A Comox footballer is taking his talent to the next level at the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS (Major League Soccer) Academy.
Liam Mackenzie, 14, is training five days a week at the National Soccer Development Centre in Vancouver, across the street from his school at University Hill Secondary. His billet home is a short walk away, on the campus at UBC.
Last year, the Whitecaps invited Liam to its pre-academy at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. He attended school in Langley.
This year, he plays on the Whitecaps Under-15 team that competes in the MLS Next league. Liam wore the captain’s armband for the team’s first two games — a 1-0 loss at home to Seattle and a 1-1 draw in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the latter, Liam scored in the dying minutes to tie the game.
“It was a good team goal, which Liam finished well,” Whitecaps U15 head coach Scott Howey said.
Mackenzie said he was shocked by the speed and intensity of his first MLS Next game against the Seattle Sounders Academy team.
“I think it shocked most of our team as well,” he said. “The intensity was very high and they were quicker with everything. As we play more, we’ll improve as a team.”
Since that match, he feels his game has improved in terms of physicality, speed of play, and his tactical understanding of the game.
Training has also become more intense as the level improves. There are many new players from around B.C. and other provinces who have joined the U15 academy team this year.
“So it makes it even harder having to compete against more people to prove yourself,” said Mackenzie, who plays central midfield.
He takes some free kicks for the U15 team, as well as penalty shots, though the squad has yet to receive any. Rather than taking corner kicks, Howey prefers Mackenzie to station himself in the box to “attack the ball as he is quite good in the air.
“Overall I have been pleased with how Liam has handled himself in the program to start and has really taken on the challenge,” Howey said. “His drive and discipline have underpinned the early success that he has had in the program. Both will be key attributes to sustain his start.”
As for balancing soccer and school, Mackenzie has been busier than ever this year as he tries to do his best for the team while keeping up with his grades. Players attend school from 8:40 a.m. to 1:40 p.m., except when they need to fly to away games. After school, practice runs from 2:30-4:30 p.m. In addition, the Whitecaps regularly conduct online team meetings outside of practice or school.
“University Hill is a very academic school,” he said. “School and soccer are both very important to me so balancing the two equally has been tough, but I am very fortunate to be living so close to the school on the UBC campus and the training ground, which has helped me out a lot.”