To be a big league, you’ve got to play in the biggest cities. Diana Matheson’s Canadian women’s professional league will have a club in the Big Smoke.
Project 8 Sports Inc., Matheson’s company committed to creating a Canadian women’s pro league that will kick off in 2025, revealed a third founding club on Wednesday morning — A.F.C. Toronto City.
“For me personally as a kid that grew up in Oakville, this one is a little extra special because I know how much a team like this would’ve meant to me as a young player down the QEW,” Matheson told Canadian Soccer Daily.
The six-member ownership group of A.F.C. Toronto City is headed by CEO Helena Ruken, the current President of North Toronto SC.
“It’s an ‘out of the soccer community’ story,” said Matheson. “All the founders have come out of and have roots in North Toronto Soccer Club.”
“As one of the founding clubs for Project 8, we are excited to be the first to bring women’s professional soccer to Toronto,” added Ruken, in a press release. “We are a group of passionate advocates for equity, diversity, and inclusion, and we’re excited to rally even more partners, supporters, and our local community to join us on this journey towards kicking-off women’s professional soccer in Toronto.”
Brenda Ha will serve as Chief Operating Officer and Jill Burgin as Chief Marketing Officer.
“We got some really good interest from our initial league launch [last December] and this group came to us with a great plan. We had many discussions and are really excited to move to the next level now,” Matheson said.
Former Canadian women’s national team goalkeeper and Olympic gold medal hero Steph Labbé, now general manager of women’s soccer for the Vancouver Whitecaps, told MLSsoccer.com‘s Charles Boehm last month that “the conversations we’re having with other potential ownership groups are super exciting. There’s a couple that are very close to joining in soon. Clubs want to be a part of this.”
Now we know of one officially, and it is a big one for Project 8.
“Toronto was always a key market for us. There’s a ton of badass women in business [in Toronto] so we always knew we had a good group to draw from. We know what an important sport market this is in Canada and in general,” Matheson told Canadian Soccer Daily.
The Vancouver Whitecaps and Calgary Foothills were the first two founding clubs of the new league, and Matheson stated recently that the hope is to have eight teams recruited by the end of 2023 to give clubs well over a year to get prepared for action. Matheson also previously admitted that she’s convinced that one of the eight teams involved will reside in Quebec.
Where A.F.C. Toronto City will play exactly has yet to be decided, but Matheson is excited by the progress the group has already made to find a home for the club.
Project 8 also announced on Wednesday that food delivery giant DoorDash had joined the project as the fourth founding sponsor.
“We’re really excited to partner with DoorDash,” Matheson said. “They are heavily involved in soccer and were a founding partner with [NWSL club] Angel City FC. DoorDash is very invested in women’s sport in North America and are starting to put their stamp on the Canadian market.”
Canada Tire Corporation announced two months ago they had come on board as a founding partner, joining fellow Canadian business giants CIBC and Air Canada.
Securing official league status and sanctioning by Canada Soccer is the next milestone Matheson is looking to celebrate.
“We have applied for league membership with Canada Soccer and we’ve had lots of great discussions. Gaining that league membership will be a great step forward and a real milestone for the project,” Matheson explained.
Project 8’s application will be formally reviewed at the Canada Soccer Annual General Meeting (AGM) next month.
Former Canadian men’s national team captain Jason deVos was appointed interim General Secretary of Canada Soccer on Tuesday, after Earl Cochrane’s surprise resignation last week. In February, Charmaine Crooks was elevated from Vice-President to the interim role of acting President just days after Nick Bontis’ resignation, amid a tidal wave of internal and external pressure.
Project 8 Sports cited among its motivations that Canada has the third-highest player pool in the world for girls and women and that one in three girls drop out of playing sports, in comparison to just one out of 10 boys.
Professional women’s soccer in Canada is long overdue, but it’s coming. And when it arrives, it will be a force. Matheson and her partners are making sure of that.