The new pro-am soccer club in Okotoks is already starting to inspire young local players of the beautiful game.
“I think (now) our players will have a pathway — if they are inspiring to go professional they can have a pathway locally,” said Kurt Hymanyk, a member of Okotoks U13 team, who added he hopes to play pro when he gets older.
Hymanyk was one of approximately 15 people who attended an open house for Foothills FC on Saturday. The club, which plays in the Premier Development League, had announced the week before it was moving from Calgary to Okotoks.
“What we have are players from the local area, — Calgary, Edmonton — players who are hungry,” said Foothills FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “I love that they are hungry.”
The PDL consists of 74 teams from across North America. Foothills FC play in the six-team Northwest Division.
In 2016, Foothills FC made it to the league final, losing to the Michigan Buck 3-2.
It’s a class league, developing quality players. The league develops players between the ages of 17 and 23, however each team is allowed eight over-aged players.
In the past Major Soccer League draft, 70 per cent of the draftees had PDL experience, according to Wheeldon.
Two of the players trying out for Foothills FC include Nik Ledgerwood, who has made 50 appearances with Canada’s national team.
The 33-year-old Ledgerwood had to go to Europe when he was 17 to play professional.
He played there for 13 years.
The midfielder/right back jumped at the chance to play in Okotoks this spring.
“To me it was a no-brainer, to build something and give back to kids something that I didn’t have,” he said. “Especially knowing I had a few years left in me to play.”
Ledgerwood told of the thrill of playing for the National team against host Argentina, which was coached by Diego Maradona.
Goalkeeper Marco Carducci, 21, was born in Calgary but went to the Whitecaps FC Residency in Vancouver to pursue his soccer dreams.
He is now vying for a spot with Foothills FC after playing last year with the Rio Grande FC Toros of the United States League.
“I knew this (the PDL and Foothills FC) was meant for a player-like me — to provide opportunities and expand my career and push-on,” Carducci said. “But also to come back and be involved in my community.”
The goalie added the development league is also ideal for players hoping to play in the professional Canadian Premier League expected to start in 2019. Calgary will likely have a franchise.
Carducci has played for Canada’s U17, U20 and U23 team — and like Ledgerwood he has lost to Argentina at the national level.
Foothills FC will not just play in the community, they will be part of the community.
Wheeldon said the teams hopes to works closely with the local soccer community,
He also hopes to make the game enjoyable to those not familiar with the game — folks who consider “offside” is when a defensive end jumps before the snap.
“I want to make it the coolest event you’ve been to,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “The Okotoks Dawgs are a great example of making the game event. We will have local players, local beer, and we play a really good brand of soccer. It’s entertaining, high action.
“Come and see a game, if you like it, come again.”
They are already off to a good start. Foothills has sold approximately 100 season tickets for the upcoming season which begins in May.
The youthful Hymanyk is definitely planning to take in the action at the Comp.
“I watch soccer on TV every weekend, but it will be nice to have a good team locally,” he said.
“I think it will be popular, there’s a lot of soccer players here and I think a lot of them will be going to the soccer games.”
Some of Foothills FC established fan base is coming from Calgary, the Foot Soldiers, who were at first skeptical about the move to Okotoks.
“But when I told them there was a British pub (The George) right by that was it,” Wheeldon Jr. said with a laugh. “We were golden.”
Foothills FC left for Britain for a series of games on March 20.
Their first home game is an exhibition game against FC Edmonton Academy on May 5. They play seven regular season games at Foothills, which kicks off against the Victoria Highlanders FC on May 11. Season tickets are $75.
The other teams in the Northwest Division are the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders, TSS FC Rovers (Burnaby) and the Lane United FC from Springfield, ORE.
For more information go to Foothillsfc.ca