Sandor: Alberta talent to be tested as pre-season approaches

EDMONTON — FC Edmonton now has 11 local players on its roster — 10 of whom have had some sort of experience with the club’s youth ranks.

Meanwhile, down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, Cavalry FC have a total of eight Albertans on the roster, five of whom were raised in Calgary.

(Carlos Patino is from Edmonton and Nik Ledgerwood once captained FC Edmonton, but, shh, we won’t tell anyone.)

The coaches of both teams — Jeff Paulus in Edmonton and Tommy Wheeldon Jr. in Calgary — have both shown to go with known commodities. Wheeldon is leaning heavily on graduates from the Foothills program that won a title in 2018, while Paulus is promoting players from the FCE Academy, which kept going strong even when the professional team went on hiatus in 2018 following a seven-season run in the NASL.

On Friday, the Eddies promoted academy products Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, David Doe and Prince Amanda to the first team.

(L-R) Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, Prince Amanda, David Doe
(L-R) Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, Prince Amanda, David Doe

“This is great, this is what the kids aged 14, 15, 16 in our province need right now,” said Shaun Lowther, the executive director of Alberta Soccer. “They need to be able to recognize people who have gone through the same system as them, got involved with academies, played provincially and then moved onto becoming professional football players. It’s massive for the game in Alberta.”

When the season begins, it will be interesting to see how the made-in-Alberta teams fare against teams featuring a number of League1 Ontario grads or PLSQ products. With no semi-pro third-tier soccer available west of Ontario, we will see how Alberta’s prospects stack up.

“That’s what this league is about, to give us young kids the opportunity to play for the city that raised us,” said Velado-Tsegaye, who wowed local fans last autumn when he beat two defenders and then beat Cavalry FC keeper Marco Carducci with a curling shot inside in the post in Edmonton’s home leg of the “Al Classico” exhibition series. “It’s unreal that (FC Edmonton owners) Tom and Dave Fath gives us a platform to improve ourselves while we can stay at home.”

“It’s special because we grew up in this city, we know what the fans expect from us,” said Amanda, who really broke out last year when he scored three goals for FCE’s U-17 side at the SupercupNI, the elite international tournament held in Northern Ireland, formerly known as the Milk Cup.

“People (in Northern Ireland) were surprised by us,” Amanda recalled “They’d never heard of us. The only city that they knew was Calgary. When I said ‘Edmonton,’ they said, ‘what’s that?’ They didn’t know us at all.”

For Doe, the signing represents a return to the senior squad.

“I was hungry, every day I came to practice I wanted this so badly, it feels amazing now,” said Doe, a striker who was signed to a pro deal by FCE in 2017 and got into four NASL matches.

FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus.
FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus.

So far, all of the Canadians signed by the Eddies are local players. Paulus said he won’t have any Ontario prospects on the team when the season starts. But he did say there will be at least one Quebec product who comes to the Eddies in the weeks to come.

Remember that FCE comes into the CPL with existing club infrastructure that includes an Academy that Paulus himself has been heading. So, he has seen local prospects, day in, day out, for more than half a decade. Ask Paulus, and he’ll be sure to tell you that he thinks his Academy stacks up pretty well against the three Canadian MLS academies.

So, it’s only natural he’d be less inclined to look to other parts of Canada for talent than other sides would be.

“I think we have to look inside our cities to look for those special talents, to look for players who know they can play but never had the chance,” said Paulus.

Alberta, from what we have seen so far, has been a goldmine for talent — and you can argue that, on a per capita basis, no province has benefitted more from the professional opportunities CPL has offered.

You see Albertans making their way onto other CPL teams, as well.

Michael Cox, a former FCE striker who has scored in the Canadian Championship, has inked a deal with York9. Jose Hernandez, from Edmonton, is with Pacific FC. That means more than 20 Albertans are committed to the league, so far.

For the fourth-largest province (by population), that’s a significant haul.