International lustre lacking

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

It's the second annual Edmonton Cup featuring the second consecutive F.A. Cup runner-up. But is there any chance Edmonton is going to Cup it up?

The idea is to be part of the package of Edmonton's big international sports week of the summer, featuring the Honda Indy Edmonton. But for the second year in a row, it doesn't look like the game is likely to find the kind of focus to have fans flooding to Commonwealth Stadium like they've done to the downtown airport track for IndyCar racing these last five years.

Last year it was F.A. Cup finalist Everton versus River Plate from Argentina with an announced crowd of 15,800 watching the South American side score a 2-1 win over the team which had placed fifth in the English Premiership but didn't play most of their recognizable name players.

This year, the Edmonton Cup is the first of what is planned to be an annual game featuring an international team against the new FC Edmonton franchise which begins play in the North American Soccer League next season.

FC Edmonton drew 5,573 for a highly entertaining 4-3 loss to Colo Colo of Chile in a hastily put together international at Commonwealth Stadium earlier this year.

And you'd have to wonder if the new local pro team with the million-dollar payroll might get out of the business of bringing international friendlies to town if this one featuring F.A. Cup runner-up Portsmouth, a team which finished significantly further down the Premier League standings than Everton, so far down in fact they were relegated, doesn't draw well, either.

"We should get a bigger crowd than Colo Colo," said general manager Kowalchuk. "Tickets have picked up nicely in the last few days."

But in many ways these international games are making owners Tom and Dave Fath and general manager Kowalchuk look like suckers with the amount of money spent bringing the two South American teams to town to hold training camps during extended two-week stays and the way the English teams haven't gone out of their way to give them any bang for their buck.

Last year, Everton, training in Seattle, didn't show up until game day and then hung around for a couple days (asking and receiving tickets to the IndyCar race).

Kowalchuk could really use Portsmouth here for pre-game media but they don't show up until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"I know it's late, which puzzles me, but that's what we were given," says Kowalchuk. "The odd thing is that they are staying here for three days so we have to arrange practices for them after our game."

Portsmouth has been training in California and were defeated 2-1 by Mexico's Club America before a crowd of 9,800 in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium last Wednesday.

If nothing else they should be able to say FC Edmonton outdrew the richest team in Mexico (one which fills 106,000 seat Azteca Stadium in Mexico City) against Portsmouth in only the fourth game of its history.

Portsmouth plays D.C. United to conclude their training camp tour of North America. Suddenly international friendlies aren't big business anymore.

When Manchester United vs Celtic on specially-installed real grass only drew half a house in Rogers Centre in Toronto this past week after the same two teams attracted 66,772 in Seattle in 2003, you have to wonder if the international friendly boom is going bust.

"To a certain extent we already have re-evaluated," said Kowalchuk.

"One thing that Tom and I have agreed on for the future is that time is going to be the biggest factor.

"Last year we worked at it and worked at it and finally got everything in place with a little over a month before the game.

"This year we got Portsmouth earlier but then Colo Colo came around with almost no time which left us a lot less time to work on the Portsmouth game.

"What we agreed on is we want this game pretty well set before Christmas, which gives us a lot more time to market.

"It'll also be different because we'll have our own schedule done. And in addition to our own league games we'll have three Nutrilite Canadian Soccer Championship games next year," he said of the home and home matches against Toronto F.C., the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS and Montreal Impact of the NASL with those games likely to be in Commonwealth Stadium.

Those games are likely to draw a lot more fans than this one. And the interest developing in FC Edmonton will likely sell more tickets than a relegated English team parachuting in just before the game again.


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