be played March 29 at Royal Athletic Park.

Greco said there will be ceremonies to celebrate the occasion.

“One of the ideas is to fly in a member of the Jackson family from England to present the Cup on its 100th anniversary,” he said.

Saanich Fusion defeated Cowichan FC 1-0 in the 2014 Jackson Cup final.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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