The Canadian Premier League is coming to Vancouver.
The league announced Wednesday that a ninth franchise will come on board for the 2023 season. It's the first addition since Atletico Ottawa joined in 2020.
"Not only is it great for soccer in Canada, I think it's great for the Canadian Premier League," said commissioner David Clanachan. "I think it's great for all our fans and supporters. And for everything we're trying to build … For me, every time we take a step forward, it's not only a step forward it's a step upward."
The expansion Vancouver franchise was awarded to SixFive Sports and Entertainment LP, which owns Pacific FC, the CPL team based out of Langford, B.C.
SixFive's general partners are former Canadian internationals Rob Friend and Josh Simpson, investment entrepreneur Dean Shillington and Starlight Investments, a privately held Toronto-based real estate investment and asset management company.
Shillington said the group has been talking to eight or nine municipalities through the Lower Mainland about stadium location.
"We're close but we felt it was an appropriate time to put it to the community, to the fans. We want to hear where everyone wants us," Shillington said in an interview from England.
The plan is to build a stadium from scratch, with a capacity of around 8,000 to start but which can be increased as needed down the line.
As for sharing the city with the MLS Whitecaps, Shillington says his group sees no issue with two teams in the Greater Vancouver area. Toronto has two pro soccer clubs with the MLS' Toronto FC and York United FC, a CPL side that plays out of York University in the north of the city.
Shillington says owning multiple teams is part of the SixFive plan.
"We're merely custodians of a broader brand. So our goal has been to invest in Canadian football everywhere we can and to keep investing in Canadian football. So we're quite excited to use what we've learned through Pacific, add Vancouver to the mix and then hand the whole thing off to the supporters and community to take it from there."
Clanachan says Shillington will be the point man for the Vancouver franchise while Friend and Simpson focus on Pacific.
"We've ringfenced it properly," said Clanchan.
Shillington is president of the Knightsbridge Capital Group and owns Caffe Artigiano, which has branches in B.C. and Alberta.
Simpson won 43 caps for Canada while Friend earned 32.
Simpson played his club football for England's Millwall, Germany's FC Kaiserlautern, Turkey's Manisaspor and Switzerland's BSC Young Boys. He retired in 2015 in the wake of a badly broken leg.
Originally drafted by the Chicago Fire in 2003, Friend opted to go to Europe and played in Norway for Moss FK and Molde FK and in the Netherlands with SC Heerenveen and Heracles Almelo. He then embarking on a successful stretch in Germany, with Borussia Moenchengladbach, Hertha Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt and TSV 1860 Munchen.
He joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in January 2014 but retired later that year, at the age of 33, after missing more than five months of action due to concussion-related problems.
SixFive Sports and Entertainment is a global football fund `"seeking investments in high growth markets, under-managed European clubs, and distressed or turnaround opportunities.'' The name comes from Friend's and Shillington's height.
Friend is also co-founder and partner in the DRG Investment Group along with Simpson.
Simpson is also co-founder and partner in Von Schwanau Invest AG, a Swiss-based international real estate investment group.
The current CPL teams are HFX Wanderers FC, (Halifax) Atletico Ottawa, York United FC (Toronto), Forge FC (Hamilton), Valour FC (Winnipeg), Cavalry FC (Calgary), FC Edmonton and Pacific FC.
Clanachan says other expansion plans are ongoing.
The league has already awarded "exclusive rights" to an expansion franchise to a company planning to start a franchise in Saskatoon. Clanachan says Living Sky Sports and Entertainment Inc. continues to work on a suitable stadium.
"As far as other franchises are concerned, we've got three or four groups that we're talking to right now," he said in an interview. "I don't want to tell you who there are but I'm extremely excited about the fact that we're able to grow the business. And we should be able to grow it. We're open for business, we're a new league. And we're seeing better things every day out of our league and our clubs."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press