FCE should follow Impact's lead

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:37 AM ET

The model for Tom Fath’s FC Edmonton to follow is that of the team they play in their first North American Soccer League home game Sunday at Foote Field.

Forget Toronto FC.

Forget the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It’s the Montreal Impact.

“Edmonton has the right mindset,” said Nick DeSantis, the former Edmonton Driller indoor player who is GM of the Montreal team which next year will follow the Whitecaps to Major League Soccer with Toronto FC and the top teams in the U.S.

“We developed a history, a progression and built a real solid following of fans.

“We started with solid ownership and an average of about 4,000 fans and built that until it was time to move to a new 13,000-seat stadium which we could expand to 20,800 for the MLS when the day came.

“I believe in taking baby steps and creating a solid organization and working very hard to create an environment in the place you play,” said DeSantis.

Commonwealth Stadium isn’t it.

Either is Foote Field.

But Foote Field it will have to be for the rest of this season to inspire the building of a modest-sized, soccer-exclusive facility expandable for the future should they create the market the Impact created in Montreal.

In 1993 the Saputo company announced a five-year commitment as owner of a professional Division II soccer franchise under president Joey Saputo.

But it was 2008 which launched the franchise.

In 2008, the Impact moved into a new home, the 13,000-seat $17-million Saputo Stadium in the shadows of Olympic Stadium.

They won the Nutrilite over Canada’s first MLS team, Toronto FC, and went all the way to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Club Championships, drawing 55,517 at Olympic Stadium in February for the first leg against Mexican club Santos Laguna.

“To me the best strategy is to draw 2,500 to the 3,500 capacity where they play now and put a good product on the field, do a good job creating an outstanding environment and experience for the people who go there, stay humble and grow the market.

“I played indoor in Edmonton in 1996 and 1997 and I’ve always thought Edmonton was a good market with a lot of potential if it was done right.”

Sunday’s NASL home opener is the end of Soccer Week in Edmonton with the Nutrilite Canadian Championship Series game against Toronto FC, the site inspection for the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup and the home opener against the only other Canadian franchise in the new NASL.

FC Edmonton will not likely spend a lot of time at the front of the sports sections again the rest of the season.

A red card by Shaun Saiko killed their chance to get a result, in what turned out to be a 3-0 loss against Toronto FC. But the league opener against the Impact represents another opportunity.

If you look at the standings, you’ll wonder how a new team in Edmonton can be going into the game with two wins in three away games, while a long-established team like Montreal has only a tie to show for three games the year before going into MLS play.

“There are a lot of questions,” said DeSantis.

“This is the transition year. It’s a nervous stage for some players being analyzed about going to the next level and other players knowing they won’t make it to the next level,” he said. “Right now it’s not easy.”

The Impact, who lost 1-0 to the Whitecaps in the first leg of their Nutrilite Series, play the second leg Wednesday in Vancouver and figure they’re about to settle in to the season now.

Right now they have a player payroll of slightly over $1 million or almost double FC Edmonton. Next year it will be triple that. There will be more and more accomplished import players needed.

That’s why DeSantis is cheering for FC Edmonton in the new NASL.

“It’s great to see a new Canadian team investing in pro soccer and committing to developing Canadian kids to get to the next level. Our biggest downfall in this country is having kids reach 17 and 18 having no place to develop and begin their pro careers.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@sunterryjones


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