Friday, December 31, 2010

Eredivisie contest: Winterstop update

The Dutch top flight is on hiatus until January 21st. No time like the present, then, to update the standings in this year's Eredivisie prediction contest. For the uninitiated, the contest is simple:
  • entrants selected two Eredivisie teams and two players
  • entrants receive one point for each point gained by their chosen teams in the standings
  • entrants receive two points for each goal scored by their chosen players
It's a small operation this year with five entries, and at present the table looks like this:

Ottawa Sports Guy
PSV 41 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 11
Feyenoord 20 Bas Dost (Heerenveen) 7

Ajax 35 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 7
PSV 41 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 11

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 112
PSV 41 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 11
Ajax 35 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 7

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 112
Headhunting Canuck
PSV 41 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 11
Ajax 35 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 11

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 120
Twente 37 Bryan Ruiz (Twente) 7
PSV 41 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 11

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 114

I cautioned against selecting World Cup hero/villain Luis Suarez before the season because of the probability that he would be transferred during the January transfer window. And while he has gone on record requesting a Spain transfer, and has also been connected with an Arsenal move (he must love that red and white shirt), the bigger problem to this point has been the 7-match suspension he received for an over-zealous Tyson-esque bite he took out of the competition:

Nobody foresaw that the unlikely-named Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Russian journeyman Dmitri Boelykin, or Bjorn Vleminckx, would be topping the goal scoring charts at the midway point, and the Ottawa Sports Guy almost certainly didn't expect that Feyenoord would be this awful, though it certainly is gratifying.

If you haven't already, start following the Eredivise: it's like all the other big European leagues, but without defending!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

National team debuts in 2010

It has become an annual exercise here to list those players who made their national team debut within the last calendar year. More often than not these players make one or two appearances for Canada, never to be heard from again. But every year there are one or two who quickly become important cogs in the Canada machine. See for yourselves by looking at past years' editions of this post:
Before we get to the list of Canadians to receive their first senior cap this year, let's quickly look at how involved the 2009 debutants were in Stephen Hart's setup in 2010:
  • Simeon Jackson: 5 matches, 357 minutes
  • Eddy Sidra: 2 matches, 103 minutes
  • Tyler Hemming: 1 match, 90 minutes
  • Dominic Imhof: 0 matches
  • Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault: 2 matches, 84 minutes
While 5 players does not exactly represent a bumper crop of fresh caps, all but the immortal Dominic Imhof impressed Hart enough to earn at least one more invite in 2010. Simeon Jackson has established himself as a squad regular, while Beaulieu-Bourgault and Eddy Sidra provide depth, although the latter needs to find himself a new professional gig, and soon.

Now for 2010's debutants, first opponent, caps, and minutes played:

Player Debut against Caps Mins
Adam Straith Argentina 5 369
Terry Dunfield Venezuela 2 153
Massih Wassey Jamaica 2 151
David Monsalve Jamaica 1 90
Pedro Pacheco Venezuela 1 81
Haidar al-Shaibani Venezuela 1 20
Nana Attakora Jamaica 1 19
Marcus Haber Ukraine 1 16
Randy Edwini-Bonsu Jamaica 1 14
Gavin McCallum Venezuela 1 9
Gianluca Zavarise Venezuela 1 6
Carlo Rivas Jamaica 1 2

More than any year in the last four, 2010 was a year for trying out new players. Some got a longer look than others, and it is clear which players are likely never to pull on the Canada shirt again. A rundown:

Adam Straith (20 years old / FC Energie Cottbus, Germany)

Straith fending off Shevchenko in Kiev.

Hart clearly has faith in this young defender, giving him his first minutes as a late substitute against Argentina. Straith played each subsequent match in 2010 and his ability to play in central defense or at right back is an asset, particularly with Paul Stalteri slowly but surely on his way out. He seems to have lost his starting spot at Cottbus for the time being which is a concern, but I don't expect that to become permanent.

Terry Dunfield (27 years old / Vancouver Whitecaps, MLS)

One-time prodigy, and now successful reclamation project, Dunfield earned his first call-up as a member of League Two side Shrewsbury Town. Soon after Stephen Hart angered the Shrewsbury Town manager by suggesting the team's level wasn't high enough for an international hopeful, he moved to Vancouver and earned a second cap. Dunfield's strength is a steely midfielder with good instincts, something Canada has lacked in the past. He did not look out of place in either of his matches and I expect there will be a role for him in 2011 as well, though likely not as a regular starter.

Massih Wassey (22 years old / FC Schalke, Germany)

Favourite of the Jamaican announcers, Wassey made his debut as part of the January camp, and made a second appearance in May against Venezuela. The midfielder suffers from the familiar curse: lack of first team minutes with his club. At 22, if he wants to continue to get chances to play for Canada, he needs to find himself a club that will offer him competitive playing time.

David Monsalve (22 years old / FC Inter Turku, Finland)

Monsalve tended goal for the match against Jamaica, allowing a single tally in the loss. Again his problem is familiar: lack of first-team minutes. At 22, he is still young in keeper years (see my Onstad post from earlier this week) but considering the relatively low level of play in Finland he should be getting more time in 2011 or looking for a new opportunity.

Pedro Pacheco (26 years old / C.D. Santa Clara, Portugal)

Pacheco quickly became the subject of Voyageurs lore when the complete unknown was named to the squad for the friendlies against Argentina and Venezuela. He reportedly played well in midfield against Venezuela, and Hart must have thought so as well, calling him into the squad for the Ukraine friendly, though he didn't play in Kiev. He only played a handful of club matches in 2010, that Canadian curse, though injuries were partly to blame.

Haidar al-Shaibani (26 years old / Nimes Olympique)

It's not often you see a 'keeper enter a match in the 70th minute in a non-injury situation, but such is the world of cynical capping we live in. As the backup for a French second tier team, Haidar hasn't seen a lot of time, but such is the state of Canada's goalkeeper depth that he is the putative #2 unless Milan Borjan joins the fold in 2011.

Nana Attakora (21 years old / Toronto FC, MLS)

Of all the players to debut for Canada in 2010, Attakora might have had the most impressive year professionally, anchoring what was a stingy Toronto defense in the first half of the MLS season. It remains to be seen where Hart sees Attakora fitting into the murky centre-back picture, which also includes Kevin McKenna, Dejan Jakovic, Adam Straith, Andrew Hainault and possibly even Adrian Cann.

Marcus Haber (21 years old / on loan to St. Johnstone, Scotland)

Forward Marcus Haber parlayed a 2009 USL rookie of the year season into a deal with EPL side West Bromwich Albion, who immediately loaned him out to St. Johnstone in Scotland for some seasoning. He struggled at the start, but seemed to hit his stride, culminating in the call-up for the Ukraine match. Soon after, however, he suffered a season-ending injury. Canada does not have a great deal of forward depth, and Haber is still young, but I don't expect him to move beyond the fringes of the Canada setup.

The remainders make up the "Will Never Play for Canada again" all stars:

Randy Edwini-Bonsu
(20 years old / Vancouver Whitecaps - released)
Gavin McCallum (23 years old / Lincoln City, England)
Gianluca Zavarise (24 years old / Iraklis FC, Greece)
Carlo Rivas (25 years old / club unknown)

Beyond Straith and Dunfield, it is hard to imagine any of the stable of 2010 debutants making a major impact for Canada in 2011, though I've certainly been wrong before.

Players I'd like to see make their debut in 2011: David Edgar and David Hoilett (not the first time they've made this wish list), and Milan Borjan. Who's on your wish list?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bloggin' 2010: Giving the people more of what they want

Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (Matt. 13:12)

Below are the 10 most read posts on the blog in 2010. Looking back, it's not always immediately clear why, but often the increased readership had to do with getting linked on a more popular Canadian soccer blog like the 24th minute or The Score's Footy Blog.

Other times, events well beyond my control conspired to send readers my way. For instance, a 2009 post I made about the Holger Osieck era got a few hundred hits in the hours following the announcement that he would be taking over as Australia manager.

As the parable seems to suggest, the rich get richer. So give thes posts a few more hits and see what made them so immensely popular (as in, they got several hundred page views instead of several dozen!)

#10: Honduras roster for Canada friendly (20 August 2010)

Just the facts, and not really any Canada content, although the vagaries of search algorithms meant a lot of people searching impatiently for Canada's roster (a late release, as usual) found this Honduras lineup instead.

#9: Gerbage goals (19 March 2010)

My defense of Ali Gerba's Canada scoring record, it also featured a typical swipe at De Rosario. Got the link treatment from the Footy Blog, BC Soccer Web and the 24th minute, so it must have struck a chord with some.

#8: Stephen Hart irks English football club (20 June 2010)

I didn't even write this post. Occasional contributor Headhunting Canuck contributed this one, which might otherwise have flown under the radar in the midst of the World Cup. Hart pissed off Shrewsbury Town manager Graham Turner by implying League Two wasn't good enough for Terry Dunfield if he wanted to be considered for Canada. Seeing as Terry shipped out soon after for Vancouver and will feature in MLS next year, it looks like things worked out as well as they could have.

#7: Winnipeg mayor kicks kid in face (27 August 2010)

The title more or less says it all. The video went viral (original news clip no longer available due to copyright claim) and I still get searchers from all around the world stumbling on this post. Katz won a third term as mayor in October so it didn't hurt him too badly.

#6: On geographic isolation (1 September 2010)

Probably the longest post in 2010, my magnum opus on how hard it is to be a supporter of Canadian soccer in this city. Problem should be alleviated somewhat by the recent WSA Winnipeg announcement. Again I should thank the blogs who enjoyed the post and sent traffic my way.

#5: CONCACAF Champions League: Records by country (11 March 2010)

A poor man's UEFA coefficient, I compared the records of the participating countries in the CONCACAF Champions League. Canada ranks well, largely on the strength of Montreal's impressive run in the inaugural tournament.

#4: Atiba Hutchinson to PSV (22 April 2010)

2010 was the Year of Atiba, with Hutch winning Canadian Player of the Year and the Denmark Superliga Player of the Year. His summer move to the Eredivisie was also major news, it would appear.

#3: Canadians making an impression in Germany (30 August 2010)

This was mainly an excuse to post video of the Offenbach supporters section going nuts singing for then-red hot striker Olivier Occean.

#2: CONCACAF Champions League: Records by country (reprise: 22 October 2010)

See #5 above, this time updated to include all matches to the end of the 2010-11 group stage. Canada continued to rank well, as Toronto's performance in the tournament's 3rd edition was much better than their two-leg bed-shitting against Puerto Rico in year 2.

#1: Nutrilite Canadian Championship pool (31 March 2010)

The 2nd annual prediction league for the Canadian championship was even popular than the first edition, with a total of 38 entries. The format switch for 2011 will make running the contest more difficult and will almost certainly result in a tie for the win, but rest assured that the contest will carry on in some form.

Thanks for reading in 2010. I hope you'll continue to follow updates in 2011.

Allez les rouges!

Most popular posts in 2009

Pat Onstad: A send-off

When a 42-year old announces his retirement from professional sport it should hardly come as a surprise. It should say something about the agelessness of Pat Onstad, then, that I was somewhat caught off guard by his retirement announcement this week.

Onstad's career was remarkable for its longevity, but it is really the arc of success that he enjoyed which is most staggeringly unusual.

The list of Pat's achievements this decade are impressive:
  • 2003: MLS Goalkeeper of the Year
  • 2003: Starting goalkeeper for MLS Champions San Jose Earthquakes
  • 2005: MLS Goalkeeper of the Year
  • 2006: At age 38, played every minute of every game for MLS Champion Houston Dynamo
  • 2007: Starting goalkeeper for MLS Champions Houston Dynamo
  • 2009: Again played every minute of every regular season match for Houston, posting a goals-against of 0.82.
  • 2010: Final start for Canada against Lionel Messi's Argentina, at age 42!
These honours are made more impressive by the fact that they all began for a man on the wrong side of 35.

What should have been the culmination of his career efforts to that point, signing a deal in Scotland with Dundee in 1999, ended two years later without Pat playing a competitive match in Europe. Instead, Pat returned home and established himself as perhaps the finest MLS goalkeeper ever.

Somehow, even examining my own history with Pat makes me feel old:
  • 1988: Pat earns his first senior cap and clean sheet in a 0-0 draw on February 2nd in Bermuda. I was still in kindergarten.
  • 1992-93: Pat Onstad is the starting 'keeper with the Winnipeg Fury. I watch from the stands, enjoying a free ticket with members of my U12 soccer team.
  • 2000: My only senior national cap is Onstad's 27th, another clean sheet and 0-0 draw as Canada finished off Cuba in World Cup qualifying at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex (future home of WSA Winnipeg).
  • 2008: I look on in horror as Onstad slaps at an Andy Williams corner, inadvertently swatting it into his own net as Canada stumbles to a poor start in World Cup qualifying.
As much as it pains me to do so, I need to talk about that Jamaica goal for a bit. Onstad was harshly criticized, and rightly so, for his play on the goal. He'd be the first to tell you it was a huge mistake. It may not be fair, but it is part of being a keeper. Mistakes tend to be glaringly obvious and are swiftly punished. A poor finishing attempt from a striker, which also costs his team a goal, is quickly forgotten.

Onstad's take on the event, given two years to develop perspective, nails the truth:

"That was probably the lowest point I had playing the game," Onstad said.

"For some reason I think I've always felt the weight of the country on my shoulders when I play," he added. "I enjoy that but at the same token I felt we had an excellent opportunity to maybe do something with that group and that goal weighed heavily in our qualifying.

"In the end I don't think it really meant much but you could argue it set the tone for the rest of qualifying."

Even if he admits that it may have set the tone for a dismal qualifying effort, I will always believe that those efforts were doomed from the start, especially after the only glimmer of hope was extinguished with Radzinski's injury in the following match against Honduras.

If that had remained Pat's final match, it would have been a real shame and somewhat of a dishonour to Pat's service to the national team. For that reason, even though it was a 5-0 loss, Onstad's appearance against Argentina was redemptive. It earned him his 57th cap, surpassing Craig Forrest for most among Canadian keepers. It provided him with the greatest of stages to make his national team exit. It provided fodder for more age-related amazement: for example, he was more than twice the age of then 19-year old Adam Straith, who also featured in the match and was part of the Twinkle in his Father's Eye XI when Onstad earned his first cap in 1988.

If that's not enough, marvel at this chart of Onstad's national team contributions, organized by age.

under 25 11 945
age 25 to 29 5 358
age 30 to 34 21 1891
age 35+ 23 1980

Onstad will move on to the coaching ranks at DC United, but hopefully there is a place within the Canada setup for him some day as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thoughts of a Sunday morning

Before rolling out of bed this morning, I first rolled on to my side, turned on my computer, and tracked down a stream for the Eredivisie match between PSV and Roda JC Kerkrade. I was particularly interested to watch freshly-minted 2010 Canadian Player of the Year Atiba Hutchinson, who was getting the start in midfield after playing much of the season as a right-back.

Atiba did just fine in a holding role, and his league-leading PSV were 3-1 winners. But a few other thoughts emerged during the course of proceedings:
  • The match was played in what passes as winter in that part of the world. The pitch was clear, but it was snowing and about -5 C in Eindhoven. Atiba was wearing gloves (all but 3 PSV men were, while Roda went entirely gloveless) and a snood. I often read Canadian fans complaining that we don't maximize our advantage as a team adapted to cold weather by scheduling matches in cold-weather cities.

    Would such an advantage exist? Most outdoor soccer in Canada is played between April and October, under relatively mild conditions. Hondurans or Guats might suffer (at least those not drawing a paycheque in Europe) playing in a snowstorm, but it's not like that is something our players will relish.
  • The Dutch announcer mentioned that Atiba had recently received the Canadian POTY honour, adding to the Danish POTY award he received in November. I had the volume turned down low at that point, but I think I caught a little swipe where he questioned which award really was the more valuable.
  • Atiba missed out on Champions League with FC Copenhagen, who have advanced to the last 16, by transferring to Eindhoven, but PSV look well on their way to booking a spot for next year.
  • PSV play in a candy-striped red and white jersey. The newly announced WSA Winnipeg team have a red-and-white striped crest. If I've been reading the stories correctly, local financial services company Investors Group will be the jersey sponsor. Enter my rudimentary photoshopping (actually GIMP-ing) talents and I've got next year's Winnipeg shirt figured out.
I lack the photoshop skillz to get the crest in there properly. Help me out.

Needless to say, it was a good way to ease myself into a winter Sunday morning in Winnipeg.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gold Cup venues announced

We've been waiting for what seems like years in breathless anticipation of the announcement of the host cities for the 2011 Gold Cup. Today was the sweet release, because the announcement finally came.

In a bold move, instead of actually selecting cities and stadia, tournament organizers have decided to hold matches in every city in America.

This, of course, is not quite true, but I think you'll agree that the notion of holding a 12-team tournament in 13 different stadia is patently ridiculous. Throw in the fact that stadia are in some instances several thousand kilometres and a continent apart, and you have the makings of a travel nightmare for the teams.

The only more nightmarish travel scenario would be me trying to get to one of the games. Here are the host cities, and driving distance from my home:

Ford Field Detroit 1842
Bank of America Stadium Charlotte 2623
Raymond James Stadium Tampa 3257
KC Soccer Stadium Kansas City 1324
Cowboys Stadium Arlington, TX 2075
Home Depot Center Carson, CA 2479
FIU Stadium Miami 3046
Soldier Field Chicago 1395
Red Bull Arena Harrison, NJ 2644
New Meadowlands Stadium East Rutherford, NJ 2655
RFK Stadium Washington, DC 2526
Reliant Stadium Houston 2481
Rose Bowl Pasadena, CA 3202

I guess I'll be sitting this one out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Canadian goals on Canadian teams

Back in October, I announced that the Montreal Impact had been the 'most Canadian' of the three fully professional teams in 2010. The basis for this statement was my usual metric: minutes played by Canadian players as a percentage of total minutes.

I stand by this choice of statistic, as I believe it tests a club's commitment to giving Canadian talent a chance to develop, and also serves to measure the quantity and quality of Canadian players earning a paycheque at the club. Our Canadian clubs should be striving to achieve a high standard in both departments.

Still, not all minutes are created equal. Just ask TFC fans, who I'm sure weren't too happy with O'Brian White's paycheque-stealing, while they must have been mostly delighted with De Ro's near constant scoring.

If one is to look for a team where Canadians can claim the greatest part of the team's success, one needs to measure each player's contribution. Unfortunately soccer is not like baseball.

Wait, allow me to rephrase. Soccer is not like baseball. This much is true. This is unfortunate, only because unlike America's pastime, a player's contribution on the pitch is not easily measured. In order to study how Canadians contributed to the success of the Impact, Whitecaps, and Toronto FC, I had to look at goals.

Again, Montreal came out on top:

Player Goals
Ali Gerba 13
Rocco Placentino 3
Reda Agourram 2
Antonio Ribeiro 2
Nevio Pizzolitto 1
Simon Gatti 1
Total 22
Team Goals 43
Canadian share 51.16%

Player Goals
Dwayne De Rosario 14
Nana Attakora 1
Total 15
Team Goals 33
Canadian share 45.45%

Player Goals
Martin Nash 5
Luca Bellisomo 2
Marcus Haber 2
Randy Edwini-Bonsu 2
Terry Dunfield 2
Philippe Davies 1
Total 14
Team Goals 36
Canadian share 38.89%

Before I started crunching the numbers, I thought it would have been Toronto FC in a walk. Dwayne De Rosario's freewheeling netted him 14 goals. I thought that would have been more than enough.

I had been forgetful of two things:
  1. Ali Gerba's summer feast on NASL defenders, which yielded 13 goals, nearly equalling De Ro's tally.
  2. The near total lack of goal-scoring contribution from the rest of the Canadian contingent at TFC.
I also expected Vancouver to have a much lower number, because I could not remember a single player, Canadian or otherwise, who scored more than 2 goals for the team. Martin Nash's penalty-aided total of 5 had slipped my mind.

Lest this become the stuff of bulletin-board material for Impact fans, I should point out the obvious: goals are a pretty imperfect measure of a player's contribution on the pitch. Between them, Adrian Cann and Nana Attakora had 1 goal, yet they deserve credit for an improved early season defensive posture. Yet this system of measurement ranks them even lower than the much-maligned (by me) O'Brian White.

They're just numbers. Have fun with them.

**** Another point: To compile these numbers, I had to comb through far too many sources. The main problem? No source (that I could find) listed player stats for all competitions collectively on the same page. Different locations for Nutrilite, MLS, NASL, and playoff matches. Really annoying, but not too surprising.

Monday, December 13, 2010

WSA Winnipeg joins PDL

MEDIA RELEASE: WSA Winnipeg Joins USL Premier Development League

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA – WSA Winnipeg will become the newest member of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, it was announced today. Beginning in the 2011 season, WSA Winnipeg will play a 16-game schedule between the months of May-August, with stadium and tryout information to be announced at a later date.

The video is chill-inducing. Almost entirely because of the Sigur Ros track, but I got goosebumps nonetheless.

Other reporting/commentary:
Interesting bits from the Sun article:
  • the team is aiming to attract 2,000 fans a game
  • at least to start, they plan on fielding a lineup made up of only local players
  • the team is hoping to host an exhibition game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (possibly a reserve side?)
Which reader comment from the Free Press blurb is more ridiculous? Your choices:

Give it a whirl, 'HopingtoMoveOn':
Considering how many kids now play soccer the sport is definitely catching on. However, this year's World Cup was a bit of an embarrassment with all the diving and we can only hope this league is stricter on cheating than they are at the international level.
Your opponent? The cryptically named '29':
It'll be as popular as football in Europe...aka NFL Europe, or the WLAF.
Winnipeg will compete in a division with Thunder Bay, Springfield (Ill.), Des Moines, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Colorado, which makes for a reasonable travel situation, consideration Winnipeg's geographic isolation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winnipeg PDL announcement: Bad timing?

I've mentioned before on this blog that we are nearing an announcement of a new Winnipeg soccer team. This much is known:
  • The team will play in the Premier Development League in a regional division which includes, among others, Des Moines and Thunder Bay.
  • Home field will be one of the new artificial pitches at the Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex on Waverley
  • Focus will be on youth. On the facebook event page, someone is already soliciting names of the best local U23 players (PDL rules allow a maximum of only 8 over-23 players on the roster).
The rest of the details, including the team's name and crest, and the identity of some of the principals involved, are likely to be part of the media event, which is scheduled for noon this Monday at the Fort Garry Hotel.

Unfortunately, when the presser was scheduled, team organizers likely had no idea they'd be competing against another announcement of much greater importance to the vast majority of Winnipeggers.

The planning of a new stadium for Winnipeg has proceeded in typical fashion for the city. Mayor Katz and Premier Selinger have bungled the issue as much you might expect from those two. This announcement is really the second or third re-announcement of the stadium, with a new financing model.

The local media, sporting and otherwise, will likely be focussed on that story, which will make it hard for the PDL gang to make a splash on Tuesday's sports pages. I'll be sure to post details here, but my reach of a few dozen daily visitors isn't quite the same as sports section billing. If the team suffers for attention it will be because of a badly mismanaged stadium development and poor timing.

And that's really too bad.

Friday, December 03, 2010

FIFA WWC Draw: Group of Death?

The big news out of FIFA this Monday was the result of the drawing for the groups of the 2011 Women's World Cup finals in Germany. For some reason, most of the buzz lately has been in reaction to some other recent FIFA announcement.

Much ink has already been spilled on the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 men's World Cups to hosts Russia and Qatar. In order not to add too much to the flood, let me restrict myself to a tweet-sized helping of commentary:

That will be my final word on that, save for the unlikely circumstance whereby I still happen to be blogging in 2018.

But what you really all care about are the groups for the 2011 women's tournament. As often seems to be the case, Canada has been drawn into a tough group, along with #2-ranked but likely world-best Germany, a tough France side ranked just ahead of Canada at #9, and the top qualified African team, Nigeria.

A pretty reflexive move for Canadian fans is to immediately begin bitching about being placed in the Group of Death.

(I certainly did that when the 3 semi-final groups were drawn for CONCACAF qualifying for South Africa. I still stand by my claim that Canada could have qualified for the hex from either of the other two groupings, but the blow was softened somewhat by the fact the team never played well enough to give hope of advancing beyond that point.)

A lot depends on how you define a Group of Death. If it must include 4 strong teams who all have a strong shot of finishing top 2, there is no group of death among the 16 teams in Germany. But if it's a group with 3 strong teams, where one will be on the outside looking in after all is said and done, then there are some possibilities. This seems to be the definition most prefer, since the Brazil/Portugal/Cote d'Ivoire group at the World Cup earned the label, despite also including one of the worst World Cup squads ever (Yes, I'm looking at you, North Korea. Even with your so-called Asian Rooney -- who scored exactly as many goals in South Africa as the real guy -- you were still garbage.)

Any way you spin it, it's Group A and C that are the strongest. Both include 3 top 10 teams, and are topped by one of the two favourites to win the whole thing. A quick look at the numbers:

Group A Rank Pts
Germany 2 2153
Canada 9 1974
Nigeria 27 1672
France 8 1998
Averages 11.5 1949.25
Top 3 only 6.33 2041.67

Group B Rank Pts
Japan 5 2036
New Zealand 23 1764
Mexico 22 1781
England 10 1973
Averages 15 1888.5
Top 3 only 12.33 1930

Group C Rank Pts
USA 1 2185
Korea DPR 6 2005
Colombia 32 1611
Sweden 4 2063
Averages 10.75 1966
Top 3 only 3.67 2084.33

Group D Rank Pts
Brazil 3 2116
Australia 12 1945
Norway 7 2002
Equatorial Guinea 62 1396
Averages 21 1864.75
Top 3 only 7.33 2021

Any way you slice it numerically, and as hard as I might try to make a case for Canada falling victim to the Group of Death curse, Group C is tougher. The top 3 teams are all closely matched, and each would likely qualify without too much difficulty from Group B or D.

Much also depends on whether you believe that Korea DPR is deserving of its #6 ranking, which has been the subject of some debate. I had a look through their results over the last year or two. They regularly beat their Asian opponents, save for matches against Japan which were fairly even. Unfortunately they didn't face much competition from outside the region.

If only there were some contest that brough teams from different parts of the world together to determine who is best . . .

Canada's fortunes, if all else goes as expected, likely depend on the match-up with France. This falls on June 30th, 2011. Mark your calendars.

One last point. I wrote a post a few weeks ago lambasting some of the flaws of the much-flawed FIFA men's rankings. I also did a drive-by smear of the women's ranking table, dampening my celebration of Canada's climb into the top 10. I have been reliably informed, however, that the women's rankings are much closer to the ELO ratings formula, and considered much more accurate by the statistics community.

For this reason that I use the FIFA women's rankings in this group of death discussion without any irony.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I voted . . .

. . . in the race to name CSA's fan's choice award winner for 2010. For this guy (and this gal).

Wanna make something of it?

Monday, November 22, 2010

MNT stats: Minutes in 2010

Paul Stalteri 5
Adam Straith 4 1 369
Simeon Jackson 4 1 357
Josh Simpson 3 1 293
Dejan Jakovic 3
Lars Hirschfeld 3
Will Johnson 3
Rob Friend 3
Atiba Hutchinson 2 1 191
Andre Hainault 2
Julian de Guzman 2
Kevin McKenna 2
Patrice Bernier 2
Dwayne De Rosario 2
Richard Hastings 2
Nikolas Ledgerwood 2 1 162
Mike Klukowski 2
Terry Dunfield 2
Massih Wassey 2
Marcel de Jong 2
Issey Nakajima-Farran 1 3 116
Eddy Sidra 1 1 103
Stephen Ademolu 1 2 102
Jaime Peters
2 94
David Monsalve 1
Ante Jazic 1
Tyler Hemming 1
Ali Gerba 1
Daniel Imhof 1
Pat Onstad 1
Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault 1 1 84
Pedro Pacheco 1
Olivier Occean 1
Joshua Wagenaar 1
Adrian Cann
1 45
Antonio Ribeiro 1
Iain Hume
1 27
Haidar al-Shaibani
1 20
Nana Attakora
1 19
Marcus Haber
1 16
Randy Edwini-Bonsu
1 14
Gavin McCallum
1 9
Gianluca Zavarise
1 6
Carlo Rivas
1 2

Total minutes add up to 5941, which is one too many, but close enough. Initially I was 76 minutes short, thanks to an error in the match reports for the match against Peru. The following pages are in error:
  • The "Roster" page for that match incorrectly lists Rob Friend as entering in the 83rd minute and playing 7 minutes total. Friend started the match.
  • The "Timeline" (events) page for that match lists Friend as starter and as entering the game in the 83rd minute. In fact, Friend was replaced in the 83rd by Issey Nakajima-Farran.
  • The PDF match report (now in colour!) is factually correct.
If I have any readers at the CSA head offices, you might want to get around to fixing that one.

As for editorial commentary, I'll offer the following remarks:
  • I'm happy about that 9 of the top 10 guys were getting the bulk of minutes. You can guess which one I think should be put out to pasture.
  • Names 2-4 suggest a strong future movement.
  • A total of 44 players were used. A bunch are names which might have or should have played their last match (Imhof, Onstad, Hastings, and Jazic are some of the names that come to mind), and a number of others are marginal youth players. Building depth is still a work in progress.
I'll leave the rest of the analysis to my commenters.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Bonjour", "au revoir", and "fuck off"

Tomasz Radzinski: Man of few words?

I love Tomasz Radzinski. I think he's Canada's best player of the last two decades. It's a crying shame that we lost several years of his prime because of his falling out with Holger. I still remember his talisman-like performance in a no-hope qualifying match against Mexico in Edmonton in '08.

Radzinski's shining shirtless moment.

He's still playing at a high level, and if I was in Stephen Hart's shoes I'd call him up in a second for the next important Canada match.

All of which serves to make this story even crazier. In the article (get your google translate on if you're not Dutch-literate), Radz claims he could have ended up in hospital if not for his quick reaction after a training ground dust-up with a Lierse teammate.

Tomasz' version of events.

"Ik riep tijdens een partijtje naar Nicaise dat hij zijn man moest volgen. En ja, daar heb ik een "fucking hell" aan toegevoegd", vertelt Radzinski.

"Daarop viel Nicaise me aan, hij sloeg en schopte me. Ik schrok me rot, er zat ongelofelijk veel woede in hem. Als ik niet was uitgeweken en Eric Van Meir niet zo'n sterke jongen was, zat ik nu niet hier, maar in het ziekenhuis."

"Het was de allereerste keer dat ik iets tegen Nicaise zei, voordien hadden we nooit problemen. Excuses heb ik van hem niet gekregen en die verwacht ik ook niet."

In English
I yelled at Nicaise [the other combatant] during a scrimmage that he had to follow his man. And yes, I added a "fucking hell" as well", says Radzinski.

"Then Nicaise attacked me, he hit and kicked me. I was scared, as he was unbelievably angry. If I hadn't gotten out of the way, and if [Lierse manager] Eric van Meir wasn't such a strong guy, I wouldn't be here but in hospital."

"It was the first time I'd ever said anything to Nicaise, we've never had problems before. He hasn't apologized to me, nor do I expect him to.
Craziness. I prefer Nicaise's more concise version of events. He admits he reacted in the wrong way, but also had the following to say about Radzinski:
Sinds ik op Lierse ben, zei hij nog maar drie woorden tegen mij: "Bonjour, au revoir en fuck off"
Since I've been at Lierse, Radzinski's only said three things to me: "Bonjour", "au revoir", and "fuck off".
He goes on to criticize Radzinski's attitude, and his feeling of superiority for having played with some big clubs.

A Radzinski Christmas card.

I don't think anyone would try to claim that Radzinski doesn't have a chip on his shoulder, and I'm sure he wasn't blameless in this situation. That's why I love him, though. Canada's men's team has suffered from complacency from it's supposed stars, and a guy not afraid to get in your grill might just be what the doctor ordered.

In any case, Lierse can be thankful that Radzinski was spared, as he is in the starting XI the next day. The 30-year old Nicaise was not dressed.

FIFA rankings: November

The November edition of the FIFA rankings did not bring good tidings to the Canadian men. While their overall spot remained relatively stable (a small drop from 83 to 85 during a month of inactivity), the more worrisome story is their placing within CONCACAF.

RankingZonal RankingTeamPts
Nov 10
+/- Ranking
Oct 10
+/- Pts
Oct 10
241USA USA8471Up9
282Mexico Mexico7900Equal4
573Honduras Honduras522-3Down-18
634Costa Rica Costa Rica4903Up0
645Panama Panama480-5Down-35
786Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago42228Up120
827Jamaica Jamaica413-3Down1
858Canada Canada403-2Down-4
869Guyana Guyana39212Up62
9110Grenada Grenada37534Up180
9411Cuba Cuba35327Up135
10112Haiti Haiti33527Up148

That's the CONCACAF top 12, and you'll see that Canada has slipped into a precarious 8th after sitting comfortably in 7th the previous month. You'll also see some green arrows beside big numbers for the likes of T&T, Guyana, Grenada, Cuba, and Haiti. Maintaining a top 8 placing is important because it will likely mean a fairer semi-final round grouping if the as yet unconfirmed changes to the World Cup qualifying format occur.

In other words, those 5 countries made big jumps in the rankings over the last month. The reason? A little something called the Caribbean Cup, which serves as a qualifying tournament for the 2011 Gold Cup.

For the last decade, Canada has been exempted from having to qualify for the Gold Cup. The official reason given is that all previous winners of the Gold Cup (a list that includes the U.S., Mexico, and Canada) get a bye, fairly typically ludicrous CONCACAF logic. The real reason probably has more to do with saving money for the Caribbean minnows. This might seem like a benefit to the squad, and in some ways it probably is. However, what Canada misses out on is the opportunity to beat up on a number of small Caribbean nations.

Again, not having to travel to the Caribbean during non-international dates and play a number of very winnable and likely uncompetitive games seems like a boon to Canada. It would be, if not for the fact that the FIFA rankings are an ill-conceived and hare-brained statistical farce.

Have a look at how Grenada, the biggest mover up the rankings of the CONCACAF sides, gained their points over the last month:

Grenada3:1 (1:0)Puerto Rico
22/10/2010St. George's Continental Qualifier
Grenada2:0 (2:0)St. Kitts and Nevis
24/10/2010St. George's Continental Qualifier

They played just two matches during the latest rankings window. Granted, both were comfortable wins, but over teams ranked 122 and 130 in the world respectively.

Some will quite rightly criticize the CSA for failing to schedule a friendly in the latest midweek international window. However, even a great result against a good side would not have yielded the bump this Caribbean minnows got. Because these matches are deemed "Contintental Qualifiers", the points available are several times what Canada gained for the recent results against Honduras and Ukraine.

I have belaboured the point, and ultimately Canada will need to beat the 5th to 8th ranked teams in CONCACAF. Whether it takes place in the semifinal or final round of qualifying is in the end unimportant. But I also bristle at the weight given to these rankings given their almost total lack of statistical honesty.

I can thing of no other system which so greatly rewards the easy plucking of low-hanging fruit.

By way of comparison, those 5 sides endangering Canada are ranked as follows by the much fairer ELO ratings (Canada 59th)

T&T: 74th
Guyana: 130th
Grenada: 142nd
Cuba: 97th
Haiti: 105th

* * * * *

So you got that? FIFA rankings are bogus. This kind of tramples on my next point, which was to congratulate Canada's women for returning to the top 10 of the women's rankings.

This jump into 9th-placed was also largely on the strength of beating up on minor nations in women's football (Costa Rica, Guyana, Trinidad) in qualfiying matches, but also included a pair of important wins against rapidly improving Mexico. The placement is also a deserving reward for a team qualified into next summer's World Cup, something that can't be said for #1 U.S., who are defending a smaller gap to second-placed Germany.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winnipeg soccer: Suddenly not so grim?

As a soccer fan living in Winnipeg, I am often envious of residents of this country's other major centres. It seems that no matter which one you choose, any of Canada's cities would have a more consequential, if not more vibrant, soccer scene than what you find here.

Let me paint a picture:
  • The last legitimately professional soccer venture in town was the Winnipeg Fury, a team in the original Canadian Soccer League (CSL). The Fury folded its tent in 1993.
  • The most recent attempt at anything resembling semi-pro soccer was an entry into the western Canadian indoor loop playing a short-season, and regularly getting hammered by Edmonton, Calgary, and even Saskataoon. The Winnipeg Alliance may or may not play again this year.
  • There is no CIS men's soccer being played in the province, and the U of M Bisons only started a womens' program a few years ago.
  • There hasn't been a mens' national team player with Manitoba roots since Marc Bircham, and that was only because his grandpa poured concrete here back in the 50s.**
However, a number of stories in the last several weeks have combined to produce a dangerously optimistic outlook.

* * * * *

Winnipegger to pay for Liverpool?

I read an interesting story in the Winnipeg Sun the other day. This is the first time I've uttered the phrase, and likely also the last.

(For those who don't know, the Sun may once have been a fine and fully-staffed paper, but is now largely stuffed with wire-service copy, buffeted by their main selling feature: good ol'fashioned get-off-my-lawn conservative commentary from loudmouth Tom Brodbeck. One of the few redeeming features of the paper is the sports coverage, where they seem to have invested much of their resources.)

Only a bizarre convergence of circumstances would even lead me to have a copy of the Sun in my hands.
  1. A decision by this area's paper of record, the Free Press, to stop providing free copies to schools.
  2. An opportunistic move by the Sun to jump in and "fill" the void.
  3. A clockwork-like morning bathroom schedule at my place of work.
  4. An as-yet-undetermined colleague who gets to the bathroom before me each day and leaves the paper behind. (We do have toilet paper, so he must actually bring it in to read).
Typically reading the Sun will just make me angry, and cause me to despair over the ignorance of the masses. But the other day there was actually something worth reading in the sports section. Local coverage of a local story, in fact, which we don't see often.

The story: Liverpool beckons 'Pegger

A young Winnipeg soccer player will get the chance of a lifetime later this month.

Marco Bustos, 14, has earned a 10-day tryout with the Liverpool Football Club Academy. Yes, that Liverpool Football Club.

It is worth highlighting that this is only a tryout, and I'll leave it to my readers to question whether Liverpool is really such a prestigious destination, but this is interesting news by any measure. Apparently this player has been on the radar since early 2009, when he became the youngest player in Canadian soccer history selected to the National Training Centre.

The cynic in me would also like to congratulate Bustos on his 2016 call-up to the Portugal squad.

But realistically, this is a Winnipeg soccer story to get excited about. Marco's father is a former Winnipeg Fury player, and it seems like the family has strong ties to the local soccer community. In fact, a fundraising match is being held to raise money for Marco's trip (November 21st, not November 19th as printed in the article).

It may be stretching the journalistic diligence of the average Sun reporter, but I hope a follow-up article will be forthcoming. I for one would love to have a Winnipeg boy to cheer for when Canada qualifies for World Cup 2022.

* * * * *

Winnipeggers heading to World Cup

While the men's national team has been missing a Manitoba rep, the Canadian women's team that recently qualified for Germany 2011 was not similarly challenged. Desiree Scott was a valuable member of the squad, and appeared in all 5 of the Canada wins.

Winnipeg's lone national teamer.

Jerrad Peters did a nice story on Scott a week or so after the championship, for the Free Press, which otherwise, as far as I can tell, failed to publish even a wire story about the tournament. Scott is a product of the still quite young Bisons' womens' soccer program.

Chelsea Stewart, who saw little time in the tournament, is also a 'Toban, hailing from the far flung mining town The Pas.

* * * * *

Semi-pro soccer returning to the 'Peg?

I don't like to take anything written at the Voyageurs' forums as gospel truth, but apparently we should be anticipating a December announcement about a Winnipeg entry into the Premier Development League (PDL), an amateur/semi-pro loop that plays a short summer season and largely accommodates out-of-season NCAA players.

While that's not the same as getting an MLS squad, it is better than nothing. According to the thread, the team plans to play at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex, which is well within drunken cycling distance of my place, which bodes well for some fun summer evenings. I await the details eagerly, but also with some circumspection.

* * * * *

We still have a soccer loving mayor

For those who wonder whether kicking a kid in the face will turn voters against you, the answer is apparently not. Sam Katz, who famously went all Nigel de Jong on a young refugee kid in a charity match, was re-elected handily at the end of October.

Katz is a baseball man (in an obvious conflict of interest, he is also the owner of the local independent minor league club) and probably considers soccer to be some sort of communist plot. And Katz' re-election is certainly not a good news story for the city, but I did want an excuse to link that video again.

Perhaps it's time that the Winnipeg soccer scene adopts the unofficial motto of the city generally: Sure, it's not great, but is it really that bad?

** At least 25% of this statement is true