Wes Knight Retires, Aged 28

By Benjamin Massey · July 31st, 2015 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

So farewell then, Wes Knight. Enjoying what seemed to be a renaissance with his hometown Carolina Railhawks, Knight has announced he will be hanging up his boots[1], aged only 28, and moving into coaching. In hindsight, this isn’t a total surprise: Knight’s struggled with injury for several years and already kicked off his coaching career, earning his USSF “A” license in May. But 2015 had been a long-overdue success for Knight, who had played every minute with the Railhawks and been an important part of a veteran back four. The fans’ loss is Carolina soccer’s gain: Knight is joining the Colorado Rapids program to coach at their Carolina youth academy.

Knight’s best years were his first, when was with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2009 until 2011. There he was a one-time USL First Division finalist, passed over for league honours by narrow margins, and one of the great cult favourites. Born, raised, and educated in South Carolina, Knight appeared at the USL Men’s Player Showcase at the end of 2008 and caught the eye of the Whitecaps staff, but passed through the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. So the southern man made the long trek north, signing with Teitur Thordarson and the Whitecaps on February 11[2]. It was the same day future Canadian international Marcus Haber joined the team; Haber would have an fine 2009 season, be purchased by West Bromwich Albion, and become a semi-regular on the senior Canadian national team, but in strictly local terms you have to say Knight was the better signing.

The odds were against Knight from the start. The 2008 Whitecaps had won the USL championship, and while several core players departed during the offseason a strong defensive crew remained. Steve Kindel, the popular local leftback, was gone, but ageless wonder Takashi Hirano was more than a replacement. In the middle was St. Vincentian colossus Wesley Charles, teaming up with talented American androstatriendione user Jeff Parke. Right back, where Knight would be expected to make his mark, could be occupied by Parke as well as incumbent Lyle Martin, a Whitecap since 2007 when he was team Newcomer of the Year, and a tough boulder to push aside.

In the event Charles and Parke were much less of a team than you’d like: they fought in training, Charles was released, and Parke left anyway to explore European options. The depth was called upon again and again, from veteran Marco Reda to youngster Luca Bellisomo in the second season of his underrated professional career. Most importantly, in preseason training Martin broke his foot. The door had opened a crack, and Knight barged through.

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Where’s the BC Semi-Pro League?

By Benjamin Massey · July 29th, 2015 · No comments

Devon Rowcliffe/Groundhopping Canada

Devon Rowcliffe/Groundhopping Canada

The success of League1 Ontario and the Première ligue de soccer du Québec has again raised interest in a provincial, semi-professional soccer league for British Columbia. Some knowledgeable observers have considered a BC league almost more of a “when” than an “if”, yet we’ve hardly moved an inch towards that goal in the past ten years. This league’s inability to just get off the ground has become a very old story.

Semi-professional soccer could be a success in British Columbia. The clubs, the players, and the fields already exist. Much of the province has a history second-to-none in North America and a local soccer culture with fans used to supporting their local amateurs. Attendances aren’t regularly high, but cup weekends can draw crowds good enough for anybody and the quality and professionalism of higher-level soccer means growth. Many organizations already find sponsors, get fields every week, and boast competitive youth programs sending players to university soccer or the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. That’s half the reason why a semi-pro league is so widely anticipated, and why there’s such frustration as it fails to launch: nobody needs to build anything for the league to work. It’s already there.

A new league has been seriously discussed since before the Whitecaps moved to MLS. In 2010 Ontario semi-pro team Toronto Croatia played Burnaby amateurs Athletic Club of BC at Swangard Stadium, part of a long-rumoured potential expansion of that Ontario league to the west coast. (The visitors got waxed.) That league was eventually reduced to a ruined outlaw league by match-fixing allegations; a lucky escape for the west coast, maybe, but we didn’t build anything on our own either. In 2013 the Canadian Soccer Association aimed to have semi-pro in BC by this year[1], a target that was missed. A BC Soccer committee was to provide an update at its Annual General Meeting this past June[2]. It doesn’t sound like much came out of that either.

We talk about needing investors but several clubs already operate with a budget serious enough to support expanding into semi-pro. This being Canada, of course the big problem is politics. As always. For once, though, we can reserve some sympathy for the politicians.

Yes, British Columbia’s elite adult clubs are divided but that’s on account of differences going back decades. Important institutions would be happy to combine forces if only they could agree on how to combine them. It’s not about power plays (well, it’s not entirely about power plays), but genuinely different visions of elite adult soccer in British Columbia.

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