The Vancouver Whitecaps and Calgary Foothills have each wanted to address a missing piece inside their soccer organizations for some time.
Plans for a new Canadian professional women’s soccer were unveiled this week by Olympic bronze medalist Diana Matheson and her company Project 8, which aims to launch in April, 2025. They announced ownership groups are already in place for two of the eight teams.
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC of Major League Soccer will own a team in Vancouver. The Calgary Foothills Soccer Club, a popular local association that has teams from youth to adult, will get one in Calgary. Both already run teams for girls and women from grassroots to the elite level under their organizational umbrellas. But they watch many of those female players leave to go play professionally abroad, since no pro league exists for them yet in Canada.
The Whitecaps and Foothills both wanted to do something about that, and it took little convincing by Matheson and Project 8.
The Whitecaps currently have an elite female program that features several young players so talented they were chosen to play for Canada at the recent 2022 U-17 Women’s World Cup. The Whitecaps organization says it routinely see scouts from the U.S-based National Women’s Soccer League, and NCAA universities offer their players opportunities to leave Canada.
“We have nothing to offer for those girls at the next platform, we couldn’t offer them something to stay in Canada, to stay in our club,” said Axel Schuster, the chief executive and sporting director of the Vancouver Whitecaps. “It is ridiculous that a country like Canada, that has proven that it has so much talent, that has won the [Olympic] gold medal, has not had a platform for girls and women on the highest level.”
The Whitecaps hired Stephanie Labbe this fall as general manager of women’s soccer. The now-retired goalkeeper who hails from Calgary won gold with Canada at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and was instrumental in connecting both the Whitecaps and Foothills with her old teammate Matheson, who was determined to get this league rolling.
Schuster thanked Matheson and Project 8 for taking the lead on this league.
“Now is really the time to do it,” Schuster added. “It needed only a person and a group that was brave enough to get out and really to get it kicked off.”
The Calgary Foothills is a soccer organization that has been around since 1972 and has some 3,000 kids in its organization. The recreational stream is run by membership fees; it also has another stream that is funded by sponsorships – with teams that serve as pathways to the pros for men and women.
On the men’s side, the Foothills operate the farm team for the Calgary franchise in the Canadian Premier League, Cavalry FC. For women, the Foothills added a team to play summers in an elite American pro-am league called United Women’s Soccer, mostly made up of Canadian women who are also playing college soccer in the NCAA, or may be in the player pool for the national team. They’ve succeeded in that league, facing U.S competition.
Now they want to add a women’s pro team to the Foothills organization, to play in this new league that Project 8 is building. It will be funded by sponsorships and philanthropic money, and Foothills sporting director Mike Mikuska says they want the women’s team to be led by women.
“We want the highest level of professional league in the world, and we’ll be very competitive right off the hop as far as attracting names from other countries and promoting our own national team and Canadian players,” he said.
“We hold a really high standard for how we run our club. We’ve got a great foundation with our youth club and creating this new pathway is very attainable, especially with Diana Matheson and Christine Sinclair setting the stage for us.”
The Whitecaps and Foothills don’t have many details to share yet about what these professional environments will look like in the new league, including where they will play, what kind of resources they will have, and which players they might try to attract.
The league will include eight teams across Canada, four in the east and four in the west. Most immediately, Project 8 still needs to find ownership for its six other teams – ideally in the next six months. Matheson said other possible locations may include Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal or Quebec City, and at least one team in a big Ontario market.
Project 8 has made what it calls conservative projections for average attendance in its debut season in 2025. Matheson said they estimate about 3,700 fans per game in the inaugural season.