Thursday, March 10, 2016

Canadian content numbers: An explainer

If you're like the majority of readers to this site, you've arrived because a Twitter somebody with a wider following than me retweeted one of my periodic tweets updating my tracking numbers of Canadian content on Canadian teams. I throw a link to the blog in those tweets for purely self-serving reasons, but if you look to the sidebar, you'll see the same numbers summary as well as a link to a Google spreadsheet with game-by-game data. (Those viewing on mobile might not see anything useful at all...)

What are these numbers?

The number for each team represents the percentage of total minutes in all competitive matches played by Canadian players. A normal 90 minute match multiplied by 11 players on the field produces 990 minutes, so apart from a small rounding error you can just slide the decimal point one spot to the left for a game's worth of minutes.

For example, a game in which two Canadians start and play the full 90 gives 180 minutes which results in approximately 18% worth of Canadian content.

What is a competitive match?

You're a soccer fan. You know the answer. Friendlies? No. League? Yes. Voyageurs Cup? Yes. League playoffs (or "post-season")? Yes. CONCACAF Champions League? Yes. Club World Championship? Of course.

How does one qualify as a Canadian player?

This is where it sometimes gets a bit thorny. The general criteria is that one ought to be eligible to play for the Canadian national team. So Montreal's Wandrille Lefevre, though a Canadian resident from his adolescence, did not join the ranks until he earned his Canadian citizenship last spring, and his first national team cap soon after. Owen Hargreaves could come out of retirement tomorrow for Toronto FC and despite having spent his entire youth in this country, not make the list.

Why do I care?

I live in Winnipeg, a wonderful** place, but one that is 1300 km from the nearest Canadian professional city. So I have no strong rooting interest in any of these teams. Apart from the fact that soccer is now on TV more often, the main thing that excites me about the emerging Canadian professional scene is the opportunity for more Canadians to make a go of it in soccer, and to develop to the point where they are strengthening a team I unambiguously care about, which is the men's national team.

Why should you care?

If you're a big city fan of the Toronto Raptors, or a Saturday warrior supporting a Manchester-something or cardinal point-London team, you're likely already comfortable supporting a team whose players have no meaningful connection to you. That's sport.

But if you've read this far, you almost certainly care about soccer in Canada in general, and likely also have some interest in seeing Canada do better internationally. The number of Canadians in pro environments matters, and the easiest way to get these numbers up is to have more of them doing this at home.

So how are those numbers looking?

The short story is not great. There has been a general decline in the numbers summarized in 2015's year-end report, and even more succinctly in this graph:

There is some hand-waving explaining-away that could be done involving teams switching leagues, or league quality improving, but the narrative would seem to be that Canadian players are falling behind.

Am I optimistic for 2016?

The usual argument (not from me) is that team academies take 5 to 10 years to truly become a pipeline of young talent to a first team. There is some evidence for that including the since (to West Ham) departed Doneil Henry of TFC, or the likes of Sam Adekugbe, Kianz Froese, and Marco Bustos (the latter two Winnipeg products) with Vancouver. 

But for the MLS teams I'd expect the numbers to perk up, but only a little, from last year (Toronto 12%, Vancouver 9%, Montreal 8%), though Montreal in particular does not seem to have a single Canadian player that is likely to be a regular.

Do I write about anything else on this blog?

Not often, though check back in a few weeks as somewhat serendipitously (ominously?) Canada's next two World Cup qualifying matches, a home-and-away series with Mexico, fall during a week's work vacation. Do not expect much in the way of rational thought.

** Regarding Winnipeg, 'wonderful' is admittedly laying it on a bit thick.

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