Edmonton’s newest pro sports team takes centre stage on Wednesday night in a high-stakes home debut in the city’s biggest barn!
It’ll be a “baptism by fire” of sorts for FC Edmonton in their first taste of Nutrilite Canadian Championship action with MLS-side Toronto FC swinging through town. After a summer of strictly exhibition matches, FC Edmonton kicked off the inaugural North American Soccer League season this month with wins in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta, before coming up short in Cary, North Carolina.
To quote rocker Meat Loaf though, “two out of three ain’t bad,” especially when we’re talking about three road games to start the season!
"The chemistry is there and we're working well as a team right now,” says FC Edmonton right back André Duberry. “Obviously there are a few things we need to work on, but team chemistry is big.”
As for what he’s seen from the competition so far, the 28-year-old Calgary native says the NASL is a very high level of soccer, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.
“It's a very high level - very fast paced, a lot of quick one-twos. Over in the States, they've got some big boys, some fast boys. We're keeping up and we're working hard. It’s a learning process and we’re just growing."
FC Edmonton’s biggest test to date comes on Wednesday though with the current Voyageurs Cup holders providing the opposition. To make matters worse, there’s no doubt that Toronto FC will be looking to use this game to get back on the winning side of things after a fairly slow start to the MLS season.
Toronto opened things up with a loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps and they are winless in five matches since beating the Portland Timbers on March 26th, scoring just three goals in that span.
Despite coming into the game as a major underdog, Edmonton’s Duberry says he knows his team will be ready to compete when the two sides hit the field.
"Right now our heads are in the right place and we're just training hard. We're looking forward to playing Toronto, we've looked at a few tapes and we've been training well at practice and working on a few things, so hopefully it will pan out."
One thing that might play into Edmonton’s favor, believe it or not, is the fact that they’re a new and relatively inexperienced club. Boris Aguilar is the president of The Red Patch Boys, a Toronto FC supporters club, and says there’s always the danger that the team will end up taking Edmonton lightly.
“As a TFC supporter, I think it is safe to assume that anything can happen and there is no such thing as a sure thing,” says Aguilar. “As I answer this question, I am just thinking of various examples of when we may have taken a team too lightly only to be disappointed.”
The Red Patch Boys say they’re well aware of FC Edmonton’s hot start to the season, and they’re also cognizant of the fact that the team will be looking to make a big splash in its first game on the big stage in Canada.
“I can firmly say that the chatter amongst supporters right now is that we will not take Edmonton lightly at all. I just hope that [coach Aron] Winter and the players themselves see the importance of the match.”
Fellow supporters group The Yorkies say TFC’s schedule might play a role in what type of team they field on Wednesday. Tony says we could see a younger side thanks to a tough draw last weekend and a tough upcoming road game in Seattle.
“There are a number of young players in need of minutes who could be caught out by FCE, who seem to have found an early groove in the NASL,” says Tony, adding that Toronto has been accused of taking “The NutCan” too lightly at times in the past.
The Yorkies say that probably won’t be the case this season though, as it is probably the team’s only chance to capture some hardware!
“The Reds are in the midst of an admittedly large rebuild and you would be hard-pressed to find a supporter who thinks that an MLS Cup, or even the playoffs, is a realistic goal in 2011,” says Tony. “There is a feeling that hoisting the Voyageurs Cup again is the only chance at glory for TFC in 2011.”
One thing everyone can agree on though is that FC Edmonton’s addition to the landscape is another positive step for Canadian soccer.
“For us, we’d love to see more FC Edmontons around the country. Football in Canada can only benefit from strong professional clubs and I doubt you would find a single supporter in Toronto who doesn’t want to see FC Edmonton succeed on and off the field,” Tony says. “Just not against TFC!”
The Red Patch Boys agree, saying it improves the local support for the sport and the awareness of the game nationally, which will hopefully translate into a stronger national team program.
For FC Edmonton’s André Duberry though, the focus lies on just one part of the country right now.
"There's no place like home, so we're all pumped and we're all ready!”
FC Edmonton and Toronto FC meet at 6pm on Wednesday night at Commonwealth Stadium. The Montreal Impact visit Foote Field on Sunday night in Edmonton’s NASL home opener.