Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MNT minutes in 2011

Yesterday's 1-0 friendly win over Belarus was Canada's second match of 2011. Although both of this year's matches have been European friendlies, restricting the participation of a larger pool of North American based players, it is not difficult to see who are the players who Stephen Hart sees as the core of the team coming up upon an important year of soccer.

21 players in total have seen the pitch so far in 2011:

player start sub mins
Atiba Hutchinson 2
Josh Simpson 2
Will Johnson 2
Simeon Jackson 2
Milan Borjan 2
Rob Friend 1 1 131
Jaime Peters 1 1 99
Dejan Jakovic 1
Adrian Cann 1
Adam Straith 1
Dwayne De Rosario 1
Mike Klukowski 1
Kevin McKenna 1
Andre Hainault 1
Nik Ledgerwood 1
Pedro Pacheco 1 1 74
Olivier Occean 1
Lars Hirschfeld
1 45
David Edgar
Tosaint Ricketts
2 36
Issey Nakajima-Farran
1 4

Atiba Hutchinson is the only player to play every minute of both matches. This should come as no surprise -- he is by now the most accomplished Canadian international and will be the key player in midfield for the upcoming qualifying cycle.

4 other players have started both matches: Josh Simpson, Will Johnson, Simeon Jackson, and Milan Borjan. Simpson is one of Canada's most dynamic attacking players, and should be a part of any Canadian XI in the near future if he is available. Johnson is clearly valued by Hart, and that he was one of 2 MLS players selected for the Belarus match is evidence of that. His work rate and ability to adapt his play to a system are key factors. Simeon Jackson plays a similar role to Simpson on the opposite wing, but reviews for his last match were not good and he has fallen out of favour at Norwich. He will need to improve to remain a key player for Canada.

Newcomer Milan Borjan is the most interesting inclusion among the multiple starters. The consensus among Canadian supporters is that Lars Hirschfeld will not be made available for the Gold Cup, meaning that Borjan will be the de facto #1. What to make, then, of Hart giving both keepers a half vs Belarus? I suppose it sends a message that both are in the picture for the #1 job once WCQ comes around.

Rob Friend, Jaime Peters, Pedro Pacheco, David Edgar, and Tosaint Ricketts all appeared in both matches. It appears that Hart values Friend and I'd suspect he'll be part of rosters for the Gold Cup and subsequent qualifiers. Jaime Peters needs to solidify his club role. Edgar and Ricketts are depth players, but I suspect they would be replaced by North American options when possible (Terry Dunfield can play the defensive midfield role much better than Edgar at this point).

Pedro Pacheco is an interesting player. We've not actually seen much of his play, of course, but he plays a different role than most Canadian players. Hart lined him up in the #10 spot yesterday, playing off of and behind the central striker, Friend. If he can maintain or improve his club level, I'd not be surprised to see him playing significant minutes in this role for the rest of the year. It is my impression that Pacheco, while undoubtedly not as talented as Dwayne De Rosario, would be more willing to adapt his talents to Hart's system, which is beginning to take shape.

Ultimately, we will see what Hart really sees as the core of his team when he selects the roster for the Gold Cup in June.

* * * * *

Speaking of the Gold Cup, Canada will be preparing for the tournament with a friendly, on home soil, in the week leading up to the tournament. Although the host city has not been announced (Toronto is seen as the likely site), a friendly for June 1st has been confirmed with Ecuador the opponent.

Ecuador are ranked 49th by FIFA. Canada has played Ecuador twice before, a 2-0 loss at the 2002 Gold Cup, and a 2-1 loss as part of the 1999 Canada Cup in Edmonton. It will be good preparation for the Gold Cup, a chance to get a result and improve our FIFA ranking, and most importantly, the 3rd home friendly within 10 months!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canada v Belarus match-day post

Canada will take on Belarus in an international friendly today. As far as I can tell, there is no broadcast of the match, but I'll try to gather as much info as possible into this post.

First, the basic details:


Antalya, Turkey

Tuesday, 29 March 2011
6 pm local / 11 am et / 10 am ct / 8 am pt

There were rumours of a video feed, but I don't think there was any truth to those. We will have to get by with whatever information we can gather from twitter and other sources.

Speaking of which, Sportsnet's Gerry Dobson is in Antalya and will be providing updates from the match. So if you're not already, follow @sportsnetsoccer on twitter. The CSA twitter feed, @CanadaSoccerEN, (swap the EN for FR if you prefer le francais) will be providing live updates as well.

He has already provided the starting lineup for the match: Borjan; Klukowski, McKenna, Hainault, Ledgerwood; Simpson, Hutchinson, Johnson, Pacheco, Jackson; Friend

To me, that looks like:

Ledgerwood - Hainault - McKenna - Klukowski
Johnson - Hutchinson
Jackson - Pacheco - Simpson

Hart had mentioned in an interview that he had wanted to see what Pacheco could do supporting the striker, which is why I have him in a more advanced role than Hutchinson. It would certainly be tough to pick a better lineup with the players at his disposal.

Interesting also that Hart chooses Borjan over Lars when both are in season and doing well. Though it is worth noting that Borjan is likely to be the starter come Gold Cup time, so perhaps it is a matter of getting familiarity with the team.

Gerry Dobson interprets the lineup as more of a 4-2-1-3:
Kind of a 4-2-1-3 for , Atiba and Johnson in front of back four, Pacheco behind Friend, Simpson wide left, Jackson wide right.
Either way, you'll see (or more likely won't see) Pacheco in a more attacking role than Hutchinson.

For the gamblers out there, here are some betting lines:
This line has become much closer since I checked earlier in the week. Perhaps a result of Belarus' poor showing over the weekend in a Euro qualifier against Albania.
  • betfair: BEL 1.95; draw 3.15; CAN 3.85
Of course, if this match ends with 5 or 6 penalties, we'll know why.

The Belarus starting XI:
starting XI: Vermenko, Molosh, Shitov, Martynovich, Sosnovski, Onelyanchuk, Kislyak, Zhavnercyk, Hleb, Kalamev, Kovel [via @CanadaSoccerEN]
I'll let you figure out how they'll be arranged on the pitch. Note that the Hleb listed is Vyaschelav Hleb of Dinamo Minsk, not the more well-known Alexander Hleb.

The match has kicked off. Twitter is the place for updates. Will report anything important here, and gather post-match coverage as well.

HT: From the tweets, it sounds like Canada had the better of play in the first half. A number of chances, including several for Rob Friend, but no goals. From Dobson:
Half time whistle. Canada the better team, more chances, 4-0 corner kicks, 4 shots Canada, 2 shots Belarus.
Sub to start the second half. Hirschfeld goes in goal for Borjan.

58th minute: Canada takes 1-0 lead as Will Johnson scores from a corner kick.

Final whistle: Ends 1-0 Canada! First win since match vs Honduras at Saputo in September, first win in Europe since since Cyprus in 2009. Good boost for the team.

Post game coverage:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Canadian content report March 27th

Another weekend has gone by in MLS. Both Canadian teams were in action yesterday. Vancouver went down to Philadelphia 1-0, while Toronto FC bounced back with a 2-0 win over a struggling Portland team.

The following Canadian players saw action:

TORONTO: Adrian Cann (90), Dwayne De Rosario (90), Gianluca Zavarise (21), Ashtone Morgan (3).
Total: 204 of 984 team minutes

With Nana Attakora out injured, Toronto fielded one fewer Canadian starter than last week.

VANCOUVER: Terry Dunfield (90), Russell Teibert (65).
Total: 165 of 957 team minutes

Vancouver's Canadian contingent was identical to last week. With Teibert now off to the U20 qualifying tournament, they'll be hard pressed even to match the number of Canadian starters next week.

As of March 26th, the overall Canadian percentages are:
Toronto: 27.4% and Vancouver: 16.1% [details]

One more weekend of MLS matches to come before all four Canadian teams are in action two weeks from now.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

NCC stat of the week #3: All-time scorers

In a bid to keep this blog active, but with precious little in the way of time and inspiration to to generate original thoughts and analysis, I have decided to provide weekly some bite-size informational chunks. Every Saturday up until the kick off of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on April 27th, I will provide a numbers-based look at the first three years of the competition.

Week #1: All-time table
Week #2: Attendance

As before, these stats are offered with little in the way of analysis and interpretation. After looking at the all-time records of the three participating teams in the first three editions of the tournament, and all-time attendances, it's time to see who has done the scoring in the competition.

All the scorers are listed below:

Player Club Nationality Goals
Dwayne De Rosario Toronto Canada 4
Chad Barrett Toronto USA 3
Ansu Toure Vancouver Liberia 3
Roberto Brown Montreal Panama 2
Amado Guevara Toronto Honduras 2
Rohan Ricketts Toronto England 2
Eduardo Sebrango Vancouver Cuba 2
Marcus Haber Vancouver Canada 2
Maurice Edu Toronto USA 1
Ty Harden Toronto USA 1
Joey Gjertsen Montreal USA 1
David Testo Montreal USA 1
Tony Donatelli Montreal USA 1
Marco Velez Toronto Puerto Rico 1
Philippe Billy Montreal France 1
Martin Nash Vancouver Canada 1
Charles Gbeke Vancouver Canada 1
Ethan Gage Vancouver Canada 1
Kevin Harmse Toronto Canada 1
Severino Jefferson Montreal Brazil 1
Peter Byers Montreal Antigua 1

The only players to score in more than one year of the competition are Chad Barrett, Dwayne De Rosario, Marcus Haber and Ansu Toure, who all followed up 2009 goals by scoring again in 2010.

Goals scored, by country:

Country Goals
Canada 10
Liberia 3
Panama 2
Honduras 2
England 2
Cuba 2
Puerto Rico 1
France 1
Brazil 1
Antigua 1

Check back next week for the next in the series.

Monday, March 21, 2011

WSA Winnipeg to play friendly against FC Edmonton

The latest news from fledgling PDL side WSA Winnipeg is that they will play a friendly against FC Edmonton. In short form, here are the match details

Club friendly
FC Edmonton @ WSA Winnipeg
Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex (U of M)
Sunday, March 27th 12:30 pm

No doubt Edmonton will be keen to get some good preparation in with the NASL season kicking off on April 9th.

From the WSA Winnipeg side, the scheduling is a bit more curious. Not only will there be a full two months between this match and Winnipeg's season opener in the PDL (May 28th), but the match will be played without the benefit of a full roster. A reliable poster on the Voyageurs forums claims that the core of the roster has been identified, but there is also an open tryout scheduled for April.

In other words, it would be unwise to read too much into the result on the pitch, whether you're a fan of FC Edmonton, WSA Winnipeg, or a neutral observer.

Speaking of the pitch, it should come as no surprise that a match in March in Winnipeg will be played on an artificial indoor surface. The team's PDL games will also be played on FieldTurf, though outdoors at the Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex.

Expect a lot of 'roof ball' stoppages this Sunday in the inaugural WSA Winnipeg exhibition

For those interested, the WSA site lists where tickets are available, and I imagine you could also pay your $14 at the door.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Canadian content on Canadian teams 2011

As I've done the last few years, I'll be tracking the percentage of minutes played by Canadian players for this country's professional teams. With the addition of FC Edmonton to the NASL, the number of teams I'm tracking will grow to four.

To see how the teams measured up in previous years check the following posts.
I expect we'll see the NASL teams lead the race this year, as TFC and especially Vancouver have decided to build depth with American and foreign players.

As always, you can see how the teams stackup by looking on the blog sidebar. For the details, check out the spreadsheet.

In general, players classified as Canadian have represented or are eligible to represent Canada in international competition. So in 2011, while he counts under MLS rules as Canadian, Alain Rochat's minutes will not be counted for Vancouver.

Update: After matchday 1, Toronto FC leads this table (possibly the only table they'll lead this year).

These were the Canadian minutes last night:

Toronto: Dwayne De Rosario 90, Adrian Cann 90, Nana Attakora 90, Keith Makubuya 45, Gianluca Zavarise 21. Total 336 of 990 (33.9%)
Vancouver: Terry Dunfield 90, Russell Teibert 69 Total 159 of 990 (16.1%)

Canada roster for Belarus friendly

The Belarus friendly is a little over a week away and Stephen Hart has released a largely European-based roster for the match, to be played in Antalya, Turkey on March 29th. Only 2 MLS players, Will Johnson and Andre Hainault, will be making the trip.

The roster:

Player Pos. Team League
Lars Hirschfeld GK Vålerenga Oslo Norway
Jaime Peters D Ipswich Town England
Mike Klukowski M Ankaragücü Turkey
Kevin McKenna CB FC Köln Germany
André Hainault D Houston Dynamo MLS
Pedro Pacheco M CD Santa Clara Portugal
Paul Stalteri D Borussia Monchengladbach Germany
Will Johnson M Real Salt Lake MLS
Rob Friend F Hertha Berlin Germany
Simeon Jackson M Norwich City England
Josh Simpson M Manisaspor Turkey
Adam Straith CB Energie Cottbus Germany
Atiba Hutchinson M PSV Eindhoven Germany
David Edgar D Burnley England
Nik Ledgerwood D SV Wehen Wiesbaden Germany
Tosaint Ricketts M/F FC Politehnica Timiþoara Romania
Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault D/M Tottenham Hotspur England
Milan Borjan GK FK Rad Serbia

Goals and caps

Player Caps Goals
Lars Hirschfeld 32 0
Jaime Peters 24 1
Mike Klukowski 28 0
Kevin McKenna 48 10
André Hainault 17 1
Pedro Pacheco 2 0
Paul Stalteri 84 7
Will Johnson 14 0
Rob Friend 29 2
Simeon Jackson 14 2
Josh Simpson 31 1
Adam Straith 6 0
Atiba Hutchinson 51 3
David Edgar 1 0
Nik Ledgerwood 6 0
Tosaint Ricketts 1 0
Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault 3 0
Milan Borjan 1 0
Total 392 27
Average 23 1.59

A few thoughts, in point form:
  • Again, we see the depth of Canadian players currently plying their trade in Germany. 6 of the 18 players selected are based in the country.
  • Paul Stalteri is again included. What to make of this? Last game, against Greece, Stalteri was left off initially, but then called in due to injury. We saw in that match the lack of the depth at the outside back spots. I'm ok with the selection as long as he doesn't start.
  • Good to see Mike Klukowski back after being left off of previous rosters for undisclosed 'personal reasons'. Strange to see him listed by the CSA as a midfielder.
  • Weird not to see Marcel de Jong among the 18. He was selected for Greece but had to withdraw due to injury. He's been playing 90 minutes weekly for his club since then. I know he plays a similar role to Klukowski, but surely there's a role for both in the squad.
  • Some debate on the Voyageurs that Iain Hume and Olivier Occean should have been called, and Rob Friend left off. Personally, I don't think any get near the starting XI when the North American contingent is also available, so it hardly matters.
  • Expect to see Tosaint Ricketts or Josh Simpson get at least a half playing as the lone striker in the 4-5-1.
  • It seems Pedro Pacheco has established himself as a regular selection, at least for European games. And why not? He's now starting regularly at a decent level, while most of Canada's midfield depth is playing in the USA and Canada.
  • Does it seem strange to you that Will Johnson only has 14 caps?
It's not the strongest possible Canada roster, of course, but under the circumstances I think it's fine. It should be enough to do the job against a poor Belarus side. Your thoughts?

NCC stat of the week #2: Attendance

In a bid to keep this blog active, but with precious little in the way of time and inspiration to to generate original thoughts and analysis, I have decided to provide weekly some bite-size informational chunks. Every Saturday up until the kick off of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on April 27th, I will provide a numbers-based look at the first three years of the competition.

Week #1: All-time table

NCC stat of the week #2: All-time attendance

Again, my stats are offered with little interpretation. The only caveat I'd like to declare is that for the first 3 years of the competition, Vancouver played out of the 5,000 seater Swangard Stadium, placing a hard cap on potential crowds.

By team Matches Total Average
Toronto 6 115250 19208.33
Montreal 6 66877 11146.17
Vancouver 6 29715 4952.5

By year Matches Total Average
2008 6 70822 11803.67
2009 6 73549 12258.17
2010 6 67471 11245.17

TOTAL 211842

Attendance for all matches

With the increased capacity in Vancouver and the higher profile of soccer in Canada, I'd expect the 2011 average crowds to be much larger.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Canada NT Monday briefs

A few newsworthy national team items of a Monday evening:
  • It was announced, or at least speculated upon, over a month ago, but the CSA has finally confirmed the March 29th friendly with Belarus to be played on neutral soil in Antalya, Turkey.
    The teams have apparently been taking steps to ensure the match is not affected by match fixing like previous neutral site friendlies in the region. I don't expect a problem, but if the sports odds look out line before the match, be careful!
    Inevitably, player callups will trickle in from club sites and fan boards before we get the official roster. David Edgar is the first, having confirmed his participation via twitter.
  • The same announcement also lets out that Canada is searching for an opponent for a June 1st friendly. With the Gold Cup kicking off 6 days later in Detroit, there is a good chance of a home friendly date. An earlier Gerry Dobson report (I think) suggested BMO Field as the host.
  • Montreal's 29-year old defender Adam Braz has announced his retirement immediately. He will be taking over as team manager. Not manager as in Alex Ferguson, but rather the guy in charge of equipment and logistics. I've always been a fan, if only because Canada has often lacked the steeliness a guy like Braz provides. Unfortunately he lacked the talent to be a useful player at a high level.
  • Don't forget to buy your tickets for the Canada-USA match in Detroit on June 7th. Early word is that there will be a very strong Canadian contingent, both in the designated supporters section and throughout the stadium.
All in all, not a bad news day.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nutrilite Canadian Championship stat of the week #1: All-time table

In a bid to keep this blog active, but with precious little in the way of time and inspiration to to generate original thoughts and analysis, I have decided to provide weekly some bite-size informational chunks. Every Saturday up until the kick off of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on April 27th, I will provide a numbers-based look at the first three years of the competition.

NCC Stat of the Week #1: All-time table

There have been 3 editions of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship/Voyageurs Cup. Montreal were champions in 2008; Toronto won in 2009 and 2010. Unsurprisingly, Toronto FC tops the all-time table:

Toronto FC 12 6 4 2 15 7 8 22
Vancouver Whitecaps
12 4 5 3 10 9 1 17
Montreal Impact
12 2 3 7 8 17 -9 9

The wikipedia article for the Canadian Championship incorrectly lists the Impact's all-time point total as 11 points. Any wikipedia editors among my readership may want to go ahead and make that change.

Any suggestions for statistical themes to look at, obvious or obscure, are welcomed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 Gold Cup Groups: Canada kicks off in Motown

Unsurprisingly, I'm a few days behind on this story, but it's worth posting anyway. The Gold Cup groups have been announced (the term 'draw' does not really apply in the case of CONCACAF) and they are as follows:

Group A: Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba
Group B: Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Grenada
Group C: USA, Panama, Canada, Guadeloupe

The biggest storyline for Canadian fans is the opening clash against the USA at Ford Field in Detroit. The last time these two teams met at the Gold Cup this happened. You can't really say that Canada will be out to get revenge, as the Americans can hardly be faulted for poor officiating, but undoubtedly that match will linger in the mind of the Canuck support.

Ford Field will host a Gold Cup border battle

And with the match being played in a border town, and a few hour's drive from this country's largest city, there is a good chance of a large-ish Canadian contingent, even if the match is on a Tuesday night. The Voyageurs have secured a block of 200 seats in a prime position and if you'd like to sit with the hardcores, buy your tickets now.

I don't think I'll be making the trip to Ford Field, but the final group match in Kansas City has me intrigued. Of the 2011 host cities, Kansas City is the closest to my hometown at a mere 13 hours drive (and a rather uncomplicated one as well). The match is against Panama, and will very likely decide whether Canada advances to the quarterfinal rounds.

You see, while Canada's match with the USA will get all the attention, it is not one that Canada should reasonably expect to win. USA's FIFA rank might be a tad inflated, but they are a class above Canada. Guadeloupe are the minnows of the group and Canada and Panama should both win that match without too much trouble. Second place could very well decided on June 14th in KC.

Guadeloupe's inclusion in Group C is a minor misfortune. Though Canada's history against this island nation is dire, this is still a match the team should expect to win. The drawback is that Guadeloupe are not FIFA members so the match would not gain them valuable ranking points in advance of the World Cup draw.

Briefly, I've seen a bit of chatter on the twitter and the boards that Canada's Group C is the Group of Death. Any time Canadian fans make this claim, we are probably giving our own team more respect than they deserve. While Canada would likely fare better if they swapped spots with, say, Jamaica in Group B, the likes of Panama and Guadeloupe are hardly world beaters. Canada should advance from this group and I expect them to do so.

It all still feels a little far away, but with Toronto and Vancouver kicking things off in MLS next weekend, the Voyageurs Cup opener in less than 50 days, and the Gold Cup starting in under 3 months, Canada's summer of soccer is looming on the horizon.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Canada to host 2015 WWC

If it's on the BBC it's got to be true.

Zimbabwe has dropped its bid to host the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.

The country had raised eyebrows in the sporting world last moth when it announced that it would bid to host the tournament.

At that time Zimbabwean officials had acknowledged that their infrastructure was the barest minimum to stage the event.

Its decision to withdraw means that Canada are the only candidate to host the event.

Fifa will meet this week to decide the hosts of five other age-group tournaments.

Hopefully Winnipeg will get some games. Or I'll be living elsewhere in the country by then.

Eredivisie contest: February update

There are still three months left in the season for the Netherlands' Eredivisie, but you might as well call the competition in this blog's Eredivisie contest 2010-11 a two-horse race. There are 5 entries in this edition of the contest, and all but two of the teams have a fatal flaw.

Participants must pick two teams and two goal scorers. Teams get you 1 point for each point they earn in the table, goal scorers two points per goal. Of all the entries, only Headhunting Canuck's is best positioned. Two strikers in the top 10 of the league for goals, and two of the top 3 teams. Jamie is not far behind, but he'll need Costa Rican international and Twente striker Bryan Ruiz to pick up the pace.

As for the rest of us, we're all sunk. Ottawa Sports Guy picked bottom-feeding Feyenoord. And Sam and I both selected Luis Suarez who after spending the first half of the year mostly failing to score for Ajax is now doing the same at Liverpool.

The standings:

Headhunting Canuck
PSV 54 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 13
Ajax 49 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 13

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 155
Twente 51 Bryan Ruiz (Twente) 8
PSV 54 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 13

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 147
Ajax 49 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 7
PSV 54 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 13

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 143
PSV 54 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 13
Ajax 49 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 7

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 143
Ottawa Sports Guy
PSV 54 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 13
Feyenoord 28 Bas Dost (Heerenveen) 7

TOTALS (PTS + GOALS x 2) 122

So, Mr Canuck, start thinking about your prize. I think I'll narrow it down to any form of appropriately price Eredivisie (team) themed schwag that I can find on eBay when the season ends.

* * * * *

The actual Eredivisie, as it often does, has come down to a three-horse race. PSV, Twente, and Ajax have a little separation at the top of the table. Last Saturday's PSV-Ajax clash in Eindhoven could have proved decisive, but the Eredivisie proved its similarity to the EPL by producing a predictable 0-0 draw in a big match between big teams.

My dog in the fight, AZ, has stabilized somewhat and now sit in 5th place. Their goal for the season will undoubtedly be to defend their Europa League place.