Home NASL & USL FC Edmonton Last-gasp goals from Gigolaj and Craig get FC Edmonton a season-ending draw

Last-gasp goals from Gigolaj and Craig get FC Edmonton a season-ending draw

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FC Edmonton found two late magical moments to give its home fans something to shout about in its final game of the 2012 NASL season.

Mathematically eliminated from the playoffs week ago — and trailing 2-0 to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers through 89 minutes of Sunday’s season-ender at Clarke Stadium — the Eddies got a thunderous volley from Elvir Gigolaj and a 25-yard equalizer from Paul Craig to get a last-gasp point. Final score: 2-2.

For Gigolaj, it was his first-ever second-division goal in his first start in NASL. The St. Mary’s University product smashed a 20-yard volley into the top corner.

“I was dead out there,” said Gigolaj. “I thought I was going to faint. The heat was killing me.”

But the goal brought Gigolaj and the Eddies to life on what was a warm autumn afternoon in Edmonton. The Strikers — which had clinched a playoff spot weeks ago — couldn’t match the Eddies’ late surge of energy. And Craig, who came in at halftime, leveled the score with a wonderful low shot that kissed the post and went in. The goal sent the Edmonton Supporters Group — who were joined by owner Tom Fath and NASL Board of Governors’ chairman Aaron Davidson on fan appreciation day — into raptures.

FCE's Elvir Gigolaj, in white, in action against the Strikers. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON
FCE’s Elvir Gigolaj, in white, in action against the Strikers. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON

“We fell apart, we fell asleep,” said Strikers’ coach Daryl Shore.

Having clinched a spot in the playoffs weeks ago, the Strikers didn’t come to Edmonton with what would be considered their “A” lineup. With an eye towards the playoffs, a lot of starters were given the week off.

“We left a lot of guys at home,” said Shore. “We have a couple of guys with injuries, a couple of guys with yellow card issues.”

The game started brightly for the Strikers, who received a gift from FC Edmonton defender Kevin Hatchi in the seventh minute. Hatchi, despited having Strikers’ forward Hosman Ramos right behind him, elected to chest the ball back to keeper Lance Parker, even though the goalie was yelling at his defender to head the ball out of danger. Ramos pounced on the ball, and Hatchi was forced to hall him down.

Abe Thompson, who had a penalty saved by Parker the last time the Strikers came to Edmonton, didn’t make a mistake this time, and put Fort Lauderdale up 1-0.

“Kevin Hatchi can head that ball away, but decides instead to take it on his chest,” said coach Harry Sinkgraven. “Yeah, it was a big mistake.”

Hatchi was yanked after 45 minutes.

Edmonton dominated possession for most of the half, but could not get a ball past Strikers’ keeper Dave Martin. The best chance fell to Serisay Barthelemy, who got past the Strikers’ back line, but Martin did well to come off the line and challenge the shot.

Martin could do nothing but watch when Eddies’ defender headed the ball goalward off a second-half corner kicker. But the ball struck Ramos on the goal line — and there were shouts from the Eddies’ players that the ball had actually crossed the line. But no angle was conclusive — as the ball was in the air on the bounce when it got to the line, making it impossible to tell if it was in or not when it struck Ramos in the gut.

And, on the counter, the Strikers built a 2-0 lead — Thompson threaded a wonderful through ball for Aly Hassan. Parker came off the line to take away the angle, but Hassan’s deft chip took the ball over the keeper and into the goal.

But, the Eddies didn’t say die.

“Even when 2-0 down, a tough game, a tough season, they fight in the last minute of the game,” said Sinkgraveven. “They showed character.”

Still, at the end of the game, Fath said that changes would be coming for next season.

“Finishing in last place is not acceptable,” he said. “At the minimum, this team should be making the playoffs every season.”

Davidson was in Edmonton to join Fath and Commissioner David Downs in meetings with potential sponsors, the city and the province. On Thursday, Mayor Stephen Mandel launched a feasibility study into a 10,000-15,000 soccer stadium for the city. Davidson also met with members of the Edmonton soccer community and the Alberta Soccer Association.

Davidson confirmed that NASL would have 12 members by November — but not all of them may be playing. Downs said that two teams are confirmed to be joining the league in the next month — the question is if they’d be ready to play in 2013 or not. Ottawa is set for 2014, while the New York Cosmos come in next season.

Of course, there is also the question if the owners will continue to fund the Minnesota Stars if a new owner isn’t found by October.

Davidson said it is NASL’s mandate to ensure the develoment of both the Canadian and American soccer programs. And, though MLS is in 19 markets, there still are plenty of cities that crave pro soccer.

“There are still a lot of dots on the map that we have to fill,” he said.

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