Aventuras Américas | Part 33 | FC Edmonton #1: Welcome To The Canadian Premier League!

We’re embarking on club 9 on this journey, so we thought a few bookmarks for previous teams along the way might be helpful. Feel free to begin the Aventuras Américas journey at the job hunt stage, club 1 Puerto Montt, club 2 Universidad Católica, club 3 New York Red Bulls, club 4 River Plate Montevideo, club 5 América de Cali, club 6 Alianza Lima, club 7 Puebla FC, and club 8 Palmeiras.

Brazil’s Série A to the Canadian Premier League isn’t the sort of move you see too many managers make. But Robinho Lazaró was all about doing things differently in his quest to complete Aventuras Américas.

So just days after wrapping up the seventh of nine national titles he was targeting, Lazaró departed Sao Paulo for Alberta, Canada. All he knew about Canada was that they loved ice hockey and maple syrup and Canadian people were possibly the nicest people in the world, eh? As a result, he freely confessed that he didn’t know Canada had a professional football league.

However, he immediately felt at home in Canada thanks to a warm welcome from “tycoon general manager” Thabang Mogotsi upon touching down at Edmonton airport.

Who are FC Edmonton?

FC Edmonton is a professional club based in Edmonton, Alberta, that’s played in the Canadian Premier League since the league was founded in 2019. The club was originally formed in 2010 and entered the new North American Soccer League in 2011. Intriguingly, in real life its record appearances holder is Tomi Ameobi, brother of Sammy and Shola.

Despite being 1/16 favourites for the 2036 title, FC Edmonton just managed to finish eighth out of eight teams with 27 points from 28 games! Luckily, there’s no relegation, so they’ll have an immediate opportunity to make amends for it.

Just to highlight the strange state of Brazilian football, FC Edmonton is in a better financial position than Palmeiras. Lazaró’s new club has a bank balance of £20.2 million, compared to the -£22 million he just walked away from!, and a transfer budget of £10.8 million which, it turned out, was a pointless amount of money. Its facilities are less impressive, playing at the 6,483 capacity Clarke Field with good training and youth facilities, adequate academy coaching and average youth recruitment that Lazaró convinced the board to improve to good. Plus, they have really nice kits!

Meet the FC Edmonton squad

The difference in class between Palmeiras and Edmonton was starkly portrayed by the latter’s best player supposedly being left-winger Andrew Hockey who, helpfully, wanted to leave! Other key players look like being 20-year-old right-back Iván Lopez, winger Liam Burrows, midfielder Ross Spencer and defenders Callum Payne and John Murray.

Top young players at the club include goalkeeper Darko Horvat, along with midfielder John Newton and attacker Bartolomeo Balestra. There were also a few decent prospects in the youth team in holding midfielder Andrea Di Nunno, who Lazaró planned to retrain as a centre-back, striker Ryan Hemmings and midfielder Kristian Rogers.

Rebuilding Edmonton

Before he could fully start rebuilding the Edmonton squad, Lazaró had the unenviable task of hiring an entire non-playing outfit as the club only had a chief scout and head physio when he arrived. And that included bringing in his former NYRB player McKinze Gaines as a scout.

The lack of staff made the recruitment advice meeting… interesting. But Lazaró immediately began scouting last season’s best-performing players in Canada, with a sneaky plan to try and buy the league title next season!

But his first signing was a familiar face as he drafted in former NYRB midfielder Danilo Gómez, now 34 but who played 25 games in MLS last season, on a free transfer. And he immediately became the new club captain. Also joining on frees were Uruguayan midfielder/winger Mathías Bautista, Ecuadorian striker Gabriel Cevallos and Canadian midfielder Lucas Claessens.

Lazaró immediately discovered a big problem as the first-team squad was limited to a total wage of £11,250-per-week and he’d just dished out a load of £1,000-per-week contracts. That meant he had to deregister and sell a load of existing players – which probably wasn’t too big an issue seeing as they finished bottom of the league last season – and promote promising youngsters. It also meant supposed star man Hockey got mutually terminated as no clubs wanted him!

The need to restructure and free up wages saw centre-back Murray move to fellow CPL side HFX Wanderers and replaced by Brazilian Fábio Augusto. Another South American and a Colombian pal for Lazaró arrived in experienced and brilliantly named winger Neymar Sánchez (we’re calling him Neymar).

With that fairly sizeable rebuilding job done, Lazaró thought the 4-3-3 formation he used at Palmeiras would be a nice fit for the players available at Edmonton.

Into the Canadian Premier League

The eight-team CPL is a 28-game season in which teams play each other an excessive four times. However, the top four go into the playoff semi-finals, which decide the Canadian champions. The media had made Edmonton who, remember, finished bottom of the league last season, overwhelming favourites at 1/10. That was followed by Cavalry FC (11/1), Pacific FC (25/1) and Forge FC (33/1). Last year’s champions York United FC are predicted to finish sixth with title odds of 100/1.

Lazaró’s time in Canada began at Atlético Ottawa, the favourites to finish bottom of the league. And, despite dominating the game, it ended 0-0. Edmonton fans got their first sight of Lazaró as they welcomed fierce rivals Cavalry to town. And they played much better as Claessens laid on first-half goals for Cevallos and Newton before Bautista wrapped up a 3-1 win. Another home game followed and the confidence seemed to be building as a Neymar brace led a new club record 6-1 thumping of HFX and former defender Murray.

Edmonton then quickly faced Ottawa again, in fact, they played them four times in the first 16 games! They won 3-0 this time though led by a wonderful Cevallos strike and two Neymar assists – and Edmonton had immediately found their mojo under Lazaró. They nicked a 1-1 at reigning champions York before eventually losing a seven-game unbeaten start with an unlucky 1-0 defeat at home to Forge.

However, they bounced back by hammering Ottawa 4-0, which sparked a run of five games without defeat heading into two big top-of-the-table clashes. First up, a Cevallos goal nicked a 1-1 at second-place Valour with 10 men, then a knackered team got battered and lost 2-0 at Forge three days later. Then another poor performance ended with a 1-1 draw at Ottawa in which both teams only scored with penalties.

That left Edmonton sitting in third place, just two points off the top with 12 games remaining in the regular season. Their form was pretty up and down, drawing six of their 16 games but only losing twice. But a playoff place looked nailed on as they had an 11-point advantage over fifth-place York. They also had the best attack and defence in the league, scoring 29 and conceding 10. But there were far too many draws for Lazaró’s liking.

Can Lazaró lead Edmonton to glory in his first season in Canada? Join us next time to find out!

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