Members of Springbank Soccer Club (SSC) are taking the next step toward professional soccer careers.
On Sept. 30, the club announced six players from their Tier 1 U15 boys’ team have been selected for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Boys MLS Prospects Academy. The elite training program is affiliated with the Whitecaps, one of Canada’s three Major League Soccer (MLS) franchises.
“It’s a great opportunity and we’re really proud to see them go,” said SSC Technical Director Chris McKaig. “The success they’re having is down to their own pursuit of their goals – they’ve been extremely driven to succeed.
“It’s a step up from any club soccer we’d have in Alberta. This is a level up from that and the next step in the pathway.”
Defenders Paul Rappel and Joaquin Aoki, midfielders Zavi Ghebrezghi and Yihyeon Kim and forwards Anson Minty and Ziyad Eltrabily were invited to join the training program. According to McKaig, two of the players are from Springbank, three reside in Calgary and one commutes to games and practices from Banff.
“There are only 15 spaces available, and I believe two of them are for goalkeepers,” McKaig said. “For us to have almost 50 per cent of the remaining players coming from Springbank is a credit to the kids that we’ve been able to put in the program.”
The six players were all members of the Springbank team that won the U13 Tier 1 boys' provincial championship in August 2019, according to McKaig – the club’s first provincial championship at the Tier 1 level.
He credited their success, both as individuals and as a team, to their determination and a less structured approach to developing their tactical knowledge of the sport during their U13 and U15 years.
“It’s great to see the rewards we’ve had as a club following our methodology, which is player-centred,” McKaig said.
“We didn’t really give them a great deal of tools when it came to the tactical side of the game. We wanted them to have success based on their technical abilities and wanted that to shine at these ages. When we get to U17, we increase the amount of time they get taught tactical understanding. Up until that point, we let the shackles off them.”
According to McKaig, the players will train with other Boys MLS Prospects Academy recruits full-time throughout the winter. Sessions and games will be held at the Calgary West Soccer Centre in Bearspaw.
“For the whole of indoor, they’ll leave the club and go to the training centre they have,” he said. “They’ll train four days a week before school and then have a game on the weekend, as a Whitecaps team. We won’t see them again until April 2021.”
The affiliation with the Whitecaps is a big deal, McKaig noted, as it means the players will have the opportunity to impress scouts from the MLS franchise and potentially earn a berth in the team’s residency program in Vancouver. Playing in the residency program is a stepping-stone to possibly lining up for the professional team one day, he said.
“You play club soccer, you represent your provincial team, and once you’ve done that, the next step is to try and get into a full-time academy centre within the Whitecaps,” he explained. “Once you’re in an academy centre within the Whitecaps, you’re then trying to get a residency spot. And from there, you’re trying to break into the youth teams and into the first team in Vancouver.”
Notable players who have progressed from youth soccer in Alberta through the Whitecaps residency program and onto professional careers include Alphonso Davies, who won a UEFA Champions League with FC Bayern Munich in 2020, as well as Canadian national team player Sam Adekugbe, who plays for Vålerenga – one of the top teams in Norway.