Manitoba

'Total excitement' as Canadian Premier League announces Valour FC, Winnipeg's new professional soccer team

A professional soccer team will kick off in Winnipeg next year, part of the Canadian Premier League, which is expected to include eight to 10 teams.

Team will begin playing next spring at Investors Group Field as one of 8 to 10 teams in new league

Wade Miller, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Football Club, speaks at the unveiling Wednesday of Winnipeg's professional soccer team. (CBC)

A new professional soccer team will kick off in Winnipeg next year.

The Canadian Premier League announced on Wednesday a Winnipeg franchise, called Valour FC, will be part of the fledgling league for its inaugural season, playing next year at Investors Group Field.

"It is time for us to give young Canadian soccer players the opportunity to play professional soccer in Canada," said Wade Miller, president of the Winnipeg Football Club. The non-profit organization, which also operates the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, will run Valour FC.

"I look forward to seeing which Manitobans are on this pitch next year. This is your team, built by our community for the community."

The club's name is inspired by three Winnipeg soldiers who fought in the First World War and received the Victoria Cross, the highest military recognition for honour and bravery in Commonwealth countries at the time.

The three men lived on the same Winnipeg street, which is now called Valour Road.

The team will be part of an eight- to 10-team league, with a season running from May to October.

Other than Winnipeg, teams have so far been announced in Calgary, Ontario's York Region and Halifax. A Vancouver Island team was given conditional entry into the league last week.

Valour FC announced Belgian goalkeeper Mathias Janssens as their latest signing to bolster their lineup. (Winnipeg Football Club)

Like the team's name, the Valour FC logo includes some nods to Winnipeg's history.

"When you see the logo, when you see the identity, when you see the kit colours, I promise you that you will be very proud of your new club, because it was done by Winnipeggers for Winnipeggers," said Premier League commissioner David Clanachan Wednesday.

The crest design was inspired by the Victoria Cross medal, with a "V" emulating a folded ribbon inside the circle of the maroon medal, Miller said.

The centre of the 'V' represents the meeting of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, and one side of the V forms a "W" for Winnipeg. The whole crest is topped by wheat, representing agriculture.

'Something to dream of' for players

Raphael Ohin hopes to play for the team. He moved to Winnipeg to play for the city's team in the Premier Development League, the highest-level soccer in the city, after playing for teams in Ghana, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Thailand.

"I feel like this is going to give young talent lots of opportunity to play. I feel like it's going to step up the game, soccer game in Canada," he said.

He said his teammates on WSA Winnipeg, which plays in the Premier Development League's Heartland Division, have all been waiting for the announcement of a professional team and he's hoping to be a part of it.

Raphael Ohin hopes to play for Valour FC. He came to Canada to play soccer with the Premier Development League's WSA Winnipeg, after playing for teams in Ghana, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Thailand. (CBC)

"It would mean a lot to me. It is my dream to play [in] one of the highest leagues in the world, being a professional. That is the main goal right there," he said.

"That's why we've all been playing soccer, to eventually see ourselves playing in the higher level, being in the stadium and playing — you've got thousands of spectators watching you. It's a great feeling, right?"

Eduardo Badescu, president of WSA Winnipeg, said he hopes to see Valour FC coaches focus on Manitoba players as they build their team.

"As long as we have that attitude, I think it will work out very good," he said.

He said soccer in Manitoba will benefit from the team.

"It needs this professional league. It needs to give the players, the young players, something to dream of," he said.

Top-level soccer

Valour FC won't be the first professional soccer team in Manitoba. The Winnipeg Fury, the city's first professional soccer team, surprised many in the Canadian soccer scene when they won the Mita Cup in 1992, but left shortly after when the Canadian Soccer League folded.

The city also saw professional soccer when Winnipeg hosted the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called the announcement an "incredibly positive development for our city."

"Winnipeg knows how to host professional sports. We know how to get behind our sports teams. We've seen that recently, with the most successful Jets playoff run in the history of the Winnipeg Jets," he said.

Matt Thomas, technical director of Manitoba Soccer Association, said soccer has a powerful way of bringing communities together. Thomas came from England and said he's happy to see professional soccer in his new home.

"I've been in the country 11 years, and to be in a province that is unveiling today a professional team — total excitement and joy," he said. "I'm excited for our province and our kids and our players and supporters."

Jeff Hnatiuk, president of Sport Manitoba, said soccer is among the most-played sports in the province and country.

Having a pro team in Manitoba will give young players the chance to see top-level soccer in their hometown, he said.

"Ultimately, it's an opportunity for young athletes to strive to maybe achieve the level that they're able to go out and watch on an ongoing basis," he said.

Early membership deposits to secure seats to Valour FC home games will be available online starting Friday.

Fans will be able to put down a $50 deposit to become founding season-ticket members, with an average ticket price of $20 per game for adults and $12 for youth, the Winnipeg Football Club said in a release.

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