I've been waiting to declare FC Edmonton dead or dying for an awfully long time.
Not out of spite or malice, but cynicism. I want FC Edmonton to succeed as much as any non-Edmontonian can: I grew up in the area and was a fan of the Edmonton Aviators during their too-brief time on this earth. There's not much I want more in Canadian soccer than for FC Edmonton to be a triumphant success, even if it'll lead to some real agony when I have to watch Edmonton play the Whitecaps in the Voyageurs Cup and decide who to cheer for.
So far, FC Edmonton's history has alternated between excitement and fear. The team is owned by local construction mavens who, according to all reports, have plenty of money by North American Soccer League standards (excitement). One of FC Edmonton's first hires was local soccer maven Mel Kowalchuk whose history in the professional sport is, shall we say, mixed (fear). Then he went and picked up two seasoned European-trained coaches, Dwight Lodeweges and Hans Schrivjer, to run the team on the field (excitement). FC Edmonton declared its intention to run out several local players (fear), but wound up picking up some excellent western Canadians as well as veterans of the Dutch Eredivisie and Jupiler leagues who put up some magnificent results in a strong friendly schedule (excitement).
Now, Lodeweges and Schrivjer, the architects of the team's success, are gone. The Dutch duo have both agreed to terms with a club in the Japanese second division, and the Japanese second division ain't exactly Serie A. FC Edmonton got out-bid by a lower-division Japanese team? That's fear, all right. The Japanese second division (called the J. League Division Two, for you purists) isn't exactly pokey, and it's certainly bigger than the NASL, but Lodeweges has Edmonton connections and supposedly the FC were paying plenty for his services. This had every possibility of being the first of a series of cost-cutting moves, letting the expensive Dutchmen leave and bringing in some local coach, maybe an old CIS boss looking to cash a couple paycheques before retirement.
Nope. Instead we get Harry Sinkgraven. He's no Dwight Lodeweges, it's true, but he's a seasoned professional coach with plenty of experience in the Dutch Jupiler League. He's overqualified for the NASL, and he's got that same European pedigree and experience to connect with the Dutch veterans Lodeweges and Kowalchuk have already brought in.
No, Sinkgraven isn't as good as Dwight Lodeweges, but he's probably good enough.
I don't expect you to have heard of Harry Sinkgraven (what, you're not up on every former Dutch second division coach?) If I'm honest, his isn't a terribly storied career. But he knows his way around a soccer field (sorry, football pitch - respect to the European, after all). Sinkgraven spent thirteen seasons playing professionally in the Netherlands, most famously in the Jupiler League with FC Zwolle for six seasons as a midfielder and defender.
The 44-year-old Sinkgraven has less than two seasons experience as a senior men's head coach; you wouldn't expect much more from a man his age. He's certainly spent time in the back room, though, having run the Indonesian Olympic team that attempted to qualify for the 2008 Beijing games and five seasons in a coaching capacity with the Jupiler league's FC Zwolle. Relevantly for a fan of women's soccer such as myself, Sinkgraven also coached the SC Heerenveen ladies in the women's Eredivisie. Sinkgraven's experience as a boss came in the last two years with FC Emmen in the Jupiler league. Under Sinkgraven, Emmen ran to a slightly disappointing fifteenth place in the Dutch second division in 2009-10. Though beginning the 2010-11 season in charge, Sinkgraven found himself being undermined by his board who wanted his assistant, Azing Griever, to take a larger role in the first team. Sinkgraven resigned on August 2, turning his duties over to Griever.
It must be said that Sinkgraven was not terribly popular among the Emmen faithful. The team finished three spots lower in the standings in 2009-10 than it did in 2008-09, and the 2008-09 performance. Then again, to a rank outsider the club seems more than a little dysfunctional from top to bottom. They've dropped in the standings three seasons in a row even before Sinkgraven showed up, lost two-time leading scorer Roy Stroeve to a third division team, and of course the chairman was interfering in team affairs. The blame can't entirely rest on Sinkgraven in his first ever head coaching position (though of course he can't be exempt).
The question with Sinkgraven is not so much his mediocre performance with Emmen (for the Jupiler League is a couple steps above the NASL), but the circumstances of his hiring. In the Edmonton Journal, Chris O'Leary made it clear that Lodeweges and Schrivjer were heavily involved in hiring Sinkgraven. Duane Rollins was hesitant about the hiring, smelling nepotism. I'm more optimistic. Nobody doubts that Lodeweges and Schrivjer were the two most knowledgeable soccer men in the Edmonton organization. They'd be the two best minds on any North American Soccer League team I can think of with the possible exception of the Montreal Impact. Edmonton certainly had reason to trust their judgement, and I'd rather they take Lodeweges's word on a good coach than falling into the trap of hiring some domestic hack simply because they know who he is.
The test, naturally, will come when FC Edmonton takes up play in the NASL this coming year. I think Sinkgraven is a fairly good choice. European coaches have struggled to adjust to North America before, but Sinkgraven is young and internationally experienced. He's not Jose Mourinho, but he'll do.