Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Saturday's game is against FC Edmonton - which is a very different team than the one that Minnesota fans saw last season. For a scouting report, I went to Steven Sandor, who not only does the color commentary for FC Edmonton matches, but edits the11.ca, perhaps the best blog on the internet for all Canadian soccer news, including Edmonton news.
He was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about the Eddies, who have a new coach, a host of new players - and are angling for a new stadium, as well.
1) How has bringing Colin Miller in as coach changed things?
When Miller came in, no one got a benefit of the doubt. He deemed everyone on the club a "trialist," and basically ran practices like an open tryout. In the end, he ended up cutting the team's lone member of the 2012 NASL Best XI, Paul Hamilton, out of camp. Colin said over and over that he inherited a last place team, and he wasn't going to be complacent. It's a total clearing of the deck. If the Eddies stay with the form of the last couple of weeks, they should only start three players (Shaun Saiko, forward Michael Cox and keeper Lance Parker) who were with the club last season.
2) Edmonton scored the fewest goals in the league last year. Where are the goals going to come from this year?
We have already seen a massive change in the number of chances Edmonton is creating. Really, this team should have six points from the first two games, but they have shown an uncanny knack for hitting goalposts and crossbars. They're creating more sustained pressure, and bringing more midfield help for the forwards. They have also gone to what is a more traditional 4-4-1-1, rather than the 4-3-3 which has, frankly, been a failure across North America (you can't foist 4-3-3 on players who haven't been playing the system since they were kids). That change is a big reason for the success. In keeping things simple, they are really making themselves more effective.
3) The Eddies brought in a number of new signings. Who should Minnesota fans watch out for?
Well, there's a good chance that Robert Garrett, a Northern Irish international who just came here on loan this week, will play. He's a midfield spark plug. And he's played with Daryl Fordyce, FCE's recesssed forward, since they were eight years of age. Daryl came over here earlier in the year, along with Albert Watson, the defender who is now Edmonton's team captain. All three played at Linfield FC in Belfast. Watson is out with a knee injury, but Fordyce has been very good through two games. There's a joke out there that Linfield is now FCE's feeder club.
4) What's the current stadium situation in Edmonton?
It's very simple. The city council has seen the plans. But, like most places, the idea of giving pro sports teams blank cheques to build stadiums is a dying trend. So, instead of "build it and they will come," the mayor and council has told owner Tom Fath that they like the plans for this 8,000-12,000 seat stadium that can be built in phases, but they will only green-light it after looking at this coming season's attendance. If they see the numbers, they will entertain the idea. If attendance for FCE games - and likely Canada's friendly at Commonwealth Stadium on May 28 - is disappointing, then the city won't spend the money. It's now a case of "if they come, we will build it."
5) Edmonton attendance hasn't been great the past two seasons. Is this a make-or-break year for the team?
You have to discount last year's attendance. Because of the issues with permits and such, the renovation to Clarke Stadium wasn't completed and FCE had to call a 1,200-seat stadium home. So, you can look at it two ways — that the team had a small attendance number, or that it sold out every game (actually, more than 100 per cent capacity) last season. You can only sell the seats you have. So, with the renovation finally underway, and Clarke moving to 4,000 seats for this year, really 2013 is the first season in which we can fairly judge the Edmonton soccer market. It should be a good place to have a team - the average household income here is about US $90,000 a year, or about $40,000 higher than the average American household income. This is one of the wealthiest cities in North America.