Pro soccer headed for Edmonton

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

A new Edmonton professional soccer team will emerge from the wake of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The team, Sun Media has learned, will play as the second coming of the Edmonton Drillers in the second coming of the North American Soccer League.

The Whitecaps will join Toronto F.C. in Major League Soccer in 2011. And an Edmonton team, it is expected to be announced within days, has been granted a franchise to replace the Whitecaps in the freshly-named NASL founded by teams breaking away from the USL including the Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact.

The Edmonton team will join the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Crystal Palace Baltimore, Miami F.C., Altlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Minnesota Thunder, St. Louis Soccer United and Montreal in the league which will begin play in April with Vancouver involved for just the one season before Edmonton replaces the Whitecaps franchise.

When the Whitecaps were accepted to join Major League Soccer for the 2011 season, team president Bob Lenarduzzi said he believed the club needed to put together a pro development team and suggested Edmonton as the most obvious place to put it.

The financial backing for the franchise and management is believed to come from the group which produced last summer's international club game in Commonwealth Stadium featuring Everton from the English Premier League and River Plate of Argentina which drew an announced crowd of 15,800 to Commonwealth Stadium.

Backers Tom and Dave Fath, Bruno Mastroprimiano and Mel Kowalchuk took a major bath on the game.

They are believed to have lost an estimated half million dollars in the venture which was put together without a great deal of lead-in time and with $40 to $105 ticket prices for the two teams which aren't on the world's A list.

Sun Media has learned the Fath Brothers, through Kowalchuk's guidance, made an offer to purchase the Whitecaps in April of 2009 with the intention of bringing this version of the team, not the MLS expansion team, to Edmonton for 2011 Tom Fath and brother Dave head up Fath Industries which also includes O'Hanlon Paving and are believed to be the majority owners of the new team.

The Everton-River Plate project was put together by long time Edmonton Trapper Triple A baseball G.M. Mel Kowalchuk, the longest serving G.M. in Pacific Coast League history.

Kowalchuk had also been previously involved in several soccer experiences with the Canadian Soccer League here, a National Professional Soccer League Edmonton Drillers indoor team and more recently with a four-team project of indoor soccer doubleheaders in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg which held doubleheader dates.

Kowalchuk is expected to be the new Edmonton NASL team G.M..

Edmonton has had several major international soccer hosting successes led by the Women's U-19 World Championships which sold out Commonwealth Stadium for a Canada-USA final, an event FIFA president Sepp Blatter called ballistic. Edmonton also drew the largest crowds in the Canada 2007 FIFA U-20.

Brazil drew 51,937 in a game against Canada their last stop on the way to the USA '94 World Cup and Edmonton has played host to several World Cup qualifying games with crowds ranging from 10,000 to 40,000. A game featuring David Beckham and the

L.A. Galaxy drew 37,104 here two years ago.

The original North American Soccer League Edmonton Drillers which drew several sizable crowds prior the the league folding.

It is believed this Edmonton team would begin play in a smaller venue with some feature games against major international teams in Commonwealth Stadium.

There's been a long list of failed pro soccer teams here which include the likes of the Black Gold, Eagles, Brickmen and Aviators outdoor teams in addition to a pair of different Edmonton Drillers indoor pro soccer squads which failed to survive.

Unlike those squads this project might have a chance because of the Fath brothers backing, an intelligent start-up plan with a full year plus to organize before beginning play in 2011, the Whitecaps legacy and having a great deal of knowledge, some of it first hand, from past soccer horror stories of what not to do.


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