SURREY — It has become an annual event, one which with every passing edition reveals a ceiling just that much higher than the year before.
And as the countdown to the 2018 edition of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Showcase weekend hits its stretch drive, one of its visionary founders does his best to describe the surge of upward trajectory this most special gathering has taken since its informal launch back in 2014.
“Usually you know when something caps out, but with this, I can’t quite see the tip just yet,” admits Ryan Clark, the Whitecaps’ Manager of Collegiate Transition, when asked about the now-massive event which is set to begin a three-day run Friday at Surrey’s Newton Athletic Park, showcasing the best-and-brightest girls and boys high school-aged soccer talent from B.C. and most of the rest of Canada, to a throng of discerning collegiate coaches from both the NCAA and the U Sports ranks.
“Right now, the ceiling is much higher than we can see, but we definitely have a vision of where we want to go,” he adds.
In between juggling calls Monday afternoon from talent evaluators at some of the most renowned post-secondary athletic programs in the world, places like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma, Clark stresses that the success of the Caps’ youth development system has created something of a centrifugal force within the sports provincial elite delivery system.
And at the eye of the storm is this weekend’s showcase for U-15, U-16 and U-18 girls and boys players, largely from B.C. but also from the rest of Canada and, for the first time, from select U.S. centres.
On the boys side, a total of 41 teams will play in front of coaches from 34 university programs.
And on the girls side, the numbers are even greater, with 43 teams showing their stuff to coaches from 61 collegiate programs.
And while Canadian programs, especially NCAA Simon Fraser and all of B.C.’s U Sports schools (Fraser Valley, UBC, Trinity Western, UBC Okanagan, Victoria, Thompson Rivers, UNBC) are set to attend, so too is the cream of the crop of U.S.-based NCAA programs.
HOOKED ON B.C. TALENT
On Feb. 8’s NCAA Signing Day, the University of Texas Longhorns’ women’s program, this past season a Top 20 team which advanced to the third round of the Div. 1 national championship tournament, announced an incoming class of eight players, including four from in-state high schools and another pair from California.
The other two set to join a team which returns 25 of 27 players next season?
Centre-midfielder Julia Grosso and right back Emma Regan, both Burnaby natives and both Whitecaps FC Girls REX residency program players, who complete the incoming class for Longhorns’ head coach Angela Kelly.
And of course, as the Whitecaps FC Showcase Tournament was just beginning to gain traction a few seasons ago, both Grosso, Regan along with a host of other future Whitecaps REX grads, were among the blue-chip talents populating the event’s younger age-group divisions.
“When we first got this vision, it was little Emma and little Julia just transitioning into it, and I thought ‘What good timing it will be for this class (of 2018),’” remembers Clark. “It’s Emma, it’s Julia, it’s Kaela (Hansen), it’s Reese (Moffatt)…”
For the record, back on that Feb. 8 signing day, while Grosso and Regan were extending an arm to flash the ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ sign and ink with Texas, fellow Whitecaps teammates from residency headquarters at Burnaby Central Secondary were doing likewise with other high-profile NCAA Div. 1 programs.
Hansen, a centre back from Burnaby, signed with the Kansas Jayhawks, Moffatt, a centre back from Langley signed with the LSU Tigers, Victoria’s Ashley Cathro, a left back, signed with the Illinois Fighting Illini, North Vancouver keeper Caitlin Arbuckle with the Indiana Hoosiers, and forward Saje Brar of Surrey went to the Ivy League with the Yale Bulldogs. Tanya Boychuk, a forward and Edmonton native, signed with the Memphis Tigers.
And all of that news is, in a sense, a by-product of the aims and goals of this weekend’s Whitecaps Showcase.
Collectively, that group of eight represents not only one of the strongest sets of schools signed to any soccer graduating class in North America this season, but it’s one of the most impressive classes of its kind across any sport in B.C. high school history.
And it’s that kind of reputation-building group, schooled within an academic-athletic environment which will allow them to hit the turf running come this fall at their respective universities, that continues to keep the showcase’s ceiling just a little higher than Clark can see.
“Just on the women’s side this season, we’re looking at the University of Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas,” begins Clark of just a handful of many U.S. schools headed north for the weekend. “These schools can recruit anywhere. They can walk through anyone’s door. So here we are, up in the northwest, and they are spending their time and their dollars, with all of their choices, to come up here.”
Oh, by the way, the amount of scholarship monies for the aforementioned eight players over a four-year span?
Collectively, $1.45 million US.
THE SKY MIGHT BE THE LIMIT
Clark will admit the event has built traction by thinking big, but also sticking to some core beliefs.
“We had a vision for this, and I was fortunate to work with Dan Lenarduzzi, who is a visionary,” he says of the Caps’ Director of Soccer Development. “We said ‘If we do this, let’s build it to be one of the best in North America.’ We both realized it wasn’t something that you just build in a year, or threw a lot of money at. It had to be done responsibly.”
That meant, at its core, the players had to be good and not just hyped; the entire showcase environment needed to give the coaches the best experience possible in which to carry out their task of evaluating talent; and finally, the field of players taking part had to consistently expand in scope.
Regarding the latter, Clark is happy to report that on the girls side, this season’s field will include former national club champs in the forms of both Dallas FC and Dallas Solar coming north to take part in front of the scouts.
And while the exposure for the Whitecaps program, both boys and girls, is obvious, the showcase has grown in scope to provide incredible opportunities for those playing in the B.C. Soccer Premier League (BCSPL) as well as this weekend, many of whom will be playing in front of those aforementioned 84 combined men’s and women’s university programs.
Clark says that many universities are still looking to fill spots in the current graduating high school Class of 2018, however at this stage, there is a huge amount of interest being paid to those in the Classes of 2019 and 20, and even long-listing those current Grade 9s in the Class of 2021, designated in the U.S. system as high school freshmen.
And while all of this is taking place, as planes land at YVR, as shuttles move guests into hotels, and as out-of-town teams embark on Surrey for three days, there is another benefit that the showcase has had, this one on the local economy.
“When a study was done two years ago, it was a total of $3 million of economic impact with the car rentals, the 12 hotels that are used, the flights, the food-and-beverage, the gas, the shopping, the tourism,” reports Clark, “and it’s only gone up since then.”
Yet for him, it’s seeing the look in the eyes of a student-athlete, someone who decided a long while back to give all they could to the game, because in the end, they hoped their passion for it would allow them to continue at the next level and pursue career goals through sport and education.
“I think ‘shining moment’ is a great way to describe it,” says Clark. “When I think of the things that put a smile on my face these days, it’s in finding out that through the showcase or through the networks that we’ve created, that we are able to help families receive scholarship aid to get into a school that maybe wouldn’t have looked at them otherwise.
“That’s what drives me every day and makes me excited to go to work,” he continues. “The fact that something pretty special can happen almost every day.”
If you’re interested in watching some great soccer Friday through Sunday, all of the pertinent information is available at showcase.whitecapsfcyouth.com
There, you’ll find the full list of competing teams, schedules for boys and girls games, and complete lists of all of the university coaches who are set to attend.
Each day begins with 9 a.m. kick-offs and concludes with 4 p.m. kick-offs, with all games at Newton Athletic Park, 7395 128th Street, Surrey.
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