On Saturday, FC Edmonton travels to Atlanta to take on the NASL-leading Atlanta Silverbacks. The Eddies have the tightest defence in the league, the only team in NASL to allow less than a goal per game. Atlanta is tied with Carolina for the league’s top offensive output, averaging almost two goals a game.
Throw the fact the Eddies beat Atlanta 3-0 earlier this year out the window. This is what matters: FCE has four games left to play this spring season, and trails the Silverbacks by four points. The winner of the spring session hosts the Soccer Bowl in November, and will play the fall champion.
“We absolutely can’t afford to drop a single point from now until the end of the first season,” said FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller after the team’s training session on Thursday morning.
And, while the Eddies boast the best defensive record in NASL, they also, like last year, are at the bottom of the goals-for list. Seven goals out of eight games — with three coming in one game against Atlanta — will not win a championship. On Thursday, the team specifically worked on the offensive side of the game; being more positive going forward and, yes, shooting practice.
“We have to be more clinical in the final third.”
The conditions in Atlanta are forecasted to be steamy, with temps going over the 30 C mark, with humidity to boot. But Miller joked that his team won’t have issues.
“I’m afraid that we’ve been playing with 10 men so many bloody times that the fitness level is through the roof,” Miller said. It was meant as a joke, but there is definitely a seed of truth there. FCE played large chunks of their last two games with only 10 men on the pitch. Last week, central defender Mallan Roberts received two yellows for challenges made on the Atlanta side of half. He’ll be suspended for this week’s match, and defender Carlyle Mitchell, recovering from an ankle injury suffered two games ago, wasn’t training with the first team.
Miller said his team has to understand the need for discipline; and that’s especially true when an NASL team goes on the road, when the pressure is on the officials from the home fans. He said Roberts offered a lesson for his team. His second yellow came on a late aerial challenge on Tampa Bay’s Keith Savage, it came 60 yards away from his own goal, and it was especially rash for a player on a yellow.
“The only thing missing was the Jackie Chan scream from his tackle,” said Miller.
And, of course, playing with 10 men limits the offence. It’s been frustrating for the attackers.
“Obviously, when you have 10 men it’s not ideal for players like myself,” said attacking midfielder Shaun Saiko, the team’s leading scorer in 2012. “You’re forced to rely on just one or two chances.”
Saiko said a not-do-too-much mentality is needed to jumpstart the offence.
“We have to get the ball into the right areas, and just keep it very simple. We can’t just give the ball back to the other team.”