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USL Pro Vancouver: Closer than we think?

This season, just like last, the Vancouver Whitecaps have entered a partnership with the Charleston Battery to loan a minimum of four players to the USL Pro franchise.

There has been a lot of talk over the past two years of a USL Pro team coming to the Vancouver/Fraser Valley area. Bobby Lenarduzzi has stated to AFTN in the past that the Whitecaps have no plans of owning a USL team anytime soon, but he also didn't deny that there wasn't a chance of a team coming to Vancouver under a different ownership group.

Such a move may be closer than we think.
Sources are telling me that the Vancouver Canucks' owning Aquilini Investor Group may have an interest in bringing a USL Pro side to Vancouver or the lower mainland, with initial enquiries suggesting that there have already been several discussions and meetings at the USL Pro headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

Francesco Aquilini has been a huge supporter of local soccer. His children play youth soccer in Vancouver and he is heavily involved in all aspects of their involvement. I have also heard from people with direct knowledge he has built a functional turf pitch on his family property. His company may own the Canucks, but soccer is a game close to his heart.

Back in <a href="http://www.bcbusiness.ca/people/francesco-aquilini-and-his-canucks-breakaway?page=4" target="_blank"><u>October 2008</u></a> it was reported that Aquilini had been exploring the option of making a bid for a MLS team in Vancouver, but this came to nothing after Greg Kerfoot announced his plan to move forward with his MLS bid for the Whitecaps FC franchise.

A franchise fee for a USL Pro team is in the $600,00 to $750,000 range. Average operating costs per USL team is between $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 per season according to the USL Pro league website.

Having a team in Vancouver/Fraser Valley would be highly beneficial to the Whitecaps both on the field and off it in terms of getting more into the local communities

With a potential 26 man squad, it would be a great opportunity to get some of the Caps' younger MLS draft picks and Residency players some quality meaningful minutes. With no reserve team this season, minutes for the majority of the younger players are going to have to be in U18 and PDL games, unless they grab one of the loan spots in Charleston.

A local USL team would be great for the FO to keep an eye on these players development at close quarters moving forward, hopefully getting them to a point where they can make the jump to the MLS team.

Most concerns heard about loaning players to Charleston last season was when the players came back them saying it felt like a waste of a season. Current Whitecap Bryce Alderson has said if he is sent back to the USL this season he would consider that a disappointment for his growth.

There have also been concerns expressed around the quality of training down with the Battery, although this should be addressed this season after Charleston's coaches met with their Vancouver counterparts to discuss coaching ethos.

The ideal USL Pro team in Vancouver should be owned by the Whitecaps. That way the FO could control all aspects of the team, players, coaching methods and game day experience for the supporters.

This season the LA Galaxy has started their own USL team, LA Galaxy II, and the clubs are due to square off in the first "White v Blue" preseason battle later this month. They're marketing that game and the new team well to ensure that fans know it is just an extension of their club and an important one at that.

If the desire or investment is not there though for the Whitecaps to run their own side, then partnering with a successful businessman with a sporting background like Aquilini would be the next best route to go down if there is a guarantee to work in partnership with the Whitecaps and develop their talent.

Stay tuned for more updates......