Baby steps for new loop

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

It doesn't yet have a name, players or uniforms, but Hector Vergara is already excited about Winnipeg's newest professional franchise.

The city's entry in the new Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League held a press conference yesterday to announce that tickets for its inaugural game will go on sale this morning.

The Winnipeg club will meet the Edmonton Drillers at the MTS Centre on Sunday, April 1, at 2 p.m.

Owner Bill Stewart also revealed that a couple of familiar names from the Winnipeg soccer world, Chic Devenney and Walt McKee, will co-coach the squad during its two-game "showcase schedule" this spring.

Winnipeg's first game is in Saskatoon on March 23.

Vergara, the Manitoba Soccer Association's chief administrative officer who is more famously known for being a World Cup official, hopes Manitobans will get behind the team to support the beautiful game in their province.

"It's important for us, in our community, to have a professional league, whether it's indoor or whether it's outdoor," Vergara said. "Our kids, our youth, our senior players don't have anything to strive for."

The Winnipeg FC, as it was being called yesterday, had hoped to reveal its name, logo, shield and uniforms, but a last-minute check revealed that the name was already taken. Lawyers are working on it, and the team hopes to announce its name within 10 days.

The CMISL consists of four teams -- Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon -- and the inaugural showcase schedule will take place between March 10 and April 1.

League founder Mel Kowalchuk is starting slowly in an effort to gauge fan interest first. If all goes well, there will be a few more games next year and a full schedule in 2009. Teams consisting of 16 players would operate on a $100,000 salary cap to keep expenses under control.

And if the lightning-quick indoor game is popular enough with fans, each team would then move outdoors and play during the summer as well.

"We're trying to take the baby steps," Kowalchuk said.

Stewart, who is from The Pas but lives and works in Denver, has a vision of what would be a successful debut on April 1.

"If we can get that lower bowl pretty much full, that's very successful for us," he said.

Ticket prices, excluding taxes and fees, are $17.50 for adults and $9.50 for children 12 and under. A loonie from each ticket sold will go the Manitoba Soccer Association.

The team, meanwhile, will hold tryouts on Feb. 24 and 25 in Headingley. Three or four out-of-town pros will supplement the Winnipeg roster.

"We have the talent in this province," Vergara said. "What we need is something put together so that you actually make something of that talent. We hope this is it."


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