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Derek Van Diest Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies (center) poses for photos with family members after being honored before playing his final game as a member of the MLS soccer team in Vancouver on Sunday, October 28, 2018. Photo by Darryl Dyck /.CP

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Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps are expanding their talent search to benefit all Alberta players.

The Whitecaps announced a partnership with Alberta Soccer to run elite camps in Edmonton and Calgary that provide a direct link to the professional club for talented male and female players across the province.

The Whitecaps will fund and operate the high-performance programs, including the establishment of an MLS Prospects Academy for boys in Edmonton, similar to the one already in place in Calgary, and the establishment of an elite program for girls in the two major cities.

“We realized that the Whitecaps wanted to expand their academy presence in Calgary and Edmonton and we decided to explore,” said Richard Adams, executive director of Alberta Soccer. “We’re going to partner with the Whitecaps in an MLS academy for boys and a regional Excel center for girls – they call it a REX program – in Calgary and Edmonton.

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“So you will have 18 to 20 players in the 14 to 17-year-old range in the program throughout the winter. From October through December and January through March, they’ll be training these players on essentially a full-time basis. “

The whitecaps will fully fund the program so participants don’t have to pay to attend. Participants will also play with their respective club teams during the season.

The funds provided by the Whitecaps will have an impact on the rest of the football community in the province.

“They fund the program 100 percent and allow us to reallocate the currently limited resources to focus more on basic and coaching training. Here we have always tried to focus money while always being aware of the (pros). The way is whole, ”said Adams. “We have always tried to strike that balance, but the whitecaps will allow us to focus again on basic and coaching training on the technical side, which is an area that all of our members need.”

The continued development of professional football in Canada with the three MLS teams (Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, CF Montreal) and the formation of the Canadian Premier League have created a demand for high-level players across the country.

Professional teams willing to invest in regional programs to fill their roster help the game at all levels.

“This partnership with the Whitecaps really gives those individual players who are identified the opportunity, which is huge,” said Adams. “In our view, with this investment from the Whitecaps, we can add more value to the 100,000 football players in Alberta. We can redirect these funds in a bigger direction and that is of tremendous value to us and our members. “

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Players selected to participate in the Academy programs will be identified by local club coaches and Whitecaps staff. The goal of the professional club is to find players who could one day qualify for the whitecaps for both men and women.

“We actually had conversations with some of the bigger clubs in Calgary and the bigger clubs in Edmonton prior to the announcement and only talked to them about some of the really high-level topics of the program,” said Adams. “The Whitecaps will be hiring a boys and girls program manager in Calgary and Edmonton, a total of four full-time employees, and they will build these relationships with the clubs to help identify players.

“They’ll be doing some of their own scouting, but also working with some local coaching leads to make sure the players aren’t missed. It’s not just in town, they will try to build relationships that move outside of town towards Grande Prairie and down to Lethbridge.

“They will try to be as present as possible in these areas so that they don’t leave a stone unturned.”

The Edmonton product Alphonso Davies graduated from Whitecaps Youth Academy before playing in the MLS with the club. Davies eventually moved to Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga, where he became an international sensation. He is now a key member of the Canadian national team and aims to help the squad qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“Technically, Alphonso never made it into the (local) academy program. He was on our provincial team program, which Alberta Soccer was directing at the time and identified as quite young,” said Adams. “He attended the Whitecaps full-time youth academy in Vancouver, which is what the top of those 18-20 players in this program will do.

“So this is really the system in which they would hopefully identify players like Alphonso.”

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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