15-year-old Braden Malcolm returned home to Penticton in March, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic after spending nearly eight months with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Academy program training to reach his goal of becoming a professional soccer player. (Jesse Day - Western News)

Teen soccer star from Penticton chasing pro dream with Vancouver Whitecaps

Braden Malcolm spent the last year maximizing his potential on and off the field with the Whitecaps

Penticton’s Braden Malcolm is chasing his dream of becoming the city’s first homegrown professional soccer player.

Scouted by the Vancouver Whitecaps to join their academy program in May 2019, the 15-year-old returned home to Penticton in March after having his first season with the Whitecaps Academy cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, that hasn’t stopped the young soccer prodigy from training every day to reach his goal of a career in the sport he’s loved since he was five.

After spending nearly eight months in Vancouver with the Whitecaps Academy, Malcolm returned home in March for what he originally thought was going to be a quick four day stop in Penticton for spring break, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, four days became four months and counting.

Despite his time in Vancouver being cut short, Malcolm says his experience with the Whitecaps Academy was incredible both on and off the pitch.

READ MORE: Penticton teen has his eye on the Whitecaps soccer prize

Since being back in Penticton, Malcolm has spent most of his time following a workout regimen provided by the academy, practicing solo at King’s Park field, and occasionally joining a local men’s team for practice. He also keeps his head in the game playing FIFA 20.

At 15, Malcolm already carries himself with the poise of a professional athlete.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go far with soccer so it was really cool to be in a professional environment,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back at it.”

Braden Malcolm has spent many days training solo at King’s Park field in Penticton since he returned home from the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy earlier than expected as the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jesse Day – Western News)

Living and breathing soccer

The Whitecaps organization scouts the top youth soccer players from across British Columbia and parts of Alberta, inviting them to join the academy.

Of the 18 2005 born boys selected for the Whitecaps Academy, there are 5 from Alberta and 12 from the Lower Mainland. Malcolm is the only player from the rest of the province.

Notable graduates of the academy include former Whitecaps winger turned FC Bayern Munich (Bundesliga) left-back Alphonso Davies and current Whitecaps midfielder Russell Tiebert.

The academy is designed to maximize a player’s potential on and off the field through a “soccer lifestyle” philosophy linking technical and personal development. Players live in billeted homes and attend school together while developing their soccer skills in hopes of one day becoming a professional player.

From August 2019 to March 2020, Malcolm’s days with the Whitecaps academy were spent in a similar routine of wake up, go to class at University Hill Secondary School, practice, eat, do homework, sleep and repeat.

Matches were played against other Major League Soccer (MLS) academy programs like the Seattle Sounders, LA FC, and Portland Timbers. Malcolm travelled with the academy for matches in each of these cities as well as Texas and Colorado. “We’ve been a lot of places, it’s really cool,” he said casually.

Malcolm was selected to join the academy after spending the previous two seasons with the Thompson Okanagan Football Club (TOFC) Interior division team in the BC Soccer Premier League. When he first found out that he was selected to join the academy Malcolm was ecstatic but not necessarily surprised.

“That was an amazing feeling. It was surreal. It had been my goal for a while,” he said of the moment he found out he was selected.

At 15-years-old Braden Malcolm already carries himself like a professional soccer player and has the skills to back it up. (Jesse Day – Western News)

A change of scenery

Leaving his family in Penticton and starting at a new school wasn’t easy for Malcolm but having his teammates with him made the transition a lot smoother.

He says his game has come “very far” in his time with the academy.

“The coaching there has been the best coaching I’ve received,” said Malcolm. “Before I wasn’t really consistent with my games, but since I’ve moved down there I’ve been consistent every game.”

Malcolm has always hoped that soccer would provide him the opportunities he earned over the last year. To him, this is just the beginning of bigger things to come.

“Hopefully I can just continue with it,” he said.

Malcolm will eventually rejoin the academy for the upcoming season and his grade 10 year; he’s just waiting to find out when that will be. Next year’s starting date is still up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Braden Malcolm’s mom, Bonnie (right) described her son as being “a calm kid but a beast on the field.” (Jesse Day – Western News)

Early years

Malcolm isn’t exactly sure what made him originally gravitate towards soccer but he says his love for the game was immediate once he started playing at the age of five. Growing up in Penticton, he said, has been amazing for his development. “Here it’s really nice, TOFC here has really tried to help. They’ve let me practice with some of the men’s teams so it’s just a nice feeling of acceptance.”

The fields in Penticton are still, to this day, the nicest he’s ever played on, he said.

Malcolm started playing against older players when he was eight but says it wasn’t until he joined TOFC at age 12 that he really began to realize his potential.

The skilled centre-back also credits his commitment to defense as part of his rise to the highest level of youth soccer in the province. “I’ve always had something that not many kids have in wanting to defend,” he said. “Everyone wants to score goals so that’s definitely something unique I’ve brought.”

For Malcolm a spectacular slide-tackle is just as exciting as scoring a game-winning goal.

“Personally I think it’s just as important to stop the goals, I’ve always loved that,” he said. “I’m just more of a defender, I guess. I just have that personality of a defender.”

Malcom’s mother, Bonnie, can also attest to her son’s calm nature and maturity beyond his years.

“He is a mellow kid off the field but on the field he is a beast,” she said.

The future

Malcolm models his game after long-time Barcelona captain and fellow centre-back Carles Puyol.

The young soccer star is excited for the future.

“I would love to go professional, hopefully start off with the Whitecaps in the MLS and maybe even go farther than that… I just really want to be a professional player. Doing something I love for a career would be crazy.”

While leaving the perfectly groomed, empty pitch at Penticton’s King’s Park, Malcolm mentioned how lucky he is to have grown up within walking distance of such a pristine field.

It was suggested that one day, maybe, the field he’s spent countless hours practicing on would be named after him.

“Yeah, maybe one day it will be,” he said. “That’d be pretty cool.”

Braden Malcolm will soon return to the Vancouver Whitecaps academy for his second year with the club, although the start date is still up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic. Malcolm hopes his time with the academy is only the beginning of his soccer career. (Jesse Day – Western News)

READ MORE: Young Penticton soccer star on the rise


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