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  • Western Canadian local soccer has made its mark


    Nobody reading this site will need an introduction to the famous Support Local Football campaign, which has received press attention in many corners of this dominion. Notwithstanding the tragic Boston Red Sox hat, the video had exactly the right message: get out and support Canadian soccer.

    Understandably, given that the video was created before the Canadian friendly against Ecuador, it focuses heavily on the Canadian national team. With les Rouges in action tonight against the hated United States, it's as timely today as ever. We shouldn't, however, lose sight of our local clubs in our rush to acclaim our national team. When you look at the roster Stephen Hart has assembled for the 2011 Gold Cup, the weight carried by local soccer clubs across the nation becomes clear. Western Canada has done more than its share: while lower-level games in Ontario and Quebec get some attention, maybe it's we Westerners who should open our eyes furthest.


    Josh Simpson, for example, could stand as a tribute to the merits of local soccer. Before he caught the attention of English side Millwall, Simpson was a fixture in the Cascadian youth soccer programs. Simpson spent his formative years in the Lower [Vancouver] Island Soccer Association, a well-respected organization whose youth teams constantly contend for provincial honours, before moving to the University of Portland on a soccer scholarship. It would be hard to get much more local than Simpson's humble origins, but those games on municipal pitches in Victoria before friends and family paved the way to a career as one of Turkey's finest offensive players and perhaps Canada's leading star.

    If youth soccer isn't your bag then you might be interested in the career of Lars Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was born in that goalkeeping hotbed of Edmonton, Alberta, and his professional debut came in games that were about as local as you can get while still getting paid: with the Edmonton Drillers of the indoor National Professional Soccer League. Hirschfeld did two tours as a starter with the A-League's Calgary Storm, playing before crowds of hundreds, before moving to Tottenham and immortality.

    Perhaps you're shaking your head here. "The A-League? That's not Manchester United, true, but it's hardly 'local soccer'. The A-League was fully professional and produced a few international players in its salad days." Then take a look at the career of aspiring Canadian national defender Adam Straith. Straith isn't on this Gold Cup team, of course, but nobody will look askance at the 20-year-old's six senior caps at such a tender age. Yet Straith comes from the humblest soccer origins. Born in Vancouver, Straith came up from the Victoria-area youth system and in fact had a spell with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency, but his first crack at high-level soccer came in 2005 with the PCSL's Victoria United. Young Straith got his first attention simply by playing in an amateur, weekend soccer league, and that's led him to a spot in our national pool in hardly the blink of an eye.

    Other examples abound of players who made appearances at the lower level, however briefly. It wasn't so long ago that Kevin McKenna was playing soccer part time between studies at the University of Calgary or that Nik Ledgerwood was a Calgary Storm youth player (without doubt the most accomplished player to graduate Calgary's brief youth program). Men like Andre Hainault and Dwayne De Rosario made flying starts to their careers with second-division teams in Montreal and Toronto. Jonathan Bourgault played last year in the German Regionalliga West, which they'd consider pretty local soccer indeed.

    That's one of the wonderful teams about supporting local soccer. Somewhere in the Canadian Soccer League, the next Dwayne De Rosario toils in obscurity. Somewhere in the Pacific Coast Soccer League, the next Josh Simpson does the same. Watching these players go on to stardom is one of the finest pleasures a soccer fan can experience. Why would you give it up?

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