FC Edmonton picks Sierra Leonean to play North American soccer

By  | 4 March 2013 at 16:58 | 3648 views

Mallan Roberts is just 20 years old but looks set to shine in the popular sport, soccer. He recently signed with FC Edmonton and will play for the club in this year’s North American Soccer League (NASL) which starts in April.

FC Edmonton, based here, was formed in 2009 and is the city’s sole professional soccer team. They joined the NASL as a founding club in 2010 and remain the only Canada-based squad in the eight-team professional league. The other seven clubs are all US-based, including New York Cosmos which fielded the legendary Pele in the late 1970s. The current NASL teams are:

FC Edmonton (Edmonton, Alberta)

Carolina RailHawks FC. (Cary , North Carolina)

Atlanta Silverbacks (Atlanta, Georgia)

Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Minnesota Stars FC. (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

San Antonio Scorpions (San Antonio, Texas)

Tampa Bay Rowdies (Tampa, Florida)

New York Cosmos (Long Island, New York)

Roberts (with number 5 jersey in action photo above) was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and came to Canada in September, 2001. He is a versatile athlete who excelled in American football as a high school pupil, before settling for his real passion, soccer. Six feet four inches tall and weighing nearly 200 pounds, Mallan Roberts is tipped to add depth and dexterity to the FC Edmonton defence.

Apart from his skills set and physical presence, Mallan Roberts could have quite a few things going for him and his team mates, in his debut in as a pro. Head Coach Colin Miller is a former Canadian international. He was born in Scotland and, like Roberts, came to Canada as a child. Miller grew up to play for Canada and was team captain when they played Brazil to a 1-1 draw, here in Edmonton in 1994. It was just weeks before that year’s World Cup in the USA; which Brazil went on to win after an two-hour thriller with Italy. That World Cup final goes as a classic, accented by a clash between Brazilian duo, Romario and Bebeto, and Italian primos Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.

Miller’s assistant, Jeff Paulus, also head coach of the reserve squad, was an award-winning coach at the national collegiate level. He was bench boss of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) squad when they won the 2011 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship in Quebec. Mallan Roberts was one of Paulus’ steady defenders as the NAIT squad (nicknamed ‘NAIT OOks’) beat another college ‘Holland Hurricanes’ 2-1 in the final. The tournament was hosted by College Francois-Xavier- Garneau in Baillairge, Quebec and that final match on November 11, 2011 spanned two hours. Mallan and his mates triumphed in the end. He was so brilliant at the back, indeed all through the tournament, he was crowned one of the 11 national All-Stars.

Another thing going for the team and the sport as a whole is that soccer continues to grow at all levels (for both boys and girls) in Edmonton and other places in Canada. FC Edmonton now host their games at the city’s Clarke stadium. The pitch doubles as a practice facility for another city team, ‘The Edmonton Eskimos.’ They (Eskimos) play American football and so there are subtle inconveniences like limited seating and redundant hash markings. Soccer stakeholders and fans have recently been courting the Mayor, Stephen Mandel, and his municipal government to build another arena that is exclusive to the sport of soccer.

FC Edmonton finished fifth and eighth overall, respectively, in their first two seasons. Now, with the signing of the Sierra Leonean and four other youngsters, the coaching crew hopes to win enough games to qualify for the playoffs and go for gold. The other new players are Chris de Guise, also a defender; strikers Ajeej Singh Sarkaria and Sadi Jalali; and midfielder Hanson Boakai.

Boakai was born in Liberia. Now only 16 years old, the diminutive dynamo has already had a feel of global glare, with stints in Canada’s Under-17 category. He has been part of FC Edmonton’s residency program at one city school, St. Joseph’s High School. There, FC Edmonton encourages youth players to juggle school work with their soccer interests.

Fath Sports Ltd., are owners of FC Edmonton. It is a local enterprise which boasts the professional team as well as the FC Edmonton Academy. The five new players were all on the reserve team before they were called up in February, 2013. At an impressive media event, each player received a souvenir jersey, marked ‘13’ to commemorate the occasion.

The event was all over the news and Mallan was one of two players who later featured live on the national network, CTVnews.

Here is a video clip on this story: