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Speas scores twice as Minnesota dominates FC Edmonton

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FC Edmonton lost its home opener by a 2-0 count to Minnesota United, Sunday. But, on the day, the gap between the teams deserved to be emphasized by a margin of greater than two goals.

The Loons, coming off a season-opening loss to Carolina, created chance after chance after chance. Two goals was actually a modest return based on the visitors’ dominance. Keeper Matt VanOekel was easily the best Eddie on the day — yet his heroics couldn’t prevent Minnesota from walking away with three points. Ben Speas scored in each half to give the Loons their margin of victory.

“We were second best for most of the game, to be honest,” said Eddies coach Colin Miller after the match.

After a 0-0 draw at Rayo OKC — with the Eddies playing with 10 men for just over an hour — spirits were high going into the game. But Minnesota quickly took advantage of the absence of Eddies’ captain Albert Watson, who got a red card last week and was out for Sunday’s game.

FCE's Sainey Nyassi, left, tries to keep the ball away from Minnesota's Ben Speas. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS
FCE’s Sainey Nyassi, left, tries to keep the ball away from Minnesota’s Ben Speas. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Just a few minutes in, centre back Mallan Roberts, in for Watson, sent a poor pass to left back Allan Zebie, who was in for the injured Adam Eckersley. Zebie was moving away from the ball, and didn’t see it coming. It was picked off by the visitors and Minnesota striker Christian Ramirez streaked into the penalty area, only to have his drive directed away from goal by VanOekel’s hand.

But the giveaways kept coming — and in the 15th minute, the Eddies were punished. Eddies defender Pape Diakite was the culprit, with a poor pass that was picked off by Minnesota’s Kevin Venegas, who then slotted the ball to Speas. The Minnesota forward made no mistake, tucking a shot off the post and in.

“I saw Viva (Venegas) running in,” said Speas. “The ball, it actually deflected off the defender and then came into my path. I just wanted to get the shot off quick.”

Damion Lowe’s headed effort off a set-piece struck the bar in the 39th minute. The Loons defender — who came on a sub for the injured Tiago Calvano — headed the ball into the turf and it came up and caught the frame of the goal. It was only 2 C at game time; had it been warmer — which would have softened the artificial turf a little bit — that ball likely would have snuck in under the bar.

Ramirez had another golden chance stopped just before halftime. Speas lofted a pass into the box over the head of Roberts. Ramirez ran onto it and had a chance to volley it home, but VanOekel came off his line to block the effort.

The Loons had a 1-0 lead at half, but it could have been, should have been, so much worse.

“We were aware that we needed to put the game away,” said Speas. “We looked at it as 0-0 coming into that second half.”

“If you run beside people, not put a tackle in, that what will happen,” Miller said at half.

Speas put the game away in the second half. His second goal will likely be replayed several times on soccer-highlight shows. He received a throw-in with his back to goal. Roberts was right behind him. So, Speas flicked the ball into the air, then turned and sped around the Eddies’ defender. With his next touch, Speas put a low shot into the corner of goal.

“I’ve tried it a lot of times and it doesn’t work,” said Speas. “The one time it works was today.”

Ramirez had yet another chance to score, to add an exclamation point to the victory. But his late-game effort went over the bar after he received a great pass from Stefano Pinho.

“We knew it was going to be tough from the get-go,” said Eddies forward Tomi Ameobi, who was the FCE player who came closest to scoring with a first-half headed effort. “I just don’t think we got started like we have in the past last season — and we gave away a couple of sloppy goals as a team.”

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