Free-to-play indoor soccer league opens in Mahone Bay

Young players gather to compete with the support of Halifax Wanderers

4 min read
caption Tim Merry, president and founder of Mahone Bay United soccer club, directs players in a recent warmup.
Mahone Bay United

Young footballers in Mahone Bay are getting help learning the game from Nova Scotia’s top soccer professionals.

This past weekend, Mahone Bay United started a free-to-play competitive futsal league on the South Shore. Teams like the Crusty Croutons and the Scat Pack got together for a weekend full of indoor soccer development and competitive games.

Helping them out are coaches from the Halifax Wanderers.

“We always considered ourselves as being focused on access to the sport,” said Tim Merry, president and founder of Mahone Bay United.

“So when people in the community came to me for more competitive soccer, we began to think about what kind of competition we want.”

The league is five years in the making, growing from 16 kids back in 2018 to 290 kids signed up this winter. While it may have just started as a way for kids to get free physical activity, it has become far bigger than that.

There were 78 athletes competing on seven teams.

A focus on individuality

caption Mahone Bay United participants showing excitement for free-to-play indoor soccer.
Mahone Bay United

In Canada there is an emphasis on team play and the development of team play. Merry says this is prioritized over individual technical skill development.

But at Mahone Bay United, Merry focuses on developing things differently.

“We have a really strong belief in the technical and creative development of individual players,” said Merry. “In our league, any physical contact is penalized. Which is not the case in many leagues across Canada.”

This emphasis on technical ability, creative expression and positive team relationships is what Merry calls, “the foundation of our player profile.”

This is very much in line with the sport of futsal, a version of indoor soccer that is completely focused on technical skill and passing in a gym rather than on a field. Futsal is played five-a-side and plays with soccer rules. The game emphasizes control, improvisation, creativity and technique.

Support from the Wanderers

On Jan. 19, Mahone Bay United put on a kick-off camp to jumpstart their new futsal league with the help of the Halifax Wanderers.

The club is not yet a member of Soccer Nova Scotia, yet Halifax Wanderers FC have shown a lot of support. 

Jed Davies, head of youth development for the Wanderers, said the effects of the club’s effort will be felt for many years.

“You have something that’s rare across the country; a proper club culture that will inspire kids for a lifetime,” he said.

Merry sees Mahone Bay United as a natural partner for the Wanderers and thinks their large outreach and free-to-play model will benefit both parties.

“It is unbelievable to see what these kids are getting access to,” said Merry. “They’ve come in and have taken our program to a whole new level with their expertise while getting a whole new generation of kids in the South Shore inspired about soccer.”

The Wanderers will join Mahone Bay United for their awards ceremony on March 10. Here, players will hand out awards and interact with those involved in the league.

“We’ve had the pleasure to get to know their club leadership over the past year and are truly impressed with the work they have done to make football accessible and build more participation for the love of the game in their community,” said Matt Fagan, sporting director of the Halifax Wanderers FC.

“We can’t wait to work with Mahone Bay United in player and coach development, to help them continue to grow the game in their community and beyond.”

The future of Mahone Bay United

The population of Nova Scotia is growing fast. Across Nova Scotia, all 18 counties reported population growth. Between July 1, 2021 and July 1, 2022, Nova Scotia’s population increased by 2.89 per cent or 28,608, reaching 1,019,725.

Merry thinks they need to be preparing the right infrastructure for services and programming like Mahone Bay United who are ‘growing and growing and growing’.

Merry sees the club moving out of ‘start-up mode’ over the next months.

“We face now a stabilization and consolidation issue and we have to find a financial model that can keep up with the capacity of demand,” said Merry. “How does a free-to-play club generate wealth and sustain itself over time?”

Whether the club will have to start charging is under discussion.

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About the author

Cam Kinley

Cam is an aspiring video journalist from Toronto, ON with a special interest in sports media and broadcasting. He currently works for the Canadian...

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