Today, FC Edmonton announced they had extended the contract of head coach Harry Sinkgraven and first assistant Hans Schrivjer through the 2013 season.
Last season, Sinkgraven and the Eddies got off to a promising start: winners of seven of their first thirteen, Edmonton was well behind the Carolina Railhawks but had the edge on Puerto Rico and Fort Lauderdale for second place and a first-round playoff bye. Then, in the second half of the season, Edmonton collapsed: three wins in their final fifteen matches (two against the utterly hapless Atlanta Silverbacks), eight losses, and the final humiliation of a 5-0 first round playoff loss in Fort Lauderdale.
That horrible second half has not been a flash in the pan: Edmonton's 2012 form remains catastrophic. With three wins and eight losses halfway through this season, Edmonton is last in the North American Soccer League (behind Atlanta!!!) and eight points from a playoff spot. Barring a miracle of epic proportions, the competitive part of their season is close to over.
Last year's Eddies introduced Canada to a number of promising players, but hardly a single talent has come to the fore this year. The signing of CIS star forward Elvir Gigolaj was met with excitement but Gigolaj has played exclusively Reserves matches (and performed excellently). Canadian U-23 star goalkeeper Michel Misiewicz was a great signing but suffered an ill-timed injury and hasn't seen the field for months. Only former University of Toronto goalkeeper John Smits and long-time Canadian Soccer League midfielder Kenny Caceros, two of the less-heralded off-season acquisitions, have been any sort of a pleasant surprise.
This season has been a nightmare for Edmonton in many ways: their new home at Clarke Field has been plagued with permit difficulties preventing the planned semi-permanent seating and even a liquor license. The on-field product can't have helped: attendance remains as good as could be expected (occasionally standing room only) but isn't meeting anyone's hopes. It makes Edmonton's extending Sinkgraven, the architect for that struggling team, hard to explain. Particularly when there are alternatives out there.
The biggest, most obvious name that could and perhaps should have been replacing Sinkgraven is that of Dwight Lodeweges. Lodeweges is almost an Edmontonian: born in Turner Valley but raised in the Netherlands, he was part of the old NASL Edmonton Drillers for three seasons. His Alberta connections got him a coaching position with Edmonton after a successful coaching career in the Netherlands, and Lodeweges built the first FC Edmonton team for their 2010 friendly season. However, he decamped before the 2011 NASL campaign for JEF United in the Japanese second division, taking attacking midfielder/forward Matt Lam (on loan) and Schrivjer with him while recommending Sinkgraven as his replacement.
Almost every single one of the players that made FC Edmonton famous came from Lodewedges: Shaun Saiko, Paul Hamilton, Antonio Rago (and it took Sinkgraven a while to clue into Rago's potential), and captain Chris Kooy. He had a few expensive misses as well, most notably overly-erratic veteran goalkeeper Rein Baart. But one of the most valuable skills any NASL manager can have is the ability to find quality young talent on the cheap and Lodeweges excelled. His tactical coaching was also highly regarded, although in Edmonton he never got a chance to try his luck in a competitive match.
Lodeweges was sacked from JEF United after one season amid accusations of dysfunctional ownership after a promising start ended in a failure to achieve promotion. Schrivjer and Lam left at the same time; both of them resurfaced in Edmonton but Lodeweges remained off the hook. He's been in FC Edmonton's circle since then; I actually ran into Lodeweges at Commonwealth Stadium at the Edmonton - Vancouver Whitecaps Voyageurs Cup match. But he remains uninvolved with the team.
The acquisition of talent might be Sinkgraven's biggest flaw. While Lodeweges found great players cut from European youth academies or just flailing around in Canadian obscurity, Sinkgraven has missed some good opportunities. Reportedly, former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/centre back and 2010 Eighty Six Forever MVP Luca Bellisomo, after his contract in Finland expired, inquired to FC Edmonton but was told outright that they were set at centre back. Those of us who have watched the non-Hamilton-and-Rago part of Edmonton's defense are permitted to laugh bitterly.
Perhaps Lodeweges is reluctant to stab his hand-picked successor in the back just because he's out of a job. If so, that is remarkably decent of him in a business better known for cut-throat dealings. Or perhaps Edmonton doesn't want to change pilots while the plane flies into the mountain. That would be more of a problem.
Say what you will about Sinkgraven's record but he's taking action to improve the team. The acquisition of veteran Scots defender David Proctor, formerly of the Scottish Premier League, will shore up Edmonton's weakest position, and bringing in Bryan Arguez on loan is a debatable but well-intentioned attempt to do the same. The team still needs more ability to link up between offense and defense, but with a stronger back line they will hopefully have time to make those plays. Edmonton remains a talented team, although Sinkgraven has not been able to use that: contributors such as Matt Lam, Kyle Porter, and promising Chilean loanee Yashir Pinto has been all-but-impotent.
It adds up to more potential for a team that isn't nearly fulfilling the potential it's already got. This is why it's strange to extend Sinkgraven now, of all times, when Edmonton is at its very lowest ebb. There's a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel but they're charging headlong without knowing if that's the sun or a train.