A new partnership between Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Prince George Youth Soccer Association will give soccer in the north a boot in the right direction.
On Wednesday, the Whitecaps -- who compete in Major League Soccer, the top professional league in North America -- announced the launch of a new Whitecaps FC Northern Academy Centre in Prince George.
Training programs will commence in May, beginning with a Whitecaps FC Skills Academy for boys and girls in the Under-9 to Under-12 age groups. Also in May, an invite-only Prospects Academy will be offered for U-10 to U-18 players. Sessions will be held on local turf and players will also have the opportunity to travel to Vancouver for a showcase weekend and workouts with Whitecaps FC coaches.
"We're very pleased to launch this Northern Academy Centre in Prince George and are very appreciative of the support and opportunity to partner with the PGYSA," said Dan Lenarduzzi, director of soccer development for the Whitecaps. "Whitecaps FC has a lot of respect for the work the PGYSA has done in the community with its programming over the years. We feel that by working together we can help grow the game in Prince George and across northern B.C., with the hopes of also providing further opportunities for local players."
The announcement was made Wednesday morning at the PGYSA's indoor facility on Winnipeg Street.
The Northern Academy Centre becomes the sixth in the Whitecaps FC network. Others are located in Vancouver, Nanaimo, Vernon and Nelson. An academy -- the first outside of B.C. -- also opened recently in Saskatoon. The common theme at all of them is a standard of excellence that provides club-level training for players who are serious about developing their games.
The Whitecaps FC Northern Academy Centre will be led by local resident Sonny Pawar, who is currently serving as the PGYSA's technical head coach on an interim basis. Pawar is also an assistant coach with the UNBC Timberwolves men's soccer team and previously served as the club's head coach. During training sessions, Pawar will use the Whitecaps FC developmental philosophy and will receive support from Whitecaps staff members, who will make regular trips to Prince George.
"I'm very excited to be joining Whitecaps FC and to help build the Northern Academy Centre programs," Pawar said. "I've been lucky enough to be involved in this community for a long time and I see this as a real opportunity to work together to help raise the profile of our sport and help grow the game to increase opportunities for local players."
As the largest youth sports organization in Prince George, the PGYSA caters to approximately 2,500 players during the outdoor season and close to 700 during the indoor campaign. Naturally, the association welcomes the arrival of the Northern Academy Centre.
"We feel our partnership with Whitecaps FC is a great fit and the next step forward for our association," said Steve Raper, PGYSA projects director. "It has always been part of our mission to provide more opportunities for local youth, and to make the association and its partnerships in the north stronger."
In addition to the arrival of the Whitecaps FC Northern Academy Centre, Whitecaps camps will be offered during the summer months.