The Vancouver Whitecaps have their eye on a blossoming young talent in the Comox Valley.
The professional soccer organization has invited 13-year-old Liam Mackenzie to attend its Pre-MLS (Major League Soccer) Academy, designed to introduce players to a professional club environment while they attend school. The pre-academy runs at Simon Fraser University. It then switches to University Hill Secondary near the National Soccer Development Centre training facility at UBC.
Liam, a Comox resident who graduated from Ecole Robb Road Elementary, was about five years old when he started with the Comox Valley United Soccer Club. At 11, he started playing with the Vancouver Island Wave, which competes in the B.C. Soccer Premier League.
When not playing or practising with the Victoria-based Wave, Liam trains on a course containing cones, flags and nets in a yard on a family property. At times, he will be joined by friends, and older Wave players who live nearby. Otherwise, he gets up early in the morning, cycles or runs to the field from his house, and puts in about two hours on his own. He also practises with the local men’s team.
Liam will play any position on the field, but his preference is centre attacking midfield.
“You have to be aware of where everyone is,” he said. “In midfield, you have to have a lot of stamina. You’re playing, basically, 35-minute halves of running the entire time.”
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t hampered his training. He ran a half-marathon the other day.
Wave coach Stuart Heath notes that Liam plays a year higher than his birth group, at the highest level on the island.
“So that alone is a nice achievement, but then to be able to have the impact he still does at this age group is something else entirely,” Heath said. “He’s a true student of the game. He enjoys watching, playing and learning. Liam is one of those players that you give him instruction during a game and it’s implemented at the first opportunity he gets. His dedication is second to none, and his family supports his choices in every way.”
His family is grateful to Comox Valley United for its ongoing support in Liam’s development.
“The club, through the board and its members, is building a soccer culture that supports players and families,” said Liam’s father, John. “I’m grateful for the work they do that allows players to enjoy soccer. The entire board and the volunteer coaches should be proud of the work they’re doing for the community.”
John also notes an “amazing informal soccer culture” at Robb Road, fostered by school staff and by Comox Valley United.
Down the road, Liam hopes to become a professional soccer player, but he also hopes to earn a scholarship to attend a college or university.
“Both my parents think that I need to stay in school and to get a scholarship, even if I’m a good enough player to skip (school) and I have enough money… They want me to stay in school for after. I’m fine with that.
“I’m pretty determined,” Liam added. “Soccer’s just…it makes me happy. I can’t seem to stop playing.”
“I think we’ll be seeing him on TV screens at some point in the future,” Heath said.