The newest incarnation of professional soccer in Calgary is about to kick off its first ever game Sunday May 17 against Puget Sound Gunners. Okay, so it’s not professional in the truest sense of the word as the players are not paid, however it’s the first real kick at a competitive North American circuit since 2004, when the Calgary Mustangs folded. Calgarians have been starved for high level soccer for over a decade and are eager to lend their support behind the club.
So, what do we expect from this club? Well, the truth is, those who are outside the club, a group that this columnist falls into, really don’t know what to expect this year.
What we do know, is that Calgary Foothills is doing things differently than most Canadian clubs that have popped up in recent years. Most clubs in Canada take a top down approach to their brand, creating the professional team, then the academy system, and then further expanding the academy to different age groups as years go by. As a youth club founded in 1972, the academy system is already in place, from U-4 to U-18 age groups. Calgary Foothills pre-dates every professional sporting organization in the city, with the exception of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders. The club pre-dates the Calgary Flames, the Calgary Hitmen, the Calgary Roughnecks, and every flash-of-the-pan sport and team in between. Calgary Foothills branching into PDL is a new experience for them, one which could prove to be financially viable right out of the gate as it has been reported that half of their operating expenses for 2015 have been covered by sponsorship.
Off the pitch, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is a UEFA A Licensed coach, who previously played in Calgary with the last incarnation of professional soccer. Tasked with rebuilding the sputtering Calgary Foothills program in 2008, he has grown the program by leaps and bounds in his years with the club. In addition to his gig in the Rocky Mountains, Wheeldon is an assistant to the U-17 men’s national team.
And what have we seen in relation to the roster? Well, 48 hours from kickoff we have yet to see a final roster, but some pieces of news have trickled in on that front. UNC-Wilmington keeper Sean Melvin (Canadian international keeper Sean Melvin if you want to ruffle some feathers of John Smits or David Monsalve supporters), will be with the club for the first 4+ games of the year. In watching the pre-season games, we know that Colombian CB Jean-Pierre Rodrigues Lemos hardly laid a foot wrong in either pre-season game, Dean Northover appears to have a lot of speed up the right side of the pitch, and Frenchman Yoann Promonet can sneak behind defenders and pot a few if needed. But, part of the fun in learning a new club is learning the intricacies of each player and how they fit together.
So what does this columnist see as a successful opening season? First, if the club can ensure that the stands are full. If the club can average over 1000 people, which is what they have set their goal at, it will hopefully provide the right atmosphere to both the casual and diehard supporter of the team, and success on the balance sheet. Is it hoped that the club can leverage the Women’s World Cup event in June to market what is available locally to fans.
Second, be competitive on the pitch; a mid-table finish should be enough to keep the majority of fans interested in the product going into year two. Winning still matters in this environment when it comes to putting butts in seats.
Third, promote the team itself, in particular the local talent. Calgary Foothills has stated its goal is to provide a pathway for local talent to move into the professional ranks, so let’s find out who these players are and what makes them tick. In addition to this, feature former club players who have moved on to bigger leagues. Except for Owen Hargreaves, forget about him.
And last but not least, keep the Foot Soldiers happy. They are the diehard supporters who will bring the atmosphere to games and get those not affiliated with Calgary Foothills out to games.