Calgary Foothills FC earned a 4-0 victory over an FC Edmonton academy squad, which included some club alumni, in Sunday’s first leg of two scheduled exhibition matches named the ‘Al Classico’. The return leg is to be played in Calgary on Saturday, May 5.
While Foothills FC will be seeing these two games as preparation for their upcoming Premier Development League season, these contests are also being used to drive a rivalry that could boost Canadian Premier League aspirations in both Calgary and Edmonton.
Visiting head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. will know rivalries are the life blood of the sport and was quick to praise the over 3,000 fans who attended the exhibition game, despite the unseasonable single-digit temperatures. The crowd also included a contingent from Calgary who journeyed 300km north on the QE2 by bus.
“That was enjoyable, wasn’t it,” said Wheeldon. “Great support. Great crowd. Awesome for our lads to play against them. Really enjoyed it.
“It’s a rivalry, isn’t it? We want to drive that. It’s great to play up here against Edmonton, because they’ve got a good history as a pro club. You could see that with the crowd they’ve got.”
FC Edmonton’s general manager Jay Ball applauded the efforts made by everyone involved in putting on the event.
“I want to thank all the volunteers that staffed the game,” said Ball. “It was entirely staffed by volunteers from our announcers down to our set up crew. We could not have done it without them. So my hats off to everybody who came out to support the club.”
Ball also had praise for Sunday’s visitors.
“I want to thank everybody from Foothills, all the fans particularly who traveled up on the bus,” he said. “I want to thank Tommy for giving us a good game. And I want to thank players on both teams that put on an absolute fantastic show for all our fans.”
FC Edmonton recently ceased operations in the NASL, but there is a desire to take the club to the Canadian Premier League, which is set to begin announcing clubs within two weeks.
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“Regional rivalries are critical to the success of professional sports teams,” said FC Edmonton’s GM. “As far as Alberta right now goes, that rivalry is now in place.”
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. admitted that Sunday’s contest felt more significant than the standard pre-season contest. And that’s the way he wanted it.
“We’ve had a long pre-season,” he said. “Today was the first game where it felt like a game where we needed to perform to get a result. I was delighted with the way we performed. We wanted to treat it like it was three points on the line. It’s about pride. It’s the Al Classico, as the supporters have dubbed it, and we want to win it.”
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Edmonton-born Foothills FC defender, and goal scorer, Jackson Farmer also suggested Sunday’s match was more than an exhibition.
“I’ve been with the team a few months now,” said Farmer. “And we’ve been on a couple tours and we’ve built up to this game that was hyped up. Couldn’t be happier with the result.”
DuWayne Ewart and Ali Musse scored for Foothills FC in the first seven minutes match. And Farmer and Tofa Fekunle added two more in the second half.
Foothills FC goaltender Marco Carducci would prove less busy than his opposite number, but he did pull off a fine full-stretch diving save when called upon in the second half.
And Canadian women’s international goaltender Stephanie Labbé replaced Carducci for the final 10 minutes, for what turned out to be anything but an uneventful cameo.
Labbé first rescued Foothills FC from a defensive mix-up, bravely diving at the feet of an onrushing attacker after a giveaway. And shortly after, the Canadian international pushed a venomously struck effort from close range over the bar to preserve the clean sheet.
What is the Al Classico?
The term ‘Al Classico’ is a local take on La Liga’s El Clásico – the name given to any football match between fierce rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
When news of the Canadian Premier League was developing, Canadian soccer fans began pondering potential local rivalries. ‘Al Classico’ was suggested as the soccer version of the Battle of Alberta and local supporters drove the initial concept.
Sunday’s match in Edmonton was the first one played under the borrowed moniker.
The ‘Al Classico’ second leg between Calgary Foothills FC and FC Edmonton is set to take place at the Calgary Soccer Centre May 5 at 2pm. Admission is free.