The Eddies are back, and they’re doing just what the Eddies always did.
Tiki-taka has never had a home in northern Alberta. It must be something about the climate, the culture, or the city relative to, say, Barcelona, that just prevents entertaining football.
Give Jeff Paulus credit, he tried. He came in waving the flag of attacking, possession football and it seemed like the ghost of Colin Miller would be banished at last.
Then they went 1 – 1 – 4 to start the spring season and Jeff Paulus publicly threw out his ideals. They started sending long balls to Tomi Ameobi and it worked. Never bet against Colin Miller.
What it meant
FC Edmonton have always done well by the Canadian player. Or at least, done about average. Even before CanPL, the Eddies prioritized local players, often turning university and amateur players into solid pros in the NASL.
I remember watching Paul Hamilton at nationals in 2009–he captained a dominant Trinity Western side on home turf–and wondering why he’d never had a chance at a higher level. The Eddies gave him one, and he excelled.
Teams all over the Canadian Premier League did the same, and excelled. Edmonton had Connor James, Easton Ongaro, Edem Mortotsi, Ajay Khabra.
You need teams like this. Not just because CanPL is a new league. Even in the more established, much wealthier Major League Soccer, it’s teams like FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake that have done the most for the US national team over the years thanks to their academies and a commitment to giving young players a chance to earn minutes.
My Projection: Spring 6th / Fall 6th
It even pays off. Dallas went to a CONCACAF final, after all. So did Salt Lake. FC Edmonton didn’t get far in the cups this year, but fashioned a credible third-place finish in the inaugural Canadian season by–wait for it–making hay with university players and diamonds-in-the-rough.
Without that shift away from tiki-taka and towards a very pragmatic, very Edmonton style, they probably would have been back at the bottom. Throughout the year, this team couldn’t reliably score goals. Only Wanderers scored fewer than Edmonton’s 27 this year–well below league average, even with Easton Ongaro’s contribution.
The Eddies made up for it with solid defending, mostly thanks to ex-Impact Academy man Mélé Temguia. It was rarely attractive–the Eddies were, for some reason, even more dull at home–but it got the job done from the beginning of the fall season on.
Key game: June 19th, 0 – 0 @ York
Paulus was coming off a Voyageur’s Cup exit in Toronto, having blown a lead with three goals off corners. The Eddies had been beaten handily in both of the spring “Al Clasicos”1A derby featuring zero Spanish. and Paulus came out and announced his team couldn’t play with the ball so they wouldn’t bother anymore.
Things looked bad. They were going back to York’s tiny pitch. Set-pieces were being talked about.
It was 0 – 0, which is better than 1 – 3, but it was also a prototype of what the Eddies were on their way to becoming: defense-first, stay compact, wait for the opponent to make a mistake.
York were surging a bit in June, and didn’t make one. The next four opponents the Eddies faced did–Paulus won the next four.
That run, by the way? The longest stretch of the year that Tomi Ameobi was healthy.
Style of play
Edmonton mostly brought back guys who’d either played for the club before or played in the academy at some point, which almost guaranteed a workmanlike group.
Looking back at the day one roster, a lot–maybe too much–was asked of ageing vets like James Marcelin and Kareem Moses, as well as young-but-unproven guys like Jeannot Esua and Son Yong-chan. Son could at least hurl a long throw.
It was always a more athletic group, and when Ameobi finally got healthy for a bit it began to click together. Ameobi, who’ll be back for another year, is rarely elegant but he gets himself into position to score goals. A lot of what Edmonton did–long throws, crosses, corners–was aimed at finding him, because there wasn’t always much else.
It was so boring, it even took out the One Soccer webcasts.
The adverse weather conditions severely affected the live broadcast setup to a point we deemed unsafe for our crew to continue working in.
We sincerely apologize and will be issuing compensation through our App to those affected! pic.twitter.com/Ct4JFA6WBk
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 18, 2019
Easton Ongaro’s arrival on the scene mid-season gave Edmonton another target, at the very least. Ongaro’s main calling card was that he’s six-foot-six, but he has better feet than Ameobi and he’s ten years younger and less injured. When Edmonton got them on the pitch together, either with Ongaro playing wide or, I think more effectively, off Ameobi, they played some of their best football of the year. It’s a classic two-striker partnership: both guys are big but Ameobi’s the chaser and Ongaro’s the space investigator.
The back-line was always a four, usually with Jeannot Esua getting forward from right-back, although he ended up playing some wing late in the year. Ramon Soria provided what possession the team wanted while Mélé Temguia and either Allan Zebie or Kareem Moses kept everything very safe.
Back and front were okay. Middle was not so good.
Ongaro and Ameobi will probably start together in 2020–Ongaro had the best goals/90 in CanPL by a mile, so there’s sense in watching him for the golden boot–but neither is an out-and-out match-winner.
Neither takes over a game single-handedly. They both need at least some service. There were a lot of times they didn’t get it.
Oumar Diouck was one of the only imports for the Eddies in 2019–they’ve never been big on recruitment. He was a bust, and now he’s gone. His six goals actually weren’t that bad, but he was infuriating to watch–a combination of poor shot and pass selection, and dribbling opportunities either passed up or held far too long.
He didn’t have a lot of support, especially when Son got hurt. But Son, too, was a shuttler with more hustle than skill–he did good work defensively and in the build-up, often making a pass before the pass, so it’s not a bad thing that he’s returning, but it’s telling the club is now listing him as a defender.
Marcelin got hurt, too. So did long-time Voyageur’s hero Randy Edwini-Bonsu, a veteran of the German regional leagues who had a bit of a miserable homecoming. Neither will be back. That bodes well for the level of play in CanPL–Marcelin was a long-time regular in NASL and REB was an Eddies stalwart in the old days–but it does ask questions of Jeff Paulus’ recruitment as this league starts to grow.
More than anything, FC Edmonton need something they’ve never really had (though Kyle Porter was close): a playmaker who can take over a game.
The reason they’ve never had one is that those players are hard to find in the American and Canadian systems. We don’t produce a lot of them, we identify even less well, and recruiting them from abroad tends to cost a premium.
Edmonton are never likely to be a big-spending club, even within the CanPL salary cap–it shuttered operations and moved to CanPL in part to save money.
Again, I think there’s absolutely a place for the Eddies model, but they are relying heavily on the academy.
It’s why I find it so puzzling that they’ve now blown off the USPORTs draft two years in a row. They got Connor James in 2018, which was good, but Ajay Khabra and Ajeej Sarkaria were ex-academy guys who were supposed to be the chance creators. They actually passed on Ongaro, only signing him after Cavalry drafted and then cut him.
This year they’ve added two more marginal academy prospects which is fine if there’s a bigger name coming in to replace guys like Marcelin and Diouck. I’d not expect more than one or two major signings, though, which means Jeff Paulus is swinging for the deeper part of the field.
More likely, we see more of Marcus Velado-Tsegaye in 2020 now he’s graduated from high school. Prince Amanda, too–he lit up the AMSL with the U20s and scored on his debut against Pacific.
They’re slightly different players and neither is really a pure playmaker. Amanda mostly runs channels, so expect to see him off Ongaro or Ameobi. Velado-Tsegaye was held back at times by uncertainty around his best role: he was probably best as a wide forward with more space to either cut in or make a run to the back post.
Neither is likely to be able to take the keys to the attack because both are still at the age where car insurance costs more than the car.
The Eddies have been busy re-signing this year’s core, too. With Moses, Esua, Son, Mortotsi, and Soria all back, I wouldn’t expect huge changes. Jeff Paulus is willing to bet that the group he’s got can do more than third.
Probably the smartest thing the club did was get Easton Ongaro on a multi-year deal. He put up 0.77 goals/90 as a 21-year-old. If he can go from doing that mostly off the bench to doing it in 2000+ minutes as a starter–they’re very different skillsets–he will not be in Edmonton in 2021, but the Eddies will have got a transfer fee for him (and maybe a title?) while paving the way for small clubs to be sustainable in CanPL2It wouldn’t be a huge fee–we’re not talking Madrid money, or even major MLS money–but even a fairly token fee in world football terms would allow FC Edmonton to cover some operating expenses, which are significant with an academy. That’s how lower-league football works the world over, and it’s how clubs can be successful by developing local players..