Long road homeChile provides a training ground for Aviators
By SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun
Jaime Lopresti is back on home soil, but the ground underneath him feels very different.
Born in Vancouver, Lopresti, at age 14, moved with his family to their native Chile and it was in South America where he flourished, playing at the top level and spot duty in exhibition contests with the Chilean national team.
He's now a long way from those lush, manicured pitches, thumping along on either snow, frozen artificial turf or gymnasium floors during the opening days of the Edmonton Aviators' inaugural training camp.
"It's a different sport, actually," said Lopresti of the current conditions.
"It's a totally new experience for me."
And for the four others in camp who made the journey from Chile, including Edmonton-raised Carmello Rago Jr. who fits the bill perfectly for the Aviators - a local product with international training. Under an agreement with Edmonton Minor Soccer, half of the Aviators' roster must have ties to Alberta.
"Joe (GM Joe Petrone) has got a lot of contacts out of Switzerland and done some networking," said head coach Ross Ongaro.
"(Lopresti) is a player with a lot of work rate and someone who can overlap for us."
The import players decided to slip into the Aviators' hangar since the financial gains once prevalent in South America had dramatically dwindled in recent years, forcing them to look for opportunities elsewhere.
"The salaries have gone down a lot and there's financial problems for a few years," said Lopresti, a 30-year-old midfielder who holds a two-year deal with the Aviators.
"Four years ago they were paying $7,000 to $10,000 American (per month) for an average player, and for top players it could be up to $20,000 or $30,000. They fell quite a bit, more than half."
Lopresti had a contract waiting for him in Chile, where he last played with the powerful Colo-Colo club, but opted instead to return to Canada and co-pilot the Aviators through their first A-League season.
"I thought it would be interesting for me to come back to Canada," said the sturdy five-foot-nine, 175-pounder. "I thought about it for quite a bit then just made my decision and came.
"I did all of my professional career in Chile, so it's like a new experience for me coming here, which was another reason why I said yes.''
Even when the weather becomes more soccer-conducive, the North American game itself will be something of an adjustment for Lopresti.
"Here is more physical, they run a lot and they don't know much about tactical soccer, and four or five teams in the league play on turf so that will be challenging."
FLIGHT PLAN: The inclement conditions forced the Aviators out to the Edmonton Garrison for yesterday's afternoon indoor intersquad game ... Ongaro expects to bring in a few more players next week, one or two with previous experience in Edmonton ... The club released defenders Philip Thiele (Edmonton Mill Woods/University of Memphis), Andrew McCuloch (Surrey Utd.) and James Giebelhaus (Surrey Utd.).