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Foothills FC coach talks PDL season preparations, UK tour and Canadian Premier League

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Calgary Foothills FC head coach believes his club will be extra motivated heading into the new Premier Development League (PDL) season, after last season’s disappointing first round playoff elimination.

“I think we’ve got something to prove,” said Tommy Wheeldon Jr, at the club’s training centre last month. “We’re going in it to win it. We want to win it this year.”

“2015, when we started, we had a competitive season. 2016 we had the Cinderella run. Last year, 2017, if it hadn’t been for the last goal of the (final regular season) game, we’d have hosted playoffs.”

As consequence for that draw, Foothills FC were forced to travel to Portland Timbers U23 for the first round of playoffs, where their season came to an abrupt end after a 3-0 defeat.

While Wheeldon emphasizes a push for the championship, Foothills FC’s primary objective remains player development.

“It’s a strong, strong conference,” he said. “All teams play a different brand. When you’re developing young players, that’s really good opposition to play against.”

Foothills FC, a semi-pro under-23 men’s soccer team, will again compete in the PDL Western Conference Northwest Division this season, against Portland Timbers U23, Seattle Sounders FC U23, Victoria Highlanders, Lane United and TSS Rovers. The 2018 season will be the Foothills FC’s fourth summer in the league.

Training for upcoming season and UK tour

Foothills FC began training for the 2018 season early this year, with their first game kicking off May 11.

“We’ve got a winter training program for the local lads that are around,” said Wheeldon. “A lot of local lads are here in town, either going to University of Calgary or Mount Royal. We just wanted to have them a training place over winter.”

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The club is also fitting in a two-week tour of the UK as part of this season’s preparations. Beginning March 21, the tour will see the club play five matches in England, and will include matches against English Premier League under-23 squads.

“We’ve got a sponsor this year that can help us get to the UK,” he said. “We’ve got some games lined up against the likes of Reading’s under-23, Swansea City’s under-23, Chelsea’s under-23 to name a few. That will be a litmus test for us, to see where we’re at compared to a top standard over there.

“Our journey to the pros is helping lads get ready for the upcoming Canadian Premier League. This England tour is a really key indicator on that, to get these guys some top competition.”

Canadian Premier League

Wheeldon has been a local booster of the Canadian Premier League since rumours of the league were circulating within the Canadian soccer community. It was officially sanctioned by the Canada Soccer May 2017.

With the CPL now set to launch April 2019, English-born Wheeldon says he’s thrilled that his adopted home will finally have a footy league of its own.

“I’m excited. I fell in love with this place 15 years ago, when I came to play. I married a Canadian, my kid’s a Canadian, I’ve got my Canadian citizenship. As a guy that works in soccer in Canada – now we’ve got something tangible. There’s been lots of talk of it not coming out, but it’s getting stronger and stronger.”

“The talk of the ownership groups that are behind it is Canadian investment – it’s fantastic.”

Wheeldon believes the lack of a national soccer league has limited the aspirations of young Canadian soccer players. But the new league could quickly remedy that.

“It’s exciting because now our kids will have something within touching distance that can inspire them and be a part of their journey, like it was for me. It’s great news.”

Canadian Premier League officials visit Calgary

While there has yet to be any official word of a potential Calgary-based Canadian Premier League team, the southern Alberta city is a market that the CPL is contemplating. Calgary is currently the largest Canadian city without a professional soccer team. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have teams in Major League Soccer, while Ottawa has a team currently playing in the United Soccer League.

Canadian Premier League officials recently visited Calgary during a nationwide tour visiting potential ownership cities. The tour also included Edmonton, Victoria, Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo and Winnipeg. CPL marketing director Roy Nasrala met with Wheeldon during the stopover in Calgary in January.

“Roy’s on the road and he’s a part of (the CPL) marketing team,” said Wheeldon. “And what they’re doing is a great job, they’re coming around to see the landscape in every single potential ownership city.”

“Knowing what our club has done, and the connections that I have, they asked for my assistance. I put them in front of some really good people to talk about it and give their thoughts.”

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“They met with supporters groups, they met with the executive directors of Calgary United Soccer Association, Calgary Minor Soccer Association, Calgary Women’s. They met with local public. They went to soccer pubs. They went to the city.”

“They did their research, because they want to know the strengths out there of each city. They want to know what potential risks there are out there. I’ve got to applaud them for that, because that makes them organic in terms of how they’re going to try and grow this league.”

It is anticipated that the CPL will begin announcing teams for the inaugural season in the coming months.

Follow Stuart Gradon: @StuGradonPhoto | Follow Total Soccer Project: @TSoccerProject



About Author

Photographer and Writer | Stuart Gradon is soccer journalist and web communications professional. He covers Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League and Canada's national teams. He has also worked on assignment at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 and FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010.

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