FC Edmonton is the Newest NASL team, and do they have plans!
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.
“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”).