Vancouver’s brand new PDL franchise brings a new level of development for the youth of the Lower Mainland: TSS FC Rovers. Known in the community as TSS Academy, they have long provided soccer support and full-time soccer training. Now they make the jump to the PDL. I took some time and had a chat with head coach Colin Elmes, and assistant coach Will Cromack about how this all came to be, and what the future looks like for Vancouver football.
How did TSS start?
Colin Elmes (CE): TSS Academy is in the middle of it twentieth year of providing soccer support and full time soccer destinations to players in the Lower Mainland. It started with two provincial level coaches, myself being one, my former partner being the other. We decided to start user-pay youth soccer training destination… We’ve gone through starting at St. Georges Private School, to only our own facility for 16 years.
Will Cromack (WC): Colin and I actually played together at UBC… We met up again when we were inducted into the UBC hall of fame, and it just so happened that Colin coached the age group my son played in. We began to play exhibition matches against each other. I was looking for like-minded people in the industry. That was four years ago. Two years ago, I came on board, started picking up cones while my kid was playing.
What was the thought behind joining the PDL?
WC: It came very much organically. We come very much from a world where politics rule sports and I work very much in that environment. You have to find unique ways to express yourself. We were sitting around, really regularly, talking about how we could really advance Canadian soccer…
CE: It was a couple of things for me. Number one was trying to find different ways to grow our player development model at TSS. One of the things that needed addressing was our older male part of our program. As soccer coaches, to be able to coach at this level is exciting. To be able to have our home games at Swangard, where a lot of us grew up as soccer players. That certainly had its appeal. And I think just circumstance and opportunity. We know some of the guys over at the Victoria Highlanders pretty well, and we talked to them about how they sort of re-bought their way back into the PDL about a year ago. So it all kind of came together in the early spring of last year. Once it got to December, it became pretty clear that we were doing this. We still have a lot of work to do until May.
Was there any hesitation during the process?
CE: Buying a lower tier soccer team and bring it across the border, most people would sit you down and wonder if you’re insane. But we believe that with the people we have in place, with our venue, the fact that we’re the only PDL level team in the lower mainland, and the level of reception we received when we rolled this thing out has been pretty overwhelming. We’re anxious, but at the same time excited. We believe that this thing is going to be worthwhile, not only for the soccer community as a whole, but for TSS Academy’s interests of business as well. We believe that this not going to be a money losing venture of the next little while.
WC: To be far, there’s always hesitation. But you’ve always got to lean on the idea that you’ve got to be the solution. I’m very much that kind of person. My wife would declare me to be an idiot and I don’t necessarily disagree with her on that front. I’m putting up sweat equity in the sense of immense amount of time to try and prove that what we believe as people, as who we are as soccer guys, and TSS as a business/club, to show what is possible with Canadian players. That we’re not full of crap across the land. I think it’s like a stock. If you invest in there, and you keep working on it and you hold it long enough, you might succeed in what you set out to do in the first place.
The team has vowed to foster 100% Canadian talent; what inspired that philosophy?
WC: What is it that we struggle the most in our soccer country? We’re 120 ranked in the world. We fall down in the technical training 8-12 year olds get, but we also fall down in a massive way in any sort of mechanism for our kids to play, to bridge to gap between an almost unreachable professional arena, whether that be in Europe, South America, or MLS, they just fall off. We’re not here to just achieve the PDL championship. Our championship will be passing on pure Canadian players onto higher level play because they’ve matured a bit and have been given the time and game time to let that happen.
CE: I would suggest that we are the only first-world nation that does not have its own domestic soccer league. I know things are happening in the background to fix that, which were are completely supportive of. But that does not leave us (Canada) in a very good position. Our player pool is very shallow. The rules in place of most of the professional teams have and continues to restrict Canadian player participation. We all know and understand that part of that is because Canadian players are deemed not good enough to play at those levels and to some degree we agree with that, but coming out as we have can almost be seen as a challenge across the board here. But as Willy alluded to, the World Cup is in Russia in 2018 and we’re out already. I’ve said all along, I want to go and support my National team at a World Cup before I die.
Where will TSS be drawing their roster from?
CE: Currently, our oldest full-time male players at our program are a few years off from being physically, technically, and mentally ready to be a part of something like this. We have a few players now, and we’re working towards putting together a plan to make sure we have 20 odd come early May. But internally, we don’t have the mechanism available to us yet. However we’ve reached out in the University soccer environment. Some of the coaches we know quite well, some of them we just met. All of them have been very helpful. There are a number of players locally in those environments that have actually played in the league before, and have had to travel to do it. Many of those players are excited to represent a club in their own area, excited to play game in Swangard, and frankly, they’re probably excited to sleep in their own bed during the season. So we’re learning about these players as we go. Some of the guys that will be on this roster will be names will be familiar you’re familiar with football in the area.
WC: It’s about looking to local players. How do we make the environment as professional as possible? In some senses, we’re like the Vancouver Giants (WHL), we want to teach these guys what it’s like to be a pro. We have some great mentor coaches and players that are on board that have been there and done that, and have great advice for us. Certainly Colin and I have dabbled in that world. But I think, whoever the player, our job will be to maximize their potential, both as players and as people, and have them recruit for us. Ultimately, in the long haul, we want people telling other people that they have to go play for the Rovers. To me, it’s about what can we build that can recruit for us.
CE: As this thing moves forward, the players at TSS Academy that aren’t quite ready right now, will be. And then, we will have had the opportunity to spend an enormous amount of time with players in their developmental years, learning the game, learning how we want to play the game, and having those players step into our environment. These players will have been in our programming, some for 10 years, by the time they are ready. Hopefully in those 10 years, they will have learned a little bit about how TSS FC Rovers wants to play football.
Other than being Canadian, will there be a focus for recruiting?
WC: We’re looking for technical players. We’re looking for cerebral players. We’re not just looking to have athletics players in general. We’re also looking for people that are going to buy into what we’re doing. You’re coming in, and you’re a part of the ownership of that club whether it be emotional or not. We need to inspire Canadians, so they can be better, and they can be a part of something that is going to grow. Whether they stay with us for one year, two years, or three years, they’re a part of the family, and know that the second they walk in. This is a very small, very dense version of what we believe. Those are the kind of guys we’re looking for. We’re going to create the environment, but the players are going to take care of it.
CE: If you know anything about our youth program, we’re dogmatically involved in having our young players learn to play through all sorts of different feelings. Some days, at the youth level, we get our ass handed to us. That trial and error approach is the only way we can begin to help fix things. I don’t know if you watched the Canada vs. Mexico game, but we don’t touch the ball the same way those players do. We don’t solve individual ball retention problems the same way those players do. There are lots of reasons as to why, and that’s going to be difficult to overcome, but I don’t think that we as a collective group of soccer people actually train and teach the players how to deal with that stuff properly. So we’re a small group of people that are picking away and trying to solve that problem. Our PDL team will reflect that. But at the same time, you look at the age of the players, and you look at the long term player development model; Training to compete and training to win are a big part of those ages. We’ll be solving result problems more at the PDL, but at the same time, a lot of the stuff that we spend time with our 10, 11, 12 year olds is going to come up into that environment to make sure these guys understand, and that in most instances we’re not going to get the ball at the back and smash it up the front. We’re going to play through the middle of the park and try to solve problems that way.
What inspired you to choose Swangard Stadium as your venue of choice?
CE: That was one of the first things we decided on when we realized that we were taking this thing seriously. We said that we need to be there. Setting this thing up, in a local community, where we have to put up a perimeter fence to create an enclosed space which is what the league requires, and then charging money for people to come in and come out to that. Doing it that way, it was going to much harder to sell the culture of what this is. Swangard was a huge part of this puzzle for us. It’s a massive achievement. When we went to them, we thought that it must be booked out. To find that there was some room and space to host us in May, June, and July, that pushed us over the finish line. And of course the natural grass surface is massive. That field is immaculate. Our opponents that are coming to play us at Swangard are pumped. The coaches and the owners of the other teams in our division know exactly where that stadium is, and what’s gone through there in the past. So they’re very motivated to come play matches there.
WC: It smells to me like grassroots soccer. It reminds me of a venue that you’d find in like tier 1, tier 2 in England. It’s romantic. It’s everything I believe in. It’s walking to the game, and walking towards the pitch. It’s about having a pint and watching your kids run around the end zone. And it’s all the things we want it to be at the same time. For guys like me, it’s about remembering the things that were great, and could be great about Canadian soccer, and I can’t wait to get back there.
How would you describe your coaching style?
WC: We believe in having the ball. We believe in a philosophy of teaching kids to play by solving problems. We believe in beautiful attacking soccer. That doesn’t mean we don’t defend. That doesn’t mean we aren’t organized. We just believe in playing the two-thirds, We’re inspired by teams that want to play on the deck, to compete to keep the ball at all costs, and believe in defending when we have the ball as well, and really, we want invite into our soccer culture, the idea of creativity and innovation. Our thing is about attack, have the ball, and be able to keep the ball at all costs.
CE: I think one of the biggest areas that our country has issues with is individual ball retention. It’s more to do with what we describe as evasive dribbling, solving problems, getting out of tight spaces, and what not. Retaining the ball is going to be a big thing for this group of players. As we go and start to learn about our PDL players, I’m sure there will be some failures. But we spend a huge amount of time at our Academy on very detailed, repetitive technique activities, and teaching the kids how to play football. Not how to win football. That comes later. That will be the focus in our program with the older players, as they come into camp.
WC: I think that it’s actually important to recognize that we’re a community club. We’re not trying to own or dictate policy. We are relentless in our pursuit of a type of, style of, and philosophy of play. We are equally relentless about this being a community club, and people taking ownership of the environment being created at Swangard, being a part of it, expressing themselves however they like within reason of the law. We don’t ever want to be in the way of a community club. What’s going to happen there is what’s going to happen there. We hope to inspire it and bring it along.
CE: We’re excited to get this first part of the journey over the finish line. And we’re super excited and energized to move this thing forward. Start announcing players, start getting a structure set, and all of that. We’re just trying to get organized and get ready. It’s daunting, but at the same time, we’re pretty motivated here