Premier Development League soccer is set to kick-off in Okotoks.
PDL side Foothills FC will call the Foothills Composite field home in the 2018 season after three years at different grounds within the Stampede City.
“It was a case of finding a permanent home,” said Foothills FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “When we saw the Foothills Composite and met with the school and the (Town) we thought what a wonderful place to be for a pro-am team.
“It’s a town that’s in our quadrant, that’s also really successful in minor league franchises. You look at the successes of the Okotoks Dawgs, they’ve done a great job and they’re similar to us, it’s all student athletes coming through, the next stars. And you look at the Okotoks Oilers on the hockey side, that’s the kind of market we’re in.”
Foothills FC played out of Shouldice Park, Glenmore Park and the Calgary Soccer Centre during its first three years. Discussions over the past 12 months paved the way for Okotoks to come to the forefront.
“It’s a great town for amateur sport, you’ve got the success of the Dawgs, the Oilers doing really well,” said Okotokian and Foothills FC manager Rob Jenkins. “Being from Okotoks it’s a very heavy English population and we figured a soccer club there would be a good fit.”
Jenkins, the offensive co-ordinator for the Holy Trinity Academy Knights’ football team, saw the Foothills Composite field firsthand as a terrific venue for football of the European kind.
“It’s a great set up for sporting and I brought that forward to the board,” he said. “We talked to the school, they loved the idea of bringing a bigger event and some more usage out of that field.”
Before signing off on the move the club ran the idea by its supporters who overwhelmingly were behind the venture.
The migration south was also motivated by the announcement of the Canadian Premier League, a professional loop which will begin in 2019 with Calgary expected to be getting a franchise.
“With the Canadian Premier League around the corner and rumoured to be coming to Calgary in 2019 we need to put this in a place where it’s going to be sustainable, going to be high level soccer and also capture the hearts and minds of the community,” Wheeldon Jr. added.
The PDL features over 70 teams from Canada and the U.S. The development league is a proving ground for young players with professional ambitions.
“This is all amateur players. These players are not paid,” Jenkins said. “A lot of the PDL players were drafted into the MLS, it’s a very high number so it’s a great flow.
“The level is quite similar to the Dawgs, a lot of them are university students, who when they’re done their season, come and play PDL.”
Though relatively new to the league, Foothills has tasted early success, marching all the way to the league finals in the 2016 season.
Veteran midfielder Elijah Adekugbe said this year’s roster holds even more promise with its possession and attack-oriented brand of footy.
“Our identity is to attack, we want to score goals,” he said. “This is definitely the best team I’ve been on here. Everyone that’s in the team right now is committed, we all have the same goals and dreams, we all want to be the best and win the championship.
“Even in terms of quality, the quality has improved substantially since my first year and in terms of attitude and motivation everyone is pulling in the right direction.”
The club promises to contend again this year with a pair of major signings, namely Nik Ledgerwood, a Canadian international with 50 caps on his resume, along with national goalkeeper Marco Carducci.
“Hopefully a lot of players in the PDL will make the next step to joining the professional league in 2019,” Ledgerwood said. “It’s the next generation of exciting players that will be exciting to watch and I think Okotoks will have the first opportunity to see these young players coming through the ranks. I’m sure some of the younger players will be making Canadian team appearances on youth teams soon.
“Most of the kids are hungry to make that next step to be professionals, it’s a stepping stone to boost their career. They’re at that age where it happens, this is where they blossom.”
Ledgerwood, a Lethbridge native with 15 years of professional soccer on his resume, joined Foothills FC with an eye on next season, and the potential for a Calgary team in the Canadian Premier League.
“Being a southern Alberta boy growing up I wanted to help grow professional soccer in the right direction and be a part of this project with Calgary Foothills,” Ledgerwood said. “I think it will be bigger than people expect in the coming years and for everybody out in Okotoks to be part of that before it gets started would be big. They get a little taste of what it could grow into in the next few years.”
The regular season runs from May until July with just seven home games on the docket for Foothills.
The club’s home and season opener is slated for May 11 though there will be a home exhibition game held the week prior versus FC Edmonton.
“At this point it’s on a year-to-year basis,” Jenkins said. “Our goal is to move in there, we want to do it on a long term basis. Obviously we want to see how the community reacts, how the fans support it.
“The new premier league coming that will be the next step up in Canadian soccer and this could potentially be the farm program for that and that’s why we like the idea of it being out in Okotoks and they can pull from that on the pro side in the years to come.”
Foothills FC will be strongly linked with Okotoks United Soccer.
Plans include having minor soccer players play mini games at halftime, serve as ball girls and ball boys and to walk out with the teams during the pre-game ceremonies.
“It’s a really positive thing for our club and our community,” said Okotoks United technical director Matt Lumsden. “It gives our members and the residents here in general a chance to watch the exciting and up and coming talent in North American soccer. It’s good to have that right on our doorstep.
“Our town has a rich tradition in senior minor sport, the Okotoks Dawgs, the Oilers as well as a strong hockey team. It’s nice to have that option available for soccer as well and hopefully it will act as a driving force to spearhead participation in our community as well as give players aspiration that they can play to a very good standard, a pro-am standard within their local community.”
Meet and Greet
Fans won’t have to wait until May to get a taste of Foothills FC in Okotoks.
Club officials and players will be in Okotoks on March 17 for a launch, information session, season ticket sales event and a meet and greet featuring Ledgerwood, Carducci and coach Wheeldon Jr.
The event runs from noon to 1 p.m. at the Foothills Centennial Centre. It’s open to anyone interested in high-level soccer in Okotoks, including businesses. Spectators are also invited to attend Foothills FC’s exhibition match at 5 p.m. on the day at its practice facility at 111 Exploration Ave. SE in Calgary.
For more information contact Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to foothillsfc.ca