After years of rumours and discussions, followed by months of hard work, a new era for community youth soccer gets underway Saturday.
The newly-formed South Delta United Soccer Club (SDUSC) will hold its first-ever event - a jamboree for players 10 and under at Winskill Park. Older rep teams will also hit the pitch this weekend for the launch of league play. The organization unites the former Tsawwassen, Ladner Boys and Ladner Girls Soccer Clubs, bringing roughly 1,800 players under the same umbrella.
A solid working relationship between the three clubs has already been in place for a number of years, especially at the rep level.
Tsawwassen and Ladner Girls initially formed a partnership for Division One (Gold) and Division Two (Silver) teams. A boys effort followed with a South Delta United program for U13 and above. It then took three openminded executives to bring everything together.
"There has been some changes on all three executives in the last couple of years with some new blood coming in," explained South Delta United president Rich Zahn. "Ladner Girls wanted to know why we had two clubs in Ladner. We thought, let's open the door to Tsawwassen as well.
"The subject had been broached the last two to three years. This time, we all said 'let's do it and get it done.' The philosophy between the three clubs has always been the same. It has been very smooth so far."
The merger makes a lot of sense when comparing SDUSC to neighbouring clubs.
It's still not even half the size of ever-growing Coastal FC (4,000) in South Surrey, while the Newton-based Central City Breakers is another massive organization. South Delta's boys numbers only puts the club on par with district rival North Delta Soccer Club (1,000).
Zahn adds the new executive has already discussed additional club initiatives, including adult teams for graduating players and a special needs program. For now, the sole focus is getting through the first season with as few hiccups as possible.
"There are all sorts of ideas we are looking at three or four years down the road. But let's get through this initial year unscathed with happy players," said Zahn.
The merger also brings together professional staff from both clubs.
Mark Rogers is the club's technical director and Russ Heggie takes on the position of head coach. Others involved include Jon Rogers (Grassroots Head Coach), Doug Dyck (U11-U14 Boys Head Coach), Adam Wallace (Staff Coach) and Helmut Wiebe (Goalkeeper Coach).
The combined resources represent one of the greatest benefits of a united soccer community.
Their task is an immense one that can be related to every youth soccer organization across the country as Canada looks to somehow close the gap on the rest of the world in player development.
No one knows that better than Rogers, a former professional and national team player, who now works as an analyst for TSN. He just watched Canada come up short again in men's World Cup qualifying as the focus now shifts to 2022 and another attempt. He says changes must start at the younger age groups.
"I have been talking to Jason deVos (Soccer Canada's new director of player development) over the last number of years of how critical it is to get the grassroots right in our country. It's such an enormous challenge because to do that you have to change the culture," said Rogers.
"We have a culture in our country of doing lots of different sports. I think that's a huge positive but it's also doing a lot of sports without anyone wanting to develop the tools to be truly good at any of them. We have a real desire to win at all costs and at a young, young age.
"I think combining our two communities, who shared in the same belief before we combined, is only going to raise the bar in South Delta as far as the opportunities for our young players. That's the exciting part. On our own, we are nowhere near as strong as we are together."
The professional staff will also be running an accelerated development academy that will take place on Monday nights and rotate between Winskill and Dugald Morrison Park on a monthly basis. Visit the club website at southdeltaunitedsoccerclub.com for more information.