Whitecaps schooling soccer students
If drama, cafeteria or metalwork are not an elective that excites high school students, there is always Soccer 101 down at the VantageOne Indoor Soccer Centre.
It’s a footy school which began as the Okanagan Centre for Soccer Excellence in 2004 with 32 students. The Vancouver Whitecaps got involved in 2008 and their head of high performance, Stuart Neely, loves what he’s seeing.
“This is obviously the better established program,” said Neely, on a recent trip to Vernon. “It’s been around for a while. Dave Broadhurst and Claire Paterson do a good job with the program. We just made a statement to the pool of players today, the Grade 8s and 9s, that from my first visit to the last visit, there’s such a positive improvement in every individual.”
The Whitecaps FC School Academy goes over one semester – 69 student-athletes this year – and is done the end of January.
There is also an academy for players from all over Thompson Okanagan that goes Saturdays from September through March.
Students from all Vernon-area schools attend the academy. There were 10 international students and one from Vancouver Island. They are split into two groups – Grade 8-9s and Grade 10-12s – and are on the field for two hours every school day.
The Whitecaps are jumpstarting similar academies in the Kootenays (Nelson), Prince George and Nanaimo, using the Vernon template. Neely says first-time players can often turn into elite talent through the program.
“You can’t turn a blind eye to that. It’s like learning to drive a car with a gear shift for the first time. They call it gross automation for a reason because it is kind of gross, the awkwardness, the lack of co-ordination. That’s been evident in the program here. Good athletes have a sense of what to do. They understand the game, they understand athletics and sport in general.”
For the most part, the academy attracts Rep players who eye a university scholarship or aspire to play professionally.
Vernon’s Connor Glennon of the academy certainly got the Whitecaps Soccer Academy’s attention. The 13-year-old winger/striker enjoyed a week-long residency program experience at Simon Fraser University in January.
Glennon led the EA Sports B.C. Soccer Premier League with eight goals last year and then helped Team B.C. win the Western Canadian Under 13 Boys Soccer Championships in Winnipeg.
“Most of the time I was with the U16s and it was extremely fast,” said Glennon. “Down there, the ball is really moving and there is a one-two touch more. I thought I did pretty good, considering I was two years younger.”
Glennon said he ate nutritious meals, studied four hours a day, got in some fitness and skills work and played and trained.
“The coaching was excellent,” said Glennon. “They taught us how to play quick through gaps in the defenders and that we have to play quick.”
Broadhurst said Glennon and Alex Matsubara of Kelowna were chosen to train at the coast to get a feel for a professional environment. Neely watched Glennon hold his own at SFU.
“It was a good week for Connor,” said Neely. “He was involved with a number of older players. We brought Connor in just to see how he would react against the bigger player and how he would find spaces without getting into too much physical contact. And he showed quite well.
“We also trained with the ‘98s and ‘99s and obviously he started to adjust to his own age bracket and he had a good week. He’s technically quite good on the ball and he’s able to find space for himself so it’s something I think we can build on with Connor and get him some more looks down in Vancouver with the Under 14 program as we go forward.”
Neely says the Caps won’t rush young players into their residency program because of the tough relocating process.
“We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing. He seems very eager, a very honest, hard-working player. Great attitude. He’s got all the good components that make up a solid character and that’s important for myself and the Whitecaps.”
Neely said Glennon and Matsubara got to view some of the first team train and “both their eyes were like saucers when everything was kind of happening.”
As for last year’s switch from Toronto FC of the Major Soccer League to Vancouver, Neely said: “I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a challenge...Culturally, it’s been a big difference. Toronto’s very intense, very aggressive. In comparison, it’s sort of solve now, ask questions later. Whereas here, there’s a lot of thinking in advance of something and I’ve had to adjust to that, sometimes not too well, but I think I’ve got better at it as time has gone one. I don’t think I‘d ever want to lose that edge. I think that’s important and I bring it out at the right time.”