I think it’s generally accepted that when you choose to go through a gut-wrenching overhaul of a system and put processes in place to effect change, there is an end goal in mind and that goal is the substantial betterment of whatever the change is being applied to.
In the case of youth soccer we are in the midst of a shift to a new elite league – HPL. Some very smart changes are being incorporated (new playing season, free player movement, franchise quantity controls) and despite the considerable disruptions there will be to most clubs next season it’s a necessary evil for anyone who wants to see elite level soccer better positioned for players who want to go on to compete at the highest levels.
But again, this process should lead to desired outcomes and one obvious outcome should be that the HPL, and whatever the second tier of soccer ends up being called, should be competitive leagues with a high degree of parity. Limiting franchises is supposed to weed out the teams that drag the overall level of play down and provide a suitable environment for development rather than a handful of competitive games and an equal number of blowouts that benefit nobody. It then becomes incumbent on the franchises being considered to demonstrate that they will indeed be able to field competitive teams.
The question then becomes: will HPL accomplish this overall or perhaps more so at some age groups than others. You get fairly different answers if you assess what next year’s U14 girls HPL will look like compared to next year’s U16’s.
We’ve reached a point in the season where it’s clear which teams in the top two tiers (Metro/Selects and Gold 1) are doing well. I’m going to break down the U13 and U15 girls divisions today (next year’s U14 and U16 HPL) and, going by my earlier predictions of who I think will get HPL franchises, look at how those various HPL and 2nd tier divisions will look like next season. This analysis omits the Okanagan and the Island as there’s not enough info to make fair comparisons (and let’s face it, they’re getting franchises anyways).
Looking at next year’s U14 scenario though, the current U13 Gold 1 standings make a few things clear:
If you go on the basis that the six Lower Mainland franchises will be: Abby (AB), Surrey United (SU), Metro Ford (CMF), South Fraser (SF), Vancouver-Richmond (VR) and North Shore – Burnaby (NSB) then the first thing that strikes you is that the idea of limiting HPL to six teams is perfect for divisions like this. As per usual there are tons of U13 Gold 1 teams. 16 this year. Boiling them down to the six HPL franchises means this
AB: Have no team of their own so will be reliant on the Langley FC and Golden Ears girls (11th and 13th place). This highlights the dilemma in giving Abby a franchise. Will they be able to compete in a league with just six franchises when they either have no team or a weak team and little to draw from?
SU: Currently the third best team from Surrey in the division but if Surdel Peg don’t get a franchise and the Golden Ears/Pitt Meadows bid also falls short, SU will benefit massively from an influx of players from SBAA and Surrey FC Peg; clearly two of the strongest teams in the league.
CMF: This is what makes HPL a tough pill for clubs like Port Moody. They have a substantially better team than Metro Ford at this age group but will lose their best players to CMF’s HPL team next season. Then they don’t even know if they’ll be given a Metro team so they could end up going from being one of the strongest BCCGSL U13 gold 1 teams to having a team that plays in the third tier of play next season (Gold). CMF will have the pick of not just Port Moody but the overachieving Royal City Salsa, Golden Ears and likely some Burnaby girls from eithe Cliff or BGSC to augment a middle of the pack team.
SF: With just a Semiahmoo team (SSC Rocks) in the division, they will look to pull Richmond girls south and some of the players from SBAA and Surrey FC south.
VR: An obviously strong Richmond team will anchor the VR HPL team in this age group with two weak Vancouver teams buttressing the effort. With two of the three training sessions scheduled for Vancouver (and an expectation the HPL teams will train at Empire Field once the stadium is torn down and two turf fields replace it) it will be tough to draw players from south Surrey but there may be some appeal for Burnaby players who will drive right by there on their way over the Second Narrows to NSB training sessions.
NSB: A relatively healthy age group with a strong-ish North Shore Girls team, two middle of the pack Burnaby girls teams (if they can stop them from imploding as Burnaby U13 girls teams have done the past two seasons) and a bottom third West Van team. Should be fine.
If I were to rank them it would look like this:
- Surrey United
- CMF (if their traditional drawing power holds)
- North Shore-Burnaby (if they get most of the stronger Burnaby girls)
- Vancouver Richmond (if enough don’t opt out to play other sports; a concern)
- South Fraser
It’s really not intended to be a dig at Abby. I think if Golden Ears/Pitt Meadows were picked ahead of Abby they would be staring at exactly the same problem in just as many age groups.
Now looking at the second tier, you really have to make some big assumptions because there’s been virtually no discussion of who will pick these teams. All we’ve been told is that the league will be limited to twelve teams. By stating there will be a limit, there is an implicit selection process to determine who will be allowed in and who won’t. It’s being assumed the six HPL franchises will also get a Metro franchise but there is nothing I’ve seen to suggest this is a given. There is actually a lingering movement in at least two Districts to scrap Metro all together and free up the HPL franchises to focus solely on those and leave the second tier of play as Gold 1 to be run by non HPL franchises. I’ll look at why that may be a good idea when we look at next year’s U16’s. Whether that has legs or not is anybody’s guess but if you assume it’s not going to happen and that there are six Metro franchises up for grabs, the logical contenders are:
- Port Moody
- Surrey Breakers
- Surrey FC Peg
- Cliff Ave or BGSC (whoever loses fewer players to HPL; maybe both)
- West Van
It definitely helps to have a high number of teams at U13 to draw U14 HPL teams. It should ensure a good standard of play and still leave a healthy second tier.
Not quite the same for this year’s U15s moving on to form next year’s U16 HPL. Current Metro standings:
AB: Will once again struggle. They have a last place team and the only place they can realistically draw from is Pitt Meadows (half hour drive?) or maybe some Semi players who don’t mind the speed bumps along 0 Avenue.
SU: One of the only age groups (the only?) that Surrey United don’t have a Metro team. Compounding the problem is the lack of a Langley team to the east (even though they’re supposed to be working with Abby). SU will be reliant on being able to bring in the best Surrey FC and SBAA players to be able to field a competitive team.
CMF: Poised to dominate this age group. Already the best team in the division, they are likely to draw the best Pitt Meadows players as well.
CF: There’s already been an overture by those running the Tsawwassen team to be the de facto CF team. This is an unusual team already with three strong Richmond players, two professional coaches and strong financial backing from a parent. CF will need them as there is only a relatively weak Semi team in their region.
VR: Vancouver and Richmond are in fifth and sixth place which looks relatively healthy until you see how the standings gap between fourth and fifth and realize that Vancouver are below .500 and Richmond, having played fewer games, are right at .500. If the Tsawassen team stays intact and moves almost wholly to SF then that means VR won’t get any of their players and will struggle.
NSB: North Shore Girls are on their own here so just as well they’re one of the stronger teams. Very little to draw from unless the stronger Vancouver girls opt out of the VR team.
- SU (if they can reach out to the other Surrey club’s strongest players)
- South Fraser (if they get the Tsawwassen team)
- North Shore – Burnaby
- Vancouver – Richmond
And what does that leave for a second tier? Can any of these HPL franchises really make a claim to having enough depth to run a second tier team as well? CMF could but not many others. Given that the Metro division goes from 10 to 6 HPL teams (ostensibly leaving four teams worth of players for the second tier) and that the current U15 Gold 1 standings look like this:
You could argue that the simple solution is to have Pitt Meadows, Surrey FC, SBAA and Semiahmoo enter Metro teams with all of the Gold 1 teams while merging the two last place North Shore Gold teams. That flies in the face of HPL teams also running the second tier but, with the exception of CMF and NSB for this division (although the NSB second tier team is a stretch), it would require a massive number of players to leave their current club to go to an HPL franchise just so they could play second tier soccer. Is that a desired outcome or more like collateral damage?
This is where the whole idea of Metro breaks down. This is not going to be anything but a very marginally stronger division at U16 Metro than it is at U15 Gold 1 yet having HPL franchises run half the teams causes considerably more disruption than the simple solution suggested above.
You can see that the idea of having the HPL franchises run the second tier works much better when combining the two oldest divisions.
Simple math for the U18 HPL division (remember there’s no U17) and the assumption that Metro will follow suit and match up age wise and eliminate their U17 division means you will have nine Lower Mainland U16 Metro teams (Abby don’t have a team but Chilliwack do) and six U17 Lower Mainland Metro teams forming the basis of the U18 HPL teams. Several of the (assumed) HPL franchises would be able to field both HPL and Metro teams at U18 without completely destabilizing surrounding clubs in order to field the second tier teams because they have teams in both these divisions already (or have partner clubs that do).
I may try to do a similar look at some of the boys divisions sometime soon but for now you can see that the intended outcome of HPL is going to be felt substantially more in some age groups more than others and some of the franchises are going to have some serious hurdles to overcome if they want to be competitive. If geographic distribution of the franchises is going to trump the ability to demonstrate genuine competitiveness across the board then there’s a good chance we won’t avoid one of the major issues with Metro soccer: blowouts and a general lack of consistently challenging games for the better players.
The second question this raises is whether it’s wise to have a uniform policy on the granting of second tier franchises or whether it should be a function of how disruptive it would be to neighbouring clubs to compel HPL franchises to run second tier teams when they clearly don’t have the inherent depth to do so.