Score one for nostalgia. There’ll be soccer played at Swangard Stadium this summer.
The TSS FC Rovers, a club founded by the Richmond-based TSS Academy, will compete in the USL Premier Development League, a move that brings the beautiful game back to one of the most beautiful grass pitches in Canada.
“It was a much bigger piece than maybe some realize,” Colin Elmes, owner/operator of TSS Academy, and head coach of the Rovers, said of securing the venerable Burnaby stadium as their home field.
“I grew up here. I played there. Swangard used to host the Sun Tournament of Champions (an annual youth soccer tournament), and if you got to Swangard, you were something. I was fortunate enough to play there a few times.
“It’s iconic and it’s a shame that it’s just been sitting there for the last little while. Our opponents in the division are all very excited about coming to the venue.”
Over the years, Swangard has also hosted the Canadian men and women in World Cup qualifying, the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in 2003 and the men’s FIFA U-20 Cup in 2007.
There was rarely a bad night under the floodlights, but it has taken a back seat to the bigger and cushier B.C. Place Stadium as the sport has grown at the club and national level.
The TSS Rovers — who bought the Redmond, Wash.-based Crossfire club — hope to bring a community feel back to the stadium. They’ll compete in the PDL’s Western Conference, joining the Victoria Highlanders and Calgary Foothills F.C. in the Northwest Division.
The PDL is a short-season summer league with 55 U.S.-based clubs who mostly pull talent from NCAA schools. It’s an amateur league, so players aren’t paid and they retain their NCAA eligibility.
TSS Rovers will be one of six Canadian clubs, and Elmes said their commitment is to be “100-per-cent Canadian” with a focus on players from the Lower Mainland.
Locally, there’s been plenty of discussion in recent years about the gaps in the player development pathway between the U-18 level and the professional game. In short: What happens to all the players who don’t make the Whitecaps?
In large part, the PDL offers top university players a way to extend their competitive season. The Caps used to run a PDL team — considered the fourth tier on the North American soccer pyramid — but now they operate a third-tier USL franchise, Whitecaps FC 2, out of the University of B.C.
“I’ve had discussions with all the university groups and most of them are super-excited,” said Elmes. “We’ve had some discussions on players, many of who’ve been in the Caps’ residency, names people would recognize. There’s a whole bunch of players at that next layer.”
The plan is to run some open tryouts in March. Elmes and his general manager, Willie Cromack, also have to drum up sponsorship support and get the word out to potential fans. Lots of work to do.
The hope is to draw a few hundred fans for the six home games, with bigger crowds when Victoria and Seattle come to town.
A summer night at Swangard? The venue will surely sell itself.