Winning a provincial title, ending a dynasty, playing a World Cup soccer team on your own home turf — the North Shore Girls Soccer Club is in the middle of a pretty incredible three-week run.
The biggest buzz likely comes from the recent announcement that a team made up of many of the club’s best players will host the Cameroonian national team for a pair of exhibition matches May 17 and May 24 at Windsor secondary, with 4 p.m. kickoffs scheduled for both days.
Cameroon will arrive in Vancouver this week and the two matches against the NSGSC all-star squad will be tune-up matches for the African team in advance of the FIFA Women’s World Cup set for June 6-July 5 at stadiums around Canada.
“We’re excited,” said NSGSC technical director Jesse Symons. “To bring one of the Women’s World Cup teams to North Vancouver to see what will be going on at B.C. Place in June, hopefully it will create a lot of early excitement two or three weeks before the start of the World Cup. . . . I’m just hoping it will be a celebration.”
Cameroon is Africa’s third-ranked team, 53rd overall in the world, and will play two of their three World Cup opening round games at Vancouver’s B.C. Place. On the other side of the ball, the North Shore Girls squad will be a made up of a mix of players who currently suit up for the club’s top women’s teams along with other young players who have spent the past season playing on Canadian and university teams.
Some of the players expected to suit up include striker Sessen Stevens, a member of Canada’s U20 national team who currently plays for the University of Memphis; midfielder Chelsea Harkins of Washington State University; goalkeeper Rebecca Defer, a St. Thomas Aquinas grad who currently plays for the University of Tulsa; and defender Meagan Pasternak, a Seycove grad who plays for the University of British Columbia.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to match up against a team they don’t obviously get to see,” said Symons, adding that most of the players who will be suiting up for the NSGSC team have ambitions of their own to play for Canada’s national team and see action in a World Cup one day. “It’s an opportunity for them to sort of live a moment for a couple of weekends against a country like Cameroon.”
Symons, who will act as coach for the NSGSC squad, said his team will do its best to give the Cameroonians a real test.
“It’ll be a friendly, but they’re prepping, they want a good match,” he said. “We’ll do our best to help them prepare as much as possible. . . . We’re going to push forward with everything (we’ve got) to give them a good match.”
The games will be open to the public with admission by donation. Most of the proceeds will go to helping the Cameroonian team with their travel expenses. The games will provide a great opportunity for local soccer fans see great players up close, said Symons.
“It’s an opportunity to stand right beside some of the top local talent in our province and then obviously the (Cameroonian) national team,” he said. “You’ll be as close to the field as you could possibly get at Windsor. I hope it excites everybody. (The World Cup) is a great event that we have coming up in June, and what an opportunity to start that celebration three weeks before the first match.”
A few of the local players will come into the Cameroon matches on a great high after winning the Women’s A Cup provincial championship with the NSGSC Renegades last weekend to earn the right to represent B.C. at the national club championships in Calgary in October.
The Renegades brought a dynasty to an end Saturday in Langley, knocking off Surrey United who were going for an incredible 12th straight provincial title.
The Renegades battled all day to bring down the longtime champs, winning in penalty kicks following a 0-0 tie. The team was led by longtime coach Tony Seddon, with goalkeeper Ariel Anderson earning MVP honours as the final line of an impenetrable NSGSC defence.
“They just defended like they weren’t going to allow a goal in the game — it seemed like Surrey wasn’t going to score if they played for 24 hours,” said Symons. “They weren’t allowing any space. Full credit to them — the whole group performed to a very good standard. Tony came in with a very good game plan and in the end they pulled it off, which is fantastic. It’s probably not the easiest way to do it in PKs, but they were the team that probably deserved it with the performance on the day.”
Symons said the win was a long time coming for the Renegades.
“I’ve known those girls for a very long time, coached a few of them when they were 12 and 13 years old. They’ve always been the bridesmaids,” he said. “(But) you could see the confidence within the group that this was their year. They pushed through — it’s a credit to them. It’s sort of a monkey off their backs a bit with having lost a lot of those finals. I guess enough was enough.”
The Cameroon games will cap off an amazing run for the club and for Symons, a North Vancouver native who has only been at the job for about a month. He previously worked with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“Yeah, not bad,” Symons said with a chuckle when asked about his eventful first month of action with the North Shore Girls, adding that he hopes it all adds up to more exposure for the club and interest in soccer on the North Shore.
“We’re really trying to create a culture on the North Shore for soccer,” he said. “North Shore Girls is hopefully going to be a club that is on the forefront of developing these young female soccer players for years to come in Canada. I think to be able to see it live will be huge for these kids. Hopefully they’ll be inspired to go out and kick the ball around a little bit more.”