On Aug. 4, 2018, Calgary Foothills FC won the Premier Development League (PDL) national championship in Reading, Pa. On the team were two players from the SAIT men’s soccer team, Dean Northover and William Akio.
The PDL consists of 74 under-23 teams from across the U.S. and Canada, and is a feeder league for Major League Soccer (MLS) According to the PDL website, more than 70 per cent of all MLS draft selections since 2010 have had PDL experience.
In the championship game, Foothills FC won 4-2 in extra-time for their first-ever title. They are just the second Canadian team to win the PDL title, after the Thunder Bay Chill in 2008.
Both players were pleased with an increased spotlight on Canadian soccer, especially with the upcoming debut of the professional Canadian Premier League (CPL). Calgary will have its own CPL team, Cavalry FC, coached by Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who moved on from managing Foothills FC.
“Winning the national title just shows that players in Canada, and players in Alberta, are good enough to compete at that next level,” said Akio.
“The CPL is a huge step for Canadian soccer,” said Northover.
Akio said that the CPL will have a huge impact on young Canadian players, because they can now dream of playing professionally.
Meteoric rise for Foothills FC
After an inaugural season Northover described as “middle of the pack,” Foothills FC went on a “Cinderella” run in 2016, meaning they did far better than expected. That ended with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in the championship against the Michigan Bucks.
That loss made this year’s title “that much sweeter,” said Northover.
He said the difference between the 2016 and 2018 Foothills teams was depth. He noted that Foothills FC’s top goal scorer, Moses Danto, was unable to travel to the U.S. due to visa issues, but they won the title on the road anyway.
According to Akio, there was also a certain intangible desire to the 2018 Foothills team.
“You could almost feel that it was coming, that it was our time again, because the 2017 season was really rough,” said Akio.
Northover credited Wheeldon with building the team with players from all over Canada.
Northover was a veteran presence for Foothills FC, being with the club since their inaugural season.
After a failed tryout in 2016, Akio made Foothills FC the next year, gradually getting more minutes until becoming a starter.
“I just can’t stop playing at the highest level possible”
Northover is the youngest of seven children in a Canadian soccer family. His oldest brother, Mark, was captain of the Mount Royal University Cougars team, while his sister Yvonne landed a soccer scholarship with the National Collegiate Athletic Associations’ Illinois State Redbirds.
A few years after graduating high school, Wheeldon recruited Northover for Foothills FC. While many players on the team hoped to play professionally, Northover desired the “high-calibre” level of play.
“I’ve kind of given up the professional dream, but I just can’t stop playing at the highest level possible,” said Northover.
Akio hopes to reach new heights in his soccer career. For 2018, he has transferred to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas.
Akio still has two years left on his legal diploma he started at SAIT, but said he hopes to “go pro as soon as I can.”
While he mentioned the MLS as a possibility, he also mentioned the possibility of returning home to play in the CPL.
Akio admitted that before the heights of the Foothills FC title, he was “nervous” his first year at SAIT, having to adapt from high school soccer.
As for Northover, he will return to SAIT for his second year. He began training for the new season less than a week after concluding his PDL season.
Last season, the Trojans finished at the top of their division, but lost in the semi-finals to the NAIT Ooks.
Northover said he was hoping the Trojans would be a deeper team this year under new head coach Connor Brady’s “fresh outlook.”
A version of this article appeared in The Weal on Sept. 4, 2018.