Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 Canadian content: Montreal Impact

The Montreal Impact's final second division season has come (mercifully) to a close, as the team was eliminated from playoff contention in the final week of the NASL season.

While the team is closing the book on their pre-MLS existence, I can close the book on their Canadian content numbers for the 2011 season.

The Impact's Canadian content number, as a percentage of total minutes played by all players, is 21.4%. This is a significant drop-off from last season's figure, when just over a third of minutes were played by Canadians (35.4%).

Several big contributors to the 2010 figure left the scene in the off-season. Adam Braz, a 2010 regular, retired in the off-season to take a front office job. Srdjan Djekanovic, who played over half the season as an injury replacement for keeper Matt Jordan, is now coaching in BC. We saw less of Antonio Ribeiro, Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, and Reda Agourram than we did the year previous.
The only "new for 2011" Canadian was striker Mircea Ilcu.

Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 5870 27703 21.2%
Canadian Championship 540 2310 23.4%
Totals 6410 30013 21.4%

All the details can be viewed in full here.

While FC Edmonton, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps all have games remaining, Montreal is destined to finish second in this table, barring a huge push from Toronto.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Canada squad for St Lucia, Puerto Rico qualifiers

Player Pos. Team League Age Caps Gls
Lars Hirschfeld GK Vålerenga Fotball Norway 32 36 0
Nik Ledgerwood FB SV Wehen Wiesbaden Germany 26 11 0
Ashtone Morgan FB Toronto FC MLS 20 0 0
Kevin McKenna CB FC Köln Germany 31 55 10
Adam Straith CB FC Energie Cottbus Germany 21 6 0
Julian de Guzman M Toronto FC MLS 30 49 4
Iain Hume F Preston North End England 27 30 3
Will Johnson M Real Salt Lake MLS 24 21 1
Tosaint Ricketts F FC Politehnica Timişoara Romania 24 6 2
Simeon Jackson F Norwich City England 24 21 3
Josh Simpson M Manisaspor Turkey 28 38 3
Joseph Di Chiara M FC Krylia Sovetov Russia 19 0 0
Ante Jazic FB Chivas USA MLS 35 25 1
Dwayne De Rosario F DC United MLS 33 62 18
David Edgar CB Burnley FC England 24 3 0
Olivier Occean F SpVgg Greuther Fürth Germany 29 19 2
Terry Dunfield M Toronto FC MLS 28 7 1
Kenny Stamatopoulos GK AIK Stockholm Sweden 32 5 0

Goals 48

Avg age 28.16

Avg caps 21.89

Where do they play?

MLS: 6 players
Germany: 4
England: 3
Turkey, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Norway: 1 each

Youth is served

Stephen Hart's hand was, to a certain extent, forced by injuries to some key players. Atiba Hutchinson is out for the remainder of the fall, it seems. Instead of calling a veteran central midfielder (the recently healthy Patrice Bernier perhaps), he opted instead for sight-unseen Vs favourite Joseph di Chiara, a 19-year old (sometimes) playing in Russia.

A recent injury to Mike Klukowski and the mystery absence of Marcel de Jong opened a spot on the left side of defense. 20-year old Ashtone Morgan's recent strong play for TFC netted him the gig.

21-year old Adam Straith also draws in, and much like Andre Hainault who is absent this time, he can provide cover both at CB and RB.

Missing persons

I am counting on some intrepid reporters to uncover the reasons for the absences of Marcel de Jong (turns out he's injured), Andre Hainault, and Milan Borjan. The latter's omission necessitates bringing in down-the-depth-chart-guy Kenny Stamatopoulos as back-up keeper.

My roster

Nobody else cares, but here's how I'd line up the team against St Lucia

Simpson - Jackson - Hume
De Guzman - Dunfield - Johnson
Morgan - Straith - McKenna - Edgar

Your thoughts?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Competitive advantage vs the almighty dollar

Over at the 11, Steven Sandor has an interesting report up from a CSA press conference in Edmonton regarding host cities of home matches for the men's and women's national teams in the next few years.

Predictably, the women's team will play high profile opponents in the cities that will be hosting matches in the 2015 World Cup (I'm looking at you, Winnipeg).

For most readers, fairly or not, the men's team is our major going concern. And here's where it gets interesting:
And, if the Canadian men’s continues on its track in the first round of World Cup qualifying and makes it to the next round, where those games are played will be left entirely up to coach Stephen Hart.

Victor Montagliani, the CSA’s vice president, said that, like never before, the coach will be given power to determine where the qualifiers are played. Ensuring Canada has the best chance to secure three points is the major criteria. So, if Canada is playing a Central American nation in November, it may want to look at staging the game in as cold a place as possible.

“In the past, we haven’t done it that way,” he said. “But, if we need the three points, we’ll play in the Yukon.”

While I don't expect to see any men's matches in Whitehorse, ever, if true this would seem to suggest that the CSA is willing to sacrifice the extra revenue that would be generated from filling up BMO or Saputo in favour of a smaller stadium in a harsher clime.

This willingness is a good thing.

However, I doubt the rather more circumspect Stephen Hart would be so cavalier to suggest a match in Yukon as a potential ace up his sleeve. And there's reason to believe that, in particular, cold weather sites will not be hugely advantageous for the Canadian men.

Here are some points to consider:
  1. Canada is a cold-weather country. However, Canada's footballers hail primarily from southern Ontario and the west coast, and grew up playing April to October. These are not cold weather months. MLS plays a summer season, and Europe's winters are mild. Atiba Hutchinson catches grief from some of the PSV fans for being the only guy on the team to wear gloves at 10 C. As much as playing in -10 C will make the Hondurans uncomfortable, I doubt any of the Canadian team would be relishing the weather either.
  2. As many eastern Canadians are quick to point out, traveling realities come into play as much as climate and crowd support. While it might make sense to play host to Mexico in Winnipeg after a match against the USA in Chicago (yes, I'm suggesting we could possibly make the Hex) it would be less advantageous to play El Salvador in Edmonton at the beginning of a international window, necessitating an extra connecting flight for most players.
  3. There are trade-offs between maximizing home support and minimizing traveling fans. Toronto continues to build a base of die-hard national team supporters, but would be inundated with Central Americans for any key matchup. Give me 8,000 screaming kids and soccer moms packing a stadium in St John's over that any day. But put a match in say, Prince George, where you'd expect few fans, home or away, and you really stand to gain nothing. I don't put much stock in quality of support, but quantity of both home and away fans is key.
I suspect Hart will be conservative in his choices. He is somewhat limited by stadiums, though I suspect some FieldTurf installations will be considered (I am particularly hopeful about Winnipeg's new stadium in that regard).

Would Canada return to St John's? Would they consider a return to short shorts?

And one can only look ahead so far. Canada is likely to be grouped with Cuba, Panama, and Honduras in the next round. I don't think Hart should be concerned about Cuban away support, unless he plans on hosting the match in Miami. Playing Honduras anywhere within reach of the US eastern seaboard is problematic. I don't know much about the Panama expat community.

If I had to guess (and I do) I'd say it will be Cuba in Toronto, Panama in Montreal, and Honduras in western Canada.

But most of all I'm happy to see that the CSA apparently believes competitive factors should come into play.

Confirmed call-ups for October qualifiers

Like last month, I do enjoy staying on top of the confirmed selections to Canada's national team prior to the roster being released by the CSA. This sort of info leaks out via twitter, club websites, foreign media, or players' relatives on the Voyageurs board.

To date, we have word of two selections. Olivier Occean is one, who backed out of September's matches due to injury after originally having been selected.

The second is the subject of a substantial thread on the Voyageurs forums thanks to a Russian League super-fan who goes by the name of 'uno'. Joseph di Chiara is a 19-year old central midfielder who splits time between the reserves and first team (bench) of RPL side Krylja Sovetov Samara. Canada is in need of CM help with the injury to Atiba Hutchinson, and Hart appears willing to roll the dice with a young kid instead of calling up a less promising, but known, player.

I wouldn't expect JDC to start, but hopefully Hart will find a way to cap-tie him in one of the two matches.

I should also mention that Iain Hume is a very likely selection as he was the star of a recent CSA conference call promoting the matches.

update: Another post in the relevant Voyageurs thread suggests Toronto FC youngster Ashtone Morgan has been called up. No confirmation as yet, but makes sense as Canada's de facto #1 left back, Mike Klukowski, appears to have suffered an injury in his most recent match in Turkey. One hopes that Marcel de Jong will accept the call this time. He missed the September match to be with his wife for the birth of his child.

update #2: Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweets that Dwayne De Rosario will join Canada for the two matches. He will take a break from his assault on the MLS scoring tables to continue his assault on the Canada all-time goal scoring lead.

That Dejan Jakovic, who is a teammate of De Ro at DC United, was not mentioned in the tweet suggests he won't be called.

update #3: This whole exercise will become rather pointless in about 12 hours when the official roster is released (12 pm et Thursday), but we can add a fifth name to our list: Cottbus defender Adam Straith. Adam last played for Canada against Greece in February and can provide cover at centre back and right back. I think the latter is where you are more likely to see him.

My own opinion is that Straith's inclusion means time away for Jaime Peters who recently dropped down a division, going out on loan to Bournemouth.

Pos Name Club Age Caps Goals Source
F Olivier Occean SpVgg Greuther Fürth 29 19 2 none
M Joseph di Chiara Krylja Sovetov Samara 19 0 0 [link]
D Ashtone Morgan Toronto FC 20 0 0 none
F Dwayne De Rosario DC United 33 6218 [link]
D Adam Straith
Energie Cottbus
21 60 [link]

If you have any sourced info about other players called up, leave a note in the comments.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stat of the day: When the goals go in

Canada has played 32 matches under Stephen Hart over the course of his two stints as national team head coach. During that stretch the team has scored 41 goals and allowed 36.

What lessons can we draw from the following data?

Minute For Against
1 – 15 5 4
16 – 30 9 5
31 – 45 9 11
46 – 60 6 4
61 – 75 5 9
75+ 7 3

I'm frankly surprised at how few goals Canada has conceded during the last 15 minutes of a match, while the last 15 of the first half has been a defensive minefield. Canada's scoring has been more evenly distributed, though weighted towards the first half.

By half, it breaks down thusly:
  • 1st half: 23 scored, 20 conceded
  • 2nd half: 18 scored, 16 conceded
The greater concentration of goals, both for and against, in the first half flies in the face of the broader statistical rule of soccer, which shows teams score significantly more often in the 2nd half of matches (a far greater difference than can be explained by playing an extra few minutes of injury time)

Your thoughts? Discuss.

Additional reading:
E. Bittner, A. Nussbaumer and W. Janke, Football fever: Goal distributions and non-Gaussian statistics, arXiv (Jun 1 2006).
" . . . each extra goal encourages a team even more than the previous one: a true sign of football fever."

If you go to you will be able to find out all the latest football scores from games being played all over the globe. Go check it out now!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Puerto Rico-Canada redux

For a second consecutive match, a slow-starting Canada team gradually asserted its dominance and won by 3 clear goals, this time a 3-0 decision against Puerto Rico in a steamy Bayamon.

Canada's starting XI: Mike Klukowski (3, back row third from left) successfully completes the coiffure transition from mullet to greaser

Back (L-R): Hainault, Hirschfeld, Klukowski, Simpson, Johnson, Edgar
Front: Dunfield, Hume, de Guzman, McKenna, De Rosario

This photo of the starting eleven is a good place to start. There were four changes to the group that started against St Lucia. One of those changes, it would seem, was a forced move due to injury: Atiba Hutchinson, Canada's best player on Friday, sat out with a sore knee. Terry Dunfield drew in to replace him. Unsurprisingly the diminutive but enthusiastic ball-winner earned a first half yellow card and a precautionary second half substitution.

The other three changes had the appearances of being performance-related:
  • Whether Hart was disappointed in the play of fullbacks Ante Jazic and Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault against St Lucia, or he was saving Mike Klukowski and David Edgar for the more difficult opponent, or (most likely) both, there was a clear upgrade in defensive wing play.
  • Simeon Jackson was wasteful of his chances against St Lucia, and was rewarded with a spot on the bench. Canada's formation did not match that of the previous game, but Will Johnson was the man who took up the extra spot and played a strong match in midfield.
Only Dunfield, of the 4 new starters, did not play a good (or better) match.

In retrospect, perhaps the biggest difference between last night and Friday vs St Lucia was that the long-distance strike in the first 10 minutes was saved by Hirschfeld (though the replay showed it probably would have gone wide or onto the post) instead of going in. While Puerto Rico created the most chances in the early going, and enjoyed a succession of corner kicks, there were few serious threats apart from the rangy effort from Delgado.

Still, it was a lackluster-looking effort from Canada for the first 30 minutes. There were few forward thrusts into the final third, and those times when they did get forward the usual result was a wayward shot from distance, leading a characteristically sour Gerry Dobson to wail "Oh, the finishing!"

But Puerto Rico was doing far too much running with greatly diminishing returns. For the last 15 minutes of the 1st half Canada dominated possession -- if you believe Iain Hume they held 85% of the ball during that stretch -- and the chances too. And in the 42nd minute when a Mike Klukowski cross was only partially cleared, Hume coolly slotted home for a 1-0 lead.

The second half featured more of the same. Canada continued to control the ball with both Klukowski and David Edgar getting forward to good effect. The latter was somewhat surprising, given that he is more accustomed to lining up in the centre of the defense. Still, the most dangerous chance in the first half of the period was a Puerto Rico header wide after Edgar naively misplayed a bouncing ball and let his man go free and launch a cross.

Stephen Hart made two substitutions in the half. The first, around 65 minutes, when he brought in Simeon Jackson for Dunfield, who was on a yellow. As a result, Dwayne De Rosario dropped a bit further into midfield (he had been playing up top with Hume) and Will Johnson played more centrally, though he was all over the pitch the whole night (in a good way).

Jackson provided a spark, but the biggest play of the half came after De Rosario was fouled just outside the 18. A number of players stood over the ball, but surely all the Voyageurs expected De Ro to hit it. But a few touches were quickly worked to David Edgar, of all people, who struck a good ball that was only parried, and Jackson clinically deposited the rebound. De Rosario, according to some, was not happy.

The goal came just moments after Josh Simpson was replaced by Tosaint Ricketts, and the latter was the beneficiary of some good ball movement and tired Puerto Rico defending, putting Jackson's pass into the back of the next just before the final whistle.

All goals can be viewed here.

Though the commentary from Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest dwelled on the negative, this was a more positive performance than Friday's effort against St Lucia.

Though Puerto Rico is not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, they were organized and tactically disciplined. Like Stephen Hart, I viewed this match as Canada's toughest test, and the team escaped unscathed with a relatively workmanlike three goal win. Add to that the fact that they did it without their best player (Hutchinson) under hot and humid conditions and you have the makings of a classic road win.

The problems were much the same as against St Lucia, though less glaring: turning a big possession advantage into chances, and turning those chances into goals, as well as a few worrying moments when strikers found space in the middle of Canada's defense. Nothing, though, that can't be fixed, or at least so one would hope.

Canada is top of the group with 6 points (St Kitts is second with 4 after defeating St Lucia away 4-2), which is no less than anyone should have expected.

Player ratings (out of 10)

Lars Hirschfeld - 7: He made the one save that he needed to early, and otherwise looked comfortable.

David Edgar - 7: This would have been an 8, if not for a misplay that almost led to a Puerto Rico goal. I was surprised at how comfortable and how useful he was getting forward.

Kevin McKenna - 6.5: Craig Forrest called him the man of the match, but on more than one occasion a Puerto Rico forward had a free header close to goal.

Andre Hainault - 6.5: See above.

Mike Klukowski - 6.5: He is clearly shaking off the rust due to the strike-delayed start to his Turkish season. He was fine defensively and occasionally got forward to good effect, but too often stalled in attack.

Terry Dunfield - 5.5: He is fine against this level of opposition. He knows where to be to stall the opponent's attack, and makes the safe pass. But he is always a danger to be sent off, and lacks the ability to make the decisive pass.

Will Johnson - 7.5: At times it was difficult to know where he was positioned because he was involved in the play all over the pitch, including tracking back to make some critical tackles. He really shone once he pushed more into the middle when Dunfield was taken off.

Julian de Guzman - 7: His most obvious contribution to the match was a series of shots well over the bar, but this was a more confident and competent de Guzman. Hopefully he is slowly on the rebound from two years of bad form.

Dwayne De Rosario - 5.5: The guy goes all game giving up the ball on poor touches, taking the air out of attacks and drifting in and out of the game, and then goes and wins a free kick that ends up in the net. Go figure.

Josh Simpson - 6: The Puerto Ricans clearly had done their homework as their right back Rivera largely (and often illegally) marked Josh out of the game. Had one moment where a bit of fancy footwork sent him in on goal, but he lost the ball with a poor final touch.

Iain Hume - 7: I think the guy is overrated by the fans because he is an effort player (the old Leafs fan syndrome) but he was full of running and besides his goal was involved some other good buildup play.

SUBS - 8: Both Jackson and Ricketts scored a goal, so there's not much to criticize. Here's a stat though (beware of small sample sizes!): with 2 goals from 6 matches, Ricketts' strike rate of 0.33 goals/game is better than any Canadian not named Gerba. And his 1 goal every 43 minutes (2 goals in 85 minutes total) is off the charts. Of course we're dealing with very little play overall, but for the first time I am considering the possibility that he can be a useful player for Canada instead of just a bit of roster filler.

Self-indulgent gambling update: Nobody was more excited about Rickett's late goal than I was. I put money on the over (+/- 2.5 goals) and come out a few Euros richer.

Group D table:

Teamv · d · e
Pld Pts
Canada 2 6
Saint Kitts and Nevis 2 4
Puerto Rico 2 1
Saint Lucia 2 0

Next match: 7 October 2011 at St Lucia

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Canada - Puerto Rico Match thread

CANADA (1-0-0) at PUERTO RICO (0-1-0)

6 September 2011

Estadio Loubriel, Bayamon, Puerto Rico
8 pm et / 7 pm ct / 5 pm pt

LIVE on Rogers Sportsnet One

(check local listings for tape-delayed broadcast on regional Sportsnet channels)

Webstream (Spanish commentary)

CANADA XI: Hirschfeld, Klukowski, McKenna (c), Hainault, De Guzman, Hume, Johnson, Simpson, Edgar, Dunfield, De Rosario

The CSA match tracker gives the positions. We'll see:


Edgar - Hainault - McKenna - Klukowski

Johnson - De Guzman - Dunfield

Hume - De Rosario - Simpson

It's unfortunate if Hutchinson is still suffering from his injury. I wonder about Simeon Jackson's omission as well. Glad to see De Rosario in a more advanced role, where losing possession as often as he does won't be such a problem.

Canadian Press:
Canadian men wary of Puerto Rico

Despite the ranking, Canadian head coach Stephen Hart says the Puerto Rico could pose the biggest threat to his team.

"I think if you look at the team, they have about six or seven players that play at one club," said Hart at the team's hotel prior to Monday's training session. "That means the working relationships are very good."

Like the rest of us, Stephen Hart views this match as potentially the most difficult of the group. The Puerto Rico team, though under a new coach, Jeaustin Campos, will be familiar with each other and present a well-drilled and organized challenge to Canada's attack.

The bookies don't share Hart's caution. Bwin has Canada has heavy favourites, and will pay 10.5 to 1 for a Puerto Rico win (a Canada bet pays 1.20x).

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Canada-St Lucia redux

Canada has won its first match of the World Cup 2014 qualification campaign, getting past St Lucia 4-1 on Friday. If you're reading my blog this is hardly news to you so I feel I can spare you a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings.

Will Johnson (8) scores Canada's 4th goal on a set up by Tosaint Ricketts (9)

In short, the match played out as follows
: Canada gets off to a hot start, and are immediately rewarded with Josh Simpson scoring a deflected goal in the opening 6 minutes. The good vibes are short-lived, however, as St Lucia equalled minutes later. On their first, and one of very few, forays into the Canada half, defender Kevin McKenna screens Lars Hirschfeld's view of a long-range shot, which finds the back of the net.

For the remainder of the half, Canada dominated possession, but failed to threaten the St Lucia goal, defended as it was in true park-the-bus style by all 11 of the islanders.

The second half began similarly, but when Ante Jazic finally provided Canada with a good cross, a St Lucian defender handled and Dwayne De Rosario scored his third penalty for Canada in consecutive matches to give the reds the lead.

From this point Canada was off and running. They were a bit cavalier in wasting a number of quality chances, but did eventually convert again through a great bit of passing that eventually had Atiba Hutchinson springing Josh Simpson, who coolly converted for his second of the match.

Under intense pressure, and a man down, St Lucia conceded again when Tosaint Ricketts headed down a cross to Will Johnson, who volleyed home.

All goals and highlights can be viewed here

The prevailing narrative, if you go by the fan board and twitter, is that Canada did not win the match convincingly enough. (This is the briefer narrative, if you go by mylocal paper.) For some, perhaps under the influence Holland's 11-0 thrashing of European minnow San Marino earlier in the day, the relatively small margin reflected poorly on Canada and cast doubt on the team's future chances against a stronger opponent. These same fans will conveniently have forgotten that Italy, another world power, managed only a 1-0 win over another team of part-timers, the Faroe Islands.

A poster on the Voyageurs boards provides some useful context:
Everyone keeps talking about how Mexico, Honduras et al would have crushed St. Lucia 8 or 9 nil. In the first round of 2010 qualifying Mexico only beat Belize 2-0 in front of 50,000+ supporters in the States, Honduras tied Puerto Rico away and the States only beat Barbados 1-0 away. Were any of them panicking after the first round? No, and we got a much better result Friday than any of these other teams.
(As an example of the divergent schools of opinion on the match, this quote is taken from a thread titled "Canada's performance was total garbage")

I myself have said on a few occasions that the manner of victory barely matters, as long as wins are the result. This is not the season for moral victories. Canada are first in the group with 3 points and a +3 goal differential, after St Kitts drew Puerto Rico in the other match.

But there were some worrying trends. The first half exposed some weaknesses that were also on display at this summer's Gold Cup, namely a great deal of possession without generating much for chances. A great deal of this can be credited to St Lucia's strategy, once they had recorded their goal against the run of play, of getting 11 men behind the ball without thinking of attacking. This sort of bunker defending does not require a great deal of skill or tactical know-how, but rather a collective doggedness and superior fitness. When successful, an opponent will look out of sorts (think Spain, vs Holland in 2010 World Cup final, or any of Greece's opponents in Euro 2004). St Lucia were successful until they appeared to have spent themselves at about 55 minutes, after which point they were overwhelmed by the Canada attack.

A more worrying signal was the number of chances that were wasted. Against St Lucia, and likely against Canada's other 1st round opponents, the team will create enough chances that eventually a few will go in. But looking ahead, they can't expect to succeed with so low a scoring percentage against the likes of Honduras or Panama, let alone Mexico.

Rob Friend, not called for this match, gets some deserved criticism for failing to score at a good rate for Canada, but some of the other forwards on the team have been just as poor. To wit:

Player Caps G Mins G/GM Mins/G
Ali Gerba 31 15 1828 0.48 122
Dwayne De Rosario 61 18 4559 0.30 253
Olivier Occean 19 2 907 0.11 454
Simeon Jackson 20 2 1245 0.10 623
Iain Hume 29 2 1475 0.07 738
Josh Simpson 37 3 2268 0.08 756
Rob Friend 33 2 1640 0.06 820
* Players listed in italics were part of Canada squad for St Lucia match.

Only Gerba and De Rosario have an acceptable strike rate for attacking players. And while some players have played significant minutes at less attacking positions (especially Hume and Simpson) these poor strike rates are inexcusable. They reflect a lack of technical ability in the final third and a pathological lack of finishing.

With no young strikers in the pipeline, hopes will have to ride on three possible scenarios, each less likely than the last:
  1. Simeon Jackson, without the benefit of a regular starting position for his club team, will have to work himself into the sort of form he displayed in League One and the Championship in previous seasons, and carry it over to the national team.
  2. Canada will have to continue to earn one penalty a game, dutifully converted by Dwayne De Rosario.
  3. Ali Gerba will have to stay away from the buffet table long enough to get into reasonable playing shape and return to the centre of Canada's attack. Braaap!
Time to start praying.

Another point of much discussion was the play of Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault at right back. Let me begin by stating that JBB is not a defender, let alone a right-sided player. He is a central midfielder getting regular minutes in the 3.Bundesliga, but hardly first XI material for Canada. He is held responsible, at least in part, for the St Lucia goal against and gave an otherwise forgettable performance, save for a good low ball in that Dwayne De Rosario failed to finish (see!)

Canada's depth at right back is worrisome, as Jaime Peters has not shown he is a capable international defender, Paul Stalteri has retired, if not officially then at least cosmically, Adam Straith seems for the time being not to be in Hart's plans, and the coach seems not to prefer Andre Hainault at his everyday position.

I am waiting to pass further judgment until I see Stephen Hart's selections for Tuesday's match against Puerto Rico. Combined with the start of Ante Jazic at left back, it seems likely that Hart chose to field a more experimental group against the weaker opponent while resting a few of his first-choice players. I'd expect to see Klukowski at left back and Peters, perhaps on his last Canada legs, given the chance on the right.

Of course Canada's best right back is already in the squad. His name is Atiba Hutchinson. But because he is far and away our best midfielder as well, I doubt you'll see him filling that role for Canada, though I would start him there against a much stronger opponent (USA, say, or Mexico).

It is a dangerous game to read the entrails of this match too closely for portents of this team's future. First, engaging in such pagan ritual puts the heavenly salvation of your immortal soul in serious peril. Moreover, as the poster above notes, stronger teams than Canada have failed to impress against teams as weak, or weaker, than St Lucia.

Puerto Rico, theoretically a stronger opponent, should pose a stiffer test, though their 0-0 draw at St Kitts does little to strike fear into the cold heart of the Canadian fan. The game will be played this Tuesday under hot and humid conditions which were not to Canada's advantage at the Gold Cup. Again, all that really matters is getting a win, but it will be interesting to see if Canada plugs its lineup holes and improves upon the weaknesses that were on display on Friday.

At the risk of being self-indulgent, let me report on my betting exploits in this match. So confident was I of a Canada victory that I bet the entire contents of my bwin account on a win. I am now a full €0.27 richer.

As a further example of my self-indulgence allow me to post a picture of my supper. I am rather proud of it.

Good eats.

If the good Lord didn't want every meal to be grilled, why did he create propane?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Soccer: A major sport in Canada?

The Winnipeg Free Press extensively reports Canada's first World Cup match:

Did your local rag do better?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

On fan expectations

There should few Canadian supporters, if they are being honest with themselves, who will have great worries about Canada's ability to progress from this preliminary group stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Any pessimism is more instinctive, a residue from years of failure, than logical.

It should go without saying (but I'll repeat it anyway) that Canada's opponents for this round are not at our level. Despite Canada's disappointing performances on the world stage, St Lucia, St Kitts and Puerto Rico are teams we should comfortably beat.

Canada's players and coaches seem to be saying the right things and avoiding overconfidence. This excellent compendium of interviews conducted by Red Nation Online features head coach Stephen Hart, as well as forwards Iain Hume and Tosaint Ricketts, defender Andre Hainault, midfielder Dwayne De Rosario and keeper Milan Borjan. To a man they point out the need to just get results. Nobody gives voice to the notion that they'd love to put 4 or 5 goals past St Lucia this Friday at BMO, even if they might be thinking so.

And that's just fine. Players and coaches need to balance optimism with motivation and heady expectations undermine a coach's ability to leverage greater effort from the team.

But fans deserve the opportunity to engage in speculation and, dare we say it, cheerful confidence about margins of victories, not just hoping to scrape by against truly terrible soccer teams. Canadian fans have been conditioned to expect the worse, but I am curious how many are able to balance that pessimism against the sheer magnitude of the gulf in talent and experience between Canada and its opponents this round than the FIFA rankings would suggest.

Country FIFA ELO
Canada 102 58
St Kitts 122 159
Puerto Rico 144 188
St Lucia 184 181

The Elo ratings present a more accurate picture of the strength of national teams.

In order to test the confidence of Canadian fans I've been soliciting, via twitter and on this blog, predictions about the total number of goals Canada will score in this round of matches. My sample size is hardly healthy, but surely enough to engage in some unscientific analysis.

My expectation was that predictions would follow a fairly simple bell curve distribution centred around 15 or 16 goals, and falling off to either side with possibly some high-number outliers. This turned out not to be the case.

Rather than using an inelegant workaround to construct a histogram with OpenOffice, I used an even more inelegant low-tech workaround

According to my research, then, the pessimists still dominate. Although nobody predicted Canada would score fewer than 9 goals (an average of 1.5 / game) fully two-fifths of respondents offered a prediction of 12 or less (2 goals / game).

Is this reasonable? Who's to say. I figure myself to be a reasonable guy, and I figured the most reasonable prediction was in the range of 15-17 goals, somewhere between 2.5-3 goals per match. Yet this prediction was the least favoured by Canadian fans, proving perhaps that we are an immoderate bunch.

At least the pessimism of the leftmost column was tempered somewhat by some more enthusiastic speculating at the other end. The maximum prediction was 25 goals, requiring an average of more than 4 goals / game. Canada has scored more than 4 goals in a match only 3 times, once against USA in the 1950s, and friendlies against China and Malaysia in the 80s and 90s respectively. Such a sustained scoring outburst would be unprecedented.

But that's just the thing. The stretch of matches ahead for Canada is a new deal entirely. Never before has our national team faced so many mediocre opponents consecutively. Canada tomorrow will face an opponent, St Lucia, who are 20 to 1 underdogs.

As an aggregate, at least, our conflicting impulses are cancelled out. Depending on which measure of central tendency you favour, Canadian fans together are expecting 15.4 (mean) or 14.5 (median) total goals.

Whatever your orientation, whether hypercautious (9 goals? Really? Against these teams?) or ebullient, make sure it translates to passion for the team. In the stands, if you're so fortunate to live within reasonable distance of BMO Field, or other more local expressions of your Canadian fandom.

Because we'll need it. Not now, really, but when Honduras and Panama come calling.