About Author: Steven Sandor

Website
http://www.stevensandor.com
Description
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.

Posts by Steven Sandor

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FC Edmonton’s post-season hopes die in Fort Lauderdale

FC Edmonton's Tomi Ameobi, left, challenges Fort Lauderdale's Darnell King.

FC Edmonton’s Tomi Ameobi, left, challenges Fort Lauderdale’s Darnell King.

Soccer can be such a cruel game. A hero can be transformed into a scapegoat with just one kick of the ball.

For 83 minutes, Eddies keeper John Smits was the best player on the field in Fort Lauderdale; in a game that the Eddies had to win, Smits made a series of wonderful saves to keep the score at 0-0.

But, in minute 84, the dream game turned into a nightmare. With one very poor touch, the Eddies’ keeper set up the goal that put an end to FCE’s push for a post-season spot. The Strikers got a 1-0 win, which puts the Eddies four points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the overall standings — with just one game left.

Strikers’ forward Fafa Picault got a head to an attempted chipped pass from FCE winger Lance Laing; Smits had to come out of his area to collect it. He hit the ball first-time, and the panicked clearance went right to Pecka. The Strikers’ midfielder chipped the ball over Smits and into the vacated Eddies’ goal.
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It’s oh so quiet: Japan trounces Canada in front of disappointing crowd

A photo of the, ahem, announced crowd of 9,654.

A photo of the, ahem, announced crowd of 9,654.

I hate writing soccer-attendance stories. They remind me of the times I used to have to lobby and lobby editors to give a soccer story a little more space, or any space at all.

So, just the writing this column is making me owly and growly.

On Saturday, the Women’s World Cup champions from Japan came to Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium to play the Canadian women’s national team. The friendly was announced months ago — and, outside of the rivalry with the Americans, is probably about as “tier one” a matchup as the Canadian Soccer Association could arrange.

The Japanese and Canadian players came out to see a heck of a lot of yellow and green empty seats. In a city that is hosting more Women’s World Cup games in 2015 than any other, a visit from the reigning champions of the world was greeted with indifference. A stadium that holds a little less than 60,000 welcomed an announced crowd of 9,654 who watched the Japanese march to a convincing 3-0 win. But, to the naked eye, it looked like the actual number of bums in seats was much lower than the announced attendance. Half of the stadium was closed to fans. Only 10 sections had fans in them, and they were maybe two-thirds full. Each of those sections has 45 rows, with 16 seats per row. That’s 10 X 45 X 16 = 7,200. And those sections were two-thirds full — so maybe, at best, 5,000 fans in the stadium.

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who hails from the area, saw the glass as being half full.

“I heard (before the game) that we had 8,000 sold,” she said. “So at first I was like, ‘huh,’ but, you know, looking at the stadium today, it looked pretty full on the west side. Of course, we always want more but a part of it is us putting on a good game. There were lots of exciting parts to this match. So, hopefully, they were happy and they will come back for the World Cup.”
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Desiree Scott is open to Notts County return after Women’s World Cup (PLASTIC PITCH preview)

Desiree Scott in Notts County colours

Desiree Scott in Notts County colours

(Look for the full Q and A with the Destroyer, Desiree Scott, in the winter issue of Plastic Pitch. Issue 4 should be out in December. For info on how to get Plastic Pitch, go to the end of this post).

Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott won’t be returning to pro soccer until after next year’s Women’s World Cup.

She’s committed to Canada’s eight-month training camp ahead of the Women’s World Cup, and she’s devoting her time to the national-team cause. That includes Saturday’s friendly against Japan at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium and the Oct. 28 rematch against the World Cup champs at Vancouver’s BC Place.

But, once the tournament ends, Scott says she will give a Notts County return some serious consideration. In 2014, Scott, who was one of the Canadian players in NWSL who had her salary paid by the Canadoan Soccer Association, decided to leave the U.S.-based league for England. She started 20 games for Notts County in England’s WSL — and certainly caused some waves by making the decision to leave NWSL for an English league that mixes part- and full-time players.

Still, if Notts County wants her back after the Women’s World Cup, chances are that she’ll listen.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said Friday. “Right now, my focus is on the World Cup. I will be full-time with the national-team leading up to that. But, after the World Cup, the options are open. But I did really enjoy it in England and, yes, I would go back. Right now, the plan is to be with the national team, full-time. We are devoted to World Cup prep; and hopefully to raise that trophy on July 5th. I will decide what to do (professionally) after that.”
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Canada vs. Japan: Hard to dislike the World Cup champs

Erin McLeod PHOTO BOB FRID/CANADA SOCCER

Erin McLeod PHOTO BOB FRID/CANADA SOCCER

Sure, when it comes to rivalries in women’s soccer, the Americans are at the top of the Canadian totem pole. They are the ones we, as Canadians, love to hate.

So, as the Canadians women’s national team gets set to face the World Cup champions from Japan twice in the coming week, you can’t expect there to be a war of words. Really, the series of friendlies sorta feels like we’re inviting a well-respected friend and the kids over for a playdate.

Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Fieldhouse to help conduct a clinic for local minor soccer players and, after, she spoke of the challenge of playing the Japanese.

“They are so tactically disciplined, I think it will be a wonderful match for us,” said McLeod. “They are wonderful opponent, they are so well organized, we can’t afford any slip-ups for the entire 90.

“I think Japan reminds me of Germany. Germany is always so very organized and so is Japan. You saw in the World Cup, it was incredible what they did. It was after the tsunami and they really brought a nation together, so the spirit and the heart that team has, we won’t overlook it.”
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Laing: “Wouldn’t be a greater joy” than helping FCE beat the Strikers on Saturday

Lance Laing

Lance Laing

A month and a half ago, the FC Edmonton staff discussed their plans for the final road trip of the regular season. If results continued to go in favour of the red-hot Eddies, there was a good chance that the Oct. 25 match at Fort Lauderdale could be huge.

So the decision was made then to change the team’s travel plans. Instead of leaving on a Friday, the common practice for a Saturday road game, the Eddies would leave on Thursday, giving them a chance to better acclimate to the Florida heat and humidity.

As it turns out, the Eddies were right about this Saturday’s game meaning something. The Eddies know that if they win their final two games of the season — away to the Strikers and then home to Atlanta — they will be in the NASL post-season, unless Carolina also wins both of their remaining games and makes up a massive goal-difference margin.

“We made this call five weeks ago, six weeks ago, anticipating we’d be in this position,” said assistant coach Jeff Paulus on Wednesday. “It’s paid off for us.”

But, if the Eddies lose to Fort Lauderdale, the Strikers will eliminate FCE, and solidify their own claim for the fourth and final NASL post-season spot.
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Laing scores directly off corner, adds assist as Eddies beat Ottawa

Lance Laing is mobbed by his FCE teammates after scoring directly off a corner kick.

Lance Laing is mobbed by his FCE teammates after scoring directly off a corner kick.

In the middle of the week, Lance Laing signed a contract extension that will keep him in Eddies blue and white into the 2015 season. And, on Saturday afternoon in the nation’s capital, he once again showed off why he’s become such a valuable part of the team.

In the first 21 minutes of a must-win match against the Ottawa Fury, Laing set up Chad Burt’s opening goal and then scored directly off a corner kick. An assist and a goal, and the Eddies defended the fort for the remainder of the game. The final — 2-0 to FC Edmonton, and it puts the Eddies just one point back of fourth spot in the NASL overall standings.

Carolina, now one point behind the Eddies, faces the Strikers, who are a point ahead of the Eddies in the race for the final playoff spot, later Saturday. The best scenario for FCE is that the Strikers and RailHawks play to a draw. Because of a massive goal-difference advantage, the Eddies will almost certainly take any tiebreakers with Fort Lauderdale or Carolina. If the two rivals draw, the Eddies will be in control of their playoff destiny; that’s because the Eddies face Fort Lauderdale in Florida next week and then host Atlanta on what will likely be a cold November afternoon at Clarke Stadium.

But, for now, the Eddies can be comfortable in the knowledge that they have done their job by putting all of the pressure on their rivals for the playoff spot.

“I am so very proud of the guys,” Miller said after the game. (It was hard to hear him over the phone because of the FCE players who were singing in the dressing room.) “I actually think we could have scored two or three more. We started off the game with a bit of a wobble but then we started to play. I don’t think we allowed them a shot until the 46th minute.
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Teenage goalkeeper Kaiswatum promoted from academy to FCE roster

Christian Kaiswatum

Christian Kaiswatum

For the last several weeks, teenage goalkeeper Christian Kaiswatum had to keep a secret.

He knew that he was going to get promoted from the academy to the senior squad, but he just wasn’t quite sure when it would happen. And, he was surprised when the Eddies added him as a professional keeper right before the Oct. 6 NASL roster freeze. But, the deal wasn’t announced publicly, so Kaiswatum had to remain quiet.

Until Thursday, that is. The Eddies publicized the Kaiswatum deal; that the 1997-born keeper joins John Smits, Lance Parker and Tyson Farago in the rotation.

“I was a little surprised (about the deal),” said Kaiswatum. “They told me a couple of weeks in advance but I wasn’t expecting (to sign) so soon. I was expecting it later on.”
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Turfgate: Canadian Soccer Association will argue Ontario tribunal has no right to rule on Women’s World Cup venues in other provinces

fwwc2015_oe_4ct_lThe Canadian Soccer Association and its lawyers are prepared to argue that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has no jurisdiction to hear a complaint that the use of turf surfaces at the 2015 Women’s World Cup is an example of gender inequality.

That’s because the HRTO is a provincial body, not a federal one. And, because five of the six venues for the Women’s World Cup are outside of the province of Ontario, the question is why the HRTO would hear the case in the first place. The final will be held at BC Place in Vancouver. More games will be held in Alberta — at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium — than any other host city. So why hear the case in Ontario?

Sean Hern, a lawyer with the Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP firm that’s representing the CSA, says it’s the legal question that his side will press at the tribunal. In a conference call held Wednesday, he said it is “unclear how tribunal would have jurisdiction over playing surfaces and stadiums in another province.”

In the minds of the CSA and its lawyers it’s “likely” that the HRTO does not have jurisdiction over what goes on in other provinces, and Hern says it’s a matter that will be argued.

A group of elite women’s players have applied to the HRTO to hear their pleas for the 2015 WWC to not be held on artificial turf. They claim it’s a second-class surface which causes more injuries than playing on grass. But the CSA claims that turf surfaces designated as FIFA two-star are first-class, and are allowed by the sport’s governing body.
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Canada frustrates Colombia for 74 wonderful minutes

Ricketts: Should have earned a penalty kick in the early going

Ricketts: Should have earned a penalty kick in the early going

I get the feeling that a lot of Canadian soccer pundits’ work is going to come off like a lot of bad high-school-newspaper sports reports.

We have nothing to be ashamed of!

We lost, but we held world-ranked No. 3 Colombia off the scoresheet for 74 minutes! Seventy-four!

Losing 1-0 was a great learning experience for our boys!

I’m not trying to be mean. But, after Tuesday’s friendly between Canada and Colombia in New Jersey passed the one-hour mark still tied 0-0, I had hopes of writing the most flowery narrative to describe a nil-nil draw since the dawn of time. So, after James Rodriguez caught the Canadians napping on a quickly taken free-kick that ended up in the back of the net, I had to fall back on the high-school-paper cliches.
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Eddies extend Laing, Ameobi; release Milton Blanco

Lance Laing PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Lance Laing PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

If you had to pinpoint the turning point of FC Edmonton’s season, you should go back to the final game of the spring season. As an experiment, coach Colin Miller moved Lance Laing from left back to the left side of midfield.

Since then, Laing has no doubt been Edmonton’s most valuable player, and has entrenched himself as the best left-sided player in NASL. The Jamaican has six goals and five assists, and has tormented opposing fullbacks with his speed.

And Laing is guaranteed to return next season. The Eddies announced Tuesday that it had inked Laing and striker Tomi Ameobi — who both take up international slots on the roster — to contract extensions. Terms of the contracts were not released.

Ameobi scored his fifth goal of the season in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Carolina, which put the Eddies just four points back of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NASL with three games left to go — including what will be a do-or-die showdown two weeks from now in south Florida.
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