Monday, August 30, 2010

Canadians making an impression in Germany

For whatever reason, it seems like Canadian players are a good fit in Germany. Paul Stalteri was a fixture for years for Werder Bremen, a span that included a Bundesliga title and a trip to the Champions League. Kevin McKenna, who scored this weekend, has carved out a nice career for himself as a reliable central defender in that country's top tier, previously with Cottbus and now in Cologne. Adam Straith, the youngest player in Stephen Hart's 20-man squad called up for Peru and Honduras, plays a regular 90 minutes for Cottbus in the 2.Bundesliga, quite likely the best second division in the world.

If Canadians enjoy their time in Germany, it seems the fans love them right back. Stalteri was a fan favourite in Bremen. Rob Friend quickly made an impression in his first year with Moenchengladbach, scoring 18 times in 30 matches and securing promotion for his new team. He was rewarded by the adoration of the club's fans, and this tribute video (watch the whole thing: whilte the goals are nice, the captions are even better. There's one that is my obvious favourite -- post it in the comments). Friend, by the way, is fast on his way to becoming a favourite in Germany's capital as today he scored his first league goal in the first half of his first match for Hertha Berlin.

But the reason for this entire post is Olivier Occean. He has made a dream start with his new team, Kickers Offenbach, in the 3.Bundesliga. Scoff if you will at third tier soccer, but I'd argue that this is also probably the best third division in the world. (I'm anti-English soccer. Sue me.) Occean has contributed 6 goals in only 5 matches to date, and I was scouring youtube for highlights of these goals. Instead I found the following tribute from the terraces. It warms my heart:

To be honest I don't even know if they've pronounced his name correctly, but it is great to see Canadians making such an impression. Let's hope the man is given a chance to make an impression on Stephen Hart in the near future.

(And don't worry Ali G, I haven't forgotten about you).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Winnipeg mayor kicks kid in the face

Briefly, this week, I had the chance to enjoy two of my passions simultaneously: soccer, and ragging on my fair city's fairly useless mayor, Sam Katz. It all happened because of one swift kick to a little black kid's face:

It first appeared on the late local news of the Global affiliate. Nobody watches late local news, of course, so it was not until the next morning when it appeared on a local blog that the video went viral, as much as anything that happens in Winnipeg can.

Since then it is has been used as the inspiration for a couple of US-style attack ad parodies, but my favourite use of the clip is in a montage of soccer's finest kicks to the face, including Dutchmen on the giving and receiving end (both from this summer's World Cup). So if the memories of that tournament are already beginning to fade, or you just like seeing people get kicked in the face, do watch.

Note to politicians: When you're playing against children, take it easy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canada roster for Peru, Honduras friendlies

The roster:

# Player Pos. Team League
1 Lars Hirschfeld GK Valerenga Norway
2 Nana Attakora D Toronto FC MLS
3 Marcel de Jong D/M FC Augsburg Germany
4 Dejan Jakovic D DC United MLS
5 Kevin McKenna D/F 1. FC Köln Germany
6 Julian De Guzman M Toronto FC MLS
7 Paul Stalteri D Borussia Mönchengladbach Germany
8 Will Johnson M Real Salt Lake MLS
9 Rob Friend F Hertha Berlin Germany
10 Simeon Jackson F Norwich City England
11 Issey Nakajima-Farran M AC Horsens Denmark
12 Jaime Peters D/M Ipswich Town FC England
13 Atiba Hutchinson D/M PSV Eindhoven Netherlands
14 Dwayne De Rosario M/F Toronto FC MLS
15 Josh Simpson M Manisaspor Turkey
16 Gianluca Zavarise M Iraklis FC Greece
17 Iain Hume M/F Barnsley FC England
18 Adam Straith D Energie Cottbus Germany
20 Patrice Bernier M FC Nordsjælland Denmark
22 Haidar Al-Shaïbani GK Nimes Olympique France

# Player Caps
7 Paul Stalteri 81
14 Dwayne De Rosario 54
13 Atiba Hutchinson 47
5 Kevin McKenna 46
6 Julian De Guzman 43
20 Patrice Bernier 43
1 Lars Hirschfeld 29
15 Josh Simpson 27
17 Iain Hume 27
9 Rob Friend 25
12 Jaime Peters 22
11 Issey Nakajima-Farran 20
3 Marcel de Jong 13
8 Will Johnson 11
10 Simeon Jackson 10
4 Dejan Jakovic 7
18 Adam Straith 2
2 Nana Attakora 1
16 Gianluca Zavarise 1
22 Haidar Al-Shaïbani 1

Total 510

Average 25.5

# Player Goals
14 Dwayne De Rosario 15
5 Kevin McKenna 9
7 Paul Stalteri 7
6 Julian De Guzman 4
9 Rob Friend 2
13 Atiba Hutchinson 2
17 Iain Hume 2
20 Patrice Bernier 2
3 Marcel de Jong 1
10 Simeon Jackson 1
11 Issey Nakajima-Farran 1
12 Jaime Peters 1
1 Lars Hirschfeld 0
2 Nana Attakora 0
4 Dejan Jakovic 0
8 Will Johnson 0
15 Josh Simpson 0
16 Gianluca Zavarise 0
18 Adam Straith 0
22 Haidar Al-Shaïbani 0

Total 47

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scoring goals, winning hearts

I don't normally take the time to draw attention to the performances of our Canadian players plying their trade abroad. While I do spend a good deal of time checking matching reports and scores from obscure leagues and lower divisions, this is an unhealthy obsession and I don't wish to spread it.

Still, now and then a performance deserves to be recognized. And speaking of unhealthy obsessions, that's just what the boys at some canadian guys have regarding Simeon Jackson, who scored his first goal yesterday for Norwich in the English Championship (or, if they used a proper nomenclature, the second division). While that alone is an impressive achievement, the goal should be seen to be fully appreciated. Here it is:

This is the type of goal that we see all to rarely from our Canadian strikers. I have been underwhelmed with Mr Jackson's performances to date for Canada, but if he can bring this form to Toronto and Montreal for the matches against Peru and Honduras, he'll have a good chance to adding to his Canada account, which currently stands at 1 goal.

Speaking of goals . . .
  • Canada's active leading goal-getter finally opened his season account for Montreal yesterday, and then added two more, earning him the first hat trick in team history. All in the first half no less. You could watch the highlights, but I should warn you that there is no sound and the video features hideous football lines on a plastic pitch. View at your peril.
  • Speaking of goals coming in bunches, Dutch striker Johan Voskamp had quite the debut for his new team, Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch second division. In a 12-1 (!) win over newly promoted Almere City, Voskamp banged in 8 (!!) goals, more than he scored all of last season with RKC Waalwijk.
  • Moving up one tier in Holland, the Eredivisie yesterday saw the 50,000th goal of its history scored, by Ajax (who else?!). The goal was scored by Mounir el Hamdaoui, his second of the match. The two goals, along with another by Luis Suarez, gave Ajax a 3-0 win over Roda JC.
All of this Dutch content is a hint that you should really be thinking about your picks for this year's Eredivisie contest. There are only two entries so far, one my own, which really isn't enough for me to bother. El Hamdaoui is currently 2nd in the scoring race to PSV's Olla Toivonen, while the usual favourites are starting to migrate to the top of the table.

Contest deadline is Labour Day, September 6th.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Honduras, Peru rosters for Canada friendlies

Canada's roster is expected on Monday. Today, in a news conference that was pushed back from 3pm to 5pm, interim coach of the Honduras national team, Juan de Dios Castillo, announced the players that will make up the roster for friendlies against El Salvador, and against Canada on September 7th in Montreal.

According to the article, it features a lot of new faces, unsurprising considering the veteran nature of the squad that participated in the World Cup. All but one player currently pry their trade domestically.

The players:

1. Noel Valladares (Olimpia)
2. Ricardo Canales (Victoria)
3. Marlon Licona (Motagua)

4. Sergio Mendoza (Motagua)
5. Erick Norales (Marathón)
6. Jorgue Carlos (Olimpia)
7. Quiarol Arzú (Platense)
8. Bryan Beckeles (Vida)
9. Crisanto Norales (Victoria)
10. Bonieck García (Olimpia)
11. Jonny Palacios (Olimpia)

12. Mario Martínez (Real España)
13. Eder Delgado (Real España)
14. Walter Hernández (Olimpia)
15. Jorge Claros (Motagua)
16. Irvin Reina (Necaxa)

17. Rony Flores (Marathón)
18. Jerry Bengston (Vida)
19. Roger Rojas (Olimpia)
20. Luis Lobo (Real España)
21. Alexander López (Olimpia
22. Rubén Rivera (Motagua)
23. Cristian Martínez (Real España)

A number of the names should be at least somewhat familiar, as Motagua and Olimpia have played against Toronto FC and Montreal respectively in the last two years.

And because you need to know:

The Peru roster for the friendly, 4 September 2010, in Toronto:

Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfán y Santiago Acasiete, jugarán el próximo 4 y 7 de setiembre ante Canadá y Jamaica respectivamente.

El resto de convocados son: Juan Vargas (Fiorentina), Carlos Zambrano (Saint Pauli), Alberto Rodríguez (Sporting Braga), Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis de Potosí), José Carlos Fernández (Deportivo Quito), Josepmir Ballón (River Plate) y Roberto Guizasola (Rosario Central) y Hernán Rengifo (Ominia Nicosia).

A few big names in the list, in particular Farfan and Pizarro. Still, I don't quite know what to make of the roster, since it only has 11 names. Help? If you can read Spanish, here's a link.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A brief rant, or, "Screw England"

What is our obsession in this country with English soccer? We have been brainwashed into thinking that EPL (oops, BPL) represents the pinnacle of professional soccer and the league gets wall-to-wall coverage, but it's not easy to pick up matches of any of the other three relatively equal quality leagues.

Hasn't anyone noticed that that league only has 4 good teams and they're all immensely unlikeable? (And the new kids on the block, Man City, are even more hateable?)

Screw England!

And TSN2 is showing what is, by far, the worst of today's Champions' League matches because it features an English team.

Screw it.

P.S. My sincerest apologies to anybody who read this post and saw an image that was, let's say, "unsavoury". Let that be a lesson to think twice before directly linking to an image on another server.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

All-Canadian omnibus post

A few Canadian-related items, together worthy of a post:

* * * * *

I used to obsess over rankings and formulas and the tremendous inadequacy of FIFA's system. No longer. I now take FIFA's men's national team ranking for what it is: a flawed system, but one that ultimately affects the path Canada must travel to qualify for the World Cup by determining seedings.

For that reason, it is worth noting that Canada remains in the triple-digits overall, sliding down one place from 100 to 101, in the new rankings released today.

Canada remains 9th among nations in CONCACAF.

* * * * *

The Vancouver Whitecaps announced a bevy of signings yesterday, but the man who seems to have captured the attention of the Voyageurs bloggerati is the recently-capped Terry Dunfield, one-time Man City wunderkind, England lower-division journeyman, and general man about town.

Two posts on the matter:

And from Eighty Six Forever, which has risen from the ashes of Maple Leaf Forever, a less favourable reaction: The Whitecaps add four (but are they any good?)

* * * * *

The upcoming September friendlies in Toronto and Montreal, against Peru and Honduras respectively, apparently aren't selling that well. The CSA has produced a video, which has the length and the look of a TV-spot, promoting the matches. Expect it to come to a Saturday morning EPL broadcast near you.

Or if French is more you bag (or should I say sac?), try the language-of-love version.

And buy tickets for the matches, of course.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Eredivisie contest 2010-11

Last year marked the debut of the Out of touch Eredivisie contest, my attempt to turn my singular obsession with Dutch football (which I come by honestly, I promise) into something with a broader following among the rather narrow readership of this blog. For 2010-11, there is already added interest, with arguably Canada's best midfielder, Atiba Hutchinson, signing with PSV Eindhoven, one of Holland's top teams.

I wouldn't say last year's contest was a smashing success (there were only 4 entries), but it did cause some to pay attention to a league they wouldn't have given a second glance. In the end, I claimed a narrow win.

To my mind, at least, that gives the contest enough momentum to try it again. It's really quite simple:
  • You select 2 teams and 2 top goal scorers.
  • You collect 1 point for each point gained by your teams in the league table
  • You collect 2 points for each goal scored by your selected scorer.
Entries can be submitted by email or in the comments. There will be a prize!

The deadline will be Labour Day, which falls on September 6th, which gives you some time to do your research and examine the early returns from the first month of league play.

I am prepared, though, to offer some help.

For picking teams, the bookmakers usually have a pretty good idea of things. This table gives a pretty good idea of which teams are expected to finish near the top. With few exceptions, the order of the top 5 is given as 1) Ajax; 2) PSV; 3) FC Twente; 4) AZ; 5) Feyenoord.

I haven't yet found odds for Eredivisie top scorers (let me know if you've seen this anywhere), but you could do worse than to look at last year's top strikers:

Pos. Player Club Goals
1 Luis Suárez Ajax 35
2 Bryan Ruiz Twente 24
3 Mads Junker Roda JC 21
4 Mounir El Hamdaoui AZ 20
5 Marko Pantelić Ajax 16
6 Bas Dost Heracles 14
Everton Heracles
Balázs Dzsudzsák PSV
9 Tim Matavž Groningen 13
Ola Toivonen PSV

A few notes on the players in this list, starting from the top:
  • Luis Suarez, who you might now have heard of after a certain high-profile incident, may not remain with Ajax for long. He is the rumoured target of several different EPL teams, and could move in winter if he doesn't in August.
  • Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz will remain at Twente, and is a good bet to have a good year.
  • There's nothing sexy about Mads Junker, but he will be staying put.
  • Mounir el Hamdaoui has made the move to Ajax, a team that scored over 100 goals last season. He'll get his share, especially if Suarez moves on to greener pastures.
  • Marko Pantelic is currently un-signed by any team.
  • Bas Dost is only 21, which makes his 16-goal performance of last season remarkable. We'll see if he can repeat that performance.
  • Everton is one of those relatively anonymous Brazilians you see in 2nd tier leagues around the world, but last season was his best ever for Heracles.
  • Balázs Dzsudzsák is hard to spell, but if PSV have a strong season, he and Toivonen will be responsible for much of the scoring load (with support from our man Hutch?)
  • Tim Matavž is a 21-year old Slovenian who plays for Groningen and despite the fact he finished in the top 10 scorers last season I don't remember seeing his name before.
As always, the risk in this part of the contest is selecting someone who transfers out at the Christmas window, like the unfortunate Lord Bob's selection last season of Keisuke Honda.

Choose wisely, my friends.


Friday, August 06, 2010

CCL records by country, reprise

Yesterday our esteemed blogging colleague, Mr Duane Rollins of the 24th minute, tweeted the following tweet on twitter:
Joe Public wins tonight to advance 6-2 on aggregate over Brujas of Costa Rica (CR makes MLS results look good in #CCL)
These are the comments people make in order to underline a particular point. But this one struck me as odd: I know Costa Rica (or any other country other than Mexico) hasn't done well in CONCACAF Champions League. But the record of American teams has been pretty abject in this tournament.

Is it possible that Duane's one-off parenthetical had a seed of truth to it?

Luckily, back in March I prepared a table of the records of all countries in CONCACAF Champions League. With time on my hands, yesterday I updated it to reflect all CCL results to date, up to the end of this year's knock out round.

What do we find?

CONCACAF Champions League Record by Country
Mexico 58 18 21 208 89 192 1.98 2.14 0.92 1.23
Canada 6 5 3 18 13 23 1.64 1.29 0.93 0.36
Honduras 17 5 18 62 63 56 1.4 1.55 1.58 -0.02
Puerto Rico 7 7 6 27 29 28 1.4 1.35 1.45 -0.1
Panama 10 6 16 42 56 36 1.13 1.31 1.75 -0.44
Costa Rica 5 5 8 22 35 20 1.11 1.22 1.94 -0.72
USA 11 15 20 56 77 48 1.04 1.22 1.67 -0.46
Guatemala 5 5 10 23 42 20 1 1.15 2.1 -0.95
Trinidad 8 3 17 36 58 27 0.96 1.29 2.07 -0.79
El Salvador 4 7 9 18 36 19 0.95 0.9 1.8 -0.9

1 0 3 0 0 0 3 -3

2 0 12 0 0 0 6 -6

First, let's study Duane's claim. If we focus on results (wins/draws/losses) only, Costa Rica has USA beat, as their points per game (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) are a notch higher. The next best measure of quality, goal difference, has USA one rung ahead on the ladder.

Really, not enough evidence to make the claim that one is better than the other, and closer than I thought it would be.

Are there problems with this simplistic measuring of teams? Sure. Let me count the ways:
  • Small sample size!
  • Knockout round byes: Teams like Canada's entry, who play the knockout round every year, in theory have extra matches against easier teams.
  • Mexico vs Mexico: Mexican teams have frequently played each other, and are responsible for many of the losses Mexican teams have experienced. If I only counted Mexican teams vs non-Mexican, their dominance would be even more clear.
Still, this is the kind of data that, in future, should be used by CONCACAF to determine how spots are awarded and which representatives earn byes into later rounds, in the manner of UEFA's famed coefficients.

This, in short, is why I want Toronto to do well in this year's tournament. Canada's high placing in this table is almost entirely attributable to 10 mostly excellent results that Montreal produced during the tournament's inaugural edition two years ago. There is a reputation to uphold.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

TFC advance to group stage: What does it mean?

So, TFC have advanced to the group stage of Champions League with a 3-2 aggregate win over Motagua of Honduras, after gutting out a 2-2 away draw on Tuesday.

I'll spare you a detailed analysis, since that is not one of my skills, and better versions exist elsewhere. I'll do without some sycophantic fanboy stuff about what such an important win means for TFC, since I'm not much of a TFC guy myself.

But I do follow and support Canada's national team, and there is much to be taken from the match that should be heartening for Canadians of all stripes:
  • A Canadian got the necessary result in a hostile environment. Sure, I doubt the crowd was as amped up as they would be for a World Cup qualifier, and I didn't see any bags of piss raining from the stands, but for NTers like de Guzman and De Rosario and possibly Attakora in the future, this should give them confidence that they can get the job done next time they travel to San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa or Guatemala City or Kingston.
  • Speaking of de Guzman . . . fans have been critical of his play this season, but for those stretches of the match when TFC was in control, he was the one pulling the strings. He bossed the midfield for stretches and seemed able to settle his team down at times.
  • And of De Rosario: He has never really scored any clutch goals for Canada, but he did in this match. Could this be a sign of things to come?
  • And respect for Canadian teams? Toronto's exit last year to Puerto Rico was bad for Canadian soccer and was rightly seen as an embarrassment. (That Los Angeles failed to take the competition seriously this year and exited just as disgracefully is no justification). So it is good to see Toronto advance. Hopefully they can build on Montreal's successful tournament two years ago, and position Canadian teams in such a way so that when there are enough pro sides to justify it, we get another spot. Or at the very least, an automatic entry to the group stage. (Stay tuned for a post on performance by country in CCL).
Of course, there were the usual defensive lapses and Preki made a tactical error slotting in a 17-year old to defend the Hondurans' most dangerous attacking option, but hopefully lessons were learned.

At the very least, they showed that the competition meant something and they got the job done, and I guess you can't say any fairer than that.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Mid-term Canadian content report

As always seems to happen when I disappear into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time in the summer, the soccer world seems not to care. Games continue to be played, players switch teams, and Canadian fans cling to some shred of hope for the future.

So it took some considerable work to catch up with my Canadian content spreadsheet for Canada's three professional teams. Since all three teams have hurtled pass the midpoint of their respective seasons, it seems time to share the data with a wider audience than the few who bother to click the link that I keep hidden on the sidebar.

The briefest possible summary of the teams' Canadian participation yields the following data, current as of 1 August 2010:

2010 Canadian Content Summary
Team Matches Cdn Mins Total Mins Percent
Montreal 24 7949 23620 33.7%
Toronto 22 7088 21689 32.7%
Vancouver 25 7477 24656 30.3%

The numbers are down across the board from last year, when Vancouver could claim the title of most Canadian. A small part of this drop can be attributed to the fact that I stopped counting the disputably Canadian forwards O'Brian White and Eddy Sebrango, though both players have played relatively minor roles with their clubs this season. Most curious is Vancouver's drop, as they prepare for their entry into MLS next season.

Montreal's position atop the rankings is due in large part to the fact that they've been the only team to field a Canadian 'keeper in any games this season (Srdjan Djekanovic filling in for the injured Matt Jordan).

I already noted that TFC were the most Canadian squad in this year's edition of the Voyageurs Cup, but here's how the numbers break down by competition for all of the teams:

Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 6956 19725 35.3%
Voyageurs Cup 993 3895 25.5%
Totals 7949 23620 33.7%

Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 5282 16739 31.6%
Voyageurs Cup 1446 3960 36.5%
CONCACAF Champions League 360 990 36.4%
Totals 7088 21689 32.68%

Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 6369 20755 30.7%
Voyageurs Cup 1108 3901 28.4%
Totals 7477 24656 30.3%

It's a close race, and at this point it's anybody's guess as to who will be leading this table by the end of the season.