Had a long day full of ups and downs yesterday. We took our VanU U10 Boys Academy team up to SFU to play in the Whitecaps Scouting Series in the morning and they were introduced to a level of play that should get them over their case of “big fish in a small pond” virus. Not pretty.
Then it was out to UBC for my U17 Gold girls team game. They played their best game of the season to win an important game against a solid North Shore Girls team. A joy to watch.
I then raced back to Burnaby Lake West to catch the U17/U18 BCPL game between Fusion and Mountain. I figured that for all the space on this site I’ve dedicated to BCPL I should actually get out and watch a game before the mini season ends. This was the first chance I had to see a game and chose this one specifically. I’ve talked with many coaches on the boys and girls side at different age groups but it’s not the same as seeing a game.
Rewind a week first though. Last week I had a chance to watch the TSS Elite team play against the North Shore Girls Renegades. Brendan Quarry, coach of TSS Elite and regular commenter here on the site had invited two players from my U17 gold team to play for them as they were undermanned due to injuries. We agreed that given they had played a game for me earlier in the day they would play just a half each for TSS.
Naturally, I was curious to see the difference knowing that Colin had successfully pitched the idea of putting a team of ’94 born girls into the MWSL Premier Division (followed by a spring/summer of PCSL). Scheduling wise it makes more sense for a group of players who are in Grade 12 and have plans for September that are perhaps a bit up in the air and may take them out of driving distance for the last three months of the BCPL season. The fact that BCPL has still not addressed this issue and coaches who inquire about it are being told not to be negative is an indication that no solution is imminent.
But it’s one thing to provide logistical relief for players stressed about being able to commit to a season that doesn’t end until November. It’s another to meet their needs for a challenging playing and training environment while still keeping them in the mix for the holy grail of top flight post-secondary soccer.
On the first front, how does the standard compare? Silly question for me to try to answer comprehensively when admittedly I’ve seen just one game in each of the two leagues in question. Still, I’ll wade in…
The BCPL game was actually a higher standard than I was expecting based on some very poor Metro games I’ve seen in the same age group. It was cohesive in that there seemed to be an intended style of play with players looking to fill specific responsibilities. The pace was, not surprisingly, hectic but for the most part players were not playing too fast for their abilities; more so in the first half than the second. Ball movement was good but also relatively simple and very few players looked likely to do the unpredictable. Only one player, a former Y League player of mine, seemed to have any other strategy for beating a defender 1v1 beyond just pushing it past the defender and winning a footrace. No player was willing and/or able to dictate attacking play. It was all a bit rote but in a fairly good way. It was an enjoyable game and I was glad to see a decent level of ability from teams trying to do more than kick lumps out each other and the ball.
The downside was that there are clearly players there who are a full notch below the top half of the team. The gulf within teams, in terms of ability, stood out to me as an issue but again this is based on watching one game*.
Comparing this to the experience the TSS Elite players are getting, I’d say from my knowledge of the women’s premier division, that the gulf in ability within the team is not so much the issue as the gulf in ability between teams. TSS was definitely on their back foot the entire first half against North Shore Renegades and really only came into the game in the second half when the score was already 3-0. They looked good in the second half but how much this was down to subs made by North Shore is hard to tell. The pace was not just quicker but stayed that way almost the entire game. The knock of course on MWSL Premier is that there are not enough teams that can compete with the top two or three and, as such, it’s not an effective ‘top’ division.
How would TSS do in the BCPL U17/U18 division? Again, hard to tell as they do have a couple of overage players and the women’s division is much more physical than BCPL. Physical in a mean, angry, hair pulling, ‘mocking the fact that their parents come watch them play’ kind of way. But when your league includes the defending national women’s champions and teams that can compete with them (to a degree) it’s not getting to get much better in terms of a development environment. They are definitely being challenged.
In a nutshell though, the TSS team would do quite well in BCPL. Conversely, and more to the point, I think many of the BCPL teams, or at least many of their players, would not only get by in the MWSL Premier division but that if they could strike some sort of relationship with them, they may have a solution for their U18 players and allow a purely U17 division to exist next year. They’d still need to manage the gap between the younger BCPL teams ending in November and the older teams they graduate into needing to start in September but perhaps a later start and finish is negotiable with MWSL.
The only other solution, and it’s a good one, I’ve heard for the dilemma facing graduating U18 BCPL players is Alfredo Valente’s idea to have BCPL’s last year be a U21 division so you open the pool of players up to allow for some leaving for far off post secondary schooling and still be able to keep teams viable through November.
One notion that does need to be dispelled though is that if you’re not playing BCPL you will not get seen by college and university coaches. Not only did I see the same college coach that I know at both games I attended but another well known university coach told me coaches at that level don’t care where you’re playing, they just want to know if you can actually play. And if you can, they will find out about you.
*Note: I did really try to be anti-social and just watch the game without chatting (hood pulled up, stood on my own away from crowd) but I did end up missing bits of play in the second half due to some conversations.