It’s been an off-season of change for Prince Edward Island’s premier soccer team.
The team’s longtime coach John Diamond has taken a step back and the team has been rebranded with a new logo.
“It’s a big loss for the organization and the team,” attacking midfielder Jared Murphy said of Diamond. “Us players owe John a lot for what he’s done over the years.”
Murphy is one of seven players on the management committee, which is looking after operating the team.
Bruce Norton, who has been involved with PEI FC since the beginning, will take over as the bench boss. He’s also been with the UPEI men’s team for years and knows the players very well, making for a seamless transition, Murphy said.
While there have been plenty of changes off the field, many of the players are returning and the goals remain the same: win the McCain New Brunswick Premier Soccer League and earn a gold medal at nationals in October in Vaughan, Ont.
The team won the league title two years ago, but finished third last year with a 10-5-1 record. They were ninth at nationals in 2013 in Halifax and last won the Canadian championship in 2010.
It drives the team to want to get back on top.
“Going into the season, knowing it’s not going to be a walk in the park, is great for guys’ ambition to want to win and become league champions again,” Murphy said.
The team has commitments from players this year to attend road games. Last year, there were occasions where they travelled with 11 players and used the backup keeper as a striker.
“That’s not going to happen this year,” Murphy said.
The team received the schedule with plenty of time for players to plan their work schedules for the summer.
“We’re all excited to get going,” Murphy said. “It’s a big summer going into the (Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship) in the fall with UPEI.”
The Panthers are hosting the national university tournament in November. There are 13 players on PEI FC who will wear the Panthers’ uniform in the fall. A couple Panthers, including Murphy, sat out the 2013 university season to retain their final year of CIS eligibility.
“It’s really driven us to put the time in and make sure we’re fit,” said Murphy. “We know the other players trained and have played an entire AUS season.”
PEI FC has its first exhibition game against the Soccer 1 Academy Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Cornwall. It will be competing in the Maritime Champions League tournament this weekend in Moncton and league play begins May 10 at home.
PEI FC will play out of UPEI with its first home game being at 2 p.m. against Fundy United.
The team has its own Facebook page and Twitter account as it looks to keep fans informed during the season.
The league is pushing to become a showcase circuit for players in the Maritimes.
It has set up a game between its all-stars and the Montreal Impact’s under-23 team for Aug. 19 and 21 in Fredericton.
A look at the PEI FC roster for the upcoming soccer season.