This week some of Canada’s best youth soccer clubs are in Surrey for U17 national tournaments, for both boys and girls teams, and the host city is well represented by two squads.
Canada Soccer’s pair of Toyota National Championships tournaments will be played at Newton Athletic Park from Oct. 5 to 10.
Two Surrey United teams will battle for national bragging rights starting Wednesday, when both B.C. reps are in action at the renovated NAP turf #1 — the girls at 12:30 p.m. against Prince Edward Island, followed by the boys at 3:30 p.m. in a match against a second B.C.-region team, Vancouver Island Wave.
To get to nationals, the two Surrey United teams won their respective provincial championships back in June, at Minoru Park in Richmond.
“It’s good to be here at home with family and fans around, people who’ll support us,” said Graham Roxburgh, head coach of Surrey United’s U17 boys team. “No matter where nationals are held it’s a special event, and the CSA (Canada Soccer) does a good job putting on a nice event, so obviously we don’t get to go on a plane and see new places but at least we have some familiar territory and will have some home support, which is nice.”
Likewise, Surrey United’s girls team is excited about playing for a national title so close to home.
“We had training last night and we reflected on how we got there and how excited the girls are to be at nationals in Surrey,” said coach Muchtar Ganief, who’s been coaching this group for about four years. “It’s been the same core group of players, and every year I’ve made one or two changes to make the team stronger,” he noted.
Also this week, Surrey’s BB5 United men’s team, which in May won its second Provincial A Cup championship in recent years, will defend its 2019 national championship in Vaughan, Ontario, during the Challenge Trophy tournament.
This marks the first Toyota National Championships since the pandemic, with the last season of winners crowned in 2019.
The nationals won’t be the largest soccer tournament ever held at the park on 128 Street, in terms of number of teams, but it’s certainly among the most prestigious.
Twenty-one soccer teams will compete, which means an influx in Surrey of around 450 players, plus coaches, parents and officials.
“It’s a lot of planning, and we’ve worked with Canada Soccer over the past nine months going over all the plans,” explained Sarb Lidder, executive director of Surrey FC. “The city has been renovating our turf #1 right now, which will be our main field.
“We and our partners are very excited to be hosting this event, including the transportation company, our hotel providers, to the people providing us the equipment, there’s a lot of excitement,” Lidder added. “The players are all staying at the Sheraton in Guildford, so that’ll be busy, and the referees are staying at the Civic Hotel.”
VIDEO: @SurreyUnitedSC's U17 girls team trains ahead of the @CanadaSoccerEN nationals, which start Wednesday at Newton Athletic Park.— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) October 3, 2022
21 girls & boys teams are in action, including 2 Surrey United squads.
FULL STORY & SCHEDULE: https://t.co/OyjOqUiqhm pic.twitter.com/0gB4ZkFFlm
Last month, Surrey United supporters filled a Surrey banquet hall in a fundraising event for the two teams at nationals.
“It was very good, sold about 240 tickets and 300 showed up at Mirage Hall, which was packed,” Ganief recalled. “We’re not travelling anywhere, but we have costs, and to keep the girls together we’ll be staying at a hotel in Surrey, in Guildford.”
Ganief said he’s impressed that Surrey United will field two teams at the tourneys.
“Surrey United has been lucky to have so many teams at nationals and also winning the national championship over the years as well,” he said. “With both the boys and girls qualifying this year, I’m very proud as a coach and also as a father, because my youngest son (Daniel) also plays on the boys team, so I’m double invested in this.”
At nationals, the B.C. teams qualified last spring, while teams from other provinces and territories did so more recently. It’s just the way it works in soccer, with the B.C. season played at a different time of year than others in the country.
“We’ve had to wait around for nationals,” Ganief explained. “For me, I’d say that’s more of a disadvantage for us because we’ve been off for so long, after three or four weeks off in the summer. I gave the players a routine, a schedule for training, in August. Back east, their competitive season is during the summer and they’re more at their peak now.
“It was tough to keep the girls engaged and focused on nationals over the summer,” he added, “and with our season just starting, it’s been kind of tricky going into games, playing, but not going into hard tackles, stuff like that. But the girls have done really well.”
Roxburgh began coaching Surrey United’s U17 boys team two years ago. “We’ve added a few nice pieces in the last year, but basically this is the same group of boys that has been together for a long time,” he noted.
This week, the “B.C. 2” team at boys nationals is a Victoria-area squad that replaced a team from another region of Canada.
“We’re B.C. #1 because we won provincial championships,” Roxburgh said. “What happens sometimes is a team from another province or territory will qualify for nationals but will opt out – they might not feel that their team is strong enough, and it’s a big financial commitment as well. The host province has the right to field a second team if one from another area opts out.
The Island team is very good, Roxburgh underlined. “The schedule has us playing them in the first game, which is interesting but it’s just the way it worked out. It’ll be a tough game. We’ve won some games against them and also lost some.”
Surrey FC, then known as Central City Breakers, or CCB, last hosted nationals in Newton in 2017, for adult teams, and will again host the men’s and women’s tournaments in 2024.
Surrey was announced as host city of the U17 Toyota National Championships in March 2021, with Charlottetown hosting the U15 Cup and Vaughan, Ont., the venue for Jubilee/Challenge trophy tournaments for men’s and women’s teams.