‘Our biggest rival’: FC Edmonton’s Jeff Paulus lays down Ottawa gauntlet in 2020

The Battle of Alberta saw Cavalry FC take on FC Edmonton five separate times in the 2019 Canadian Premier League season.

But, by the fifth and final fight, a couple of clear observations emerged.

No, not the one-sidedness of the whole affair; Cavalry did indeed dominate the inaugural Al Classico, sure, but these inferences have little to do with the final results.

No, instead, what became inherently obvious when reflecting on FC Edmonton vs. Cavalry was just how, well… friendly the whole affair seemed.

A genuine friendship between Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and Jeff Paulus? Check.

Players, some who have featured on both fronts, shaking hands with little resentment at the 90-minute mark? Check.

Nothing but mutual respect in the build-up and post-game quote sheet, from all parties involved? Check, check, and check.

So, whatever Al Classico is – a local derby, sure; a battle for provincial pride, yes – a rivalry it is not.

Or, not in the traditional sense, anyways.

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Cavalry’s dance with Hamilton’s Forge FC was much more in line with what fans would expect from a traditional rivalry: bad blood, moments of controversy, gauntlets thrown, all over the course of regular season, domestic cup, and finals action. All of this, underlined by a growing sentiment of Alberta vs. Ontario for the hearts and minds of the Canadian soccer populace, and you’ve got the perfect battleground for something… real. Something organic.

It’s why Paulus is keeping a close eye not on Cavalry, but on another, newer club for the 2020 season.

“FC Edmonton has a history with Ottawa in the NASL days,” Paulus alluded, when talking to about the league’s newest expansion team.

“Look, many people won’t want to hear this, but I consider Ottawa our biggest rival.”

Say what?

“Based on our past games against another, they’re actually a bigger rival to me than Calgary,” Paulus said, doubling down.

The Eddies coach is correct about the history the two cities share; due to the limited nature of the Canadian Championship from 2014 through 2017, FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury (of the NASL and, later, USL) had to square off in a home-and-away preliminary round, before meeting one of Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact, or the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semi-finals.

Because of that, these two cities have real soccer history – the kind you can’t manufacture on regional lines alone.

“I’ve got so many fond memories of our competitions against Ottawa,” Paulus reflected. “We saw a lot of each other.”

In four years’ worth of Canadian Championship clashes, Edmonton and Ottawa each got the better of each other on two separate occasions. The Eddies pipped the Fury in 2014 and 2015, and the Fury returned the favour in 2016 and 2017. Along the way? A fair few memorable moments, including this particular goal scored by Edmonton’s Jacob Keegan.

Paulus is looking forward to reigniting this rivalry – another iteration of Ontario vs. Alberta – in 2020 and beyond.

“I expect their passionate fanbase will be behind this team,” Paulus said. “They’ll see FC Edmonton come in, and we’re still the same team they’ve played against back in the NASL. I’m delighted to see them back in this league. For us, it’s going to be exciting for our fanbase, too. The Al Classico is very special, very special for what we have in Alberta, but FC Edmonton vs. Ottawa is something that has history and longevity.”

On a personal level, Paulus was also keen on away trips to Ottawa, too.

“There’s nothing better for me than walking around our nation’s capital and seeing our parliament building,” Paulus said. “For me, as an ex military member, it brings such a sense of pride to be in Ottawa. It brings back fantastic memories of our battles together. They have a fantastic fanbase who have supported soccer in years past, and I look forward to seeing them again and enjoying the banter in the stands. It’s a passionate soccer city. So, for me, it’ll renew a rivalry that was really set years ago, and it’s one that we’ll look to grow.”

So, with all that, how does Paulus feel about seeing an Ottawa club in the Canadian Premier League, all these years later?

“It’s fantastic to see them back in this league,” he answered, a similar sentiment to those his fellow coaches said of CPL team no. 8. “What it does though is shows the strength of this league. To see an organization and a massive global club like Atlético want to invest in the Canadian Premier League shows that what’s being done behind the scenes is obviously impressive enough to entice the giants to want to be a part of this. And, having a team in the nation’s capital was so important for our league, along with growing our league to eight teams, for the schedule.

“But it’s also progress from year one. With everything this league accomplished last year – beating an MLS side and a Concacaf side, and the incredible showings of Cavalry and Forge – to have a team like this join our league after just one year speaks volumes of where this league is going and the role it’s going to play in Canadian soccer.”

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