TORONTO – Jeff Paulus is all-in on Edmonton.
The FC Edmonton head coach is set to sign at least 10 current or former players from the Eddies’ Academy to his inaugural Canadian Premier League roster.
While building half a squad from one source could be seen as a serious gamble, Paulus is hoping to parlay the local talent he knows well into a potential secret weapon in the CPL.
But with that show of faith comes heightened expectations, too.
“There will definitely be some stress as the season unfolds to see how they rank with the rest of the country,” Paulus told CanPL.ca. “But we believe we have a ton of players that have been under-appreciated.”
However underrated, Edmonton has already shown glimmers of player development potential through Paulus’s academy and a player by the name of Alphonso Davies.
In just seven years since its founding in 2012, the FC Edmonton Academy has produced two players that have received call-ups to Canada’s senior men’s national team and sent many more to Europe, North American pro leagues and college programs.
Beyond the talents of Hanson Boakai, Mallan Roberts and Shamit Shome, Paulus has added three more professionals to the academy’s list of alumni by signing Bruno Zebie, Ajeej Sarkaria and Ajay Khabra to first-team contracts.
“There will be a bit of a chip on our shoulders here for something to prove to the rest of the country. They want to show their quality,” Paulus said.
“Edmonton has a very deep-rooted setup, I think the club has been developing great players for years and people haven’t noticed.”
Paulus told CanPL.ca he’s on the verge of bringing on four academy players under the age of 18, signing them to their first professional contracts as a result.
“One of them will probably start for me,” Paulus admitted, though he wouldn’t say who.
Still, it’s an incredible show of faith in a young player … and Paulus and assistant coach Sean Fleming share that belief nearly a dozen times over.
“Someone asked me, ‘You’re only going to choose local players that people know?’ No, that’s not it at all,” Fleming told CanPL.ca.
“I think that’s a real insult to the players. I think that the players are being selected because they’re good enough.”
Ultimately, Paulus sees his reliance on local talent in his first CPL roster as a responsibility.
“I think that’s a role for us. It’s a source of pride,” Paulus said.
“We’ve put a lot of time into this and we need to prove it works. I truly believe in these players over other programs or other professional players.
“It’s really good pressure, to be honest. It’s important to compare yourself to programs bigger than yours, and maybe those who do it a bit better than you. This will give us a test of how we have done as a program. It will work.
“If we have to make adjustments, we will. This is a chance to see where Edmonton soccer stands.”
If it works, Paulus’ faith will be repaid in spades.
United by the city flag, Edmonton stands on its own now.