EDMONTON – Last season, a trio of FC Edmonton forwards — Easton Ongaro, Tomi Ameobi and the now-departed Oumar Diouck — combined for 20 goals in Canadian Premier League action.
The Eddies scored a meagre total of only 27 goals (second-worst in the CPL) over the spring and fall seasons. The math is simple. Take away the 20 goals from the strikers and Edmonton got, gulp, only seven goals from its midfielders, defenders, wingers and fullbacks.
Defender Mele Temguia scored the club’s first CPL goal; he ended up with two on the season, with one more in the Canadian Championship. That made him the team’s top scorer outside of the forwards.
The scoring was so sparse in the midfield that an FCE supporter can actually remember all of them without having to think too hard; Bruno Zebie, Ramon Soria on a free kick, Marcus Velado-Tsegaye on his birthday, Prince Amanda.
So, while FC Edmonton didn’t make wholesale changes to the roster ahead of the 2020 season, some key additions were made to bolster the midfield’s potency.
Swede Erik Zetterberg, who coach Jeff Paulus remarked can really “ping a pass” and begin attacks; Raul Tito, a dynamic Peruvian who can help the Eddies on the wing; and midfielders Keven Alemán and Hanson Boakai, two former teen prodigies who will look to not only score from their spots behind the strikers, but also provide improved service to Ongaro and Ameobi.
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“I know a lot of people doubt us, but I can’t wait to prove them wrong,” Boakai told CanPL.ca before the Eddies, like all CPL teams, were forced to pause training camp due to COVID-19.
“I am 23, I am no longer 16 or 17. So, I need to get my feet down and push forward for myself…. Coming here, I have a lot of people who expect a lot from me. They want me to come here and help the team. When I go home, when I am on the pitch, I need to stay focused.
“I need to stay ready. I do have a lot of expectations for myself and the coaches have a lot of expectations for me, too. I have to prove myself to the coaches, to myself, to my teammates and to the city. I think I can do it. I can’t wait to start.”
Paulus added: “We needed the types of player who, when he gets the ball to his feet, can threaten on his own. We need the players who can threaten from between the opposition midfield and their back line.”
FCE had most of its success last season when it played in the most standard formation of all, the 4-4-2. But it’s not really the way Paulus envisioned the way his team would play before the 2019 season started, and it’s not the way he hopes they will play when we get the all-green from our public-health officials to begin the 2020 campaign.
He believes he now has the flexibility to go three at back, or can go to a 4-2-3-1 to take advantage of his new attacking midfielders’ abilities.
Paulus revealed he’d been pursuing Alemán since last year’s summer transfer window, but the Canadian midfielder was having a solid campaign in the USL and wasn’t about to look to move.
As for Zetterberg? Paulus stated the Swede “is one of the cleanest passers of the ball I’ve seen at this club. He reminds me of a young Kyle Bekker.”
And, because Duran Lee has been brought in as a left-footed option at left back, Allan Zebie will move from fullback into holding midfield, the position in which Paulus believes Zebie thrives.
“He will offer real safety to his partner, that they can go and advance,” Pauluis offered.
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But, the Edmonton coach believes returnees Edem Mortotsi and Velado-Tesgaye will also play key parts, and that youngster Anthony Caceres will turn heads.
“Caceres is really great on the ball and can beat players one-v-one,” Paulus said. “Mortotsi can advance 30 yards on the dribble.”
Now, Paulus has talked about more players than can possibly fit into the starting XI, but he’s being very realistic about the coming season. He understands that, with each passing week the season is delayed because of the COVID-19 crisis, the more likely it is that the schedule will need to be compressed for when the teams do get back on the field.
While the league made an effort to remove many midweek games and ease travel burdens in year two, Paulus said all of the players and coaches need to be ready for a revamped schedule that might put teams in the situation where they’re going to be playing twice a week fairly regularly.
And, if that’s the case, the teams that have depth will be the ones that have advantages — as they’ll be better equipped to deal with squad rotations.
While how, exactly, the 2020 season will play out is still up for debate, Paulus’s confidence in his revamped midfield isn’t. But, if FC Edmonton is to contend this season, it can’t simply lean on its strikers to provide almost all of the offence.