Halifax is one step closer to having a pro women’s soccer team | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
The Halifax Wanderers hope to have a women's semi-pro soccer team up and running in 2024.

Halifax is one step closer to having a pro women’s soccer team

The Halifax Wanderers announce plans of joining the still-forming League1 Atlantic—which would include a women’s division.

Four years after HFX Wanderers FC founder Derek Martin told supporters that early discussions were taking place about a Wanderers women’s team, those discussions appear to be bearing fruit. On Thursday, Aug. 10, the Wanderers announced that the club has plans of joining League1 Canada as part of the yet-to-form League1 Atlantic. That move would, in turn, add both women’s and men’s semi-pro clubs to the Wanderers’ umbrella.

It’s been a long time coming for the Canadian Premier League soccer club—and for those who have lobbied for a path to professional soccer for women and girls across the Maritimes.

“We’ve always had the intent to have a women’s team at some level,” says Martin, speaking by phone with The Coast, “and with League1 Atlantic looking to get off the ground here, it was a perfect time to help get that league going and help them develop a pathway [for players] in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.”

‘Lots of talent in Nova Scotia’

Talk of a women’s pro team in Halifax has bubbled on and off for years. As recently as eight months ago, those talks reignited as two of Canada’s most prolific soccer players of all time, Diana Matheson and Christine Sinclair, announced their intentions of launching a first-of-its-kind domestic women’s professional soccer league by 2025. That league, dubbed Project 8, has a goal of eight pro teams across Canada to serve as founding members. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Calgary’s Foothills Soccer Club and AFC Toronto City have already signed on to the project. A Halifax team has not been announced.

League1 Atlantic will be a different entity than Matheson’s Project 8. Whenever it launches, it would be owned and managed by Canadian Soccer Business, the commercial wing of the Canadian Premier League. The company also governs League1 Canada—the overarching body for so-called Division III Pro-Am soccer across the country. (Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar came to Halifax from Vaughan Azzurri, a pro-am club within League1 Ontario.)

Earlier in March, League1 Canada representatives visited Halifax and Moncton to talk about the new league’s potential. The visit left a mark on Martin.

“I’ve known [League1 Canada president] Dino Rossi since I got involved in this project [of launching the Wanderers] back in 2017,” he says. “We’ve really admired the way League1 Ontario has grown over the last few years… and I’ve always wanted to support that [happening here]. We sat down and chatted through what some of the challenges would be to getting a league like that set up in the Maritimes, and gave him our full commitment that we’d be on board [as] the pro team in the region supporting it and putting our weight behind it.”

The prospect of pro women’s soccer in Halifax has Alix Bruch excited, too. The Halifax-based player agent led the St. Francis Xavier University X-Women to an Atlantic University Sport championship as a star midfielder in 2016—then made the leap to competing in Europe’s top-flight Women’s Champions League the following year.

In December, she told The Coast that having a path to professional soccer in Canada “would have meant everything” to her. At the time, no such league existed. “For a long time, we had nothing really to aspire to in Canada… [and] not every player wants to go overseas.”

click to enlarge Halifax is one step closer to having a pro women’s soccer team
Photo: Alix Bruch / Facebook
Alix Bruch won the AUS women’s soccer championship with St. Francis Xavier University in 2016 before she went on to play professionally in Europe.

Now a women’s-dedicated soccer agent (she started Shift Athlete Services in 2021), Bruch is bullish on the talent coming out of the Maritimes. Last fall, Cape Breton University’s Capers finished fourth in the country with a roster that was nearly three-quarters full of Atlantic Canadians. And 14 of the team’s 23 players hailed from Nova Scotia.

“I think that’s a real testament to the talent that we have here,” Bruch says. “Growing up in Calgary, we had the resources and the population to develop at a faster rate. But I think [now] we’re seeing years of work being put in… we're seeing lots of talent in Nova Scotia, and I think we’re going to get to a point where these players will be looked at for the national team.”

Cindy Tye, head coach of Dalhousie’s women’s soccer team and a member of Canada’s national team from 2001 to 2002, says she’s seen a “dramatic” increase in the number of women involved in the sport. “When I played, there wasn’t as much opportunity for female players at any level. I played in boys’ or co-ed leagues until I was 13.”

Bruch points to the Halifax Wanderers professional men’s team and its success with fans as evidence that a women’s soccer team could attract support in Halifax. The supporters she’s spoken with want a women’s team—“and they would show up for it,” she adds. “It’s just a matter of, are there people here willing to put in the money?”

In pitching Project 8, Matheson has said buy-in for a team could run $8-$10 million. That figure would fall lower in a pro-am setting like League1 Atlantic, where athletes aren’t earning full-time salaries. (In 2022, League1 Ontario had a salary cap of $44,000 per team.) League1 Atlantic hasn’t disclosed franchise fees or annual operating expenses, but there are comparisons: When League1 BC launched, per Northern Tribune, franchise owners needed to prove they had a cash flow of at least $60,000 per year, as well as pay a $5,000 franchise fee and $5,000 performance bond.

Enter Martin.

“We’re already in pretty deep in terms of trying to grow soccer in this region,” he laughs. “Yeah, we know there’s going to be an investment required to get these two two teams up and running, but much like we’ve done with the Wanderers… I think we’re pretty good at figuring out how to drive revenue and find ways to make—at least in the long term—a project like this sustainable. And we’ve got plenty of plans and thoughts on how we’re gonna do that.

“At the end of the day, you just have to go with these things. Sometimes, you can wait and wait, and I think back to the creation of the Canadian Premier League. If we hadn’t pushed and got it started in 2019—and we had been targeting 2020, when the pandemic hit—who knows if the CPL even exists today?”

Goal is to launch League1 Atlantic in 2024

Speaking with The Coast, Martin says he’s “extremely hopeful” that League1 Atlantic games will debut next year. The Wanderers are planning for both men’s and women’s teams to be ready, he says—though it hasn’t yet been decided whether those clubs would share the same name as the Wanderers or adopt their own. Venues for the games have yet to be decided, too—though Martin says Dalhousie University’s Wickwire Field, where the Wanderers practice, is a likely fit. Some games could also happen at the Wanderers Grounds.

“If my career has taught me one thing, it’s that having appropriate-sized venues is critical for success,” he says. “Obviously, long term, the hope is that we can have this lead into a [full-fledged] professional women’s team—and then there would be a chance for something [bigger].

“Now it’s just a matter of making sure the other clubs that have shown interest are able to ensure that they can put together a sustainable operation, which is really the key… but I think it’s the right time, I think it’s a great opportunity and I think it’s needed in our region.”

About The Author

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...
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