FC Edmonton is in rebuild mode as we approach the conclusion of the 2019 calendar year.
Coach Jeff Paulus is already hard at work in the club offices re-signing key performers, parting ways with non-returning players, and planning out his roster for the 2020 Canadian Premier League campaign.
For new Eddies’ fans hoping to see their favourite players return to Clarke Field next year, a number of stars have already pledged their return. Others have moved on from the club, the natural order of things in the world of soccer. Players come, and players go – the badge on the shirt remains eternal.
So, weep not for those who have departed, and rejoice still for those who remain, as the Eddies, like all their CPL counterparts – like all their counterparts across the world, really – look to next season with the hopes of reaching even higher heights and greater glories with a cast of characters new and old under Paulus’ guiding hand.
Here’s a quick update on how Edmonton looks today, what may be coming down the pipeline, and what they might want to address in 2020.
Well, for one, young striker Easton Ongaro returns to the fray for the 2020 campaign. The 21-year-old was something of a surprise for the Eddies in 2019. Drafted by Cavalry FC in the first CPL-U SPORTS Draft, he instead joined Edmonton and went on to become a scoring sensation in Alberta, finding the back of the net 10 times in 21 appearances.
“Easton was actually a free agent at the end of the season, so he was one that we got into negotiations with right away, because any team could have come in for him,” Paulus told CanPL.ca. “We got that done and dusted as soon as possible, and we have him locked into a two-year deal. We’re delighted to have him back.”
Joining Ongaro for sure are defenders Ramon Soria and Kareem Moses, versatile midfielder Son Yongchan, and attackers Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, David Doe, Prince Amanda, and captain Tomi Ameobi, all of whom re-signed for the Eddies for the 2020 season. In particular, Ameobi’s return was heralded by Paulus.
“Tomi Ameobi is a leader of our club, and the team captain; he’s played the most minutes, and 120 matches or thereabout, so he’s a player we wanted around the club,” Paulus explained. “My roster has a lot of younger Canadians, and we have a core group of young players and veterans, and we’ve kept them here.”
There are a few players yet to be announced, one way or the other. Still on the bubble are goalkeeper Connor James, defenders Jeannot Esua, Allan Zebie, Ramon Soria, Mele Temguia and Amer Didic, and midfielders Edem Mortotsi and Ajay Khabra. While Paulus did not confirm or deny their returns for 2020, he did tell CanPL.ca that the club is still in negotiations with a number of players, including Didic, who was recently away with the Canadian men’s national team.
“We’re trying to get Amer signed here, and he’s happy here. This is home for him,” Paulus revealed. “But, he’s a player that I said from the get-go, it’s no secret: I want to do everything I could to get him back to the MLS, because I believe he’s an MLS-quality defender. It’s around the time that MLS teams are looking at their options as well, and he’s had two national team call-ups as well, so I don’t want to disrupt that, but we are in negotiations and we’ll hopefully have an update on him in the next short while, but he’s definitely someone we want to re-sign.”
Beyond that? There are a few players we know won’t be returning to the club, at least for now.
The club announced recently it has parted ways with goalkeeper Dylon Powley, defender Bruno Zebie, midfielders Tony Tchani, James Marcelin, Ajeej Sarkaria, and Philippe Lincourt-Joseph, and forwards Oumar Diouck and Randy Edwini-Bonsu. Some of those players are gone for sure. Others could return, if circumstances allow.
“So, Dylon is a player that we’re still in negotiations with at this time,” Paulus said of Powley. “We want to see if we can keep him around the club, because we like Dylon. We believe he can challenge Connor James, and those two can battle it out for that No. 1 spot, but Dylon is also a ‘keeper with aspirations to be a No. 1, so we have to respect that. If he wants to go to another club to do that, we owe it to him to give him that opportunity, too.”
One player who was particularly hard to cut? Oumar Diouck, the Belgian attacker who enjoyed flashes of stellar play, but was ultimately lost to the shuffle of roster building.
“Oumar, he was probably the hardest decision to make,” Paulus explained. “He’s an international player, and spots are limited for those. We felt that we have to improve in several areas for the way we want to play football, and to do that? There’s a hockey adage, ‘You have to give up quality to get quality’ and that’s what we’d use for Diouck. We had to make concessions to balance the salary cap and roster. It was a really difficult choice there, for Oumar.”
What they need?
So, a handful of players have departed; a strong core of young players and veterans remain and will return for 2020. But, with all these changes comes another layer – new players.
The Eddies drafted a pair of local talents out of the University of Alberta in the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft in Jake Bosch and David Chung. They’ll compete for developmental contracts through pre-season, and haven’t been locked down of yet. Beyond that?
“We’re looking for dynamic, attacking players, typically those who start off wide and dribble inside,” Paulus said. “We feel that, defensively, as long as we get our business down here with negotiations, we’ll be quite good again, and organized. It’s attacking players at the moment.
“If you want to describe a player type, we’re looking for the Marco Bustos or Tristan Borges-type players. We’ve got goal-scorers in Ongaro and Ameobi. I’d also like a real ball-winning midfield player, one with presence who you’d be worried to play around, a Nik Ledgerwood-type.”
Overall outlook for 2020
This is the nature of the business, roster moves. To that end, FC Edmonton exits the 2019 calendar year with more good news than not, as a healthy core of talented players return for 2020.
“Every club has first year managers, and we’re still figuring things out in this environment,” Paulus said of these changes. “You have so many things to factor in: You’ve got a max roster size of 23, and a minimum of 20; you’ve got to sign at least three players under the age of 21; you’ve got a salary cap and international player rules. You’re trying to balance all these things. It’s a constant juggling of your roster. It’s constant movement.”
He added: “We were fourth place overall last year. I’ll accept most of the responsibility for that, but that means you have to make changes and do things differently. There will be roster changes, and because of that, you’ll make some difficult decisions. But, some changes are out of your hands as well. Some players will be on extended deals, and some will be on one-year deals who want to go and try and become starters somewhere else. There’s a lot of moving pieces when you’re trying to build a roster in a salary cap world.”