Posted on: Thursday, April 9, 2009
Published: April 9, 2009 (Times Colonist)
The Victoria Highlanders of the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League division have signed Pele.
Well, at least the American version from Kennewick, Wash.
“I guess I was destined to play soccer,” sighed Matt Pele, sounding like a guy who has heard all the comments before.
“My name is the first thing anybody brings up when they learn that I play soccer. And, of course, the opposition fans have a lot of fun with it and heckle me a lot,” added the NCAA Division II second-team all-American out of Western Washington University.
But this Pele can play, too. The Highlanders announced the 22-year-old as one of four new signings yesterday and were fortunate to land the dominating midfielder for the PDL (the 70-team circuit with clubs mostly in the U.S.). Pele was offered a USL pro division contract by the Vancouver Whitecaps after his junior season last year at WWU but instead opted to return to Bellingham to finish off his senior season.
The midfield situation changed for the Whitecaps in the meantime and the USL pro club didn’t offer to sign the strapping Pele this season; and so the Highlanders jumped at the opportunity to land a potential future pro.
“The environment and standard here is so much different — so much higher and more ambitious — than it is in the rest of the PDL and I liked what I saw,” said Pele.
The Highlanders’ slick level of operation may indeed seem like overkill for the PDL level — the club yesterday announced Coast Capital Savings as title sponsor in a deal worth $75,000 over three years — but it’s the standard the organization needs to attain to realize its dream of moving up to the USL pro league within three years.
“This organization has ambitions of moving up to the USL pro division and it would be exciting to be a part of all that if the Highlanders make that jump,” said Nic Reyes, another player the club signed.
“It was exciting to see all the different cities when I played professional,” added Reyes, who played pro in the A-League (precursor to the USL) with the Calgary Storm/Mustangs in 2003 and 2004.
The last time Reyes was in Victoria, he was the final cut on Team Canada, which played in the 2001 Under-20 World Cup CONCACAF qualifier at Centennial Stadium. This time he knows he will stick around the capital. The small but creative midfielder helped lead the Calgary Callies to back-to-back Canadian senior titles in 2007 and 2008.
The other signings announced yesterday — Lennart Dobravsky of Germany and Island league stalwart Steve Scott of Sooke — brings to 10 the number of players signed by the Highlanders.
Dobravsky came to the Island last fall because his brother Dustin Dobravsky, a member of Germany’s U-20 rugby team, is attending Shawnigan Lake School. Lennart Dobravsky had an MVP season with the Vancouver Island University Mariners and caught the eye of Highlanders coach and former Team Canada captain Colin Miller.
“In Germany, you are not educated to play just one position and I can play any position on the field,” said the Hanover-raised Dobravsky.
“I’m not going to play at the level of pro in Germany, obviously, but I played at a very good amateur level.”
Not that wild PDL-German dreams can’t come true. In one of the most unlikely soccer stories, unheralded Bosnian-American and 2003 PDL player Vedad Ibisevic came out of nowhere to lead the German Bundesliga in scoring for much of this season with rank upstart Hoffenheim.
“Everybody in Germany knows Ibisevic now and it’s amazing to think he came out of the PDL,” said the 22-year-old Dobravsky.
The Highlanders, whose roster will be completed after trials held later this month, meet Province Cup-bound Nanaimo in an exhibition game Saturday in the Harbour City. Victoria opens with four road games in the PDL, starting May 1 against the Spiders in Spokane, and continuing against Vancouver Whitecaps Residency, Portland Timbers and Abbotsford Mariners. That will allow for completion of City Centre Stadium in Langford, where the
Highlanders hold their home opener May 23 against Abbotsford.