It's really not that bad

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

When the score was 3-3 in the 80th minute, the president of the Chilean giant Colo-Colo made the statement.

"The people of Chile will be surprised," said Guillermo MacKennar, sitting with team manager Luis Baquedano in the press box.

"Not as surprised as the people of Edmonton," the sportswriter turned and told the two behind him in the second row.

It was the only time all afternoon the man laughed.

"Very technical defence. Very good match. I did not know we were playing such a good team. Very good players," he said of Dwight Lodeweges' charges who were perspiring in public for only the second time in preparing for a debut in the North American Soccer League next year.

FC Edmonton's 4-3 loss to a team of such stature instantly builds a whole lot of credibility that a 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact reserves in the team debut four days ago couldn't.

Understand that playing Colo-Colo was expected to go down in Edmonton's checkered soccer history as Loco- Loco.

Cracked. Crazy. Cuckoo.

To sign up Colo-Colo three weeks before the game to play a next-year team with a one-game history against a bunch of non-entities seemed a bit batty, if not entirely bizarre.

And financially, it was. Daft. Demented. Deranged.

At the very last minute the entire Edmonton population of Chilean ex-pats showed up to watch the storied club team that half of Santiago loves and the other half hates bringing colour and flavour to the lower bowl of the West stand.

It was the only area of the massive stadium open for the afternoon.

A crowd of 5,573 didn't come close to covering the expense of bringing the team here.

Indeed, it cost them a planned game against Brazil's Vitoria next Sunday in order to fulfill obligations.

Instead it will be Colo-Colo versus Vitoria at Foote Field next Sunday, FC Edmonton giving up their own game against the Brazilians to keep the visitors happy.

So why was owner Tom Fath smiling?

"I'm thrilled," he said. "I would have liked to have had 20,000. But people don't know our team yet. This is our inaugural year. Just having a team the level of Colo-Colo here this year playing our team is a success. Even to have them here is a success."

What was lost in dollars -- and we're talking well into six figures -- isn't going to faze the multi-millionaire and could be drastically reduced depending on the number of Chileans and Brazilians they can shoe-horn into Foote Field next Sunday.

It's also whether FC Edmonton manager Mel Kowalchuk can sell a third Colo- Colo game to somebody in Southern Ontario for a stop on their way home.

Fath had to write a six-figure cheque for the game fees to Colo-Colo, pay for their flight, all their expenses and the cost of a two-week training camp at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.

Paying his players and coaches a million dollars for this season as well, Fath could drop another million on the games.

But he said he's still gung-ho going forward, more so after seeing what he saw on the pitch than what he didn't see in the stands.

"We told them we thought we could get them three games," Kowalchuk explained. "It was announced in Chile it would be three games.

"We hated to lose the game for our own guys against Vitoria, but it was more important to build a reputation," said Kowalchuk of the goodwill and future prospects including developing a partner for obtaining players.

The game cost Fath a lot of money. But there's no telling how much it might mean for the future.

"I keep reminding people that this year is all about next year," said the owner.

"We definitely made a statement out there today," said coach Lodewedges.

"We could have won that game and one of the good things is that the guys in the lockerroom were talking more about that than how well they did.

"It's a confirmation of what we are doing."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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