Saturday marks a landmark day for FC Edmonton.
It’ll be the first time since the professional soccer team was formed a year ago that they’ll play a meaningful game.
The club opens its inaugural North American Soccer League campaign Saturday, on the road, against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
“We’re all very excited,” said FC Edmonton technical director Joe Petrone. “This is the biggest game we’ve ever had.
“A lot of people are talking about how big the game against Toronto FC is going to be — and it will be — but we have to worry about our first game before we can worry about that one. We’re all anxious about it and are interested to see how we’re going to do.”
FC Edmonton starts the season with three road games before returning home to host TFC in the opening match of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship April 27 at Commonwealth Stadium.
From Fort Lauderdale, they’ll move on to face the Atlanta Silverbacks and then round out the trip against the Carolina Railhawks. Their first league game at home will be against the Montreal Impact on May 1.
“I was down with the players during training camp and everyone is looking forward to the start of the season,” Petrone said. “They can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”
FC Edmonton was formed last season and played a year of exhibition games before being granted entry into the NASL.
The most recent incarnation of the league features eight franchises, including the two in Canada.
The 28-game schedule runs through until September.
The Nutrilite championship is a separate tournament featuring the four professional teams in Canada, to determine the country’s representative in continental competition.
FC Edmonton’s first three league games will go a long way in determining how competitive they’ll be against a more experienced TFC squad, which competes in the higher-rated Major League Soccer, along with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I think we’ll have a good squad,” said Petrone. “I think our team is better than the one we had last year, where we surprised some people and were really competitive against more established clubs like Colo-Colo.
“We’re missing one of our best players in Matt Lam, who went to play in Japan this year, but I think we’ve brought some other good players in.”
Last year, fielding a team of mainly Alberta-based talent, FC Edmonton held their own during an exhibition schedule which saw the club play high-profile teams such as Chile’s Colo-Colo and England’s Portsmouth.
“I think that showcase the quality of players that we have here in the province,” Petrone said. “We feel we can be competitive with local talent.”
Under the league’s import rules, FC Edmonton is also allowed to field three foreign players.
Currently they have two Dutch players under contract in goalkeeper Rein Baart and defender Paul Matthij, who is currently injured and won’t play in the opener.
The local talent the club is banking on includes striker Michael Cox from Calgary, local product Chris Lemaire, midfielders Sam Lam, Chris Kooy, Eddy Sidra and defender Paul Hamilton.
“Unfortunately we’ve already had to deal with some injury problems this season,” Petrone said. “But we’re looking at getting another import player soon and we’re going to carry a large squad in order to provide some depth.”
The club is coached by former Dutch professional Harry Sinkgraven, who took over from Dwight Lodeweges, who departed for Japan during the winter.
“Being from Holland, both coaches have a similar style,” Petrone said. “The Dutch like to play attractive, attacking soccer, which is the way we want to play. It’s going to be a very interesting year.”