Matteo Rodrigues may be a Future Star for Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps.
Thursday, the eight-year-old enjoyed his first foray into the Prince George Youth Soccer Association's (PGYSA) Future Stars program.
"I'm here to learn better skills," said Rodrigues. "I learned not to run too fast because you'll lose control of the ball."
If Rodrigues continues to pursue his soccer passions he could one day find himself wearing the colours of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Stuart Neely, head of player management and advancement with the Whitecaps, was at the PGYSA indoor fields taking in the first day of the under-10 Future Stars program in addition to meeting with the PGYSA executive to discuss forging partnerships for Academy programs with the MSL team through its residency programs.
"Part of the visit here is to talk about a business partnership but also to help the sport grow in the community and help the coaches develop their coaching skills, which will potentially affect the players' quality," said Neely. "From there we're able to build a future site for the Vancouver Whitecaps' impact to be a positive one, which will fall into our plans of expanding the program, not only across B.C. but across the country via Academy centres."
Neely joined the Whitecaps less than three months ago after spending four years developing the academy program for Toronto FC.
In addition to reaching out to Prince George and other B.C. communities looking for potential future players, Neely said, the Whitecaps are looking to grow their brand beyond Vancouver.
After a dismal first season in MLS, the Whitecaps are off to a decent start this season with a 2-1-2 record - their only loss coming in the most recent outing.
"This is a valuable area to get our name known in our own province," said Neely. "In every province there's always a perceived centre of where everything happens, but we want to bring the Vancouver Whitecaps out into the communities rather than make it revolve around Vancouver. We want to make it revolve around B.C."
Len McNamara, executive director of the PGYSA, said the initial meeting with Neely about a future partnership with the Whitecaps was "positive" but it's still early and there are many things to look at for both sides before a final decision is made.
"It's the first stage of us investigating how an affiliation can work to our benefit," said McNamara. "Now [Neely] will go back to the Whitecaps' organization and give his report and we'll talk with other members of the team about fleshing out some of the things he brought forth."
An affiliation would be brand new for the Whitecaps as well as for the PGYSA.
McNamara said one attractive thing about a partnership is the Whitecaps' association with school programs and its residency program, which realizes not every player will turn professional and helps many focus on future educational pursuits within North America.
"We want to be productive in promoting soccer in the community from the recreational player to the professional, especially among school age kids. There's some good, clear things to do moving on to see how this might benefit us."
The Whitecaps program has about a dozen teams within it including the women's professional team and under-18, under-16 and under-14 teams, while the men's side includes a reserve squad of the first team, a player development league squad, three residency teams and a prospects group of three teams.
The Scotsman - Neely was born in Scotland and worked with various organizations overseas before moving to Canada - said it's good to see the PGYSA getting an under-10 program started.
"The rest of the world start these programs at under-eight and it's not just a house-league program," he said. "It's obviously fun-filled and provides enjoyment for the players, but there are professional clubs starting these programs.
"In North America, we're comfortable right now starting our prospects program at 12 years of age but below that - at 10 years - we're already looking to identify players for two years down the road."