Victoria Highlander Callum Montgomery excited by soccer’s bright future

With apologies to Timbuck 3 and the 1980s, the future suddenly seems so bright for soccer in North America that people might need to wear shades.

In many ways, that future is represented today when the Victoria Highlanders meet the Calgary Foothills in Premier Development League action at 2 p.m. at Centennial Stadium.

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Calgary has been announced as a charter franchise city and Victoria a provisional one, with the official announcement expected next month, for the new Canadian Premier League set to begin next year.

And, of course, last week there was the big FIFA vote, awarding the 2026 World Cup to Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The Highlanders’ standout player, Callum Montgomery, wants to ride the crest of the wave into that bright soccer future. The fluid-moving, six-foot-three central defender might even need shades after being named, for the second consecutive year, to the list of the top 50 potential professional prospects in the PDL.

“It’s obviously great to get that kind of acknowledgement and to get your name out there,” Montgomery said.

“To get noticed is humbling. Pro soccer is the goal. I feel I’ll be close to getting that contract after my senior year [upcoming in the NCAA Div. 1 at NC-Charlotte],” said the Nanaimo product, who graduated from St. Michaels University School.

“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. That is my mentality. I feel I’m on the right track to be able to jump up to the next level.”

There are growing options now for players such as Montgomery.

“The CPL will be exciting for Canadian soccer,” he said.

“We’ll see how it unfolds. It’s great to have a CPL team in Victoria. People want to watch the highest level they can. I grew up motivated by watching the Vancouver Island Mariners and Victoria Highlanders play. The pro level is even better and will motivate even more kids growing up on the Island.”

Montgomery said he remembers vividly, as a kid, high-fiving the VIU and Highlanders players as they would enter and leave the pitch.

“It’s great to be that guy now.”

But the Highlanders, and even the CPL, is only the stepping stone to the ultimate goal.

“The MLS is my dream,” Montgomery said.

Then, there is 2026. The Island has contributed numerous players in the past to Canada’s national team, so it’s not out of the question that Montgomery could follow in the cleat prints of Brian Robinson, Bob Bolitho, Bruce Twamley, Ike MacKay, Adam Straith, Josh Simpson and 1986 World Cup players Ian Bridge, Jamie Lowery and George Pakos, among others.

“The prospect of 2026, and the expanded 48-team [World Cup] tournament, is unbelievably motivating for my generation of Canadian players and could even be a long-term target for me,” said Montgomery, the biology major, who is putting his planned civilian career in medicine on the backburner in order to first pursue his dreams on the pitch.

“But it’s going to take a lot of hard work to reach that level.”

Foothills head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is set to step up next season to become the first head coach and GMof Calgary’s new Cavalry FC of the CPL. For the time being, Wheeldon has the annual PDL powerhouse Foothills at their accustomed position, atop the PDL Northwest Division table at 5-1-2.

In the lineup of the 2016 division champion and 2017 runnerup Foothills is 33-year-old Nik Ledgerwood, who has 50 caps for Canada. He is a player Highlanders head coach Thomas Niendorf, who helped build Calgary soccer over 26 years, mentored.

Niendorf played a key role in Lethbridge-native Ledgerwood signing for Munich 1860, not to mention the signing of Calgary-born former English international Owen Hargreaves by Bayern Munich. Berlin native Niendorf was also instrumental in Canadian internationals Straith of Victoria and Kevin McKenna of Calgary signing with Energie Cottbus and FC Koln, respectively.

The Highlanders are 2-5, but remain upbeat and hopeful.

“The standings are so tight that with one win, we could be in third place, so we are still fighting for a playoff spot,” Montgomery said.

“We don’t have an underdog mentality.”

There will be an interesting battle in the crease, with the Highlanders’ Nolan Wirth and Foothills’ Marco Carducci having shared Canadian goalkeeping duties at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Comox’s Wirth went on to play in the NCAA Pac-12 with the Oregon State Beavers, while Carducci went on to see more international duty with Canada in under-20 and under-23, and signed an MLS contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2014, playing professionally for two seasons with Whitecaps FC 2.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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