EDMONTON — A little less than a decade ago, two goalkeepers were in the program at Vimy Ridge Academy, an Edmonton school famous for schooling elite athletes, with classes designed so students can optimize their training times.
The two ‘keepers were Connor James and Dylon Powley.
Later, on the Alberta select U-15 and U-16 teams, the goalkeeping tandem was … James and Powley.
So, maybe it’s just fate saying: “What else do you want me to do?”
On Thursday, FC Edmonton announced the signing of two keepers. Guess who…
Yup. James and Powley.
“We’ve been friendly rivals for a long time,” said Powley. “I know what he brings to the table and he knows what I will bring to the table. We’ll push each other and bring the best out of each other, which will benefit the team in the end.”
Added James: “We’ve been friends since Grade 9, so playing together is reminiscent of the past, when we were competing against each other back then.”
So, let’s get to the difficult question.
Fans of the cult-classic television show, The Prisoner, know this catchphrase all too well: “Who is No. 1?”
“We’re definitely going to be competing,” said James. “We wouldn’t have been signed to the team if we didn’t want to be playing.”
Over to Powley: “Connor was the best university goalkeeper in the country,” he said. “He didn’t get there because he didn’t work extremely hard. And I know it’s going to bring that out of me. If (coach Jeff Paulus) decides Connor is going to be the starter, I am going to support him 150%. If it goes the other way, I would think that Connor will do the same for me.”
Lars Hirschfeld, who was announced as the team’s new goalkeeping coach Thursday, said that it’s a dead heat between the two.
“They are both very technically and physically solid,” he said. “They have great attitudes, great focus and there isn’t a lot to separate them, to be honest.”
At the university level, the two old friends played for rival schools. James played at the University of Alberta, while Powley played for MacEwan University. The U of A is on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. MacEwan is on the north side.
Powley led Canada West with 87 saves in 2016. He was part of a MacEwan program that was transitioning from playing in the college circuit to the university level, and it was a team that was very much a small fish in a big CIS pond. So, he saw a lot of shots.
In 2017, on a Golden Bears team that’s usually near the top of the conference, James surrendered only eight goals in Canada West and led the conference with an absolutely tiny 0.62 goals against average.
James has long been known to Paulus. James was in FC Edmonton’s academy. He was taken by the Eddies in the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural CPL-U SPORTS Draft. He was a target of Paulus from the day FCE was confirmed as a CPL team.
Meanwhile, after returning to Edmonton from Sweden, where he spent part of 2018 with FC Gute, Powley had a trial with the Eddies. He had to impress Paulus. So, James was the known commodity, while Powley had to push his way in.
Powley also played under Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon at Foothills FC of the PDL.
As a member of the MacEwan Griffins, Powley faced current FCE teammates Bruno Zebie, Ajeej Sarkaria and Ajay Khabra, all U of A alumni. But he teamed with Sarkaria and Zebie with Foothills, as well.
“All of the Edmonton players on the team, I’ve played with them or against them,” said Powley. “When I was playing at MacEwan, it was special that I knew so many of the guys playing at the U of A. It was my motivation to give me that 5% extra.”
As a member of the Academy, James spent a lot of time training with the Eddies when they were part of the NASL.
“I’ve got to take those experiences and bring them to the Canadian Premier League,” he said.
Hirschfeld has played in England, Scotland, Germany, Romania and Norway. He made 48 appearances for the Canadian senior national team and recorded 17 clean sheets. He came up through the Canadian collegiate system before heading to Europe. So, does he see any similarities between himself and his two keepers?
“It’s too early to ask me that,” he said. “That’s a question you can ask me again in six months.”