'Joyful moment': Alberta footballers cheer news of Calgary team joining pro women's league
Soccer league expected to start in 2025 with 8 teams, including 1 in Calgary
Seven years ago, 11-year-old Calais Butts walked onto an Alberta soccer pitch alongside Canada's national team at the Women's World Cup. Now a high school goalkeeper playing in England, she is reimagining her ambitions following the announcement of professional soccer in her home country.
On Monday, Christine Sinclair and former national teammate Diana Matheson announced a professional women's soccer league, featuring eight teams, is set to launch in 2025.
Calgary Foothills Soccer Club and the Vancouver Whitecaps are confirmed as the first two teams to join the upstart league, which aims to bring home many of the more than 100 women and girls playing abroad.
That includes footballers like Butts, who is now 17 years old and playing in a prestigious program in southwest England for a team connected to the Premier League's Chelsea FC.
Butts plans to head to the United States next year for university but says in sport, a path is "never set."
"To play in a professional league in my home country, there's not much else I would rather do," Calais said in a phone interview from the U.K.
Butts called the news of a pro women's league a "massive step" for women's soccer in Canada.
"I think for the longest time there's been this huge discrepancy in sport in Canada, and this massive focus on hockey and not enough push for soccer."
The league already has buy-in from two major sponsors, Air Canada and CIBC, a testament to the swelling buzz around women's soccer in this country.
That buzz is exemplified by the where-were-you-when moment with Canada's gold medal winning game at the Tokyo Olympics last year and the fact that Christine Sinclair, the world's all-time leading goal scorer, is a household name.
Olympic gold medal winning keeper Stephanie Labbé is also connected to the new league, as the Whitecaps FC's general manager of women's soccer.
'There's not been a Canadian home for these players'
Calgary Foothills technical director Jay Wheeldon has been working to create a home for the talent and excitement within the women's soccer landscape.
"As Olympic champions, there's some top talent here in Canada, and unfortunately there's not been a Canadian home for these players. So being one of the first two franchises makes us extremely excited," said Wheeldon, who called Monday's announcement a "joyful moment."
For Calgary Foothills, having a women's team playing in a national professional league has been "a long-term goal."
"Our ultimate dream was to eventually get a professional franchise," said Wheeldon.
'They can play at home'
Those working in the background, quietly creating pathways for girls in soccer, are also celebrating the announcement of a Canadian pro league.
Lisa Grant is the executive director of Alberta Soccer and says she's "very happy" to see a Calgary team in the league so Alberta girls can have "role models and mentors that are close to home."
"A lot of times, [girls] come through our system and if they play at a high competitive level, where do they go after that?"
Now, says Grant, "they can play at home, they don't have to leave the province of Alberta."
'Massive role models'
The announcement is a full-circle moment for Canada's soccer superstars, creating space for girls like Butts.
In 1999, Sinclair says she watched the World Cup as a kid and dreamed of being on the same pitch one day.
She made it, and more than a decade later, it was Butts watching, cheering on her heroes like Sinclair, Matheson and Labbé.
"These women have inspired me my whole life," said Butts.
"To have these massive role models in my life who continue to create these opportunities for girls like me and for future generations, it's just so impactful. I am indebted to these people and they don't even know who I am."