FC Edmonton returns to Clarke Field on Sunday, May 12 for the team’s first official match since its final home match in the 2017 North American Soccer League (NASL) season. It also marks the teams first home match in the Canadian Premier League (CPL), which will bring a different feel to the match because of the local connection on the pitch and the Canadian connection off it.
Edmonton players will experience a unique feeling that not many professionals get to experience. A lot of professionals don’t get the opportunity to play for their hometown team; they often play for a team in a different country or even continent. This was the case for Randy Edwini-Bonsu, who spent most his career overseas, and on Sunday he will get the chance to do something he’s been wanting to do for a long time.
“I played in Edmonton for the national team once, but other than that I haven’t played here since I was like 15-years-old,” Edwini-Bonsu said following Wednesday’s practice session. “Other games I didn’t have my friends and family around that’s for sure. Now I have them here and they don’t have to watch me on TV or on the internet. It will be a special moment for me.”
In the past, when Edmonton was in the NASL, the team would prepare to host matches against American teams. But, with the arrival of the CPL, there has been a shift in the Canadian soccer world. There is a different buzz surrounding the build up to Sunday’s match versus Pacific FC. There is a genuine sense of excitement and pride within this team. There is now a greater purpose to home matches that never quite existed before.
“It’s a new era for us; it’s a new league that has local rivals and local players,” head coach Jeff Paulus says. “For the most part, we were on an island in the NASL. No one in the states really cared about what happened here. Even here, how many people cared about playing Jacksonville or Puerto Rico? But now, it’s Calgary, it’s Winnipeg, Victoria. People pay attention to that and now they’re paying more attention because they want to see a new professional league in 2019. It’s increasing the excitement.”
For Paulus, it will be his first match in Edmonton, a city that helped him grow into the coach he is today. Many of the local players on the team, he’s been working with for a number of years. Paulus helped bring a lot of these kids through the Academy system and now he’s giving them the platform they’ve been looking for.
“It will be a special moment for everyone,” Paulus says. “It will hold a special spot in my career, for sure. I have had a lot of these players since they were 14. I have grown up in the game here; this city is responsible for [my] start in the game, getting to move on the coaching pathway here. To be here with friends and family, peers, to rep Edmonton will be incredibly special.”
The home opener will be an emotional day for a lot of these players and coaches. It will be a day they will remember for the rest of their lives and it’s a day many players have been dreaming of. But the wait will soon be over and at the end of the day, it’s about winning and nothing else. The players are aware of it and they know they’ll have to keep their emotions in check come Sunday.
“It’s going to be an overwhelming one, but I have to keep my nerves, emotions, and control and be professional,” Edmonton defender Kareem Moses says. “It’s very important that we have control over our emotions. If you don’t control it before the game then it can hamper the game. It’s just about being professional and sticking to the job. And after the three points we can let go and move on to the next one.”