Highlanders fall to FC Edmonton in first exhibition match of summer

VICTORIA – Victoria Highlanders FC hosted their first of two exhibition matches at Centennial Stadium, July 2 as they faced North American Soccer League side FC Edmonton. The home team grinded out a strong game, holding the edge in possession and chances through the majority of the first half before Edmonton struck twice in the second half to roll to a 2-0 victory.

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Sadi Jalali opened up scoring for the Edmonton in the game in the 71st minute of play, while Hanson Boakai added a late goal in the 90th minute to secure the win for the visiting squad. Goalkeeper John Smits earned the clean sheet for his team, their second shutout in a row in their western pre-season tour.

Perhaps a little overwhelmed early, the Highlanders surrendered three early chances in the opening six minutes of play, including two quality strikes from inside the box that whistled just high of the crossbar.

The home side began to find their legs as the half progressed, generating a pair of chances off the feet of Highlanders captain Tyler Hughes on a free kick and brother Jordie on a strike from 15 yards out. Fullback Andrew Ravenhill was also a threat in the opening 45, breaking around his mark before letting go of a cross that would unfortunately be cleared away.

Neither sides’ opportunities would amount to a goal on the score sheet as the half would end in a 0-0 draw, with the Highlanders holding an 8-4 advantage in shots.

“I think they caught us with a couple balls in the first ten minutes and made us look nervous,” explained Highlanders head coach Steve Simonson. “After that I thought we had the better chances in the first half, our tactics were good but we were lacking the finish.”

Edmonton opened up the second half with a dangerous looking shot on net that forced Mitrou to swivel around to snag. The play was ruled offside but generated strong applause from the home crowd nonetheless.

Victoria answered back immediately with an opportunity of their own, as midfielder Alex Rowley brought the ball into the attacking zone before unloading a perfectly placed cross to the feet of striker Carlo Basso. Running at top speed, Basso’s shot would sail just high of the crossbar to keep the game on even terms.

Edmonton’s Jalali broke the deadlock in the 71st minute of play, pouncing on a cross from teammate Milton Blanco that he quickly slotted low to the right of Mitrou to give his side the one-goal lead.

Edmonton generated a pair of shots as the game began to wind down, with the Highlanders also pushing up the field on two opportunities but unable to put a shot towards net. Always dangerous, Cam Hundal provided a spark on offence, twice maneuvering around the Edmonton defence but being held shot less.

“I thought we really made the game difficult on ourselves in the first half,” said FC Edmonton head coach Collin Miller. “The response in the second half was much better, we were better and we were cleaner and created a few more chances I thought.”

Edmonton added to their lead late in the contest, as Boakai got inside the attacking zone before firing a shot to the back of the net in the 90th minute of play for the 2-0 lead.

Scrappy at times, Wednesday’s friendly generated six cautions in total, with four being handed to Edmonton. In his first start in nearly a month, Mitrou was alert between the pipes for Victoria in the loss.

“They [the Highlanders] should be really proud of what they are doing here,” added Miller. “A good little crowd turning up and it’s geared to go to the next level [here with] the Highlanders. I mean that because it is a hot bed for football here in Victoria, there’s a genuine market for this level, if not higher level of football I would say.”

Victoria returns to Royal Athletic Park for their final regular season home game of the year, July 5 against Lane United FC. For tickets and more information, please visit www.highlandersfc.ca

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