The MLS does not rely as much on the draft as the big-four North American pro sports leagues NHL, NFL, NBA and MLB. It is a long tradition in soccer world-wide for pro teams to develop their own players through youth academy programs.
The Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS announced Thursday they will establish the Victoria Prospects Academy beginning in September, their second on the Island along with the existing Whitecaps Upper-Island Prospects Academy in Nanaimo. They will both come under the expanded banner of the Vancouver Whitecpas FC Island Academy Centre. It is part of a network that includes Whitecaps prospects academies in Prince George, Kamloops, the Okanagan, Kootenays, Sea-to-Sky, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. They are by invite only to top selected boys and girls ages 14 to 18.
“There is an MLS draft, but basically, we develop our own players,” said Dan Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps director of soccer development.
“There are a lot of talented players on the Island.”
The Whitecaps prospects academy in Victoria will run in conjunction with the Lower Island Soccer Association and Vancouver Island Wave rep program, which will identify the players.
Neil Sedgwick has been named the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Island head coach for the program. He was the fifth overall pick in the 1990 Canadian Soccer League draft and played pro in the old CSL for the Winnipeg Fury, Nova Scotia Clippers and Montreal Supra and also for Canada at the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo. Sedgwick has assisted with the national team women’s program under former head coaches Neil Turnbull and Even Pellerud. He was 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, the latter which he led to the Big Sky Conference tournament in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
“[The Whitecaps prospects program] is another way to be prepared for the next level,” said Sedgwick, formerly director of youth development for the Victoria Highlanders Academy.
Players selected from the various prospect centres go on to the Whitecaps Residency program in Vancouver for players over 18.