You learn a lot about a team when its fate is already decided.
FC Edmonton entered Tuesday’s game against York9 all but officially eliminated from The Island Games, but coach Jeff Paulus called on his players to show some spirit in the penultimate game of their 2020 CPL campaign.
“Absolutely. To a player,” he affirmed. “Thought they’ve had a good game. Honestly, people will be sick of hearing me saying that when we’re not winning, but I’m proud of the players.
“That’s all you ask for at this point. They’re not quitting, they’re not giving up, and I know they won’t quit the next game either.”
The Eddies certainly didn’t make it easy on a York9 side under serious pressure to win for their own top-four campaign. Paulus’ side out-possessed Jimmy Brennan’s, and they won 56 per cent of the duels. They didn’t manage to put any of their six shots on target, but the energy was high.
Looking back on the six games played in PEI, Paulus lamented how his side was out-done in set-piece situations — they’ve been scored on via free kicks, penalties, and corners, but they’ve failed to capitalize on their opportunities.
“You look at some of the different things and what are some of the different moments; why is FC Edmonton sitting on one point and other teams are at 10?” he pondered.
“At the end of the day our set-pieces have not been good enough. If you’re not beating the first defender on a corner in senior professional football, then you’re not given a chance to win. So many professional games are decided by a set-piece when the teams are tight, and we don’t give ourselves a chance to win because we don’t give a ball in the box to players like Amer Didic or Easton (Ongaro).”
Nonetheless, Paulus reiterated the pride he has in his players. He commended his young players, many of whom saw time in Tuesday’s match (teenagers Marcus Velado-Tsegaye and Prince Amanda starting on the wings), and he revealed that all of them had earned their time — Amanda wasn’t originally going to start, but he earned his place in Monday’s training session.
He also singled out Didic, the towering defender who made his return to the lineup after suffering an ankle injury in Edmonton’s first game. Didic, who told reporters he’d first believed he could be out weeks or months, worked his way back much earlier than expected.
“His injury was severe enough to rule him out for the rest of the tournament, but he won’t accept that,” said Paulus. “I really wish that people could see how hard he’s worked on his own time, every minute he put in with our trainer, just doing everything he needed to get back and play.”
Didic himself explained some of the process, revealing that his ankle required near-constant attention to rehabilitate it so quickly. He thanked Eddies doctor Terry DeFreitas — contacted virtually from Edmonton — and physiotherapist James Greene, as well as the environment of the CPL bubble in PEI.
“I took it as a challenge, and right when I got back to the hotel I started the process … the process was every day, especially in this type of environment in a bubble. Watching the guys playing day in and day out, you just want to be out there” he recalled.
“Waking up today it was nice knowing that there was a game, I think that motivated me enough. Then once you step on the field it’s crazy how your mind can wander off and not think about the pain that you’re fighting through.”
Paulus used Didic’s recovery as an example of how he’s seen his players in a new light in PEI. With the luxury of seeing them almost 24/7, he explained he’s gotten a clearer picture of their off-field habits and character. He offered, for instance, that 20 of his 22 players had shown up for an optional gym session this week.
“You see who shows up late, you see who skips breakfast,” he said. “Even though you made it optional, you still see who skips it. Things like this, so you get to learn a bit more about the personalities and characteristics and habits of everyone…
“For a lot of reasons I’m proud of the lads, but we’ve made our notes on maybe some struggles or who’s maybe not using their time wisely when they’re away from the group.”
Not one to pass blame, Paulus added: “And that goes for staff as well, I’ve got a lot of things to fix myself.”
Now, it’s onward to Edmonton’s last game of the 2020 season. They take on Pacific in the last match of The Island Games’ first round, and the Eddies will be desperate to leave with a win.