FC Edmonton’s Paulus spurs French connection at Clarke Stadium

Dear Quebec soccer fan:

There isn’t a team in your home province for the inaugural Canadian Premier League season. So, which team should you follow, or possibly even throw your support behind?

A very good case can be made for FC Edmonton. As training camp opened in a high-performance fitness centre on the city’s south side, the team’s roster boasted four players with Quebec roots. Brothers Allan and Bruno Zebie moved from France to Quebec before settling in Alberta. In fact, Allan was named to the Quebec provincial team when he was a teenager.

Defender Mele Temguia and midfielder Philippe Lincourt-Joseph grew up in Quebec, came up through the Montreal Impact system and played for the now-defunct USL side, FC Montreal.

And, there are four more francophones on the team: Belgian attacker Oumar Diock, Cameroonian fullback Jeannot Esua, Haitian midfielder James Marcelin and Spanish defender Roman Soria, who speaks a number of languages.

“I knew there were the Zebie brothers here, who were once in Quebec and speak French, but I didn’t know that there was going to be that many French-speaking players on the team,” said Temguia, after going through his preseason physical. “Communication with some of the other players will be easier. I think my English is good enough, but it does make it more exciting.”

Allan Zebie said that it wasn’t surprising that coach Jeff Paulus, who has a grandfather who came to Canada from France, put together a team with so many francophones.

“Jeff is French, he says so at least, it’s not surprising he put a lot of us here,” said Zebie. “It’s going to be nice for chemistry, too. It’ll be good for a guy like Oumar, coming straight from Europe, to help him adapt. Having a few guys on the team who speak French is going to be good for everybody. Myself and Bruno are trying to help them as much as possible, giving them rides, showing them the city a little bit. As the season progresses, we’ll do more things together.”

When Canada Soccer did the draw for the upcoming Canadian Championship, it’s like there was some sort of cosmic awareness of who Edmonton might play. The Eddies ended up in what’s being jokingly referred to as the “Quebec bracket” of the tournament. FCE will play the winner of the first-round match-up between York9 FC and PLSQ champion, AS Blainville. The winner of the FCE vs. Blainville/York9 series will take on the Montreal Impact.

So, Edmonton could end up playing both of the Quebec teams in the tournament — of course, York9 coach Jimmy Brennan and his charges will have a large say in that, though.

For the Eddies, a return to Montreal would be a chance to avenge arguably the darkest on-field moment in club history, when a controversial 97th-minute penalty in the second leg of the 2014 semifinal against the Impact set up Patrice Bernier to score from the spot and eliminate FCE.

“That’s exciting,” said Zebie. “I want to go back to Montreal. I haven’t been back to Montreal for a really long time. My friends will be over there, and I want to play over there and have them come and see me.”

“I don’t know if there are words to describe how special it could be,” said Temguia. “We’re still far from it. We’ve just started preseason and we have to work and work till we get there. But for me and Philippe, we’d love to play them there in Montreal and back in Edmonton.”

But Temguia feels no real bitterness towards the Impact.

“It was a good experience,” he said of his time in the Montreal system. “I feel like the courses I had with the Montreal Impact Academy were great. I feel proud and happy and grateful for the experiences I had with them. I learned a lot, what it means to be a professional soccer player and what it takes to be a professional soccer player.”

And it was in 2017, after Temguia left FC Montreal and had landed with USL side FC Cincinnati, where fate took him on his path towards Edmonton and the yet-to-be-announced CanPL. It was there where he met Daryl Fordyce, who was FC Edmonton’s all-time leading NASL scorer. The two struck up a friendship.

Fordyce has since moved back to his native Northern Ireland.

“We met and we got along straightaway,” said Temguia. “He left before midway in the season, he really loves Canada, but we kept in touch and I’m grateful and thankful that he mentioned my name to FC Edmonton, and he’s part of the equation of why I am here today.”

And, during the Eddies’ Tuesday afternoon training session, Zebie joked with Trinidadian teammate Kareem Moses about his lack of French-speaking skills.

“Kareem complains all the time, he’s always mad at us when we’re speaking French together, so we’re going to try and teach him, and practice with him a little bit.”

So, for season one at least, could FC Edmonton also be a candidate to be the CanPL’s unofficial Quebec team of choice?