The departure of Paul Hamilton from FC Edmonton is a blow to both the team and the country, and one that should have been avoided.
So farewell then Paul Hamilton. FC Edmonton today announced a parting of ways with Hamilton after much speculation. Worries developed after Hamilton was not included on the list of the first sixteen players confirmed by FC Edmonton for 2013; worries that sadly turned out to be completely true.
It’s not every day a team cuts the man who was clearly its best defender. For once that’s not just my amateur scouting report but the opinion of the FC Edmonton Supporters Group, who named Hamilton the team’s 2012 MVP, the fans who voted for Hamilton as the team’s best defender, and of course the North American Soccer League, who named Hamilton as the sole Canadian and sole FC Edmonton representative in its 2012 Best XI. There’s no controversy; anyone paying attention rated Hamilton at or near the very top of NASL defenders. In my books he was the team’s second-best player for the past two seasons, a bit behind Shaun Saiko and well ahead of Kyle Porter (who got his MLS chance at last and is off to a good start at DC United).
FC Edmonton was dead last in 2012 but Hamilton can’t take the blame. The Eddies were fifth in the NASL in goals against; not bad, given that the team endured four goalkeepers and a botched-together defense apart from Hamilton and, later in the year, Antonio Rago. Hamilton and Rago carried a backline that featured Jon-Jo Augustin and Kevin Hatchi as the only two other defenders who got more than 1,000 minutes, neither of whom was at all good. Hatchi, Fabien Vorbe, Fabrice Lassonde, and Adam West were all given significant minutes at left back; Lassonde didn’t seem bad but was cut early. Hamilton never had a natural centre back beside him unless you count David Proctor, who showed up mid-season and acquitted himself well but is apparently more comfortable on the outside or in defensive midfield. Not only did Hamilton survive Harry Sinkgraven’s Dutchsterfuck of a defense but he emerged looking better than before. He had a tremendous season under very trying circumstances, and now he’s gone.
Not only was Hamilton valuable on the field but he was an asset off it. I’ve never met Hamilton but have been told by usually-critical judges that he’s an intelligent, soft-spoken young man who fits in well. He’s given his time to supporters and the community, most memorably raising $700 for the Stollery Children’s Hospital as the face of Delux Burger Bar’s “Hammy” burger. He’s from Calgary and was one of the few familiar Albertan faces left on the FC Edmonton first team, with Saiko and Rago. He was almost unanimously popular; FC Edmonton’s Facebook update on Hamilton’s departure has a chorus of “nooo”s and one wag’s “he sucked on Sons of Anarchy.”. At 24 years old (25 on Saturday) Hamilton was also just the right age for a team looking to compete long-term.
So he was widely recognized as a brilliant player, he was from the area, everyone loved him, and he got cut. What the hell happened?
When he arrived in Edmonton, new head coach Colin Miller proclaimed that everyone was a trialist; the old coach’s canard that no job was safe. Cutting Hamilton, along with other popular players like Chris Kooy and David Monsalve and recently-acquired starter-presumptive Martin Nunez, sure proves Miller meant it. But none of those three were on Hamilton’s level. By all accounts Hamilton didn’t have a great training camp, but surely a man of experience like Miller would know better than to cut a player who contributed brilliantly for two years because of a bad month in preseason.
Then again, this past winter wouldn’t have been Miller’s first experience with Hamilton. Hamilton played with the Whitecaps Residency USL PDL team in 2009, including 180 minutes in two games against Miller’s Victoria Highlanders. The Highlanders scored six goals in those two games; presumably not an impressive defensive performance. Miller joined the Whitecaps in February 2010 as an assistant coach and, despite being signed to a one-year deal with an option, Hamilton did not return to the Whitecaps in 2010, preferring to take his chances with FC Edmonton in their “exhibition season”. Perhaps Miller already had a bad impression of Hamilton, one which was not improved by those first weeks of training camp. In February, when speculation about Hamilton’s future was swirling, Miller gave Steven Sandor a very mixed review:
Miller, who inherited a team that finished last in the NASL under former coach Harry Sinkgraven, understands that supporters might be surprised at some of the decisions he’s made so far — but he wants it to be clear that this is his team. And that means that even players who made the NASL Best XI last season aren’t immune from criticism.
“I have spoken to Paul (Hamilton), he knows he has work to do,” said Miller. “There are weaknesses in his game that I have seen, and that we have talked about. I think the experience that Albert Watson (the Northern Irish veteran who came to FCE from Linfield FC) brings will help Paul with his game.”
“But we finished last in the league, last season. Last! We can’t keep things as they were. That’s not to say that Paul Hamilton was the reason we finished last, not at all, but the guys here know what’s expected of them. They know what their deficiencies are. I can’t control what happened last season. But I can control it now that I am here.”
Maybe Hamilton fell victim to financial realities. There are no figures on the record, but it’s widely said that many of the players FC Edmonton signed in 2010 and 2011 were on surprisingly large salaries, and FC Edmonton’s 2012 payroll was probably the highest in the NASL (with, through no fault of FC Edmonton’s, the lowest attendance). Not all of Edmonton’s new players would have come cheap: right back Wes Knight, for example, has been a first-class second-division player for years and should command a decent price if anyone does. Other NASL veterans of some note have also signed on. They’ve brought in two Northern Irishmen, and European imports are always more expensive than they deserve. Nobody could really blame Tom and Dave Fath for trying to stop the bleeding; they’re already the most committed soccer owners Edmonton has ever seen. Perhaps Hamilton was simply making more money than the front office felt they could bear and the two parties couldn’t agree on a renegotiated deal. As I write this, Hamilton has told Sandor that “there were discussions of a pay cut”; that surely played some role in his exit. Still, unless Hamilton’s salary was truly astonishing or the new guys came awfully cheap, that would be penny wise pound foolish. Apart from Knight and maybe Neil Hlavaty none of the new Eddies are in Hamilton’s ballpark as a player.
Perhaps it was a combination of both these factors. Dwight Lodeweges or Harry Sinkgraven may have been willing to fight for Hamilton but if Colin Miller didn’t rate him and money had to be saved somewhere… it would be a pity if Edmonton, which has been willing to invest heavily in building its organization for three years, lost one of its strongest players who’d been around since before Day One because they wanted to save a few dollars.
Edmonton will presumably rely on Proctor plus its new arrivals at centre back. One of them, Carlyle Mitchell, is on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps; if I were to sum up Mitchell in NASL terms I’d call him “a poor man’s Paul Hamilton.” Edson Edward, ex-of the Puerto Rico Islanders, and former Fort Lauderdale Striker Lance Laing are both outside backs. Neil Hlavaty can play CB but you wouldn’t want him to if you could help it. The only two natural centre backs signed permanently this winter were Reserves product Mallan Roberts, who experts have high hopes for but is a 20-year-old rookie, and new captain Albert Watson, who signed from one of the few European first divisions probably worse than the NASL (Northern Ireland) and two weeks ago tore his MCL. It’s a thin group; not the sort of roster you’d cavalierly throw the likes of Paul Hamilton off.
And what’s next for Hamilton? This is a bad time of year to be cut, with training camps generally set across the NASL and USL Pro. Recall the fate of Philippe Davies, who was released by the Vancouver Whitecaps in January 2012 but had to wait until July to sign with the USL Pro’s Richmond Kickers, or Mozzi Gyorio turning down a contract from Sporting Kansas City in March 2012 and not turning up until January of this year with Fleetwood Town in England’s League Two. If Hamilton is looking at six to nine months out of soccer, that’s a problem. Worse, he might leave the game altogether; he had been an education student at Trinity Western and after four years of school might want to earn an honest living. That might be good for him but it would be bad for us. These are the sorts of players Canada simply cannot afford to lose.
There are certainly Major League Soccer teams which could use a player of Hamilton’s ability to fill out depth on the back four, such as for example oh I don’t know the Vancouver Whitecaps. Hamilton, at 24 years old, was acknowledged as one of the best defenders and maybe the very best in the NASL; that compares pretty favourably to Brad Rusin, who drew the same sort of praise at the same age (but received fewer honours because of injury). Hamilton would certainly have a lot more to offer the Whitecaps than the likes of Adam Clement, recently signed to the Whitecaps first team. And seeing a player like Gale Agbossoumonde, who couldn’t carry Hamilton’s jock, go through a much-hyped draft lottery and get the number six shirt in Toronto while the domestic Hamilton sends out resumés makes you laugh to keep from crying. But the other side of that is Hamilton would have to take MLS depth player money. Thanks to the salary cap, men like Hamilton are almost unsignable in MLS: too proven to be happy with $46,500 per year, too uncertain to be worth chancing real money and an on-budget roster slot because “everyone knows” you shouldn’t pay much for Canadians out of the NASL, while you should throw huge sums at inferior Europeans or South Americans with “flair”. Martin Rennie is an exception to that rule if anyone is, but so far only for former Railhawks.
If I were Martin Rennie, I’d be talking Hamilton’s ear off trying to lure him in for the rest of the season. You couldn’t ask for better cover behind Rusin and Andy O’Brien, you really couldn’t. But I know that won’t happen because it never does. What a loss for FC Edmonton, and if Hamilton doesn’t land on his feet what a loss for Canadian soccer.
 — “FC Edmonton and Paul Hamilton Part Ways.” FC Edmonton, March 19, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://www.fcedmonton.com/news/FC-Edmonton-and-Paul-Hamilton-Part-Ways.
 — “Eddies Take First Step Towards 2013 Roster.” FC Edmonton, February 25, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://www.fcedmonton.com/news/Eddies-Take-First-Step-Towards-2013-Roster.
 — FC Edmonton Supporters Group. “Supporter’s MVP.” FCESG message board (forum). http://www.edmontonsoccerfans.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=596.
 — FC Edmonton. “Eddie Awards.” The Eddie 7 (2012): 8.
 — Robb, Trevor. “FC Edmonton defender Paul Hamilton creates Delux burger ‘The Hammy’, raises $700 for Stollery.” Edmonton Examiner, September 9, 2012. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://www.edmontonexaminer.com/2012/08/31/fc-edmonton-defender-paul-hamilton-creates-delux-burger-the-hammy-raises-700-for-stollery.
 — “FC Edmonton and Paul Hamilton Decide to Part Ways.” Via Facebook. Accessed March 19, 2013. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151488502289494&set=a.10150146415054494.298165.307004169493&type=1.
 — Sandor, Steven. “FCE reveals full training camp roster… Whitecaps friendly set… Monsalve out, Cuban keeper in.” The11.ca, February 15, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://the11.ca/2013/02/15/fce-reveals-full-training-camp-roster-whitecaps-friendly-set-monsalve-out-cuban-keeper-in/.
 — Vancouver Whitecaps FC. “Miller named new assistant coach.” WhitecapsFC.com via the Internet Archive, February 11, 2010. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://web.archive.org/web/20100216052333/http://www.whitecapsfc.com/archive/feature02111002.aspx.
 — Vancouver Whitecaps FC. “Whitecaps add Hamilton and Baker.” WhitecapsFC.com via the Internet Archive, April 10, 2009. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://web.archive.org/web/20090727071223/http://www.whitecapsfc.com/archive/feature04100901.aspx.
 — Sandor, Steven. “FCE’s Miller: No player from last-place team gets a free pass.” The11.ca, February 26, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://the11.ca/2013/02/26/fces-miller-no-player-from-last-place-team-gets-a-free-pass/.
 — Sandor, Steven. “Hamilton on FCE release: ‘In the end I wanted to remain with the club’.” The11.ca, March 19, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://the11.ca/2013/03/19/hamilton-on-fce-release-in-the-end-i-wanted-to-remain-with-the-club/.
 — Sandor, Steven. “FC Edmonton announces signings of five youth prospects.” The11.ca, February 20, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://the11.ca/2013/02/20/fc-edmonton-announces-signing-of-five-youth-prospects/.
 — Sandor, Steven. “FC Edmonton’s new captain will be out with a torn MCL.” The11.ca, March 8, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://the11.ca/2013/03/08/fc-edmontons-new-captain-will-be-out-with-a-torn-mcl/.
 — Vancouver Whitecaps FC. “Jarju and Davies move on.” WhitecapsFC.com, January 20, 2012. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://www.whitecapsfc.com/news/2012/01/jarju-and-davies-move.
 — Sandor, Steven. “Gyorio says no to initial offer from Sporting Kansas City.” The11.ca, March 26, 2012. Accessed March 19, 2013. http://the11.ca/2012/03/26/gyorio-says-no-to-initial-offer-from-sporting-kansas-city/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gyorio-says-no-to-initial-offer-from-sporting-kansas-city.