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From Whitehorse to the Whitecaps

Joe Hanson is starting his second season with the Vancouver Whitecaps academy
Joe Hanson dribbles the ball during an exhibition soccer game at the new F.H. Collins Secondary School artificial turf field on Sept. 2. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

For Whitehorse’s Joe Hanson, there has ever only been one dream – professional soccer.

“I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a pro, honestly,” Hanson, a teenager entering his second season with the Vancouver Whitecaps academy, said in an interview at F.H. Collins Secondary School. “Ever since I knew what soccer was, it was always my goal to make it professionally.”

It’s no surprise though, given Hanson’s father, Jake Hanson, runs Total Soccer Excellence Academy here in Whitehorse and served as Joe’s coach.

“He was a great soccer player and was even looked at by the U.S. national team at some point,” Joe said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him because he’s been my trainer and coach for as long as I can remember.”

Joe spent last season, his first in the Whitecaps academy, on its U17 side and is joining its U19 program this year.

Despite last season being cut short due to COVID-19, Joe said he learned a lot about how to excel in a professional environment in his first year.

“The first thing I can remember is joining the club and being surprised about was just how much staff they had and how many people there were to help you,” he said. “There’s a guy for your equipment, there’s a guy for (physiotherapy) and a guy for mental performance. … It was a huge learning experience and a big eye-opener into what the professional stage is like.”

While the idea of academy soccer is still a relatively obscure one for a lot of the population, it has a lot of similarities in structure to junior hockey.

Players go to school together, train together daily and travel together for matches.

“For everyone in the academy, it’s their lifestyle,” Joe said. “We’re all trying to become professionals one day, so we’re all just trying to work our way up and everyone is totally invested in it.”

The Whitecaps academy consists of five teams in total – U15, U16, U17, U19 and a development team – situated below the Major League Soccer Whitecaps squad.

This year, Joe said he hopes to earn a spot on the development team this season and perhaps a look with the national team.

“(Canada Soccer) run ID camps with our team – I think there were three last year,” Joe said. “So we get looked at pretty regularly throughout the year.”

Joe’s been playing soccer his entire life – he said there are videos of him playing in diapers – but he’s also part of a wave of Yukon talent finding opportunities Outside.

What started with a couple players getting a chance to play college soccer in western Canada has turned into a rather impressive list of players finding homes with U Sports teams, Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association programs, American colleges and European programs.

Competitive breeds success, as the saying goes, and Joe is the latest Yukoner to benefit from the growth of the beautiful game in the North.

“I never had any other aspirations for different careers really,” Joe said. “This is kind of what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s been huge because I’ve always had support from my parents and family and people around me.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at