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Afternoon delight: Day games, Colin Miller’s pitch, sell Matt Van Oekel on move to FC Edmonton

Matt Van Oekel

Matt Van Oekel

FC Edmonton keeper John Smits won the NASL Golden Glove award by posting a league-best 0.90 goals against average. He finished just slightly ahead of Minnesota United’s Matt Van Oekel, who came in with a 0.95 GAA for the league’s best team over the course of the combined spring and fall seasons.

Now, the two are teammates. On Thursday, the Eddies announced the acquisition of Van Oekel.

“I am looking forward to working with John,” Van Oekel said Thursday. “John is an excellent goalkeeper. I know that there are some things that I can learn from him, and I think there are some things that he can learn from me.”

The Eddies also have Canadian keepers Tyson Farago, who earned a team-of-the-week nomination when he made his lone start in the final week of the season. Christian Kaiswatum, promoted from the academy ranks in 2014, is the fourth keeper.

With Smits and Van Oekel in the fold, FCE has clearly put itself way ahead of the NASL pack when it comes to goalkeeping depth. This is one department where Edmonton ranks at the top of the league.

“He is arguably the best goalkeeper in the North American Soccer League (NASL),” FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller said in a release. “This is also a great signing for John Smits, Tyson Farago and Christian Kaiswatum — they will be able to work with someone who is experienced and knows the league very well. The competition for places also really heats up with his addition. I’m very excited about Matt’s decision to come to Edmonton.”
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PLASTIC PITCH 4 is out today!

10349900_1008071179208840_1372189140274955851_nIssue 4 of Plastic Pitch is out today!

What will you find inside?

• We profile Canadian keeper John Smits, winner of the NASL’s Golden Glove award;

• We sit down with Desiree Scott to talk about her decision to leave NWSL for England, and how she feels about Canada’s preparations for the Women’s World Cup

• Canadians in indoor soccer; a look at the Milwaukee Wave and its Canadian coach, Giuliano Oliviero, and its Canadian star player, Ian Bennett. And we look at how the new Major Arena Soccer League could finally stabilize the pro indoor game in North America

• We look at the birth, successes and trials of League1 Ontario.
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Marcina’s Soccer Bowl win caps off a great season for Canadians in NASL

Now, Marcina can add “Soccer Bowl” to his coaching résumé. Two superb goals — a bicycle kick from Rafa Castillo and a great run and finish by Billy Forbes — gave the Scorpions a 2-1 win Saturday night in the NASL Championship game.

In the midst of the 2013 season, Surrey, B.C. native Alen Marcina was asked to take over the San Antonio Scorpions on an interim basis. The team was in the NASL basement at the time. But, Marcina did well enough with what he had to convince the Scorpions brass that he deserved to have the interim tag removed.

Now, Marcina can add “Soccer Bowl” to his coaching résumé. Two superb goals — a bicycle kick from Rafa Castillo and a great run and finish by Billy Forbes — gave the Scorpions a 2-1 win Saturday night in the NASL Championship game.

It caps off what has to be termed as a very good year for Canadians in the NASL.

Of the 10 NASL teams, three were coached by Canadians. One won a title. Another, Colin Miller, received a three-year extension from his club, FC Edmonton. A Canadian, John Smits, won the Golden Glove award, which goes to the keeper with the lowest goals-against average in the league — with enough minutes played to qualify. A Canadian team, the Ottawa Fury, set a modern-day NASL attendance record in its TD Place opener. FCE’s Hanson Boakai got an invite to a senior national-team — at the age of 17.
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Gloves of gold: NASL confirms FC Edmonton’s Smits as winner of top keeper honour

By finishing the NASL season with the lowest goals against average of any keeper in the league with enough minutes played to qualify, the University of Toronto grad has been awarded the league’s Golden Gloves award.

John Smits isn’t just the best Canadian keeper in NASL. He can now lay claim to the title of best keeper in the league. Period.

By finishing the NASL season with the lowest goals against average of any keeper in the league with enough minutes played to qualify, the University of Toronto grad has been awarded the league’s Golden Glove award. The league announced the award on Thursday.

Smits arrived in San Antonio on Thursday. At halftime of Saturday’s Soccer Bowl — where Canadian coach Alen Marcina hopes to lead his Scorpions to their first NASL title — Smits will be honoured alongside league-leading scorer Christian Ramirez.

Smits finished the season with a 0.90 GAA. Smits, who had been the understudy to former MLS keeper Lance Parker over the past two seasons, got the lion’s share of the time in goal for FC Edmonton in 2014. A series of finger and shoulder injuries kept Parker out of the goal — and Smits took the opportunity and proved that he was capable to not only be the Eddies’ full-time No. 1 keeper, but one of the elite keepers in the league.

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FCE parts ways with six players, including Hlavaty, Parker and James

FC Edmonton's Horace James, centre, skips by Indy's Kleberson, left. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

FC Edmonton’s Horace James, centre, skips by Indy’s Kleberson, left. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

FC Edmonton has parted ways with six players — including NASL veterans Lance Parker, Neil Hlavaty and Horace James.

The team also released Canadians Massimo Mirabelli and Edem Mortotsi, and former Chicago Fire midfielder Mike Banner, who missed almost all of the season with a knee injury.

Coach Colin Miller said it was an amicable parting of the ways.

“All of these lads have been fantastic professionals, and their attitude, work rate and effort has been fantastic while at FC Edmonton,” Miller said in a release.
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4

Farago gets first NASL win in Eddies’ season finale

Tomi Ameobi scores the first goal of the game for the Eddies: PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

Tomi Ameobi scores the first goal of the game for the Eddies: PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

Weeks ago, the Eddies coaching staff had discussed the scenarios: If the Eddies were out of the chase for the post-season in the final week of the NASL campaign, Tyson Farago would get his professional debut.

And Farago got the win between the sticks as the Eddies got a 2-1 victory — a triumph that gave the supporters at Clarke a nice send-off, but also added to the “what could have been” dialogue in the wake of last week’s loss to Fort Lauderdale on a late, self-inflicted goal.

Farago deserved a ton of credit for getting the Eddies the three points they needed to finish third in the NASL fall season table. After the Silverbacks cut the lead to one, Farago made a fantastic leap to parry Pablo Cruz’s dipping shot over the bar. And he came out of the goal to block an effort from Ryan Roushandel, who found himself alone at the far post.

Farago also got some help from Nonni, the scorer of the Eddies’ second goal. Roushandel looked to have sent the tying marker goalward, but Nonni headed it off the line and out to help preserve the win.
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Three more years: FCE hands Miller and his staff a mandate

Colin Miller

Colin Miller

Colin Miller believes that the length of his contract is a message to the naysayers who think that FC Edmonton won’t be around much longer.

“The stability and the direction of the club, the fact that our owners, Tom and Dave Fath, have offered me a three-year contract is an incredible statement. It says to any of the doubting Thomases out there who have said that we may not exist in x amount of years, it’s a statement that we’re here and we are going to be in the community, to thrive in the community and to grow as a club and as a football culture.”

On Thursday, the club announced that Miller, assistant Jeff Paulus and keepers coach Darren Woloshen were all signed to three-year extensions.

Miller said that, when he took over as coach ahead of the 2013 season, he told the owners that it would be a five-year project to turn the team around. He said that the first year was almost a total wash, as so many changes had to made to both the roster and the culture of the team. But, in the fall season, the Eddies surged, and went from a club near the bottom of the NASL table to a club that pushed for a post-season spot till the penultimate week of the regular season.
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The three games that ruined FCE’s chances for a post-season spot

Oct. 4: TB vs FCE, one of the games that killed the Eddies this season

Oct. 4: TB vs FCE, one of the games that killed the Eddies this season

When the team you support is eliminated from the post-season picture, it’s normal to look back on the season and obsess about that game where your side was robbed by the ref or that match where your team hit three posts and a crossbar.

After FC Edmonton was eliminated from NASL post-season contention last weekend in Fort Lauderdale, it would be hard to blame an Eddies supporter for not obsessing over the games where points were dropped.

In the end, that supporter should come to the logical conclusion that the Eddies could have easily gone into that game with Fort Lauderdale with an NASL post-season slot already salted away. I’ll look at three games that should have been wins for the Eddies — instead, they only got two points from those matches.
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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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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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