TORONTO – Entering the second week of training camp, an identity has begun to emerge at FC Edmonton.
Jeff Paulus and his side have been hard at work in the Edmonton Soccer Dome, where both fitness training and tactical sessions have provided an indication of how the team will go about its business when the season kicks off on April 27.
Already, Paulus has fostered fierce competition in the team’s opening training sessions.
“The training has been really intense,” Paulus told CanPL.ca. “Some of the challenges and the tackles amongst good friends have been borderline naughty.”
He continued: “You want to see that. It’s cliche that you practice how you play. Football is not a switch, you want to get the habits in early: willingness to transition, press to win it back, to compete.”
Those key terms – transition, press, compete – define Edmonton’s style of play.
Eddies forward Tomi Ameobi sums it up by calling his team a “very fluid, attacking” bunch, adding: “We all have that attacking mindset.”
That is, presumably, by Paulus’ design. He’s had this methodology at the forefront of his mind for some time now, adding players that fit a system that, at times, reads like all or nothing.
“I have an idea of how I want to see game played, what will define me and FC Edmonton going forward, (and) our style on the pitch,” Paulus explained. “You search for players that like to keep the ball, like to play possession, like to get forward.”
In midfield and defence, the likes of Allan Zebie, Ramon Soria, and Son Yongchan fit the bill for skill on the ball and comfort in possession; up front, the fleet-footedness of Randy Edwini-Bonsu, alongside the teenage FC Edmonton Academy trio of David Doe, Prince Amanda, and Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, match the other side of the equation.
Fullback Jeannot Esua has also received strong reviews from those in and around training camp.
“We want to utilize our qualities,” Edwini-Bonsu said. “We’re going to be fast; technical. That’s our team.”
Quickness of foot and of mind in particular excites Paulus. It opens new doors.
“I like pace, that one thing that is different. You can’t teach it,” Paulus explained. “(It) allows you to press high; take a few more chances with players who are fast enough to recover. I was able to put a team together of players that fit that mold of a footballer (who is) possession-oriented, attacking, clever, and strong off the ball.”
Allan Zebie has known his coach for many years. The two met in 2010 at the National Training Centre in Edmonton. He echoes his teammates’ sentiments when asked about Edmonton’s style of play, particularly noting the level of athleticism being demanded of himself and his teammates under Paulus.
The second element they’ll have to bring, though, is individual character.
“It’s about the chemistry of the team,” Paulus stressed. “I wanted to make sure that players would get along in the locker room. I didn’t want a clique-ish team.
“It’s difficult to get everyone to buy in when everyone is doing their own thing.”
Added Edwini-Bonsu: “We don’t want any players here with attitude or egos.”
A good way of testing that resolve? An outdoor adventure does the trick. The team bonded over a camping experience that Ameobi said was “out of everyone’s comfort zone.”
Paulus also kept in mind the longevity of the club, mixing exciting youth with veteran leadership that will build for the future. To that end, Edmonton brought on a trio of teenage academy standouts as the youngest members, but six other players are 23 or under, including two from U SPORTS and the University of Alberta – goalkeeper Connor James and forward Ajeej Sarkaria.
That youth is coupled with seasoned pros like Ameobi, 30, Soria, 29, Kareem Moses, 29, and Edwini-Bonsu, 28.
The thought process behind that, explained Paulus, is, “To help make my Canadian players more professional” and to “prepare them for down the road.”
Paulus figures he can help those young players develop and “peak in three-to-four years time.”
“Maybe I’m preparing a team for my replacement – who knows?” Paulus mused. “I’ve always had a vision of want to give our kids a chance, we’re going to do that here.”
Versatility, too, was vital. Paulus’ players can play in multiple positions. The Zebie brothers, Allan and Bruno, exemplify that aspect to a tee – they’re capable of playing at fullback or in midfield.
That versatility has, in turn, made for heated competition for roster and lineup spots. The players are enjoying it, for what it’s worth.
“It’s fun,” Edwini-Bonsu said. “Everyone has a point to prove. We want to set the tone. The competitive level is there.
“I didn’t expect it right off the bat, but I love it, every moment of it. I’m looking forward to going to training. It wasn’t like that for other teams I played for.”