Liam Stanley during Canada's bout with Venezuela at the America Cup in September.

Oak Bay teen hits international soccer stage

Attitude and commitment make player a standout

One Oak Bay teen is a vital cog in the wheel of the Canadian Men’s Para Soccer program.

Fullback Liam Stanley took the international stage when he was 14.

“He’s as committed as any athlete in my whole program,” said national team coach Drew Ferguson.

The now 17-year-old was discovered by one of the senior players, Jamie Ackinclose, also a technical director with Gorge Soccer Association, who saw Stanley play with his league team.

“I made a trip to see him. We knew he fit the criteria as far as mild Cerebral Palsy. We got him into the program instantly,” Ferguson said. “Liam’s a quality person, comes from a quality family and is a quality player.”

Para Soccer is seven-a-side soccer where players must have mild cerebral palsy or be recovering from stroke or head injury. Canada joined the international program in 2005.

“So the fact that in that short of time we’re now ranked #11 in the world, it’s a huge accomplishment for the players, coaching staff and Canadian Soccer Association,” said national coach Drew Ferguson.

Only eight qualify for the Paralympics – which is naturally the goal.

“It’s a pretty demanding task, but we’re knocking on the door of those teams ranked sixth, seventh, eighth,” Ferguson said.

Attitude and commitment make Stanley, who had a stroke at birth that left him with weakness on his right side, stand out as a solid player helping build the team despite his youth.

“The players in our para program are carded athletes, they’re expected to go that extra mile or two, Liam’s definitely one of the players that does that,” Ferguson said. “As a person he’s very quiet and shy and he just gets on with business. … He trains and smiles. He’s a good kid who minds his own business and gets on with his chores.”

The high expectations of the national program are a “perfect fit for him,” says mom Shannon Stanley.

“We always just put Liam into able-bodied sports and he did well,” she said. “We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do.”

Like many parents, Stanley’s introduced him to the sport at around four years old, mostly because he enjoyed it on television.

“I loved it and found I was pretty good,” Stanley said.

That first training camp at 14 was tough he admits, but being part of the national team is worth the work.

“It’s really cool. It’s an honour,” he said. “I like challenging myself.”

He trains at the gym regularly and plays with his school team as well as the Bays United F.C. U-18 team in the Vancouver Island Premier League. Next year he shifts to U21 soccer.

“I bring a high work rate,” he admitted, with a little prodding. “I like to pass the ball and have pretty good positional play.”

“He’s never let his disability slow him. He plays with intensity and confidence,” added Shannon. “He brings intensity to everything he does.”

Soccer is the real highlight for the Glenlyon Norfolk School Grade 11 student, but working trips to Barcelona last summer and Toronto just last month are the cherry on top. At the America Cup 2014 in Toronto last month, the team qualified for the World Championships in London next year with a fourth place finish. They lost to the U.S. in the consolation final.

“And we’re hosting Parapan American Games in Toronto this summer, so I’m looking forward to that,” he said.

The Canadian Men’s Para Soccer program requires athletes to play a high standard of soccer and be dedicated to the program and country.

Stanley was named the 2013 Canadian Para Soccer Player of the year. In May, he was also named the 2013 BC Youth Player of the Year. He played in 10 international matches last year, helping Canada post a record of four wins, two draws and four losses.

“He’s being rewarded for his commitment but so are we. He makes our program strong. It makes our future bright,” Ferguson said. “If you have a program and you have two or there young kids thriving … the program is exciting and moving forward. We have Liam and a couple other kids with technical abilities and good attitudes.”