Home NASL & USL FC Edmonton Lemire the lone Aviator on FC Edmonton… for now

Lemire the lone Aviator on FC Edmonton… for now

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Chris Lemire doesn’t want to see another Edmonton soccer team fold.

Lemire is the only current member of FC Edmonton, which begins play in NASL this season, who was part of the 2004 Edmonton Aviators, which lasted just a season in the USL’s A-League before collapsing.

But Lemire might not be the only Aviators refugee for long. The team’s brain trust — including general manager Mel Kowalchuk, director of soccer operations Joe Petrone and coach Harry Sinkgraven, have been looking at other former Aviators, including Liam de Silva, another Alberta product. Lemire still retains close ties with his former Aviators teammates, including former Whitecap Gordon Chin, and the FCE bosses have asked for some phone numbers.

Lemire and some of his FC Edmonton mates — who have been training together through the winter after spending last summer playing an exhibition schedule against the likes of Colo Colo and Portsmouth — were at Edmonton Soccer Centre South to play a friendly against the Special Olympics All-Stars, a way of building goodwill for the young franchise. There were a few dozen fans in the stands as the club used the city’s huge indoor Polar Cup tournament as a venue to promote itself.

Season tickets have just went on sale for the 2011 season.

The Aviators folded in a drama that even Toronto FC would find hard to equal. The team launched at Commonwealth Stadium, falling far short of the 10,000-plus average attendance that the owners had boldly predicted. Halfway during the season, the team declared bankruptcy. The South American-based players flew home. The league took over the team, changed the name to Edmonton FC — and the club played out the majority of the season at the University of Alberta’s Foote Field — where FC Edmonton will call home in 2011.

But, because of scheduling issues, not all games went down at Foote. Some had to be played at men’s league-caliber pitches, where lawn chairs were set up by fans at pitches that were used by Division-4 Edmonton and District Soccer Association teams the previous day.

But Lemire is confident that Edmonton’s sad history when it comes to professional soccer will not repeat itself.

“Things started off on the right foot by bringing in the coaches from Holland,” he said. “The way the whole thing started off is better.

“It’s a lot different. You could see that right out of the gate, with the owners willing to spend money on trips. They are willing to put something in to make the program better. I don’t want to be another team that folds.”

Petrone and Sinkgraven are still bringing in players, two a week, for trials. The new coach has been in charge for two weeks; he was recommended by Dwight Lodeweges, who coached the team through most of 2010 but used an out clause in his contract to take a more lucrative offer in Japan. Lemire said it’s too early to tell just how seamless the switch from Lodeweges to Sinkgraven will be, but the fact that the core group of players had a series of exhibition games in 2010 and has kept training in the dead of the Alberta winter has the forward believing that some good things may be in the offing.

“We have been training since mid-September, they (other teams) don’t start training until mid-January This year, I think it’s going to be a big advantage.”

Could that translate into an upset over defending champion Toronto FC in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship? While the Canadian Soccer Association hasn’t officially confirmed the new format, the cat is out of the bag — instead of a round-robin format, the NCC will now see true Cup final between the winners of the TFC-FCE and Vancouver-Montreal ties.

“We want to be a hard team to play against, to get a result against,” said Lemire, who spent the years between Aviators and FC Edmonton working in the city and playing for the indoor Edmonton Drillers of the Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League. “If we could get a result from a home game with Toronto, well that would show the fan base that we could play. It would show the media that we’re not here to get beaten.”

In fact, there’s no hiding the fact that if FCE could upset Toronto in 2011, it would go a long way further to establishing the club as part of the city’s sports culture than a successful run into the NASL playoffs.

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