Abbotsford’s status as a soccer hotbed was confirmed on Thursday afternoon, as the recently rebranded Magnuson Ford Mariners FC was awarded a franchise in the new B.C. Soccer Premier League.
The local club – formerly known as the Abbotsford Soccer Association – is one of eight founding franchises in the Premier League, which replaces metro (girls) and selects (boys) as the top tier of youth soccer in the province.
“It’s a big sigh of relief that we were successful,” Magnuson Ford FC president Brad Nicholl said. “We’re on Cloud 9 right now, but we’ve got to move forward. We can’t sit back at all.”
The Premier League, known informally as the High Performance League (HPL) during the development stages, features six regional teams in the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley, one on Vancouver Island, and one in the Interior. Each franchise will field boys and girls teams from U13 to U18.
In addition to Abbotsford, the other franchises are Burnaby/North Shore; Coquitlam Metro Ford; Surrey United; South Fraser Soccer Club; Vancouver/Richmond; Lower Island/Upper Island Associations (Vancouver Island); and Thompson Okanagan FC.
The major innovation with the Premier League is that players are allowed to move outside of district boundaries to play on the elite circuit. By limiting the number of franchises to eight, B.C.’s top soccer talent is more concentrated.
Nicholl felt Magnuson Ford FC’s bid was well-received in light of the association’s history as a soccer trailblazer. Abbotsford was the first club in B.C. to hire a full-time paid head coach (current Vancouver Whitecaps assistant coach Colin Miller), and was the first to host a USL Super Y-League youth program.
The local association’s bid got a boost late in the game when Langley FC – an all-girls association – signed on as an official partner. The girls’ side of the Mariners’ Premier League franchise will be hosted by Langley.
“Our bid had to go in on Jan. 31, which was a Monday, and they came on board on Jan. 29 at 4:30 in the afternoon,” said Nicholl, adding that the Langley club had initially been leaning towards aligning itself with Surrey United.
Chilliwack FC and Aldergrove Soccer were also partners in Abbotsford’s Premier League bid.
Magnuson Ford FC will run one final season of Super Y-League youth soccer this summer, and the Premier League will play an exhibition schedule this fall. The new circuit will be fully on-stream in 2012, with a March-to-November season.
Tryouts for Super Y-League teams, which will serve as a bridge to the Premier League, run this weekend. For more information, visit abbotsfordsoccer.com.