With the way the 2014 season ended, it was supposed to be a different story. A hard working team that had a strong backline and able to provide offense off the wings going to play an expansion team in their first ever NASL match. It was supposed to be a Soccer Bowl contender against a team likely to see the bottom of the table in 2015. But then again, there’s a reason why they play the games.
Questions began to arise as soon as the starting eleven was named for FC Edmonton. Edward, Watson and Roberts got the call, but newcomer Johann Smith got picked ahead of the more than capable Kareem Moses. Lance Laing, returned to his regular spot on the left wing and on the right was preseason signing Sainey Nyassi. With Miller electing to roll with five midfielders, Ritchie Jones and Christian Raudales took the spots as holding midfielders and Chad Burt was in the middle behind the lone striker in Frank Jonke. The optimistic Eddie fan saw this as a testament to the depth of the team, and that there was fierce competition for spots.
Unfortunately, it turned into a nightmare very quickly. Only twelve seconds in and FC Edmonton found themselves behind. Oh well, an excited team caught the Eddies off guard. Still 90 minutes to make it right. For the most part, they did smarten up. They began to carry possession win balls in the air and stop Jacksonville from getting any more chances. It looked like FC Edmonton was able to get that early goal against them back. Then late in the half, Alhassane Keita happened. The Armada speedster caught Roberts mishandling the ball, blew by Watson and put it past Van Oekel. Looked like a steep hill to climb in the second half. Then it got much worse when Marcos Flores took advantage of a sleeping Smith and made it three-nil heading into the half. Edmonton managed to get one back in the second and had a few other chances, but couldn’t command the game the way they did in the second half of 2014.
That leaves a lot of questions heading into their home opener next Sunday. First off do you start a shaky Van Oekel hoping he can regain his form? Or do you roll John Smits, who earlier in the day won a trip to Costa Rica…I mean, got a temporary loan to the Impact as an emergency backup for their CONCACAF semi-final matchup. Smits will clearly be jetlagged, but surely can’t look like too bad of an option right now. In all seriousness, Van Oekel will likely be back in to start against the Carolina Railhawks, but will have a considerably shorter leash to work with. On the backline, one hopes Roberts will move on from his misplay on the ball late in the first half and that Moses will return at left back after helping solidify the backline in the second half. Jones played a solid yet chippy game and should get another start. Raudales was also effective at controlling the ball in the midfield. In the second half, Laing began to create some of those offensive chances that he was known for last season. Nyassi was mostly invisible, and maybe a guy like Oskar Hauksson deserves a shot to create some offense from that side. That leaves Franke Jonke and Chad Burt. There was a clear plan with those two up front. Jonke was frequently winning balls in the air and trying to lead them to the speedy Burt but he was frequently outnumbered. It was an odd idea to plan for this type of attack, as it can be difficult to rely on and not an area this team has succeeded with…ever. Like mentioned above, Jonke did well to win the ball in the air and utilized his size well against a smaller defense. However, leaving two of Edmonton’s best attacking options in Fordyce and Ameobi on the bench is quite bizarre, especially when Fordyce was able to create some offense off the bench after taking Burt off.
Hopefully a trip home does the Eddies well and this will be a painful lesson that this team needs to play a full 90 minutes. An opponent like Carolina might be ideal, as FC Edmonton has typically done well against them at Clarke Field. A good start though would be to prevent a goal before the fans get a chance to find their seats.