Successful partnership with Power Soccer making a difference.
A footballing pioneer says Sunderland’s influence is helping the game of ‘soccer’ become an increasingly big part of the sporting landscape in Canada.
Liam Power of the Power Soccer Academy is a regular visitor to the Academy of Light having formed a partnership with the club several years ago.
Power Soccer is based in Toronto and helps thousands of local children get a taste for the game.
Squads have made several trips to Wearside, with Sunderland's Academy manager Ged McNamee and his staff extremely supportive.
One group of players crossed the Atlantic recently, spending several days getting a taste of what it’s like to be a Barclays Premier League footballer.
“We want to get the guys exposed to the level of play here,” Power explained.
“I met Ged around four years ago and we looked to form an affiliation with Sunderland due to their strong reputation for player development.
“Since then we’ve brought a couple of teams over to spend some time here and have the Academy staff take a look at them.
“They get a bit of a taste of everything and a look at the resources available, to set in their minds what it could be like as a professional player.
“A lot of aspects of Academy life are thrown at the boys and it’s a good experience for them.”
As in the US, soccer faces considerable competition in the sporting space.
Toronto boasts its own MLS club, Toronto FC, who average crowds of around 18,500, but the city is also home to six other professional teams.
Ice hockey’s Maple Leafs dominate, with baseball club the Blue Jays and the NBA’s Raptors also popular.
But Power believes football can carve out its own niche.
“Hockey, baseball, basketball and American football are all popular, and lacrosse has a following,” he said.
“The competition in youth sports in Canada is fierce and that’s one of our challenges.
“I think football is in the ascendancy, though. We have around a million players in the country and there’s significant development in terms of Academies being formed.”
He added: “We’re seeing a change in the environment due to Canadian clubs now playing in the MLS.
“Participation is very high – the drop-off rate is still too much but with a professional environment the sport definitely has a future.”