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Shorthanded Islanders get draw with FC Edmonton

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Michael Cox

The Puerto Rico Islanders lost five of their seven Puerto Rican national team players for Tuesday night’s date with FC Edmonton in Bayamon. But it was a Dominican Republic international who did the damage.

Jonathan Fana capitalized on a defensive error from FCE centre back John Jonke, allowing the Islanders to come out of the match with a 1-1 draw.

With the draw, Edmonton moves into sole possession of fourth place in the NASL standings; NSC Minnesota is a point behind, Fort Lauderdale is two points behind. The Montreal Impact, out of the playoffs at the moment, is five behind FC Edmonton. Each of the three chasing teams has a game in hand on the Eddies.

After Michael Cox had given Edmonton the lead in Puerto Rico less than one minute after the second half restart, Fana took advantage of a botched headed clearance from Jonke to equalize. A long ball was played into the Edmonton area. Fana, who gives up almost a foot in height to Jonke, put enough pressure on the defender to force a mishit header. The ball came to Fana, who rounded keeper Rein Baart to equalize.

“We really pushed hard for the win, but we came up a bit short,” said Cox. “We really tried to push up front. We got a lot of shots, but we couldn’t capitalize on our chances.”

The goal allowed Puerto Rico to preserve its undefeated home record. FCE got one point out of its two-game set in Bayamon; the Eddies lost 3-2 Saturday to Puerto Rico after Jay Needham scored a last-gasp winner.

The Puerto Rican federation withdrew five of the Islanders’ players — including fullback Richard Martinez and right winger Noah Delgado, who gave FCE fits on Saturday.

Edmonton had more width to its game, limiting the Islanders down the wings and having good spells of possession through the first half. But the half itself was short on scoring chances, the best Edmonton opportunity coming from the right foot of Ilja Van Leerdam — who may have enjoyed his strongest game since arriving in the NASL at the midway point of the season. But PR keeper Ray Burse was able to palm Van Leerdam’s volley over the bar.

The second half, though, was a different story. Right from the opening kickoff, the game opened up. Matt Bouraee got on the end of a long ball played behind the Edmonton defence and looked to have a clean break on Baart. But central defender Paul Hamilton raced back and made a fantastic saving tackle, stripping the ball away from the attacker. FCE then turned the play around and worked the ball up the right side. Seconds after Hamilton had made the saving tackle, Cox got onto the end of a perfect pass from Shaun Saiko to give the Eddies a shock lead.

“The ball came to Saiko, and he and I have a great connection, and I got to the ball at the back post,” said Cox.

But, after Fana’s equalizer, Edmonton got a great chance to win the game. Osei Telesford got his second yellow for a late challenge on Saiko.

But Burse stole the show, diving low to stop Kyle Porter in the 60th and then getting behind a Van Leerdam drive in the 78th.

But the Islanders had great chances, despite being down to 10 men.

Hamilton was given a yellow card for bringing down Islander Tyler Wilson late in the game; luckily teammate Eddy Sidra was charging back, so the referee wasn’t convinced Hamilton was the last man back.

And, Baart allowed a poor rebound off a low drive from outside the box from Islander Kevin Villaroel; the ball came to Fana, who put his attempt just wide. Baart was at fault on Saturday’s winning goal from Needham, as he flapped at a corner kick and got himself out of position. Had Fana scored the winner off another Baart error, there would no doubt be calls from Edmonton supporters to see David Monsalve make his first start as an Eddie.

FC Edmonton flies all day Wednesday, getting into the Alberta capital well into the night. Then, FC begins a key three-game homestand with Minnesota, last-place Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale all coming to visit.’

“We are coming home, and we have to make the most of those games,” said Cox. “We have to do everything we can to make sure we win all three of those games.”

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