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Lower Mainland’s newest pro soccer team keeps growing

More players, staff added to Vancouver Football Club roster ahead of second season start next month
Attacking midfielder Kembo Kibato was Vancouver’s third roster addition in the past month, following the signings of Canadian defender Elage Bah and international striker Jose Navarro in mid-February. (Beau Chevalier, VFC/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Just days ahead of the Vancouver Football Club’s search for undiscovered soccer talent, the Langley-based pro sports organization has announced some more new faces are joining the team.

One more new player and two new coaches recently joined the Canadian Premier League’s (CPL’s) newest team, confirmed head coach Afshin Ghotbi. Last year was VFC’s first season.

Most recently, the team signed Ontario midfielder Kembo Kibato on a two-year contract.

The 23-year-old North York native will play for a Canadian club for the first time in his professional career, after spending the last four years abroad in the United Soccer League (USL), where he made his professional debut in 2020 with the now-defunct Rio Grande Valley FC (RGV FC).

Kibato joins Vancouver as a free agent after most recently representing Hartford Athletic in 2023.

Prior to that, Kibato spent two seasons with FC Tulsa, first on loan from RGV FC in 2021 before joining the Oklahoma-based team as a free agent in 2022. He was honoured with Tulsa’s newcomer of the year award following the 2022 season.

“I am really excited for the opportunity to play professionally in Canada,” said Kibato. “I am thankful for the teams I’ve been able to play with so far in my career, but it is particularly special for me to represent a Canadian team on Canadian soil.”

Kibato is a product of Toronto FC’s academy system and spent nearly six months overseas in 2019 training with FC Helsingor in the Danish second division before returning to North America at the onset of the pandemic.

“VFC is an exciting project with so much potential, and I am looking forward to playing my first professional games in Canada with this club,” said Kibato.

Kibato was Vancouver’s third roster addition in the past month, following the signings of Canadian defender Elage Bah and international striker Jose Navarro in mid-February.

Also new to the team are Marco Ferreira and Azad Palani, who join as assistant coaches ahead of the 2024 CPL season.

Ferreira and Palani join Ghotbi and goalkeeping coach Mark Village on VFC’s coaching staff for the club’s second season.

“I am very excited to add both an international coach and a local coach to my team this season,” said Ghotbi.

Ferreira, 59, has worked as both an assistant coach and a goalkeeping coach since 2000, which he began after retiring from a 17-year playing career that saw him mind the net for various Brazilian clubs and represent the country in the 1992 Olympics where he secured a 2-0 victory in his lone appearance.

“I am thrilled to bring Cossa [Marco], who I have known and worked on-and-off with for more than two decades, to Vancouver,” said Ghotbi, who has coached alongside Ferreira in more than 200 matches through the years.

“Cossa [Marco] has worked in more than eight counties across two continents for national and club teams, and I’m certain that his vast international experience will be invaluable to the growth of VFC’s technical staff,” said Ghotbi.

Palani, 39, joins Vancouver with extensive experience on the local soccer scene, both as a coach and as a player. Palani began his coaching career with Surrey FC in 2010 before transitioning to Langley United Soccer Association (LUSA) in 2013, where – with the help of LUSA’s technical director and Palani’s mentor, Mark Parker – he rose to assistant technical director in the youth club.

Palani will maintain his role as assistant technical director with LUSA to foster further collaboration between LUSA and VFC, which enables both clubs to work together while doing more within the local soccer community. Palani also continues to coach for Langley United Premier to this day.

“Azad has played a big role in the development of football in the local community,” said Ghotbi.

“I am happy to add a young, talented, energetic and charismatic coach to our staff. He will play an important role in supporting me with group and individual training, and I believe he will contribute to our continual growth as a football club.”



These latest additions come before the second annual open trials being held on VFC’s home pitch at Willoughby Stadium – next to Langley Events Centre – between Monday and Thursday, March 18 to 21.

Meanwhile, VFC’s 2024 CPL season begins at 4 p.m. on April 14 at Willoughby Stadium against Valour FC. Tickets to Vancouver’s season opener and all other home matches can be purchased online.

As of March 1, the current roster for Vancouver FC features:

• Goalkeepers: Callum Irving;

• Defenders: Kadin Chung, Rocco Romeo, Tyler Crawford, Anthony White, James Cameron, Paris Gee, David Norman, and Elage Bah;

• Midfielders: Elliot Simmons, Ben Fisk, Vasco Fry, Renan Garcia, Grady McDonnell, and Kembo Kibato;

• Forwards: Alejandro ‘Wero’ Díaz, Mouhamadou ‘Mamadou’ Kane, Gabriel Bitar, T.J. Tahid, Mikael Cantave, and Jose Navarro.

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