Life in Canada was off to a solid if unspectacular start for Robinho Lazaró at FC Edmonton. He’d led the side that finished bottom of the league last season but was massive favourites for the title to challenging at the top of the table mid-way through this campaign.
That was a pretty good achievement, considering half the squad was 21 or under, only five players were over 25 and Lazaró had overseen a huge turnover of last season’s underperformers. However, the team’s lack of consistency was a bit of a concern, especially after three games without a win.
The return of Chaosball!
To address that slide, Lazaró tinkered with a few ideas for changing the tactic up, mainly because they didn’t have an effective left-winger. And that, inevitably, took him back to his famous chaosball, which saw a slight variation with Mathías Bautista operating as a box-to-box rather than the original mezzala. However, the wing-back and wide centre-back aren’t naturals in those positions so need retraining.
It started well as they picked up three points with a 3-0 win over HFX Wanderers led by a brace from winger Neymar Sánchez. Then they welcomed rivals Cavalry FC to town and raced into a 3-0 lead with a brace from striker Gabriel Cevallos, saw Neymar sent off on 39 minutes and held on to win 3-1.
A big test of the formation came with a trip to reigning champions York United and it didn’t go well as they lost 1-0 and created nothing. Third-place Valour then came to town and Neymar scored two more on his return from suspension. 16-year-old striker Ryan Hemmings also scored his first senior goal and became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in a dominant 4-0 win that took them top of the league.
South American stars Neymar and Cevallos both scored again in a 2-1 win at Pacific FC, which teed up a big clash at home to second-place Forge FC. And, despite playing poorly and being dominated by 20 shots to nine, Edmonton nicked a draw thanks to a late goal from supersub Hemmings. They were far worse at rivals Cavalry where two pieces of pathetic defending – led by Cevallos crossing for their striker to score – gifted their opponents a 2-0 win. Lazaró was absolutely fuming, unleashed his fury on Cevallos with a fine, and decided to ditch the Chaosball gamble for the rest of the season.
Final five league games
Heading into the final five games of the regular season, Edmonton were third but only two points back from leaders Valour.
Game 1 – HFX Wanderers (away): Lazaró was so angry after the Cavalry debacle that he dropped Cevallos for a trip to HFX, where young midfielder Kristian Rogers came off the bench to nick an undeserved win. However, they lost key left-back Callum Payne to a groin strain that might rule him out for the season.
Game 2 – Valour FC (away): Edmonton continued to put in poor performances as they lost 1-0 at leaders Valour. Cevallos wasted his chance at redemption by coming off the bench to miss a penalty and an absolute sitter late on. And both backup left-backs got injured! That moved Valour four points clear with three games remaining.
Game 3 – York United (home): A first home game for over a month was extremely welcome as Edmonton had won one of their last nine away games! But they took that form into a dreadful 0-0 draw.
Game 4 – Pacific FC (home): A few player role tweaks saw some improvement as midfielder Lucas Claessens and Cevallos score in a 2-1 win inspired by two assists from Bautista. Valour only drew, which moved Edmonton back to two points behind them.
Game 5 – Forge FC (away): The final game of the league took place 25 days after that win over Pacific! Valour were top on 52 points, followed by Edmonton on 50 and Forge on 49, with Edmonton having a far superior goal difference. But their poor away form continued with an awful performance in a 2-0 defeat that saw Forge top the league table on goal difference.
Canadian Premier League playoffs
But none of that mattered, as the entire season boiled down to the playoffs. The semi-final saw Edmonton drawn at home to Valour based on better results against their opponent over the season, which is an interesting rule. But worryingly, Lazaró had an opportunity to go around all his players and tell them he wasn’t happy with their recent form or lack of goals.
With that in mind, Lazaró made the bold step of throwing 17-year-old Andrea Di Nunno into midfield ahead of captain Danilo Gómez. Nothing happened for over an hour and Cevallos was playing a 6.2. That was until right-back Iván Lopez whipped a cross in, Cevallos arched his back to dig out a wonderful header that looped over the keeper into the far corner. Eight minutes later, the striker teed up Neymar to score his first goal in seven games to seal a solid 2-0 win and send Edmonton to the Final!
Their opponents in the final were Forge, who beat Cavalry 4-2 with two late goals. However, this time they’d be making the trip to Hamilton to put their dodgy away form to the test. And Lazaró decided to bring experience back into the team, so Edmonton lined up:
Horvat; Lopez, Fábio Augusto, Cassidy, Payne; Gómez, Claessens, Rogers; Sánchez, Bautista; Cevallos
Subs: Hemmings, Sesay, McMahon, Di Nunno, Burrows, Newton, Johnson
There were no highlights through a tense first half until suddenly a chance arrived just before the break. Lopez broke down the right, passed it into Gómez, who laid the ball back to the full-back who, out of nowhere, smashed the ball into the top corner from a tight angle – picking the ideal time to score his second goal of the season!
The second half wasn’t much better as Forge found Darko Horvat in excellent form in the Edmonton goal. Cevallos missed a decent chance but Lazaró began killing time and it worked as Forge couldn’t find a way through in what was a very poor match. And Gómez had his best performance of the season in his final match as a professional footballer!
FC Edmonton were Champions of Canada!!
In truth, Edmonton were easily the best team in this league, having the best attack and defence in the league. And, despite a shaky end to the league campaign, that showed as it came to the business end of the season. Cevallos finished the campaign as the top scorer in the league with 16 goals in 29 games, Bautista got the joint-most assists with just seven, Neymar got the most player of the match awards with nine and Horvat kept a league-high 13 clean sheets.
Edmonton’s best player this season was Neymar, who scored 11 and got a 7.24 average rating but his age caught up with him at the end of the campaign. And the board harshly gave the Neymar signing an E rating! Lopez was also key with a 7.11 rating and that crucial final goal, along with centre-back Eddie Cassidy and midfielder Lucas Claessens. But Cevallos was top scorer with a club-record 16 goals despite a very dodgy end to the season, yet the board gave that signing an A+!
Neymar won fans’ player and signing of the season, Lopez was young player of the season and Cevallos got goal of the season.
Next steps on Aventuras Américas
Lifting the Canadian Premier League trophy meant Lazaró now had eight of the nine top-tier titles available on his Aventuras Américas journey. After 16 years as Football Manager, he’d now won the leagues in Chile, USA, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, México, Brazil and Canada. And that left just Argentina remaining. Plus, he was also keen to try and add Copa Libertadores to his trophy cabinet.
Luckily, his contract in Edmonton expired in December 2037. His options now were either to go straight to Argentina if a job appealed, or to begin looking at international job opportunities.
No good jobs were available at the end of the Canadian season. However, a few were precarious or insecure so Lazaró stirred up some controversy in the media. Soon enough, Vélez sacked their manager and Lazaró wasted no time in applying, but they didn’t even shortlist him and hired Ezequiel Denis, who had a lower reputation!
So Lazaró decided now was the time to resign from Edmonton and, on 7 November 2037, he found himself back on the job hunt. He boarded the first flight back home to Colombia and enjoyed a few of his mother’s delicious homemade meals before targeting a move to Argentina.
Join us next time to discover where the job hunt takes him!