Al Classico heads to Island Games in Charlottetown
It might be called a classic, but the latest installment is going to have to take place in the ‘new normal.’
With the Canadian Premier League setting up shop in squeaky clean Prince Edward Island for the 2020 version of a COVID-19-shortened season, The Island Games are about to get their first taste of the Battle of Alberta.
With the cancelled Canadian Football League season meaning no Labour Day Classic between the Calgary Stampeders and their Edmonton rivals, and no chance left of the two cities clashing on the ice at Rogers Place in the NHL playoff bubble, FC Edmonton and Cavalry FC are stealing the spotlight in the ongoing provincial rivalry.
And when they meet Thursday at the University of PEI’s Artificial Turf Field in the Al Classico (6 p.m., chch.com), it will be the Battle of Alberta, Beyond Borders edition.
Not that it changes anything.
“No, it doesn’t for us, I have to say,” said FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus. “We have to approach this as just one game of seven.”
That’s it. No buildup. No preemptive trash talk that typically goes hand in hand with any of Alberta’s ongoing North vs. South pro sports civil war, which hit its fervor earlier this year when the Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian turned the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk into a human turtle and an instant meme favourite.
Then again, it’s not Paulus’ job to sell tickets this time around. The Island Games are being played behind closed doors when it comes to no fans in the stands, after all.
He’s there to win games and see his team advance.
“Whether we want to call it the Al Classico, or whatever we want to call it, this is a game of football, we’re in it to get to the second round and we just need three points on the board,” Paulus said. “I didn’t expect to have to play Cavalry in Game 2, to be fair, that was a little surprise when I got it as a change from the original schedule I saw, but it’s just something the team has to see as a challenge.”
Edmonton went 0-4-1 (W-D-L) against their southern counterparts in last season’s Al Classico matches, getting outscored 7-1. That lone goal came from FC Edmonton scoring leader Easton Ongaro in the 90th minute of the final game, ruining what would have been a run of all five clean sheets against them.
Still, the two sides matched up well everywhere but the scoreboard last year, with shots taken going 49-47 in Cavalry’s favour, while shots on target went Edmonton’s way, 18-16.
The difference was in the finish, just like it was in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Forge FC in their opening match.
“We played well against Forge and quite honestly thought we could have had all three points, let alone not getting one. And we see the same challenge ahead of us with Cavalry,” Paulus said.
And just because the rivalry isn’t the focus of his club heading in, it doesn’t mean his players don’t realize its presence.
“As professional athletes, we don’t need much motivation to get out there and compete against other teams in the league, and even more so when you come up against a rival in Cavalry,” said FC Edmonton captain Tomi Ameobi. “We know what it means to us as players, but more so we know what it means to our fans back at home.
“I know our fans aren’t there in the stadium with us, but it’s a game that we will approach just as seriously with the same amount of intensity as if they were there.”
In and out: Returning starting center back Amer Didic (ankle) is week-to-week after going down in the 61st minute Sunday and getting replaced by Kareem Moses. That leaves FC Edmonton without one of its biggest proven pieces on defence early in the tournament.
“Not to discount what Amir brings to the team and his leadership qualities in the back nine, he’s got a lot of very good qualities as an individual player,” Paulus said. “The group though, I think what we saw in the first game, is that we were defending as a collective with every single player on the pitch having a role, playing their part.
“And I think when we do that as a team, then we’re really as strong as the entire team doing it, not one player coming in and out. So, quite honestly on the defending side of the game, we don’t anticipate a drop off. The player coming in has tons of experience, is a good player, as well, in his own right – a bit of a different player, but that’s OK, because he will fit in well with the group.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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