Soccer

Introduction of new Canadian women's soccer league prompts mixed reaction from players

While some U Sports players were excited about the Women's Premier Soccer League Canada presenting a new option for prolonging their playing careers, national-team goalie Stephanie Labbé said WPSL Canada is not quite “answering the call” for women’s soccer in Canada.

National team goalie Stephanie Labbé says WPSL Canada doesn't address calls for pro league

Canada's Stephanie Labbe, seen above during the Tokyo Olympics, said on Thursday that the incoming Women's Premier Soccer League Canada isn't the answer to calls for a professional league in the country. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

An innocuous-seeming tweet on Tuesday night sent shockwaves through the Canadian women's soccer world. 

"We're answering the call for a Canadian Women's League. Get Ready Canada. #WeAreComing," was posted along with a hype video to an account attributed to Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Canada.

No other information. No other details. Just that a long-awaited domestic women's soccer league was on the way.

While some U Sports players were excited about a new option for prolonging their playing careers, national-team goalie Stephanie Labbé said WPSL Canada is not quite "answering the call" for women's soccer in Canada.

"The headline they used, 'We're answering the call for a Canadian Women's League,' I think they purposefully left out 'professional' and let's be clear: the call has been and continues to be for a professional league that's sanctioned by Canada," Labbé told CBC Sports' Jacqueline Doorey.

WATCH | Labbé discusses WPSL Canada:

'There's no long-term development plan': Gold medallist Stephanie Labbé on WPSL expansion in Canada

10 months ago
Duration 6:25
Two-time Olympic medallist weighs in on the WPSL's news of an expansion and what is really needed to develop young Canadian talent.

Liz Hicks, captain of the second-place Trinity Western U Sports squad, said the idea of the WPSL was something needed in Canada.

"I think the opportunities are there more on the men's side, which is fair enough, and I really think it's lacking on the women's side. And it's just a shame seeing really talented players end their soccer careers just because of the lack of opportunities."

On Thursday, WPSL Canada explained further. It would begin as a Division II League, with plans to establish a professional league within five years, and is both owned and operated by Canadians.

"We believe that it is fundamentally important to establish a foundation for the women's game in Canada to demonstrate the support and attract further investment for the future professional division," the league said in a release.

The WPSL is an American league that says it's the longest-active women's league in the U.S. It's made up mostly of student-athletes and serves as a feeder for the National Women's Soccer League.

For now, the teams (announced as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, with more to come) are to be split into East and West divisions, with no crossover until the championship.

Each club will operate with its own budget.

"Players should not be responsible for any expenses like travel, health, food and more. There is an opportunity for players to receive compensation for other expenses like living and per diems as well but more details will be released in the near future," the league said.

Plans to become nationally sanctioned

WPSL Canada also said in its release that it "will be a nationally sanctioned league." In a follow-up email to CBC Sports, a spokesperson for the league said it had met with Canada Soccer "on numerous occasions" and "made progress" on sanctioning.

It said it is finalizing details to match Canadian Soccer Association requirements for level of play.

Canada Soccer did not respond to a CBC Sports request for comment.

The video in the original tweet featured the likes of Canadian national team stars Christine Sinclair and Kadeisha Buchanan, who would be overqualified to play in WPSL Canada considering their current pro status in the NWSL and overseas.

"The purpose of the teaser video was to show that the time to move forward in women's soccer is now. The use of the media was to signify our domestic success and give credit to our national team players, some of which have played in the WPSL before," the league told CBC Sports.

'This is not it'

Labbé, the goalie of Canada's Olympic champion team, noted that leagues of similar quality to the WPSL already exist in Canada and don't garner much attention as is.

"I think they're just trying to capitalize on what's happening in Canada and push their league and their message," she said.

"This one needs to have a long-term development plan and it will provide Canadians opportunities to play for eight to 11 months per year when it's truly professional."

Labbé said the lone positive of the WPSL Canada announcement was seeing the excitement it created about the sport itself.

"Even though it misled and misinformed a lot of people, I think it is super important because it shows the media is excited, people around Canada are excited about the opportunity of professional soccer coming to Canada. But this is not it."

Enthusiasm from U Sports players

Hicks, who spoke on Wednesday before further details were made public, said there weren't many existing opportunities for her to continue playing soccer close to her home of Surrey, B.C.

"The thought of maybe going overseas is so far in the future for me. So I didn't really have a solid plan, but just knew I wanted to continue playing soccer at a competitive level," Hicks, 23, said.

Samantha Gouveia, captain of national champion MacEwan University, said her instant reaction to the initial WPSL Canada video was joy.

"I share the same thought as all the young female football players in the nation thinking, 'Finally.' It's about time that we start creating opportunities for women's soccer and this is the birth of it," she said.

The 22-year-old said she wouldn't hesitate to join the league if offered the opportunity.

"The talent we have here in the nation is unquestionably equivalent to those in other nations. It's just that we don't have the opportunity here," Gouveia said.

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