Harry Sinkgraven expects this to be an educating season for his young soccer squad.
The first major lesson came this past Wednesday, when a two-footed challenge by midfielder Shaun Saiko drew a straight red card, essentially eliminating any hope of victory for FC Edmonton.
The foul forced the club to play a man short for over three quarters of their Nutrilite Canadian Championship contest against Toronto FC.
The resulting 3-0 loss all but eliminated the first-year professional team from the competition, which now needs to score four goals in the hostile confines of BMO Field in the return leg next Wednesday in order to advance.
“We discussed it with Shaun,” said Sinkgraven. “It wasn’t smart to make that kind of tackle in that part of the field. He’s young and he wanted to win the ball, so he had good intentions. But we told him he had to be smarter in the game and I think it was a good lesson for him.”
Fortunately for FC Edmonton, Saiko will not be suspended for the team’s North American Soccer League home opener against the Montreal Impact, Sunday (7:30 p.m.) at Foote Field.
The automatic one-game suspension that accompanies a straight red card is limited to the national championship tournament.
Saiko, a local product, is an important member of the club moving forward and needs to be on the field in order for FC Edmonton to be successful.
In the Montreal Impact, the local squad is once again playing host to a well-established Canadian team that will be joining Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer next season.
“We want to show that we can play soccer ourselves,” Sinkgraven said. “After Wednesday, I think it was disappointing for a lot of players. Unfortunately it was a situation where it was 10 against 11.
“We expected more from the game. Now we have to do it on Sunday.”
It’ll be another opportunity for FC Edmonton to make an impression, to what they hope, is an ever increasing fan base.
Against TFC, the club appeared as though they were willing to go out to try and play attractive soccer before they were forced to abandon their game plan.
“I think in the first 23 minutes we were competitive with Toronto and when you see the ball movement out of the back, it was OK,” said Sinkgraven. “Defensively, everybody did well with our game plan. So the first 23 minutes I was satisfied.
“After that, it was a different story with 10 men. But still, in the first half, I thought we did pretty well. We were even able to create some chances in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the second half. We had three corner kicks and even with 10 men we were able to put pressure on them.”
Playing in a lower division, FC Edmonton was expected to have trouble with TFC. Now up against teams of similar calibre, they hope to continue the strong form showcased in their first three league games that all took place on the road.
“We won the first two away games, which is, of course, very good,” Sinkgraven said. “It wasn’t just the results that were very good, but also the way we played. We also had a lot of chances in the game against Carolina that we lost. But we played very well, especially in the second half, I saw a lot of good things.”
Sinkgraven is trying to get his club to play a ball-possession game where they build out from, then attack along the wings or with penetrating passes through the middle.
The Dutch coach believes he has the talent available that can afford him to play such a style, but it might require some patience.
“We can’t forget that we’re a new team and that we are building up from zero,” Sinkgraven said. “So when you start with two wins on the road, that’s very good.”