Monday, January 24, 2011

New Canada kits: the good and the ugly

New Umbro Canada kits have been announced. My thoughts in brief:



The kits will be in action in Greece on February 9th, a match that will be televised live on Rogers Sportsnet.

Canada v Greece: the roster so far

UPDATE 19:28CST 29.01.2011: Nik Ledgerwood added.

UPDATE 17:49CST 26.01.2011:
Tossaint Ricketts and Pedro Pacheco added.

From various and sundry sources, we now know of several names that have been selected to the likely 18-man roster for February 9th's friendly against Greece, now just over two weeks away.

I've been able to track down 5 names. I'd welcome leads on any others. Leave a post in the comments if you know of anybody else that has been selected.

The fab 5 to date (now 8!):
  • Jaime Peters (Ipswich Town FC, England) - midfield/rightback [source]
  • Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake, MLS) - midfield [source]
  • Olivier Occean (Kickers Offenbach, Germany) - forward [source]
  • Lars Hirschfeld (Valerenga Oslo, Norway) - keeper [source]
  • Milan Borjan (FK Rad, Serbia) - keeper [source]
  • Pedro Pacheco (Santa Clara, Portugal) - midfield [source]
  • Tosaint Ricketts (Politehnica Timi┼čoara, Romania) - forward [source]
  • Nik Ledgerwood (SV Wehen Wiesbaden, Germany) - defense/midfield [source]
The Voyageurs have been clamouring for Borjan to get a call from the moment they knew he existed so they'll be excited with that selection, especially considering how they are lapping up these recent quotes from the guy.

Keep checking this post for updates. I'd expect the official roster late this week.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Atiba Hutchinson scores first goal for PSV

While the adoring throng over at CSN are (rightfully) celebrating the first ever EPL goal by the possibly Canadian David Hoilett, I wanted to make sure nobody overlooked another important European goal.

The moment was Atiba Hutchinson's first goal for PSV:

This is the kind of goal we don't see often enough from our Canadian players: a clinical finish when we are most accustomed to our players losing their nerve and blasting over or dribbling one past the post.

It was important for two reasons:
  • Rightfully or not, Atiba had developed a reputation as a guy who had squandered the bulk his scoring chances so far with Eindhoven with erratic shooting. This should silence those critics.
  • Atiba was making his first start since the departure of former team captain and talisman Ibrahim Afellay to Barcelona. Atiba took up his attacking central midfield role, and the goal should help to cement his spot for the time being.
All in all, not a bad weekend, as Josh Simpson also bulged the twine in Turkey.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CONCACAF pushing for additional World Cup spot

There has been some discussion lately, most notably at Canadian Soccer News, about recent reports that CONCACAF president Jack Warner is requesting 4 full spots for the next World Cup, instead of the current 3 guaranteed spots and an intercontinental playoff.

Warner, of course, is breathtakingly corrupt and no doubt an all around bad guy. So it is somewhat discomfiting to find myself agreeing, largely, with his central point. According to one article:
"We believe that CONCACAF deserves another full place at the World Cup finals due to the performances of our teams on the field and the actions of our confederation off it," Warner said in a statement.
In another quote he goes a little far:
"Our teams have proven themselves on the field of play, our administrative capacity has grown on and off the field of play and we have shown that CONCACAF is a powerhouse."
I'm not ready to call CONCACAF a powerhouse any time soon, but I think there is merit to Warner's argument. Of course, any case should be built upon actual data, and I actually looked into the numbers a little over a year ago, prior to South Africa 2010. What they said, in short, was that CONCACAF teams, since 1994, have picked up a greater percentage of available points than did Asian or African teams.

With another World Cup gone by, the numbers need updating. Here they are now:


These numbers, by the way, are points earned in the group stages. Since none of AFC, CAF, and CONCACAF teams have done much of anything beyond that round of play, it is the best data for comparison.

Unsurprisingly, CONMEBOL and UEFA are miles ahead. Oceania's numbers can be discounted due to a small sample size. Of the rest, CONCACAF has distanced itself from Asia and Africa. Like Warner says, greater representation is deserved.

Will it happen? Unlikely. A potential solution would be to make CONCACAF permanent playoff partners for the half-spot with Oceania (aka New Zealand), the perceived weakest opponent. I'd settle for Asia.

The greatest injustice, of course, is that Asia has as many spots as South America. If FIFA wants to use population and money as an argument for regional represenation, they should apply it consistently (Europe would end up with fewer spots if this were the case).

Your thoughts?

Update 3:51pm Wednesday: CBC's John Molinaro has weighed in. It's clear from the title of his blog post which side of the debate he is on: CONCACAF living in a fool's paradise

I don't really think we're all that far apart, he and I. He argues that when it comes right down to it, only UEFA and CONMEBOL are under-represented. Have a look at my numbers above and see who scores highest. Coincidence?

However, his metric for comparing teams is not points in the group stage, but rather quarter-final appearances. On that basis, he suggests that CONCACAF reaching the QFs only three times, all-time, is not enough to merit more representation. But those 3 quarter-final appearances are the same as Africa's 3, and 2 more than Asia has made. Africa and Asia have more spots than CONCACAF. Seems like a neat little piece of "If A and B then C" logic (that's a syllogism, right?) to argue for one of those half spots to come this way.

He also trots out the tired line that CONCACAF is really a two-team region (Mexico and USA). Is Asia a one-team region? Is CONMEBOL, in the last 20 years, a 2-team region with a little miracle run by Uruguay?

Ultimately, it matters little as any decision on spots is unlikely to consider performance on the field, given how ethically-challenged FIFA has been of late.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Olivier Occean called up to for Greece friendly

As is typical in the weeks leading up to a friendly, Canadian fans often learn of players being selected from club sites and foreign language news before the official release. The first bit of news to trickle out is that Olivier Occean, of 3.Bundesliga side Kickers Offenbach, will be making the trip to Greece.

While I don't think that there is much significance to the fact that he was named first, it is significant that he has been called to a second consecutive match. Prior to the 74 minutes he put in against Ukraine Occean hadn't pulled on a Canada shirt in 26 months. In fact, before the Ukraine match he had put in a total of only 139 minutes in 5 matches over 5 and a half years.

It's clear that he is now considered a useful piece of the puzzle.

Occean had a torrid start to his season in Offenbach, but ended the fall with injuries and a minor slump. He seems to be returning to form, scoring both goals in a recent 2-1 friendly win over Dutch side De Graafschap.

In other news, the venue for the 9 February friendly against Greece has been confirmed as AEL FC Arena in Larissa, 324 kms northeast of Athens.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Canada soccer and wikileaks: What does the cable really say?

Canadian soccer stories have a hard time making it into the news. (Don't confuse these with Toronto FC stories, which are all over the news lately).

So you can forgive the newspaper reporter's near gleeful introduction to an article detailing Canada's inclusion in one of the Wikileaks cables:

Canada’s men’s soccer team doesn’t stand very high in the world rankings, but it has accomplished something few of its top-rated opponents can match.

It got a mention from Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks.

While most of soccer’s elite have to be satisfied with getting their notoriety in the sports pages, Canada’s 84th-ranked team appears in WikiLeaks documents reported Monday in Europe.

The MNT shout-out came as part of a memo detailing corruption in Bulgarian soccer. Specifically, the memo mentions Bulgarian referee Anton Genov being investigated following Canada's 3-0 friendly loss to Macedonia during which he awarded 4 penalties.

Really? This is what diplomatic staffs write about? It is of material interest to the US State Department to be kept in the loop on this sort of stuff? It is the kind of prose that would make wikipedia blush:
Bulgaria is soccer country. It has long been the
most popular sport, and despite scandals and the migration of
many of its talented players to wealthier European clubs
abroad, it is still a Bulgarian passion. The pinnacle of
Bulgarian soccer was the 1994 World Cup, when Bulgaria
defeated Germany to advance to the semi-finals, eventually
finishing fourth overall. To this day, many Bulgarians only
half jokingly refer to this as the country's greatest
accomplishment since the fall of communism.
If you're hoping for a lot of juicy details about the Canada match in question, though, you're out of luck. All it mentions is the UEFA investigation into Genov which most well-informed Canadian fans already knew about. Paragraph 6 of the cable explains illogical results and match fixing, concluding with the following:

The Union of European Football
Association (UEFA), the governing body of European soccer,
also is investigating Bulgarian referee Anton Genov for his
alleged involvement in fixing an international match.
According to the UEFA, there were obvious irregular betting
patterns prior to the international friendly match on
November 14, 2009 in which Genov awarded four penalty shots
during Macedonia's 3-0 victory over Canada.

For those of us who watched the match it is fairly unsurprising to learn there was some shady business at play. What is surprising is Stephen Hart's quoted reaction in the Star article referenced above:

“I’d never been in a game with four penalties, but (Genov) called a very, very tight game right from the start,” Hart said Monday from Halifax. “Any little contact was blown. Other than that, I was surprised because nothing seemed odd to me.”

“I thought all the penalties were penalties from my view on the sideline.”

It's hard to understand who Hart is trying to cover for with his remarks, but Zelkovich hints at it with his closing statement:
While Hart said he was surprised by the number of penalty kicks awarded in the loss to Macedonia, he didn’t mention another irregularity: the fact that Canada missed both.
Will Messrs. Hume and Jackson be making an appearance in the next round of wikileaks?

Despite the unsavouriness of the story, it counts as ink for the Canadian national team, and is likely more than will be spilled when Canada next plays an actual match (vs Greece in February unless a January friendly is scheduled soon), so I suppose we should be making the most of it.