June 17, 2024
  • June 17, 2024
Unity FC Kelcey Brade

A Conversation With New Unity FC Owner Kelcey Brade

By on August 11, 2023 0 2397 Views

League1 BC side Unity FC has been bolstered by the addition of a new ownership group helmed by TV sportscaster Kelcey Brade, a man who has strong ties to both the growing domestic game itself and directly with Langley’s sporting community.

The big news follows a strong season for Unity FC, with both its men’s and women’s team reaching postseason berths for the first time ever, and the women’s team still set to play at the Women’s Inter-Provincial Championship this weekend.

We spoke with the face of Unity FC’s new ownership group to chat about their vision for the League1 BC side, what’s set to change (or stay the same), and what built up to the successful ownership bid.

Without further ado, let’s clear a few things up:

This has been in the works a while.

Brade reveals that that the journey of his ownership group’s majority purchase of the club took place over the span of six months and actually concluded in the summer, meaning he and his group were watching closely as the 2023 League1 BC season unfolded.

Brade – having covered Major League Soccer and the FIFA World Cup on broadcast television – is certainly no stranger to the domestic game, but as it turns out he’s no stranger those of the original ownership group based out of Trinity Western University, either.

“I used to do the play-by-play for their teams back in the day when I went to university there. Mike was an assistant on the men’s team at the time, and Graham was the head coach of the women’s team. It’s a full circle moment for me, as someone who started up the broadcasting career covering women’s soccer and men’s soccer at the university level, to now get to be a part of growing the game with those guys.”

The conversations between Brade, Mike, and Graham kept growing, with Kelcey adding more numbers to his own group to submit a majority ownership bid. In June, pen was put to paper for the the addition: Unity FC had itself a batch of new owners and investors.

Unity FC Victory Shumbusho
Photo Credit: Sarah Parker / @MatchOneMedia

Both ownership groups will co-exist.

While Kelcey and his ownership group have a majority share in Unity FC, he says the relationship they have with the club’s original owners is symbiotic.

The original group running the show has been men’s head coach Mike Shearon, women’s head coach Graham Roxburgh and associate coach Rob Giesbrecht, along with Troye Flannery and the club’s Chief Operations Manager Johannes Regier. While the last-mentioned member of that group has helped with the business side, he’s about to get a lot of help.

“Graham, Mike, Johannes, Rob, and Troye have done a great job on the soccer side of operations through the first two years, but they’re only five people and there’s only so much that they can do,” says Brade. “Their main area of expertise is on the soccer operation side, though Johannes has a lot of business operations experience that we will continue to rely on. At the same time, our group is coming in with a big focus on that business side of operations.”

Kelcey’s group boasts quite a few names who are based between Langley and Ontario. This includes Orion Construction owner Joshua Gaglardi, HUB International’s Chris Della Mora, and five others – Aaron Fedora, Brad Ratel, Tyler Walker, Lloyd Van Oenen, and Clement Wee – split between the two provinces of Ontario and BC.

Unity FC Chase Office Field
Photo Credit: Tom Ewasiuk / AFTN Canada

There could be a new home ground.

With its ties to Trinity Western University, calling the campus’s Chase Office Field home has made a lot of sense – but it’s not a venue that offers the club a maximal local factor in Langley, and the university’s faith-focused branding might even alienate some fans.

“We are in talks with a couple of different field locations within Langley,” reveals Brade. “We’d really like to make this Langley’s team. I think that’s the biggest thing missing from Unity right now – not enough people in Langley know that this club exists in their backyard, and we want to really make this a club for the players and the community.”

What that means remains to be seen: SixFive Sports and Entertainment had just built a significantly-sized stadium at Willoughby Community Park for the club’s professional affiliate, Vancouver FC, which is a few minutes closer to the city centre. There evidently lies a few options that Brade and his group are looking at with hopes of securing a new home ahead of the upcoming season.

“South of the Fraser and Langley seems to be the hub for where people travel for sports and sports entertainment, and we want to make sure that our players get the proper attention and that the fans get the entertainment value that they deserve.”

Unity FC Kelcey Brade
Brade taking in a Unity FC match earlier this summer. (Photo Credit: Kelcey Brade)

Obviously, the new owners have liked what they’ve seen so far.

Brade attended his first Unity match during their ‘unofficial home opener’ out in Chilliwack, with Unity’s men’s and women’s team surging beyond Rivers FC with a cumulative 13-1 scoreline. It was quite an introduction.

“I’m like, oh, is that what club ownership is like?,” laughed Brade, who was committed regardless of the result. Both squads continued to have a strong summer, cracking postseason berths for their first respective times, with the women still set to play an inter-provincial tournament this weekend. For Brade, these opportunities are proof in the pudding that both the club and grassroots football are heading the right direction.

“I think we’re seeing, and we have seen for the last handful of years the growth of women’s football in this in this country. We need to continue to make sure that that growth happens in the same way on the women’s side, and on the men’s side as well,” he adds.

Unity FC Women's 2023
Photo Credit: Tom Ewasiuk / AFTN Canada

Unity: More Than A Buzz Word

One thing becomes apparent when chatting with Kelcey is that he’s a guy who throws meaning behind community: having lived and breathed life in Langley, he really wants to rally the community around the club. With his group’s investment, they’re planting a flag that comes with a rallying cry for the lower mainland.

“This is a message for everyone: this game in this country right now, and this league – especially League1 Canada, League1 BC, it doesn’t matter which part of the country you’re in, whether it’s League1 Alberta, League1 Ontario, League1 Quebec, or when it gets to the Maritimes… it needs people like like you and me. It needs that person next year to come alongside to support and promote it, and be a part of the journey of our current and next generation of men’s and women’s footballers.”

Unity FC Francis Powell
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Sarah Parker / MatchOne Media

They’re not just jumping in from World Cup fever.

The shadow cast by the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup being co-hosted by Canada is huge: even the Canadian Premier League earmarked that date from the get-go, and years ahead of the big day many of the developmental plans have already prompted plenty of discussion.

For Brade and the new owners, the expected boon period that the fabled competition will bring to Canada wasn’t a primary motivation.

“I do think it is a nice perk,” he says instead. “It is something that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a very long time being involved in ownership of a team. But you look at 2026 and even at the Women’s World Cup that just ended right now, with Canada not faring as well as we all expected…what I’m trying to create and trying to convey to the investors that are joining me on this team is that we can’t wait for 2026 for soccer in this country to really grab that foothold and to get the support, funding, and everything that is needed.”

While both the men’s and women’s national teams failed to make it out of the group stage in their respective World Cups, he believes they’ve been fantastic ambassadors for the game in Canada – but he’s adamant they need support from all levels, too.

“It needs people to come alongside. It needs owners and people who are willing to invest in not only that the players but in clubs to build out that structure for us to have successful domestic leagues in this country that are thriving – not just surviving, but thriving.”

TSN World Cup Crew

From One Owner To Another

The FIFA Men’s World Cup saw Kelcey Brade become a familiar face to many as TSN’s studio host, working alongside analysts like Steven Caldwell, Julian de Guzman, and Janine Beckie – all of whom have directly invested in grassroots football clubs in Canada.

De Guzman in particular was a source of inspiration that helped spark Kelcey’s vision to own and operate a League1 BC side. The former Canadian international helped launch the Simcoe County Rovers in League1 Ontario, who have immediately proven to be playoff contenders who have produced professional talent on both the men’s and women’s sides.

“He and I spent many nights talking when I was with TSN about League1 and how you can do it well,” Brade reflects. “You don’t just get into League1 and just throw things out there and hope it sticks – but if you have a plan like Simcoe County has had, and the success that they’ve had within their community, it really helped fuel the idea and that passion for me to get serious and actually jump into the ownership ring as an investor in Unity FC.”

Brade has also been watching the other clubs from League1 BC closely, and he’s keen to replicate the most successful parts: he believes Altitude has done a fantastic job of embracing different markets in North Vancouver’s communities, the TSS Rovers have shown how to perform on the pitch, and the Highlanders have a phenomenal club structure that he says set a gold standard for the league.

The inspiration is there, but it’s what the new ownership group does with it that counts.

Unity FC Women's
Photo Credit: Tom Ewasiuk / AFTN Canada

Unity FC: Development Powerhouse?

Make no bones about it: while Unity FC has already helped some if its own achieve playing opportunities at a higher level, Kelcey wants it to become a powerhouse figure in BC’s pathway to professional football.

“We want to be part of their development stream – but we also want to have the community rally around this team and really make it Langley’s team because there’s so much great soccer talent.”

The new owner says if he can find the right formula with Unity FC to help grow not just football in Langley, but provincially through League1 BC as well, they’ll start to produce talent who can reach heights like the Canadian Premier League, Project 8, and professional levels outside of Canada’s own borders.

That’s a process the club has already achieved, most recently with striker Seina Kashima inking a contract with Lithuanian side FC Gintra. The club also has a formal partnership with Vancouver FC that saw two young professionals, James Cameron and Lennon Thompson, play a few matches in League1 BC, a surefire benefit to the rest of the ream who got a close look at professional-caliber talent.

“It’s an important and vital time for League1 BC. Success is not just wins or losses or the fan attendance, it’s about the development of players,” adds the man himself. “Through that, I think it will then bring in the fan base and to the to the players that these guys and women that you can watch every Saturday during the summer are they’re putting and putting it on the line every single week.”

What’s Next

With the announcement that Unity FC has a fresh group of owners and investors coming in, changes are sure to come. Community interaction is going to be key as the League1 BC side prepares itself for a new era after having wrapped just its second-ever league campaign.

“This offseason is going to be a critical one for us. We’ve got to set ourselves up well for success both on and off the field for next year,” added Brade, who’ll be tackle the mantle of Unity FC CEO right from the get-go. He won’t be involved in matchday operations, but big ticket items on the club’s future will be piling up on his plate.

Whether the Unity FC women’s team can celebrate the big occasion by finishing strong at the Women’s Inter-Provincial Championship this weekend remains to be seen, but the fact that it’s being hosted in Langley will be a great way for Brade to garner the club exposure as a new era for it kicks off.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *