Prospect of pro soccer welcomed by community groups

The Royal Engineer Sappers played in the first soccer match in British Columbia on May 24, 1862, when they faced a team comprised of New Westminster townsfolk on a pitch near Woodlands. That game has been occasionally recreated as part of Victoria Day festivities at Queen
The Royal Engineer Sappers played in the first soccer match in British Columbia on May 24, 1862, when they faced a team comprised of New Westminster townsfolk on a pitch near Woodlands. That game has been occasionally recreated as part of Victoria Day festivities at Queen's Park stadium.

A professional soccer team in Queen's Park would be a boon for New Westminster's young soccer players.

At least, that's the hope of Peter Van Garderen of Royal City Youth Soccer. He and RCYC club manager Karen Murray were attentive listeners at Tuesday's press conference to announce the city had reached a memorandum of understanding with the Vancouver Whitecaps to begin the process of locating a developmental team that would play in a refurbished Queen's Park stadium. The team would be a member of the minor USL PRO, a third division league that has franchises in cities like Pittsburgh, PA., Charlotte, NC, Rochester, NY and Sacramento, CA.

To accommodate the team, Queen's Park stadium would be refurbished and seating capacity expanded to at least 3,500. A new turf field for soccer would also be installed, as well as improved lighting.

"It's an exciting opportunity," said Van Garderen, who learned of the plan via email shortly before the scheduled press conference. "But if the Whitecaps build a facility that the kids can only peer at over a fence, then it's no good to us."

Murray, who just returned from a holiday only hours before the announcement, said her association already has to pull a juggling act every season to fit all its games onto the city's existing soccer pitches, many of which are also used by other sports like field lacrosse and football.

"We still feel like we don't get the respect we deserve," said Murray, who estimated her association has more than 2,000 players.

Murray is a veteran battler for New West's soccer players. She spearheaded a drive to get a new field turf pitch built in Queen's Park.

Van Garderen said the city's young players still need a field dedicated solely to their sport, with a clubhouse, storage and training facilities.

"At the end of the day, what we need is facilities," said van Garderen.

But what's good for soccer may not be good for baseball.

Stephen Petersen of the Vancouver Junior Cannons of the BC Premier Junior Baseball League, who share the stadium with the Cannons' senior team, said the arrival of pro soccer at the facility likely means the departure of top-level high school aged baseball. At least for the time being.

"We have to look elsewhere," said Petersen.

However the move may not be permanent, said Petersen.

"The City of New West doesn't want to lose baseball," he said. "They want to get another baseball facility up and running as quickly as possible."

That's especially important considering the long tradition the game has enjoyed in the Royal City, said Petersen, who noted Colorado Rockies star Justin Morneau played ball in Queen's Park stadium when he was a kid.

For neighbours of Queen's Park, refurbishing the stadium would be good news, said David Brett, the president of Queen's Park Residents Association.

Although he hopes that would come in conjunction with a reconfiguration of the park's main entrance, moving it to McBride Avenue. That would help alleviate some of the traffic congestion that can clog surrounding residential streets whenever there are big events in the park.

"If they can address that, that would go a long way to mitigating the impact to the neighbourhood," he said.

Brett, who participated in a series of workshops held last year to generate ideas for the future of the park and its myriad of facilities, said it's important the stadium structure be given new life.

"Saving the stadium would be a good thing for the historic nature of Queen's Park," he said.

Brett said many of his association's members are supportive of increased use of the park.

"Some people in the neighbourhood love the concept of sporting events taking place in the park," he said. "They want it to be a thriving place for activity."

Brett said the proposal will likely be fodder for discussion at the association's next meeting.

Dean Gibson, New Westminster's director of parks and recreation, said the city would begin consultations with the community immediately.


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