Friday, November 19, 2010

Winnipeg soccer: Suddenly not so grim?

As a soccer fan living in Winnipeg, I am often envious of residents of this country's other major centres. It seems that no matter which one you choose, any of Canada's cities would have a more consequential, if not more vibrant, soccer scene than what you find here.

Let me paint a picture:
  • The last legitimately professional soccer venture in town was the Winnipeg Fury, a team in the original Canadian Soccer League (CSL). The Fury folded its tent in 1993.
  • The most recent attempt at anything resembling semi-pro soccer was an entry into the western Canadian indoor loop playing a short-season, and regularly getting hammered by Edmonton, Calgary, and even Saskataoon. The Winnipeg Alliance may or may not play again this year.
  • There is no CIS men's soccer being played in the province, and the U of M Bisons only started a womens' program a few years ago.
  • There hasn't been a mens' national team player with Manitoba roots since Marc Bircham, and that was only because his grandpa poured concrete here back in the 50s.**
However, a number of stories in the last several weeks have combined to produce a dangerously optimistic outlook.

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Winnipegger to pay for Liverpool?

I read an interesting story in the Winnipeg Sun the other day. This is the first time I've uttered the phrase, and likely also the last.

(For those who don't know, the Sun may once have been a fine and fully-staffed paper, but is now largely stuffed with wire-service copy, buffeted by their main selling feature: good ol'fashioned get-off-my-lawn conservative commentary from loudmouth Tom Brodbeck. One of the few redeeming features of the paper is the sports coverage, where they seem to have invested much of their resources.)

Only a bizarre convergence of circumstances would even lead me to have a copy of the Sun in my hands.
  1. A decision by this area's paper of record, the Free Press, to stop providing free copies to schools.
  2. An opportunistic move by the Sun to jump in and "fill" the void.
  3. A clockwork-like morning bathroom schedule at my place of work.
  4. An as-yet-undetermined colleague who gets to the bathroom before me each day and leaves the paper behind. (We do have toilet paper, so he must actually bring it in to read).
Typically reading the Sun will just make me angry, and cause me to despair over the ignorance of the masses. But the other day there was actually something worth reading in the sports section. Local coverage of a local story, in fact, which we don't see often.

The story: Liverpool beckons 'Pegger

A young Winnipeg soccer player will get the chance of a lifetime later this month.

Marco Bustos, 14, has earned a 10-day tryout with the Liverpool Football Club Academy. Yes, that Liverpool Football Club.

It is worth highlighting that this is only a tryout, and I'll leave it to my readers to question whether Liverpool is really such a prestigious destination, but this is interesting news by any measure. Apparently this player has been on the radar since early 2009, when he became the youngest player in Canadian soccer history selected to the National Training Centre.

The cynic in me would also like to congratulate Bustos on his 2016 call-up to the Portugal squad.

But realistically, this is a Winnipeg soccer story to get excited about. Marco's father is a former Winnipeg Fury player, and it seems like the family has strong ties to the local soccer community. In fact, a fundraising match is being held to raise money for Marco's trip (November 21st, not November 19th as printed in the article).

It may be stretching the journalistic diligence of the average Sun reporter, but I hope a follow-up article will be forthcoming. I for one would love to have a Winnipeg boy to cheer for when Canada qualifies for World Cup 2022.

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Winnipeggers heading to World Cup

While the men's national team has been missing a Manitoba rep, the Canadian women's team that recently qualified for Germany 2011 was not similarly challenged. Desiree Scott was a valuable member of the squad, and appeared in all 5 of the Canada wins.

Winnipeg's lone national teamer.

Jerrad Peters did a nice story on Scott a week or so after the championship, for the Free Press, which otherwise, as far as I can tell, failed to publish even a wire story about the tournament. Scott is a product of the still quite young Bisons' womens' soccer program.

Chelsea Stewart, who saw little time in the tournament, is also a 'Toban, hailing from the far flung mining town The Pas.

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Semi-pro soccer returning to the 'Peg?

I don't like to take anything written at the Voyageurs' forums as gospel truth, but apparently we should be anticipating a December announcement about a Winnipeg entry into the Premier Development League (PDL), an amateur/semi-pro loop that plays a short summer season and largely accommodates out-of-season NCAA players.

While that's not the same as getting an MLS squad, it is better than nothing. According to the thread, the team plans to play at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex, which is well within drunken cycling distance of my place, which bodes well for some fun summer evenings. I await the details eagerly, but also with some circumspection.

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We still have a soccer loving mayor

For those who wonder whether kicking a kid in the face will turn voters against you, the answer is apparently not. Sam Katz, who famously went all Nigel de Jong on a young refugee kid in a charity match, was re-elected handily at the end of October.

Katz is a baseball man (in an obvious conflict of interest, he is also the owner of the local independent minor league club) and probably considers soccer to be some sort of communist plot. And Katz' re-election is certainly not a good news story for the city, but I did want an excuse to link that video again.

Perhaps it's time that the Winnipeg soccer scene adopts the unofficial motto of the city generally: Sure, it's not great, but is it really that bad?

** At least 25% of this statement is true

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