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FC Edmonton is the Newest NASL team, and do they have plans!

2010 February 11
by Brian Quarstad

FC Edmonton will not be partnering with Vancouver nor are they interested at this time in taking the old Drillers name. The team also has plans to build a stadium in the near future and will have a team on the field by this spring and a youth academy will soon follow. All pretty big stuff for a new expansion team.

Mel Kowalchuk is the new general manager of FC Edmonton and he knows his way around minor league pro sports. When talking to Mel he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a baseball guy through and through and has been for years. Yet after spending time listening to Kowalchuk, you get the feeling the North American Soccer Leagues’ (NASL) latest franchise is in very good hands. Kowalchuk has been all over the US and Canada involved with baseball and soccer. He has been involved with pro sports for nearly 28 years and has started up many a team. On top of that, he does have soccer experience, working as the president and GM of the CSL’s Edmonton Brickmen and NPSL Edmonton Drillers. He served as CSL president while operating the Brickmen. He also worked for the Chicago Power indoor soccer team.

This time around, Kowalchuk’s job is to get FC Edmonton off and running and they started that with a bang on Tuesday with a press conference that featured 2 impressive coach signings, the announcement of a youth academy and a team that will actually start playing exhibition games in 2010, a full year before they join the NASL in Division II competition.

There was some discussion with Vancouver which depended on where MLS went as well as Division II soccer went — that we could perhaps have some sort of relationship. But that’s as far as it ever went! I don’t know where all this (talk of a Vancouver partnership) came from and it keeps surfacing. It’s actually kind of caught us off guard because that wasn’t the deal and it never was the deal.
Mel Kowalchuk GM of FC Edmonton

Kowalchuk speaks quickly and gets to the heart of the matter. When asked why there was no mention of an agreement with Vancouver in Tuesday’s press conference, something that was widely reported in December, Kowalchuk answered in an exasperated manner: “We never had such an agreement,” said Kowalchuk. “We made Vancouver an offer for their franchise when they were going to MLS. That’s as far as it went. There was some discussion with Vancouver which depended on where MLS went as well as Division II soccer went — that we could perhaps have some sort of relationship. But that’s as far as it ever went! I don’t know where all this (talk of a Vancouver partnership) came from and it keeps surfacing. It’s actually kind of caught us off guard because that wasn’t the deal and it never was the deal.”

Kowalchuk said they had to be approved by US Soccer (this week) just to announce that they were part of the NASL, even though FC Edmonton is on all the original NASL documents and in reality are one of the founding teams in the new league. The other teams being Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Montreal, Rochester, St. Louis, Tampa and Vancouver. The Edmonton GM said that the team was prepared to play in 2010 if they had to, but they knew there was much to do in organizing and establishing a team and preferred to wait until 2011.

“We of course have also announced our owners and coaching staff,” said Kowalchuk. “We’ve also announced our academy and that we will be doing exhibition games this year. We were actually ready to announce most of this back in November, but because of the issues with the league we got pushed back a little bit. But now we’re ready to go.”

The owners of the new soccer franchise are Tom and Dave Fath, Edmonton businessmen who brought Everton in to play River Plate at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton last summer. As was pointed out at Pitch Invasion yesterday, while they drew nearly 16,000 fans, the brothers lost nearly a half million on the event. Commonwealth seats 60,000 and is home to the  Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.

Kowalchuk said the reason that FC Edmonton have already named their head and associate coach in Dwight Lodeweges and Hans Schrijver respectively, is the team will be playing exhibition games this coming summer. Kowalchuk said they will also be naming more coaches in the near future and the organization will scour Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan for players.  He said they may add a few foreign players as well. But the purpose in starting so early is to see how well the team holds up against good competition. The organization will then evaluate what it needs to do to improve itself enough for the rigors of second division soccer as they near the 2011 season.

FC Edmonton also plans on having a youth academy that will start this spring. “In April we will have a combine and bring in a lot of players and will be very selective in who we bring in,” said Kowalchuk. “We will start with a U-10, 12, 14, and 16 teams. We will be bringing in some other coaches, and we are looking at some coaches from South America as well. I mean no one has this sort of a coaching staff in Canada for an academy. Not only do we want to groom the players to be pro players, whether they be girls or guys, but we are grooming them for ourselves, for the future.”

“We actually have connections with South America and have a deal done where we will bring our kids down there for a period of time where they would train with their better players and coaches,” continued Kowalchuk. “The kids will play at a facility that has a theater and a hospital. We’ve already signed the deal on that. The decision right now is if we start that this year or next year.” Kowalchuk did not comment on what country and club he was speaking of.

Kowalchuk was clear that the team is not looking to get the trademark rights to the name “Drillers” and says they have gotten a lot of positive feedback from supporters in Edmonton that like the new FC Edmonton name. “I run an indoor league and one of teams are the “Drillers”, stated Kowalchuk. “I could get the name from them any time I wanted, but our interest in that name is very mild right now. We grabbed the FC Edmonton name so we could have a legal entity but we may just keep it.”

The new team will play at Foote Field at the University of Alberta campus. Foote Field is actually two fields sitting side by side. One is more of a soccer field with a track around it and  the other a football field with football lines which is where the Golden Bears CIS football team plays four times a year. Kowalchuk says they will be playing at the football stadium that seats about 5,000. He says they are aware that the NASL has requirements that don’t allow teams to play on fields with football lines and says Foote will only be a temporary home.

Foote Stadium

 

“There are football lines on the field and that’s going to cause us a major problem,” stated Kowalchuk. “We have already decided that we are going to be pushing for a new stadium. Probably very quickly. By very quickly I mean within the next 3 to 6 months. We could go to Clarke Park but again, that’s another artificial surface with football lines. But we are leaning toward Foote Field because it has 3500 permanent seats with grass berms where we could place tents. It just would work so much better. We feel we could get 5000 fans in that field. We are in agreement with the league; We really don’t want to be playing on an artificial surface with football lines, but the next stadium would be Commonwealth Stadium and the cost for that is insane. It starts at $80-thousand per game and goes up from there. We have let the league know our situation and they said it was fine for now and we could play there for a while. We also let them know that our goal is to build a stadium one day.”

FC Edmonton’s staff have several connections to Minnesota. Dwight Lodeweges played for the Minnesota Strikers back in the 80′s and Kowalchuk was the general manager of the Edmonton Trappers, who where a AAA baseball club with affiliation to the Minnesota Twins. “Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana all played for us at one time,”  said a proud Kowalchuk.

Brief information on the two coaches announced for FC Edmonton.

Dwight Lodeweges – Head Coach
Lodeweges, currently the Head Coach for the Dutch premier league’s NEC Nijmegen, will be joined by Associate Coach Hans Schrijver, a former member of the Dutch Olympic team. Lodeweges was recently the head coach for the Dutch premier league’s FC Groningen, FC Zwolle, PSV Eindhoven and NEC Nijmegen. Lodeweges spent 9 years playing in North America including three years with the Edmonton Drillers.

Hans Schrijver – Associate Coach
Schrijver is a former member of the Dutch Olympic team and player with GA Eagles, most recently comes to Edmonton as coach of the U20 Dutch Men’s National team and long-time member of the staff of KNVB – Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond (“Royal Dutch Football Association”).

24 Responses
  1. February 11, 2010

    Well, I hope they get a stadium. But, as we’ve seen, those things tend to not move that quickly.

  2. February 11, 2010

    Brian,

    Good article. If you’ll allow me a little spam:
    http://www.24thminute.com/2010/02/its-called-football-guest-fc-edmontons.html

    That’s the interview It’s Called Football did with Kowalchuk last night. He expands on many of the things you touch on in this article.

  3. February 11, 2010

    Another great article Brian

  4. Rene Houtzager permalink
    February 11, 2010

    Dwight Lodeweges resigned as coach of NEC at the end of october 2009!

  5. Johnny K permalink
    February 11, 2010

    Edmonton is a great potential market for soccer, however it seems this club is destined for failure. Is it me or do they just seem to have bad judgement already?

    Kowalchuk is almost happy to be seperate from Vancouver – one of North America’s best run clubs. He seems at ease not using the Drillers name, which already has brand recognition, over an “FC Someplace” name that is really devoid of thought. He also seems that it is no big deal that they will be playing on artificial turf with football lines. This will look and play terribly and fans will stay away from that. The complete opposite of how you want to launch a new club.

    I wish them well, but from the decisions of their leadership already, they seem doomed.

  6. February 11, 2010

    Wow Johnny K! You sure your name isn’t “Zlatan” and you don’t live in Minnesota?

  7. super rookie permalink
    February 11, 2010

    It should be noted that the picture above is outdated. The field in question has new Sportturf so it isn’t as bad as the old painted concrete seen above.

  8. February 11, 2010

    What are you talking about, “painted concrete”. What am I not seeing?

  9. thesuperrookie permalink
    February 11, 2010

    I believe the picture above is outdated. My good friend whom is a professor at the University of Alberta told me that there is a new surface on the field and not the hyper green seen above which resembles the old style astroturf.

  10. Bart permalink
    February 11, 2010

    The travel costs the rest of the NASL teams in 2011 will have to incur just to play there will be enormous. This is not a direct flight town.

    I think Edmonton is a terrible mistake for a new league to take on in its first year.

  11. February 11, 2010

    Hey Bart, did you read the article?
    “…the team will be playing exhibition games this coming summer. Kowalchuk said they will also be naming more coaches in the near future and the organization will scour Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan for players. He said they may add a few foreign players as well. But the purpose in starting so early is to see how well the team holds up against good competition. The organization will then evaluate what it needs to do to improve itself enough for the rigors of second division soccer as they near the 2011 season.”

    ALSO: Funny that they want to play on a piece of crap artificial football field when there is a soccer field (with what looks to be permanent seating on one side) RIGHT NEXT to it. While I’m sure the football field has a larger seating capacity, I’m sure they could add temporary seating on the opposite side of the soccer field like NSC does on the east side of the stadium. Lined football fields are a sure way to keep fans away, IMO.

  12. February 12, 2010

    Everyone seems to think “temporary seating” is (a) easy, (b ) cheap and (c ) desirable. It’s none of those things. The grass field seats 1,500. Come ON. I realize it’s D2 and all, but you simply can’t play in a 1,500-seat place when you need at least double that to even consider breaking even. Probably more in Edmonton. And you’re not going to get another 3,000 temporary seats.

    Also, as was pointed out to me, someone already HAS the name “Drillers,” so that wasn’t really an option. Plus, “FC” is (too) trendy now.

  13. Trevor permalink
    February 12, 2010

    I think the decision not to go with Drillers was the right one. As time passes, more and more of the NASL owners are realizing that going with the old NASL names is a bad idea. Of foremost importance is that it absolutely shackles your marketability and branding strategies. Those brands were (marginally) effective in the 70s; times change, marketing changes, and loyalty to the names is much lower than many hardcore soccer fans believe. And if someone else really does own the copyright to Drillers, I’m not sure what fans are really asking for here–or if THEY even know what they’re asking.

    The distance and the stadium are major problems out of the gate, though.

  14. February 12, 2010

    “Also, as was pointed out to me, someone already HAS the name “Drillers,” so that wasn’t really an option.”

    KT, That was stated in the article. Kowalchuk told me he knows the guy, has talked to him and could get the name from them if they wanted it. It was an option. He said they just aren’t that interested at this time. I agree, FC is in. Even though most of North America calls it soccer. I prefer football but we have another sport that uses that name and draws just slightly larger numbers than our sport does. So I would stick with the soccer or SC. Really, its not all that important. Thing is with a team named after a state or city its easy to brand it different ways and to easily identify with an area.

  15. February 12, 2010

    “As time passes, more and more of the NASL owners are realizing that going with the old NASL names is a bad idea.”

    Really? They are? More and more of them?

  16. Ken Jamieson permalink
    February 14, 2010

    Okay, it’s time for the Edmonton resident to pipe in.
    The Edmonton Drillers are an indoor soccer team playing in the PASL/CMISL and were originally stood up as part of the Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League, of which Mel Kowalchuk is president and owner of another club, Saskatoon Accelerators. The owner of the Drillers is Dr. Brent Saik, a local lasik eye specialist.
    Foote Field, while having the largest capacity of Edmonton’s small stadia, also has the worst field. It is artificial, not field turf, and I can tell you from personal experience (I official amateur Canadian Football) that the field is no joy to run on. The paint on the field makes it even harder, you actually notice the lines when you run on them.
    The adjacent field was used by the old A-League Aviators/Edmonton FC in 2004 and seats only 1,500 (but even that looked empty when the old club was only drawing a couple hundred).
    Clarke Stadium, next door to Commonwealth Stadium, has field turf and seats 1,250 in the grand stand and can have a couple thousand more in temporary seating, is a better field to play on than Foote Field’s football field, however like Foote has Canadian football markings as well as soccer (Foote also has field hockey markings).
    Prior to 1992, Clarke was a natural grass stadium with a capacity of 10,000. The stadium was re-modeled for the IAAF World Championships and severely reduced in capacity. The lack of a decent stadium in the 5,000 to 10,000 seat range hampered Edmonton’s 2004 A-League attempt. I attended a game in Commonwealth Stadium, barely 2,000 in a 60,000 seat stadium, I really don’t know what to say.
    The bottom line on FC Edmonton is they need a permanent 7,500 to 10,000 seat stadium (which would be beneficial to other sports in the city). Also, the owners need to convince the fans that this team is worth their support. Edmonton is not a soccer wasteland, rather some of the people who have owned teams here have not been 100% genuine with the fans.
    While I know what has happened in the past here in Edmonton, I am willing to give the Fath boys a chance. Dwight Lodeweges is an excellent choice as coach, in addition to his resume in Holland, he has a history here in Edmonton as he played with the original NASL Drillers from 1979 to 1982. While being a Dutch citizen, he was born in Turner Valley in the south of Alberta and I know he is excited about this opportunity.
    I am eagerly awaiting the exhibition schedule for this year and plan to attend all the games here in Edmonton. I will also be one of the first in line for season tickets in 2011.

  17. Bart permalink
    February 16, 2010

    This article makes no sense. It sounds as if Edmonton “just” announced their entrance into NASL when the fact of the matter is that they are part of the Founding teams, no different thanVancouver, Montreal, Carolina or Miami. This was a done deal months ago and prior to NASL finding out that they were not going to have a league in 2010.

    Nothing more than continued propoganda and inaccuracies.

  18. February 16, 2010

    Bart, what is your problem and what the hell are you talking about. Of course they announced but they could not officially announce until US Soccer allowed them to which was just before they officially announced. Confusing? Not for you evidently since you have it all figured out.

    “It sounds as if Edmonton “just” announced their entrance into NASL when the fact of the matter is that they are part of the Founding teams, no different thanVancouver, Montreal, Carolina or Miami.”

    Did I not say that Bart in the article? Perhaps you should slow down and read more carefully.

    So once again you have NO idea what you are talking about. On top of that, the big news was not that they announced, but that they announced some pretty experienced people at the helm of their coaching, and again, this is all in the article and makes absolute sense. Also, they are not going to be affiliated with Vancouver like everyone thought they were. That too is big news.

    A youth academy is also new news. But then again perhaps Bart you work in the USL office and know all of this from insider information. I didn’t know all of this nor did most everyone of my readers. So unlike you, this is news to us.

    Your whining on this blog is starting get get obnoxious.

  19. Bart permalink
    February 16, 2010

    With all due respect, you are erroneous. Your lead in statement that Edmonton is the “NEWEST” team is factually incorrect. They are, as you acknowledged, part of the original founding members.

    Had you simply stated that they have big plans, that would be one thing.

    Further, your statements get mixed, on one hand, I am an idiot that knows nothing, on the otherhand, I have inside information.

    You need to stop censoring those that don’t feel you are that great of a blogger.

  20. February 17, 2010

    Looks like ol’ Bart has a case of diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain…

  21. February 17, 2010

    Bart – Add something worthwhile instead of complaining about the use of the word “new”. (Some advice: it would be wise to apologize for your earlier post of accusing Brian of “Nothing more than continued propoganda [sic] and inaccuracies.” Kind of inflammatory . . .) The value of the comments section is in the substance and intelligence most people show. Think before hitting the “Submit Comment” button. Passion is good, but use it wisely.

  22. Scott Kerssen permalink
    February 17, 2010

    An incorrect statement by Bart:

    “This is not a direct flight town.”

    From wikipedia (confirmed by EIA’s website):

    “The airport offers regularly scheduled nonstop flights to over fifty communities in Canada, the United States, Latin America and Europe.”

    Two of those nonstops are Montreal and Minneapolis, both Division 2 teams. A third non-stop destination, for those who have a little knowledge about air travel (and it doesn’t take a lot) is Chicago, a MAJOR hub with direct flights to many locations.

    A-B Int’l in Austin, Texas has direct flights to only three Div. 2 destinations Minneapolis, Atlanta (if they do start up operations again) and Baltimore. Service to St. Louis is being discontinued in April.

    Besides, airline pricing is affected by SO MANY different considerations, that direct flights are many times not the cheapest way to go.

    So, Bart, since you site NOBODY or NOTHING that supports your theory that travel costs are going to be prohibitive compared to, say Portland or Austin or Minneapolis or any team not on the east coast, I’m not convinced by your declaration.

  23. Scott Kerssen permalink
    February 17, 2010

    Oh, and Bart…

    Can you tell us what Brian has censored in your response?

  24. February 17, 2010

    Bart,

    The issue with US Soccer not allowing FC Edmonton to make comment was stated to me by Kowalchuk and confirmed by NASL officials. Yes, there was second source. I’m sure US Soccer could also verify this but I’m not going to waste their time or my time with any more concern over what you chose to believe. Just silly! If it bothers you so much why don’t you contact US Soccer for a comment.

    As to the sensoring, I pay for the domain name, the server space I spend my time and efforts on the content. This IS NOT a democracy. As I have posted many times in the past. I am very open to hearing others opinions even those that don’t agree with me. KT is one of those type that doesn’t always agree and can even be a bit rough in presenting it sometimes, but he is never insulting or does he try to come off as and the final word. I appreciate and respect that. But I will not allow others to come on here and repeatedly insult me or others.

    Thanks to you Bart I’m closing the comments for this article. You have managed to drive a decent conversation right into the gutter.

    Can we move on now folks…please.

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