For those who followed Canadian PDL soccer, you may have noticed a new face making waves late into the PDL season. Calgary Foothills, a local youth club that developed the likes of Kevin McKenna, Sam Adekugbe and Charlie Trafford parlayed a successful sophomore season and advanced all the way to the 2016 PDL Championship game, losing 3-2 on a controversial penalty call to the Michigan Bucks late in the game. It was a season with many positive developments on and off the pitch, one which could hopefully help establish the club in the city’s sports scene for years to come.
After an inaugural 2015 season where the club finished middle of the table in the Northwest Division, Calgary Foothills dominated the division, losing only 3 of 14 games to win the division. After losing the season opener in Redmond to Washington Crossfire, Foothills would post an 8-1-3 record over their next 12 games, scoring 21 goals and gaining 6 clean sheets in the process. Included in the results were a 4-0 thrashing of Portland Timbers U-23 at home in June, and a pair of wins over Seattle Sounders U-23 to clinch the division in mid-July.
In the PDL playoffs, Foothills would defeat Seattle Sounders U-23 again at home in the NW division play-in game, before defeating FC Golden State Force, FC Tucson, and Ocean City Nor’Easters on the road to eventually make it to the 2016 PDL Championship Game in Michigan. Despite leading the PDL Championship game after 75 minutes, the club would give up goals in the 75th and 86th minute to lose the game, the latter coming on a contentious penalty call to club captain Jonathan Wheeldon.
Calgary Foothills received a number of strong performances throughout the season. In goal, the 2016 Supporters MVP Dylon Powley saved 84% of the shots he faced throughout the year, none more impressive than a penalty save in the second half of the NW division play-in game. On the back end, the CB pair of Dominck Zator and Jonathan Wheeldon dominated the penalty area. Mitch Bauche was a dominant two way force, netting 4 goals for the club while providing tenacious play in the midfield. Elijah Adekugbe continued his 2015 MVP presence in attacking midfield with excellent distribution, chipping in 2 goals as well. Up front, the duo of Dominic Russo and Ajeej Sarkaria gave opposing defenders fits all year, with the former scoring 9 goals in both regular season and playoffs.
Looking ahead to the 2017 season, the biggest loss will certainly be Dominic Russo. The Foothills academy and University of Calgary product ended 2016 as the highest rated attacking prospect in the PDL, and is anticipated to turn pro in 2017. Beyond that, little is known of which players will be back and which newcomers will join the fold, however it should be noted that 5 players (McCaw, Zator, Russo, Sarkaria and Adekugbe) were named Canada West 1st team All-Stars and 2 more (Hutchins and Bauche) were named 2nd team All-Stars in 2016. If many of these players return, it should be expected that Foothills will have another successful season again in 2017.
From a supporter’s perspective, there were some positive developments in the game experience. First, the club moved from football-purposed Hellard Field, to Glenmore Athletic Park. The biggest difference in the viewing experience was moving from an artificial pitch with football lines to a grass pitch with no football lines. Despite the existence of a track around the pitch, this greatly improved the experience throughout the 90 minutes. Second, as games were scheduled on Friday nights for the first time, transportation from the Ship and Anchor pub to Glenmore gave supporters a home base in which they could gather before and after games, something which was missing in 2015.
On a personal level, the excitement I felt during Calgary Foothills’ run to the PDL Championship Final mirrors the excitement I felt during the Calgary Flames’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. The main difference is, instead of sharing that feeling with hundreds of thousands of other Calgarians, I shared the feeling with a few dozen. Moving forward, the biggest challenge the club will have in gaining sustainability is gaining the support of both the casual soccer fan, and those involved with other youth clubs in the city. Calgary is a big league sports city, with one big league team. As of today, the club has not gained much traction in either area, and the reality is that those in Calgary who care greatly about local soccer face an uphill battle in convincing either of these groups to join. Here’s hoping that the club can make waves in 2017 in this regard.
Is it May yet?