Victoria Highlanders hand reins to veteran coach Thomas Niendorf

When it comes to having connections in other countries in the beautiful game, you can’t go too far wrong with defending World Cup-champion Germany.

Thomas Niendorf, who has strong ties to German soccer, has been named new head coach of the Victoria Highlanders of the USL Premier Development League. He replaces Dave Dew, who will remain with the team as part of its new leadership group.

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Niendorf played a key role in the signing of Calgary-born, English international Owen Hargreaves by famed German club Bayern Munich. Niendorf also played a major part when Canadian internationals Adam Straith of Victoria and Kevin McKenna of Calgary signed with Energie Cottbus and FC Koln, respectively.

“Being from Germany, I believe in a simple but very effective approach to excellence,” said the former Berliner.

“We will be proactive and get on the ball and create opportunities while also being well organized.”

Niendorf founded the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program in 2008 as director and head coach. He was also head coach of former USL First Division pro club Calgary Mustangs in 2004.

He has a PDL background as technical director and head coach of the Calgary Storm from 2000 to 2002. He currently operates the Pacific Elite Soccer Institute, a Victoria academy program for aspiring players 16-18. He has taken several young Island players to Germany for pro trials.

“[Niendorf’s] connections to the Canadian and European soccer systems was an important consideration for our ownership,” said Highlanders managing director Brett Large, in statement.

“His passion is contagious and his experience, network and understanding of the game are unquestioned.”

The PDL is considered the top amateur developmental soccer league in North America, with nearly 70 per cent of Major League Soccer draft picks since 2010 having PDL experience. There were 220 players who have played in the PDL on 2017 MLS rosters.

“It’s an interesting combination with me and the Highlanders,” said Niendorf.

“I am interested in developing young players and having them identified and have been in the game for 35 years, including 25 years in Canada. The PDL has ambitious players who want to be identified as pro prospects. I want to see them develop and get those opportunities in the MLS and the CPL [proposed new Canadian Professional League for 2019]. And also possibly even in Europe.”

The Highlanders open the 2018 PDL season May 11 in Calgary against the Foothills. The first home game is May 20 against Portland Timbers U-23 at Centennial Stadium.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

@tc_vicsports

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