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

1

The circus comes back to town: TFC gets weird again and undoes a few months of goodwill

Greg Vanney

Greg Vanney

Watching Toronto FC in 2014 was, kinda like watching someone trying to keep a new year’s resolution.

Oh, hell with pussyfooting around it. It was more like trying to watch a long-term alcoholic try to stay sober, despite being surrounded by temptation.

After seven years of dysfunction, the franchise looked to have turned a corner; that, under the presidency of Tim Leiweke, TFC had finally decided to take itself seriously. A new general manager, Tim Bezbatchenko, was hired — and he brought a knowledge of how to milk the MLS salary cap. Marquee Designated Players were wooed and signed. And, the team, for much of the 2014 season, has been competitive.

Even with its recent troubles, taking just 13 of the last possible 36 points, TFC is still in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, with games in hand on everyone in the race. And the Reds have a favourable schedule heading home. Compared to past seasons, even now this TFC feels like Arsenal’s invincible season. Or, at least, it should have.

Instead, TFC went on a binge, in a kinda-nuclear-bomb fashion. The soap opera returned, soon after Leiweke’s imminent departure from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was made public. Sunday, after being called out by coach Ryan Nelsen for putting too much pressure on the team ahead of a 3-0 loss to New England, Bezbatchenko struck. And struck again. And again. And again. Once he was done, Nelsen and all his assistants were gone. Heck, even the strength and conditioning coach was gone. We’re still trying to confirm if the person who cuts Nelsen’s hair is gone. Maybe the elevator operator at BMO Field got the gate, too.
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0

Red-hot FCE wins again: Laing gets best of Ramirez in battle of NASL MVP candidates

Lance Laing, right, tries to win the ball from Minnesota's Daniel Mendes. PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

Lance Laing, right, tries to win the ball from Minnesota’s Daniel Mendes. PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

On Sunday, the nearly 2,800 fans announced at Clarke Stadium were treated to a battle of likely NASL MVP finalists.

On the Minnesota United side, Christian Ramirez, the runaway league leader in goals scored, with 13. On the FC Edmonton side, Lance Laing, the best left-sided player in NASL, whose form has been the catalyst for the massive turnaround for the Eddies.

And how did their head-to-head battle look? Well, Ramirez missed a sitter. And Laing, sporting a new dyed-orange hairdo, converted a shot from distance with his less-than-preferred right foot. Laing’s effort turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 FCE triumph. The Eddies have now won three in a row, and are just three points out of fourth overall in NASL (and a playoff spot). Plus, the Eddies are just five points behind San Antonio in the fall season standings.

The Eddies are the hottest team in NASL.

That’s right. The Eddies are the hottest team in NASL.
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1

If Eddies want to keep the hot streak going, they’ll need to stop Minnesota’s Christian Ramirez


The past few weeks have been very good to FC Edmonton. The club has at least temporarily put a halt to the what-if-they-could-score talk, bagging 10 goals over the last five games. The Eddies are up to fourth in the NASL fall standings, and have moved to within just four points of a playoff spot in the NASL overall table.

At training on Thursday, reigning NASL player of the week Lance Laing, who scored a goal and had an assist in last Sunday’s 2-1 triumph over Fort Lauderdale, said there’s a noticeable “buzz” around the team. He said that all 18 players coach Colin Miller will name to the squad are dying to play. Laing says he’s never seen this team filled with such confidence.

But, a lot of progress could be undone with a poor result against Minnesota United on Sunday. The Loons won the spring season and have the best overall record in NASL. And, the team also is home to the league’s top striker, Christian Ramirez. He leads NASL with 13 goals. No one else in the league has more than eight goals.

So, stopping Ramirez will be a big assignment for the Eddies on Sunday at Clarke Stadium, especially for veteran defenders Albert Watson and Beto Navarro. Three weeks ago, Minnesota beat FCE 3-2 at home, with Ramirez getting one of the goals on a penalty.

“The young lad is playing very well,” Miller said of Raimrez. “He’s taking every opportunity he’s getting at the moment. He didn’t create a lot of chances against us, but he was Johnny on the spot for a couple of chances. He’s scored a few penalties. I watched him against the Cosmos last week, he took his penalty very well. But he’s a dangerous, big player. He’s at the top of his game. I was reading some reports from the NASL about how he wss thinking about finishing his time in the game and not play anymore. Now he’s arguably the top striker in the league.”
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7

Floro’s choice of Canadian goalkeepers offers food for thought

Milan Borjan

Milan Borjan

Canadian national men’s team coach Benito Floro has released the roster ahead of Sept. 9’s friendly in Toronto against Jamaica.

Of course, it is now the job of the media to second-guess him. And, specifically, I’ll look at the goalkeeping department, where veteran Kenny Stamatopoulos has been named to the team, along with Milan Borjan, who is unattached at the moment, and Quillan Roberts, the kid who was recently recalled from the USL back to Toronto FC, but isn’t seeing any MLS action.

Yes, Borjan is a veteran, but he doesn’t have a club. Roberts doesn’t have the club experience to help Canada’s senior team, yet. And there are other options out there. David Monsalve starts regularly at AC Oulu in Finland’s second division. His team is on an eight-game undefeated streak. Yet he hasn’t received any contact from Floro (I spoke with Monsalve yesterday — dropping a major hint towards what to expect in the “Passports” section of Plastic Pitch’s autumn issue).
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8

Laing haunts old team as FCE climbs the standings

Laince Laing, right, tormented the Strikers on Saturday. FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Laince Laing, right, tormented the Strikers on Saturday. FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

All in all, it was a pretty good day at the office for FC Edmonton left winger Lance Laing.

Set up a goal against your former team? Check.

Score a goal against your former team? Check.

Sneak in a smooch with your fiancée after scoring? Check.

Run the opposing fullback into the ground? Check.

Laing was clearly the focus as the Eddies thrilled the home supporters Sunday with a 2-1 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The win puts Edmonton just four points back of Carolina in the overall standings; the RailHawks currently hold down the fourth and final playoff spot. The result also vaulted FCE into fourth in the NASL fall standings.
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5

It’s a six-pointer: NASL post-season race heats up as Strikers face FCE on Sunday

From earlier this season: Fort Lauderdale's Chris Nurse, left, shields the ball from FCE's Neil Hlavaty PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

From earlier this season: Fort Lauderdale’s Chris Nurse, left, shields the ball from FCE’s Neil Hlavaty PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

After several years of frustration, it must be awfully nice for FC Edmonton and its supporters to look forward to a real, legitimate six-pointer.

The Eddies, who have scored eight times over the last four games — three of them on the road — are now just six points behind the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies, who are tied for fourth spot on the NASL combined spring/fall table. That fourth spot represents the final playoff spot in the league.

If the Eddies can beat the Strikers on Sunday, they’ll close the gap between the teams to three points. Meanwhile, the Rowdies play the Carolina RailHawks (who are just four points ahead of the Eddies) on Saturday.

“The guys know what a big game it is already, and we’re trying to take some of the pressure off of them this week in training,” said coach Colin Miller after the team’s training session in Clareview on Thursday. “The guys know the significance of the result. I would settle for a sub-standard performance if we get the three points. At this point of the season, it’s about getting three points. We’re capable of doing it.”
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3

Leiweke’s departure: Toronto soccer supporters can’t be blamed for fearing for the future

leiwekeNo doubt, the next few days worth of stories in the Toronto media will feature a lot of he-sad, she-said.

There will be speculation over the magical straw that broke the camel’s back at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. What was the major reason (or reasons) that spurred the company and its high-profile head to announce their impending divorce?

Was it the failure to get an NFL team? Or the rumoured dislike the Leiweke clan holds for the Canadian winter? The fact there are no In ‘N’ Out Burger outlets to be found in the GTA? Conflicts between the outgoing CEO and the MLSE board?

In the end, it doesn’t matter. The optics of the situation are simple. MLSE announced Thursday that CEO Tim Leiweke will step down by the end of next June, or earlier if a suitable replacement is found. And that means one of the highest-profile venue builders and managers in all of North American sport will fall well short of fulfilling even half of his five-year mandate.

And the question will be, if Leiweke is chewed up by the Toronto sports cauldron, who could take the job without being a well-paid yes-man? Thanos, maybe?
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3

Eddies get last-gasp win in Carolina, as post-season race gets so much tighter

FCE's Neil Hlavaty, left, takes on Carolina's Zack Schilawski. PHOTO: Rob Kinnan-Carolina Railhawks

FCE’s Neil Hlavaty, left, takes on Carolina’s Zack Schilawski. PHOTO: Rob Kinnan-Carolina Railhawks

Far too often in FC Edmonton’s history, we’ve seen a controversial call go against the Eddies and the team hasn’t been able to get off the deck. Controversial red cards, penalties, goal decisions.

But, on Saturday, the Eddies rewrote the script. After a controversial penalty call against Edson Edward allowed the RailHawks to tie the game 2-2 on a Zack Schilwaki spot kick, the Eddies didn’t accept that things weren’t simply going to go their way. Instead, they pressed the RailHawks late into the game and into stoppage time.

And, in the fourth minute of five added minutes, Eddies’ substitute Horace James earned a penalty kick after he was ruled to have been tripped as he cut across the top of the box. Neil Hlavaty took — and converted — the last-gasp penalty. Keeper Akira Fitzgerald got a hand to it, but Hlavaty’s penalty had too much power behind it.

The final: 3-2 Eddies. And, with that, the Eddies finish their toughest road trip of the season at 1-1-1, with a draw against the Cosmos, a 3-2 loss away to league powerhouse Minnesota United, and win in Carolina.

With the win, the Eddies now pull within six points of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NASL. The Eddies have both home and away games remaining against each of those teams. So, the Eddies can actually say they control their destiny; beat those teams and it’s a horse race for post-season spots.
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2

U20WWC: Prince’s injury was a harbinger of bad things to come for Canada

Nichelle Prince

Nichelle Prince

At the 15-minute mark, the Canadian team got bad news — and a bad omen. Striker Nichelle Prince had to leave Saturday’s U-20 Women’s World Cup quarter-final due to injury.

And, facing the tournament-favourite Germans in front of more than 22,000 fans at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, the Canadians lost their top central striking option.

Canada would go on to lose 2-0; but the home side did create plenty of chances that result in scuffed shots, tame efforts right at the keeper, or headers over the bar. In terms of possession and territorial play, the Canadians matched the Germans. But, where the Germans took advantage of their opportunities, Canadians scoring chances went begging.

And Prince had to sit on the bench to watch most of the game.
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1

Don’t mention the score: FCE doesn’t speak of six-goal outburst against Carolina

FCE's Daryl Fordyce had a field day last time the Eddies met Carolina; but injury will prevent him from making the trip this weekend.

FCE’s Daryl Fordyce had a field day last time the Eddies met Carolina; but injury will prevent him from making the trip this weekend.

It was the final day of the NASL spring season, and FC Edmonton’s offence erupted on a Carolina RailHawks team that had more holes in it than Sharknado’s plot. The Eddies got a 6-1 win; it just might have been the most lopsided triumph in FCE franchise history.

So, when the two teams meet this weekend in North Carolina, are the Eddies looking back to the 6-1 win for inspiration? Absolutely not, says coach Colin Miller. He understands that a 6-1 result is a “freak result in professional football.”

And, on Saturday, the RailHawks will be at home, where they are usually a far different team than the one that travels. You can’t find a more Jekyll-and-Hyde team in NASL than the Carolina RailHawks, when it comes to home and road success. Five of their six wins (combined spring and fall) have come at home. When they are on the golf-green surface in Cary, N.C., there is no comparing them to the team that gets on the airplane.

“We don’t even bring it (the 6-1 game) up,” said Miller. “We have got to be prepared to face a Carolina team that is much better at home, even though recent results have shown they are not invincible at home.”
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