To the other five coaches in the Canadian Premier League — your scarves are in the mail. The blue ones. You only have to wear them for a couple of hours this coming Saturday. You can burn them afterwards.
With Cavalry FC sporting a 100 percent record and threatening to run away and hide in the short Spring Season, FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus believes the rest of the league will be in his team’s corner when the Eddies travel to Spruce Meadows for the first “Al Classico” match-up to count in the standings.
“Bigger picture, this is important because, if Cavalry gets the result, it looks like they’ll run away with the Spring Season,” said Paulus. “Every team will be rooting for us in this one.”
Paulus went so far as to say that the spring season may effectively be over as a contest if Cavalry runs its win streak to four. With each team only having a 10-game schedule, there might not be enough time left to close the gap between Cavalry and the rest of the league.
While the sample size is small, the first all-Alberta CPL battle features the only two undefeated teams in the league. Edmonton has a win and a draw, Cavalry is three for three in the win column. Cavalry is deadly on set pieces, with four of five goals scored this season coming off of them, plus a goal in Canadian Championship play off a long throw. FCE is making an early case for being the best defensive side in the league, not allowing a goal in open play through two matches. And, maybe most telling is that, despite being a man down to Pacific for more than an hour last Sunday, the Eddies surrendered just one shot on target.
But the Eddies are sweating on the condition of six-foot-four centre back Amer Didic, who has been held out of training sessions as he deals with a groin issue. Paulus is hopeful Didic can play. Allan Zebie, who left Sunday’s draw with Pacific with a hamstring issue, hasn’t been ruled out for Al Classico, but Paulus admitted it’s looking doubtful for his midfielder.
If Didic can’t join his six-foot-three partner Mele Temguia in the centre of defence, expect to see Ramon Soria move back from the holding midfield spot.
No matter where he plays, Soria is looking forward to his first Canadian derby match.
Soria played youth soccer in the Villarreal system. And he remembers how heated the rivalry was between his club and Valencia, the “Derbi de la Comunitat.” He’s hopeful that Al Classico will match or even surpass Valencia/Villarreal when it comes to intensity and passion.
“It is a very good test for us, for Cavalry too,” said Soria. “It’s a very important game, we will see a very good game. Hopefully we win the game and it puts us in a very good spot to win the championship.”
He said the Eddies will need to once again prove how difficult they are to break down.
“We have been working a lot this season on our tactical shape, our differences in shape, and I think we are a team, you see it in our two games, that’s very hard to break. I think we have very good communication between the defenders and midfielders. Everyone works hard. I think Pacific have some of the best midfielders in the league, and they got one shot through the game. That speaks very high about us. “
The weather forecast for Calgary isn’t very positive. Rain is expected in the two days leading up to the match, and there’s a chance the game will be played in wet conditions. The Spruce Meadows surface is bumpy, and the Eddies have already been prepping to play in less-than-ideal conditions.
“They’re going to get rain down there for the next couple of days… It’s going to be a world-class facility, it’s going to become a world-class stadium. But, right now, the grass isn’t ready yet,” said Paulus.”It’s just come off of winter, and I understand it’s not in the best playing shape at the moment. That factors into what we’re doing this week in our preparations, certainly.”
When asked if that means that the Eddies will try to move away from a passing game and play direct balls in towards the likes of Tomi Ameobi or possibly six-foot-six forward Easton Ongaro, Paulus just smiled and said, “we’ll see.”
“I don’t think you are going to see great football being played out of the back and these great touches and whatnot,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult when it’s already going to be poor conditions and you’re playing on a poor surface at the moment… This game is going to be as much about passion an emotion as it is going to be about tactics. It’s about what players are hungry and want it more.”