FCE learns some tough lessons from the Whitecaps

FCE's Paul Hamilton, right, heads the ball away from Whitecap Omar Salgado

In the Commonwealth Stadium press box before the game, FC Edmonton Director of Soccer Joe Petrone made the prediction: If FCE could keep the Whitecaps off the scoresheet through the first 20 minutes, if the Eddies could make it through those initial nervous moments, “we’ll be fine.”

They didn’t make it through the first 20 minutes. They didn’t settle for most of the first half, allowing a physically dominant and mature Vancouver Whitecaps side to come out with a comfortable 2-0 win in their road leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal, in front of a disappointing crowd of 2,777.

“When you see the game, you see the difference in the way we play,” said FCE coach Harry Sinkgraven after the match. “They are more mature, you can see that. In battles, they are stronger. We lost too many individual battles.”

And, the tall, strong attacking troika of Omar Salgado, Eric Hassli and Atiba Harris were too much to bear for the Eddies, which have a smallish defensive back four even by NASL standards.

FCE defender Paul Hamilton admitted trying to take on Hassli was tough.

“It was something different than what I’m used to,” he said.

While Edmonton was panicky with its touches in a nervous opening portion of the game, it had hung on to 0-0, until the 19th minute — when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

First, FCE midfielder Serisay Barthelemy went down injured, reducing the Eddies to 10 men. With Edmonton out of formation and out of sorts, Omar Salgado, who Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie is trying to convert into a left-sided attacker, took on Hamilton one-on-one. He beat Hamilton into the box, and squared it for a wide-open Hassli. Hassli eased the shot towards the centre of goal, but it somehow squirted under the body of keeper David Monsalve, who should have had the shot covered.

Then, with FCE trying to nurse the game to halftime with only a one-goal deficit, Salgado struck again. He lofted a cross (or was it a shot?) from the left side of the box that went over Monsalve and caromed off the far post. But Harris was there, who brushed aside the much smaller defender, Fabrice Lassonde, and poked the ball in the open goal.

FCE’s game improved dramatically in the second half, while a fatigued Whitecaps side dropped off. After the half, Matt Lam, who had come in for Barthelemy, put his stamp on the game, making a series of mazy, darting runs that allowed Edmonton to have better spells of possession than it enjoyed in the first.

But, even with FCE’s better possession, the Eddies only carved out one chance that troubled keeper Brad Knighton, a low drive from Ilja Van Leerdam that forced a diving stop.

“In the second half, we were still quite solid defensively, but we didn’t create as much as I would liked to have seen,” said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie.

But the Whitecaps’ coach said his team knew it had to jump on what it knew would be a nervous Edmonton team early in the match.

“We wanted to start the match on the front foot. We wanted to match or beat their intensity. And, for the most part, I think we did that.”

And Sinkgraven said his team will take something from this game — lessons of what it’s like to face an MLS team. While Toronto beat FCE 3-0 last season at Commonwealth, those goals came after FCE went down to 10 men. Vancouver’s performance was far more comprehensive — even if the Whitecaps did leave the majority of their starting defenders and midfielders off the pitch.

“We are a young team. We are a team in development,” said Sinkgraven. “You could see that.”

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.