By Sonny Sachdeva, November 24, 2015 —
Soccer is thriving in North America. As Canadian youth participation rates steadily rise, Major League Soccer continues to bring in legitimate stars from established soccer nations, bolstering respect for the game on a continent already enthralled with a long list of other sports.
Calgary is hoping to join that wave of success, as the city’s new semi-professional team, Calgary Foothills F.C., continues to make progress on their path to joining the MLS.
The team is fresh off their first season in the Premier Development League, which feeds the third-tier United Soccer League. Since 2013, the USL and MLS have partnered to allow the former to serve as developmental grounds for the latter, with various teams sending players down to the USL for further training.
While it’s only a small step forward for Foothills F.C., the club’s Technical Director and head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. believes there is ample room for growth.
“I think the MLS could come here in the next 5 to 10 years,” Wheeldon Jr. said in an interview with The Globe & Mail earlier this year. “I always thought Calgary could host and handle a professional franchise. It just has to be done in a different way.”
There is certainly a precedent for success when it comes to Canadian professional soccer. All three Canadian MLS teams — the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and Toronto F.C. — have been able to thrive in the 20-team league, making the playoffs and drawing over 20,000 fans per game.
Wheeldon Jr. hopes to draw increased support for the new Calgary team, allowing them to eventually make the jump to the USL, and perhaps MLS after that. Aiding the potential success of the Foothills franchise is the overall expansion trend taking hold of North American soccer. In the last three years, MLS added three franchises — including Montreal’s club, which joined in 2012 — and has four more teams slated to join in the next few years.
But Foothills F.C.’s goals aren’t as farfetched as they would be for a new franchise trying to join other established leagues like the NHL or NBA. They don’t need to try to bring significant change to a league that has long existed as is. They simply need to gain enough support to get picked up in the rush of MLS’ upward momentum.
The new Calgary soccer club is making great strides in that regard. They’re already seeing their name align with national successes — three Foothills alums joined the Canadian national men’s team for a friendly against Ghana in October. As well, 13-year-old phenom Joey Cowlishaw — a product of Foothills F.C.’s development program — signed a deal with English powerhouse Chelseas F.C.’s academy just last year.
Another of the team’s mainstays made a name for himself closer to home. Foothills F.C.’s Dominic Russo put forth an exceptional performance for the University of Calgary this season, finishing with the most goals in the Canada West division and the most points of any CIS men’s player.
While Foothills F.C.’s inaugural semi-professional season saw them go through some growing pains, resulting in a 3–2–7 record, the club is just proud to have their foot in the door and the opportunity to climb the PDL ladder.
If they can tap into the undeniable local interest in the sport and find a way to navigate a city that already has two successful sports franchises in the Calgary Flames and Stampeders, continued growth certainly seems attainable for the fledgling soccer team.