Few women have had more of an impact on Canadian soccer than midfielder Diana Matheson.
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With the third-most appearances in Canadian national women’s team history and a pair of Olympic bronze medals thanks to her game-winning heroics in 2012, Matheson has gone down as a player who helped transform Canada into a perennial threat on the pitch.
She retired in 2021 and is now spearheading Canada’s first professional women’s soccer league titled Project 8, and presented to a sold-out room at the Saskatoon Club on Thursday night.
“Saskatchewan Soccer has been an unbelievable host,” said Matheson. “We had three events today, I got to meet the REX program and this was an incredible turnout tonight. I love coming to this city and I’m so excited about the idea of bringing a pro women’s team to the Prairies in 2025.”
The proposed league would feature eight teams spread out across the country with Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto confirmed as inaugural teams.
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Matheson has expressed interest in bringing another franchise to a city on the Prairies, with Saskatchewan emerging as a potential contender.
It’s something that has piqued the interest of young soccer players in Saskatoon, including Regional Excel Centre (REX) athlete Gracie Sowers who saw Matheson come down to practice earlier in the day.
“It’s a lot easier to get into professional (soccer) from the United States because that’s where people look,” said Sowers. “But having opportunities from Canada being right here, right in front of us, would just be amazing.”
Project 8 is hoping to feature a 28-game season for its eight clubs, with plans to expand to a dozen franchises at some point.
Matheson also mentioned potential relationships with League 1 Canada as a possible feeder system, coming from the U Sports levels before that.
“Getting to see your role model right in front of you … that is worth gold for a young athlete,” said Saskatchewan Soccer Association CEO and Sporting Director Rahim Mohamed. “It’s why having professional sport in our backyard is such a huge opportunity because we don’t have to wait for a visit. We get to see it week in and week out.”
“We’ll get to see professional women’s soccer players interacting with our community and inspiring our soccer community here in the province.”
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While there haven’t been any significant conversations yet surrounding where a Saskatchewan-based team would play, Matheson confirmed Griffiths Stadium at the University of Saskatchewan and the proposed Canadian Premier League field at Prairieland Park are possibilities.
The Living Sky Sports ownership group was awarded a conditional men’s professional team in the CPL back in 2021, however, the deal hinges on a soccer-specific stadium being constructed in Saskatoon that meets league standards.
“I think what a women’s professional soccer team offers as an advantage for possibly a future CPL team as well is maybe that extra push it needs,” said Matheson. “Already on the horizon there could be a CPL team – well now there also could be a women’s professional team. Now you’ve got two tenants that could play at this soccer-specific stadium.”
According to Mohamed, time is of the essence for a Saskatchewan professional team, before another market steps up.
“If we don’t work, if we don’t act and we don’t have members of our business community or interested investors who want to work together to put (together) a franchise, we’ll be driving to Winnipeg or Edmonton,” said Mohamed.
“We’re two years away from the launch of the league, it doesn’t have to happen tomorrow. But anyone interested, let’s figure it out and let’s make sure that we only have to drive 20 minutes down the road somewhere or five minutes in a different direction, versus eight hours one way or five hours the other way.”
As Canada’s national women’s team begins its quest for a FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Matheson is hopeful these initial conversations will lead to more opportunities for this country’s soccer stars.
“One of the parts I really enjoy is coming out to these markets across Canada talking to the people that believe in this thing and planting the seeds hopefully,” Matheson said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to take folks in the community to take it on and a few folks make a big difference.”
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