EDMONTON - The man who spent more than $2 million to get to this day was thrilled with the first payoff on his investment.
“It was awesome,” said FC Edmonton owner Tom Fath. “Wow. That was fabulous. It was the most exciting game I’ve ever watched.
“But it’s not going to be the most exciting game I ever watch,” he said of his team winning its first North American Soccer League game, 2-1 over the Strikers in Fort Lauderdale Saturday evening.
Fath, who made his millions in the paving business, spent big bucks to underwrite setting up a soccer academy, putting his team together a year before beginning league play, hiring experienced top-level coaches from Holland and bringing in English and South American teams.
“You could see the value of the investment on the field. This is a professional team of young players who have had tremendous coaching,” said Fath, who watched the game with fans at a sports bar.
“Without playing last year, we couldn’t have put this team on the field like we did today. We needed that to set the stage. What happened today is more than a coincidence.
“What makes me feel best is that there were a lot of young Alberta players who were amateurs a year ago who were out there as the core of our club. That’s what this is really all about.”
Saturday, before 6,402 fans on a 26C night in Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FC Edmonton was clearly the better side.
With veteran Dutch keeper Rein Baart solid in making a couple big saves before the end of a 0-0 first half, FC Edmonton gave up the first goal in their history to Strikers’ Martyn Lancaster in the 48th minute, but quickly made it 1-1 when Edmonton native midfielder Shaun Saiko scored the first, blasting one to the top right hand corner from 20 yards out in the 54th minute.Four minutes after subbing in, American veteran Daniel Antoniuk found a loose ball in the box to score the winner in the 67th.
“We had a couple of good chances in the first half — two or three good chances — and hit a crossbar in the second half. But that’s OK that they didn’t get to the back of the net,” said former Dutch professional Harry Sinkgraven by phone from the post-game dressing room.
“As a coach, I’m satisfied. We were better organized than our opponent.”
While both teams were making their debuts in the new NASL, both Edmonton and Fort Lauderdale existed in the original NASL. The last time they played was May 26, 1981 in Fort Lauderdale when the Strikers won 2-1.
The Strikers operated as the Miami FC Blues for the previous five seasons and played FCE to a 1-1 draw on an unusually cold August evening at Foote Field last year, Nine players on Saturday’s opening night Edmonton roster were involved in that game as well as in friendlies with Portsmouth FC of England, Colo Colo of Chile and the Montreal Impact.
While spending all that money in setup last year, Sinkgraven said the investment in the last month helped immeasurably as well.
“We had two weeks training in Arizona which was very necessary after spending five or six months indoor. And coming down to Florida a week before the game was important, too.”
While FC Edmonton did an excellent job to put a product on the field for openers, they’ve done an absolutely abysmal job of promoting it and selling it to this point. But a win on the road in their first NASL game certainly does some of that for them.