FC Edmonton hoping to build CPL empire on rock of academy system

TORONTO – Where other teams had to scout far and wide for young talent to stock their rosters, Jeff Paulus and FC Edmonton were able to focus a little closer to home.

The FC Edmonton Academy, formed in 2012, consists of four teams – U-16, U-18, and U-20 boys’/men’s sides and a U-18 girls’ side (run in partnership with Alberta Soccer as a Regional Excel program). The two younger boys’ groups train from September to April and spend the summer with their respective local clubs, while the U-20 side plays in the Alberta Major Soccer League.

With the programs overseen by technical director Sean Fleming, it has quickly become a reliable and plentiful source of talent for Paulus, himself formerly the academy TD, and the Eddies.

Three graduates – Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, David Doe, and Prince Amanda – signed to the first team before kickoff to the 2019 Canadian Championship season and four matches in, with Edmonton in need of some additional firepower, Paulus will be looking to trio for a spark, especially with a Voyageurs Cup tilt against York9 FC fast approaching.

“They bring everything I’m after in a player,” Paulus said. “They’re all attacking players.

“These kids have pace to burn, they’re brave, they will go 1-v-1, they love to get in behind.”

Velado-Tsegaye and Doe were second half substitutes against Cavalry FC in the Al Classico, prime factors in Edmonton’s attempted fightback. Velado-Tsegaye would start in their next match, a 2-0 defeat away to Forge FC, and Doe would again come off the bench.

Though the CPL’s U-21 rule played a factor in Paulus’ decision, it was really the players themselves that earned the chance.

“It’s their bravery to play one-v-one as wingers, that’s really what sold me on them. Marcus, his upside is through the roof,” said Paulus of Velado-Tsegaye.

“Amanda is maybe a bit different, not as 1-v-1 as the other two, but he can play almost every position on the pitch. He’ll give us some cover as a full-back, can play beneath the nine, he can play as a winger. We’ve also used him as a centre-back. Big upside.

“We’re hoping we see all of them continue to develop.”

Where other clubs looked to U-21 players with professional experience, Edmonton see value in letting this trio grow into their roles.

“My strategy is to bring in three 19-and-youngers and I’ve done that because these kids, by the time they’re 21 they’ll (potentially) have seen over 3000 minutes,” explained Paulus. “We’ve got three years to develop these kids into full-time professional footballers.

“What an opportunity for them.”

And there are plenty more in the pipeline.

“There are about four more right now in our academy that I could sign tomorrow,” added Paulus. “If I was allowed more than 23 players, allowed a bit more on our roster.

“I mean that seriously.”

Canadian Premier League - Cavalry FC v FC Edmonton - Calgary, Alberta, Canada May 18, 2019 Tomi Ameobi of FC Edmonton heads the ball out of harmÕs way in front ofthe goal. Mike Sturk/CPL
Tomi Ameobi of FC Edmonton heads the ball out of harm’s way in front of the goal. (Photo: Mike Sturk/CPL).

Tomi Amoebi has been impressed with what he has seen from the youngsters.

“You can tell from the first day that they all have that confidence,” said Ameobi. “They’re not scared to pick up the ball and try to beat a player or two, which is awesome, because sometimes when you make that step up, you can be a bit timid and it takes you a bit of time to settle into the new environment.”

“That speaks to these three young guys, their qualities as footballers and as young men, and also the group as a whole for allowing these boys to express themselves,” continued Ameobi. “There are times where you want them to tone it down a bit, but that’s something that as a group we’re going to take them under our wing, continue to nurture that creativity.

“From the moment Jeff was like these are the three I’m bringing on, in my mind, I was like that’s great.”

Velado-Tsegaye, Doe, and Amanda join a further seven FCE academy graduates on the first team – the Zebie brothers, Allan and Bruno, Connor James, Eden Mortotsi, Ajay Khabra, Ajeej Sarkaria, and Amer Didic, emphasizing further that hometown feel fostered in Edmonton.

Montreal Impact midfielder Shamit Shome is also a graduate of the program.

The jump from the youth level to the professional game is never an easy one, but surrounded by the support of those who have been there before is helping Doe to navigate the transition.

“It’s really difficult, but I’m getting to adapt with players teaching me how,” said Doe. “Randy (Edwini-Bonsu), Tomi, Ajeej, Eden, all the older guys (have been particularly helpful).”

And his familiarity with Paulus’ demands helps too.

“I’ve been with Jeff for almost five years, so I know how he wants me to play, what I needed to do,” said Doe, eager to repay the faith placed in him by his coach. “I want to get a lot of playing time, score some goals and get some assists.

“And get my name out there, for everybody to know who I am.”

Coming from Edmonton, that recognition has been a problem in the past.

Look at any Canadian youth national team and the list of players is dominated by representatives from the three MLS clubs. With the U-21 rule and a smattering of teenagers spread across the league, expect that to change quickly as the CPL clubs continue to establish themselves.

“The first couple camps they didn’t really take me seriously because I’m from Edmonton,” relayed Doe, who has used that slight to his advantage. “We’ve had some good players come out of Edmonton, we’re just underrated.

“I don’t get mad, it just gives me motivation.”