FC Edmonton did everything they were expected to in 2013. They finished middle of the pack in the standings, were the most difficult team to score on and had trouble finding the back of the net. They were essentially draw specialists, not exactly by design but more by default. They set up in a very defensive and organized formation and attempted to hit teams on the break.
The first part of their game plan worked magnificently all year long as the team allowed the fewest goals in the league over the course of the Spring and Fall Seasons. The second part of their game plan did not quite work out as well. While Edmonton were dangerous on the counter and put together their fair number of meaningful attacks in matches, the Eddies scored the fewest goals all season as well. In 2013, Edmonton won six games, lost eight and drew 12. They had four more draws during the entire season than any other team, and had as many draws total as the San Antonio Scorpions, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Minnesota United combined.
Any normal person can tell you that drawing is much better than losing, but how much better off would Edmonton be if they converted just three of those draws into wins? Setting up defensively isn’t necessarily pretty football, but it can be effective if done correctly. Too many times in 2013 the Eddies were slow and boring to watch (the American football lines at home didn’t help, but yay that’s changing!) and lacked the attacking play that seemed necessary to score goals.
Can FC Edmonton become more than just the hardest team to score against? Lets not take that for granted or anything. The Eddies are spectacular defensively and easily the most organized side at the back in the NASL, however it is going to take more up front if the Canadian side wants to compete for one of the four Championship spots in the league. The most interesting storyline in 2014 will be whether or not Edmonton, with their new player additions, can become a more offensive threatening team under Colin Miller or not.
Ritchie Jones – Edmonton have added a number of intriguing pieces during the offseason, but Ritchie Jones sticks out as one of the most interesting. Jones joins Edmonton from Grimsby Town in England. Jones has a wealth of experience from the UK, mostly with Bradford City in the English League 2 where he made 36 appearances including a victory over Arsenal in the Capitol One Cup. Jones was an academy product of Manchester United and is a technically gifted midfielder with ability on both sides of the pitch. He will add solidity for Edmonton, but more importantly could bring a little more attacking ability for them.
Frank Jonke – Jonke fits the Eddies’ attacking system as a big, tall striker who can play as a target man up front and has a decent finish on him. The 6’3 forward scored 13 goals in 46 appearances with FF Jaro and 17 goals in 44 appearances with AC Oulu. Both clubs were in Finland. He earned his first cap for the Canadian national team in 2013 and will fit Edmonton’s defensive/counter attack style.
Mike Banner – Banner is an attack-minded left back that can also play on the left side of midfield. With Lance Laing currently holding down Edmonton’s left back spot, look for Banner to get plenty of time on the wing. Banner has made 54 appearances with the Chicago Fire of MLS and 48 appearances with FF Jaro, scoring seven goals between the two clubs. Banner should be a breath of fresh air for Edmonton. His pace and attacking abilities will add a dynamic winger to the club.
Chris Nurse – Nurse was a vital player for Edmonton in the majority of the 2013 season, and at times was one of the more impressive midfielders in the league. He was voted as the team MVP following the season and his consistent play earned him the NASL Player of the Month award for August after he scored three goals and led his team to six points in the month. Nurse was offered a contract extension and was given a deadline to sign it, but the Guyana captain turned down the offer. Edmonton’s MVP will play elsewhere next season and that’s not great news for Eddies fans.
Shaun Saiko – Saiko has been Edmonton’s brightest attacking player for the past couple of years and was the all time leading scorer for the club, but in 2013 Edmonton released him before the end of the season. It was obvious that Saiko and Coach Miller were not in agreement on many things and it appears that no comprises could be made. Saiko was one of the lone creative players on the Edmonton roster in 2013, but he has moved on to NASL rivals, the San Antonio Scorpions for the upcoming season.
Potential breakout player
Edem Mortotsi – Mortotsi is a 20-year old midfielder who has spent time climbing the ranks with FC Edmonton before earning his first professional contract in 2013. Over the course of the season, Mortotsi made 10 appearances and played 244 minutes on the field. Last season was his first pro experience and he got his feet wet on the pitch. If his playing time increases, he could add some quality to the Eddies’ midfield and perhaps show some of the impressive play that he displayed with the Edmonton reserves.
This is not a difficult one. The Eddies’ biggest strength is easily their organization and defense. The team may set up in a boring defensive formation too often, but they almost always execute their defensive duties throughout the entirety of the match. They allowed the fewest goals last year and their captain, Albert Watson, was named to the NASL Best XI at the end of the season. With Watson, Laing and Eddie Edward all returning to the back line in front of goalkeeper Lance Parker, the Edmonton defense shouldn’t miss a beat in 2014.
Most Glaring Weakness
Edmonton has had a weakness up front for a while. They simply need to do more in the attacking third to progress in the NASL in 2014. They have to score more goals and they have to turn a few more of their prototypical draws into three points. They have added players like Banner, Jonke, Jones, Milton Blanco and Horace James that should buoy their attack some, but it is going to take more of an organizational dedication to alter their system.
FC Edmonton has made progress in the offseason on becoming a better attacking side by signing more technical and forward-thinking players. But in the end, the biggest change that needs to be made lies with the coaching staff rather than the players. Colin Miller continually sets his team up not to lose rather than to win, and this has to change if Edmonton want any hope of reaching one of the four Championship spots.
Miller has always been very defensive about his team and the way they play football. He has made some curious decisions in the past like cutting former team MVP and fan favorite Paul Hamilton before the 2013 season, before doing the same thing to Saiko less than a year later. Despite some decent players at his disposal his playing style has remained consistent and stagnant. If he can’t adjust Edmonton’s playing style in 2014, especially with some of the new players on the squad, then the only way Edmonton can finally progress in the league is to find a new coach with a new system.
Unless something drastic changes in their playing style (which it could), I see the status quo for FC Edmonton in 2014. I think it is safe to say that they will be organized and impressive defensively, but unable to string enough quality consistent attacks together to win matches. The new players will make a difference in the style of play, but their success will rely more on the coach than the squad. I can’t see them winning one of the two seasons, so it looks like it could be the same old story for the Eddies: allowing the fewest goals in the league and finishing mid-table come the end of the campaign.
(image courtesy of Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal)