Survival Mode: A Rallying Call For FC Edmonton
Excerpts of the following story from March 19, 2022 by John Jacques are courtesy of the Northern Tribune: https://northerntribune.ca/fc-edmonton-fight-to-survive/.
None of the players shown in the above photograph still play for Edmonton. In fact, there are many who thought the club itself wouldn’t be standing today – but here we are.
The city’s only professional football club is going into its twelfth season, and fourth in the Canadian Premier League. It’s a moment that almost didn’t come after team owner Tom Fath ran out of funding midway through 2021, with the CPL – Canada’s domestic professional league – taking the operational reigns as other club owners funded player salaries while a new buyer was sought out.
Fath’s successor has yet to be found, leaving the the Eddies stuck up against it as they enter a new season with a minimum budget roster build comprised of twists, turns, and the seemingly insurmountable task of putting together a team that will still make its hometown proud.
The club kept just two of its players from its previous season, which is actually more than the number of coaching staff it was able to retain. With the next season less than a month away, only head coach Alan Koch remains ahead of an against-the-odds campaign.
“It’s a difficult challenge, to be quite frank, and maybe the most difficult challenge of my twenty-two year coaching career,” says the veteran gaffer, “but it also might simultaneously be the most exciting challenge, too.”
Both sides of the coin ring true. Reflecting on how the club got here and the challenges yet to come, Koch wasn’t afraid to shy away from the truth in a recent talk with Northern Tribune. Here’s a look from the perspective of a key architect in the club’s survival – though regardless of what comes on the pitch, this is a team that needs the Edmonton community to rally around it if it wants to see brighter pastures.
To be clear, FC Edmonton has not had a good time in the Canadian Premier League: the club had a mixed start in the inaugural 2019 season that gave way to a winless campaign in the shortened, pandemic-impacted follow-up. That’s when Koch came in from Colorado and put the building blocks in place for a long-term rebuild – one that got absolutely nixed this offseason.
“How things transpired, I never experienced,” he reflects, “and to be quite honest, I don’t wish this on any professional coach, because I came here excited with a vision and to be quite frank, under very challenging circumstances in 2021 we took a team from one point to 28 points, and we missed the playoffs by eight points.”
The Eddies were the second team in a league of eight to get eliminated from playoffs last year. There were some positive moments, but the much-transformed side was still playing catchup to other CPL teams who had retained the bulk of their rosters year-over-year. Koch had a lot of fresh faces to account for, but instead of having added familiarity with them this year he was forced to start all over again – and with less tools, budget, and options this time around.
“I thought it was more going to be a ‘survive transition’ first year, and then hopefully thrive in the second year…but we are definitely still in survival mode here. I’ve never been shy to rise up to challenges. We will continue on this journey. New players, new staff, and new opportunity, though we are essentially starting all over again.”
The league granted FC Edmonton a loan rule exception which allows the team to surpass the maximum number of loans they would otherwise be able to take in. The Eddies have already added three players from York United and one from Toronto FC, but more are coming. A lot more.
“We’re essentially going to be a few players who have signed with us, and then the bulk of our roster will be loans either intra-league or from other leagues,” said Koch, “the powers that be are being incredibly creative to help with the rest of the build.”
Given that the club’s player and coaching salaries are being paid for by other teams, this makes sense on an intra-league level: if another club’s owner is footing the bill, why not send a player of their own on loan and potentially get something out of the deal if they impress?
Loans from other leagues are a solid bet for parent clubs to give young prospects some top flight game time. Toronto FC’s Luke Singh is an interesting pickup, and if the Eddies can secure similar acquisitions there might be a few highlight-worthy youngsters – though other teams have already nabbed promising MLS youngsters like Jonathan Sirois or Kamron Habibullah.
The league has certainly looked for a creative solution to a difficult problem, and a bevy of intra-league moves is quite an idea – a very true embodiment of the league’s ‘we are many, we are one’ motto, even if it’s not how anyone pictured it.
For the rest of the story by John Jacques in the Northern Tribune from March 19, 2022, please go to: https://northerntribune.ca/fc-edmonton-fight-to-survive/.