A second chance: Sean Fleming lauds CPL’s pathway to professional soccer at Open Trials

By the very nature of the Canadian Premier League’s rapid growth ahead of its inaugural 2019 season, it seems each stop of the #GotGame Open Trials has introduced a new face into the mix as individual clubs round out their coaching staffs with new leaders.

That trend continued into Winnipeg as FC Edmonton’s newly-announced assistant coach and technical director Sean Fleming was on the scene, taking in the talent at Investors Group Field alongside the rest of the CPL’s head coaches.

For Fleming, a return to Canada is “a dream come true,” though that’s not to say that he’s been too far from home – the Edmonton-raised tactician has been involved with Canada’s youth national ranks since 2001, having led the Under-17 team through the 2011 and 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

The demands of his role meant Fleming wasn’t in his hometown too frequently, though.

“When I was with the national program, I was barely (in Edmonton),” Fleming told in Winnipeg, following news of his appointment.

“People have asked me, ‘Is it going to be a big difference to have home games now?’ because with the youth team, when I was the head coach, I never had one game in Canada – it was always away. It’ll be nice to have a chance to do that.”

As the rest of the league’s coaches observe the players in the fifth of seven stops on the Open Trials, Fleming’s own unique experience dealing with younger players will come in handy for the Eddies. He estimates that the remaining cities will continue to produce a handful of “diamonds in the rough,” and was left particularly impressed with the character on display in Winnipeg, calling it “first-rate.”

When asked if he recognized any of the trialists on display, Fleming offered that he hasn’t taken a thorough look of all the names quite yet – however, he did reveal that he has been keeping tabs on some of the players he has worked with in the past.

“I’ve had interest from the kids who I went to the World Cups with from the ‘94 and the ‘96 age-groups, who have been following the CPL (since) it was just a concept, and they’ve been asking my opinion about it,” Fleming said. “Really, I’ve been nothing but positive with them from the very first day.

“I can’t put a concrete number but I can tell you, there’s a lot (of players who missed their opportunity),” he continued. “That was always the problem – whether we qualified or we didn’t qualify – especially after the World Cups: You see kids had great World Cups, but where was the opportunity? There was no opportunity. The CPL provides that opportunity now for those young players to go and to dream.”

Indeed, for Fleming, the biggest takeaway from the Open Trials is the fact that he’ll have a second chance at helping a generation of young players develop – only this time, he can help guide them through a proper pathway toward professional soccer.

“For the national kids that I had, if this was in place back then, I tell you, it would have been great, because I think the majority of my players would have had at least the opportunity to be on a roster in the CPL,” Fleming offered.

“(There are) so many players now, but who did we lose? Where do they go? Some tried to make it in Europe, others went to different places, but when they go away, it’s very difficult. This was so needed for so many years, and I know from my experiences back with the national program, that so many players are going to benefit from this.”

The CPL’s #GotGame Open Trials continue in Winnipeg on Friday, before making stops in Calgary (Oct. 25-26) and Vancouver Island (Nov. 5-6).