Major makeover for soccer club

The past week will go down as one of the most transformative periods in the history of soccer in Abbotsford.

The past week will go down as one of the most transformative periods in the history of soccer in Abbotsford.

The Abbotsford Soccer Association finalized a partnership deal with Magnuson Ford which will see the club re-branded Magnuson Ford Mariners FC. The five-year pact figures to be a huge financial boon to the club.

Then on Saturday, BC Soccer’s youth districts approved the formation of a new High Performance League (HPL), which will replace the metro league as the top tier of youth soccer in the province.

The HPL will consist of eight regional franchises which will field boys and girls teams from U13 to U18. Brad Nicholl, president of the local association, confirmed that Abbotsford plans to apply for a franchise.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Nicholl enthused. “If we get into the HPL, and with 2011 being the Vancouver Whitecaps’ launch in Major League Soccer, it’s just a big soccer wave in B.C. Everything’s lined up perfectly.”

A major reason for Nicholl’s optimism is the new partnership with Magnuson Ford. The Abbotsford dealership’s sister store in Port Coquitlam has been the title sponsor of the Coquitlam Metro-Ford Soccer Club since 1984, and the arrangement has been instrumental in establishing that club among B.C.’s elite.

“I meet people in the Coquitlam area who played Metro-Ford soccer in the ’80s, and now their kids are playing,” said Layne Magnuson Jr., who owns the Abbotsford dealership. “It’s become a generational thing.

“It’s nice to be aligned with a winning club in Abbotsford.”

Magnuson Ford will donate a vehicle to the soccer club each year for a raffle, which Nicholl hopes will raise as much as $100,000 annually. Other fundraising initiatives will also be put in place.

Abbotsford’s soccer teams will continue to wear their signature black-and-white striped jerseys, and a new logo is being designed. The club will also switch from Umbro to Adidas apparel.

Nicholl said the additional funds will help the club hold the line on registration fees in the face of rising field rental costs, and establish new after-school programs.

“We haven’t raised our registration costs in four years, and we’re not raising it this year,” he said.

As for the HPL, Nicholl is bullish on Abbotsford’s chances of landing a franchise. To this point, 11 groups have expressed interest, and the franchises will be selected by the end of February.

Abbotsford will run one final season of USL Super Y-League youth soccer this summer, and the HPL will play an exhibition schedule this fall. The new league will be on-stream in 2012, with a March-to-November season.

A major change with the HPL is, athletes will have the ability to cross association boundaries freely.

“The eight teams are going to have the best players in the province, and they’re going to train with the proper coaching within Canada’s long-term player development strategy,” Nicholl pointed out.

• The soccer club begins spring registration on Tuesday, and the Magnuson Ford Mariners FC launch party is set for April 9.