Well worth the wait

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

It still has that new indoor soccer complex smell, and Manitoba Soccer Association executive director Hector Vergara said he gets "tingly" whenever he walks inside it.

The yet-to-be-named facility at the University of Manitoba will host its first set of games tomorrow night, and the Winnipeg Soccer Federation, which will manage the massive pitch, gave the Sun a sneak peek of the sparkling new facility yesterday afternoon.

The $12.5-million centre took nearly eight years to get built thanks to numerous delays, but it looks like it was well worth the wait and will no doubt have local soccer players clamouring to play in it.

Executives like Vergara, however, are hoping the building leads to something bigger than a registration spike. His goal is for the facility to result in more Manitobans playing the beautiful game at an international level.

"We always said that in order for our sport to develop in Manitoba we need facilities as well," Vergara said. "We need good coaches, we need good facilities, and the players will develop having those two things.

"This is a good start to be able to do that. It's going to take off like crazy with a facility like this, when people come here and enjoy it. It's going to be fantastic. How can you not enjoy it? It's going to be so awesome for everybody."

NO BOARDS

The 105,000-sq.-ft. complex features a regulation-size field, which is 110 yards long and 70 yards wide. Curtains that come down from the 51/2-storey-high ceiling can turn the playing surface, which is covered in state-of-the-art turf, into two or four smaller fields.

The difference between this facility and other indoor soccer locations in the city is there are no boards.

"This is almost like a true outdoor game," Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association president Alastair Gillespie said. "A lot of recreational players have played only with boards, so it will be a new experience for them.

"We're hoping that some of them will really enjoy it. Some may not, but that's just part of the new experience."

The complex has 12 change rooms. There are four change rooms for referees, a pro shop, an area for a restaurant and lounge, a boardroom and a canteen.

Starting next week, the facility will be in use seven days a week until the end of March. Put it all together and Vergara hopes there is about to be a soccer boom in the province, which boasts about 16,500 registered players.

"We want to get that number closer to 20,000 players in Manitoba," he said. "That includes the entire province, but we definitely want to improve the numbers in Winnipeg as well as in the rural areas.

"I know that we can't build a facility like this in every region, but at least we're trying to promote the sport with this facility and people out there will probably enjoy it even more."

After nearly a decade of waiting, wondering and hoping, MSA president Sean Drain can hardly believe it's about to open its doors.

"We certainly had our doubts," Drain said. "We always were optimistic that it would come to pass. There's been several obstacles along the way that have thankfully been overcome, largely by the work of the (WSF) board.

"We're all excited. We're all so enthused about it. We can't wait to come and see an actual game being played."

The official grand opening is slated for Wednesday, Nov. 12. Vergara's dream is that it will be the first of many ribbon cuttings.

"We hope that this is just the beginning of new facilities in Manitoba for soccer," he said.


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