The fog has, to an extent, been lifted over FC Edmonton, with the revelation that Alan Koch has replaced Jeff Paulus as the club’s new head coach — the fifth in FCE’s history, and the second in its time in the Canadian Premier League.
Koch held court with members of the media from across Canada on Tuesday afternoon, laying bare his lofty aspirations for this new journey. The South African coach, whose vast experience in North American soccer spans almost 20 years and several well-respected clubs at various levels, proclaimed himself an “open book,” providing an honest view of the state of the union at FC Edmonton.
In its 10-year history, FC Edmonton has had many a good day, but the club has yet to win a title. They landed at the bottom of the CPL table in 2020, failing to win any of their seven matches at The Island Games. Koch stressed that he’s coming in to turn that around.
“I think the struggles, if I can call it that, of this last year are something that motivate me. It’s something to come in and (ask), can we turn this around, and can we turn it around very, very quickly. I’m very much a builder, I like to go in and get my hands dirty,” Koch said.
He later added: “My job is to come in and make everybody — the club, community, partners — fall in love with winning.”
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Apparently, Koch didn’t much need to be sold on the idea of FC Edmonton and the CPL. He revealed that, prior to the league’s first kickoff in 2019, he’d had discussions with a few clubs, but he opted to remain with FC Cincinnati at the time, having just helped that club embark on their foray into MLS. Indeed, Koch’s Simon Fraser University team played against the Eddies about a decade ago, in the very early days of FCE.
Despite working in the United States the past four years, Koch kept close tabs on Canada’s new league. He told reporters that, even before the opportunity with FCE came up, he’d seen every game of the 2019 season, and most of The Island Games as well — certainly, by now, every FC Edmonton match. So, he’ll begin his new job working from a genuine familiarity with the playing squads of every CPL club.
That, Koch said, will help him shape the future in Edmonton. There’s plenty of work to be done this off-season, especially now that both Koch and new GM Eric Newendorp are aboard. A long list of roster decisions remain to be made, with three names currently signed officially for 2021. Koch told reporters that he’s eager for the abundance of time at his disposal before the 2021 season kicks off.
The Eddies, particularly in recent years, have made a priority of promoting local players and developing through their academy. Koch, for his part, agreed with the importance of a youth movement — one of his self-professed greatest achievements as a coach was his time at Whitecaps FC 2, where he handed professional debuts to Alphonso Davies and a plethora of his future CPL opponents.
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That said, Koch stipulated that a balance must be struck.
“We’re coming in to win,” he offered. “I’m very well aware that we need to embrace the local community. That’s not just players, that’s fans, supporters, partners, everybody. If there are local players that can help us do that then of course we’re gonna embrace them.
“Without mentioning names, there definitely are some. There are players from Edmonton that are there right now that I think have potential, and we can work with them to help progress along their personal careers, but they can also help us achieve our desired outcomes. I’m definitely not gonna say we’re only gonna go local, and I’m also not gonna say we’re gonna go away from local. We’re gonna try and create a bit of a hybrid.”
Of course, once the roster is put together, Koch has to give them their marching orders. Most coaches have a style (or if not, then they at least have some preferences), and a different view of how best to set up a team tactically.
Koch explained that there’s no silver bullet, though, especially not in an ever-evolving league like the CPL. A coach can have ideas and plans, but it’s got to be flexible.
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“Nobody ever steps into an interview like this and says. ‘I play boring soccer,'” he quipped, before delving into a qualified list of some of the things he likes in his teams.
“The utopian way of what I want us to play is a little bit tiki-taka, Pep Guardiola — and I say a little bit, I don’t think coming into the CPL we can play that way completely; I think I’d be a little bit of a fool if I thought that — a little bit of Pep, a little bit of (Jürgen) Klopp from a transition perspective, a little bit of (Marcelo) Bielsa in terms of organizational structure and how he goes about his work. And then a lot of emerging leagues, or maybe second-tier leagues throughout the world, place importance on set-pieces.”
Undoubtedly, any inspiration that can be drawn from some of the world’s greatest footballing minds would benefit any CPL club.
It seems that Koch’s eye is trained confidently on the top of the table. As FC Edmonton enters a new era, they seem to have a long road ahead to that point, but Koch could well be the steward to guide them there.