Million dollar soccer men

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:28 PM ET

EDMONTON - Is FC Edmonton the No. 3 pro sports team in town?

Are they No. 3 before they play their inaugural game tonight against the Montreal Impact an entire year before they even join the North American Soccer League for their initial season?

If you go strictly by salary structure, the team owned by Tom and Dave Fath and managed by Mel Kowachuk ranks third to the Oilers and Eskimos right now.

The team which plays their first game against a reasonable facsimile of the Montreal Impact tonight at Foote Field has a million dollar payroll between the players, coach Dwight Lodeweges and his staff.

“That’s a pretty good guess,” confirms Kowalchuk of the number for the soccer squad which is using the game against a somewhat diluted Montreal line-up to prep for Sunday’s international match versus a virtually full-strength Colo-Colo Chilean side at Commonwealth Stadium.

“We have 30 people on the team side with 25 players in camp right now,” said Kowalchuk. “Add their salaries together and, yes, $1 million is a pretty good guess.”

Three of them — Dutch players Sander Van Gessel, Paul Matthijs and Rein Baart — are believed to combine for more than $300,000 of that, with two or three other players believed to be making more than the CFL minimum of $41,000. Most others are on significantly smaller monthly deals.

That’s not the $3.2 million (plus one marquee player exemption) that is the Major League Soccer salary cap structure Toronto FC currently deals with and that the Vancouver Whitecaps will work with joining up as an expansion team next year and the Montreal Impact will take on in 2011 as an MSL expansion team as well.

But it’s significant dollars.

The Edmonton Rush of the National Lacrosse League has a player payroll of about $400,000, the Edmonton Capitals of the Golden League a salary cap of only $96,000 and the Edmonton Energy play in the International Basketball League where the players are usually paid between $100 and $150 a game.

There’s no chance for FC Edmonton to do anything but lose money, a lot of money, this year but owner Tom Fath said that’s expected with new businesses.

“This year is entirely about next year,” he said of getting the team ready with good management and coaching and the beginnings of an academy to produce young pro players from Western Canada to go forward to the future.

FC Edmonton wants to join the NASL, where both the Whitecaps and Impact play this year, as a competitive club out of the gate.

Essentially, FC Edmonton will be replacing the Whitecaps and the intention is to run the same sort of franchise and build it to the point where it makes sense to construct a soccer-only stadium to create the same sort of atmosphere the Impact have in 13,000-seat Saputo Stadium in Montreal and Toronto FC has at 20,000-seat BMO Field.

That’s all big picture. And some might suggest, considering the history here with the Black Gold, Eagles, Brickmen, Aviators, etc., that it’s all dreaming in Technicolour.

But there’s no question there’s backing here. And coach Lodeweges, a former player for the Edmonton Drillers in the big league days of the NASL with Pele, Beckebauer, Cryff, Best, Chinaglia, etc., is about to field a team he hopes to actually be competitive a year before its time, a team which has quietly been playing training games against local opposition.

“We started from scratch,” said Lodeweges of getting to the point to finally take the team heavy on young Alberta talent public twice this week.

“We’ve practised and practised and had many, many team training sessions.”

Most of our players are used to two hard practices a week. We’re practicing seven or eight times like teams in Europe and South America.

“But you can’t just train. We’ve played six or seven games against local eams and had 3-0 and 4-0 games. They’ve done us a service. But now it’s time to take on the type of teams we have on our schedule this year.

“I think we did a good thing with the three players from the Netherlands we have here. They are all hand-picked players,” he said of the six-figure imports.

“We’ve had a good response. My feeling is that our players love it so far. I didn’t want old foreign players who felt they invented the wheel. We wanted experienced players who could play and help coach the young guys and I’ve been very happy. Not everything is Hallelujah. But we’ve taken some incredible steps.

“How far are we? I don’t know. But I have a very good feeling. Now we start to find out.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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