Matchday Preview 2: Showing their cards
With the defense already tested, offense looks for chance to finally show their hand.
After the massive defensive effort while down to ten at OKC, FC Edmonton has not had much of a chance to demonstrate their offensive options. On top of that, if the Eddies’ performance before Watson’s sending off is anything to go by, there is still a lot to be desired from the attack.
At training on Friday, assistant coach Jeff Paulus, when asked if he was satisfied with the squad’s offensive performance prior to the Watson red card, answered with a terse “no”. Then he added,
“When people talk about us, they talk about defending the long ball and playing over the top, and we want to be a bit more than that.”
Paulus also mentioned that there is unpredictability for FC Edmonton in trying to play up the middle more. For him, he feels that teams have yet to see Edmonton try to do this successfully, and a portion of their preparation leading into the season was focused on this.
In the preview for last week’s match, it was incorrectly predicted that Gustavo and Corea would get the starts. Instead, Raudales was paired with Ledgerwood in the middle, and Cruz was opted on the wing.
Perhaps it was a little too soon to think that Corea had trained with the team enough — having missed the entire preseason tour — to consider him already back in the fold. Corea “now has to work his way back in”, but Paulus reitrated that they expect big things and the staff still see him as an important piece for FC Edmonton moving forward.
When asked if midfield selection would be largely the same this week, Paulus concurred. The staff felt that the timing of the red card prevented them from truly evaluate the midfield’s performance as a group.
“We didn’t really get to see this group really do much, and so this will give them the chance to get to show where they are at as a group…”
Although it was not explicitly said, this is perhaps due to the opportunity to see how they could have responded at half. Cruz was the odd man out, being subbed in favour of defense last week, and that was harsh on him. One gets the feeling, however, that last week’s midfield setup is likely to be given another chance to work together.
That said, Paulus also pointed out that the staff feels the lineup is very flexible and gives them options that, when called upon, a player that can better fit a tactical change is available.
Given Paulus comments, the midfield may line up exactly the same as it did last week but, barring another red card to the defence, we may finally get the chance to see Gustavo or Corea in action. An alternative lineup in the midfield could see Corea get the start over Cruz.
Keegan appears to be the 3rd choice striker at the moment, and we will likely see him make an appearance. Aleksic gets a spot on the bench over the likes of Plumhoff and Jalali, only because the need for centre-back cover has arisen. Smith was left behind during the trip last week, there were mentions of an injury, but he was quite active in training on Friday.
As their own fans will tell you, much has been made ado about the defence’s susceptibility to the long-ball. FC Edmonton has a penchant to try to play route one, to the chagrin of several fans here, whether successful or not. The underwhelming attempts at this last week was apparent, but if even slightly improved upon, FCE’s offence might have some life against this defence. Last week exposed further United’s disorganization in the back, something that was also on display in the preseason—albeit against much stronger MLS opposition.
On the other end, this is going to be close to or equally as tough a test for this defence as it was down to ten at OKC last week. Despite these apparent weaknesses in the United defence, they still possess proven NASL talent, and this time names we know for sure are going to be part of the mix. Christian Ramirez showed a keen eye for goal last week, and FCE fans don’t need to be told how dangerous Laing can be both in transition and in a set-piece.
United came into the first week as one of the favourites to win not only the spring but potentially the whole competition. With that in mind, the loss to Carolina certainly stung and may result in a lively Minnesota squad trying to ensure the same result does not happen again. On the other hand, defensive mistakes may also see them be a lot more cautious and could potentially open the game up for Edmonton.
All things considered, the most compelling storyline is the potential return of Lance Laing to Clarke after three years playing for the home team in Edmonton. The key word here, however, is “potential” as Laing was limited to half an hour of play off the bench. Many questions were asked of Carl Craig’s decision and some interesting quotes regarding fitness and attitude were revealed.
Despite the apparent drama, it seems unfathomable to think that Laing could even miss this tie. Regardless of what version of the story you have of Laing’s departure, you can not deny that he has a chip on his shoulder, as most players do, when it comes to facing their old club.
What to Watch Out For
Positioning on the left
Given the red card situation, much of what to look out for from last week remains the same. Eckersley may be the source of most of the crosses on the left side, especially if Cruz retains his starting role on Sunday. At training, Eckersley himself also admitted to not being 100% against Rayo OKC. You can hardly blame him as it was his first competitive match since being released by Hibs months ago. For now, he is not worrying too much about the opposition, choosing to focus more on improving his play, his chemistry with his new teammates, all on top of getting back to fitness.
In the three years they played together here in Edmonton, Eddie Edward and Lance Laing often faced each other in training. Drama mentioned above aside, the Laing-Edward reunion may certainly be a point of focus as the game develops. Edward was one of many defensive stalwarts last week, with only Diákité and Van Oekel surpassing his performance, and it will be interesting to see the duel between players who know each other well.
At the end of the session, Paulus and Ledgerwood had a very long and somewhat animated conversation and it seemed to regard tactics and personal technique. Speaking as myself, I chose not to eavesdrop, lest I divulge tactical secrets, but what I can attest to is that the conversation lasted for several minutes. Ledgerwood will likely retain the captain’s armband he inherited after Watson’s red card.
Many followers of the league are predicting United wins across the board. Many also predicted the same squad beating Carolina, a few thought they would do it handily. This shows that while United is potent moving forward and has the talent to do that on paper, their defence still has as much to prove as FC Edmonton’s offence does. It could make for a more evenly matched afternoon than some are predicting.
This will undoubtedly be a tough test defensively, but this squad has already faced one, and will be keen to face another. If FCE can build on that and create a few chances of their own, we just might see the performance that will surprise the rest of the league.
Tyson Farago was in crutches on Friday. When asked by a CTV reporter what had happened, Farago described spraining his ankle landing after going up for a ball in training. Last week, Steven Sandor mentioned that it was a shoulder issue that kept him out last week and for parts of the preseason.
The end of training was light-hearted, players appearing to have a lot of fun with their drills, all of it being encouraged by the coaching staff, some of whom participated in shenanigans themselves. Johann Smith in particular was quite vocal, hamming it up as soon as the CTV camera was set up, I’d do the same too if I lost my starting spot just before the season started. I captured the following video on snapchat (ftofd) that encompasses all this:
I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to make your own opinion on what all this looseness means.