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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Playing favourites

I'm not going to lie: I very much play favourites when it comes to the way I talk and write about our men's national team. I'll defend certain unpopular or controversial players, while constantly writing off others even if they've proven at a certain level that they are productive and useful members of a team.

You might have noticed that I consistently come to the defense of Ali Gerba (prolific producer for the national team, uneven club career due to inconsistent work ethic and consistent corpulence) and Rob Friend (poor goal scoring record for Canada; proven high-level striker in Germany). On the other hand, for reasons related largely due to his weak national team performances, Dwayne De Rosario is on my shit list, despite his impressive MLS resume. Iain Hume is a guy I rate much lower than most, despite his work effort and resolve to overcome a shocking act of thuggery on the pitch.

Years ago, I adopted Mike Klukowski as the man after my own heart. The reasons were manifold, but they really come down to the following:

  1. The mullet. Need I say more?
  2. He was awesome, a fixture in the back line when that part of the team was in flux.
  3. He played in Belgium.
That third reason deserves some explanation. Over on the Voyageurs' forums, there is a regular thread reporting the exploits of Canadians' abroad. Week-to-week, fans watch matches, read reports, and single out the performances of our lads. It's easy to do for the English teams, and there are fairly dedicated watchers of Germany and some other leagues.

I feel a bit of exclusivity for players in Belgium and the Netherlands. Why? Because I speak the language. Dutch, in Holland, and Flemish (Dutch essentially, but don't say so to a Flemish person) and French in Belgium. I can read the reports, get all the inside scoops, navigate club websites, and the like, all like a pro.

Klukowski has now moved on to Turkey. He is still awesome, possibly still bemulleted(?) but no longer within my linguistic comfort zone.

I've now got a new best friend: Atiba Hutchinson.

If you haven't been keeping track, Atiba transferred to PSV over the summer after spending a number of years in Denmark. And he was honoured today as the player of the year for the 2009-10 season, during which he won the league as a cog in the FC Copenhagen attack. It's difficult to put this award into perspective without engaging in a discussion of the quality of the Danish league, but it's worth pointing out that 3 of this FCK teammates played for Denmark at the 2010 World Cup.

Atiba accepts the award from a suit and a woman who just returned from a shopping spree in the future.

The move to PSV represented a bold career step. I don't think I'm ruffling any feathers when I state that the Dutch Eredivisie is a better league than the Danish Superliga. Week to week, Hutchinson is facing better competition. PSV is also involved in Europa League, and while they've faced an easy schedule so far, Sampdoria is soon on the horizon.

The boldest part of the move is that Atiba signed on with a team that already had some established names in the centre of midfield. You might be familiar with Ibrahim Afellay and Orlando Engelaar, a couple of guys who featured in the World Cup finals with a little team called Netherlands that went to The Final. These dudes are no slouches.

At the start of the year, there was uncertainty around Afellay. He was injured, and also rumoured to be out the door before the close of the summer transfer window. Atiba was brought in as his replacement, essentially, which is a high compliment.

Things didn't work out that way. Afellay stayed on (he's rumoured to be off to Barcelona in January), but after a few strong performance as Ibby's replacement, the staff had to find a way to keep Hutch out of the lineup. And they found a way: a convenient thigh injury to right back Stanislav Manolev.

Hutchinson is a versatile player. He has played all across the park in midfield for Copenhagen and Canada. He even began his Canada career as a centre-half in one of the more successful editions of the U20 team. But right back is not a position that Atiba has played for any long stretch in his career. All the more impressive, then, that he has been holding the fort at that spot for the last two months with one of the best clubs in Holland.

His Canada form has been excellent too. He was by a mile the best player on the pitch in that post-lightning-storm 15 minutes at Saputo, and finished his chance against Ukraine. He even scored the famous no-goal at the Gold Cup in 2007 (don't watch if you want to finish the day happy). He has too often lived under the shadow of Julian De Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario in the Canada midfield. But he shouldn't have to play second fiddle any longer.

He's the best we have. Maybe someday the best we've ever had (apologies, had to go there).

So here's to you, Atiba. Welcome to the family.

* * * * *

Elsewhere, that quirky corner of the internet where people write about Canadian soccer has undergone somewhat of a transformation. A number of the more prominent Canuck soccer bloggers are now filing their work at the Voyageurs-affiliated umbrella site

Needless to say, this abrupt change has caused a shitstorm over on the Vs forums. I'll state my piece by saying I don't really see how this harms the Vees, but I don't understand where the benefits come from either. From my perspective, all this means is I now have to change my links. Epic fail, as the kids would say.

But don't worry about little old me. You'll be able to find my once monthly musings right here. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eredivisie contest: November update

It's mid-November, more than a third of the way through the Eredivisie season, and high time to update the standings of my Eredivisie contest. Without any further ado, here they are:

Ottawa Sports Guy
PSV 30 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 11
Feyenoord 12 Bas Dost (Heerenveen) 7

Ajax 27 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 7
PSV 30 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 11

PSV 30 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 8
Ajax 27 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 7

Headhunting Canuck
PSV 30 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 8
Ajax 27 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 11

Twente 31 Bryan Ruiz (Twente) 4
PSV 27 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 8


There is little to be surprised by in this year's Eredivisie season. Ajax are scoring goals for fun, PSV and Twente are also part of the battle for the league, transfer rumours continue to swirl around the league's biggest stars. Most pundits picked Feyenoord to continue their struggles of last season, but perhaps one of the biggest shocks is just how bad they've been this year. This, of course, is bad news for Ottawa Sports Guy.

The other main storyline is the scoring battle at Ajax. While Luis Suarez was the goalscoring maven last season (something ridiculous like 45 goals in all competitions), he was joined this offseason by the former AZ man Mounir el Hamdaoui. Suarez gained further prominence due to his scoring exploits for Uruguay at the World Cup, and his Hand of God impersonation. Everyone would have expected him to continue to be the main man bending the twine. So much so that the media has started asking Suarez what he thought of Mounir's scoring prowess, and Luis came out and said that he supported him fully. Which of course likely means exactly the opposite. I wouldn't be surprised to see him out the door in the January window, which would be bad news for me and Sam.

Anyway, congrats to current leader Headhunting Canuck and the other participants.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Canada qualifies for World Cup!

Sure, I'd be far more excited to get the chance to use this same post title in about three year's time if the men were to qualify, but I probably have not often enough on this blog celebrated the consistent excellence of our country's women's program.

Canada qualified for the World Cup with a 4-0 win last night against Costa Rica, and will face Mexico (stunning winners against USA in the other semi-final) for the right to be called CONCACAF Champions.

There are far better sources if you want details about players, coaches, and the team in general. I just want to point out to those of you that care that you can watch the match against Costa Rica on-demand on the CBC website. We don't often get to see Canada winning match sending the team to a World Cup, so get it while you can.