Uwe Welz/Canadian Soccer Association
Dead last in the league, dead last in attendance, and miles from the playoffs. What went wrong for the NASL's FC Edmonton in a catastrophic second season of competition?
There's no better word to describe the past season for FC Edmonton than "awful."
The team was last in the North American Soccer League with a bullet, finishing five points behind the Atlanta Silverbacks and out of the playoffs by ten. Injuries robbed the team of key players like Ilya van Leerdam and David Monsalve, high-profile acquisitions like Yashir Pinto, Serisay Barthelemy, and Kevin Hatchi disappointed, and most worryingly the team had high-profile falling-outs with star Canadians like Matt Lam and Shaun Saiko.
Edmonton was also rock bottom in NASL attendance with 1,492 fans per game. It wasn't their fault: the City of Edmonton dragged its feet approving much-needed expansion seating for installation at Clarke Stadium and by the end of the year it still hadn't been done. FC Edmonton actually averaged 124.3% of their stadium's official capacity, which is certainly unique in NASL annals. Yet the ongoing drama over getting stands installed and even over something as simple as a liquor license was a dark cloud over an already depressing campaign.
If you want to look for underperformers it won't take too long. The forward corps, as a whole, was catastrophically weak and Edmonton scored by far the fewest goals in the league (26 to Puerto Rico's 32). Despite spending big money bringing in foreign names, just too few Eddies produced.
It was a returning player and a Canadian who led the way. The leading scorer was Shaun Saiko with 7; he also led the way with 6 assists, meaning he either scored or created half of Edmonton's offense. Saiko finished tied for seventh in NASL league scoring with Minnesota's Amani Walker and Tampa Bay veteran/ex Eddie Dan Antoniuk, and tied for third in assists; no complaints about that level of production from a natural midfielder who, at 22 years old, is still young enough to be a prospect.
|FC Edmonton Goal Leaders|
The team also got output from former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/forward Kyle Porter. Porter was badly inconsistent and struggled with injury, but late in the season was probably Edmonton's best player: it all added up to five goals, second on the team, in 1,772 minutes.
But the others. Young Chilean Yashir Pinto, who arrived after a complicated visa row, got the most heat. But with three goals and two assists in 1,383 minutes, plus one more in 171 Voyageurs Cup minutes, his production was merely "poor" rather than "horrible". A 17.65% shooting percentage is atypically low for a professional striker, and his 17 shots on goal, while still not a great number, was third on the team behind Saiko and Porter.
You have to look elsewhere for the really ugly numbers. Serisay Barthelemy, a 28-year-old brought in from AS Cannes, had an appalling one goal, one assist, and eleven shots on target in 1,185 minutes playing either in midfield or as a forward winger. Michael Cox's two goals in 919 minutes was a disappointing haul from a Canadian fan favourite who managed four goals last year and from whom much was expected. Cox just turned twenty in August, of course; he has plenty of time to figure things out. But I have grown jaded seeing many young Canadian speed merchants show up, look promising, and never quite figure out the technical end at this level.
The midfield's lack of contribution to offense was also key. Saiko aside, no regular Edmonton midfielder scored more than one goal and only one (Ilja van Leerdam, who's been out with injury since July 21) had more than one assist. Van Leerdam takes a lot of heat from Edmonton fans as somebody who seemingly underperforms, but his one goal and three assists in 1,274 minutes before his injury made him Edmonton's finest all-round attacking player not named Saiko. The arrival of Bryan Arguez, who played a very good all-round game, on loan from the Montreal Impact helped in the short term but he is hugely unlikely to return for 2013.
|FC Edmonton Goalkeepers|
If you want a bright spot for FC Edmonton it is in goal. Four players saw at least one start between the pipes for the Eddies in the league: Lance Parker, John Smits, Michal Misiewicz, and David Monsalve. Injuries forced Harry Sinkgraven to rotate his keeper roster hugely early in the season, but they hardly missed a beat. Monsalve struggled in the Voyageurs Cup against the Vancouver Whitecaps but had the best professional pedigree of any of the four and kept a good clean sheet in his one league game against Carolina before injuries forced him own. Lance Parker, the expected starter, returned from a serious 2012 injury on May 27 and provided the consistent, though unremarkable, play expected from him. Misiewicz also struggled with injury, although by the point he went down Parker was almost healthy and it just gave an opportunity to John Smits.
Smits, a 24-year-old out of the University of Toronto, is my pick for the team's best Canadian pickup of the year; he was 2012's Paul Hamilton. Coming out of CIS and stepping adroitly into a professional goal in his first year is no mean feat for a player who didn't have so much as CSL experience, and proves once again the calibre of player available in Canadian universities. His composure was remarkable for a rookie, and for a lanky keeper who hasn't played at the most technical levels I was impressed by his control and distribution. I respect Parker, but if he moved on and Smits got the full-time starting job in 2013 I'd have no problem with that.
One of the most worrying subplots of FC Edmonton's season were apparent off-field disputes with head coach Harry Sinkgraven. Talented players such as Alex Semenets, Sam Lam, and Fabrice Lassonde were shipped out without much ceremony and, in the former two cases, without the playing time to match their established skills. Shaun Saiko, by far the team's best player, was benched for two games in August. In September, FC Edmonton announced that Sam's brother Matt Lam was no longer welcome with the club despite still being under contract. It must immediately be admitted Lam was underperforming; a key attacking piece with no goals, one assist, and seven shots on target in 1,215 minutes. But next to Saiko and Porter he was the most established commodity in the Edmonton offense, as well as an extremely high-quality young Canadian who spent far too much time playing out of position. This is without getting into dark rumours and off-the-record grumblings which are inevitable on a last-place team.
How the players get on with Sinkgraven is important, as both he and Hans Schrivjer received contract extensions in July despite Edmonton running dead last at the time. FC Edmonton is trying to avoid the fate of Toronto FC, switching directions so often the team winds up going nowhere at all. Moreover, Edmonton's performance at the beginning of 2012 did show promise, although the team collapsed down the stretch. When the Eddies were winning, all relations between coaches and players seemed to be fine.
Yet, with the architect of much of Edmonton's success, Dwight Lodeweges, available (and at times seen in Edmonton), Sinkgraven may be the most second-guessed coach in the business come 2013.
It was a terrible season for Edmonton and there is no sugar-coating it. If we want to look on the bright side, it will be at the youth of most of its best players: Saiko is 22, Porter will be 23 at the start of next year, Antonio Rago (mercifully returned to the starting eleven after being forgotten early in the year) will be 22, and elder statesman Paul Hamilton will be a massive 25. The team continues to scout obscure Canadian talent very well, with not just Smits but Elvir Gigolaj coming out of CIS and showing considerable promise, while Kenny Caceros got 1,422 pretty good minutes a year after playing occasionally in the CSL. Ownership remains among the best in the league, not merely dedicated to the team but passionate about both it and its fans (Tom Fath put in an appearance with FCESG at the final home game; imagine Greg Kerfoot doing that in the Southside). And there is finally movement on the stadium front.
Edmonton's future, we can only hope, is better than its present. Though it could hardly be worse.
 — Sandor, Steve. "FCE’s Saiko shows his frustration over benching." The11.ca, August 7, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2012. http://the11.ca/2012/08/07/fces-saiko-shows-his-frustration-over-benching/.
 — Sandor, Steve. "Lam isn't welcome back to train or play with FC Edmonton." The11.ca, September 17, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2012. http://the11.ca/2012/09/17/lam-isnt-welcome-back-to-train-or-play-with-fc-edmonton/.
 — Massey, Benjamin. "Last-place FC Edmonton extends head coach Harry Sinkgraven." Eighty Six Forever, July 19, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2012. http://www.eightysixforever.com/2012/7/19/3170181/last-place-fc-edmonton-extends-head-coach-harry-sinkgraven.