February 17, 2011
Early test for FC Edmonton
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
Where else in sport would the very first meaningful home game of a team in its first official season of regular league play turn out to be the biggest game of the season and maybe even the most important game in the entire future of the franchise?
The Edmonton Sun has learned there will be such a game for fledgling FC Edmonton against Toronto FC Wednesday April 27 at Commonwealth Stadium.
The new professional soccer squad owned by Tom Fath will dive into the deep end of the pool with the Nutralite Canadian championship before even putting a toe in the water in front of home fans to test the team in regular season play in the new North American Soccer League.
Despite the double edged sword involved here, opening at home against Toronto FC in a Nutralife Cup game is exactly how they hoped for to launch the franchise forward to the future.
Indeed, this is the game that inspired Fath to drop over a million dollars to put the team together for an entire season of preparation with friendlies against various calibre clubs including FA Cup runner-up Portsmouth and Colo Colo of Chile last year.
The Sun has learned that Canada's original Major League Soccer team will travel from Toronto to Edmonton for the first game of a two-game home-and-home series with the return leg a week later at BMO Stadium.
Meanwhile the Vancouver Whitecaps, in their maiden voyage in the MSL, will play the Montreal Impact of the NASL in a two-game set.
In a new format inspired by the creation of the Edmonton franchise, the winners will meet in another two-leg event to produce Canada's team to compete against U.S., Mexico and other Central America pro teams in the CONCACAF Champions League, this region's version of the UEFA Cup in Europe.
Confronted with the above highly placed sourse information GM Mel Kowalchuk would neither confirm or deny but did admit an announcement would likely be coming within the next week by the Canadian Soccer Association to reveal details of the Nutralite event.
Fath and Kowalchuk have been talking about this for two years.
Both talked about it at length last year saying the Nutralite game against Toronto would likely be the only one they'd play in Commonwealth Stadium this season with the rest of the games being at Foote Field.
Fath, discussing the prospects of an early season hosting of Toronto late last season said it will be fabulous for his franchise.
“The Nutralite is the world's best kept secret but it will be us playing the best Canadian team and it will be an exciting way to highten awareness and hopefully show Edmonton fans that we're building the team to be competitive from the beginning,” said the owner.
“People will require education on teams in our league and perhaps not a lot of Edmontonians are even all that familiar with the Nutralite Cup, but they know about Toronto FC,” said Kowalchuk at the same time last year.
“We knew when we began this journey that playing Toronto in Nutralite play would be both an excellent game to bring attention and focus to our team in the early stages of our season. It will also provide a measuring stick. And that's what will make the Toronto games so crucial to our acceptance going forward. If we do well in them, we'll have instant credibility.
“We're confident, with the work we decided to put in a year early to develop, this team will result in being able to compete.”
In previous years, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have played a double round robin series with the winner proceeding onward.
Montreal won it in 2008, going all the way to the quarter-finals with sets against Real Estile (Nicaragua), Atlante (Mexico), Olimpia (Honduras), Joe Public (Trinidad and Tabago) and Santos Laguna (Mexico). Toronto has taken it the last two years. Eliminated by Puerto Rico Islanders in the preliminary round in 2009 Toronto defeated Motagua (Honduras) for openers before departing from the group stage after two game series with Real Salt Lake (USA), Cruz Azul (Mexico) and Arabe Unido (Panama). FC Edmonton opens the NASL season April 9 in Miami and play five of their first six on the road with a May 1 game against Montreal the home opener and not another home game until May 23.
In addition to Edmonton and Montreal, a MLS-bound team the following year, the NASL includes the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Miami Strikers FC, Minnesota Stars, FC Tampa Bay Rowdies and Puerto Rico Islanders.
But that first home game against Toronto FC will be more meaningful than the rest of them combined.