Coquitlam’s newest soccer team will be playing all of its games on the road — even the ones scheduled for its home pitch at Town Centre Stadium.
That’s because FC Koinonia is from Seoul, South Korea.
But the band of young privateers that’s been accepted into the Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) for the coming season is hoping the local Korean community will adopt the team as its own.
Speaking through a translator, Koinonia head coach Gee Kyung Hun said already the squad of young men between the ages of 18 and 24 is starting to feel at home.
They’re all living together in a rented house in Surrey and training with the PCSL’s FC Tigers in preparation for the season’s beginning in May.
The league’s summer schedule was a key factor in bringing the team to Metro Vancouver, said Gee, who played a season with the league’s Vancouver Thunderbirds, then went on to play two seasons in the Hong Kong Premier League and had a tryout with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer (MLS).
All of the players are taking a break from their academic pursuits back home to chase their soccer dreams before committing themselves to two years of compulsory service in South Korea’s military and Gee wanted them to experience the Lower Mainland at its very best.
Each is paying $1,500 a month for the opportunity and several are hoping their time in one of B.C.’s top senior amateur leagues might catch the attention of a post-secondary program in North America, or even a pro team.
That’s the hope of 22-year-old Jin Changsu, who said his dream is to someday play soccer in Europe.
He hopes his time in Canada will enable him to become more proficient in English as well as expose him to new training methods.
Teammate Kwon Jaekyeong, 19, said he’s impressed by what he’s already experienced since arriving in Canada in mid-January.
“When I saw Canadian players for the first time, I was overwhelmed,” he said through a translator.
“But after I played with them, I know I can compete with them.”
Gee said while his young players may not have the experience of the rank-and-file players that comprise the PCSL, most of whom are grown men who’ve played at the university or college level and even some who reached the professional or semi-pro ranks, they have the desire and athleticism that should make them worthy opponents.
PCSL president Dave Collard said the nine-team league undertook an extensive review of FC Koinonia’s application to join, adding the team is not its first foreign franchise — although the others all came from the United States.
“We’re a league with no borders.”
But bringing a Korean team into the fold presented some unique challenges.
“We searched everywhere to house this team,” Collard said, adding even the Korean embassy got involved.
And while the league did consider placing FC Koinonia in Penticton, keeping them in Metro Vancouver which has a substantial South Korean community proved the best option to make the players feel more comfortable, as well as expose the PCSL to a new market.
Collard said the league is in the process of securing playing time for FC Koinonia at Town Centre Stadium, but some games will also be played in Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.
For Gee, and manager Kody Ko, the immediate future is filled with ferrying their young charges around Metro Vancouver in a van borrowed from the FC Tigers, helping them get acclimated to their new surroundings, as well as reaching out to potential sponsors to help offset costs.
In addition to evening workouts with the Tigers, players also train in the morning.
Prior to the start of the PCSL season, they’re hoping to arrange friendly matches against other senior teams in the area, as well as college and university sides.
Gee said being so far from home has brought the group together quickly, although he added the soccer community in South Korea is small enough that most already knew each other.
He said their shared adventure so far from home is worthy of the team’s nickname, which is a form of the Greek word for fellowship.
“I still can’t believe our plan is working out,” he said.