Women Rovers a bridge to far away places

They’ve played their last home game of the short spring season, but the TSS Rovers women’s soccer team isn’t done yet.

The squad, which competes in the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s Northwest Division, is helping to bridge the gap between youth soccer and post-university, with players between the ages of 17 and 24.

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It’s no coincidence, as bridging a gap is what the TSS FC was initially formed to do nine years ago, for the girls who were attending the program’s soccer academy in Richmond.

“We were essentially soccer tutors, helping young players on a weekend or weeknight basis originally, before we decided to run the full-time program,” recalled co-owner and girls technical director Brendan Quarry.

The majority of this year’s Rovers roster are from the Richmond-based program, but there is also a healthy dose of players from U-Sports and NCAA teams, just like last year.

And while this year’s lineup has lost national team members Julia Grosso (a former Burnaby girls soccer prospect) and Jordyn Huitema due to the World Cup, it has plenty of skill.

The Rovers have gone 3-2 on the circuit, which wraps up July 6 in Victoria against first-place Vancouver Island. But it’s on the long-term stage where TSS has things cooking.

Operating as a business, TSS teams have been unable to compete in B.C. provincial cups or promote their players to the Whitecaps REX or national stream programs. At the u18 and u17 levels, the club fields a team in the Metro Women’s premier and select leagues, but the younger divisions have filled their slate with a lot of exhibition and tournament play.

Quarry said changing models of player development in a variety of sports has Canada Soccer looking to create an avenue where clubs that operate whether as non-profit, for-profit or through community groups can have their players receive the same competitive opportunities as others.

Having proven its worth by becoming a steady feeder of talent for NCAA and USports soccer programs, TSS is eager to see its players at all age divisions able to pursue the same goals as those in community clubs.

“Universities are completely impartial as to where their players come from,” noted Quarry. “They identify players and take them from whatever program they’ve played in.”

TSS FC evolved from its academy, which began in 1997 to help develop girls and boys’ soccer skills as complementary training to their respective club programs. The first venture into a full-time program came nine seasons ago with a u18 girls squad.

The aim was to give them a place where they could continue that growth but also be ready for the next step, Quarry said.

“Every single one of them was recruited to a university soccer program,” he said of that inaugural squad.

When the Whitecaps Elite program recognized TSS last year, by allowing players to join the Rovers’ ranks in its first run in the WPSL, Canada Soccer began discussions as to creating ways that private programs like TSS’s could work alongside community clubs.

“They’ve come out and discussed the important parts, and put a plan to have programs like ours go through a licensing, vetting procedure. The whole point is to do what’s best for the players, which is work towards developing the best options, whether those be non-profit, for-profit or club,” said Quarry.

The end goal would see programs like TSS FC be able to compete in the province’s top circuit for u13 to u18, which is the B.C. Premier Soccer League.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Quarry said.

This year’s Rovers lineup features a number of players who’ve developed through the TSS program, from elder statesperson Katie Bishop – who was part of that first TSS u18 team – to teenagers like Burnaby’s Amanda Scott (committed to SFU), Richmond’s Maya Alibudbud (Georgia Gwinnett College) and Delta’s Kathleen Aitchison (University of Nebraska).

They are joined by Whitecap elite product and SFU alum Jenna-Lee Baxter, REX alumna and Louisiana State player Reese Moffatt, and Mountain FC and SFU products like North Van’s Emma Pringle and Burnaby twins Allyson and Christina Dickson.

On Sunday, they knocked off the Portland-based Westside Timbers 2-1 at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium, primed by goals from Pringle and Baxter.

The next change Quarry hopes to see is the creation of a Canadian women’s professional league, a long-rumoured but so-far still distant project.

Key to that would be for the development of a strong fan base, which appears once every four years with the arrival of the Women’s World Cup.

As part of the TSS FC program, players are expected to watch pro and international soccer games and write about it. That exposure creates an understanding of what the field of their ambitions truly entails, he said.

“We want them to watch the game at elite levels, because it’s a valuable part of learning,” Quarry said. “Whether it’s men’s or women’s (soccer), you need to be exposed to the sport at its best. ... It’s a challenge but (the World Cup) is a perfect opportunity for players at this level to see what is out there.”

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