Pro experience at youth level
Andre Pacheco was looking to create something different in Niagara.
The 34-year-old native of Bermuda, who moved to Canada in 2007, decided to do just that by taking over soccer teams from Clayton Rosario of Elite Soccer Development and rebranding the travel group as the Niagara International Football Club.
“I have seen the professional side and I have seen the business side of sports and, to me, soccer is a game of opinions, especially here. Everyone has an opinion,” said the Thorold resident. “I want to give the kids and the parents an overview of everything to take into account if they want to make a decision whether it’s playing college, playing pro or just having fun.”
Pacheco played college soccer in England and was the first FIFA-licensed player agent in Bermuda.
No guarantees are made to the players or their parents.
“I tell all my kids and parents that we are not here to promise scholarships, professional tryouts or anything like that,” he said. “We want to give them a professional experience at the youth level and if they went into a professional environment, this is what it would be like.”
Through a partnership with the Kenmore Soccer Club in Tonawanda, N.Y., NIFC teams play in both Canada and the United States, but the teams are registered in the United States under Kenmore.
“The more serious players tend to come over to us and we train and develop them and compete in the U.S. as Kenmore Niagara International.”
The teams play in leagues and showcase tournaments in the National Premier League.
“It is one of the top two divisions in the U.S, one is ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and the other is NPL,” Pacheco said.
The NIFC runs four girls teams (under-14, under-16, under-17 and under-18) and three boys teams (under-7/8, under-10 and under-14).
“Last year, our under-18 team was half American and half Canadian and our Canadian players would come over and train with us twice a week and we would go over to the States and train with our American counterparts once a week.”
The long-term goal of the program is to have seven or eight teams on both the boys and girls sides. Currently, the program draws players from across Niagara and the States and there are 86 athletes kids registered.
The teams will be doing their winter training at the Niagara Sportsplex in Niagara Falls. In the summer, the club is based out of Club Italia in Niagara Falls.
It is the second year of the affiliation with Kenmore and COVID-19 has obviously thrown a wrinkle in plans.
“We just entered season two today (Tuesday) and we were on a great pathway,” he said. “Numbers were good and then COVID hit and we had to kind of pivot.”
During the height of the pandemic, the club did five Zoom sessions a week with its players.
“We have kept the kids busy during the pandemic and a lot of the parents were appreciative that we kept the kids mentally and physically active.”
This summer, teams played games in the Canadian Academy of Futbol and had friendlies with other private clubs.