FC Edmonton have had one of the worst starts imaginable to the 2021-22 Premier League season. They’ve lost seven of their eleven fixtures so far, drawing the other four. In that time, they’ve conceded 2 goals per game, scoring less than 1. Yet, an abundance of optimism still surrounds the club. A quite perplexing concept, fans of the Eddies realize that there team will be the worst in the league this year, and they are perfectly okay with that feeling. Their manager Alan Koch accepts that each game resembles a “cup final” to them, as if they win, it will be the greatest feeling in the world. Despite that hopeful simile, the Eddies haven’t been able to envelop a winning mentality, or finish off matches as though they’re actually playing in a cup final. A bitter draw to Valour with practically the last kick of the game will haunt them in the next few matches as they work toward that first ever win, as the Eddies continue to lose control of their leads and let the opposition come out victorious.
Nevertheless, Koch has made a series of tactically intriguing decisions over the course of the past eleven games, developing a clear sense of style with his team. So with that, here is our tactical analysis of Alan Koch’s FC Edmonton, why the Eddies are still worth a watch this season, and our recommendations for the team moving forward.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 5-4-1
FC Edmonton have prioritized two systems so far under Alan Koch, his defensively minded 5-4-1, and his somehow less attack-minded 4-1-4-1. The players look most comfortable and positionally aware when situated in a 5-4-1, but the 4-1-4-1 has also provided some bright moments for the Eddies in producing greater stability in midfield.
Twenty-two different players have featured for the Edmontonians this season, as Koch continues to work out his best starting eleven. Discouragingly, the vast majority of those twenty-two names are on loan from other clubs, potentially setting up cause for even more turmoil and disruptions to team harmony next season. Of those loanees, Edmonton should do everything in their power to keep hold of a few key figureheads. Andreas Vaikla, on loan from TFC II, has been in a mainstay in goal, and one of their most promising players. Vaikla’s saved 3.3 shots per game, boasting a strong command and capable sweeping in behind Edmonton’s lackluster back-line. Part of that lackluster back-line includes the TFC loanee Luke Singh, a progressive ball-playing centre-half that features as a key member of their build-up.
Shamit Shome has been a miss when out injured this season, and plays a crucial role as the captain of the team, whilst fulfilling a variety of roles and positions. Tobias Warschewski, the team’s most threatening weapon and direct-goal-scorer, could also thrive when given greater tools around his solid hold-up play and imposing frame. Koch will also be hoping to keep hold of the dynamic midfield maestro Gabriel Bitar, who’s been a main driving force for the team in possession after an astute positional amendment at the start of the season.
The remaining cast and crew have been less convincing. Cale Loughrey started the season in fine form but has since lost his place as the team’s sweeper to Bicou Bissainthe, a slightly better passer and progressor. Nyal Higgins has been the other mainstay at centre-back alongside Luke Singh, and it seems strange to say as the vice-captain of the team that he often struggles with his positional sense in defensive phases. T-Boy Fayia and Marcus Simmons have been prioritized at wing-back, with Wesley Timoteo and Shamit Shome sometimes shifting out of position to provide cover. Meanwhile, Mamadi Camara’s performed well enough alongside Bitar in providing a capable shuttling option to cover ground in behind.
In light of Edmonton’s struggles in front of goal, he’s recently moved into the centre-forward’s role, where he can use his dynamism and pace to receive progressive passes in the final third. On the wings, Wes Timoteo, Azriel Gonzalez and Mastanbal Kacher have battled for a place alongside the team’s enforcer in Tobias Warschewski, with Timoteo the most convincing so far, particularly in his positive goal contribution (2 goals + 2 assists). Up front is however the area in which Alan Koch’s team have struggled the most, with Julian Ulbricht and Kairo Coore both ranking incredibly low in our CPL Player Ratings, each only scoring 1 goal. Camara’s positional change has been a positive alteration for Alan Koch’s team in that regard, with the converted striker ultimately proving smarter in creating space away from a back-line and finding room for a finish.
In the 4-1-4-1, Nyal Higgins may shift to right-back, as Simon Triantafillou finds his way into the midfield lineup with Bitar and Shome. The formation works fairly similarly to the natural inclinations of Cale Loughrey to step out of the back-line in a 5-4-1 anyway, with the full-backs still taking moments to join the attack and overlap their outside midfielders.
Keeping possession of the ball has never been Edmonton’s strong suit. Luke Singh remains their most capable progressor, and Bicou Bissainthe’s introduction into the team may be more about his ability to keep the team ticking in possession than anything to do with his defensive quality. Cale Loughrey was often more of a passenger in build-up phases, whereas Bissainthe will actively angle himself to receive and spread.
On goal kicks, the middle centre-back will shift to the top of the box and the top of the diamond as a result, as the centre-backs engage low in the goalkeeper’s box. Luke Singh is Vaikla’s most common target of the first pass when opting for the short play, and the TFC man remains a capable spreader of long diagonal passes. When given time and space, Singh will also look for moments to carry the ball forward and advance further up the pitch, where he likes to combine with Bitar and Simmons down the left.
Understanding the strength of his teammates is not to keep the ball, Andreas Vaikla will however more often opt for the long-ball out from the back, aiming around the halfway-line for Tobias Warschewski’s right-sided position. Even if the Eddies play out from the back with the first pass, you can expect a long pass to feature soon afterward, from the likes of Singh or Bissainthe in particular. Despite their abysmal 37% possession this season, they’ve still completed the fifth most successful long passes per game this season (29.3 according to FotMob), illustrating in some ways their inability to progress through the thirds through ulterior means.
When given time and space to turn, Gabriel Bitar remains one of the only other danger men to track in possession. He will often use space to his advantage in driving forward and skillfully dancing his way around the pitch, where he can also be used as a game ticker in switching play left to right. In a different team, Bitar would be an extraordinarily useful player, and his transformation from a striker to central midfield this season has been incredibly impressive.
With just 37% possession this season (genuinely the lowest I’ve ever seen), Edmonton have in some ways modelled a fairly consistent playing philosophy, and in other ways, help to keep this section relatively short. They play direct football, particularly in targeting the wide areas, where the likes of Warschewski can be used for his aerial strength and presence, Azriel Gonzalez for his dynamic dribbling ability, or Marcus Simmons for his willingness to overlap and deliver crosses. In the few moments where they are able to generate sound possession and calm the play down, the Eddies will aim to create wide overloads, via their wing, wing-back/full-back and one central midfielder drifting toward the side of the ball. In doing so, space can often become available on the opposite side, should they find the right avenue to play into.
Utilizing the wide areas in attack has also allowed the Edmontonians one more stat in which they don’t sit rooted bottom to the table, where they’ve completed 3.4 accurate crosses per game – the 4th best in the league. Timoteo has a particular wand of a delivery in finding the right cross, and the vast majority of Edmonton’s goals this season have been scored from either crossing situations or “out to in play” as they advance toward the penalty area.
But even with a prioritization toward crossing, they don’t use Julian Ulbricht particularly well as a target man when he’s deployed, and so Mamadi Camara’s positional change has been a massively positive modification in matching Bitar’s strong running power. Bitar’s ability to drive through the middle, particularly in transition when afforded space to do so, takes the mantle as the team’s only mechanism for breaking lines and progressing beyond long passing and wing-play.
All ends up, 10 goals scored in 11 matches is simply not good enough for a team at this level, and helps to illustrate just how abysmal Alan Koch’s team have been this season in playing every game like it’s a “cup final”. They do however rank above York United on goals scored and chances created this season, a slight positive on an otherwise woeful list of attacking stats.
If I was the coach of Edmonton, I would simply turn their 5-4-1 into a more attack-minded 3-4-2-1, in which possession sees greater priority, and Gabriel Bitar is used more often to funnel the tempo of the match and switch play. It sounds overly-simplistic, but the Eddies have often been too defensively minded, and some of their best moments come from finally pushing on and injecting energetic verve into their quick attacking transitions. If they could more smartly utilize positional rotations to pull players out of position and take advantage of their wide overloads, they may be able to more appropriately utilize their crossing endeavours, and support Warschewski’s ability in the air. For that matter, I would play Warschewski as a target centre-forward, even if it’s alongside a powerful runner that can venture ahead of his hold-up play as he pulls defenders out of position – like Mamadi Camara. Wesley Timoteo and Marcus Simmons could then be prioritized as two of the important wide players in delivering crosses and going toe to toe 1v1, as someone like Masta Kacher inverts into central areas to create further chaos, and supports the movement of the wide men on the overlap. 37% possession just can’t happen for a Canadian Premier League team, and that facet of Edmonton’s game needs to improve if they are to up their goal haul and win some football matches this season.
Edmonton prioritize the defensive side of the game, and despite conceding 22 goals in 11 matches, they remain fairly decent at stunting their opposition. The sheer fact that they keep just 37% of the possession results in the Eddie’s conceding shots at a rate faster than anyone else, and eventually Vaikla being hung out to dry. But they’ve turned that lack of possession into the most interceptions so far this season, which at 14.7 per game is nearly 3 more than second place Halifax. Unsurprisingly, Singh and Higgins rank one and two for interceptions in the league, on 2.7 and 2.2 per game respectively.
Most comfortable in the 5-4-1, Koch’s men shuffle with the play, holding a compact mid-to-low-block. Even despite spending all of their time without the ball, their high number of interceptions fail to extend to the opposition’s half, where they’ve won the ball in the final third less than any other team not named Atletico Ottawa (who also adopt a rigid mid-to-low-block in their 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1).
In making no attempt to press, Edmonton conserve their energy for short transitional bursts, whilst holding a compact shape that forces their opposition further away from goal (in theory), as the opposition hopelessly circulate the ball between centre-backs. Defending the width of the eighteen, they will also strive to push their opposition away from goal horizontally, where their full-backs look to win 1v1 battles against speedy attackers. In the early days of the season, the likes of Marcus Simmons and T-Boy Fayia were particularly successful in stunting the opposition out wide. Since then, opposition sides have found ways to play through, around and over Edmonton before they have time to set up, particularly in transitional moments.
The Eddies hold their own in defensive transitions, endeavouring to keep players off-side, to which a team like York United massively struggle to contend with.
But even then, the importance of players like Bitar and Warschewski on counter-attacks means that they can often be left for dead when the ball changes hands, and they’re too far out of position to recover. In many ways, transitional moments provide one of the most prevalent areas for opposition teams to hurt the Eddies. When given enough time to set up shop and defend, they usually hold resolutely. They either look for a goal at the start of matches and then defend for their lives, or immediately step up their tempo after conceding in an attempt to find an equalizer.
Even then, both of their preferred systems can easily crumble with a bit of incisiveness in swift pass-and-move sequences, particularly as players step out of position to take matters into their own hands.
This is an area in which Nyal Higgins and Cale Loughrey have both struggled, and another potential reason for the Forge loanee’s omission in recent weeks. Even in matches where their defensive organization holds a tightly-knit resiliency, individual mistakes often reign supreme, where the likes of Triantafillou can often be susceptible in making key defensive errors. Even Andreas Vaikla, who has all the tools of a capable keeper, could drastically improve his handling. Sound positionally and astute in selecting moments to sweep, Vaikla’s shaky hands sometimes let the ball slip away, where he’s immediately punished.
Koch’s team evidently have more to sort out in attacking phases, but reinforcements in defense would be welcomed, particularly in accumulating some sense of leadership and organization that could help them hold onto a lead, and win their first match.
I would personally seek an upgrade on Nyal Higgins, whilst prioritizing Loughrey’s solid sweeping and blocking ability alongside Bissainthe and Singh’s advantages in possession. Mississauga-born Ricardo Ferreira remains a free agent, while Juvy Kooner and Kyle Hiebert could be persuaded to return to Canada for the right set of resources and guaranteed first-team minutes. Tactically, Shome needs to understand his role in breaking up the play and shutting down wide areas in transition to best support Bitar’s ventures forward, whilst Vaikla needs to continue his excellent sweeping in the recognition that his back-line lacks the proper pace to cope with powerful forwards. I would personally also step up their pressing intensity and desire under my personal style of choice and 3-4-2-1 formation for the team, using the mobility of Camara, Bitar and Shome high up the pitch, and Warschewski’s scary frame supporting in funnelling play out wide and creating chaos around the ball. Available when you need me, Alan.
FC Edmonton have endured an abysmal start to the 2022 season, failing to win a single one of their eleven fixtures so far. Alan Koch’s team have defended well enough in a 5-4-1 formation, but have provided next to no attacking threat nor pressing intensity, and struggle to see out matches. They’ve conceded 22 goals so far, scoring just 10, whilst boasting the lowest possession in the league – 37%. Edmonton can’t simply continue like this, and something has to change if they are to improve upon their performances and finally win a football match. Nevertheless, they remain a tactically intriguing team to study and one worth attention in the Canadian Premier League.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Alan Koch’s abysmal FC Edmonton team so far in the 2022 Canadian Premier League season. A quick shoutout to Masta Kacher, who follows us on social media, and we hope to see continue living long and living strong in the CPL. Be sure to check out more of our CPL content, and follow on social media like Kacher himself @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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