Rivers FC will join seven-team League1 BC, a semi-pro BC Soccer Association circuit, in time for its inaugural season in 2022.
Club general manager Keith Liddiard piloted a press conference held on Friday at Thompson Rivers University to introduce the club, which will feature men’s and women’s teams.
Mark Pennington will coach the women’s side, with John Antulov in charge of the men. Pennington and Antulov are the TRU WolfPack women’s and men’s soccer coaches, respectively.
League1 BC fills in a gap between amateur leagues such as the Pacific Coast Soccer League and the top-tier national circuit, the Canadian Premier League.
The league is pegged to be a springboard for Interior athletes aspiring to join the TRU ranks and WolfPack players aiming to ink professional contracts.
Antulov said Rivers FC instantly becomes a major recruiting tool for the WolfPack, who can tout a path to the pro ranks, including the CPL and Major League Soccer, that runs through TRU.
"When potential players are looking at programs to go to, they want to see a structure in place and they want to see all-year-round football," Antulov said, noting WolfPack players are able to toil for Rivers FC during the Canada West off-season. "We're able to give that to them now. And I think there are some more good things coming down the pipe in the coming year that are going to add to what we're doing."
Antulov opted not to reveal the news he teased.
BC Soccer director of operations Gabriel Assis, who will oversee L1BC operations, said talk of creating the semi-pro circuit began about six years ago and the product is set to debut at an ideal time, with the women's and men's national teams reaching new heights and World Cup action coming to Canada in 2026.
"With women’s soccer, there's not really much after university," said Camryn Curts, a midfielder for the WolfPack women's soccer team. "Most people kind of gravitate and go to the states if they want to move up. It's good to have that semi-pro team here to maybe draw players in and see if they can play here after or during university in the summer."
Premiere Ligue de soccer du Quebec and League1 Ontario operate at the same semi-pro level as League1 BC.
“There is an ability to pay players,” Antulov said. “It gives us the opportunity to bring in a couple of professional players to try and keep the team as strong as possible.
“If you look at what’s happening in League 1 in Ontario, also in Quebec, those teams are now able to play in Canadian championships against MLS teams, CPL teams, so there is that opportunity through BC League 1. You may have to bring in a guy here and there. We’re probably not there yet.”
Rivers FC is run by a non-profit society and has a nine-person board of directors — president Nick Rinaldi, vice-president Paolo Munegatto, secretary Domenic Comita, treasurer Tom Calne, director Victor Lizzi, director Jason Fawcett, director Curtis Atkinson, director Matt Milovick and director Robyn Hollas.
“There are different groups that have put up sponsorship money to allow it to operate,” said Rinaldi, noting ticket sales and sponsorship dollars are key to the financial model. “It’s very community based.”
Dino Bernardo is the team consultant.
TSS Rovers of Burnaby, Vancouver Whitecaps and Rivers FC will be joined by four more expansion teams, which will be revealed in the coming weeks.
Players of any age and from any part of the province are eligible to play for Rivers FC, which has two potential home sites — Hillside Stadium or McArthur Island Field 2 (with enhancements).
Liddiard said Rivers FC plans to draw mostly from the Kamloops-and-area region.
The club’s colour scheme — Thompson Okanagan blue and Okanagan sunrise (a hue of orange) — and logo were designed by an independent research group that has CPL connections, Rinaldi said.
"Like the Rivers themselves, the club hopes to connect to the region while adopting some of the virtues that define both arms of the Thompson — strength, speed, at times beauty and sometimes danger," a club press release said.
League play is scheduled to begin next May and run through July.