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Edmonton Drillers will be at full strength for home opener

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They were shorthanded in a 7-6 season opening loss in Calgary; but the Edmonton Drillers will be at full strength for their 2011 Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League home debut this Saturday.

The Drillers will play a doubleheader against Winnipeg Alliance.

Drillers head coach Kevin Poissant said that because the CMISL was late in releasing the schedule, it was hard for the team to find enough players to send a competitive squad down to Calgary. The fact that kickoff for that game was set for 2 p.m. local time on New Year’s Eve didn’t help matters.

The CMISL, despite offering the best brand of indoor soccer to be found in the country, is an amateur league, so many players in the elite talent pool had already made vacation plans or couldn’t get out of work commitments. Poissant found a dozen players to send down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway and fell behind 6-1 to the defending league champs before rallying to lose by a goal.

But the tables will likely be turned this weekend.

“As the home team, we will definitely have the advantage,” said Poissant.

Why? Because the Alliance will likely be only able to send a team of about a dozen players, and need to pace themselves through a doubleheader. Meanwhile Poissant will be able to rotate players from a full roster of 20 players in and out of both games.

“We should be able to place four to five fresh players into the second game,” he said.

In previous seasons, doubleheaders would see teams play two full games of 60 minutes each. But, on Saturday, Winnipeg and Edmonton will play two games of 40 minutes each. Quarters will be reduced to 10 minutes each.

Many of the Drillers come from the Edmonton Scottish and Green and Gold — which is loosely affiliated with the University of Alberta — elite amateur programs in the provincial capital. But the team will be boosted by players who are with the FC Edmonton program, but have yet to sign pro contracts. Sam Lam and Antonio Rago keep their CMISL eligibility and will play for the Drillers. Rago and Lam are set to play in FC Edmonton’s inaugural NASL season.

And 16-year-old keeper Matthew Preston, at whom FC Edmonton is having a long hard look, played in the opener for the Drillers. He’s considered a possible national-team keeper of the future.

Chris Devlin, who spent the 2004 season with the short-lived Aviators franchise of the USL, will also be a Driller this season. Back in his Aviators days, Devlin was nicknamed “Koeman” thanks to his uncanny resemblance to the Dutch defensive great, Ronald Koeman.

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