Group wants in USL's development league

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

Past failures be damned.

The seemingly never-ending charge to bring a high-level soccer franchise to Edmonton is getting another kick-start - but with a twist.

Since the pro game has had dreadful results time and time again, a new proposal is being pondered for acceptance into the United Soccer League's Pro Development League.

"We're looking at the possibility for next season, which would give us some breathing room after what happened with the Aviators," said Len Vickery, who is at the helm of the Edmonton project.

Vickery, the head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears soccer squad, also guides the Edmonton Green and Gold entry in the Alberta Major League and his plan would see that group take up residence in the PDL.

The 52-team PDL operates in similar fashion to the W-League which housed the Women Aviators last season. The team would be made up of mainly NCAA and Canadian university players, so they would not be paid in order to maintain eligibility. Teams are allowed eight players over the age of 23.

"It is the best level of amateur soccer in North America and PDL have beaten MLS and A-League teams in U.S. Cup play," said Tim Holt, the vice-president of the United Soccer Leagues.

"It is a league where the teams have lower expectations but often overperform. You wouldn't miss a beat compared to what was there with the Aviators. It is one of the best-kept secrets in soccer and we want to change that."

Currently the PDL's Northwest Division holds teams in Abbotsford, B.C., Spokane and Yakima, Washington, as well as Salem, Oregon, but the division is eyeing Canadian expansion with Edmonton and Calgary on the list.

"It is primarily a bus league, but with being able to fly into Abbotsford, we could then play there and bus to the other teams.

"It would be similar to what we do with the U of A, flying into Vancouver and playing three games in three days," explained Vickery.

"We would want to make sure we cover ourselves from a budget sense and we'd play our home games at Foote Field.

"I think the calibre of the PDL would be excellent to bridge the gap for our players between the youth level and the possibility of playing at the professional level in the future."

Enthused by the possibilities, Holt said the prospect of returning to Edmonton was not a scary venture after the monumental collapse of the Aviators last summer.

"Absolutely not. It was not the market that let the franchise and the league down. In fact, it was the franchise and the league that let the market down," said Holt. "A PDL team would be the right way to restart things. I see no reason at all why the team couldn't break even its first year (on approximately a $75,000 budget).

"All the talks are in the preliminary stages right now, but I am encouraged by the conversations I've had."


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