Vancouver Island FC takes first kick at Women’s Premier Soccer League

The 2019 women’s World Cup of soccer is looming next month in France, following the 2015 final at B.C. Place. The one thing World Cup and Olympic legends such as Brandi Chastain, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Julie Foudy and Megan Rapinoe of the U.S., Sissi of Brazil, Karen Bardsley of England and Nozumi Yamago of Japan have in common is they all came through the amateur Women’s Premier Soccer League in their formative years.

Expansion franchise Vancouver Island FC begins play in the WPSL, the largest women’s soccer league in the world, today in Washington state against the Spokane Shadow. Then it’s on to Seattle on Sunday for a tilt against the defending league-champion Sounders. It will be telling for the new Island club. The Sounders beat Pensacola FC of Florida 3-1 in the 2018 WPSL championship game staged in Norman, Oklahoma.

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It’s part of Vancouver Island FC’s four road games to open the season in the West Region Northwest Conference, followed by matches June 8-9 at Renton and Issaquah, Washington. The first home fixtures are June 15-16 at Westhills Stadium against Westside Timbers and OSA FC. The final two regular-season home dates are at Goudy Field on June 30 against the Eugene Timbers and July 6 versus the TSS Rovers.

The idea of the eight-game regular season is to conclude the WPSL campaign before university and college training camps.

The Island roster features many of the best players on the Island. It includes Ashley Cathro, who made the NCAA Big Ten Conference all-freshman team with the University of Illinois Fighting Illini; Brea Christie and Sarah Douglas of the University of Victoria Vikes; former U Sports all-Canadian Alexis McKinty out of Queen’s; former UVic Vikes player and Canada West all-star Katie Carrothers; and former Vikes star striker Kiara Kilbey. On the old-school front are Mariel Solsberg and Liz Gregg [nee Hansen], who played in the last Island foray into top-level women’s amateur summer soccer with the Victoria Highlanders of the W-League.

It’s an important level because it’s a step up from what these players are used to in university soccer, noted the veteran Gregg, one of the purest goal scorers in UVic Vikes history, and who played pro in Europe.

“It gives university players — most of the players are 17 to 22 — something to aspire to during the summers,” said Gregg.

Gregg is 35 and knows she and Solsberg will be asked to provide mentorship on the pitch.

“We can bring calm and experience to the pitch,” said Gregg.

Vancouver Island FC is run under the auspices of EPIC Sports Management. Co-coach is former Canada U-17 assistant coach Neil Sedgwick, director of youth development at EPIC Sports and head coach of the UNBC Timberwolves women’s Canada West team in U Sports. The other co-coach is the EPIC Sports academy director and Brentwood College head coach Wes Barrett.

Sedgwick said the idea is to have players developing outside their fall and winter teams.

Sedgwick, the fifth overall selection in the 1990 Canadian Soccer League draft, knows the value of not taking summers off. He has been involved with the national team women’s program under former head coaches Neil Turnbull and Even Pellerud. Sedgwick was also Pac-12 USC Trojans women’s assistant coach in the NCAA and head coach of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux and University of Montana Grizzlies, which he led to the Big Sky Conference tournament in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

“This fills a gap in the development pathway,” added Barrett, a former Vikes player.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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