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FC Edmonton loses heartbreaker while Impact keeps charging

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Kyle Porter

FC Edmonton gave up a heartbreaking injury-time goal in 3-2 loss in Puerto Rico, while the Montreal Impact cruised to a 2-0 victory in Minnesota.

The result? The Impact is still in seventh place in the NASL standings, but has closed the gap between itself between fourth-place FCE and itself to just four points. It trails fifth-place NSC Minnesota by four, and the sixth-place Fort Lauderdale strikers — holders of the final playoff spot — by just three.

All of the teams have five games left in their seasons.

So much for the Impact being out of the race.

“Montreal seems to do this every season,” said FC Edmonton forward Kyle Porter of the Impact’s late-season hot streak. “But we can’t worry about Montreal. We have to worry about ourselves.”

As the Impact has done over the last month, it buried the opposition early. Sinisa Ubiparipovic blasted a shot into the top right corner after just six minutes to give Montreal a 1-0 lead in Minnesota. The Stars couldn’t turn the tide; and the former New York Red Bulls’ forward scored again in the second half, chipping the ball over keeper Joe Warren after taking a feed from Hassoun Camara.

“We did an excellent job overall. We had the right mindset from the start of the game and we managed the game very well,” said Impact head coach and sporting director Nick De Santis in a release. “We got an early goal and we created some opportunities during the whole game. Sinisa scored two great goals but it was another team effort. We did well again defensively and we were strong enough not to give them anything. This win puts us on the right path for the next two away games. It gives us confidence and it tells us that we can win on the road as well.”

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, FC Edmonton rallied to tie Puerto Rico 2-2 with an injury-time header from Porter. But, before FCE could celebrate escaping Bayamon with a point, an error from keeper Rein Baart allowed Jay Needham to scored the winner for the Islanders right before the referee blew the final whistle.

Baart came out of the goal and flapped at a corner kick, misjudging the ball by several feet. Caught out of position, he left his goal wide open as the ball was headed towards it. Needham, standing on the line, had no problem poking it in.

“We had worked so hard to get that tying goal, then to give it (the winner) like that, it was very tough,” said Porter.

The Needham winner capped a wild, entertaining game. Puerto Rico kept coming at FCE in waves, as the Eddies tried to pack the midfield, playing in the fortress in Bayamon — where the Islanders rarely give up points. Michael Cox was left as the lone striker, while Michael Duberry was the surprise starter at right back, in for the usually automatic Antonio Rago.

The Islanders knew that Edmonton had spent two days in the air getting from Alberta to the Caribbean, that FCE didn’t have a chance to train much in the past week. And the Islanders came at the Eddies in waves. As well, the Islanders knew that they have to make the most of this two-game set with FCE; next week, the side loses seven players to the Puerto Rican national team and will play its NASL games shorthanded.

FC Edmonton could have been down early; Jonathan Fana missed an open goal in the second minute of play, and Baart repelled drives from Nick Addlery and David Foley.

Noah Delgado, who will be leaving to play for Puerto Rico after the Islanders play FCE on Wednesday, savaged the Eddies down the right side.

But it was FCE who got the lead against the run of play — a wonder strike from team leading scorer Shaun Saiko. He lashed a volley from outside of the box over the head of PR keeper Ray Burse and into the roof of the net.

But the lead didn’t last long. Delgado began an attack down the right side, leaving the ball for teammate Osei Telesford. No FCE player came out to close down Telesford, who was able to play a low ball into the box that Addlery had no problem slotting home.

FCE was shellshocked; and, three minutes later, Puerto Rico had the lead. Fana, the Islanders’ top scorer, put the Islanders ahead when no one on the Eddies was able to shut him down.

The Islanders should have put the game away as the scoring chances kept coming in the second half. Foley blasted over the bar from six feet out when he could have simply sidefooted the ball home. He also struck the bar with a headed effort. Baart robbed Addlery, who was sent in alone.

Meanhwhile, Saiko struck the post on a play very similar to the one on which he scored in the first half — that is, a chance that really came out of nothing, and had more to do with individual skill than teamwork.

But, the Islanders spurned so many chances — and looked to have paid for it when Porter attacked a cross from Paul Craig and levelled the score.

But, as has been the case in too many games this season, an error from Baart decided the game. The Dutch veteran has been better over the last couple of months, but the misplays and red cards of April and May still play in the minds of FC Edmonton fans.

Porter said that the Islanders also won the tactical battle.

“They really took advantage of their big field. They really spread it out and came down the flanks a lot. Their overlapping runs cause a lot of problems for Shaun and me. It was a well-coached game.”

And while the way they lost was heartbreaking — make no mistake: Based on the chances generated, the Eddies could have been out of this game by halftime.

The Islanders meet the Eddies again on Tuesday in Bayamon. Needless to say, the Impact and its fans will be watching — and cheering for the home side.

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