A 21-year-old 5’9″ fullback, Zebie will provide cover on both flanks. As always see Steven Sandor for the best-informed take, but Edmonton’s roster has room for Zebie. The departure of
Cristian Raudales Beto Navarro and the possibility of Lance Laing playing midfield means a need for depth fullbacks: as of today Eddie Edward is the first right back, either Laing or Kareem Moses will play left, and from there it’s wide open. No doubt more signings are coming but there’s a chance Zebie will have what many first-time professionals wait years for: the prospect of cracking game-day eighteens and seeing minutes.
Officially, Allan Zebie is the tenth player signed by FC Edmonton from their Academy since the first five in February 2013. Unofficially I count eleven. Six remain with the team in 2015 and two have become important, though none are yet everyday starters. This is an enviable record: not all of these players have been prominent first-teamers but many have played a part and one, Hanson Boakai, has already been called to the Canadian senior men’s national team. Though roster rules mean you shouldn’t compare raw numbers between NASL and MLS teams, this compares very well to more established youth academies in Vancouver and Toronto. Let’s take a look at those eleven players.
1. Midfielder Hanson Boakai is the most prominent Academy alumnus in the Eddies ranks to date. Boakai was one of the five “original” FC Edmonton reserve players to sign a first team contract in February 2013 and during that season became the youngest player in the history of the North American Soccer League. His star turn in the 2014 Voyageurs Cup drew national headlines and a call to a senior men’s national team training camp from Benito Floro, though he did not play. He was also the most electric, and most underutilized, Canadian player at the recent CONCACAF U-20 championships.
Boakai remains at Edmonton for 2015 and, still only 18 years old, will be looking to crack the first eleven (though competition is stiff). The 2014 season saw him become semi-regular, getting a handful of starts and more appearances off the bench, and he was very much the team’s twelfth man during its successful fall.
2. Rock-solid central defender Mallan Roberts was another one of the February 2013 originals. He’d earned a reputation in Edmonton as an amateur athlete, both as a take-no-prisoners defender for Jeff Paulus’s NAIT Ooks and the Eddies reserves, and as a junior football prospect eyed by the Edmonton Eskimos.
For all the Boakai hype, Roberts not only has more appearances for FC Edmonton but more goals, scoring twice so far in the NASL. His appearances in the first team have been marred by inconsistency, indiscipline, and injury but he’s shown upside as well, winning an NASL Team of the Week nod last year. In some ways Roberts recalls new West Ham United signing Doneil Henry, though citizenship problems have delayed the opportunity to play for Canada. He remains with the roster for 2015 and, turning 23 in June, will be expected to make big strides.
3. Strong forward Sadi Jalali arrived with a pallet of promise: while a member of Edmonton Juventus Jalali played the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup for Canada and scored against England. Despite interest from the Eddies Jalali visited Germany’s 1. FC Kaiserslautern academy, then the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency (where he was excellent at the USSDA U-18 level) before, finally and after a little controversy, signing with his hometown club. Thanks partially to injury Jalali hasn’t yet made a decisive impact on the NASL, but he scored his first goal last year against Carolina from the spot. He is on Edmonton’s 2015 roster but will be behind some solid veteran forwards in Daryl Fordyce, Frank Jonke, and Tomi Ameobi.
4. Montreal-born defender Chris de Guise, another NAIT alumnus, was one of the first five 2013 signings. Despite making the bench in the NASL a few times he has yet to see a professional minute and left Edmonton at the end of the 2013 season. De Guise remains in the game, making sixteen appearances last year for Quebec semi-pro league champions CS Longueuil.
5. Forward Ajeej Sarkaria, an Edmonton local, was the last of the “original five”. After starring in Maple Leaf Forever!‘s 2012 Worst Goal of the Canadian Year (So Far) Sarkaria signed first-team terms in February 2013 but did not appear in the Eddies eighteen. At the end of June Sarkaria was dropped back to the Reserves and appeared in Reserve friendlies through the summer of 2014. He was also the leading scorer at the 2013 Canada Games, helping Team Alberta to a fifth-place finish. Though he hasn’t been heard from much lately, Sarkaria is 19 years old and still has time.
EDIT, January 24 10:00: thanks to John Anderson in the comments; Sarkaria spent last year redshirting at Grant MacEwan University.
6. Though not one of the original five, midfielder Edem Mortotsi joined the Eddies at the beginning of the 2013 season. Mortotsi was initially fairly prominent and saw a few games, including one start on November 3 in Fort Lauderdale. However, 2014 was a disappointment and he was released at the end of the season. Mortotsi also played a single Voyageurs Cup game, in 2013 against Vancouver.
7. Goalkeeper Norbert Janas, one of the original Academy members, signed with FC Edmonton in August 2013. Though he appeared on the bench a few times while Lance Parker was injured, Janas did not make an appearance before being dropped at the end of the season.
8. Lanky young central defender Marko Aleksic joined the Eddies before the beginning of the 2014 season. He’s already made a couple first team appearances when injury and suspension intervened, getting a half against Minnesota United and starting at home against Montreal in the second round of the Voyageurs Cup. Aleksic has also been a member of the Canadian U-20 pool, though he was not part of the team Rob Gale took to Jamaica this month. He remains on the Eddies roster for the 2015 season.
9. Goalkeeper Connor James signed with FC Edmonton in May 2014. This was almost openly an emergency signing: his contract was for the spring season only. James got onto the bench once in the NASL and again in the Voyageurs Cup, but moved on after the spring season ended. He now plays at the University of Alberta, alongside other former Eddies and Eddies Academy players such as Tim Hickson, Ajay Khabra, and Niko Saler.
10. Another young goalkeeper, Christian Kaiswatum joined FC Edmonton’s first team in October 2014 after serving with the Academy and as a non-playing substitute for Canada at the 2013 U-17 World Cup. Kaiswatum has yet to make a first team appearance and is probably fourth on the depth chart for 2015, but he’s also turning 18 this season. According to his Canadian Soccer Association profile, one of his favourite goalkeepers is fellow Edmontonian Asmir Begovic.
11. Now, defender Allan Zebie joins the team. He’s the first fullback to come out of the Academy and the first youth signing of 2015.
The success of graduating Eddies Academy players hasn’t been universal, but Boakai, Roberts, and to an extent Jalali show that, even in these early days, there’s a chance to make a professional career in Edmonton. Good luck to Allan Zebie; our youngsters need to play somewhere.
EDIT, January 22: this article originally confused midfielder Cristian Raudales (still with FC Edmonton) with departed defender Beto Navarro.