Group puts best footie forward

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

In a perfect world, the press conference would have opened with a marquee player taking centre stage to don his local strip.

"We made a bid for David Beckham," smiled longtime Calgary soccer official Chris Baker.

"But didn't get him."

Didn't land a jersey either.

Instead, the latest incarnation of pro soccer in Calgary kicked off yesterday with little more than a league logo and a concept that will see the indoor game return to the Corral March 10.

Add Calgary United FC to the long list of pro soccer entities in town that includes the Boomers, Mustangs, Kickers, Strikers, Storm and Mustangs (again).

To their credit, this time ownership is taking a more cautious approach by kicking off the newly minted Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League (CMISL) with one local "showcase game" against Edmonton that will act as a trial balloon of sorts.

If 6,500 of the estimated 70,000 soccer players in town cram into the antiquated sports hall and like what they see, there's hope for a three-game home schedule in 2008 and a full season the year after, says Baker.

An outdoor team could then follow with a team salary cap of roughly $100,000 or what Becks will make while brushing his teeth.

"The indoor game is a much more sellable game in North America -- it's very fast, furious and exciting and I think people will come," said Baker, a local oilman who will own the majority of the team following years as founder/president of the Calgary Villains Elite FC.

"I really like the graduated approach -- we can judge the market in the first season and make adjustments. It gives us time to come up with investors and find out if Calgary wants it."

And the way to ensure that, he figures, is by working closely with minor soccer, which would ultimately benefit from having a team of local heroes for youngsters to emulate.

"One of my main jobs is to try and unite the Calgary soccer community behind this team and, as an incentive to them, 20 percent of each ticket ($20 for adults, $10 for kids) will go to the club that sells that ticket," said Baker.

"The talent level in this city is high and several players are close to making that jump (to Europe) with good coaches and trainers and experience. We want this team to appeal to young players in Calgary and give them that platform to jump. The younger kids can go out and see exactly what it takes to get to a higher level."

The March 10 kickoff will actually be a doubleheader against an Edmonton club comprised mainly of former members of the long-defunct Edmonton Drillers.

The games will feature four, 10-minute quarters and, if the games are split, a shootout will determine the match winner.

A wrinkle will be added in the form of a three-point line outside the 18-yard box that rewards players who score from outside of it with an instant hat-trick.

The four-team test league also will include one home game each for Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

"We won't go forward until each team is on solid footing and we have the fan base, trust of advertisers and support of the media," said league commissioner Mel Kowalchuk, who said 5,000 man hours have been put into developing the league.

"We're going to make mistakes but we're going to ask you to give us some rope. I know pro soccer in Calgary has had some problems but this is a little different approach. Judge us for who we are. Don't judge us for what happened in the past."


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