Saiko on the ball for Eddies
Local midfielder led FC Edmonton in goals the last two North American Soccer League seasons
Wednesday, Jun 19, 2013 06:00 am
Playing professional soccer is a dream come true for FC Edmonton midfielder Shaun Saiko.
The St. Albert-born, Morinville-raised and Edmonton Juventus club product left home at age 16 to be part of the Middlesbrough Academy in England and two years later signed his first pro contract.
“That was definitely a thrill in my life and now I’m just trying to continue doing the things I know I can do and get better,” the 23-year-old Saiko told the Gazette after the Eddies’ training session Saturday morning at Riel Recreation Park.
Saiko’s big break came at age 14 with the Green and Gold Soccer Academy, when Len Vickery lined up a summer stint for the promising footballer with the Middlesbrough youth program.
“When he sent me over there on trial it was a privilege to have people care enough about me to want me to get that opportunity,” Saiko said. “They were also known to have one of the best academies in all of England so it was definitely a privilege to be in that academy.”
Saiko returned the next summer and was offered a two-year youth contract.
“When I was 16, that’s when it all kind of clicked in. If I dedicate myself this is what I can do for my job so I just kind of took the opportunity as it was and I went over there and I really haven’t looked back since,” Saiko said. “Obviously when you’re 16 it’s tough to leave home but it was something I wanted to do to further my career and try and become a professional soccer player.”
After turning pro, Saiko played extensively with the reserves but was unable to make a first team appearance in the Championship league and his contract wasn’t renewed after the 2009/10 season.
The Middlesbrough experience was invaluable in Saiko’s development as a soccer player.
“Obviously training every single day I got better as a footballer but also as a person as well. Every day you’ve got to be a professional soccer player, and not just when you’re at training but when you’re not at training. You’ve got to eat properly, you’ve got to look after your body and you’ve got to do the things that will help you in the long run,” said Saiko, who attended Namao School before taking Grade 10 at Sturgeon Composite High School and Grade 11 at McNally High School and then completed his Grade 12 online.
After auditioning with Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer, Saiko hooked up with the Eddies for their inaugural North American Soccer League season.
“It’s been awesome. I was here from the beginning so it’s cool to see the club grow and try and go through the growing pains obviously,” he said. “It’s really cool seeing it grow and being part of the growth of professional soccer in Edmonton. It’s been good seeing the fans get out and things happening, like the stands we have at Clarke (Park) right now.”
The NASL is the second tier of the American soccer pyramid.
“The standard is really good. You get a wide variety of players in this league. You’ve got physical, athletic players and you’ve also got technical players so you’ve got to adapt to kind of what other teams are doing. It’s definitely helped my career for sure.”
This season the five-foot-10, 160-pound Saiko scored twice on 24 shots and picked up two assists in 776 minutes of playing time for the Eddies, winners of two matches for a share of fifth place in the seven-team table under new head coach Colin Miller.
Last year Saiko was at times a healthy scratch under former bench boss Harry Sinkgraven, despite leading the Eddies in goals with seven and assists with six and was tied for third in the league in shots with 68 in 1,817 minutes.
He was also named the NASL player of the month for May with five goals, including a hat-trick against the Carolina RailHawks, in addition to two assists.
In 2011 Saiko was the top scorer on the Eddies with nine and the team leader in shots with 58.
“I’m just trying to help the team offensively. We haven’t created enough chances and maybe haven’t scored enough goals this year (nine in 10 matches), but we’re based on defending right now and once we kind of figure out how to attack and do those things I think we’ll do some good things around here,” said Saiko, the NASL player of the week after converting a penalty shot in the final minute of the first half in the 1-0 home opener against the San Antonio Scorpions on April 28.
His first career goal with the Eddies was also the first in team history in the franchise’s NASL debut on April 9, 2011 in the 2-1 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
“Scoring the goal for FC Edmonton to get us going in our first season was something special. That was definitely a big thing for me, especially because I’m from Edmonton and I’m playing for FC Edmonton.”
Another major career accomplishment was playing for Canada at the U20 and U23 levels.
“Representing Canada was awesome. I got to go to two qualifying tournaments and it was a good experience.”