Greater Victoria moved another step toward playing against MLS teams Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact in the Canadian pro soccer championships, which would be part and parcel of being in the new Canadian Premier League.
The CPL issued Victoria a conditional franchise Friday for its inaugural season beginning in April. The official announcement is expected with a launch party in July.
“The MLS is thriving. Soccer is at the tipping point in North America, also with the 2026 World Cup maybe coming,” said co-owner Rob Friend.
“The time is right for a Canadian pro league in the right markets. Canada is No. 7 in the world in terms of soccer player registrations. The discrepancy, of being the only developed nation in the world without a national pro soccer league, is absurd."
Officials from the CPL, including vice-president of marketing Roy Nasrala, are in Victoria this weekend to meet with the owners of the Victoria franchise, who are former European pro and Canadian national team players Friend, from Kelowna, and Josh Simpson of Victoria, along with Vancouver-based financier Dean Shillington, founder and president of Knightsbridge Capital Group.
“From the team logo to the colours to the crest, we want to reflect a story that resonates with the Island community, and reflects the rich history of soccer in Greater Victoria and the Island,” said Nasrala.
The league issued a statement from CPL commissioner David Clanachan: “We are incredibly excited about the possibilities in Greater Victoria and are confident that a professional team representing Vancouver Island can be an overwhelming success. We have a terrific local ownership team with a track record of business success, combined with vast soccer experience and an undeniable passion for the game. With the successful completion of a lease and needed stadium improvements, which will bring Westhills Stadium to CPL standards, the team will officially launch in time for our inaugural season in 2019.”
The latter improvements are on the way, vowed Langford Mayor Stew Young.
“This is the icing on the cake. This opportunity is not coming back,” said Young.
“This will be the biggest regular sport in the region.”
Young said the conditional issues will be dealt with at Westhills Stadium. There is a meeting June 13 between B.C. Hydro, Langford and the province to address a contentious power pole that has so far restricted the building of a second grandstand at Westhills Stadium that would allow for the immediate minimum needed attendance of 5,000.
“The province is supportive to partner with us. They see this as good for the region and good for sports in the province,” said Young.
Young estimated the cost of moving the power pole at about $3 million.
“The ownership group is solid. It’s not about them. It’s now up to us to deliver,” he said.
If the pole issue is resolved, there comes the tight construction window for a second grandstand.
“I’m not worried about that. Nine months is more than enough time to get it built,” said Young, who has previously said Langford has $5 million set aside for Westhills Stadium expansion.
Friend and Simpson said so much Canadian talent goes south of the border to sit on the bench on MLS teams or play in secondary U.S.-based pro leagues such as the USL, or goes to play in lower European pro divisions. The CPL, which will likely have a cap on allowable import players, will provide a home for all those Canadian players.
“Rob and I both had to leave Canada to pursue our pro dreams,” said Simpson, the former Canadian national team standout, who played pro in Germany, Turkey and Switzerland.
“The CPL will provide a platform for our best Canadian players to stay home and play pro, and then elevate themselves to the MLS and high European leagues,” said Simpson.
“The CPL will also greatly assist in the development of talent for the Canadian national team as we look to future World Cup qualifying.”