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FC Edmonton rallies for draw with RailHawks in front of new signing Van Leerdam

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Rein Baart... save of the season!
For FC Edmonton, it was a draw that felt like a win.

On a night that the team introduced new signing Ilja Van Leerdam to the Foote Field crowd, the Eddies, down to 10 men for most of the match, got a ridiculous save from Rein Baart to keep them in the game and then a late Shaun Saiko penalty to earn them a 1-1 draw with the Carolina RailHawks.

The RailHawks, top of the table in NASL, had beaten FCE in two previous encounters. But this battle between the two top teams in the league had a little bit of everything, giving Van Leerdam, who is eligible to play after the July 15 transfer window opens, a lot to see.

With Carolina up 1-0, Baart made the save of the season — maybe the best we’ve seen in NASL this season. After coming out of his net to deny NASL top scorer Etienne Barbara, Baart looked to be hopelessly out of position as the ball fell to Pablo Campos — who thought he had a wide-open goal at his mercy.

But Baart bounced up, got across, and stuck out his left leg to make what turned out to be the match-saving stop.

Minutes after Baart made the save, Shaun Saiko struck a penalty just inside the post to draw the game level, after striker Dan Antoniuk was adjudged to have been fouled in the box. Even though Edmonton was down a man, they were able to get the goal.

“We were unlucky at the start, then we had the confidence to come back, and I think we deserved to win the game,” said Baart, who was named man of the match.

In the third minute, Carolina got the lead thanks to a mix of skill, brawn and luck. First, the skill; striker Brian Farber dashed down the right sideline, then nutmegged FCE fullback Alex Surprenant, allowing him to fire in a cross. It deflected off FCE’s John Jonke, and looped over Baart towards goal. Farber followed the cross, which had popped well into the air, and got credit for the goal as he bundled it across the line before it hit Campos.

Things went from bad to worse for FCE when Jonke was sent off for a late, sloppy challenge at midfield on the RailHawks’ Matt Watson. At full speed, it looked bad, as fans could hear the thud of shinguards smacking into each other, the impact was so loud. Replays showed that Jonke tried to duck down at the last second, but the ref doesn’t have the benefit of the replay.

The ref was surrounded by the RailHawks players after the foul, and a few shoving matches ensued between the two teams.

“They (the RailHawks) intimidated him,” said FCE assistant coach Dave Randall. “He had the yellow out but he changed it to red.”

But, after getting the equalizer, FCE looked like the team more likely to score. And, when Carolina went down to 10 men, sub Conrad Smith carved out a couple of good chances.

The RailHawks lost their man advantage when defender John Krause, already on a yellow, got sent off when he tripped Antonio Rago after the FCE player had played the ball. It was a silly, selfish challenge, from a player who should have realized he was close to getting his walking papers.

As for Van Leerdam, who spent time in the top flight of Dutch football with De Graafschap, he says he can’t wait to get into action with the team.

“I can defend and attack,” he said. “I am a box-to-box player.

“I think when we went down a man, the team played very good.”

The team’s planned debut of the third jersey has been postponed. The Drillers retro orange third jersey’s debut will wait until the Aug. 14 game against Fort Lauderdale.

Legal issues prevented FC Tampa Bay from wearing the old Rowdies kits.

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