Koch: Eddies Must Play ‘Catch Up’ This Offseason
After experiencing a winless campaign in Charlottetown this year, it’s fair to say that the only way is up for FC Edmonton.
The Canadian Premier League club is in the midst of a big transitional phase, with its owners bringing in former MLS head coach Alan Koch and veteran sports executive Eric Newendorp to set the building blocks for long term success both on and off the pitch.
The club’s new gaffer seems like a fantastic high pedigree hire on paper, with the 2018 USL Coach of the Year having achieved higher win rates than any Eddies head coach in all of his professional coaching posts aside of his brief stint in Major League Soccer. Perhaps most known for his historic US Open Cup run with then-USL-based FC Cincinnati, he arrived in Edmonton two weeks ago to get the ball rolling.
There’s been a decent amount of head-turning regarding his arrival, though Koch says he’s simply fortunate to be with the club: he explains that he and his family were bound to return to Canada whether there was a coaching opportunity here or not. Following a death in the family made more difficult by a pandemic-forced border closure that prevented the Koch family from returning north of the border until recently, they both ‘needed and wanted to be back in Canada’ for most of what has been a difficult year.
When we came back at the end of the season and got through the mandatory quarantine we just really realized that we need to be with our family, and we wanted to be close, and I’m sure everybody can empathize with that because everybody has been through various challenges in this COVID-19 experience. From a personal perspective, we wanted to be back in Canada, and then professionally this door opened and timing is everything in life.Alan Koch
While the first few weeks of Koch’s tenure have gone by quietly, the club’s new hire has been putting in long hours to begin the process of righting the proverbial ship at FC Edmonton. He’s been working to identify what went wrong at The Island Games while noting what pieces they can keep for 2021 and beyond, making changes both large and small to begin a process which Club President Eric Newendorp aims to see result in at least one North Star Shield in the next five years.
The future of the current coaching staff at large remains in the balance, with Koch stating that it’s not confirmed who may remain and who may come in. The coaching confirmations are expected to come in the near future, with the gaffer saying that he needs to have other people around ‘very, very quickly’ given how much work there is to do ahead of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season.
I think what people in the CPL ranks will find out about me very quickly is that I’m going to tell you exactly how it is: every other team is significantly ahead of us today, but we have to catch up, and we have to do this very, very quickly, because everybody in the CPL next year will be significantly better than they were this year.
While former FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus stated that his current youth-focused role with the side could end quickly, Koch states that he’s had a few conversations with the former gaffer and will continue to evaluate the staffing situation:
I’ve known Jeff for many years. I think everybody in the Canadian soccer landscape, we all seem to know eachother. He would pick my brain when I was in Cincinnati and MLS, and I’ll pick his brain now to see what works, what’s in place, and what we need to adjust. Jeff has been great, I’ve had a few chats with him and I’m looking forward to chatting with him more too.Alan Koch
Similarly, there’s a lot of uncertainty with the roster which went winless at The Island Games, with Newendorp suggesting that there’s going to be a lot of new faces come the 2021 Canadian Premier League season. The only brand new face so far is Paris Gee, who looks like an impressive USL import on paper.
Koch sees that the other CPL sides are continually improving year over year, with the Eddies now needing to put in a lot of work so that they don’t become the first team to be left behind.
Some teams will be significantly better [in 2021] – Forge have a huge advantage over everybody, they’ve played all these competitive games and trained together [In Concacaf League], so we have to catch up and we have a lot of work to do to get there. I don’t like using the word rebuild, I would say we’re more in a transition where we’ve changed coaches and now we’ve got a lot of work to do to try and narrow the gap as quickly as we can.Alan Koch
Koch has high praise for the academy products that his club has already re-signed, which include Chance Carter, Antony Caceres, and current El Salvador U-20 Marcus Velado-Tsegaye. Still, he states the FC Edmonton Academy isn’t the only local source to identify talent: he suggests there must be other young players around the city, too. Given that Easton Ongaro came from outside the club’s own system and local youngster Izak Bahdon recently got a call up for the Somali U-20 team, that’s a sentiment that likely rings true.
Becoming a professional footballer is not easy, and many people will tell you this: your first contract is easier than getting your second contract. We need to work with these young guys that we have to help them progress, but I’m very open to see who else is there in the local landscape to see if there’s anybody that has the tools and the attributes that we can work with to help them have a professional career.Alan Koch
At the moment, the club has not publicly re-signed any other players who were rostered to the side at The Island Games. While Koch couldn’t comment on an earlier CanPL Editorial piece which suggested Easton Ongaro and Jeannot Esua were already signed on for 2021, he did make mention that the club would like to retain Ramon Soria, who was the only Eddies athlete to complete an iron man campaign this year:
He’s a player we’re talking to right now. We’re trying to retain him. Obviously, everything has to fit with our budget and all those types of things, but he’s definitely a player I see value in. He has leadership qualities and he is quality player too. If we’re able to retain him, I think that’ll be a big positive.Alan Koch
Interestingly, while Peruvian midfielder Raul Tito had told us he would be arriving in Canada early next year to join FC Edmonton, Koch stated that while he’s had conversations with the 23-year-old, he still needs to confirm his roster status for the next year. Given that the league office hasn’t included him on its ‘loan watch’ list, that’s certainly food for thought.
Koch is happy to leverage the centralized league scouting service, stating that one’s network can never be too big. Beyond that, the South African gaffer has been a part of the game across six countries throughout both his playing and coaching career, and he plans on utilizing his own resources and network to supplement the roster, too.
It’s fair to say that his old club, FC Cincinnati, has closer ties to the CPL than most: the club loaned both Emery Welshman and Blake Smith to CPL sides last year, with head coaches Pa-Modou Kah and Alan Koch both arriving after coaching with the side.
While it would be easy see Koch leverage his connections with one of the two MLS sides he’s been at, securing young talent via a potential MLS-to-CPL loan is something he’s only going to do if it makes sense:
I definitely think there are young players that can benefit if they’re on an MLS roster and not getting an opportunity, provided they’re the right player. I don’t think every player that’s on an MLS roster or contract is the right fit, but provided they are the right fit for us we’ll definitely explore MLS loans. I think several clubs have done a good job of doing that, and I think Terique Mohammed is a good example from last year with what Jeff and the club did. We’ll definitely continue to explore those, whether it’s for Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, or other MLS clubs, I think it’s definitely an avenue that we should explore.Alan Koch
Whatever connections he utilizes to identify new player talent, Koch will then use a multi-pronged approach to determine whether that player will be a good fit in Edmonton. Like Newendorp, he believes that using data is an important part of this talent identification process, but he believes that there’s a lot of emphasis that must be placed on other factors, too:
I’ve had players presented to me over the years through different organizations that have just used various data systems, and sometimes they’ve been right and sometimes they’ve been wrong. I think you can use it as a support mechanism, but it cannot be the only mechanism you can use because the game is so live and every player’s situation is different, and every club situation is different. I’m excited to see how things work in the CPL from that perspective, but I’m very aware from my experiences in MLS, USL, NCAA, that a big part of this game is the pulse and that’s the pulse of the player and the pulse of the environment.Alan Koch
With his 2021 FC Edmonton roster rebuild in progress, Koch has identified a few key areas for improvement. One of them is that he wants to bring in more dynamic players, specifically emphasizing this importance in the club’s attack, which converted the least chances out of any CPL side this year.
We need players that can help get us into the final third, and then have the ability there to get behind players. That can be attacking players that can run in behind, midfield players that can run in behind, full-backs that can do it. Those are the types of dynamic players that we need to have. That’s how we want to play, and it’s something that we definitely need to have in our roster.Alan Koch
The Eddies boss also wants to instill better structure during all segments of play, with one of the big focuses being on set pieces: he wants players that have both the mental and physical capacity to execute them both defensively and in the final third.
I know there’s a huge emphasis on statistics in this league, but you can go around the world and look at how important set pieces have been for teams to be successful in so many different leagues, so I think it’s very important for us to get that right. I’m certainly not guaranteeing we’ll get it right, but we’re going to focus on it.Alan Koch
The New Eddies boss describes that he wants to assemble a roster who fit an attacking, ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy of his that will entertain crowds who have seen some rough times at Clarke Stadium – a venue that Club President Eric Newendorp hopes to breath new life into.
If enough pieces fall into place, Koch hopes to put in a good showing of his vision next year – though like Newendorp, he remains realistic with the timeline of his expectations:
I really hope that at some stage in 2021 people will see exactly what we’re trying to build, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It takes a lot of training and it takes a lot of games, because those are major parts of your development phase as a team and as a club. The more training we have and the more games we have, the clearer our identity will become. I genuinely hope we will see it in 2021, I think that would be amazing for all of us, but we’ll see what transpires.Alan Koch
The Alberta-based side has a long way to go if it’s going to set itself upright and prove to fans and pundits alike that the Eddies are a force to be reckoned with. Koch and Newendorp are hires that show The Fath Group are still keen to invest in the club some ten years on from its founding, and given the bumps along the road that the former NASL-side has endured, that’s a statement worth underlining.
While fans will need to wait until next year to see if Alan Koch’s first swing at the roster pans out, FC Edmonton has nowhere to go but up. With a stadium that has yet to truly capture the heart of the city and a roster that has left much room for improvement, this is one rebuild that will be fascinating to watch.
FC Edmonton has publicly signed four players ahead of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season.
Izak Bahdon signed recently in Croatia