Monday, April 25, 2016

Voyageurs Cup pool: 2016 edition

For the 8th year, I'm running a contest to predict the outcomes in the matches of the Voyageurs Cup.

The winners' list is a veritable who's who of people who love lost causes. Check it out:
  • 2015 (winner: ADH)
  • 2014 (winner: Fussball_Eh)
  • 2013 (Brenton)
  • 2012 (Tuscan and Diego R)
  • 2011 (Free Kick and Casual Soccer Fan)
  • 2010 (Lank)
  • 2009 (squizz)
The rules are the same as last year.

RULES
  • Participants will predict the final score of each of the first 6 matches over two competition stages: a) The initial two-legged play-in tie between Ottawa and Edmonton, and b) The two-leg semi final rounds between Montreal and Toronto, and Ottawa/Edmonton and Vancouver
  • At the conclusion of the semi-final round, participants will be asked to submit their picks for the two-legged final.
  • Total discrepancy from the final score of each match will be tallied. e.g.: If you predicted Ottawa 1 - 0 Edmonton for the opening fixture, and the final was 2-2, your discrepancy factor would be 3 goals (off by 1 for Ottawa, off by 2 for Edmonton). Lowest total score over all matches wins.
  • For these two-legged ties, the CSA is applying the away goals rule. If matches go to extra time, the scoreline after 120 minutes is the one that will be used for contest purposes.
  • In the case of an overall tie, a bonus will be awarded to anyone correctly predicting the tournament's high goal scorer ("golden boot").
  • Subsequent tie-breakers: First tie-breaker will be total number of exact scorelines. Second is total number of correct results (win/draw/loss). 
PRIZES

The lanterne rouge is a cycling term to designate the last-placed finisher in a race. The lanterne rouge will choose a team scarf from one of the tournament teams to be awarded to the winner.

Second and third paced prizes might come into play if the competition grows large enough, or if you have something you'd like to give away.

HOW TO ENTER

A
ll entries must be submitted via email in order for me to be able to solicit your final round picks in a timely fashion once the finalists are known. Any entries left in the comments will not be included; I'll try to contact you to get an emailed response.

Please include the following details in your entry
  • The exact score of each of the first 6 fixtures (in the correct order, please)
  • Your prediction for tournament leading goal scorer.
  • nickname to be displayed on the results page. If none is given, your real name will be used.
To make life easier for me, simply copy/paste the following into your email, and change the Xs into scores.

DATEHOMEAWAY
5/11/2016EdmontonXXOttawa
5/18/2016OttawaXXEdmonton
6/1/2016Edm/OttXXVancouver
6/1/2016TorontoXXMontreal
6/8/2016MontrealXXToronto
6/8/2016VancouverXXEdm/Ott
GOLDEN BOOT
NICKNAME


I know some email programs will garble the formatting of that table, but don't worry about it, I'll figure it out.

Once the final two teams are known, you will receive an email inviting you to submit your second round of picks which are due prior to kickoff on June 21st.

All entries must be emailed to blogdumpster@gmail.com.

CONTEST DEADLINE: All entries must be received by 8 pm central (you heard me, Central Time) on Wednesday 11 May 2016, the day of the opening encounters.

I'm shooting for maximum participation, so if you have a platform for promoting this thing (twitter, blog, semaphore, etc.), I'd appreciate the support that way.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Canada-Mexico player ratings

Canada's 3-0 loss to Mexico in this past Friday's World Cup qualifying match was more disappointing than it was surprising. Momentum did seem to be with Floro's men, with a string of acceptable, if never dominating, results, and a team being improved by players like Junior Hoilett and Scott Arfield joining the fold. I'll even admit to holding out hope; I laid down a small bet on 1-1 as the final score.

And yet, this result was always the most obvious one. Though Canada has played Mexico close over the past decade (the 3 goals they allowed in this match was the most against Mexico since 1997), El Tri are the class of CONCACAF and it showed on the pitch. In addition, Canada suffered from so many of its starters having just begun their seasons or pre-season preparation (Larin, de Guzman, Johnson, Straith, Jakovic, and de Jong among them), while the Mexicans all play in leagues that are in full swing.

The manner of the defeat was a bit more surprising, with an encouraging opening 20 minutes seeming to give the Canadians a confidence and a willingness to go forward that was ultimately the team's greatest undoing.

The entire team was part of the letdown, some more than others. Here are the ratings.

Milan Borjan - 7
He made a number of top class saves in the first half to keep it close. A second and third look at the Lozano goal shows that he had left far too much of the short side open, and he may want to have had that third goal back.

Marcel de Jong - 5.5
Was too often beaten for pace by Lozano and other Mexican wingers, but was not at fault for any of the biggest defensive letdowns.

Adam Straith - 5.5
Made some nice interceptions and even started a rush, but his lack of pace was punished on the second Mexican goal.

Dejan Jakovic - 4
Was frequently out of position, and sloppy on the ball. He was caught napping on the Chicharito goal, and seemed largely at fault for the third. If healthy, David Edgar needs to take his spot.

Doneil Henry - 5
Proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he is not a fullback, as all but one or two of his touches going forward were poor. Defended well in the second half.

Atiba Hutchinson - 7
It is hard not to grade on a curve with Atiba, as this match was not at the caliber of his typical performances. A miscue between him and Johnson led to the second goal, and he did not complete as high a percentage of his passes as he usually does. On the other hand, he was one of few players that could take on an opponent or two and keep possession. He might have benefited from one of the other midfielders also playing in a deeper lying role.

Will Johnson - 6
I'll give him credit for being involved in the rare occasions where the team got forward. A 1-2 combination with Arfield was one of the team's better chances. On the other hand he was often careless in possession and was beaten all day defensively.

Julian de Guzman - 5
He was deservedly celebrated pre-match for his Canada career and caps record, but this match showed he is no longer at the level required to be effective against an opponent like Mexico.

Junior Hoilett - 5.5
Watching the game I was hugely disappointed with the hash he made of two excellent chances to score, not even forcing a save. He deserves credit, though, for generating those chances.

Tosaint Ricketts - 4.5
I'm a big Ricketts defender, but this was not a good performance. The team directed most of their offense down the left side away from Ricketts, so I won't be critical there. But he was largely a ghost, including leaving a man unmarked on Mexico's first goal. Was justly subbed off at half.

Cyle Larin - 5
Like Hoilett, he squandered the best chance he was given. Against teams like Mexico, one needs to be more clinical. On the other hand, his hold up play was better than we have seen in the past. Lacks creativity when he does not receive the ball in a shooting position.

SUBS:
Scott Arfield - 6
He looked promising in the early-going of the second half, combining well with Johnson and others. His back injury, which kept him from flying to Mexico City, may have been an issue as he drifted out of the game in the last quarter hour.

Sam Piette - 5
He might have been a better choice than de Guzman as a starter, as he provides some defensive steel. He's not an effective player when the team is chasing the game. Benito may have been cutting his losses at that point.

Tesho Akindele - n/a
Too brief an appearance to leave much of an impression.

Benito - 4
For a manager who has had the team playing so defensively, even against weaker opponents, he either did not impress this enough upon his team, or they got carried away by the moment. Either way, he bears responsibility.

BC Place crowd
On TV, the split between Canadian and Mexican fans seemed to be at worse 70-30, and despite the result, they stayed in the game throughout. Full credit to the Voyageurs as always.



It seems silly to expect anything different for tomorrow's match at Azteca, but I'm hopeful (there's that word again) that Floro can iron out a few of the defensive issues, and that the team's posture on the whole will be a bit more conservative.  Mexico 2 - Canada 0

Friday, March 18, 2016

Minutes under Floro, 2nd edition

A reprise of an earlier post, from an earlier point in Benito Floro's managerial reign (5 matches in, to be precise, and zero goals to show for it).

Canada's roster for the Mexico World Cup qualifiers is set to be announced in just over an hour. If the past can serve as any predictor of future behaviour, the history of which players Floro has selected might be a clue into who makes the squad for next weekend.

Here are all the players who have received minutes during the nearly 3 years Benito Floro has been in charge (has it really been that long?)

Update: Players listed in italics are part of the 23-man squad Benito Floro has called up for the two Mexico matches. Scott Arfield, who would be making his debut, and backup keeper Simon Thomas, who also has not been capped, are not listed.

PlayerStartSubMinsGAYR
Adam Straith20117913
Tosaint Ricketts211674712
Julian de Guzman1914302
Marcel de Jong171292211
Nik Ledgerwood161125415
David Edgar131118912
Milan Borjan12111091
Samuel Piette9899012
Dejan Jakovic101945
Kenny Stamatopoulos101863
Karl W Ouimette8684622
Atiba Hutchinson98022
Cyle Larin857454
Doneil Henry716712
Andre Hainault826181
Issey Nakajima-Farran73618
Marcus Haber575511
Kyle Bekker465021
Pedro Pacheco6467
Dwayne De Rosario6246721
Russell Teibert310465111
Tesho Akindele5343111
Will Johnson5431111
Jonathan Osorio544271
Simeon Jackson54381
Randy Edwini-Bonsu333051
Maxim Tissot342881
Ashtone Morgan242861
Junior Hoilett32491
Manjrekar James32482
Nana Attakora222232
Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé14201
Lars Hirschfeld2180
Stefan Cebara21180
Kyle Porter21176
Patrice Bernier221701
Iain Hume22141
Kianz Froese2135
Wandrille Lefevre2135
Maxime Crepeau190
Steven Vitoria190
Charlie Trafford171
Daniel Haber460
Sam Adekugbe357
Keven Aleman2491
Fraser Aird145
Lucas Cavallini145
Terry Dunfield243
Chris Mannella338
Caleb Clarke227
Marco Bustos119
Quillan Roberts16
Mallan Roberts16
Daniel Stanese15
Jamar Dixon15
Jackson Farmer14
Manuel Aparicio11
Jordan Hamilton11

There will no doubt be some surprised to see Adam Straith -- a man who has plied his trade in Norway and the German 2nd and 3rd tier -- leading the list, but on the other hand I can't think of too many performances where he hasn't looked like earning the selection.

Notes:

  • While the match reports on the CSA site are more user-friendly than in past years, the "team sheet" tab from which I gleaned this info is still rife with errors regarding substitutions. (A player entering the game in the 57th minute said to have played 43 minutes, one player substituting another entering in a different minute than the other exited, etc.)
  • David Edgar has not been substituted in any of the games he has played under Floro.
  • Despite the early goal drought under Floro, both Tosaint Ricketts and Cyle Larin have a very respectable strike rate. The secondary scoring, though, is lacking with no other player at more than 2 goals.
  • Russell Teibert is the most frequently used substituted with 10 appearances off the bench.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Predict: Canada 23-man roster for Mexico WCQs

Short and sweet: Who are the 23 that make the squad for the Mexico matches at BC Place and Azteca.

My list:

Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Kenny Stamatopoulos, Simon Thomas

Defense: David Edgar, Doneil Henry, Dejan Jakovic, Adam Straith, Marcel de Jong, Karl Ouimette, Sam Adekugbe

Midfield: Atiba Hutchinson, Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson, Kianz Froese, Sam Piette, Scott Arfield, Russell Teibert

Forward: Cyle Larin, Tesho Akindele, Tosaint Ricketts, Junior Hoilett, Marcus Haber, Simeon Jackson

The actual  roster will likely come out Thursday or Friday so get your 23 in the comments before then. Beat me and win a prize. Or not.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Canadian content numbers: An explainer

If you're like the majority of readers to this site, you've arrived because a Twitter somebody with a wider following than me retweeted one of my periodic tweets updating my tracking numbers of Canadian content on Canadian teams. I throw a link to the blog in those tweets for purely self-serving reasons, but if you look to the sidebar, you'll see the same numbers summary as well as a link to a Google spreadsheet with game-by-game data. (Those viewing on mobile might not see anything useful at all...)

What are these numbers?

The number for each team represents the percentage of total minutes in all competitive matches played by Canadian players. A normal 90 minute match multiplied by 11 players on the field produces 990 minutes, so apart from a small rounding error you can just slide the decimal point one spot to the left for a game's worth of minutes.

For example, a game in which two Canadians start and play the full 90 gives 180 minutes which results in approximately 18% worth of Canadian content.

What is a competitive match?

You're a soccer fan. You know the answer. Friendlies? No. League? Yes. Voyageurs Cup? Yes. League playoffs (or "post-season")? Yes. CONCACAF Champions League? Yes. Club World Championship? Of course.

How does one qualify as a Canadian player?

This is where it sometimes gets a bit thorny. The general criteria is that one ought to be eligible to play for the Canadian national team. So Montreal's Wandrille Lefevre, though a Canadian resident from his adolescence, did not join the ranks until he earned his Canadian citizenship last spring, and his first national team cap soon after. Owen Hargreaves could come out of retirement tomorrow for Toronto FC and despite having spent his entire youth in this country, not make the list.

Why do I care?

I live in Winnipeg, a wonderful** place, but one that is 1300 km from the nearest Canadian professional city. So I have no strong rooting interest in any of these teams. Apart from the fact that soccer is now on TV more often, the main thing that excites me about the emerging Canadian professional scene is the opportunity for more Canadians to make a go of it in soccer, and to develop to the point where they are strengthening a team I unambiguously care about, which is the men's national team.

Why should you care?

If you're a big city fan of the Toronto Raptors, or a Saturday warrior supporting a Manchester-something or cardinal point-London team, you're likely already comfortable supporting a team whose players have no meaningful connection to you. That's sport.

But if you've read this far, you almost certainly care about soccer in Canada in general, and likely also have some interest in seeing Canada do better internationally. The number of Canadians in pro environments matters, and the easiest way to get these numbers up is to have more of them doing this at home.

So how are those numbers looking?

The short story is not great. There has been a general decline in the numbers summarized in 2015's year-end report, and even more succinctly in this graph:

There is some hand-waving explaining-away that could be done involving teams switching leagues, or league quality improving, but the narrative would seem to be that Canadian players are falling behind.

Am I optimistic for 2016?

The usual argument (not from me) is that team academies take 5 to 10 years to truly become a pipeline of young talent to a first team. There is some evidence for that including the since (to West Ham) departed Doneil Henry of TFC, or the likes of Sam Adekugbe, Kianz Froese, and Marco Bustos (the latter two Winnipeg products) with Vancouver. 

But for the MLS teams I'd expect the numbers to perk up, but only a little, from last year (Toronto 12%, Vancouver 9%, Montreal 8%), though Montreal in particular does not seem to have a single Canadian player that is likely to be a regular.

Do I write about anything else on this blog?

Not often, though check back in a few weeks as somewhat serendipitously (ominously?) Canada's next two World Cup qualifying matches, a home-and-away series with Mexico, fall during a week's work vacation. Do not expect much in the way of rational thought.

** Regarding Winnipeg, 'wonderful' is admittedly laying it on a bit thick.