FC Edmonton stunned by Atlanta in front of large Clarke crowd

FCE's Kevin Hatchi outruns Atlanta's Raphael Cox.

FC Edmonton wasn’t able to match the physical intensity of the Atlanta Silverbacks, and paid for it.

The Eddies played in front of their biggest crowd at Clarke Stadium so far this season, with 2,521 fans shoehorned into the bleachers and standing around the sidelines. But the crowd — which included Canadian U-23 team member Randy Edwini-Bonsu, on vacation in his hometown after a season with Eintracht Braunschweig — went home disappointed as the Eddies slumped to a 2-1 defeat to the previously winless Silverbacks.

“If you look at the game, we had too many players who didn’t have their best games,” said FCE head coach Harry Sinkgraven. “Only four or five players were good enough. That’s not good enough.”

The same demons that have haunted Edmonton throughout this young NASL season were evident today. The Eddies were once again not to deal with set pieces and couldn’t deal with an opponent playing a direct approach.

Atlanta, knowing that FCE sparkplugg Shaun Saiko couldn’t be given space, chose left back Shane Moroney to act as a spy on the FCE attacker, who is coming off a player-of-the-month award. Moroney offered Saiko no space, even in non-threatening positions on the pitch.

“Yeah, we knew to give him as little space as possible,” said Moroney after the game.”I think we did a good job if it today.”

And Atlanta used another weapon well on Sunday; the booming right foot of keeper Daniel Illyes. The big Hungarian has easily the most booming kick out of the box out of anyone in NASL (and, arguably, MLS, too), and he often thumped the ball 60-70 yards downfield and hoped his big strikers would out-leap FCE’s defenders and create a direct chance. And, 30 minutes in, it paid off.

From the top of his box, Illyes hammered a ball to the top of the FCE penalty area. Silverbacks striker Matt Horth got position on the ball over Eddies’ defender Kevin Hatchi, and the Frenchman was forced to foul. Then Ciaran O’Brien hammered home an inch-perfect free kick from just outside the box, which left keeper Lance Parker rooted to the spot.

FCE has given up more than half of its goals this season on dead-ball situations and, despite vows during this week’s training sessions to shore up the defending of corners and free kicks, Atlanta got a 2-0 lead in the 40th minute on a set piece. O’Brien’s first attempt from the corner was cleared away by Matt Lam, but he lost his balance as the ball popped in the air. The ball came back to O’Brien in the corner, and he launched a perfect cross which an unmarked Moroney was able to nod inside the far post. Moroney was left wide open, and no one came out to try and prevent O’Brien from making the second cross after Lam’s first attempt to clear the ball out of danger.

A furious Sinkgraven told FCETV at half time that his team wasn’t marking or doing anything that it had worked on in training, and then said when his team had possession, it played “afraid.”

But, after the half, Edmonton came out pushing very deep, and Kyle Porter soon replaced Lam, who was hobbled late in the first half.

Eight minutes into the second, Saiko struck low free kick that hit the back of Hatchi’s leg and deflected in to pull Edmonton within a goal. FCE has scored 11 goals in NASL this season. Saiko has been responsible or partially responsible for eight of them (five goals, three assists).

Edmonton pushed forward while Atlanta, which brought just 15 players to Edmonton and played on Wednesday in Seattle in U.S. Open Cup play, bunkered deep to defend the advantage. Atlanta wasn’t able to bring a full lineup because not all of the players on its roster can legally play in Canada.

Paul Craig, given more of a free role in the attack, was FCE’s most effective player. With less than 20 minutes left, after a run deep into Atlanta territory, he was brought down from behind by Silverbacks’ defender Martyn Lancaster, who was sent off for the offence.

But, after Saiko’s subsequent free kick was saved by Illyes, FCE didn’t create much to threaten the goal, save for a cross from Saiko that was nodded in by Craig, who was ruled to be offside on the play, which FCE officials later confirmed was indeed the right call. As well, FCE brought in former St. Mary’s University striker Elvir Gigolaj for his first NASL action of the season.

“The team showed a lot of character, we defended like lions,” said Lancaster, who said he will appeal the red card, as he wasn’t the last defender back.

“I will speak to the coaching staff and see if I can get this appealed.”

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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.