Home NASL & USL FC Edmonton Roberts: The thrill of playing for Canada took a couple of minutes to kick in

Roberts: The thrill of playing for Canada took a couple of minutes to kick in


Mallan Roberts came to Canada as a nine-year-old, fleeing Sierra Leone with his father.

It took nearly 14 years for him to get his citizenship. And, shortly after, his first Canada call-up. This past week, late in the second half of Canada’s 4-0 win over Dominica in World Cup qualifying, national-team coach Benito Floro sent Roberts onto the pitch at Toronto’s BMO Field.

One could only imagine what was running through Roberts’s head as he sprinted onto the pitch. Well, believe it or not, there wasn’t a flood of emotion as he headed to his spot in the centre of the defence.

“It really took a couple of minutes on the field for it to really kick in,” Roberts said Friday, as FC Edmonton trained north of the city in St. Albert. “Once I got past that, was able to make a couple of plays, then it really began to feel good.”

Roberts was called into the Canadian camp as a replacement for the injured Dejan Jakovic. But Roberts has also been placed on the 35-man preliminary roster for the Gold Cup — so he’s hopeful that he’ll be wearing the Canadian jersey in short order.

“I don’t want to be the player who was only called into one game,” he said. “The experience, it was huge. I gained a lot of experience from it. There are so many players there who have careers in Europe, from around MLS and other teams in North America. I can see what I want to become, where I want my career to go, what I need to do.”

In the spring, when FC Edmonton was visiting the Ottawa Fury, Eddies coach Colin Miller met with Floro, and he brought up the name of several FCE players who he thought could help the national side.

“He’s taken real notice of the standard of the league [NASL],” Miller said.

Roberts then got the call. And, two weeks ago, FCE midfielder Hanson Boakai was informed he would be representing Canada at the Pan Am Games. The official announcement was made Friday. Boakai said he will be leaving to join the national side on July 5.

But, now that Roberts has got that first cap, he’s asked if he looks back and thinks about what it took to get to the national team, including the long wait for citizenship. In fact, last year, before the passport arrived, he said that he might entertain a call-up from his native Sierra Leone. Of course, getting into a World Cup qualifier for Canada kills the Sierra Leone speculation dead, dead, dead.

“I’m really not the kind of person who likes to dwell on the past,” he said. “I’m the kind of person who likes to look forward not back. In the past, I’ve had some ups and downs. But, even though I like to look ahead, I am very proud of where I’ve come from. I’m grateful to my Hussein Shabdi, my father, my mom for giving birth to me, Jeff [assistant coach Jeff Paulus] for believing in me and bringing me into the academy, and Colin for bringing me into the pro team.”

Why was Hussein Shabdi listed so prominently? He’s the technical director at Xtreme FC, one of Edmonton’s elite developmental clubs. He took Roberts under his wing, and, even though the boy has grown into a man, Shabdi still takes the extra time out of his schedule to work with the defender. Roberts says that Shabdi is like “another father” to him. When he got to the pro level, he gave his first jersey to Shabdi.

“I hope one day to be a coach,” he said. “But before you can coach, you have to learn.” And he says he’s continuing to learn the game; from FCE, from Shabdi, from Floro and his staff. In fact, he says the learning curve is steeper than it’s ever been, because he understands it’s exceptionally difficult to hang on to a national-team shirt.

Midfielder Lance Laing continues to be on Copa America duty for Jamaica.

Meanwhile, FC Edmonton began training for the fall season with far less than a full complement of players.

Forwards Frank Jonke (hamstring) and Daryl Fordyce, with a suspected hernia, weren’t on the field. Defender Kareem Moses is out with a sprained MCL. Both defender Albert Watson and midfielder Tomas Granitto are on the way back from concussions. Winger Michael Nonni has the flu. Midfielder Sainey Nyassi is still nursing a bad ankle. Forward Tomi Ameobi should be back soon after suffering a foot injury almost a month ago.

Miller joked that a triage unit could have been set up at the team’s practice field in St. Albert.

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  1. left back

    June 22, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Just give your opinions on the forum and people can respond if they want. I have no problem with Kaw Yaw and his posts. If i don’t want to read them.. then don’t.

    FCE is an easy target because they continually fall short. I disagree with their approach as well and have been critical of CM on here as well. I would like to see the game played on grass, the club to pass the ball better and focus more on local talent. I was really upset when Kooy, Hamilton and some of our local talent was pushed aside. CM claiming ‘not good enough’.

    The reality is he is not a good enough coach to bring players to the next level. He hides behind that fact and throws the local talent under the bus. Way to go.

    The MLS is a good level. You have to be a great player to get into that league… but like all american sport it is built around athletics. The technical ability of the players is not great but you have to be a good athlete. Many a European player has come to the MLS on trial and not cut the physical standard. That is how the league is… for good or bad.

    The NASL is a decent level as well. The salaries are poor for the must part and the players all seem to be floating from one team to the next. Welcome to pro soccer in a non soccer market like the Eastern United States. The teams are not established and there is always one team on the verge of bankruptcy. But a lot of the players have experience and put a decent product on the field.

    Anyway…. i wish the best for FCE and the NASL… i will be critical and call a spade a spade. Don’t like it…. don’t read it.

    • cwell

      June 22, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Fair comment on the soccer. Also fair thoughts on my reaction to what I consider to be rancorous comments from a clearly unhappy fan. You’re right; I’ll give it up.

      Personally, I’m in it for the pleasure, and I’ll make the best of what live professional soccer we have.

      NASL and MLS are not perfect, by any means. But MLS is far better today than it was a few years ago, and it promises to get better. NASL is entertaining, too; at least the games I’ve seen here in Ottawa have been. I hope the league lasts long enough to improve, as well.

      Tough to make a go of it, however; all credit to the owners of the Fury and the Eddies for investing their time, energy and money.

      Meantime, I’m off to watch Norway v. England. They’ll be far from perfect, but the game is sure to be competitive and entertaining. Germany v Norway was a great game, and the fans loved it.

    • kahkakew Yawassanay

      June 22, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      At the rate FCE are going they will need a CFL partnership as the primary financer to keep them afloat. I have no doubt that MLS will expand from 28-32 clubs , then they will add the better USL clubs to create MLS2 and rel/pro and since all the clubs will be owned by MLS the USL will gain Div 2 status from the USSF…that will leave NASL with 30-40 cities to select their final clubs..most likely a 24-32 team league with 3-4 divisions including an all Canadian division. It really is the only way the game can improve and survive here and outside of MLS. NASL needs a semi pro national tier 3 league as a feeder league just as the NPSL does in the US…otherwise franchises like FCE are bound for a quick death when the Fath’s decide they will no longer accept losing millions each year…had Edmontonians supported this club with the same fervor of an Orlando or Sacremento, they would have had an excellent chance to be one of the new MLS franchises after #24 goes to Beckham…for now the beautiful games future does not look very good in Edmonton

  2. cwell

    June 20, 2015 at 6:53 am

    This is an inspiring story. Credit to Xtreme FC and the Eddies for developing Roberts, and to Coach Floro for giving recognizing the NASL in this way.

  3. Kahkakew yawassanay

    June 20, 2015 at 1:56 am

    Sums up how pathetic football is here ….he plays in what is at best div 2 in England if not lower in quality and he is on the MNT…wow that shows how little they have in terms of the future…poor coach

    • cwell

      June 20, 2015 at 7:11 pm

      It is what it is. I suggest that since you find Canadian soccer and everything and everyone to do with it so awful, you should just leave it alone. Find something else to do. You’re unrelenting criticism is toxic.

      • kahkakew yawassanay

        June 21, 2015 at 5:29 pm

        For you and Soccer 11..your opinions expressed about me or football in general are irrelevant to me. What is pathetic are your reactions to my posts so I will try and help you by setting the record straight…

        I support NASL and FCE. I have wondered for a few years now how much longer the Fath’s can financially support FCE with their embarrassingly small home attendance when they stated they needed 8000 per home game to break even.
        This may explain why the players they continue to sign appear to be inferior and cannot get the job done to win a seasonal title or qualify for the playoffs,
        Same goes for the reasons why they keep Miller. It is a catch 22 in Canada’s most two faced city of Edmonton..,,the motto City of Champions has not been reality for over 30 years but I know from growing up and being a season ticket holder for the Oilers, Eskies, Drillers, Brickmen, Eagles and Trappers that if you are not a winner, fans will not support your sport with the Oilers being the only exception.

        I hate the MLS and all it stands for…its SES is designed for one purpose..to make as much profit for owner/investors, all who are Garber’s acquaintances..it is such an overhyped inferior quality of football, it is a fad and like this webpage, biasedly reported on and promoted…

        and finally, Canada has been and remains a joke internationally…their FIFA rating realistically showing how over rated their players are…the whole idea of a CFL-CSA league is a mistake unless it is at best the 3rd tier behind MLS and NASL with pro/rel established with the Canuck division.
        For me, the best way to improve the game and quality of Canadian players here is the creation of a NASL all Canadian division with 6-8 clubs, So do yourself a favor and take a valium before you collapse from reading my opinions that do not support or agree with your beliefs and values about the beautiful game.

        • cwell

          June 21, 2015 at 7:50 pm

          So, it’s as though you love to eat at a certain restaurant, are forever disappointed with that restaurant, but keep going back and writing negative reviews in the hope that the restaurant will get the message. Right?

          The problem is that the message doesn’t go to the restaurant; it goes to other people who enjoy that restaurant, understand that there are problems and hope that they are solved, but in the meantime they would like to enjoy the meal.

          You seem to enjoy complaining about Canadian soccer, since you know that the odds are against any significant improvements. Otherwise you would find something else to do. In the meantime, your caustic comments spoil the pleasure others take from following their team and watching the game. So, please stop commenting here.

          • kahkakew yawassanay

            June 22, 2015 at 5:25 pm

            You worry too much about others opinions instead of your own..

    • Soccer11

      June 20, 2015 at 11:57 pm

      You are a Troll… Safe behind the comfort of your computer and most likely knowing absolutely nothing about this game! If you hate FCE so much, why do you continue to waste your time reading stories about them, and then responding? How pathetic is your life that trolling this site, seems to be your nightly entertainment?

    • Phil

      June 21, 2015 at 6:11 am

      Well, the 2nd division in England, Spain or Germany is still superior to MLS…

      • Kahkakew Yawassanay

        June 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm

        I agree

        • SaskTFCFan

          June 29, 2015 at 8:36 am

          And yet the USMNT gave a much better showing than England or Spain in the most recent world cup. Funny, that.

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