FEATURE: Are Outdoor Soccer Facilities Meeting The Demand?

Twin Brook U-5 Team – Photo Courtesy: EMSA Facebook Page

If you drive past any green space in the city on a late spring or early summer evening, there’s a good chance you’ll see a group of youngsters kicking a ball around. Soccer continues to explode in popularity right across Canada, and is far and away the most played sport in our city.

This begs the question – are local facilities able to handle the growing demand?

The Edmonton Minor Soccer Association has over 1500 teams playing during the outdoor season, utilizing anywhere between 300 and 400 fields in and around the city. The minor soccer season is a short one, running through May and June, with city finals played during the first week of July.

“We have to play 15 or 16 games per team in eight weeks, and with rainouts and storms, it’s very stressful during the outdoor season,” explains EMSA President Mario Charpentier, adding there are typically around 1500 matches per week scheduled during this time.

With so many matches being played, along with regular practice sessions, pitch time is at a premium. In addition, Charpentier says the city has recently converted some older fields into housing, and schools aren’t being built with as much green space as they had in the past.

“On top of this there are another two organizations in Edmonton that need fields too – the adult program that has around 400 teams, and EIYSA (Edmonton Interdistrict Youth Soccer Association),” Charpentier points out. “If you add it all up, there are around 2000 teams in the city.”

EMSA owns a handful of fields in a pair of locations – eight at Ivor Dent Park in the city’s southeast, and 14 at their facility in the west end. Charpentier notes they rely heavily on city-owned fields, particularly for the younger age groups, who often play at their local community parks and schools, but those come with rental costs and there are permits to secure prior to use.

EMSA owns an 80 acre parcel of land just to the east of the city, which is currently being rented out as farmland. The hope is that development will begin in the next couple of years, but cost is a barrier.

“Every field, on average, costs around 100 thousand dollars to build,” says Charpentier, adding roads and parking lots also have to be created.

EMSA collects fees from each player, in addition to sponsorships, donations, and the occasional grant from the city and government. The trick is trying to set aside enough money to move forward with future projects, while still paying for upkeep and maintenance of their current facilities.

“If we can have some more fields, then we’ll release a little bit of pressure on the city fields,” Charpentier says. “If the sport keeps growing, then in four or five years we’re going to have a big problem.”

“EMSA has done excellent work for youth soccer in our community, and we’ve seen the results of their efforts in the players and people that have come through their system,” says FC Edmonton General Manager Jay Ball. “The organization has continued to meet every challenge they have faced head-on, and we look forward to their continued growth and success.”

“Without a doubt, a great concern for all in the soccer community is the growth of the game and related accessibility to fields and facilities. I think it’s the responsibility of the entire soccer community to solve facility and field issues. This isn’t just an EMSA problem or an EDSA issue. This is city-wide and is going to require everybody working together to ensure that access to quality facilities and fields meets the growth of the game in the future.”

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