Monday, July 11, 2011

Canadian content: A dismal report

For the Canadian soccer fan, this summer has been one of disappointment. Three major tournaments, involving three different Canadian national teams, have come and gone, each ending with different levels of disappointment.

In case you have forgotten, Canada's men crashed out of the Gold Cup after failing to hold a 1-0 lead against Panama, a team we will have to be able to beat consistently in order to make anything of ourselves in this region.

Canada's qualification for the U17 World Cup should be seen as an achievement of itself, so I won't be harsh on these teenagers. But after getting the needed result against England following a wild goal by the keeper Quillan Roberts, they Canadians played down to their opponent and could only manage a 0-0 draw with Rwanda that resulted in elimination.

And the not-yet completed Women's World Cup featured a 3-game group stage run by Canada that seems the very definition of my otherwise much-hated phrase 'epic fail'.

It would be nice, then, if the Canadian soccer fan could take a break from these failures by enjoying the on-field successes of the bigger Canadian pro teams. Unfortunately the struggles of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have been making that quite difficult.

In MLS, Vancouver are last in the West, while Toronto, with their league-worst goal differential, clings to a small lead over New England in the cellar, though the Revs have 3 games in hand.

In the NASL, the Montreal Impact, who had to have been considered preseason favourites to win the league, sit second last in the table and have managed a paltry 11 goals in 14 games, and have disposed of coach Marc dos Santos. Only FC Edmonton can claim to be having a successful season, sitting a surprising second under manager Harry Sinkgraven.

I don't live in or near any of these cities and like to consider myself somewhat of a neutral, though my sympathies lie more western than east. However, when I do pay attention to Canadian professional soccer it is with an eye to player development and seeing these players develop and flourish as national teamers.

For that reason over the last few years I have tracked the on-field Canadian content of teams at the NASL/USL-1 level or higher. You can check back to see who has fielded the most Canadian squads over the past few years
We have reached or surpassed the midpoint of the 2011 North American pro seasons (it's the MLB All-Star break so we must be at the halfway mark, right) and there is no better time to check in to see how Canadian these teams have been this season.


Whitecaps fans, as with TFC supporters before them, were sold the promise that the entry of a team into MLS would be a vehicle for the further development of Canadian talent. As with Toronto, it may be too soon to expect the residency program to be stocking the first team with young Canadian starlets but I don't think anybody expected Vancouver's Canadian content to be so paltry.

The team has the distinction of having twice this season fielding a lineup without any Canadian players on the pitch whatsoever. Over the course of the season only 3 Canadians have played at all: near-regular Terry Dunfield, a national team utility midfielder; youngster Russell Teibert, who has not seen the playing time some think he deserves; and the already-departed Kevin Harmse.

Here's the breakdown of their Canadian content by minutes played:

Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 1523 18661 8.2%
Canadian Championship 622 4290 14.5%
Totals 2145 22951 9.3%


Toronto FC, despite a much greater number of Canadian players on their senior roster, has fielded only marginally more Canadian lineups throughout the season.

When healthy, Julian de Guzman has been a regular. So was Adrian Cann before he suffered a season-ending injury. The freezing out of Nana Attakora has caused Toronto's Canadian percentages to suffer. 25-year old first year TFC man Gianluca Zavarise has been a fairly regular substitute.

Whether it is a sign of a commitment to developing young Canadian players or a signal of the team's lack of depth, several TFC Academy products have featured, including Oscar Cordon, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson.

Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 3354 20695 16.2%
Canadian Championship 567 3960 14.3%
Totals 3,921 24,655 15.90%


This has been a disaster season for the Impact. Marc dos Santos has 'resigned', the team is languishing at the bottom of a shallow NASL table, they can't score to save their lives, and much of their veteran core has been underperforming.

Of the Canadians, only Ali Gerba and Simon Gatti have been getting consistent minutes. There are few Canadian youngsters around the team. For a squad looking to build toward MLS in 2012 there are holes everywhere, not least in the Canadian department.

Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 3255 13843 23.5%
Canadian Championship 540 2310 23.4%
Totals 3795 16153 23.5%


FC Edmonton have been a surprise success story almost any way you slice it. Apart from the Voyageurs Cup, in which they bowed out somewhat meekly against Toronto, they have been an on-field success. There seems to be a growing fan-base and a budding excitement around the team.

Most exciting to the non-Edmontonian Canadian supporter is the seeming dedication of team management to give a chance to Canadian and local players. Edmonton regularly fields 8 Canadian starters, and others will enter the match as substitutes. Young players such as Kyle Porter, Alex Surprenant and Paul Hamilton seem destined to climb a rung or two on the professional ladder in the near future.

Mathematically, FC Edmonton have probably already assured themselves the title of Most Canadian team in 2011, and it looks good on them. Is it a coincidence the most Canadian squad has also been the most successful?

Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 10648 13841 76.9%
Canadian Championship 1474 1913 77.1%
Totals 12122 15754 76.9%

A club's Canadian percentage is determined by dividing minutes played by Canadians by the total of all minutes played by all players. Detailed match-by-match breakdowns of Canadian appearances are can be viewed here.


Grant said...

Unfortunately I think the fact the most Canadian squad is also the most successful is simply coincidence.

J said...

I think you are mostly correct. But considering the talent gulf between Montreal and Edmonton, or at least the difference in professional pedigree and experience, the success of Edmonton and failure of Montreal is truly baffling.

In MLS, of course, the struggles of Toronto and Vancouver comes down to a lack of talent and in the case of the Whitecaps, Tom Soehn being clueless.

Lord Bob said...

At least at the NASL level, there's a lot (a lot) to be said for simply grabbing talented, local known quantities. You'll win a whole hell of a lot of games that way.

Everybody knew that Kyle Porter was good in this league, so FC Edmonton signed him. Paul Hamilton was maybe the best defender in CIS history so FC Edmonton signed him. Repeat a million times with guys who are expected to come into the lineup and play a role and have done just that.

American NASL teams have always been good at this. The Austin Aztex were one of the best teams in USSF D2 last year and they were built in much the same fashion without much foreign input outside their coaching staff. The Carolina Railhawks were very strong in terms of domestic depth and the Puerto Rico Islanders have done much the same thing with a far more limited talent pool. The Whitecaps used to be good at it until MLS came and they thought "fuck, we better sign guys like Blake Wagner".

Edmonton's gotten lucky in terms of some of their star power: we all knew Porter was good but I don't think we thought he'd be chasing Etienne Barbara down for the title of "best forward in the NASL today". Shaun Saiko could have been either brilliant or a Sidra-esque disappointment and he's gone with "brilliant". There's luck there. But there's also a conscious team-building policy which has built champions south of the border and is paying off here.

Anonymous said...

I'm really pleased to see FCE use a heavily based Canadian lineup and that's the way it should be but I also think that a very small minority of these guys may make it at the next level, wherever that may be (not necessarily MLS). For instance, even though he has improved markedly from the beginning of the year I think that this league is Hamilton's ceiling.