After an uncomfortably extended off-season full of question marks, there is nothing like getting a good, long sneak peek at your first opponent.
Heck, FC Edmonton didn’t even need to be covert at all as the Canadian Premier League kicked off The Island Games on the artificial turf field at the University of Prince Edward Island on Thursday.
Edmonton’s opponents in their opening match of the tournament on Sunday (1 p.m., chch.com), Forge FC, drew to a 2-2 result against Cavalry FC.
“It was great, obviously, to see both Cavalry and Forge go at it (Thursday),” said FC Edmonton captain Tomi Ameobi. “I don’t think in terms of the way it played there was too much that surprised us. But as you know, it was the first game so it was awesome to sit down and see where their strengths were.
“I think it was more sort of a refresher for us going into our first game to know we have to be on point when it comes to playing against Forge. They’re a team that likes to get the ball down and play, but at the same time, we’ve strengthened in all areas around the pitch so I think we can definitely be confident going into that game.”
In the CPL’s inaugural season last year, Edmonton and Forge split their handful of games right down the middle, with two wins apiece and a draw between them. Forge went on to win the inaugural CPL championships in a two-game, total goal victory against Cavalry FC.
“Last year, I think there was only one of the three games (FC Edmonton didn’t win) where we felt we were outplayed,” Ameobi said. “The other games, we felt we were the better team, so there’s nothing to fear for our group going into that game and we look forward to it.”
Of course, there is a benefit to being first out of the gates.
“One advantage they have is their players had a chance to get a runabout in an actual competition against opponents and not your own teammates,” said FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus, whose team has only had inter-squad scrimmages together so far. “Get some of the cobwebs out, some of the nerves out.
“But that being said, they’re a team that we’ve seen and that we know well.”
Sunday will be as much about discovering their own identity than anything for an FC Edmonton squad coming off a season where they failed to score a goal in 43 per cent of their games on the way to an 8-8-12 (W-D-L) record in league play.
But Paulus is quick to point out the flipside to that equation that saw them outscored by a combined 27-33.
“What was the percentage of games we didn’t concede in?” replied the coach of the club that rode its defensive prowess to a fourth overall finish in league standings.
The answer is 29 per cent of the time, or eight games where the club didn’t give up a goal on the way to a win or draw.
“Joking aside, we have,” Paulus said of his team’s offensive issues last year. “When you add a list of players the likes of, and I could go through quite a few of them here, but the two that stick out for fans of Canadian football Kevin Aleman and Hanson Boakai.
“And although we haven’t seen them play for a few years in this country, I can assure you they’re better than they were the last time you’ve seen them play and they just bring a different manner to FC Edmonton.”
The fresh faces are joining a core group of 15 returning veterans from last year, including Easton Ongaro, who led the club with 10 goals, and Amer Didic, fresh off a tryout with the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
“When you’re bringing back a core of players that were responsible for having us as one of the best defending teams in the league and you add playmakers of that quality, you’ve got another season with Tomi, another season with Easton Ongaro, who is in his second year now, and you bring in some of the exciting young talent that we have, we’ve got some very good options up top.”
For his part, Ameobi comes into the year with 30 goals for FC Edmonton in all competitions, four shy of Daryl Fordyce’s club record set over 121 appearances over the better part of five seasons.
“For attackers, you always want to be judged at the end of the season on your goals output,” said the 31-year-old forward from England. “And that’s something that at the end of last season I sat down with the coaching staff and we all agreed this is something that I needed to improve on.
“So that’s something over the course of the beginning of the year we’ve put a lot of work into, but obviously records are records. It’s not really at the forefront of my mind, it’s just about getting out there, scoring goals and ensuring we win games.
“If that means I break the record, then so be it, but my main focus right now is scoring goals for the club.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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