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Drillers sweep Winnipeg in their CMISL home opener

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Radio warnings were issued to stay off the roads. Approximately 20 cm of the white stuff had fallen Saturday as most Edmontonians hunkered down in their homes to wait out a nasty blizzard.

Save for 200 brave souls who made it down to the city’s south side to watch the Edmonton Drillers boost their Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League record to 2-1 with a 4-3, 12-1 doubleheader sweep of the Winnipeg Alliance.

Kellen Stenger scored twice in the close opener, while 16-year-old goalie phenom Matthew Preston came oh so close to nailing down a shutout in the second game.

Because of budget concerns, CMISL teams usually travel with smaller rosters for road games — for Winnipeg, playing back to back games with a short bench was simply too much of a load to bear. Edmonton, meanwhile, was able to keep a fresh lineup on the floor.

Valeriy Kornilov scored the Winnipeg goal to spoil Preston’s shutout bid in Game 2.

Antonio Rago scored two early goals in the second-game rout, and Sam Lam added a shorthanded goal. Lam and Rago are FC Edmonton prospects, but haven’t yet inked pro contracts, so are eligible to play in the CMISL.

Preston, considered one of the hottest teen goaltending prospects in the country, is also being closely watched by FC Edmonton.

But the story here is the 200 people who paid to watch indoor soccer on a night when people were being advised to shut themselves in their home. It may not seem like a high number, but remember that the Drillers don’t play in a pro hockey arena like the old Drillers of the North American Professional Soccer League used to call home. They play at the Edmonton Soccer Centre South, an indoor soccer four-plex that’s filled with youth, men’s and women’s league games. So, 200 in that environment is a healthy number.

Winnipeg’s players got in the night before, so postponing the game was out of the question.

And, remember that the Drillers, despite winning the league two out of the last three years, get zero mainstream media coverage in an Oilers-crazy town. The fact that FC Edmonton is working so closely with the indoor team is lost on the sports public.

Preston is a great story, as is the FC Edmonton connection.

We’ll see what the crowds will be like for next Saturday’s home date with Calgary.

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