Canada now has its second pro-am women’s soccer team, and it’s right here in St. Albert.
United Women’s Soccer (UWS) announced Jan. 6 that the St. Albert Soccer Association (SASA) had become the group's newest franchise holder. SASA would now run Canada's second pro-am (professional-amateur mix) women’s soccer team and participate in the league's North American games.
Canada does not have any professional women soccer franchises. Prior to this week, there was just one pro-am women soccer group in Canada, namely the Calgary Foothills WFC down in Calgary.
That meant St. Albert’s female soccer stars had to head to the U.S. or Europe if they wanted to continue their sports careers after college, said SASA president Kevin Jones. This franchise would build on this community’s strong women’s soccer program and support players who wanted to break into pro soccer.
“We’re really excited to bring this opportunity to the region,” Jones said.
Tanya Boychuk, who grew up playing soccer in St. Albert and is currently a member of the national U20 women’s soccer team, said she was ecstatic to hear this news.
“There’s a lot of girls that go out to play university soccer in the United States and they come home and they have no team to play for,” said Boychuk, who was currently playing soccer for the University of Memphis.
Boychuk said this new St. Albert team – dubbed SASA Impact FC – would offer the high-level of play athletes like herself need to keep up their skills in the off-season without leaving Canada.
“Now that they’ve created (a team) just outside of Edmonton, that gives me the opportunity to stay home.”
Big league soccer
Women don’t have many opportunities to get the training they need to become pro soccer players in Canada, explained Boychuk, who hoped to play professionally after she graduated. She could play amateur games in college, but during the off-season she either has to train on her own or move to Calgary to play with Calgary Foothills.
“Right now, women's soccer doesn’t have a lot of options in Canada,” Boychuk said.
It was SASA technical director Troye Flannery who spearheaded to push to bring the UWS to St. Albert. Flannery joined SASA last fall, and had previously served as coach for Calgary Foothills.
"We have a pretty formidable soccer organization here,” Flannery said, with some 2,000 female players in a typical season. He and others felt a pro-am team would be a good next step for the group.
Established in 2016, UWS consists of 35 teams and was open to players aged high-school and up, Flannery said.
The league was meant to give players the experience and exposure they needed to get to pro leagues such as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), similar to how the Edmonton Oil Kings acted as a stepping stone to the Edmonton Oilers. About a hundred UWS players have gone on to the NWSL.
UWS commissioner Joseph Ferrara said Flannery’s previous work with Calgary Foothills convinced the league that he could lead a second team in Alberta. St. Albert is also a natural rival and geographic complement to the Calgary team.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” Ferrara said.
Flannery said he hopes to recruit 22 players for the St. Albert team, some of whom might be paid. The team would have a budget of about $200,000 for a season funded through ticket sales and sponsorships rather than SASA youth dues.
Flannery said the team would play 12 games a year between May and July, half of which would be at St. Albert’s Riel Recreation Park. The plan was to start play this May, but that depends on the pandemic, which had closed the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel as of early January.
“We’re ready to go if we’re permitted to travel across the border,” he said.
Flannery said there was a huge demand in the Edmonton region for this kind of team, given there was just one other pro-am squad in the nation.
“This is the highest level of women’s club soccer in Canada,” he said.
“This is significant for soccer in this country in the women’s game, and we’re pretty proud of the fact that little St. Albert has taken the step to do this.”
Flannery said St. Albert residents should expect “very affordable entertainment” from this new team, as well as some big crowds – the 2019 UWS Championship in Calgary drew some 1,700 fans.
Boychuk said she plans to try out for the St. Albert team and hopes it will inspire young players to up their game. She also hoped St. Albert residents would come out to cheer them on.
“Women’s soccer should get a little more recognition than it’s getting, and to be able to develop it, we need our fans behind us.”
Questions on the team should go to Flannery at [email protected].