Thursday, May 15, 2014

Voyageurs Cup week 4

This was the week shit got real.

MONTREAL 4:2 EDMONTON (5:4 on aggregate)

I was sneaking glances at Habs-Bruins, but last night were the largest doses I've seen of both the Impact and the Eddies this year. The result came down to some late-match officiating insanity, but the rest of the match largely confirmed what we thought we already knew.

  1. MLS teams are better than NASL teams. Edmonton and Montreal are among the worst teams in their respective leagues, and the gulf in talent was apparent as the Impact went ahead 3-0 with Justin Mapp bossing the game. Enough said.
  2. The Impact are a mental case. There was clearly an on-off switch, and Montreal switched off hard at about 60 minutes. No interest, heads not at all in the game.
  3. Hanson Boakai is great, not good, and Frank Jonke is a fucking tank.
  4. Canadian officials are mostly not good. You will not see a worse handball call ever, while Edmonton's penalty was at best a 60-40 shout, and Montreal may have had an earlier penalty denied.
  5. Joey Saputo is insane. I love this photo.

VANCOUVER 2:1 TORONTO (3:3 on aggregate, TFC advance 5-3 on penalties)

I should have gone to bed instead of having to endure a classic match being decided by penalties.

Toronto scored a goal that shouldn't have counted (Hagglund foul, goal scorer Doneil Henry offside), then sat back and largely absorbed pressure, despite an Eric Hurtado goal on a sublime lob from Pedro Morales. Then another penalty decision, but this time a stone cold PK awarded against Henry on a reckless challenge, and Pedro Morales ties it.

The game was one-way traffic, perhaps not to be unexpected given the early Toronto goal and a stronger Vancouver lineup. Still, some surprises:

  1. Michael Bradley did not give a shit. He wants to make it healthy to the World Cup. Can't blame him. An extremely generous analysis might suggest the Toronto midfield of Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker were nearly the equal of the imperious Russell Teibert, along with PDL loanee Bryce Alderson and Morales. Once Bekker was subbed out and Mattias Laba came on for Alderson, Vancouver worked Toronto like a speed bag.
  2. Kekuta Manneh had an awful game. Squandered two golden chances with a heavy touch, allowing Joe Bendik to make relatively routine saves, and then a terrible penalty attempt in the shootout. He is also super young.
  3. Marco Carducci. Shot stopper, yes. Goalkeeper, not yet.
It will be interesting to watch a final that clearly neither team particularly will want to win. I will, grudgingly, be rooting for the Impact.

Here are the pool standings.

8Duane Rollins
9Brenton, Sam
10shermanator, kodiaktfc, Seth Greenan, Duncan Fletcher, coxon, Madmonte, tmcmurph, Matt Pretty
11@B_Like_Fonz, Tuscan, Rituro, Dave Hall, fil, N3WT, Rex
12YQQ Caps Fan, Striped Sauber, Latetedefred, Pompey Canuck, B-ri, woodbridgefc
13Cas87, Ben D.O.W., Pej
14Ben Massey, Trillium
15Diego R, Cam Millar
16RedcoatsForever, Fouge, Roke

You can view all scores and selections here

Perhaps not surprisingly, nobody predicted a 4-2 Montreal win. Many had Vancouver winning 2-1. All entrants will receive an email in the next day or two asking for your final round picks.

And finally, here's something I like:

MLS Regular Season976882311.1%
Canadian Championship455198023.0%
MLS Regular Season1564693022.6%
Canadian Championship810231035.1%
MLS Regular Season54198875.5%
Canadian Championship731231031.6%
MLS Regular Season1891493838.3%
Canadian Championship1676396042.3%
MLS Regular Season1813495036.6%
Canadian Championship844198042.6%

Every team has played a more Canadian lineup in the Voyageurs Cup matches than in their regular season fixtures. Despite the fact these are often younger or marginal players, this is still a Very Good Thing.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Canada 1 - USA 1: Notes

Last night's duel between Canada and the United States at the nearly-new Investors Group Field in Winnipeg was one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The match was at times sloppy, the turf bounces led to scuffed clearances and sloppy play, and the crowd took some time to warm up to the game.

Yet there was so much on offer that, on walking out of the stadium, it was hard not to feel encouraged. Veterans like Sinclair, Schmidt, and particularly Matheson showed their quality on a field that was particularly tough on midfielders. Tancredi showed enough after a long layoff to suggest she still might have something to offer when the Women's World Cup comes around next summer. And Erin McLeod was solid without having to be spectacular.


But it was the youth on display that was truly most impressive. I have to admit to not having followed this team closely since the Olympics. I was aware of Sura Yekka and Kadeisha Buchanan (though I had to look up how to spell both first names) as young players, but not how young (16 and 18), nor how good. And Rebecca Quinn was a complete unknown to me, but after finding out after the game she is another 18-year old it is easier to excuse her unfortunate failed clearing header that gave Leroux the opportunity to profit from a ball-watching Rhiann Wilkinson to score her goal, especially as this was one of only a few misplays from Canada's #3 on the night.

All 3 were impressive. Yekka and Quinn were impressive for not looking at all out of place as teenagers playing against the world's best team. Kadeisha Buchanan was on a whole other level. Not just "stalwart defending against some tough forwards" but "the clear best player on the pitch even though two of those players on the pitch are among the 5 or 10 best players ever". I tweeted the following at halftime, and thought I might be forgiven for getting a bit carried away seeing as I was at the game:
My viewing of the game, though, was confirmed by other enthusiastic reactions in my section among friends whose knowledge of soccer ranged from the non-existent to the quite informed. Then this, from some people better placed to make objective judgments, and not normally given to hyperbole.
And my favourite:
The easiest moments to appreciate were those where she showed off her absolute fearlessness, a strong but wiry teenager going into crunching challenges against a much bigger opponent. Wambach was reduced to (or perhaps played to type by) complaining regularly to the (mostly decent) referee until she was mercifully subbed off. Her goal was pure athleticism, climbing above everyone and through Ali Krieger to get onto the Matheson corner, and her unbridled joy after scoring was clear even from the upper decks. A telling moment was when the referee gave her the universal "cut it out" signal on a scything tackle on Wambach in the first half, despite not even calling a foul. There is no loftier stamp of approval than that which I tweet-bestowed upon her after the game:
But it was the many more subtle moments that promised the most for the future. Her composure on the ball, refusing to hoof it aimlessly forward, often waiting for Schmidt, Scott, or Matheson to show for the ball out of midfield. Or her Bobby Orr foray late to create a scoring chance, and her mad sprint to get back in position after.

She (and Quinn and Yekka) will surely be players in this summer's U20s, and that will be awesome.


Winnipeg can be a city that is easy to hate, and in fact that seems to be a chief pastime of a good portion of its residents. But the city, and the fans that turned out, showed off their good side last night.

Start with the crowd. Early ticket sales were brisk, and despite cool weather and a forecast of rain that (thankfully) never materialized, the announced figure of just over 28,000 seemed about right. The crowd was late-arriving (a 7 pm weekday start at a stadium that can be tricky to get to is problematic) but the lower bowl was full everywhere except the ends and the second level packed save for the corners.

And the stadium. Ask anybody from Winnipeg about the Bombers' new park and you'll hear all the stories about flooding and cost overruns and half-completed jobs, and there was one corner (not visible from TV) where about 20 sheets of siding were missing, but didn't it look just right kitted out for soccer? The ball bounced and skidded to the point that it probably affected the both teams' game plans, but the more physical game on display was probably better-suited to this particular set of fans.

View from my seats, prior to kickoff
The atmosphere, too, was very Winnipeg. This was not a soccer crowd of the type TFC or Whitecaps or Impact fans might be used to. The makeup had more in common with a Canada Day celebration or Paul McCartney concert, with the addition of the requisite youth soccer teams, than the normal booze-fueled gatherings at other pro games in other sports. And they didn't seem quite sure what to do at first, not showing much enthusiasm until, almost disturbingly to me at the time, a couple rounds of the wave (the Mexican wave!) set them off.

But from then on, and especially after the goal, they were into it. Not being a sophisticated crowd, they went full Winnipeg. These were the things they loved:

  • Buchanan's goal
  • Buchanan destroying Wambach
  • Desiree Scott
  • Slide tackles
  • Desiree Scott slide tackles
  • A sequence of back-to-back Desiree Scott slide tackles
  • Every call that went against the USA
  • Winning throw-ins
  • Excellent saves by McLeod
  • Routine goalkeeping from McLeod (Winnipeg sports fans are not accustomed to competent goalkeeping)
Here's what they hated:
  • Americans (Wambach) going down on the pitch legitimately (occasionally) or cynically (most of the time)
  • Every call that went against Canada
  • Sydney Leroux's goal
  • The assistant referee's attempt to put on a remake of the Olympic semifinal with another insane decision against McLeod
The Voyageurs section, of which I sadly was not a part, deserves credit for getting its corner of the stadium going, keeping the chants basic, and seemingly tripling in size between the first and second half.

The Vs section, during halftime (next to the CFL shot clock). I can only assume everyone was away buying beer.
This was a home crowd in every sense, fully biased, not willing to let the facts (the ref making a perfectly reasonable call on one of Canada's several hard fouls against the Americans, for example) stand in the way of their blind passion. And despite not being in full voice for the full match, it was awesome.

This was a fun night. Sure, Sinclair sometimes seemed to have lost a step, there were wayward passes, Leroux scored and once again acted like somebody who hasn't been there before, the pitch was bad. But the game was full of drama, the crowd was free of U-S-A chants (Winnipeg's geographic isolation works in our favour in this instance) and there were signs that Canada does have a Next Generation that is nearly ready.

After watching Hanson Boakai and the Eddies on Wednesday and the women last night, it is hard not to come away encouraged about Canadian soccer. We all know this is a dangerous thing.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Voyageurs cup pool standings week 3

This is the round where the large majority of Canadian soccer fans are likely to start paying attention, if they were going to pay any attention at all, that is.

Two very different matches produced the same outcome: a 2-1 win for the home team. Toronto fielded a near full-strength lineup (Joe Bendik in for Julio Cesar was the only switch not forced by injury, and DPs Gilberto, Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe all started) while Vancouver dressed a squad including youngsters Bryce Alderson, Manitobans Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese, and Marco Carducci in goal. Toronto went up 2-0 on a Bradley end-to-end rush, a result that, had it held, probably would have been enough to suck most of the drama out of the return leg in Vancouver. Instead, Kekuta Manneh's late strike gave Vancouver the vital away goal and leaves the final outcome very much in question.

In Edmonton, a Montreal squad missing a few regulars took on the Eddies, who haven't produced a home win in NASL play. This game I actually watched. Or at least the second half. Until he was subbed off, Hanson Boakai was a force of nature, and his mazy run to set it up on a platter for Tomi Ameobi was nearly equaled by a Boakai cross that the same Ameobi failed to convert. Montreal's Canadians acquitted themselves nicely right up until Karl Ouimette's misplayed header allowed another Canadian, Michael Nonni, to grab the winner.

With all the youth on display in both matches, it was an encouraging night for Canadian soccer.

In the pool, a 2-1 Toronto win was a popular selection, with a quarter of entrants getting it exactly right. One of the few brave enough to pick an Edmonton win, Roke, nailed the scoreline in the other match.

Fussball_eh joins Sam at the top of the proceedings. After next Wednesday's games determine the finalists, an email will be sent out to solicit your final round picks. Only final round entrants will be eligible to win the bonus prize (for having 10+ new entries on the final day): a 2" Radzinski doll.

4Fussball_eh, Sam
5Brenton, shermanator, kodiaktfc, Seth Greenan, Duncan Fletcher, Duane Rollins
6Pompey Canuck, Roke, fil, coxon, Madmonte, tmcmurph
7Dave Hall, Latetedefred, Cas87, Ben D.O.W., B-ri, Rex
8@B_Like_Fonz, YQQ Caps Fan, Tuscan, Striped Sauber, Rituro, Ben Massey, Pej, woodbridgefc, N3WT, Matt Pretty
9Diego R, Cam Millar
11RedcoatsForever, Trillium

You can view all scores and selections here.

And, for what it's worth, the Golden Boot table after this week's games:

Daryl FordyceEdmonton2
Hanson BoakaiEdmonton1
Michael BradleyToronto1
Jermain DefoeToronto1
Jack McInerneyMontreal1
Kekuta MannehVancouver1
Tomi AmeobiEdmonton1
Vini DantasOttawa1

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Voyageurs cup pool standings week 2

FC Edmonton beat the Ottawa Fury 3-1 after a drawn first leg to advance to the semis in the Canadian Championship. The live stream, unwatchable for most of the first leg, broadcast a crystal clear episode of Modern Family during the 1st half. Hanson Boakai is now the next great thing in Canadian soccer.

The overwhelming majority of pool entrants (77%) predicted an Edmonton win, but none had the correct 3-1 scoreline. (The plurality opinion for week 1 was a draw too. Possible money to be made for gamblers by consulting the spreadsheet linked below?) Several, including our leader, Sam, were off by one at either 3-0 or 2-1.

2Fussball_eh, coxon
3@B_Like_Fonz, Brenton, shermanator, Dave Hall, Seth Greenan, Duncan Fletcher, fil, Duane Rollins, Madmonte, tmcmurph, Rex
4YQQ Caps Fan, Tuscan, kodiaktfc, Cas87, Pompey Canuck, Roke, Matt Pretty
5Diego R, Cam Millar, Striped Sauber, Rituro, Latetedefred, Ben Massey, Ben D.O.W., Pej, B-ri, woodbridgefc, N3WT
7RedcoatsForever, Fouge

You can view all scores and selections here.

Expect a more detailed report for next week's matches, provided they are not preempted in favour of Two Broke Girls.

Meanwhile, check out the updated Canadian content numbers.