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FC Edmonton continue development through difficult Canadian Premier League schedule

Fresh off a pair of games against Cavalry FC of Calgary, FC Edmonton are off for another encounter against the defending Canadian Premier League champions Pacific FC

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Another weekend presents another tough challenge for FC Edmonton head coach Alan Koch and his young squad.

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Fresh off a pair of games against Cavalry FC of Calgary, FC Edmonton are on the road for another encounter against the defending Canadian Premier League champions Pacific FC (5 p.m., OneSoccer) on Saturday.

Pacific sit first in the CPL standings, five points up on second-place York United and six on Cavalry, HFX Wanderers and Atletico Ottawa.

FC Edmonton, meanwhile, is at the bottom of the standings with three points from its first six games and still looking for a win.

“Pacific are going to be fresh, they’re going to be hungry, they’re playing on their own pitch,” Koch said. “The champions are flying high, and we know it’s going to be a tough game, but it doesn’t really change our business going forward.

“We’re trying to push a team forward and help individual players develop as much as possible, so we’re excited. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but we’re ready to embrace it.”

Going through an ownership transition, FC Edmonton is in a situation where they are developing other team’s players loaned to them for this season. They have talent on its roster, but it is raw and inexperienced, and Koch is helping them navigate through the world of professional soccer.

FC Edmonton has lost its past two CPL matches and we were also knocked out of the Canadian Championship on Tuesday with a 2-1 loss, on the road, to Cavalry.

“We had a chat with our players (Thursday) morning and everybody can see that, to a man, there is immense character in our group,” Koch said. “When they get punched in the face, they are going to respond. What we need to work on though, is that it should not take us getting punched in the face to get a reaction. I think part of that is a little bit of inexperience a little bit of immaturity and something we have to work on as a group.

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“We have immense respect for the players that we have. These guys are working incredibly hard to get better every single day. Part of the biggest challenge for us is that we have very few mature, older players that can provide leadership, just because of the structure that we’re having to work with right now.”

Through its first seven games of the season, including the Canadian Championship contest, there is little denying FC Edmonton has talent on its roster.

But having players come together from different clubs just prior to the start of the season and not having the benefit of any pre-season games, it is going to take time for it all to come together.

“I thought the group started the season well and then to be brutally honest, the schedule, we played seven games in a month, it absolutely caught up to us,” Koch said. “That’s not an excuse by any means, but that’s the reality. From April 10 to May 10, we played seven games and it was hard, because we have a smaller squad than everybody else.

“There are a core group of players that have played a lot and they are battered, they are bruised, they are beaten up and I don’t blame them because they’ve given everything they can for the cause.”

The last time FC Edmonton faced Pacific was in the middle of a scheduling nightmare, which saw the club fly across the country for an away game against Forge FC in Hamilton, Ont., then return to Edmonton to host the midweek contest against the defending champions, and then fly out the next day for a weekend game in Halifax against HFX Wanderers.

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This week has been busy for FC Edmonton as well, with a home game against Cavalry, a midweek Canadian Championship game against them in Calgary, and then a trip to Vancouver Island to face Pacific.

“We’re actually going to make some changes this weekend,” Koch said. “We’re going to have to give some players an opportunity that haven’t played so far, just because we’ve been playing so many games. And in many respects, our season will start when we get back from this trip.”

One big reason FC Edmonton has been competitive this season has been the play of goalkeeper Andreas Vaikla. On loan from Toronto FC II, the Estonian international has played every minute of every game and done his part to keep his team in every contest.

“Andreas can play in the MLS, he just needs to find consistent performances over the course of the whole season, because he’s shown he has the potential,” Koch said. “The reason he’s come here is to play, he’s been given that opportunity and he’s grabbed it. Now he just has to show that he can week in and week out, maintain the elite level that he’s been playing at.

“I’ve been highly impressed with him to start the season and we have big expectations from him through the rest of the season.”

Following its game at Pacific, FC Edmonton will return home to host Atletico Ottawa on May 22 and Forge FC on May 31.

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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