Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stir crazy

Maybe I've gone a bit loopy because I've had almost a full month to dwell on Canada's painful results against Jamaica, Honduras, and Mexico in September and August. Or maybe school's been dragging me down and the only outlet I'm able to find is ridiculous theories about Canada's bleak situation. Or maybe I was always crazy to begin with.

Whatever the reason, I've been having some weird thoughts lately. For the first time in some time I find myself nodding in agreement (nodding being the milder form of reaction: blissful agreement results in fist-pumping and other behaviours that aren't appropriate in an open area lab) with the pony-tailed impresario, Ben Knight.

To wit, from a blog post titled It's time for Mitchell to go:

Why is Dale Mitchell running this team, and how can he be convinced not to?

Mitchell, of course, had to watch an entire year go by while the Canadian Soccer Association dithered and withered over who the next head coach of Canada would be. He was finally given the job – it fell dead in his lap when all the shooting stopped – just before he led Canada's youth team to possibly the worst performance in the history of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup: no goals in three matches. Three HOME matches.

In the meantime, solid servant and interim coach Stephen Hart guided Canada to some gong-ringing success at the 2007 Gold Cup. The Canadians were daring and creative, riding inspired, high-octane midfield play from Dwayne de Rosario and Julian de Guzman. But for one horrid and lamented refereeing decision, they looked bound for the final.

Despite all that, Mitchell was promoted. It's time to reverse that mistake.

Note that the bizarre numerical formatting weirdness is not my fault, it's the Globe's.

My agreement stops when Ben implies that Stephen Hart is the man for the job. Why not? I have my reasons, but that's not what I care about right now, and frankly Hart for MNT coach isn't quite nutty enough.

I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel on Mitchell. On the other hand, I've pretty much resigned myself to tossing linens over the qualifying campaign itself. A win in Honduras a week from Saturday would change things, but I don't want to get my hopes up for fear of having them dashed. (Norm Macdonald did a great bit on Leno on how you never hear of the word 'dashed' without 'hope'. I can't find the video. If you can, share the wealth). It really makes no difference to me if Mitchell finishes it out.

But what about John Limniatis for MNT manager? Fucking crazy, right? After all, this nutbag went apeshit in Seattle after supporters had been hard on him and the Impact all game. But he wins games.
Can you imagine this mugshot on the international newswire after he punches out some piss-throwing Honduran scum?

In case you've been too busy being miserable about Canada, or have been turned off of soccer entirely by watching too many Toronto FC games, I'll let you in on a little secret: the Montreal Impact is the best soccer team in Canada and one of the best north of the Rio Grande. And they have been since Limno took over.

I don't think the Impact would be keen to let him go, and there are probably better options for MNT coach as well. But he's got the right attitude, he wins, and one other thing: he wins!

While I'm throwing out stupid ideas, with Dwayne de Rosario out for the next match, why not try the two best North American-based midfielders not currently in the Canada set up: Will Johnson and Sandro Grande. Johnson has been a fixture in the Real Salt Lake lineup since leaving Holland, while Grande played one of the best matches I've seen by a Canadian midfielder for the Impact last week against Atlante.

By the way, the Impact, who lead their group in the Concacaf Champions League, play again tomorrow in Honduras, of all places. The game will be live on CBCsports.ca; the usual tape-delay bullshit applies for regular TV.

Please tell me I'm not crazy.


A lineup should be coming out in the next few days for the next two WCQ matches. No Serioux or De Ro. A comment on the latter: he has been crap so far in WCQ. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever replaces Dwayne in the lineup turns a few heads and provides a spark. Crazy, I know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dream world?

Canada draw Mexico, top group

I'm dreaming, right?

Well, not quite. But don't blame me for thinking this way. After all, CBC was billing this match during Toronto FC's latest snoozer as Canada vs Mexico, and had a graphic at the end of this match listing Montreal Impact vs Honduras (watch out for that Suazo!) next Wednesday.

Anyhow, congratulations are in order to the Impact for their 0-0 draw against Atlante. They are in a good position after 2 home matches.

That Sandro Grande looked pretty good, too.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Remember the good times?

Video of Canada's biggest triumph of the last 10 years has resurfaced by way of a thread revival at the Voyageurs forums.
Canada, 2000 Gold Cup champions. And what a ridiculous trophy!

That Gold Cup tournament was a formative moment for me, possibly the first time I thought about my own country as a soccer playing nation. If you've forgotten what it looks like to see Canada win, download the torrent.

Monday, September 15, 2008

On the horizon . . .

With a month between matches in the middle of this semifinal round of qualifying, you can expect my bloggerly output to slow from a torrent (see daily posts leading up to Honduras) to a mere trickle. Topics to be considered during this slow period could include:
  • Fun distractions (Montreal Impact in CONCACAF Champions League starting this Wednesday)
  • Is Canada out of it? (summary of my take: Not until the math says no)
  • Who is to blame for the failures so far? (short take: Everyone, including the big name players)
  • Should Mitchell be fired? (quick opinion: Only if the CSA has a much better option signed on.)
  • Is Mike Klukowski the best thing since sliced bread? (early word: It's quite likely)
Until then, I can throw some more stats at you. After the Honduras and Mexico losses, here are the players that have been on the pitch during Dale Mitchell's tenure:

Player Starter Sub Minutes
Stalteri, Paul 11
Klukowski, Mike 10
de Guzman, Julian 10
Hutchinson, Atiba 10
De Rosario, Dwayne 9
Serioux, Adrian 9
Nakajima-Farran, Issey 8 1 685
Hastings, Richard 8
Radzinski, Tomasz 10
Onstad, Pat 6
Bernier, Patrice 6 4 532
Gerba, Ali 5 4 510
Hirschfeld, Lars 5
Friend, Rob 5 3 401
Hainault, Andre 3 1 299
Brennan, Jim 2 4 270
Hume, Iain 2 4 264
Cann, Adrian 2 1 225
Imhof, Daniel 1 2 152
Peters, Jaime
2 91
Nash, Martin 1
Williams, Chris 1
Reda, Marco 1
McKenna, Kevin 1
Sutton, Greg 1
Harmse, Kevin 1
Occean, Olivier
4 84
Gbeke, Charles 1
De Jong, Marcel 1 3 75
Pozniak, Chris 1
Simpson, Josh 1 1 62
Jazic, Ante
1 45
Nsaliwa, Tam
2 37
Jakovic, Dejan
1 25
Ledgerwood, Nik
1 18
Johnson, Will
1 17
Simpson, Dave
1 10
Ribeiro, Antonio
1 5
Totals 132 42 11852

* Totals include non-FIFA sanctioned friendly vs Martinique, but not friendly against Danish club side Vejle BK
The only comment that I'll make is that seeing Paul Stalteri on top of the list is a reminder of our lack of depth at that position. If Stalteri was playing for his club, it's likely his performances for Canada would not be as poor as they have been. Should Canada be mathematically eliminated after the next match (11 October in Honduras) I'd like to see Adrian Serioux or even Nik Ledgerwood be given a shot at that position. Kevin McKenna, who seems to get no love from Mitchell, also played at right back this weekend against Bayern Munich to rave reviews, so he should be able to handle it as well.

Possibly interesting sidenote: I read the logs for this website from time to time, and I seem to have attracted a regular reader from Romania. Seeing how unlikely it is for there to be more than a handful of Transylvanian denizens interested in Canadian footie, I have a hunch that it's none other than Lars "Get off your heels for frick sakes" Hirschfeld. Drop me a line, Lars, if it's you. Likewise if you're my Romanian reader, but not Lars, if you have an interesting story to tell.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Qualification, so far

I'll admit, I didn't watch yesterday's game. I was at a bar celebrating my friend's birthday and watching a bit of baseball with my usual disinterest. Sportscentre then came on and, to my immense surprise, highlights of the match appeared before even the first commercial break.

Combined with the headhunter's blow-by-blow account of the affair, and a few other reports, I've determined that the team gave what, under normal circumstances, would be a credible performance. The first half might have featured an every-hand-to-the-pump defense (as Jason de Vos might call it), and some sharp goalkeeping for Hirschfeld, but that is the way Canada needs to play against Mexico if we want to steal a result. And Hirschfeld made some believe that he might just do it on his own.

Also of note:
  • Iain Hume might have redeemed himself somewhat after a dismal performance against Honduras.
  • Gerba just seems to score. This goal is his first against a big time team. At the same time, I am beginning to fall out of love with Rob Friend. Maybe he isn't used properly in the Canada squad, but he doesn't bring the same strike rate that he does in the Bundesliga.
  • Hirschfeld is the man. Of the highlights I saw, there a couple of saves that I can't imagine Onstad getting to.
I could rip off more analysis from the Footie Fool, or you could simply go read it yourself. If you make it to the end, you'll see one scenario that would result in qualification. With Honduras winning 2-0 against Jamaica last night, a lot would have to fall our way for things to work out the way I wanted, and even expected, a month ago. Even the CSA's take on prospects is pretty grim:
Canada has a tough battle ahead as it remains in third place with one point in its CONCACAF group after three matches. Canada will likely need three-straight wins, if not a pair of wins and some bad luck to Honduras, if it wishes to advance beyond CONCACAF Stage III in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Qualifiers.
It will be a long month ahead for Canada before its next match on 11 October in Honduras. This is the third-straight campaign in which Canada has just one point after three games, although this time Canada has bettered its output to three goals against tougher teams (it scored one in 2004 and none in 2000). Still, the goals have not been enough to collect any additional points.
The attempt to find the silver lining in the second paragraph is pretty half-hearted.

I'm not sure what else there is to say. It's hard to be too critical of the team after a match I didn't see, which could even be considered a decent result.

Here's qualification to date, by the numbers:

Player Start Sub Mins Goals Yellow Red
Dwayne De Rosario 5
450 2 2
Adrian Serioux 5
450 1 2
Atiba Hutchinson 5
Paul Stalteri 5

Julian de Guzman 5
407 1 1
Mike Klukowski 5
Richard Hastings 4

Tomasz Radzinski 4
Pat Onstad 3

Ali Gerba 2 3 269 5

Issey Nakajima-Farran 3
240 1

Rob Friend 3 1 192

Patrice Bernier 2 2 181
2 1
Lars Hirschfeld 2

Jim Brennan 1 3 135

Iain Hume
3 110

Adrian Cann 1

Olivier Occean
1 9

Marcel de Jong
1 8

I wasn't sure what to do with Patrice Bernier's misbehaviour from the Honduras match. I listed it as 2 yellows and 1 red, but I'm not sure how that scenario is normally recorded in official statistics. Help me out.

Am I right in assuming that Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Serioux will also be missing Canada's next encounter because they each picked up their second yellow of the qualifying round?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Canada vs Mexico LiveBlog

This is where the glory will happen, as soon as I steal the tv away from my female roommates... any suggestions are always greatly appreciated on that front.

Okay I stole the television, which thankfully allows me to watch the game, and listen to Shakira *I couldn't win on the sound battle*. So since this game is still on tv, according to sportsnet (since they will stop showing it once they are mathematically eliminated. Which is funny cause I was watching sportsnet tonight and well I was reminded by Bob McCown that sportsnet really has nothing to ever show, just filler, such as poker, and whatever other garbage they can put on, so really why they don't try put there stamp on Canadian soccer and give it as much attention is beyond me. But again the Seattle Mariners are just so exciting to watch.

Beer of the Match

In honour of our Mexican patriots, their beer, like the American mates it is quite watered down, as well I don't have the will to drink for Canada tonight. *The let down was too much the other night*

* 1 Oswaldo SANCHEZ (GK)
* 3 Fausto PINTO
* 4 Rafael MARQUEZ
* 5 Ricardo OSORIO
* 6 Gerardo TORRADO
* 7 Luis PEREZ
* 11 Carlos VELA
* 15 Fernando ARCE
* 17 Giovanni DOS SANTOS
* 18 Andres GUARDADO

* Richard HASTINGS 5
* Julian DE GUZMAN 6
* Jim BRENNAN 11
* Dwayne DE ROSARIO 14
* Adrian SERIOUX 15
* Rob FRIEND 16

Of interest for the Canadian lineup is that Jim Brennan is in for this game, thank goodness our defense may look better. Also Nakjima-Farran has gotten in and Radzinski is sadly too injrued to play, which is a dissapointment but not unexpected, the nasty cut hasn't had enough time to heal.

-I'm tuned into sportsnet and they have to show me highlights of the Honduras loss from 5 nights ago, yup the pain comes back once again... could someone say where's the defense.

Joke of the night
-Why doesn't Mexico have an official Olympic team?
Because the mexicans that can run, jump, and swim are in America.

I couldn't resist I do apologize.

1st minute - No goals have been scored yet, I guess that is a good thing so far, but the Mexicans keep coming down the field quickly, wonder if Dale Mitchell has a plan.

3rd minute - Canada has the ball in the Mexican end, nothing comes of it, but it was nice to see.

4th minute - The mexicans almost get one, and Hirschfeld has to punch it clear for a cornerkick.

6th minute - Okay the Mexicans haven't scored yet, but you know it's like playing in one of those games as a kid, where you play the older children and they have wiser and have more skills, and you are just willing yourself for them not to score... that's sort of what we are watching on here right now, just beautiful fluid passing from Mexico, one touch football is lovely to watch.

9th minute - DeGuzman just did a beautiful stomp on Torrado's ankle, the treatment is out, the magical spray is being used and another mexican is warming up... he should be okay, but it was a nice step and twist.

12th minute - Blatant handball by
Nakjima-Farran gives Mexico a free kick in a dangerous position on the right side of the box... nothing comes of the freekick, but it was one real dumb foul to take near your box. Funny enough I noted that DeRosario got the yellow card on that play.

14th minute - Serioux makes the biggest offensive run for Canada when he came from half to almost the box before the ball was knocked away, but hey it was an offensive run and I'm here to report on those kinds of events for Canada.

16th minute - A crack from long range by Osorio for Mexico causes Hirschfeld to make a solid safe at his right post.

19th minute - Corner kick for Mexico .... results in nothing thankfully... but Mexico keeps getting a head or a foot on it in the box before the Canadians do, which scares me.

21st minute - The pressure is coming full tilt on Canada, they are with 11 men around the box and Mexico is just looking for that mistake to press on and get that goal.

24th minute - Hirschfeld is playing like a soccer goalkeeping god, showing no fear and make a fun save and cover on the left side of the box... not afraid to use the body, just the way we like it.

26th minute - Fouls galore are going on for Canada right now as they just try to hold on at the moment and make some sort of counter... I would love to know what the possession of ball is for this game so far, some how I see around a 75/25 split for Mexico right now.

28th minute - J's adopt a player Klukowski makes a fine defense stop and gets the ball half way up the Canadian end, and then he gets stepped on, causing a delay in play.

31st minute - DeGuzman has a chance from 35 yards out, takes a bounce off a Mexican player and it's a Canadian corner. Jim Brennan floats the corner into the far side and it gets booted out by a mexican player.

33rd minute - Back to what we say in the first 27 minutes of the game... Mexico all over Canada, getting to the lose balls first and just can't seem to find the entrance at goal... I'm reminded of watching Andorra play the Netherlands... I just hope that any Canadian players do the following.

38th minute - Game has opened up slightly, more fluidity is being shown by both squads and again Hirschfeld has to come out and smother the ball.

40th minute - Dos Santos just misses scoring as he breaks inside after a nice 1 -2 is played, takes a shot on the right side, and hits the outside of the netting on that side.

41st minute - Guardado is giving a yellow card for a nice little dive in the box, and well I'm thankful for seeing that happen... as Staltari doesn't make any contact with Guardado.

44th minute - Hirschfeld makes another save from distance, he is making sure that nothing gets by him tonight, I might just have to adopt the man, he should get more playing time in Romania.

45th minute - 2 minutes of stoppage time to be added on. Well one more chance for Mexico, results in another missed opportunity for Mexico as the header goes way too high and Canada gets out of the first half without a goal scored on them... they should go drink some water, they are going to need it for the 2nd half if this continues the way it has.

2nd half - Well Canada shows up late onto the field, yup this bolds well for keeping the ref happy, which yes refereed and excellent first half. The second half is underway.

46th minute - Mexico has control of the ball in the Canadian half again, but that extra little time seems to have kept Canada fresh so far. Stalteri hands the ball within the box, but thankfully either the ref didn't see it or decided he didn't do it deliberately.

49th minute - Foul called against Mexico as they clipped De Guzman on the legs. So far the ball has come out of the Canadian zone for about 15 seconds this half.

50th minute - Corner kick for Mexico and nothing comes of it again, but DeRosario has the ball on his own inside the Mexican box on the counter attack.... sadly nothing comes of it as well.

51st minute - Vela heads the ball over the Canadian net, he just couldn't keep it down, was a nice cross inside the Canada's box.

52nd minute - Marquez takes a long range shot and beats Hirschfeld, but misses the net, that one was close.

53rd minute - Klukowski is down and injured on the ground, as he gets hit down by Bravo, his shoulder is slightly soar at the moment, but he is tough and will get back on the field.

55nd minute - Vela has an excellent chance for Mexico as he takes a crack from the left side just inside the box and Hirschfeld makes an excellent save and Hastings is right there to clear away the rebound... everyone breath, it's still tied.

57th minute - And Canada is offside, but for the first time game I counted more than 8 players past half for Canada, which was lovely too see let me tell you.

59th minute - Bravo scores for Mexico, puts in a beautiful header for Mexico on a nice crossed ball into the box... it was an excellent header and I can't blame Hirschfeld, he had no chance and defense was all around him, but the cross was just pin point accurate on that one. Mexico 1 - Canada 0

60th minute - Signal is lost to the game... *chuckles* I would love to update but I can't, and neither can sportsnet... I'll wait patiently now.

61st minute - Oh the game is back, and mexico has a free kick just on the outside of the right box. Looks like it's getting heated inside the box as Mexico and Canadian players yell at one another... wonder if they are asking how to get smuggled into Canada, I doubt it, but we are better than the US, let's be honest.

64th minute - Canada is starting to look ragged on the defense, the running around is taking it's toll and Mexico is finding lots of open space.

66nd minute - Serioux takes a yellow card on a slide tackle on a Mexican player, it was a clear card.

67nd minute - Ian Hume comes into the game for Nakjima-Farran... I hope he plays well cause it was one crappy performance against Honduras.

68th minute - Rob Friend almost breaks through the Mexican defense, but the defender just gets his foot in the way of the shot.

69th minute - Ali Gerba comes into the game... for I don't know who right now... somehow I missed it. My head was buried typing madly for some strange reason.

72nd minute - Cornerkick for Mexico and Rafael Marquez scores with his head as Hirschfeld can't get enough of the ball, as it squeaks past the inside post and in. Mexico 2 - Canada 0

74th minute - Almost another goal, but this time offside is called, thank goodness for it.

75th minute - Bravo just had another crack at goal and Hirschfeld makes the save. Cornerkick for Mexico and this time we clear it.

77th minute - Gerba just scores for Canada, on a header off a free kick as Gerba beats the goalkeeper to the ball and hit it down and into the net. Mexico 2 - Canada 1.

80th minute - Canada just gets called offside on another offense break, they are trying really hard now and I really do appreciate the effort they are showing now.

81st minute - Canada is actually holding Mexico in there zone now with the ball, thank goodness.

82nd minute - Oliver Occean comes in for Rob Friend.

84th minute - Mexico is trying to waste time now by controlling the ball, but Canada continues to press well and get the ball back, problem though once we get the ball we promptly pass it back to Mexico, got to be cleaner with the passes. Corner kick for Mexico, nothing comes of it.

86nd minute - Canada tries to get the ball into the box on Mexico's end, but ir rolls out for a goal kick.

88nd minute - Guardado comes from his own end of the field to the Canadian box, untouched and gets a solid shot on the net and Hirschfeld makes a wonderful save... Mexico plays a sub, and it's Blanco, who will get his 100th cap and will retire at the end of this game.

90th minute - 4 minutes of stoppage time added on. 4 minutes to score a goal.

90+2 minute - Canada just can't get the pressure on Mexico now, as they continue to hold onto the ball, and when they give it away they don't let Canada get out of their own end.

90 +3 minute - Blanco gets a yellow card for simulation, but really he just trips over his own feet, which cracks the Canadian broadcasters, as really he didn't mean to dive. Sigh I can't complain about the ref, he's been very good and very fair tonight.

Full time is blown as Mexico wins the game and gets the full 3 points... at the moment as well Honduras is up on Jamaica right now, which is the worst thing that could happen for Canada and their qualifying hopes.

To all that read the blog tonight, thanks for reading, it was lovely to have you around, and hope you all have a good evening, or morning wherever you may be. Canada has only 1 out of possible 9 points so far, and will need to get atleast 7 to have any chance of qualifying for the next round, can they do it... tune into J, who will keep you updated with it all.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Canada vs Mexico: How to watch

Yes, you could say I'm mailing this one in.

I won't be watching the game. I'll be playing some softball with my friends and doing some preemptive drinking.

On the bright side, this game will be broadcast live on Sportsnet in all regions. Praise Allah!

So that's 9 pm ET / 6 pm PT.

That is all.

Live bloggage may happen tomorrow. Be sure to check back.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Mike Report

I check the stats for this blog from time to time (ok, compulsively) and I've noticed a recent spike in the number of readers, many pointed this way thanks to some gracious linking from some folks at The Footy Blog.

New readers are great. Or so I've heard. But when you're late to the party, sometimes you need a few things explained to you. Perhaps you've noticed an over-use of the word 'boner', or have read Mike Klukowski referred to in surprisingly glowing terms.

I'll leave you to figure out the boner for yourself. The Klukowski love deserves some explanation.

A few weeks back, I started an Adopt-a-Player campaign for the then upcoming qualifying round. This campaign, much like the national team's own qualifying campaign, has been highly unsuccessful in that I have been the only one to adopt a player, even though I encouraged my then less abundant readership to participate.

If only I could carry Mike in my womb.

My choice was Mike Klukowski. There's so much to love. He's a left back. The long ball to Friend against Brazil. The euro-mullet.

Klukowski has typically performed well for Canada. Against Honduras, though, we was as shit as the rest of the players.

Radzinski's injury probably had a bigger effect on Mike than any other Canadian player. In the first 20 minutes they had combined well, including the play that won the corner that produced Serioux's goal. Radzinski also defends better than you'd expect, and that is one area where Iain Hume fell flat. Still, Klukowski is godly enough to play through anything, but he didn't show it when it counts. Chin up, Mike.
I encourage one and all to sign up for the adopt-a-player program. It's easy. All you do is choose a player; find a reason, good or otherwise, for doing so; and leave a comment to stake your claim on that player.

Do it soon, before it's too late.

Quickly, here are my player ratings from Saturday's match.

Hirschfeld - 6: He had no real chance on the two goals, but his distribution was iffy, and overall, his performance was not worth the boner I had when I found out he would be starting.

Stalteri - 5: Was caught out of position on at least one of the Honduras goals, and didn't offer much going forward.

Serioux - 6: Without the goal, he'd be a point lower.

Hastings - 5: The second goal might have been closed down by a better or more experienced centre back.

Klukowski - 6: Getting a bit of a family discount, he had 20 or 30 good minutes out of the 90.

Bernier - 4: He gets marks for hitting the tantalizing corner that Serioux headed in, but some invisible play and a boneheaded red card must be punished.

Radzinski - 7: In his brief stint, one of the best players.

De Guzman - 6: Not up to his usual standard.

De Rosario - 5: Almost invisible.

Hutchinson - 7: Atiba was given the defensive midfield role for most of the game and did a good job of stopping up attacks and making a solid if unspectactular first pass.

Gerba - 5: Didn't do enough. If only that header before the half had gone in.


Hume - 4:
Just plain ugly.

Friend - 6: Did a little more than Ali. A little.

Brennan - NR: Not enough time for a rating.

I won't be providing a live blog of Wednesday's action because it's a good friend's birthday, but our special correspondent is welcome to those honours.

UPDATE: Seek and ye shall find . . .

Footie Fool has jumped aboard the adoption train. He chooses Issey Nakajima-Farran, doing well to avoid accusations of front-running by choosing a star like de Guzman and De Rosario.

Best of all, he gets it with the reasons he provides. Sure, Issey can ball, but the main reason for the choice is that he could score chicks in SoHo. Or something like that.

Some of INF's handiwork -- "Copenhagen girls at cafes"

Issey was scratched from the Honduras roster; not sure if was an injury or just because of numbers. With Bernier and Radzinski out against Mexico, he's sure to be included if he's fit.

Remember, there's still time for you to adopt.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Taking stock

Reflecting on life, or taking a monumental shit like Canada did yesterday?

It's in moments like these that I often find the need to meditate a little about why I care so much about sport.

On the one hand, it does seem a little ridiculous that I should get worked up about grown men playing a kids' game in little shorts, when our world has more important problems to deal with. Is it healthy for me to have so much emotionally invested in an outcome over which I have so little control? Yesterday's match was heartbreaking. Another game involving a team I also follow was like having salt rubbed in the wound.

I'm an otherwise normal guy, one who generally keeps his emotions in check (some would accuse me of being unemotional). Maybe it's a good thing that I have some kind of an outlet, but it doesn't seem that way when it's all so painful.

I can talk myself out of caring too profoundly about professional sports. It's just a business, and just like I don't mind seeing GM or Ford take a beating on the stock market, the fortunes of the Green Bay Packers or Toronto Blue Jays (teams I pulled hard for in my teenage years) don't have the same effect on me they once did. I enjoy when things are going well for the teams I like, but in losing times I don't take it too personally.

With Canada's soccer team, it feels somehow difference. There are so many factors in play. It's about national pride. It's about a sport that has too often been treated as a second or third class citizen by the TSNs and Sportsnets of the world (yes, Rogers,I'm still mad at you). Seeing this team fail to ride the wave of momentum started by recent developments for the sport in Canada (Toronto FC in MLS, the Voyageurs Cup, the emergence of bona fide stars of the world game like Julian de Guzman and Rob Friend) is hard to take, because those who have waited out the even leaner years deserve better.

Joe Ross over at The Footy Blog quotes one of my final remarks from yesterday's live blog. In an emotional outburst, I wrote "The dream is dead". Part of following sport passionately is an underlying belief that your team might actually succeed, so I would be selling myself short as a supporter if I proclaimed the World Cup dream over before it was mathematically so. I'm not such a fairweather follower as that. I don't see why Canada couldn't sneakily nick a point from Mexico on Wednesday and create a few surprises along the way. This is CONCACAF after all.

For the sake of my mental health, it might be best if I acted like the majority of Canadians and only pretended to care about soccer when some country with which I have a minor connection does well at Euro or the World Cup. But I can't do it. I can't say, along with them, that "Canada sucks" when there have been moments of such brilliance.

There's only one thing I can say: "Allez les rouges!" (yesterday's choice of blanc notwithstanding).

If you're not a fan of the overly philosophical, I can point you to some actual analysis of the game:

What Can A National Team Head Coach Do? -- Unto the Dogs
Canada 1 Honduras 2 Game Blog -- The Footy Blog
This is why I hate the phrase do or die -- The Footie Fool

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Canada-Honduras live blog


6 September 2008

Stade Saputo, Montreal, Quebec
8 pm ET / 7 pm CT / 4 pm PT

Live on Rogers Sportsnet East and Atlantic (tape-delayed on West and Pacific)
Internet streaming video: Sportsnet :: others

The nervous hours before the game kicks off are upon us. I'm trying to fill this time by being relatively productive: dishes, laundry, finishing off my summer Dickens read, watching baseball, and perhaps a little later checking out how a severely undermanned Toronto FC squad is able to perform.

First things first: the fridge is stocked for the evening, and it's a Canadian brew. If you're drinking tonight, make sure you take the same approach. No Red Stripe or Corona or Salva Vida until the end of qualifying. Today's choice is Sleeman's Original Draught, a reliable brew.

Bottoms up!

Make sure to check back closer to game time for updates from me or our special liveblog correspondent, Headhunting Canuck.

[ CSA fixture link :: PDF match tracker ]

Keep checking the above for match lineups. The 20 players listed in the fixture link are the original 22 announced by Mitchell last week, minus Daniel Imhof (injury) and Greg Sutton (baby duty).

It's Lars in goal. Gerba is also starting over Friend. The other starters are unchanged from the Jamaica match.

CANADA: Hirschfeld, Stalteri, Hastings, Serioux, Klukowski, Bernier, de Guzman, Hutchinson, De Rosario, Radzinski, Gerba

Issey Nakajima-Farran and Olivier Occean are the 2 players not to make the 18-man squad (Jazic, McKenna, Brenna, Jakovic, Friend, Hume, and Onstad are the bench contingent).

I like Lars starting (I said as much earlier this week -- maybe Dale Mitchell is a fan of this blog). Even though he hasn't played a lot lately, I don't see him doing anything to lose the game for Canada. I can't say the same for Onstad any longer.

Regarding Gerba over Friend, I can understand the logic. Gerba scores (9 goals in 20 caps, or something like it), but Honduras is hardly St. Vincent or one of the CONCACAF lesser lights that Gerba has scored upon. Friend's contribution to the squad, in terms of holding up the ball and distributing to the wings, is important. I expect Rob will see the pitch at some point.

20 minutes away!! Beer #2 in progress.

To get some good vibes going, watch Julian de Guzman's virtuoso performance from a match against Costa Rica in last year's Gold Cup:

Julian was great against Jamaica, and I don't expect any less tonight. Others will have to step up, as well.

(I needed something to refresh my visual palate after I saw Sweater Vest Stephen Harper and one of his non-election ads).

It's early (anthems only, Honduras has a very imperialist sounding march), but there's more Honduran support in the stands than I had hoped. Canada is in white, which surprises me a bit.

In case you're wondering, Mexico beat Jamaica 3-0 earlier this evening.

2nd: Lots of talk right now about the pitch. They showed the patch job they did earlier today, and it was ugly. Hopefully it holds up; if not, bring on Friend and play long ball.

4th: FUCK YEAH! GET IN! Mr. Furious, Adrian Serioux, heads in a corner. Brilliant delivery by Bernier. 1-0 CANADA - BONER!

Before Canada scored, I was going to mention that the midfield configuration, as well as personnel, is the same as it was for Jamaica. I had hoped that Bernier would slide into the defensive midfield role to free up Hutchinson and de Guzman, but he is playing on the wing.

The pitch is taking a beating already.

12th: Not much to add right now. Canada looks sharp, and Hirschfeld has only had two very safe touches of the ball.

16th: Things heat up all of a sudden. Good buildup from Canada, and a ball into the area almost finds its way to Radzinski who is knocked down, probably cleanly. At the other end, Suazo dives in the box, but the ref isn't buying it.

Radz cut his hand somehow, and is bleeding. He needs to get fixed and hasn't returned yet.

Being jittery for 90 minutes on end is rough. There is a fruity fly buzzing around the living room that will soon make me apoplectic with rage.

21st: The word is that Hume will need to replace Radzinski. Corner to Honduras now. Honduras had good pressure when Canada was down to 10 men, let's see if a full strength Canada can regain their advantage.

25th: Our man Klukowski wins a good battle with the Honduran #6, and looks good doing it. We love you Mike.

30th: This ref lets a lot of borderline tackling go unpunished. I suppose, on balance, this favours Canada, but it doesn't mean I don't jump up out of my seat when de Guzman gets sliced down from behind.

The most dangerous chance for Honduras so far gets deflected by a Canadian defender.

43rd: Bernier sent in De Rosario on a break away, but it was whistled for offside. Very close. Honduras has been the better team for a while, and Canada hasn't looked as positive since Radzinski went out. Like Craig has been saying, we need another goal.

45th: Holy shit! So close - a testing Stalteri cross on the rush fins Gerba who hits the post. The following corner results in a few chances. Then Stally nearly nets an own goal at the other end.

HALF TIME: I'll take a break for a bit. Maybe our friend will fill in for a time. My instant analysis is that Canada is sitting back too much, but also haven't allowed too many quality chances to Honduras. OK, they have -- one is too many -- but the possession Honduras has enjoyed hasn't put Hirschfeld under too much pressure.

Hume has not looked good since he came in. He gets back to defend well, but then gives away the ball with poorly hit or ill-advised passes. That's not to say he shouldn't have come on: the Hume for Radz swap was always in the cards, it just wasn't expected so early.

(If you're enjoying this action, click on the ads at the top of the page a bit. It'll help pay for the next beer that I crack open, or give me a start towards my inevitable psychiatric treatment.)

48th: It's happening again... Stalteri gets confused about who he should mark, and allows an easy ball across the box and Nunez scores. 1-1. I hope Honduras gets devastated by a hurricane.

54th: I wonder how long until the inevitable incomprehensible referee decision.

Nunez scores again. Good bye, South Africa. 1-2. I blame Stalteri again, but Hastings also didn't do enough.

Brief live blogging hiatus -- I need to cool off.

Later: Bad has become worse. A while after Friend came on for Gerba, probably a smart move, Patrice Bernier has got himself ejected. I don't see Canada rallying for a win in 10 minutes with 10 men. Even a draw seems highly unlikely. I couldn't be more dispirited.

To compound this misery, I just checked in with a live scores website, and saw the schedule for Group C action tonight: Costa Rica vs Suriname, and El Salvador vs Haiti. Are you kidding me?

How different might things have been in this one had Gerba's header gone in at 45 minutes? A game of inches.

Now Captain Useless, Jim Brennan, is on for Hume. Grasping at straws, Mr. Mitchell?

FINAL: The dream is dead.

I would congratulate Honduras for being the better team, but they are bunch of diving, whiny bitches who don't respect the game, so they haven't earned it.

I'm pretty upset about how Canada played. The easy route is to blame Mitchell, but its the players on the pitch who decide games, and they looked disinterested at times, and simply didn't want it enough.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Waiting for Honduras 4: How to watch

It's more than a bit sad that fans of the men's national team who want to catch one of the most important matches in years on TV might require detailed instructions, but that's the case for this Saturday's qualifier against Honduras.

Sportsnet is the rights holder (not for long, we hope) of all Canadian Soccer Association television properties, so you'll need to have that channel in your cable package to watch the match. However, merely having Sportsnet won't be enough to see it live, if you live west of Ontario.

Here's the way it works:
Sportsnet Atlantic: live at 9 pm AT
Sportsnet East: live at 8 pm ET
Sportsnet West: 3-hour tape delay, at 10 pm CT / 9 pm MT (Texas Rangers baseball is being shown live)
Sportsnet Pacific: 6-hour (!!) tape delay, at 11 pm PT (Mariners baseball, poker, and stale sports highlights are being broadcast first)
So you'll need a cable package with all 4 regional feeds if, like me, you live in Western Canada. One possible saving grace is that the game is being streamed online at the Sportsnet website. This stream should be available to anyone with a Canadian IP address and, if you're lucky, to out-of-country folk as well.

The proper response to my Photoshopping (actually GIMPing) skills is a mixture of awe and fear.

You might think this is bad . . . but it gets worse!! The Footie Fool, who has been killing it lately with some excellent posts, is as surprised and outraged as we are that next Wednesday's rendezvous in Mexico isn't being broadcast at all. There is no excuse. Seeing as I signed up for the Sportsnet package with my cable provider for the sole purpose of watching Canada's matches, I'm more than a little steamed.

You can rest assured that any internet streams available will be listed here, and a colourful live blog will be maintained, but these are hardly substitutes for a national network. I'd kill to have CBC take as much interest in being a carrier for the national team as they have for the Toronto FC broadcasts, but I can't imagine them pre-empting a midweek edition of the The National to show soccer.

A more cheerful aside: Commenter Colin has got his own outpost in the soccer blogging world -- Keepie Uppie. More soccer in general than Canadian soccer, and more Shaun Wright-Phillips right now than anything else, but still a good read.

Friday update: OK, ok, Rogers Sportsnet may not be the antichrist. From Gerry Dobson's blog:
And finally, many of you have been wondering about the broadcast plans for the Mexico match next week. Here's your answer: It will be live at 9 p.m. ET on all Sportsnet channels. We have been criticized lately for providing sketchy information on this but trust me, dealing with broadcasters in Latin America is entirely unlike anything that happens in Canada or the United States. Assuming we can get satellite delivery from these places, which is not always a sure thing, we will be airing all Canada's matches as long as the matches continue to matter.
So, if everything goes as planned, we'll be able to see the Mexico qualifier. Like a bitter Republican, he blames Mexicans for his network's own problems. But the graphic stays: Sportsnet could do much better. And the bolded sentence with that final clause ('as long as the matches continue to matter') seems like a sneaky way of setting up an excuse to avoid broadcasting October qualifiers during the baseball playoffs, if Canada falls out of things in qualfiying.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Waiting for Honduras 3: Lazy Wednesday

No original content today. Just like any other day.

Some other blogs are talking about Canada - Honduras.

Footie Fool:

Crap. Working in post secondary education means that this is the craziest time of the year for me…and always the worst time to update a blog. There is so much happening ahead of the WCQ games next week, I’ve got no time to update the blog!!!! ARGHHHH….

Team Canada arrives in Montreal
will have to suffice for now. This article also says that Sportsnet will be live streaming Sat’s game vs Honduras. Good news for me cause I’ll likely be working.. Not sure about Wednesday’s game in Mexico.

Ok, so what this guy's saying is that he's not saying anything. Fair enough. The Sportsnet live stream is a good catch on his part, and may be a godsend for those in the West or Pacific regions without access to Sportsnet East or Atlantic feeds, as these folks will be stuck watching baseball live and the match on tape delay.

Climbing the Ladder:
CONCACAF: 9/6 - Canada vs Honduras

With their first two group games at home, Canada cannot end up with only 1 or 2 points and hope to advance. They simply have to make home field advantage count, which they didn't do four years ago. Four years ago, these same teams met in a game that was also the second semifinal stage match. Canada allowed an 88th minute penalty to tie the game, then had a winning goal disallowed. It gave them one point from two opening home games. After failing to beat Jamaica last month, they need to win this time unless they want to repeat the last cycle.

Meanwhile, Honduras played great against Mexico for most of the game, but ultimately lost the lead and the match. They usually play better than Canada, but on the road this should be a very even and exciting match.
If you didn't click through and read the original post, you lost the context. The blogger is listing the most important September WCQs in all of the regions. I can't argue with the selection of CAN-HON as CONCACAF's biggest game.

Also, the increasingly meaningless FIFA rankings were released today. Canada slides down to 81st overall, and 6th in CONCACAF:

RankingZonal RankingTeamPts
Sep 08
+/- Ranking
Aug 08
+/- Pts
Aug 08
241Mexico Mexico8078Up57
282USA USA7883Up21
603Honduras Honduras5021Up-4
734Costa Rica Costa Rica4385Up24
805Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago41412Up35
816Canada Canada412-2Down0
847Suriname Suriname4050Equal9
928Cuba Cuba383-12Down-22
969Panama Panama365-4Down-14
9910Guatemala Guatemala3561Up-5
10511Jamaica Jamaica3393Up10
11212Guyana Guyana3156Up50

Let's compare this top 12 with the more reasonable ELO ratings:
1. Mexico
2. USA
3. Honduras
4. Costa Rica
5. Canada
6. Jamaica
7. Trinidad and Tobago
8. Panama
9. Guatemala
10. Haiti
4 out of the top 6 cements the "Group of Death" status, I think.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Waiting for Honduras 2: Making an Impact

Sorry for the title. I mean, how lazy of me to make a pun on the name of a professional sports team. I wonder what percentage of headlines about teams like the Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, Miami Heat, or Montreal Impact include puns on the name of the team. 15%? 30%?

But I digress. While the Honduras national team will be making their way this week to Montreal for a game of footie, the Montreal Impact or going the other way. In fact, they are in Comayagua, Honduras, tonight, to play a team from Nicaragua. Go figure. (The official explanation is that the stadium in Esteli is too ghetto for CONCACAF, which really must hurt.)

Anyway, since this match involves the city of Montreal and the country of Honduras, it fits nicely into our theme for this week (hyping Canada's match this Saturday with Honduras at Stade Saputo in Montreal at 8pm ET), we'll be having a little liveblog. Not sure what it will entail, but I'll be watching the match, drinking, and sharing my thoughts, such as they are.

Some preliminary details:

Concacaf Champions League Knockout Stage

Comayagua, Honduras
2 September 2008
10 pm ET / 9 pm CT / 7 pm PT

Live on CBC Bold
Internet: CBC Sports.ca :: Radio-Canada.ca

The Impact are in the driver's seat, having won the first leg 1-0 last Wednesday at Saputo. Stay tuned.

3 minutes in . . . It looks like there is a small but vocal contingent of Esteli fans that made the journey across the border to Comayagua. Nigel and Jason are doing the broadcast from a studio in Toronto.

Which reminds me: Did anybody catch the segment on The National yesterday about the match-fixing allegations at the 2006 World Cup? It cleary implied that our boy Nigel Reid was some sort of football expert, by cutting to an interview with him after mentioning something about "soccer experts". What besides his British accent makes him deserving of that title?

HALF TIME: That's the kind of match is been. I've got nothing really to say. The game is dull, though neither team is a poor as Toronto FC was last week. Esteli had a shot go off the crossbar and their supporters got their boners in a knot for a bit when their side strung together 10 or 11 consecutive passes, none of which crossed over the halfway line into the attacking half. Montreal clearly is the better team but isn't pressing enough for my liking.

I want them to win, of course, but I think I'll leave this game for a while and spend the next hour or so watching the righteous indignation of Mike Holmes.

In case you've been sitting by your computer for the last 18 hours hitting refresh . . . I should bring this so-called live blog to a close. The match ended 1-1. The match wasn't great, but the Impact should be congratulated for getting the job done. In the group stage, to be played over September and October, they have been drawn with Joe Public (Trinidad & Tobago), Club Deportivo Olimpia (Honduras), and Atlante FC (Mexico).

A photo from last week. Apparently the no news service sent a photographer to yesterday's match.