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FC Edmonton Game Day: Men @ Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 5:30 PM MDT

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FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS
 
FC EDMONTON
(0-0-0, 8th)
vs.
(0-0-0, 1st)
Leading Scorer: nooo...
 
Leading Scorer: ...body
5:30 PM MDT, Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Streamed live at strikers.com

I don't think I'm going to make a habit of writing up FC Edmonton game days, don't worry. But I'm sure you'll agree that the first league game in franchise history is a special occasion worthy of comment. This is a Vancouver Whitecaps and western Canadian soccer site, after all, and FC Edmonton is about as western Canadian as they come.

Be honest, now. How many of you thought they'd never get this far? I could go back through the comments of this site and my old site, Maple Leaf Forever, and look upon those expressing skepticism that FC Edmonton would even make it to their first regular season. Depending on the day, some of them would have been from me. There's a lot of skepticism about FC Edmonton, still, and a lot of it is inherited from the days of the Edmonton Aviators, when a bunch of questionable men in questionable clothing made promises that they could never keep based on expectations that were an order of magnitude too high. FC Edmonton's kept expectations reasonable, been more conservative setting up their team, but been unafraid to spend money where necessary. These are all good signs. Doesn't matter; they've still be condemned.

Well, today, they finally go into action. It won't be the end of the uncertainty, of course, particularly if reports of the Alberta Soccer Association's possible suspension pan out. But they've gotten to this point and they look like they're in great shape.

Now, they just have to whoop Fort Lauderdale.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are the team formerly known as Miami FC. Formerly playing in Miami sometimes, formerly at Florida International University Stadium and their plastic pitch that's so badly-laid it bends the laws of space and time. Attendances were usually in the hundreds. They've been splitting games between FIU Stadium and Lockhart for a couple of seasons now and they've at least gotten into the four digits more often than not. Even for division two, that's pretty poor, but it's at least progress. They're supposedly expecting a good crowd for this Saturday night game, having sold out the reserve seating in one of their stands (for an NASL team in a college football stadium, more impressive than it sounds).

For most of their history, Miami FC has been a thoroughly lousy lot on the field as well as off. But, to their credit, they've done some hard work to try and build the roster. Former USL-1 defender of the year and Philadelphia Union defender Cristian Arrieta is the biggest name added, instantly giving Fort Lauderdale's once-lousy back line some credibility. The book on Miami FC's defense was that they were athletic but unskilled, and Arrieta, while not as fast as he used to be (and he was never that fast) brings more ball control abilities than anybody else in that league. Toni Stahl, Arrieta's one-game Union teammate, and former Philadelphia midfielder Eduardo Coudet has also joined the Strikers.

Much of the team has been replaced, although not always upgraded. 22-year-old forward Aaron Wheeler is a good example: he's big. He's sure big. He was actually under contract to the Whitecaps in 2009, though he never played. But that big boy is also rather mediocre, and scored four goals for FC Tampa Bay last year without looking very impressive. Yet Fort Lauderdale will be looking for him to carry the mail up front. Starting goalkeeper Nicolas Platter was the backup with the Carolina Railhawks last year, and he'll be pushed by 25-year-old journeyman and last year's Miami FC backup Matt Glaeser. Neither are impressive players. Apart from Arrieta, the defense consists of last year's pleasant surprise Zach Kirby, decent-but-not-great English veteran Martyn Lancaster, and a bunch of guys with either no experience or looking to get their careers back on track after a few bad years.

The midfield is worse. If you believe in Coudet's abilities, that gives Fort Lauderdale one decent NASL-level midfielder who's proven it. The rest have a lot of work to do to show they can play in this league; the team's two Brazilians both played last year and looked overwhelmed at times. The forwards are relying on mediocre talents. This team is a step up from previous Miami FC teams, but not two steps.

And you know what? They're favourites for a playoff spot. This sort of roster construction isn't terribly unusual for a mid-table second-division team, although the amount of turnover certainly is. As I discussed when looking at FC Edmonton's roster, this level gets a lot of journeymen trying to get back on track at a lower level as well as a lot of unproven kids trying to make the step up. Fort Lauderdale's actually not all that differently-built than FC Edmonton. The team's poached heavily from the Philadelphia Union, and as Marco Velez could tell you from the bench in Puerto Rico, picking up mediocre MLS players from mediocre MLS teams isn't always a recipe for success. I give FC Edmonton a very tentative advantage: they seem to have better technical players in the lineup. Their journeymen looking for a second chance seem better than Fort Lauderdale's, and Edmonton's players are more familiar with each other. On the other hand, Fort Lauderdale has a heavy advantage in North American professional experience and their forwards have proven more than Edmonton's have. I'm changing my mind: advantage to Fort Lauderdale.

But you can see how hard it is to call the second division this early in the season. Particularly with one team that has completely re-invented itself and another team that was just invented. This game could swing in any direction and I wouldn't be surprised.

Let's all hope for a big Edmonton win, though.