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Eddies expect season-best crowd for this weekend’s Tampa Bay tilt

Eddie Edward is seen in action from a game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Eddie Edward is seen in action from a game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Tickets are 97 per cent sold for Sunday’s match. FC Edmonton’s front office reports that there are just “100 to 150” tickets left for sale. And, for the first time this season, ESPN3 will simulcast a broadcast from FC Edmonton’s crew.

FC Edmonton will be on its biggest stage of the season (at least when it comes to a home game) this Sunday when it hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies. And, coming into the weekend, it is just four points out of fourth place in the NASL overall table. Securing a fourth-place spot would mean a berth in The Championship — the league’s official brand for something most of us refer to as “playoffs.”

The Eddies have seven games left to make up that four-point gap. Four of those games — including three of the next four — are at Clarke Stadium. And, one major advantage the Eddies have over the field is that they are done with the league’s top two teams — Minnesota United and the San Antonio Scorpions — on the schedule.

But, not so fast. Coach Colin Miller said the one thing that the NASL has proven this year is that it has been wildly unpredictable. For example, last week, Tampa Bay hosted Ottawa, and lost. It was just Ottawa’s second win of the fall season. In the fall season standings, third through ninth is separated by, ahem, a whopping five points.

“The league has been just tremendous this season,” said Miller. “You can’t look at any game and say that is a sure three pointer.”
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Breaking down Michael Bradley’s comments, by the numbers: Do Canadian refs really favour American teams?

Dave Gantar: Even though he got the call wrong, is he owed an apology?

Dave Gantar: Even though he got the call wrong, is he owed an apology?

Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley crossed a line on Saturday night.

After Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Chicago, which saw Edmonton-based referee Dave Gantar rule out what would have been Gilberto’s winning goal for a phantom push on a Chicago defender, Bradley vented his frustration. And it was captured on the TFC’s official video feed (CLICK HERE).

“They continue to assign Canadian referees whenever an American team is playing against an Canadian team… they are going to go make a conscious effort to show that they are not being biased one way or another. It’s not the first time we’ve had this guy this year. What can I say? He’s just not good enough?”

A player moaning about officials is nothing new. But it wasn’t that Bradley was simply calling out Gantar for missing a call. He was suggesting that there was a motive behind the call. He suggested that Canadian referees are making “conscious efforts” to call their games a certain way.

It’s one thing to challenge a referee’s eyes or even a referee’s judgement. But the second you challenge the official’s character, you need to back that up.

Did Gantar make the wrong call on Glberto? Yes. Even the opposing coach, Frank Yallop, allowed that his Fire side was fortunate.

“It didn’t look like it was a foul, or whatever the ref called. We got lucky on that one,” Yallop said after the game.

But, let’s make this clear. There’s a big difference between a blown call and a blown call because of bias. And Bradley suggested the latter.
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FCE coach Miller looks at Indy draw as point gained, not two points dropped

FCE's Milton Blanco, left, battles for the ball with Indy's Mike Ambersley.

FCE’s Milton Blanco, left, battles for the ball with Indy’s Mike Ambersley.

Thanks to injuries and suspensions, Neil Hlavaty regained his spot in FC Edmonton’s starting 11.

And, his spectacular free-kick goal allowed the Eddies to draw the Indy Eleven 1-1 Saturday night in Indianapolis. Hlavaty also came oh so close to scoring what would have been a match winner in the second half with another free kick. But, Indy keeper Kristian Nicht dove to make a fingertip save.

“It’s not just the free kicks, I thought Neil played his best game of the season for us tonight,” FCE coach Colin Miller said after the match. “And it’s not a fluke, he practices those free kicks every day.”

Hlavaty’s free kicks weren’t the only bright spots for the Eddies; so was the play of the makeshift back four. With right back Eddie Edward suspended, youngster Mallan Roberts got his first start at centre back since the spring season, while centre back Beto Navarro moved to Edward’s spot on the right. Kareem Moses (left back) and Albert Watson (centre back) held their regular spots.
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FCE’s Blanco hoping injuries are behind him, looks for strong performance in Indy

New York's Marcos Senna watches as FCE's Milton Blanco gets a foot to the ball in action from earlier in 2014. PHOTO FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

New York’s Marcos Senna watches as FCE’s Milton Blanco gets a foot to the ball in action from earlier in 2014. PHOTO FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Milton Blanco feels guilty. He came to FC Edmonton with high expectations for the team and for himself. He knew that FCE owner Tom Fath has a reputation for treating the players well, and Blanco wanted to repay that faith with a standout season.

But, after being a cornerstone of the Atlanta Silverbacks lineup last season, injuries have prevented Blanco from becoming an everyday Eddie. A broken hand robbed Blanco of the majority of the spring season. Then, after a bright start to the fall season, Blanco hurt his knee in an early August game against the New York Cosmos. And, for another month, Blanco was on the shelf, wearing the red shirt in training.

“I feel bad,” says Blanco. “I feel like I have not contributed as much as I wanted to. I feel bad because of all the faith Tom Fath and the coaching staff here put in me when they brought me here. Unfortunately, I broke my hand and, then after I got the chance to play again, then it was my knee.”

But Blanco will be back in the lineup this weekend, as he’s been cleared to travel to Indianapolis with the Eddies for this Saturday night’s match against the Eleven. He’ll be needed; because of red cards issued in last week’s 3-0 loss to the San Antonio Scorpions, holding midfielder Cristian Raudales and right back Edson Edward are suspended. And coach Colin Miller is waiting on the status of two players who might not make the trip — but he wouldn’t publicly say which players are questionable for the game.
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Seeing red in San Antonio: FCE coach Miller says lack of oversight on NASL referees is “laughable”

Sorin Stoica: Has now handed out 10 red cards in nine pro games officiated this season.

Sorin Stoica: Has now handed out 10 red cards in nine pro games officiated this season.

The San Antonio Scorpions finished Saturday night’s match against FC Edmonton with three more goals on the scoreboard and two more men on the field.

San Antonio led 1-0 on a first-half strike from Rafa Castillo that kissed the post and went in. And then the rain of cards came. Sorin Stoica sent off FCE fullback Eddie Edward in the 65th minute. Eddies’ midfielder Cristian Raudales got his marching orders in the 69th minute. Losing two players made it impossible for the Eddies to fight back and equalize — and eventually an exhausted, shorthanded side gave up two more goals, one of them a very controversial one.

Final score, 3-0. But, really, for the Eddies, this is one that you just throw away and not try to analyze too much, outside of the fact that Raudales and Edward are facing suspensions.

Edward was sent off after Stoica ruled that he pulled back forward Billy Forbes and denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity. But Scorpions striker Tomasz Zahorski had the ensuing penalty attempt denied by keeper Lance Parker.

But, before the Eddies could build any momentum off of their keeper’s outstanding diving penalty stop, another red card was flashed. After Raudales knocked over Cesar Elizondo, Stoica took his time to think about it as both players were on the grass. He then decided to show the red to Raudales.

According to stats from PRO, the organization that assigns refs to professional matches in the United States, Stoica has handed out eight red cards in eight matches officiated this season (going into the San Antonio/FCE match). He leads PRO in red cards handed out this season. After Saturday, it’s now 10 reds in nine games, an average of over one per match.

Only one other ref in PRO averages more than 0.5 reds per game, Edvin Jurisevic, at 0.6 per game. So Stoica leads the red-card derby by a country mile.
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Canadian quotas are price USL must pay for not having Canada at the table when MLS deal was hatched

Victor Montagliani

Victor Montagliani

Back in 2013, Major League Soccer announced its partnership plan with (officially regarded as) third division USL-PRO.

But there was a problem. It was an American agreement made with the oversight of American authorities. For MLS, which is a North American league, shutting Canada out of the process was a major problem.

So, now, both MLS and USL-Pro have to reap what they have sown. As the Montreal Impact (Montreal FC), Vancouver Whitecaps (New Westminster) and Toronto FC (maybe a team north of the city) move ahead with plans for affiliate USL-Pro teams for 2015, we have learned they will be subject to pretty tough quotas.

As reported by Duane Rollins in Canadian Soccer News (link here), any USL-PRO team affiliated with a Canadian MLS team will have to follow some strict roster rules. Half of the players on the squad must be Canadian-eligible, and six of the 11 starters must be Canadian-eligible.

By “eligible” we mean that, if Canadian national-team coach Benito Floro made the call, that player would be available to go.

The move will likely prevent teams from stashing foreign talent on their USL-PRO rosters, or treat their affiliates like true minor-league clubs. That’s fine. The Whitecaps have sent established non-Canadian pros to NASL’s FC Edmonton on loan in the past, and the two teams still have a strong relationship. Toronto FC sent Ryan Richter to the Ottawa Fury. No reason that the Fury can’t continue to build relationships with TFC and the Impact.
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FC Edmonton says they won’t use San Antonio’s punishing heat as an excuse

Earlier this fall season, FCE beat San Antonio by a 3-1 count. PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

Earlier this fall season, FCE beat San Antonio by a 3-1 count. PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

On Thursday, FC Edmonton trained at Clarke Stadium, where the temperature was at 17 C, only about two degrees Celsius below the average for this time of year.

When the Eddies arrive to San Antonio’s Toyota Field for Saturday’s clash with the Scorpions, it will be a little bit warmer. OK, a lot warmer. The daytime temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Central Time, so it may be a bit cooler than the daytime high. Still, it will be a heck of a lot more uncomfortable than an average September day in Alberta.

But FCE coach Colin Miller said his team can’t use the heat as an excuse as it looks for its fourth consecutive win.

“Our mindset is that it’s not an excuse for anybody,” Miller said. “This is one of the fittest groups in the league; they know the shifts that they have to put in during training.”

Miller said going from one climate to another is the life of a pro footballer. He said that, in his playing career, he was called up to play for Canada right after a Scottish League match. It would be near the freezing mark in Glasgow, and then he would join his Canadian teammates for a game in the punishing Central American heat.
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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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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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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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