This is going to be rough. This preview, this season — the whole existence of FC Edmonton, from 2011 to 2022, needs to be a warning to all those around Canadian soccer not to take anything for granted.
Not that anyone in Edmonton has. There was no lack of excitement back in 2012 when the Eddies were in the NASL semi-final. Tom Fath established the first and only club academy in this country not paid for by Adidas. Kyle Porter, Shamit Shome, Hanson Boakai, Paul Hamilton, and several others all carved out professional careers in the sport after coming through Edmonton. That’s a lot for any club in just over ten years.
It’s hard to see one of the most important club badges in Canada come to a point where most of its squad will be on loan. Obviously the hope is there will be a new owner by 2023, but unless a lot of those 50,000 people who came out to watch the national team at Commonwealth in January come out to see an Eddies game — and they could! — the league has already had a year to find an owner and it hasn’t happened.
I don’t want to spend all my words here focusing on off-field issues, but the truth is Edmonton don’t have much on the field at the moment, either. Based on announced signings that I can find, I count only fifteen players — they can’t field a bench and they can’t be much above the league minimum roster.
The league is running the team, and the league is not yet at a place where it’s breaking even, for a lot of reasons, so this has to be about saving money first and foremost, even if it’s going to be very, very unpleasant to be an Eddie this year.
Everyone is out for himself because everyone is playing for contracts elsewhere. There is zero depth, and while they’ll probably add a couple local guys on short-term deals and it’s likely Alan Koch will get a couple more players on loan in the summer, there’s a non-zero chance they could end up forfeiting a game before then through lack of players, which would be a very, very bad look for the league, and the kind of thing that costs you a chance with prospective owners, fans, and sponsors.
So this has to be managed very carefully, to maintain legitimacy. I won’t quarrel with the league keeping the Eddies going one more year, so as to give fans one more hurrah for an historic club, and to keep the schedule balanced and competitive.
But this is going to be bad
There is currently one (1) actual midfielder in the squad, in the form of last year’s star signing Shamit Shome. I cannot imagine where his head is going to be at playing the last round for the club that gave him his start. To his credit, he’s saying all the right things, but what else can he do? If he thought he had to carry the team last year, wait for this year.
Toronto FC have had a bit of a domineering relationship with CanPL from the start, and have sent a number of reserve prospects to Edmonton to get playing time, which they certainly will. Andreas Vaikla is actually quite a decent ‘keeper — TFC II were a very good USL1 side last year — and will help ease the departure of Connor James. Luke Singh, too, showed enough quality when thrown in against Liga MX teams early last year to make me think he could make up for Amer Didic.
In a weird way, it’s encouraging — and actually very true to the Eddies’ identity as a club — that a lot of very young, very raw Canadians (again, I hope some of them local) are going to get a shot. A guy like Félix N’sa wasn’t ready for CanPL last year, and wouldn’t have got many minutes this year on a York team that wants to win. Now he’s got a chance in Edmonton. One or more is going to show up, surprise someone, and use these terrible circumstances to earn a chance somewhere else. That’s the Canadian soccer story.
Wanderers did a smart thing and signed three marginal prospects — two of them from CCAA teams, one from Cyrus by way of the Portuguese youth system1Though especially astute Voyageurs may remember Wesley Timoteo from various “maybe he’ll play for Canada” that now feel distinctly historical. — then immediately loaned them to Edmonton to play. A couple of CanPL clubs have done likewise, though more in using Edmonton as a holding container to keep international prospects like Tomasz Warscheski and Julian Ulbricht in the league. Warschewski will be one of only four Eddies to return for 2022, the others being Azrael Gonzalez, the American who’s now technically owned by York, as well as Eddies academy products T-Boy Fayia and Darlington Murasiranwa.
It’s impossible to put together any kind of a depth chart. You can just about see a back-line of Fayia, Singh, Nyal Higgins, and Terique Mohamed, at least until Mohamed gets his first red of the season. Higgins is a former TFC academy grad who couldn’t get minutes with Ottawa last year.
Likewise up front you have a rough front four of Warschewski, Kacher, Camara, and Ulbricht. None of those guys are sure things, but in a cruel twist of fate, they might actually be more fun in attack than past Eddies teams. The worry is going to be health, and the Eddies are likely to have to play some of these guys out of position, too, at least until reinforcements arrive. If they arrive.
Draft Grade: C+
(Update April 10: Inevitably, I miss someone on the roster when I do these things, and this time I missed Gabriel Bitar and Kairo Coore. Apologies, Eddies fans, and thanks to Kevin Smith on Twitter for catching my mistake.)
Bitar isn’t technically a USPORTs pick, and has already had ample opportunity after twice being drafted by Cavalry, but Edmonton did work magic with another USPORTs pick Cavalry didn’t want, though Easton Ongaro is now in Romania.
They also got some decent mileage out of Tommy Gardner last year, and Alan Koch has reversed some of the Eddies’ previously perplexing tendency to punt on this draft in favour of picking academy graduates. I sort of got that, as a loyalty option, but it meant the Eddies missed out on talent outside Edmonton.
Signing Coore is a good move. He’s inexperienced, but was a highly-rated Ontario prospect and he should have a future in CanPL with Edmonton or elsewhere. Second-round pick Quentin Paumier I’m a bit less sure on — he’s a quietly good midfielder, similar in some ways to Wanderers’ Pierre Lamothe, and he can hit a mean free-kick — but I’m not sold on his being up to the physicality of CanPL.
It might have been a decent idea to give Edmonton extra USPORTs picks this year, as the university-CanPL contract options are cheap and there are a lot of guys in the university system, especially in the Prairies, who haven’t had much an opportunity and who could do a job in a difficult situation for Edmonton this year.
I just don’t know that I see a way back. I really don’t want to write that, but it’s what it is.
Edmonton averaged 961 fans at games last year, down from nearly 3,000 in 2019. The only hope is that the qualifying campaign draws people out. I think it will, to an extent. But even if Edmontonians are sentimental enough to come out in May, are they going to come in July when the club is 25 points off the pace?
I wonder if the league is shooting itself in the foot with this roster, because it’s going to be unfair to those fans who do come, who will have to watch a bunch of young guys playing out of position, overworked, underpaid, and heading for the exits.
This is the lesson. This is not taking it for granted. People are not going to show up and watch Canadian soccer because they should. They’ll show up if you give them a reason. Alphonso Davies is a reason. Beating Mexico in the snow to qualify for the World Cup is a reason. Patriotism, commitment, causes — that all comes later, once fans are hooked.
Build it and they won’t come. It has to be sold, sustained. Edmonton did a lot right. A lot. But there are no guarantees. Before dreaming about expansion cities and multiple divisions and promotion runs, stop. Figure out how it’s going to work.
It won’t always. But I hope it does in Edmonton. We have one more season to make it happen.