FC Edmonton making the most of difficult circumstances

FC Edmonton practice Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Global News

Looking for new ownership and relying on other teams to help pay the bills, FC Edmonton is a bare-bones outfit this season.

But coach Alan Koch says that means his Canadian Premier League squad is playing with a chip on its shoulder, with plenty to prove.

“The guys that are all with us, for the most part, nobody else wanted them,” said Koch. “So we’ve gladly embraced them. We’ve taken them. We’re going to push them to max their abilities.

“I guess this is the selfless part of my job right now — I’m actually developing players for other clubs. But that’s part of what we have to do to make sure we keep one of Canada’s football clubs afloat.”

Read more: CPL hopes to ride wave of excitement about Canadian soccer into new season

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Of the 20 players on the current Edmonton roster, 11 are on loan from other teams with nine of those from fellow CPL clubs Forge FC, HFX Wanderers FC and York United FC. The other two — goalkeeper Andreas Vaikla and defender Luke Singh — come from the Toronto FC organization.

Koch has five returning players from last season.

Defender Felix N’sa, midfielder Azriel Gonzalez and forwards Julian Ulbricht and Tobias Warschewski are on the York books so will be seeing familiar faces Friday when Edmonton (0-0-1) hosts York (0-1-0) at Clarke Stadium.

York coach Martin Nash is expecting a motivated Edmonton team.

“You saw it in the first game. They’ve all got something to prove,” he said.

Click to play video: 'FC Edmonton prepares for season opener amid tumultuous time for soccer club'
FC Edmonton prepares for season opener amid tumultuous time for soccer club

Warschewski’s eye-popping bicycle-kick goal in the 95th minute gave Edmonton a 1-1 tie with visiting Valour FC last Sunday in the season opener for both.

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“An amazing goal,” said Koch. “And it was something special. I think the soccer gods were smiling on us at that moment. We needed something in the game and we also needed something to uplift all of us after everything we’ve gone through.”

In other games this week, it’s HFX Wanderers (1-0-0) at Atletico Ottawa (1-0-0) and Cavalry FC (0-1-0) at Forge FC (0-1-0) on Saturday and Valour FC (0-0-1) at Pacific FC (1-0-0) on Sunday.

Read more: Former Oilers executive appointed president of FC Edmonton

Koch says most of the loanee players were found by his team but signed to others so they could be loaned back for the season.

The league officially took over operation of the Edmonton franchise on Dec. 31 while the search for new ownership continued. At the time, the CPL said it had been working with current owners Tom and Dave Fath “for several months to identify and assess potential new owners and that process is ongoing.”

“We get to do all the basic things we need to do but there’s no frills or anything here right now,” said Koch.

The South African-born Koch, who came to Canada on a soccer scholarship to play at Simon Fraser University, was named Edmonton’s head coach and director of football operations in November 2020 — the latest step on a coaching journey that included time in charge of the Vancouver Whitecaps reserve team and the MLS’s FC Cincinnati.

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He said the league taking over Edmonton represented “the biggest surprise of my 22-year professional coaching career.”

“In coaching, you have to pivot. But we’ve been pivoting non-stop here for four months,” he added with a chuckle. “Hey we adjust and we embrace it. Sometimes your biggest growth personally, professionally happens in your most adverse moments. And we’ve gone through a lot of adversity and we’re all growing from it.

“I’m a better person and a better coach now than I was when I started this job. And that’s fortunately or unfortunately because of all the challenges we’ve had to deal with.”

Read more: CPL takes over operation of FC Edmonton amid search for new ownership

FC Edmonton, founded by the Fath brothers, debuted in 2011. It ceased playing in the North American Soccer League after the 2017 season before joining the CPL for its inaugural 2019 campaign.

Edmonton (6-12-10) finished seventh in the eight-team league in 2021.

CPL rules prior to this year allowed clubs to acquire a maximum of five players on loan and no more than one player from another CPL club. The league suspended those rules for Edmonton “to maximize their resources in the construction of their 2022 squad.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton teams battle for sports fans’ time and money'
Edmonton teams battle for sports fans’ time and money

Toronto FC loaned Luke Singh to Edmonton after a 2021 season that saw the young defender thrown into the deep end in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play.

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“He had a taste,” Koch said of the 21-year-old Singh, who had a goal in eight appearances in all competitions for Toronto last year. “As a young player, he was playing CONCACAF Champions League games. And obviously didn’t push on as much as he and TFC would have liked to see last year.

“But now he comes here and he gets an opportunity to play and compete and progress. And based on one game already, you can see his progression. We hope to see him progress through the course of the season and I’m pretty certain when he goes back to TFC at the end of the year he’s going to be a better player than he was when he got here.”

Midfielder Shamit Shome, a local boy who came through the FC Edmonton academy before heading to the MLS with Montreal, and former TFC draft pick Nyal Higgins, a defender, are the Eddies co-captains.

York will be without Argentine midfielder Mateo Hernandez, suspended after being red-carded in the 95th minute of its season-opening 1-0 loss to visiting HFX Wanderers.

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