Tuesday, December 30, 2014

13 Canadian soccer predictions for 2015

This space, as quiet as it is most of the year, is a soccer blog. End of year lists and underinformed prognostication are two of the calling cards of the blog genre, so without further ado, here are some predictions for the coming year in Canadian soccer that combine the personal and the banal, the likely and the long shots.

1. I will attend a 2015 WWC match

Let's begin with a near certainty. I live in one of the host cities for this summer's Women's World Cup, and while Canada won't be paying a visit, Winnipeg will be host to the so-called (inaccurately) Group of Death featuring the USA, Sweden, Australia, and Nigeria, as well as visits from Germany and Japan in the third round of group stage matches.

No, the other football

I attended the Canada-USA friendly this past May, and the quality and intensity level were high. Investors'  Group Field looks good done up for soccer. I fully expect Winnipeg to step up and pack the house for all matches, especially the USA games.

2. The Women's World Cup will be an off field success

Canada is a rich country. It is a country that knows how to put on successful international sporting events. Tickets will be sold (mostly), CBC Sports, with few other sports properties to be distracted by, will put its considerable talent and profile behind the tournament. It will be a thing.

Update: It is not CBC, but CTV/TSN, another broadcaster starved of its traditional sports properties, that will putting its considerable heft behind making this tournament a television success.

3. Canada will not win

The quarters or semis are the likeliest outcome for the team at the tournament, for reasons a more verbose blogger than me has already outlined in considerable detail. Canada's biggest struggle will be finding goals, while a youthful defensive setup should be strong enough to keep the team in matches against all but the strongest opponents.

4. The men's national team will have a strong Gold Cup

As always, in CONCACAF tournaments, much depends on the 'draw', a term that is used loosely. But with the news that a group, undoubtedly Canada's group, will be hosted at Toronto's BMO Field, there are no excuses for Floro's men not to advance from their group and set up a better than 50-50 shot of winning a quarterfinal match. The national team, despite a lackluster 0-0 draw in Panama, saw general improvement, especially in their defensive setup, in 2014, and I fully expect Floro to push the team to a slightly higher level in 2015.

5. Canada will finish the year better than 100th in the FIFA rankings

See above.

6. Dwayne De Rosario has played his last match for Canada

He old.

7. Two Canadian MLS teams will make the playoffs

Vancouver made the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, while Montreal made its lone appearance in 2013. Next year will be the first to see two Canadian teams advance. It's easy to see Toronto improving from a season in which they massively underachieved relative to the talent available, while Vancouver is a young team that should improve without any major additions. But don't count out Montreal, a team that improved in the second half of the season, and one that is starting to take on the identity of journeyman MLS manager Frank Klopas. They have the advantage of toiling in the Eastern conference which will feature two expansion teams.

8. Another young player will transfer to a Big 5 league

Yes, we're getting into wildly optimistic territory here.

Doneil Henry has joined West Ham United from Toronto FC after a curious arrangement with a Cypriot team. Another under-23 Canadian will be bought by a first division team in England, Germany, Spain, France, or Italy (but likely one of the first two), and might even play a match or two. Hanson Boakai is a possibility, but surprises are possible.

9. Canada will qualify for the men's U-20 World Cup

There is enough talent on the Canadian team to qualify out of CONCACAF for next year's tournament in New Zealand.

9b. Canada will exit at the group stage

So much depends on the draw, but I don't expect a long tournament run should they qualify.

10. TFC will not fire its manager in 2015

Possibly the biggest long shot of all.

11. Canadian content on Canada's MLS teams will continue to decline in 2015

See post.

12. There will be a new Canadian NASL team

A hopeful prediction.

13. USA will win the Women's World Cup

A team that overcame the great obstacle of kicking a ball on synthetic instead of natural fibers.



The aim was to produce 15 predictions for '15; clearly I haven't being close enough attention to Canadian soccer happenings to find 15 topics upon which to offer my predictions. In any case, should this blog still be around in 2016, I'll be sure to check in and see how I did.

Feel free to comment on my predictions or offer your own in the comments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Canadian content in 2014: Final numbers

For six (6!) seasons, I've tracked the share of minutes on Canada's pro teams given to Canadian players. Some circumstances have changed in the intervening years, with the addition of FC Edmonton (2011) and the Ottawa Fury (2014) to the NASL ranks, and with Vancouver (2011) and Montreal (2012) making the move up from NASL to MLS.

Yet the big picture is little changed. Canadian players continue to be the minority, and in most cases an insignificant one, on their respective teams, as this year's final data will illustrate.

Before taking a look at the teams individually, here is a year-over-year snapshot comparison with 2013's data.

2013 minutes
CompCdnTotalCDN %
League1986812539915.8%
V-Cup27481184123.2%
CCL36939149.4%
Playoff09780.0%
Totals2298514213216.2%
2014 minutes
CompCdnTotalCDN %
League2791415402318.1%
V-Cup53721650032.6%
CCL423293514.4%
Playoff09900.0%
Totals3370917444819.3%

The increased total Canadian minutes and percentage of minutes played by Canadians were up significantly. Nearly all of the increase can be attributed to the addition of a new team, Ottawa Fury, and an extra round added to the Canadian Championship, which has been established as a proving ground for the MLS team's young Canadian players.

On a team-by-team basis, Edmonton saw a small drop from its 2013 Canadian numbers, while Toronto held steady and Vancouver and Montreal were both up slightly.

Team-by-team

Ottawa entered NASL and had what has to be considered a successful season for an expansion team. Attendance numbers were decent, and took a nice bump after the move into the new stadium. They were never really in the playoff picture but were competitive in most matches.

Their Canadian contingent illustrated the usefulness of NASL teams: a young-ish bunch, mostly past prospect age, but too young to give up on the game. Drew Beckie (24), Mason Trafford (28), Pierre-Rudolph Mayard (26) and Carl Haworth (25) were among the biggest contributors, and one-time Whitecap Philippe Davies (24) also saw some minutes.

Edmonton had a more competitive season than in 2013, and also saw a decrease in the share of minutes awarded to Canadians, with the departure of Shaun Saiko. Significant Canadian contributions came from keeper John Smits, Edson Edward, Michael Nonni and the promising Hanson Boakai. Veteran striker Frank Jonke lost his starting spot in mid-season.

Among the MLS teams, the Canadian content was largely on the younger side, with Vancouver fielding a steady dose of Russell Teibert and promising cameos from Sam Adekugbe and Kianz Froese (and a few more in the Voyageurs Cup). Toronto's Canadian regulars (Doneil Henry, Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker) are all on the right side of 25. Montreal saw contributions from Karl Ouimette and Max Tissot as well as a clutch of hyphenated youngsters, as well as veteran Patrice Bernier, when healthy. Issey Nakajima-Farran saw some time with both Toronto and Montreal.

OTTAWA FURY
CompetitionCDNTotalPercent
NASL Regular Season82502665930.9%
Canadian Championship844198042.6%
Totals90942863931.8%

FC EDMONTON
CompetitionCDNTotalPercent
MLS Regular Season72212661427.1%
Canadian Championship1676396042.3%
Totals88973057429.10%

TORONTO FC
CompetitionCDNTotalPercent
MLS Regular Season58763361317.5%
Canadian Championship1313429030.6%
Totals71893790319.0%

MONTREAL IMPACT
CompetitionCDNTotalPercent
MLS Regular Season43583351113.0%
Canadian Championship808396020.4%
CONCACAF Champions League423293514.4%
Totals55894040613.8%

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
CompetitionCDNTotalPercent
MLS Regular Season2209336266.6%
Canadian Championship731231031.6%
MLS Playoffs0990.0%
Totals2940369268.0%

For comparison's sake, here are the end-of-year reports going back to 2009.
  • 2013 (Edmonton 37.3%, Toronto 18.4%, Montreal 10.2%, Vancouver 5.9%)
  • 2012 (Edmonton 59.8%, Toronto 25.5%, Montreal 6.5%, Vancouver 0.3%)
  • 2011 (Edmonton 77.3%, Montreal (NASL) 21.4%, Toronto 19.1%, Vancouver 5.8%)
  • 2010 (Montreal 35.4%, Vancouver (NASL) 34.0%, Toronto 32.8%)
  • 2009 (Vancouver 42.1%, Montreal 39.2%, Toronto 37.6%)
  • 2008 (Vancouver 56.4%, Montreal 44.8%, Toronto 22.1%)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Canada-Colombia: A live blog

international friendly
CANADA v COLOMBIA
9:15 et / 8:15 ct / 7:15 mt / 6:15 pt (figure it out yourself, Atlantic Canada)
Sportsnet World / sportsnet.ca


Who live blogs a sporting event in 2014? This guy. I'm not being ironic. It's a throwback, which is in, I'm told.

So for the next 3 hours, check this space to watch me watch the action unfold.

The match: Canada signed on to this friendly relatively last minute, as Colombia looked to make the most of their trip to the USA during this international window. Colombia were winners Friday, 3-0 over another CONCACAF punching bag, El Salvador.

The squads: Canada sends a mixed squad to the match that includes veterans Pedro Pacheco, Nik Ledgerwood, Julian de Guzman, and Tosaint Ricketts, among others. The squad is missing first XI calibre players in Jonathan Osorio, Russell Teibert, Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson. Colombia brings a few young faces to freshen up a squad that made a splash at Brazil this summer.

The rankings: Colombia sits 3rd in the FIFA rankings, but I could name 7 or 8 teams I rate more highly than them. Canada sits 120th, probably a low water mark, and despite the team's recent ineptitude, worse than they really deserve.

The lineups: As per CSA twitter:

I see your James Rodriguez, and I raise you one Nik Ledgerwood.

The beer: I'll be drinking some homebrew which I had considered dumping, but which is almost drinkable if you cut it with enough lime, perhaps an appropriate metaphor for this match.

The betting lines:  Depends where you look. I saw between 12- and 15-to-1 for a Canada win. One site was paying 2.40x for Colombia -2.5, which seems the smart bet,.

It's been a long time. Does the most recent stuff go on the top or the bottom?

7:58 pm: While waiting for the match to begin I've been updating the Canadian content stats (see sidebar link for details) and I accidentally watched 15 minutes of The Bachelor Canada, which is actually a thing. We're not off to a great start.

8:03 pm: The numbers have been hashed out. Ottawa: 33%, Edmonton 29.7%, Toronto 18.9%, Montreal 13.4%, Vancouver 7.9%. In case you were wondering.

8:04 pm: So El Salvador might suck. In the first match of the doubleheader, they lost 5-1 to Ecuador.

8:06 pm: 9 minutes to kickoff. I voted after work today, so the evening hasn't been a complete write off.

8:09 pm: The live stream is now live. With flags and music. It's on!

8:12 pm: Stream now showing moving pictures. Julian de Guzman, tonight's captain, sporting a recently BIC'd head.



Remember the good ol' days, Julian?

8:18 pm: The start is delayed a few minutes. Which means it's a few minutes more likely that I go to bed before this thing is over. But we'll see. Stream not running the smoothest right now.

8:23 pm: Still waiting. Here's my best guess at an alignment (4-1-4-1) based on the lineup announced.

Borjan
Henry  - Edgar - Hainault - de Jong
Straith
Ledgerwood - de Guzman - Pacheco - Nakajima-Farran
Ricketts

These are the XI that will make history.

8:26 pm: Is this the first we're hearing of a Canada-Cuba friendly that fell through? That would have been a far more useful match for Floro's squad.

Don't forget to keep refreshing for the latest.

8:30 pm: Hainault sings the anthem in English? Pacheco knows the words? A mind is being blown here, folks.


Colombia's anthem is as Sousa-esque as the rest of the continent.

1st minute: And we're off.

2': It looks as though I got the formation largely right (see above).

3': Hey guys, remember vuvuzelas?

4': My stream is shit, and I'm biased, but that's a penalty for Ricketts. Thanks again, Juan Guzman.

6': Maybe it's because the stream is skipping and I've seen each of his good plays twice, but Issey has looked bright so far.

8': Nice little training ground move on that set piece by Colombia. Bonus points to anyone who can come up with a good Cuadrado Equation line.

13': It's too soon to say much about the job Benito Floro's done with Canada, but he seems to have found the right roles for Straith and Henry. Doneil's too much a specimen to be wasted at RB for his club, but he might the be the best Canada has in that role for the next few years. And breaking up attacks in front of the back four seems to be Straith's calling. Expect to see him in that job at this next club, whatever that might be.

16': What this game is missing is a guy with a man-bun.

17': A spell of pressure and passing for Colombia in Canada's 18, and the ball is in the net from Falcao. But it's offside. I still need 3 Colombia goals for by bet to pay out.

19': Nice challenge by de Guzman, who is fouled. He can still do a job very well, and dare I say would be a nice addition to Toronto FC, who need a ball-winner, if the price was right. But he wants to play in Germany.

22': A surprising number of heavy challenges in this friendly. I like it.

And I like that at least one of you is refreshing this thing and reading along. Chime in with the comments, if you like.

And Dichio calls the Colombian on the old "ball hits my hand so I clutch my face" bullshit. His first useful contribution.

25': Canada looked dangerous again on that corner. Edgar got to the ball before the keeper, but couldn't keep his header down.

Possession is 62-38 for Colombia.

27': Rodriguez misses the net on the free kick. What a scrub. Danny Dichio is not a Juan Guzman fan.

29': Nice spell there from Canada, and a sure handball just outside the box isn't called. The nice run ends with a way over-hit cross from Henry.

32': Encouraging so far from Canada. Less encouraging is that some of the nicest surprises are the 30+ guys: Pacheco, de Guzman and Nakajima-Farran.

35': I've really enjoyed the improved hold-up play from Ricketts in the last few matches. He may be able to play as a target forward in CONCACAF. Straith, on the other hand, has not been sharp, and has been on a different page from de Guzman and Pacheco on a few occasions.

37': Strong defensive play from Hainault prevents a likely goal from Falcao.

39': Nakajima-Farran Robbens himself into a good spot for a shot, but hits it wide. This is the best I've seen from him in a while.

41': Ledgerwood, to no one's surprise, is the worst guy out there. Free kick in a dangerous position for Colombia, but we know James will miss it.

42': Great save from Manuel Neuer, I mean Milan Borjan, on the resulting free kick.

44': Jose Pekerman looks like death warmed over, which is perhaps a bit harsh to say of a guy who's mom just died.

HT: Hands up if you thought this one would get to half time at 0-0. Sure, Colombia has dominated possession, but the fact that Canada has largely been able to keep its shape is a credit to Floro, and will stand the team in good stead when they pay important Central American matches.

You can rest assured that the frequency of these updates will tail off if Colombia scores. Or the longer Canada stays level.

Further thoughts: Doneil Henry is a good fit at right back when Canada plays a strong opponent because he is so strong defensively, and any occasional gaffes that TFC fans like to complain about (while overlooking his other contributions) aren't as severely punished away from the middle. But boy, does he need to spend some time with his passing.

And Ledgerwood might be the only player about whom I struggle to find one nice thing to say about his play in the first half.

Just so we don't get carried away in disappointed rage in the 2nd half, can we all agree that Canada will still probably lose 3-nil?

46': No substitutions for Canada at half, although Ledgerwood surely can't be long for this match.

48': I feel badly for de Guzman, who clearly still has much to offer, but wants to play in Germany, where teams no doubt would prefer a midfielder of more imposing physique.

50': De Jong falls down and Falcao shoots just over. And in other news, the off-the-mark homebrew that I imbibed was indeed foul, but has produced the desired effect.

Benito Floro on the bench looks thoroughly unperturbed.

53': David Edgar clearly has a lot of ability. It is surprising he hasn't landed at a higher level professionally.

You will notice that several of my time-stamps aren't particularly close to being correct.

56': Borjan makes a decent save from a long effort by Cuadrado. Canada has prolonged the inevitable longer than one might have reasonably expected. And shortly after, a nice defensive play by Doneil Henry.

58': As I called for earlier, Ledgerwood exits. Marcus Haber enters. I suspect Tosaint Ricketts will be moved to the wing to allow room for Haber in the middle.


LOL!

59': Colombia has not countered often as Canada has so rarely made its way up the pitch, but on that occasion Pacheco and de Guzman did a great job getting back to prevent a numeric advantage. And Rodriguez just now misses a chance.

62': De Jong is now in no-shits-given mode, much as he was after his goal against Jamaica. This will not end well.

De Guzman also is tiring. I fear for this team's defensive shape when he is withdrawn. He's been immense.

Adam Straith hasn't the first idea what to do with the ball, which is a pity, as he is better than decent at winning it.

69': Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare enters for Pacheco, who to my astonishment has done well. Despite his preternaturally bald head, Jeremy is not experienced. This drop off in ability will be punished on the pitch.

70': Slamming into guys like James Rodriguez with slightly thuggish challenges has to be some kind of career highlight for a lot of these Canada players.

73': Before we get too carried away, let's remind ourselves that this Colombia team is 1) not the third-best in the world, and 2) does not seem particularly concerned about things at the moment.

A good time for the stream to freeze up. I fully expect it to be 1-0 when it returns.

Yup. You will be reading less from me the rest of the way.

Quick free kick, Rodriguez strikes, Borjan inattentive and poorly positioned.

75': Ouimette in for de Jong. Normally a huge drop-off, but de Jong has not had a strong second half.

De Guzman has had a great game and deserves to be on the game sheet. So he goes in late and gets a yellow.

82': Julian de Guzman should send a reel of this match to any prospective employer. Adam Straith should not.

85': Cyle Larin (who?) in for Tosaint Ricketts. Ricketts did well until he was moved over to the wing.

88': I haven't said much about Hainault tonight, which in this case is a good thing. He's been solid. Dichio has also been good in the commentary booth (well, the studio).  He had been terrible calling the Jamaica friendly.

Borjan with a nice save, then de Guzman takes the ball when Borjan should have gobbled it up.

Larin scoring against Colombia would have been the LOLs.

And now Larin with a nice through ball for Haber, who is fouled. FK in a dangerous spot. What the hell am I writing.

More young guys on for Canada, but not Hanson Boakai. Hamilton and Aparicio are in. Aparicio with two cracks off the free kick. Both are blocked. He is 4'6" and those are his first contributions.

FT: And that's how it ends folks. 1-0 on kind of a chintzy quick free kick play which was taken from the wrong spot. Floro will be reasonably happy, I think.

MOTM is surely some Colombian, but Julian de Guzman was in 2007 form for Canada.

That was fun, and I likely won't do it again. Thanks for reading.

Oh yeah, I lost my bet. Those are 90 minutes and $3 I'll never get back.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A reminder, for Canada fans

Despite many voices to the contrary, you are under no obligation to support the Americans in this World Cup.

American success provides no material benefit to our national teams or the development of the game in this country. Feel free to cheer for or against the Americans based on any other criteria, but please don't try to rationalize it on the basis of self-interest.

Carry on.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Voyageurs Cup pool: FINAL STANDINGS

Montreal won the cup, again. Keeping Toronto off the scoreboard did the job on its own, but the Impact sealed it in style with a Felipe goal, taking a 1-0 win and winning the cup 2-1 on aggregate.

If you're expecting further detail about the competition in the coming days, you may or may not be disappointed. We'll see. 

But in important news, Fussball_eh, aka Jon, is the contest's big winner. All of his predictions, over 8 matches, were off by a single goal from the real scoreline except Montreal's 4-2 win over Edmonton, which in any just world would have finished 3-2.

Here are the final standings.

ScoreEntries
9Fussball_eh
10
11
12Brenton, kodiakTFC, Sam
13Seth Greenan, Duncan Fletcher, Duane Rollins, coxon, Pej, N3WT
14Tuscan, Striped Sauber, fil, B-ri
15YQQ Caps Fan, Rituro, Dave Hall, Matt Pretty, Rex
16@B_Like_Fonz, shermanator, Cas87, Ben D.O.W., tmcmurph
17
18Pompey Canuck, Roke, woodbridgefc
19Diego R, Cam Millar, Trillium


The winning entry, and all the rest, can be viewed here.

As per tradition, the lanterne rouge (the last placed finisher) is supposed to select which team scarf (of the five competing teams) will serve as the prize for our winner. With our three way tie for worst, we go to the tie-breaker, which is the Golden Boot selection.

Trillium selected Jack McInerney, who finished tops with 3 goals. Cam Millar went with Jermain Defoe, who popped one. Diego R went with the unfortunate Gilberto, who has still to open his account for TFC. 

So Jon, Diego will be selecting your prize. Stay tuned. In addition, as per some tweet promise, one of my final round entrants has been randomly selected to win a 2" Radzinski doll. Condition is you take a photo of Radzinski in the wild, as a sequel to a previous installment. 

And that winner is coxon. Here's proof:


As ever, this has been fun, and thanks for entering. And congrats to the Impact and their fans.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Voyageurs Cup pool standings week 5

Just the pool standings this time.

There was some attrition, with a feel people not bothering to get their picks in for the final two games, including one or two that were well-placed.

Fussball_eh is in the driver's seat at the moment.

There will be an additional prize randomly drawn for one of the participants who got their picks in for the final two games.

ScoreEntries
8Fussball_eh
9
10Duane Rollins
11Brenton, kodiakTFC, coxon, Sam
12shermanator, Rituro, Seth Greenan, Duncan Fletcher, tmcmurph, N3WT, Matt Pretty
13@B_Like_Fonz, Tuscan, Striped Sauber, Dave Hall, fil, B-ri, Rex
14Trillium
15YQQ Caps Fan, Cas87, Ben D.O.W.
16RedcoatsForever, woodbridgefc
17Diego R, Cam Millar, Pompey Canuck, Roke
All picks can be seen here.