The next step in the quest to bring professional soccer back to Winnipeg has been unveiled.
In May of 2011, WSA Winnipeg will begin play in the United Soccer League’s 64-team Premier Development League, considered to be the top circuit in North America for players under the age of 23.
The official announcement was made on Monday afternoon during a press conference at the Fort Garry Hotel and team president Eduardo Badescu is ecstatic about the prospects going forward.
“It’s time for Winnipeg to have another team,” said Badescu, who help found the franchise along with partners William Rosales and Costas Ignat. “This is one more step. It’s an amazing thing. There were a few people before that tried to bring a PDL team and failed, so we were a little worried. But our business plan was sound.”
As part of that business plan, Badescu is hoping to attract crowds in the neighbourhood of 2,000 per game at the Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex and expects the franchise to flourish, both on and off the pitch.
“I’m 100% confident we can succeed, or I would have never done this,” he said. “There are more than 20,000 players playing soccer in Winnipeg. This is a window of opportunity for players who want to move on to MLS.”
While there will be some players who are paid, the majority of the players in the PDL come from colleges and universities.
Badescu said he’s committed to going with local players on WSA Winnipeg’s 27-man roster, at least from the outset.
“We want to give the opportunity, but we also want to compete,” said Bedescu.
But does Manitoba have enough elite-level players for WSA Winnipeg to be competitive?
“This is the great test and this is what we’ll find out, how do our young players that are showing that promise and potential stack up against the top players in the United States?” said Rob Gale, the technical director for the Manitoba Soccer Assocation.
“It should be very exciting for the community to watch this level of soccer. For the players, this is something for them to really strive for that is right here. Everyone has pipe dreams of (playing for) Real Madrid or Liverpool, but now we’ve got a relative level that will be achievable for our players. That should create a lot of excitement among the young players in the province.”
United Soccer Leagues president Tim Holt provided a welcoming message for WSA Winnipeg via video-conference from Tampa, Fla.
“It is a really special day,” said Holt. “Winnipeg is a fantastic market. The organization at WSA has done things professionally from a player development standpoint for many, many years and are well-respected. It’s a great combination of factors that we know this team and this franchise will be successful for years to come.”
Some of Winnipeg’s past soccer ventures have failed because of an inability to commit to a singular vision, but Badescu is hopeful that won’t be the case this time around.
“My motto is literally, all for one and one for all,” he said. “If we can use that, it will be amazing.”
The PDL season runs from May through August and WSA Winnipeg will play a 16-game season in the Heartland Division with the Des Moines Menace, Kansas City Brass, Real Colorado Foxes, Rochester Thunder, Springfield Demize, St. Louis Lions and Thunder Bay Chill.
WSA Winnipeg is also hoping to welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps for an exhibition game.