STAYING SHARP

Foothills FC pre­pares for next step

Calgary Sun - - SPORTS - daustin@postmedia.com @Dan­nyAustin_9

In only a few short years, Foothills FC has gone from a team that just couldn’t quite find a way to win to a club who seem to leave with vic­to­ries ev­ery time they take the field.

Tommy Wheel­don Jr. has an ex­pla­na­tion for why that hap­pened.

The Foothills coach has guided the team through its growth since it joined the Pre­mier De­vel­op­ment

League — the top un­der-23 league in North Amer­ica and a ma­jor feeder sys­tem for the MLS — four sea­sons ago.

Next year, he’ll take over as head coach and gen­eral man­ager of Cavalry FC, Calgary’s new pro­fes­sional team that will play in the Cana­dian Pre­mier League.

Has the op­por­tu­nity to play pro­fes­sion­ally mo­ti­vated his Foothills play­ers to el­e­vate their games?

Wheel­don cer­tainly does think so.

“The tagline has been ‘Path to Pro,’ and all we’ve ever wanted to do is build that bridge that gets these younger play­ers the op­por­tu­nity to play in com­pet­i­tive leagues and put them on the map,” Wheel­don said.

“With the CPL around the cor­ner, they can see a le­git­i­mate path. (With Wheel­don as the Cal­vary FC head coach and GM), the sea­son’s been one big au­di­tion for the lo­cal lads, and they’re ris­ing to it.”

That’s some­thing of an un­der­state­ment, con­sid­er­ing the way the Foothills squad has run over its PDL North­west Di­vi­sion op­po­si­tion this sea­son.

When they take the field Satur­day against the Seat­tle Sounders U23 team at Foothills Field in Oko­toks (2 p.m.), Foothills FC will al­ready own the di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship.

Through 13 games, Foothills man­aged to cre­ate con­sid­er­able sep­a­ra­tion from the pack.

Its 10-1-2 record has earned the squad 32 points, 12 more than the se­cond-place Sounders.

Even more im­pres­sive, Foothills FC boast a goal-dif­fer­en­tial of plus-21, hav­ing scored 28 and al­low­ing only seven.

That’s the most goals scored in the di­vi­sion and also the least al­lowed, for the record.

Foothills went on a mag­i­cal run all the way to the PDL final back in 2016, but this sea­son has been dif­fer­ent.

The play­ers who have been with the club from the start have de­vel­oped and im­proved to the point where many of them could be ready for a shot with Cavalry FC when the team kicks off next sea­son.

“I re­mem­ber the first year at Shouldice Field … We lost only two games that sea­son, but we tied seven and we had to learn to win at the next level,” Wheel­don said.

“I couldn’t be hap­pier for the guys who have been there from the start. (Play­ers like Domick Za­tor, Eli­jah Adekugbe and Tofa Fakunle) have learned how to win and how to play games, and I’m ex­cited for what comes next for them.”

With the di­vi­sion all wrapped up, the only thing on the line Satur­day against the Sounders will be pride.

But that’s not noth­ing, and with the play­offs around the cor­ner, Foothills want to stay sharp.

The club beat the Sounders twice al­ready this sea­son, most re­cently earn­ing a 3-1 vic­tory in mid-June, and even if Foothills FC cel­e­brat­ing the di­vi­sional crown this week­end, a win would make things that much bet­ter.

The sea­son’s been one big au­di­tion for the lo­cal lads, and they’re ris­ing to it.” Foothills FC coach Tommy Wheel­don Jr. on next year’s CPL en­try

GAVIN YOUNG/POSTMEDIA

Calgary Foothills FC’s Dean Northover kicks the ball up­field against the TSS Rovers at the Calgary Foothills Soc­cer Club on June 23, 2018.

Daniel AUSTIN

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