FCE’s Paulus credits players for ‘buying in’ to revamped style

HAMILTON – Not even three weeks ago, FC Edmonton was mired in last place in the CPL, goalless in six straight league games with coach Jeff Paulus searching desperately for something to spark his languishing team.

Fast forward to now, and they’ve found a new vitality. Their 2-1 win at Forge FC on Saturday was their fourth on the bounce, giving them all the spoils in the first match of the Fall season.

With the Eddies’ Spring woes now wiped from the slate, Paulus is relishing this chance for a do-over in the Fall.

“We started off so poorly, and we started off trying to play a certain way,” Paulus said after Saturday’s win. “It wasn’t going to work out, and we’ve changed the way we play with the players that we have, we’re trying to utilize their individual skillsets better.”

“I knew the Fall season was there, designed for a team like ours that’s on a bit of a rebuild at the moment in our style of play,” he added. “I think the players here are buying in, because we’ve had a different game plan for every team we’ve played.”

The win over Forge, although it required a fair bit of good fortune — Paulus himself cited Triston Henry’s blunder for an own goal and a late miss from Kyle Bekker — can be largely credited to a rock-solid defensive shift. Limited to just 33.6% possession, the Eddies had to absorb wave after wave of pressure from arguably the CPL’s most potent attack. They needed 15 tackles, 16 interceptions, and three huge saves from Connor James to preserve the win.

James figured that those saves, which came in nervy moments for the Eddies, helped steady the ship and boost his side’s morale. He compared the psychological impact of his success to that of his team’s attackers.

“It really helps the team ride the momentum,” James told OneSoccer postgame. “It’s similar to when we score a goal, right? Everyone feels a little bit more energy.”

Overall, Paulus was thrilled with his side’s continuing ability to execute whatever game plan he’s thrown at them in the past few games. He provided them with a very specific mission, and it worked, aesthetic quality of their winning goal aside.

“This is a game that we felt we had to be really compact defensively, two solid lines of four defending, and keep them to the outside,” Paulus said, detailing his bespoke tactical plan for playing Forge.

“We’re comfortable defending crosses,” he added. “Obviously with the size of our defenders and their agility, we don’t think teams will beat us by crossing from deep positions, but we wanted to stop them from getting in the middle.”

That particular strategy had already worked for FC Edmonton a week and a half ago, when they shut out Forge for a 1-0 home win. Saturday’s win was almost deja vu for the Eddies, who were similarly forced to sit back and play without the ball in that Spring season test.

Although things are rosier than ever for Paulus and his squad, he concedes that there’s plenty of work still to be done in the Fall season. Still, there’s no denying the progress they’ve made recently.

“A good team has to be able to have an away performance like we’ve just had,” he said. “So, if we’re going to be a good team — I’m not saying we’re there yet, we have work to do — but we have to have results like this.”

With a tantalizing open canvas ahead in the Fall season, it’ll be all smiles around FCE circles this week as they bask in their run of good form.

“Even though we were bottom of the league I think about three weeks ago, we didn’t let that defeat us,” James reflected. “We kept that belief and now we’re just riding the wave.”

That wave next takes James and the Eddies to York Region, where they’ll face York9 FC on Sunday, July 14 (3:30 p.m. ET, on OneSoccer).