It seems that the first club to fall at The Island Games is FC Edmonton.
Although they weren’t technically eliminated by losing to Valour FC on Saturday, the mood among the Eddies squad was somber as they found themselves all but out of it with five games played in PEI.
Despite out-shooting and out-possessing Valour, FCE fell 2-1 as a penalty scored on the second chance and a moment of quality from Masta Kacher overruled Easton Ongaro’s excellent goal.
After the game, Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus caused a stir by reflecting upon himself in a campaign where very little has gone right for his club. He reiterated his belief in his players, and pointed out that the Eddies played very well at times in Charlottetown, but there seems to be something not quite right.
“I’ll just accept responsibility that that little piece could be me at the end of the day,” Paulus said. “I’ve been here since December of 2011, and yeah, I love the club. Of course. But the reality is, though, I want this club to succeed, and right now we think we’ve got a better roster than where we are in the standings shows.
“If it takes someone else coming in with a new voice to get this club and this group of the players over the top, then I’m just open to that.”
He continued: “I really want to pull the focus away from our players, because I think our players have done well here. I want to support them, and I think just own where we’re at, and where we’re at starts with me.”
The Eddies were a team that made some major changes in the past off-season, although a lot of the core remained from 2019. Expectations were fairly high for the club, but the blink-and-you’d-miss-it gauntlet of The Island Games has not been kind to them.
It didn’t help that defender Amer Didic went down to injury in their first game, but they just seemed to land on the wrong side of close games.
Paulus, of course, won’t be the one pinning the club’s failure on anything like injuries or bad luck. Nor is he going to stand for unwarranted criticism of his players.
“I get to see them on the training ground, I get to see them in the hotel,” he said. “They handle themselves with such class. They’re doing the right things when it comes to social injustice, and what they put on the pitch is their heart and soul.
“I want to talk about how much they’re giving right now, our group of lads,” Paulus added. “We won’t look for excuses. What I said earlier there is just me not looking for an excuse, and I’m not gonna look for one now. At the end of the day we’re in the same position as every other team in this event, and the other teams have more points than we do.”
The players are similarly unwilling to blame anything, or anyone, in particular. Ramón Soria, who wore the captain’s armband for Edmonton on Saturday, also gave his coach a vote of confidence after Paulus seemed to question his role at the club.
“He means a lot (to the club),” Soria said. “He’s our coach, he has put a lot of work in for the team to be prepared. I think we’ve had a very good plan every game to win the game, it’s just small moments in every game… Every game we’ve had issues that’s not because of the coach, I don’t think it’s because of the players, it’s in general. I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s true that I’m feeling in some moments we deserved more.”
Looking ahead, with two games left to try and play spoiler for other sides at The Island Games, Paulus won’t allow his team to throw in the towel. They’ll play both York9 and Pacific, and the Eddies could certainly turn the league table on its head with six points there.
“We have to own where we’re at and fight the negativity that can build up seeing our results, and come out with two good performances,” he said.
“We don’t want to let down ourselves, these players are playing for themselves as well. This is professional football, so whether it’s me whose job is on the line, whether it’s a player fighting for their next contract, we’re all professionals here, and we have to see this out professionally.”