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Lenarduzzi opens Challenge Cup

Bob Lenarduzzi watched his Vancouver Whitecaps dispatched New York City FC 3-2 Wednesday night
Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star Jack Cotter of the U15 Vernon United (right) battles Tom Curyer of Coastal FC in the 2017 Les Sinnott Memorial Boys Provincial Challenge Cup Thursday at Marshall Field.

Bob Lenarduzzi watched Peru star Yordy Reyna pull off an acrobatic header in the 88th minute as the Vancouver Whitecaps dispatched New York City FC 3-2 Wednesday night at B.C. Place.

The smiling 62-year-old, who is now president of the Major League Soccer Caps, spent Thursday morning watching youngsters in the Whitecaps Youth Academy in Vernon and then took in some of the Les Sinnott Memorial Challenge Cup at Marshall Field. Lenarduzzi addressed players, coaches and fans at the official opening ceremonies Thursday night.

There are 46 teams in the provincial B tournament, including five sides from Vernon Tolko United. There are U13 to U18 divisions.

“I have nothing but fond memories of youth soccer,” said Lenarduzzi, who had 47 caps for Canada and helped them qualify for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. “I actually didn’t make the first team I tried out for because I was a year too young. I tried out for the Seventh Division Grandview Legion team in East Vancouver and didn’t make it and played youth soccer there until I was 14 and went to England (Reading).”

Lenarduzzi was runner-up Sun Soccer Boy in 1969 while with Grandview Legion, playing his home games at Clinton Park.

He is high on the Vernon academy and points to 16-year-old Alphonso Davies, who joined the Whitecaps FC Residency in 2015, prior to being added to their USL side in February 2016, as an example of how players can fast track their careers. Davies is the first player born in the 2000s to play in an MLS match.

“There’s a saying that goes, ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’”

Lenarduzzi was a dynamic fullback with the Whitecaps FC (1974 to 1984) and the North American Soccer League’s all-time leader in games played with 312. A key member of Vancouver’s championship-winning team in 1979, Lenarduzzi was the only Canadian to win the North American Soccer League’s Player of the Year award.

The father of two stays fit these days, but hasn’t played soccer for a long time

“I have a new hip that I’ve had for about nine years now and it was the best thing that I ever did. I have to have the other hip replaced so I don’t play. I probably could play, but I’m smart enough to know why would I play because I’ll probably hurt something. I’m quite fulfilled with my career and what took place during that. I played over 30s for a bit when I retired from professional soccer and enjoyed that until that started to get a little too serious.”

Meanwhile, Coastal teams got off to stellar starts in Day 1 play Thursday at Marshall Field.

The South Burnaby Strikers grounded Vernon Tolko United 5-1, while Coquitlam Metro-Ford Apollo shaded the West Coast Auto United 2-1 in the Under 18 Division.

South Delta United blanked PMO Barcelona 3-0, while Terrace Selects ambushed the Bulkley Valley Rapids 5-0 in U17 action.

Surrey-White Rock’s Coastal FC Royal shut out Vernon 5-0, while Kamloops Blaze bounced Coquitlam Eagles 1-0 in U15 play.

The Campbell River Strikers iced Vernon 4-0 and South Burnaby United FC tied Penticton Pinnacles FC in U14 games.

The Chilliwack Attack shaded Kamloops 3-2, while Saanich Fusion FC edged South Burnaby Spartans 2-1 in U13 matches.

Vernon U18s play Comox Valley United at 11 a.m. today and take on Kootenay East Saturday at 5 p.m.

Vernon U17s go up against Bays United Sabotage today at 11 .m. and tangle with Nelson Selects Saturday at 5 p.m.

In U15 play today, Vernon meets the Williams Lake Storm at 11 a.m. before playing the Powell River Panthers Saturday at 5 p.m.

Vernon faces Nelson in U14 action today at 1 p.m. and then tackle Wesburn Galaxy of Vancouver Saturday at 3 p.m.

Vernon U13s play Kamloops today at 1 p.m. and square off against Chilliwack Saturday at 1 p.m.