Managing in a Bubble
This is a journal that head coach Jeff Paulus will be writing daily to share his thoughts and feelings with fans about the 2020 CPL season and what it’s like to manage the club at The island Games from PEI, during times and under unique circumstances such as these.
Our Medical Imaging Provider, MIC, wanted to help fans get a deeper look into life at The Island Games, they proudly support professional soccer in Edmonton and are a valued partner of the club.
August 21, 2020
Today’s entry will share with you the preparation that goes into any match, why we set up our team in a certain way to play, and the emotion that builds up throughout the match and of course immediately after.
As we prepared for Cavalry, we knew that we had a solid defensive structure as was evident in the Forge game. We then had to consider how best to set our defensive line to counter Cavalry’s tendencies as well as balance the fact that we have another game in less than 72 hours. Cavalry is just a very well managed team, incredible fit, and dedicated to one another. Every player on their squad has their role and consistently performs. Most important and what we had to factor in our preparation is that they rarely make a mistake in their own half. In their offensive setup, they are comfortable on the ball and set up to play in the deep half-channel with numbers getting around the ball for seconds. As they enter the attacking third, they are also very good at interchanging positions, trying to pull defenders off of the back line for runs then into the vacated space. To counter this, we went into the match with the idea to not press them. Part of this was not wanting to tire out our squad as we have five more games to consider, but also to ensure that we did not create too much space between our lines, in particular between our back and midfield defending lines. We also had to be aware of Farsi and Pasquotti playing on the same wing as both are attacking threats. I will share with you my coaching points prior to the game to give you an idea of the tactics we felt would give us the best chance of drawing points from this game;
- Be patient in our structure:
Keep our lines tight to counter their long ball into our front three for knockdowns. Our midfielders must be close enough to challenge for seconds. When Ledge moves out into the half channel, we pass him to the inside forward, not follow him out.
- Once they have moved possession into our half, Terique is responsible for their widest player. Allow Hanson to stay inside and linked to the central mid so he can deal with Pasquotti coming back to receive the ball.
- Back three must be constantly reading the game. Identify when you can step with a player versus passing him on to the midfield so you can stay and protect the space in behind. When they are playing out of the back, you must recognize when we can squeeze to tighten our lines versus being aware of Brown looking to get in behind.
For 42 minutes our structure was sound and we conceded very few opportunities. Unfortunately, on the goal, our inside forward could have been tucked in a bit to take away the open channel and we were then unable to get close enough to the ball to prevent the cross. The cross itself led to some misfortune on our end to see that ball bounce from Minatel to Brown. As much as we want to be a team that can press high, I am a Liverpool and Klopp fan after all, I must consider how the opposition play and the amount of running I want Keven and Hanson doing while defending, especially when they will simply play over them. This has to be a factor when we play our next four games over the next 12 nights.
The other thought of our defending was then how do we want to attack from this. Our idea early was to take Cavalry’s press out of the equation. They are, without question, the top pressing team in the CPL with a pace and determination that puts every pass in your own half under pressure. To counter this, and to then earn the right to play, we wanted and worked on one pass in our defending third followed by a longer ball to Tomi in the half channel at the center line. In a sense this is something that Cavalry likes to the do with the idea being that playing past them would eventually have them pull their press off, allowing us to play. Unfortunately, this did not happen as we saw time and time again our team making negative passes in our own half that allowed them to keep pressing us deeper and deeper. The second problem that this creates is that our midfield line and inside forwards start to drop even deeper to help the defenders against the press. When we do finally try to find Tomi, out of desperation now, and not as a tactical plan, the midfielders and inside forwards are simply too far away from Tomi to offer any help underneath, and they were able to win most seconds without any difficulty. Please understand that I mention not as a criticism of or to pass blame of our players but as a reminder that the game we perceive on the sideline is not the realities of what the players experience on the pitch. Even the thought or coaching point of “one pass then play it over the top to Tomi” takes on a different reality for the player who has Nico Pasquotti sprinting straight at them. The coaching points given for our attacking play were as follows;
- Earn the right to play.
We must play past their press with one setup pass, combined with supporting movements to draw them forward, then a driven ball to Tomi and a quick reaction from our mids to provide underneath support. In the early stages of the game, do not dribble or overplay in our half and bypass their midfield as often as we can.
- Hanson and Keven look to get in the half spaces to turn and attack their defenders.
- Wingbacks aggressively look to get inside their 18 and to the goal line. Once there the cutback will be on to Allan or Erik trailing as their back line will drop inside their 6.
In assessing our game I can say that I am happy with our overall defending structure again, and even going a player down, we were fairly competent utilizing two lines of four. I was happy with the fight that the players had shown when we did lose Terique as this is the character we will need to improve our fortunes going forward. One thing that I can assure myself of this morning is that I trust our players and have complete confidence in them to be ready for our next challenge.
Today consisted of a mandatory recovery session for those players who played 60 mins or more. For those who did not meet those minutes, they had a field session, playing 5v5, 4 times 6 minute games with a 2 minute break between each game. This was done on a 40×30 grid. If you are into Raymond Verheijen you will be familiar with these numbers! This evening after dinner we are going to show video on our own squad to highlight the many positives in our own defending and some good attacking moments in the Forge game.
I would like to end this entry by thanking One Soccer for their messaging for Chris Kooy. To the player, we wanted to compete in a way that Chris did every time he wore our jersey. And while we were not able to deal with the immense challenge that Cavalry provides, we gave everything we had on the pitch. Unfortunately, some of the post-game antics were not befitting of the qualities of our captain, and to this I apologize to those watching and supporting CK20. The emotion got to us at the end of the game, and we let ourselves down. While I am not looking to make excuses, I can say that it was an emotional night on many fronts and every day we learn something new about ourselves and with this comes the chance to become better.
August 19, 2020
To catch everyone up, our team had a good day yesterday where the players seem to have their routine of meals, ping pong, resting, recovering, and treatment now sorted. The staff also has its routines in place now which consists mostly of watching video, eating potatoes and then watching more video. We had a good training session last night on how we want to try to beat Cavalry’s press. I won’t get into it too much yet, but we did spend a good 30 minutes repeating some of our actions that we feel will need to become habits for the full 90. We ended training with finishing, trying to replicate the areas we feel that we can be successful in. As strong as Cavalry’s back line is and their overall team defending organization, there are some tendencies there that we feel we can exploit. We have a luxury this year of having a few players that can drive into dangerous areas and need to utilize these talents a bit more in the final third. Last night after supper we got to settle in and watch York vs Pacific, a game that had the perfect ending for our club. Can I also acknowledge the injury time celebration as the best I have ever seen from a player who didn’t score the goal! Joking aside, Luke is a real threat on set pieces and his run and the anticipated deflection is what I imagine threw off Nathan. Regardless, with our two first games being Forge and Cavalry, it is definitely nice to see the rest of the league drawing games and not gaining too many points on us. On a side note and for the spirit of the game and for Canadian football, it was great to see Marcel de Jong get the start.
I wanted to add some final thoughts on our Forge game. Having watched it now three times, I can stand by my original comments immediately after the match. We had a very organized defensive block and were able to get the ball into good scoring areas. The game of football does not promise you or owe you anything, and this was learned when we saw some good opportunities just miss. Allan’s fantastic dribble gets him into a good position and misses far post but a good decision to go there because if the keeper does get down to get a hand on it, he will most certainly give up a second opportunity to Easton. Keven dribbles twice into good scoring positions but has one shot blocked and one not hit cleanly, but again, this is rust and not personal technique. Two fantastic headers, one a post and the other a crossbar, provide us the motivation in knowing that we can play against Forge and that we can believe in our team and our system of play. We were able to hold Forge to a 0.26 XG which is a fantastic feat against the league’s top footballing club. At the end of the day, I know that our supporters expect to see us win matches, and this group of players will give us the chance to do this. One final takeaway from our match and after watching York vs Pacific is that we all want to play beautiful football — we want to entertain our supporters and play like Manchester City. I can be accused of stubbornly holding onto this romanticism for too long last year. What I think we see early on is while there is no doubt that teams and players in our league have the quality to keep possession, to build out of the back with the ball on the ground, we must recognize how early goals are being scored. Through the run of play, the top footballing team in our league scored on a long distance wonder strike and a set piece against us. York’s goal came not through intricate patterns of play but rather one direct ball from the keeper, and for all of the good football that Pacific was looking to play, it was an injury time set piece that got them their equalizer. This tournament is going to be about mistakes and taking your chances when they come. If we were able to take one of our chances, the headlines of our game versus Forge would have been different. Cavalry scored a nice goal from a Farsi cross to Haber, but this would not have happened without a mistake in the midfield from Valour on a direct ball and the incredible effort of Bruno Zebie to beat a few players to the second ball. To some extent, success in this tournament will come down to who can play Cavalry football, meaning who can play without making costly mistakes in their own half.
My final comment this morning now takes me to my personal thoughts on Chris Kooy. Chris, our club’s first captain, Number 20, Challenge Cup winner, and role model and leader to so many young players at Edmonton Scottish has just run out of treatment options for his fight against cancer. Chris, an original Eddie, the original captain, and his young family with partner Sandy and daughter Sloane need our support more than ever, and I hope that anyone reading this can either support through Kooy’s Team for Care via GoFundMe; https://gf.me/u/ypsf3r or share to your online followers. Who Chris is, what Chris stands for, how Chris carries himself reminds me now that I must be a better person myself. My job can consume your life, pull you away from friends and family and miss those moments with people you care about because you always feel you are not doing enough to help your players and team succeed. I have missed many years with people I care about such as Chris, and others at Scottish, like Kevin Poissant and Paul Hamilton, because of my own failings of character at times and the job itself, and Chris, who always carries himself with dignity and integrity now reminds me to be better. Chris reminds me that I have failed our FC Edmonton alumni in not doing enough to honour their dedication to our club and the impact they have left and building blocks they put in place. I sincerely hope they all know that this was not through malice but rather letting the stresses of the job pull me away from taking the time to appreciate the history of our players and the human moments that make our sport special. I will fix this. Our sport brings people together, and in a time of racial injustice, fighting for gender equality and political craziness, we can be a healing force on the failings of society. Chris, who he is as a person, partner, and father is an example we can all use to be better. The way that Chris approached football with integrity, honesty, passion, and commitment are the qualities that I want this club to represent. Chris, our first captain, number 20, loving partner, and father has already provided us the blueprint to success both on and off the field, and I hope that this year’s version of the Eddies can make him proud!
August 17, 2020
The morning after a loss is never a great feeling as it is always preceded by a terrible sleep. It has been a couple of days since my last entry, but even though there is little to do inside the hotel, it seems that there is still not enough hours in my day. Today I will try to capture for you the experience of the day before preparation, team talk and tactical setup, the emotions of the game itself, and then the post-game feelings and analysis.
Leading into this game we had a good preparation session to clarify a few points on how high we wanted our engagement line and the moments we could turn from a high line into a press. Some of the thoughts in our preparation for Forge were whether or not we should go with an all-out press and perhaps take a page out of Cavalry’s book, or establish our defensive shape that we feel will be needed as the number of games piles up and player fatigue and injury become factors. We decided to go with a high block and not look to chase too much in their attacking third. The rationale for this was that we had to consider that this was Forge’s second game and even with the Cavalry press, as good as it is, they were able to figure it out, establish their distances in their offensive shape and were able to play out. In their second game, they will have had a chance to look at their video, go over it in training and of course be more comfortable in their possession heading into their second game. We were entering our first game, having not played anything but inter-squads, not fully sure of how long our players could go without breaking down and our feeling was to not burn out their legs in the opening thirty minutes. We also felt that our defensive organization was very good and believed, like last year, that we could keep Forge to the outside and away from the dangerous scoring areas. We did a bit of video on Forge’s defensive shape and how they may press and felt comfortable that our own shape and way of playing would work quite well against their defensive structure. The day before, we had shown the players our analysis on Forge’s offensive organization and how to handle some of their player movements, such as how to address Awuah’s tendency to move inside, into the half channel, leaving Nanco to stay wide. Waking up on game day, the team felt good mentally and physically, and it was now just the anxious wait until game time.
During the game, we felt that were doing everything we wanted. We were keeping Forge out of dangerous scoring areas, and we were patient and organized in our defensive structure. We were winning the ball from being in good defensive positions and were settling in just as Awuah hit his wonder strike from distance. Even on this goal, our structure was good, and you can simply hold your hands up to a fantastically hit ball. After the goal, we settled in again, and I thought were the stronger side throughout the first half, moving the ball as we figured we could and trying to get into the 18 for what are statistically more favourable scoring positions. Coming out at half-time the entire team was confident that we could not only draw level but get a result as we did not feel pressured in our half and believed we could continue to generate chances. We did well again at getting the ball into Keven’s feet and the diagonal from Erik to Jeannot was always on for us. After a first half post, fantastic driving by Allan, and a few opportunities in close that we just couldn’t get a final foot on, we would see another couple of good opportunities go wanting with Easton’s low shot and Kareem’s header off of the crossbar. The game was then of course put away by Forge’s second goal.
Just before bed last night I received all of the statistical analysis that the league provides and much of it confirmed my thoughts. We had an expected goals (XG) of 1.29 while we held Forge to an XG of 0.28. Conceding early put us under pressure right away, but what we did see was a team that was able to keep its composure and maintain high fitness levels until about the 80-minute mark. The fact that we kept Forge’s expected goal number so low can now also be used as a positive starting point for every other match as we can believe in our defensive structure. I was happy to see (knock on wood) that we did not suffer from any cramping which is something that has been evident in other games.
I will end this long entry with some of the thoughts that go through a manager’s head during a game. For starters, you are in every moment, willing each player on to show well for themselves and show their qualities. There are the ups and downs of emotions such as corners that have gone so well in training but unfortunately just not there on game day but chalk that up to first game stress and nerves and not technique! There is also the gut wrenching disappointment for a player who you see go down to injury that must be hidden as the player going in needs your full support and confidence as well. When making a sub, do you stick to your long-term goal of managing player minutes versus immediate needs that could jeopardize a player’s longer team fitness for the potential of getting one point in your first game of seven? This is, of course, compounded when you know the player coming in will provide the same level but be fresher. The one constant thought is balancing the need to perfect your way of playing in what is your first competitive match in approximately 300 days versus switching it all up to try to get the goal that your team has almost gotten on several occasions already playing the way you are. Of course, when you lose a game, every decision you made was the wrong one, and this is the life of the manager where the same decision will elicit feelings of failure or jubilation based on the one inch that we needed for Kareem’s header to go in!
August 15, 2020
Today was Groundhog Day again! Wake up, take off the lid to our breakfast plate and see potatoes, then back to the room to do more analysis on Forge. After a few hours you go back downstairs for lunch, open the lid to the plate and see potatoes, followed by more video work and then supper and yes, more potatoes. At home I may have potatoes once every two weeks at most and here it seems like twice every day! I just need to remind myself that I am helping an economy so will proudly eat them to support my fellow Canadians! The meals were good though and I have been delighted in seeing shrimp, salmon, cod, and scallops as my main proteins!
We had one final session where we had the opportunity to train with a decent workload and prepare the team in how we want to tactically play against Forge. The session was good in establishing our shape and mentality off of the ball but a lesson to any young coaches who may read this; always be careful that what you say matches exactly what you think. It is easy to be in the moment of coaching and using a word or phrase that to you means one thing but to a player something else. This is why language is so important throughout a team, with everyone speaking the same way, with words holding the same meaning to everyone using them.
After training it was then back to the hotel and that special moment where you have your first lobster roll of the Island Games. The food we are getting has actually been quite good with a decent amount of variety but sometimes you just really need to have something served from a pub!
August 14, 2020
Well, today we learned that we now have an ability to order in, as long as they drop it off with local hotel security, and then we come down to pick it up. This is an absolute game changer, and having looked through the various options, I am buzzing at being able to order fish and chips, lobster rolls, and, quite unbelievably, lobster poutine. If they tell me that I can also order Guinness, then it will be cartwheels and fireworks on the fifth floor! Moving on to the football, it was a pretty quiet day with a late training session at 4:00. Today we did a 25-minute warmup consisting of a stretch, passing form, and then agility work. From here we went straight into a phase of play, working on our attacking organization with a focus in the wide and half channel spaces and trying to create positive numbers around the ball. As we prepare for our first game, we want to ensure the players are as a fresh as possible to take advantage of the extra three days we get. Having altered our training routine about a month ago to mimic our tournament play with recovery, preparation, and rest days, we were validated in yesterday’s session with a high level of intensity and quick response transition moments. Of course, the real test comes on Sunday in a meaningful game, but the staff and players are happy where we are at.
Tonight was also the night that we have all been waiting for with the return of the CPL and what a good game to get us started. The teams have not kicked a meaningful ball for almost ten months now, but you wouldn’t know it with intensity of game one. We watched the game as a staff and walked away with a few thoughts that we will need to factor into our own planning. One area to pay attention to as the tournament progresses is how long a team is able to high press for. Cavalry is a very fit team, and when they were able to press high in the first half, they were causing Forge all sorts of problems in playing out. The issue for Cavalry was in the second half, when the humidity and the difficulty we all faced in preparing for a 90-minute match started to come into play and they had to sit a bit deeper. This, along with a few positive subs by Bobby, allowed Forge to start to play their game. The takeaway for us is to ensure that we prepare when we will press and for how long. The second takeaway is how to use the five substitutions to get a tactical and physical advantage. In having the ability to now change half of the starting roster, we must ensure that we are prepared to take advantage of not only having our own fresh bodies on the pitch but hopefully exploiting an exhausted player on the other side. I do think that you will start to see half-time subs become a common tactic at these Island Games. So with the first tournament game in the books and finally some video on an opponent that we can now analyze, we must get to work on preparing Friday and Saturday’s sessions to put in our own tactical adjustments to deal with Forge’s many threats.
August 13, 2020
I want to start off today’s entry by first thanking the soccer community for coming to the support of FC Edmonton’s first Captain, and a mentor and example to so many young players at Edmonton Scottish, Chris Kooy and his family. Chris, as many of you will now know, is in a fight against cancer and his fight really puts what I do into perspective. Having seen the target fundraising goals surpassed twice in a few short days, I think of how much this game is willing to give, how we can come together to support one of our own in a time of need, and how our sport, how any sport, can be used to unite. As we prepare to enter this competition on Sunday, I will have Chris in my thoughts, willing him on in his fight, and hoping that today’s FC Edmonton can play with the desire, passion, and integrity that our captain has always displayed and can be proud of. If anyone still wants to support Chris and his family you can do so by going to his GoFundMe page; Kooy’s Team for Care: https://gf.me/u/ypsf3r
Moving onto our fourth full day in the bubble, the players had a day off from training. At home, a day off is exactly that, a day for players to rest and take their mind off of football. Because we are restricted to our bubble, I wanted to get the players out of the hotel to get some fresh air and was able to utilize our scheduled training time. We went to the grass training pitch today for the first time, and I wasn’t sure if we should get off of the bus. The field is very well hidden from humanity but in fairness served our purpose. After a good warmup and agility work, Lars ran a game of soccer golf. It is safe to say that there will be no PGA tour cards handed off to FCE this year! After the session, we all had the afternoon to ourselves before a gym session and then dinner. After dinner the annual ritual of new players having to perform a song went down and as always the talent level was all over the shop! I am sure these will show up on Kareem’s Instagram before too long. After the concert, players were free to enjoy their night while the staff got together to look at the training film from our last session. We are seeing some very good signs that the team is understanding how we want to defend and now we just need to see it against actual opposition which we simply could not do in Edmonton.
This is me for tonight so thanks for reading, and if you have any questions you want to ask me, please feel free to send them my way.
August 11, 2020
Today was similar to the last two days, with a breakfast consisting of eggs and PEI’s famous potatoes. When I say famous potatoes, I am not talking about a lobster poutine; I am simply saying potatoes, which have found their way onto the plates of about 90% of our meals. I am not complaining about this, and the food has been quite good thus far, but it just seems a bit cliché to be served potatoes in PEI. Now, if someone with red pony tails serves me potatoes then my island dining experience will be complete! After breakfast we had a quick video session on our defending shape, then made our way to the pitch for our final inter-squad game. About three weeks before coming here, we moved to a four-day training cycle to try to mirror our expected schedule during this event. This has had a positive effect on managing player fatigue, and we hope that this allows us to enter the Island Games (I feel like Jeff Provost, not Jeff Paulus saying that) as fresh as possible. The game intent today was 2×30 minutes as a fitness exercise that doubles as a tactical session. As a staff we were quite happy with the tempo and intensity of our final overload session and will now shift our focus towards preparing for our first opponent who I believe had a decent season last year!
Getting back to the hotel we really just seem to fall into our routine of lunch, then work, then dinner. The players have free time between these two meals, and we do have a decent outdoor sitting area. Of course our area overlooks the marina and a bit of an entertainment area, so while you feel close to the action, you are really so far away! We have a ping pong table in our team room but having no paddles or ping pong balls which is making the game quite difficult to play. This is being resolved for us, so again, not wanting to sound negative at all as everything really is running quite smooth as far as our schedule. After dinner the team had its gym/pool time. The hotel facilities are quite good with separate cardio and free weight rooms, plus a pool. To add some excitement and free entertainment tonight, the league has provided, free of charge, an online presentation being put on by the game officials. Safe to say that the meeting wasn’t as entertaining as Narcos, but probably not as bad as Cats either so that was a win for the refs! And on that note, it is now time to find the MLS final on the tele and settle in to cheer on Gio and his Timbers!
August 10, 2020
With everything turned upside down in our daily lives due to Covid-19, I have had the most interesting, confusing, and exhausting preseason in now my ninth year with FC Edmonton. These confusing times will now continue, inside a bubble, in Charlottetown, PEI, for the Island Games. Coming back to the birthplace of Confederation is always special for me as my last warship proudly sailed with this city’s name and this city always treated me well when our warship payed a port visit. This trip, however, will be much different as I stare out my window looking at all of the people who made it to the outside!
Managing in a Bubble will be, starting today, my daily update on how the players and staff are getting on, how we are managing training, nutrition, fitness, and our sanity. I will let you inside our daily lives, and our daily training and games. I am doing this partly to share the experience with you, but also to have something many years from now to look back on with hopefully fond memories. So as I get started with a look into the first few days inside our bubble, I hope you enjoy reading about what is the most unique experience in now my coaching career.
I want to bring this first entry right back to Saturday morning, sitting at the airport waiting for the negative results to come in for two players before we could get on the chartered flight to PEI. I have been in a few stressful situations in my managing career, but watching the clock tick down much quicker than seems possible while waiting for the medical lab’s confirmation aged me like no other moment. Thankfully, 30 minutes prior to takeoff we received the negative results we were waiting for, and the group was able to make our way to the Green Gables bubble! The rest of the first day went smoothly, aided by an incredibly well organized plan on our arrival to the bubble hotel. Activity number one, as soon as we got our bags into the hotel lobby was to be Covid tested. Prior to this test, I had already been tested four times with two throat swabs and two brain surgeries. Well, this one was a different experience altogether as they did my first nostril, then the second! I am not sure why this was done, but perhaps I should be thankful that they treated each side of my brain equally! I know that both of my personalities were happy with the attention! After this, it was into our rooms, then dinner. I am not sure how many of you have been to PEI in the summer, but it is a must visit. Charlottetown is a beautiful city with great food, people, and the wharf that makes it that much more difficult as I look out my window into the marina and all of the happy people, drinking pints of Guinness and listening to live music!
Sunday gave us our first training session of the event and our first look at the game pitch. We did a light recovery session that consisted of an extended warmup with some ball work and then a full team rondo with players on each side playing out of their positions for two minutes in and two minutes out. We did this four times, then pulled the players off of the pitch. With respect to the pitch, it did receive the approval of the players. The rest of the day was quite uneventful with a gym session and some decent banter with my coaching peers. As we move into today, we put the players through an underload session as we wanted to keep the intensity down, and also the duration. The session focused on our defensive shape, defending in two lines, and ensuring that players were in the right body position away from the ball to react to both ball and runner. We finished with a shooting exercise to end practice. Today was also a day that validated my decision or rather my wisdom at asking for a pescatarian diet while in Atlantic Canada as my shrimp lunch was followed up with crab cakes for dinner! As for the view from my room which is both stunning and cruel, here it is…
As for the team itself, the mood is very good. Over the course of this event I believe that how the players are getting on in the hotel is going to be very important to success. Keeping players fresh for each match by controlling the training loads and ensuring that the mental health of the entire group, players and staff, is being cared for will be as important as the on-field play to surviving the Island Games.