Women’s international pro-am soccer coming to St. Albert
Author of the article:Derek Van Diest
Publishing date:Jan 08, 2021 • https://edmontonsun.com/sports/soccer/womens-international-pro-am-soccer-coming-to-st-albert
L.A. Galaxy Women OC celebrate after capturing the United Women’s Soccer championship, 1-0, over Foothills FC at Mount Royal University in Calgary on July 21, 2019. PHOTO BY JIM WELLS /Postmedia
St. Albert Impact FC is leaping into the pro-am game.
The local amateur club has been granted a franchise in United Women’s Soccer, hoping to kick off play in the West Division of the international league this upcoming spring.
United Women’s Soccer is a pro-am league made up of professionally operated clubs throughout the United States and Canada. St. Albert will be the second Canadian franchise in the league, joining Calgary Foothills FC.
“The UWS provides the highest level of competition of college players, aspiring college players, former professionals and international stars,” said Chris Spaidal, executive director of the St. Albert Soccer Association. “It’s a pretty impressive organization to be joining and there are a lot of exciting opportunities for the pathway of local athletes to be looking to be a part of.
“The attention it’ll draw to the game, especially the female game, is going to be huge. It’s going to give so many more athletes aspirations of what to try to achieve. I liken it to the Under-19 Women’s World Cup that was held in 2002 and the huge popularity of the game that was booming after that. It’s that type of aspect that we’re going to try and recreate again to try and drive the numbers up overall, and support the local clubs and the youth membership overall.”
Along with Calgary, the West Division also includes Kongo Soccer Club from Kaysville, Utah, Santa Clarita Blue Heat from Newhall, Calif., and The City FC of Clovis, Calif.
In total, there are upwards of 35 teams throughout the United States in the league, which continues to expand.
“The league operates in May, June and July, typically,” Spaidal said. “Obviously, there are some question marks for the 2021 year due to the global pandemic. We’ll be prepared to play part of that season if it does go ahead.”
Troye Flannery will manage the new UWS team in St. Albert. Flannery is the current head coach of the University of Calgary women’s soccer team, leading them to a 2019 Canada West championship. He also coached Calgary’s entry in the UWS, taking the club to the West final in 2019. For his efforts with Foothills FC, Flannery was named UWS coach of the year twice and West coach of the year three times.
“It’s an incredible standard. We played the North American final in Calgary against the L.A. Galaxy in front of 1,700 people,” Flannery said. “It’s current university players or players that have just graduated that are using this level as a stepping stone to get to Europe or to get drafted in the NWSL. In our conference, when you go to the California teams, you have players who have played or are currently playing for UCLA or Stanford and so forth.”
Along with college-aged players, the league also features former professionals, many who have played at the highest levels of women’s soccer. Canadian national team goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe played with Foothills before returning to a professional team in Europe.
With a successful franchise in Calgary established five years ago, it was only natural a team would be set up in the Edmonton region eventually.
“I’m sure there is going to be an instant rivalry with Calgary Foothills, because it’s good to be able to have that type of relationship in place from the start,” Spaidal said. “There is certainly a lot of buzz about collecting and gathering all the local talent to be on display in the Edmonton area.”
Having been awarded the franchise is just the start for Spaidal and Flannery. Now the real work begins putting a team together and getting everything in place to start play in May, pandemic permitting.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose,” laughed Flannery. “You’re dealing with everything from getting the facility ready to travel, the budget is $100,000 to $150,000, depending on the travel, and it’s really getting people caught up in regards to the standard of the league.
“People don’t have an idea how high the standard really is. We’re pretty fortunate here in St. Albert, infrastructure-wise, we think we’re set up and the support from the community here has already been overwhelming. I think, in general, the region here, the soccer community, we’ve had a couple of clubs and districts reach out offering support, so that’s pretty exciting.”
The franchise should be another boost to the women’s game, which has been growing exponentially in the past few years. Canada is a power in women’s soccer, producing some of the top players in the world, which includes the leading international goal scorer of all time in Christine Sinclair.
“Edmonton has been a hotbed of women’s soccer talent for years when you look at the amateur level and the Major League teams,” Flannery said. “You look at Victoria and the Edmonton Angels that have won national championships. So, there is a lot of alumni kicking around here, universities that do well and there is a pipeline of several clubs in the Edmonton area that produce top-end talent. We’re working with them and looking with what we have and we’re trying to do this with some of the synergies we have in the community here.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest