When Sami Marvasti was asked to hop on a Zoom call last week with Shawn Fiddick, the executive director for youth at the Vancouver Island Wave program, to discuss ‘an opportunity’, his interest was instantly piqued.
It turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. Marvasti, and a few of his Wave teammates, had been invited to train with the Canadian women’s national team as they prepared for their friendly against Australia on Dec. 1 at Pacific FC’s home, Starlight Stadium.
For the 17-year-old midfielder, who spent time with Pacific this season in the CPL on a development contract, it was a unique opportunity to see some of the best players in the world in action.
“The level and technical ability, just everything, the standard was so high,” said Marvasti. “They weren’t scared, like if you were messing up, they weren’t scared to tell you… they would be on you instantly. The quality, the technical ability, and they were so smart; it was just amazing to watch the level and the intensity of how they did everything.”
The Van Isle Wave program was created to provide a pathway for young players on Vancouver Island with the potential to eventually become players for Pacific FC, or pursue other professional or post-secondary opportunities. The program helped develop current Pacific midfielder Sean Young and now has five age group clubs for both boys and girls.
Marvasti joined the Wave three years ago, and has seen the program grow exponentially since. That has brought with it some cool opportunities, including signing a development contract with the club and earning a spot on the bench for a game against Vancouver FC on Sept. 30.
Getting to train with the women’s national team, however, was as special as any of them. Marvasti and his teammates were thrown into drills, got to participate in some 11-on-11 matches and just filled in as needed. They also helped Canada prepare for key tactical ideas that they needed to implement against Australia.
“It was an amazing experience for them,” said Jamar Dixon, Manager of Football and Player Development at Pacific FC. “I got so much incredible feedback, they were actually in awe training with the women’s team. They said they were technical, they were sharp, the way they listened to instructions. It was great for these boys to experience it, to see what it is at the next level and it was the perfect progression for them. There was nothing but smiles, they were really happy for sure.”
This also meant a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the Van Isle Wave players to share the pitch with soccer royalty, as Christine Sinclair, the greatest international goalscorer of all time, was participating in some of her final training sessions for the national team.
“She just knew how to do everything,” said Marvasti. “She would just wait and she would play off the ball and if it comes to her, boom, straight somewhere else. It was crazy to watch how smart [she is], and how she just reads the game was amazing.”
Dixon, who played three times for the Canadian men’s national team back in 2016, knows how special it was for the club as a whole to get to play a small part in Sinclair’s farewell series in her home province.
“She is a true legend,” said Dixon. “She has inspired not only young female Canadians, I think she has inspired our whole nation, everybody. I think she has inspired people across the world.”
Marvasti was also particularly impressed by what Canadian winger Adriana Leon did in training. He said everything from her skill moves, to her technical ability to the intensity with which she trained stood out and was inspiring.
After playing their part in the preparations, Marvasti and his teammates got to see first-hand the work the group did in training play out on the Starlight Stadium pitch. On a rainy night in Langford this past Friday, Canada thumped Australia 5-0.
“It was like a dominating performance just watching and pretty much everything we helped with [played out], like how they sat in their block, how they attacked, what their movements were,” said Marvasti. “It was just a crazy experience to see how so many fans around the world were watching this and it was just like, ‘Oh yeah, we helped them with parts of it,’ and their success for the win. It was a different way of watching the game.”
The importance of that experience went well beyond just the handful of players who participated in training. It was perhaps just as important for the many players who make up the Van Isle girls’ teams, who were able to see their heroes play in their home community.
“Having the women’s national team here and then having our young academy girls watching it gives them something to aspire to,” said Dixon. “Those moments you can’t rewrite them.”
The match was also an important experience for the Pacific FC club as a whole — in everything from game-day operations, to marketing, to making sure the facilities were up to standard for training.
“I just think it’s an amazing experience for everybody,” said Dixon. “The fact that our crew at Pacific were able to handle everything and manage it the best way they could and create an amazing experience for the women’s national team, I think that’s something to speak about as well. Soon enough, we will be getting sold-out stadiums at Starlight every game but it’s a good test for our guys in the front office to experience that and to show they have the capacity to handle that.”
The whole experience demonstrated the importance of having the national teams travel to different stadiums and communities around the country to spread inspiration and opportunities for future generations.
The women’s national team are already back on the mainland for a match on Tuesday night, and the final match of Christine Sinclair’s illustrious national team career, in Vancouver. But the memories of their week spent on the Island will be lasting.
“Just seeing how many people came and watched the game, how they prepared, the equipment, it’s just a higher level of professionalism,” said Marvasti. “Just seeing that motivated me to be like, ‘Yeah, I want to be there, I want to represent my country, this is what I want to do,’ so it was just amazing.”