New Canadian pro women's soccer league to fill missing link in player development
'The whole idea behind this is to aim high,' says soccer great and league adviser Christine Sinclair
News of a domestic professional women's league finally coming to Canada in 2025 has Sophia Ferreira dreaming big about her future in the sport.
The 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C., has just wrapped up a second season with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Prior to Monday's announcement, she always assumed she'd have to move to Europe or the U.S. to keep playing post-graduation.
"I was super excited, but I wasn't really expecting it," said Ferreira.
"[Canada doesn't] have a space in between university and the national team where we can play pro or semi-pro, but this gives me an opportunity to stay in my country and play where I grew up."
B.C.'s Christine Sinclair, soccer's all-time international scoring leader, was front and centre with former Canadian international Diana Matheson in announcing the eight-team league on Monday.
"The whole idea behind this is to aim high," Sinclair told CBC. "So let's go out from the get-go and compete with the best leagues in the world and bring in the top talent."
Sinclair has lamented how Canada is years behind other nations in launching a women's league, and the only nation ranked in FIFA's top 20 without one.
That missing link in the player development pathway has been a source of frustration for Axel Schuster, sporting director and CEO of the Vancouver Whitecaps, and a big reason why the club was quick to sign on as a charter member.
"There have been a lot of scouts from U.S. colleges and they have picked all our players," said Schuster.
He notes that B.C. native Julia Grosso, the midfielder who scored the penalty that clinched the gold medal for Canada at the Tokyo Olympic Games, played for the University of Texas Longhorns before moving to Italy's Juventus.
"We've nothing to offer those girls who are committed to our program and to soccer in Canada and it feels not good," he said. "I think it's also a disaster to not have a professional league in the country that just won the Olympic Games."
Stephanie Labbé, the goalkeeper on Canada's gold medal team, has been hired as the Whitecaps' general manager of women's soccer.
Financing and salaries are still a work in progress, but two league sponsors — CIBC and Air Canada — are already on board.
"In terms of being able to invest your dollars in women, to prove that you believe in equality and equity and have those values in your corporation and business, this is the chance to show it," said Labbé.
Calgary's Foothills FC is the only other team already committed to the league. Matheson says the model is to have four teams in the west and four in the east.
When asked by CBC if it was considering adding a women's team, Victoria's Pacific FC of the Canadian Premier League said it's always interested in growing the game of soccer in Canada.
with files from Renee Filappone, Jesse Campigotto, Kathryn Marlow