“It’s the start:” How League 1 BC is Canada’s next step to a women’s pro league

VANCOUVER, BC  – Emma Regan stepped onto the pitch in the 46th minute, the blaring sun of Edinburgh, TX, barring down on a field flush with legends. She entered the match for Ashley Lawrence, making her Canadian debut in a France 2019 World Cup Qualifying match. 

For a moment in October of 2018, the then 18-year-old Regan was among the best – wearing the maple leaf en route to a 12-0 Canadian victory over Cuba.

“That was a cool experience; I came into that tournament as an alternate, but some people couldn’t go to the Concacaf portion of that camp, so I was called in to stay,” Regan told 49 Sports “It was a challenging experience that pushed me to be in a challenging space and with a lot of new players, and it pushed me to stay at the top of my game.”

In 2022,  that appearance remains Regan’s only national team cap, and as she approaches her final season at the University of Texas, she hopes to play herself to a professional contract. It won’t be one at home — there isn’t a Canadian league for her, but, League 1 BC, a new setup in her home province, could help pave the way. 

Emma Regan (University of Texas)

League 1 BC joins the newly founded League 1 Canada setup, featuring leagues in Quebec and Ontario. For the women’s game, League 1 Canada provides a chance to play and 39 teams to compete with. 

In BC, there are seven new clubs, including the Vancouver Whitecaps, Varsity FC, Unity FC, Rivers FC, Altitude FC, the Victoria Highlanders and the TSS Rovers, a club that played in the U.S.-based Women’s Premier Socer League before switching over to League 1 BC this season. 

This summer, Regan, 22, alongside roughly 130 other women, returns home to BC to play in the new league.

Regan will play with Varsity FC of League 1 BC  as she hopes to launch herself into the fall NCAA season at full speed. 

Formerly a member of the Whitecaps Academy and the TSS Rovers, the Vancouver-born midfielder had the potential to continue with the national team after committing to the University of Texas alongside longtime friend and fellow former Rover Julia Grosso. 

Grosso, now with the Canadian national team and Italy’s Juventus, also played for the Whitecaps and Rovers before moving to Europe. Meanwhile, as Grosso won a Serie A title and an Olympic gold medal, Regan is set to return for her final season with hopes of an NCAA  Big 12 Championship before turning pro.

Emma Regan, second from left, alongside Whitecaps and Canada teammates, including Julia Grosso and Jordyn Huitema

With League 1 BC, Regan and other women will be able to develop during the offseason while also helping set the foundation for a future Canadian women’s professional league. 

 “When I was playing, the NCAA or post-secondary was the top thing we had to look forward to,” said Chelsey Hannesson, 2022 TSS Rovers Women’s Head Coach. “For this league today, it’s a stepping stone for players who have achieved that goal of playing collegiality. I think this league is a good step toward eventually a pro league in Canada.”

Although Regan won’t be playing with the Rovers as she did in the WPSL, suiting up for Varsity FC will provide her with a similar opportunity. Coached by former Whitecaps Academy coach and UBC Thunderbirds Head Coach Jesse Symons, Varsity FC draws on the UBC program, one of the best in the Canadian university soccer system. 

Jesse Symons (UBC Athletics)

“I think having players training together in a quality controlled environment is important, and that’s what League 1 BC can offer,” Symons said. “We would have exhibition games now and then [as UBC Thunderbirds]; but now it’s a fully structured league with supporters, sponsors, and standards.”

Having played in the WPSL since 2017, the TSS Rovers have a dedicated core of supporters, and many of them have turned into co-owners of the first supporter-owned club in Canada. With their investment and the move to a provincialized league, they can drive the league’s growth and hope other clubs, like Varsity, will follow. 

In April, Chris Corrigan, a TSS supporter and one of the many new shareholders, stood in front of roughly 130 new TSS Rovers supporters and shareholders. “Put your hand up if you own a soccer club!” he said to the crowd. 

Nearly 95% of the room put their hand up — that’s the type of following that the Rovers, an established club at this level, are bringing to year one. 

“There’s way more awareness of what is happening here now that it is a Canadian league than when it was an American one,” Colin Elmes, TSS Technical Director, told 49 Sports. “Part of selling a portion of this club is to dream big. Canada absolutely needs a top-tier women’s league, and I wake up every morning and pinch myself that this little soccer academy in Richmond is involved in doing these things.”

Most of the athletes in the league come from either U Sports or the NCAA, and Regan joins a Varsity FC side that is largely built with UBC players. Across the men’s and women’s teams in League 1 BC, eight of the 14 coaches are U Sports coaches.

The NCAA has welcomed Canadians, as have many American women’s summer leagues. Still, with the introduction of League 1 BC and League 1 Canada, there are more chances for college-level Canadian players to develop while pushing the growth of women’s soccer playing opportunities in Canada. 

Emma Regan wants to get back into the national team picture, but that’s not her measurement for success. Right now, it’s about winning League 1 BC with Varsity FC, then returning for a successful campaign in Texas before advancing to the professional game. 

Right now, she’s on the outside looking in, but she still has some of the potential that she had in 2018, when she came into a match for Ashley Lawrence and began her career with the senior national team. 

“Our country has won a gold medal, and we don’t even have a professional league at home,” Regan said. “It’s amazing that there’s going to be a League 1 in BC and this League 1 Canada setup because it’s another step towards a professional league and Canada catching up to the rest of the world”

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