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Offseason Notebook: Women’s National Team News, Don Garber’s Comments & New Development Academies

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Soccer: CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying-Costa Rica at Canada Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back everyone as we continue to dive into some of the top developing stories of the offseason.

The Preistman Era

National team football is back! This time, it’s the Women’s National Team getting in on the mix as they get set to take part in their first ever She Believes Cup. The tournament will present a good level of competition for the Canadians, as they will be facing the United States, Japan and Brazil. The tournament is set to run from February 18th to 24th in Orlando, FL. Canadian broadcast details have yet to be announced.

The story I’ll be most curious to track throughout this tournament is the beginning of the Bev Preistman era for the Women’s National Team. While Kenneth Heiner-Moller had some bright spots, it was clear near the end of his tenure that the team needed a new voice, and Soccer Canada didn’t rush into a decision (some might say they waited too long) before appointing Preistman. The aforementioned Preistman spent five years in the Canadian coaching system before moving back to England in 2018 to serve as an assistant coach with the national program. It will be interesting to see what Preistman can bring from her time in the English program, and whether or not she is able to have more success than Heiner-Moller mixing young players into a veteran roster, as well as smoothing over some of the squad’s vulnerabilities, particularly in midfield.

From a Whitecaps perspective, VWFC academy grads Jordyn Huitema and Julia Grosso should be involved. Huitema is having a successful season at PSG, just recently having set the record for most goals (six) by a Canadian in Champions League play. Grosso, meanwhile, had two goals and one assist in nine matches during a COVID shortened season at the University of Texas.

Garber Plays Hardball

While the MLSPA has been very quiet recently, MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke on Tuesday afternoon, adding some (although not a lot) of context to 2021 season preparations.

Garber also hinted at the impeding issues that the three Canadian MLS franchises are likely to face, although he wouldn’t commit to any concrete plans.

There’s not a whole lot to say on these issues at the moment, other than I could see CBA negotiations coming down to the wire once again. Players were not happy with the way the league conducted itself in the 11th hour last year, but the pandemic hasn’t put them in a very powerful bargaining position. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.

More Youth Academies!

Early Tuesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps announced a new partnership agreement with a number of provincial soccer associations in Atlantic Canada. As per the Whitecaps’ media release: “The Vancouver Whitecaps and Major League Soccer announced today that Soccer Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association, and Prince Edward Island Soccer Association have all agreed to new and expanded five-year player development partnerships. The Atlantic collaboration includes the creation of a BMO Atlantic Canada Development Centre, and the addition of a Whitecaps FC BMO Eastern Canada head coach, Mike Ayyash, to serve as the ACDC’s head coach.”

What this means for the Whitecaps development ecosystem as a whole very much remains to be seen, but expanding your recruitment base is rarely a bad thing - this is definitely a story I’ll look to follow up on for more details.

The timing of this release was notable as well, given that the HFX Wanderers announced a new youth development program the same morning (also in partnership with Soccer Nova Scotia). Similar to the Whitecaps current structure, the plan looks to be that members of this academy would play for a HFX Wanderers U-23 team in a series of exhibition matches beginning in the summer of 2021. In terms of Canadian soccer minds, I really hold Stephen Hart in high regard, so it will be very interesting to see how his vision and leadership aids in the growth of this new program, and what competition there might be between MLS and CPL academies going forwards. We’re currently two seasons into the Canadian Premier League’s existence and the Vancouver Whitecaps only have five players remaining on their development squad roster. It would be unfair to draw any outright conclusions, but it does look like there’s a trend forming there.

Next Time

Two of the more intriguing prospects slated to join the Men’s National Team will not be making the trip to Florida after all, as Canada Soccer announced Tuesday that Marcelo Flores and Theo Corbeanu will remain with their clubs in England due to COVID concerns. While this is a shame for the camp, it should give both players (Corbeanu in particular who is looking to get more minutes for Wolves) a chance to build momentum with their current league clubs.

Also on Tuesday, Canada announced that one player had tested positive for COVID upon his arrival in Florida, and had been isolated from the team, while not experiencing any symptoms. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of greater things to come, as Canada really needs to hit the ground running with this camp as they start preparations for a busy 2021.