By The Canadian Press,
VANCOUVER – In all his days as a player and coach with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada’s men’s soccer team, Bob Lenarduzzi never had access to a permanent training centre.
But at long last, barring any unforeseen changes, the Whitecaps and Canada’s men’s and women’s teams will have a West Coast training facility to call their own by 2015.
The Whitecaps and provincial government officials announced plans Thursday for a new $32.5-million National Soccer Development Centre at the University of British Columbia.
Lenarduzzi called the announcement a “significant milestone” for the sport in B.C., the rest of Canada and for the Whitecaps.
“I’ve been involved for 38 years in the professional game (since) 1974 when the Whitecaps started up, and we have never had a place to call home – that seems ridiculous,” said Lenarduzzi, now president of the Whitecaps, during a news conference at Thunderbird Stadium, which will be part of the centre.
“I also coached the national team for six years (and) never had a place to call home.”
Plans call for the B.C. government to provide up to $14.5 million in funding while the Whitecaps are slated to contribute $15 million and UBC will donate land valued at $3 million. The Whitecaps men’s, women’s and residency squads as well as UBC teams, community soccer organizations and other groups will use the facility.
The site will include a new fieldhouse and five new, refurbished or improved fields – three consisting of grass and two of artificial turf.
The Whitecaps have been trying for seven years to develop their own facility, but efforts at previous locations fell through. Lenarduzzi said the facility will help the Whitecaps recruit top players while aiding professionals, amateurs and young and old players.
Forced to practise at various venues in Metro Vancouver, the Whitecaps have “camouflaged” their training facilities during recruitment, but now have “the final piece to the puzzle.”
The club was also required, as part of acceptance in Major League Soccer in 2009, to have its own facility, and has faced “plenty of questions” from the league on the topic over the past three years.
Lenarduzzi said the facility is also a requirement for Canada to host the Women’s World Cup in 2015.
“One of our core objectives is growing the sport in British Columbia and Canada,” he said. “This is certainly something that fulfills that objective, and we feel like we now have a place that not only the Whitecaps, but our national teams can call home.”
John Herdman, whose Canadian women’s team won the country’s first Olympic medal in soccer, a bronze in London in August, also welcomed the announcement. His squad reached the podium after deploying a Vancouver residency program at fields throughout the city.
“We achieved a bronze medal, but one of the things that will always nag at me is: Would we have achieved gold if we had a decent facility to train in consistently when (were) in our residency program?” he asked. “Without the sirens, without the balls from other fields hitting us on the head?”
The lack of a regular training facility was also an issue for the women’s squad in 2011, when it made a disappointing early exit from the World Cup after training in Italy. Herdman said there should no longer be any excuse about having national teams train in Canada for global events.
The facility will show kids what it takes to be “the next Christine Sinclair.”
“This may be our little tipping point,” said Herdman. “We need to find a number of things that are going to take us from bronze to gold – to take us onto the podium at the World Cup.”
The Whitecaps will practise occasionally at UBC this season and be based at a temporary facility on campus starting in 2013.