Posted on: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Cleeve Dheensaw | Times Colonist
Adherents of the various sports like to claim, in most cases justifiably, that Victoria has proven to be a baseball, rugby, lacrosse, basketball, running, rowing, cycling and triathlon town.
It has also always been a soccer town and new Victoria Highlanders general-manager Mark deFrias wants to tap into the sport’s historical support systems here to build a base for his club.
The 28-year-old officially took over as GM of the men’s Highlanders of the United Soccer League Premier Development League, and women’s Peninsula
Co-op Highlanders of the
W-League, on Wednesday. DeFrias will also manage all Highlanders programs from U-9 to U-20.
“Our youth programs feed our PDL program,” said deFrias. “In turn, our Highlanders PDL players are finding their way onto NCAA and CIS [collegiate] teams across North America.”
As event marketing assistant for the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, the large crowds at Royal Athletic Park made deFrias aware of the potential for an admissions-charging premier soccer club team in the city.
So too Alex Campbell Jr., the owner of the five-year-old Highlanders program, who has tapped deFrias to manage his operation.
“I’m sad to be leaving UVic [where he has been athletics marketing and sponsorship officer the past three years] but truly excited in taking on this new role with the Highlanders,” said deFrias, a former Lakehill and Sagres player, noting soccer has always been his first love.
“I want to make the Highlanders a winner on and off the field and as financially sustainable as possible.”
It can be argued that a metro region of 344,000 should be able to support flagship men’s and women’s soccer teams. The Highlanders play in the top development league in North America. Even the professional Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers of MLS enter their development teams in the same PDL conference as the Highlanders.
The W-League, meanwhile, is currently the top level of women’s club soccer in North America, featuring many of the American and Canadian medallists from the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
According to the club, the Highlanders averaged about 1,000 fans last season at Royal Athletic, while
Co-op was in the 300 range.
“We need to do a better job marketing both our teams,” agreed deFrias, who also worked as communications co-ordinator with the successful women’s field-hockey Olympic qualifying tournament for Beijing 2008 held in Victoria.
“I believe there is a market for soccer in Victoria and Canada. But we need to re-energize and reconnect with the Island soccer community. We can do a better job of sharing and getting information out there regarding our teams.
“We’re here for the long term.”
DeFrias said Steve Simonson will return as head coach of the Highlanders next season and Dave Dew will return to guide Peninsula Co-op.