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Before you tweet about a Canadian player, read this first

10349900_1008071179208840_1372189140274955851_nSome days, writing about Canadian soccer is depressing. Some days, I swear to myself “this is the last article about Canadian soccer I’ll ever write.”

Of course, that would make some of my harshest critics very happy indeed.

I’ve been very public about Issue 5 of Plastic Pitch. A group of great writers are working on stories about our relationship with the American soccer system. Is having Canadian pro teams mixed into the American system good for the our country’s development in the game? Has it actually hurt us?

Through the last few weeks, I’ve been working to get Canadian players to tell their stories. Many Canadian soccer writers hear the tales about aborted contracts, bizarre under-the-table deals, broken promises, fly-by-night agents and the like. But players, understandably, are worried about coming forward. They don’t want to be seen as bad eggs, dressing-room malcontents or selfish players.

But, finally, slowly, some players are coming forward. Until the stories have faces, the system won’t change. But in the process of putting stories to paper, you can’t help but get snowed under by it all. You wonder if supporting Canadian soccer is like plunging into an endless pit of hopelessness. You understand how the cards are stacked against our players. Those stories will be (at least partially) told in the next issue. It will be by far the most important thing we’ve done.

There is something I want to address, though. Something I’ve thought hard about in the process of doing these interviews. We’re in that part of the NASL and MLS silly season (and right near the closing of the transfer window). So, the message boards and Twitter are filled with jokes about the number of Canadian players on Unattached FC. Many fans wonder “why doesn’t player A try to join NASL Team X or MLS Team Y? Why doesn’t he take a chance to play halfway across the world?”
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Fort Mac games means Eddies will spend much of the summer outside of Edmonton

The Eddies will play two "home" games at Fort Mac's Macdonald Island facility this season.

The Eddies will play two “home” games at Fort Mac’s Macdonald Island facility this season.

On Wednesday, FC Edmonton confirmed that the dates on which it will play its two Fort McMurray “home” games.

As had been expected, the Eddies’ fall season opener — kicking off just hours before the Women’s World Cup final in Vancouver — will go July 5 in Fort Mac. The NASL champion San Antonio Scorpions will provide the opposition. The Eddies will return to the heart of the oil sands on Aug. 2 for a match against the Ottawa Fury.

The team had announced last season that two games would be coming to Fort McMurray. But, with the announced dates comes a real test for the Edmonton market.

Because of the Women’s World Cup, FC Edmonton has to clear out of Clarke Stadium — which is an official practice facility for the teams — by the end of May. The team’s final home game of the spring season goes on May 24.

The next time Edmonton is at “home” is the July 5 Fort Mac game. It then goes out on a three-game road trip. FC Edmonton is finally back at Clarke July 26, but then is back in Fort McMurray the next weekend (Aug. 2).
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Is Sunday the worst sports day of the week? A fascinating Edmonton study

FC Edmonton plays almost all of its home games on Sunday afternoons.

FC Edmonton plays almost all of its home games on Sunday afternoons.

Major League Soccer plays some of its games on Sunday afternoons and evenings. FC Edmonton of the NASL plays all of its home games on Sunday afternoons.

But is Sunday a day that we, as in Canadians, actually want to watch sports? Or is it a day that we’d like to get away from the sporting universe? Even the most ardent fan reaches a critical mass, where he or she says “enough” and needs to do something else than follow scores and trades and watch game after game. You need to spend time with the kids, go to the lake, just get outside, talk to real people.

In the course of my editing duties at Avenue Edmonton, members of the Edmonton Eskimos brass — our city’s Canadian Football League team — sat down with me to go over an intense survey that they and Banister Research Consulting Inc. conducted. One of the key questions was: On what day do you prefer to watch Eskimos games? (You can find that full article HERE, BTW). The results were fascinating.

43 per cent said their first choice was Friday nights.
41 per cent said their first choice was Saturdays.
And — get this — only seven per cent said they’d most prefer to watch football on Sundays.
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The great PLASTIC PITCH renewal drive

10349900_1008071179208840_1372189140274955851_nIt was exactly a year ago when we were in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to make Plastic Pitch a reality. And, thanks to you, the Canadian soccer fan, we were able to raise the $10,000 needed to produce four issues of the magazine. The money went to pay writers, illustrators and photographers — and also paid the fees to make sure the tablet magazine was available on Google Play, Amazon and, of course, iTunes and the Apple newsstand.

Even with the support of our readers and the assistance of Umbro Canada — who was a major backer of the Kickstarter campaign — the magazine is not profitable today. That’s to be expected; no publication hits break-even point in year one. But it doesn’t mean I can keep throwing money at it, either. Like any business, if it doesn’t show growth, you have to make calculated decisions, no matter how passionate you are about the project. Capitalism kinda sucks that way.

Plastic Pitch requires a significant investment outside of the Kickstarter fund, and it is fuelled by the passion I have to see Canadian soccer grow, to see our teams and players be more successful. Our writers, artists and photographers share that passion, and I believe we’ve created a unique and worthwhile product that highlights the issues and personalities in Canadian soccer, without being a cheerleader.

Issue 4 came out just before Christmas, and we are hard at work on Issue 5. That next issue will feature a series of stories and essays that look at the relationship between the United States and Canada. It will ask if MLS, NASL and the NWSL are helping or hurting the development of Canadian soccer. And we will ask if we should find better ways to improve the pyramid we share with the United States, or if we eventually have to cut our losses and try to go our own way. I want to hear what readers, players and coaches think about our relationship with U.S. Soccer — this issue is a big effort and it promises to be the biggest edition we’ve done to date.

But, as we’re a year from our initial Kickstarter campaign, I wanted to remind all of our subscribers that it’s time for renewal for many of you. I won’t go back to doing another crowdfunding campaign; my feeling is that you go to the well once and you don’t do it again. But our budget will be OK for the year if all of our annual subscribers from 2014 come back and re-up for 2015.
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Weak Canadian dollar is bad news for Canadian soccer franchises

loonFor some businesses — a weak Canadian dollar is a good thing.

Professional sports is definitely not one of them. The Canadian dollar flirted with the US 80-cent mark on Thursday. And, the currency plunge will soon be hurting the bottom lines of Canadian MLS and NASL teams.

MLS and NASL teams aren’t forthcoming about the terms of their contracts. But the MLS Players Union sheds some light on how the salaries are paid out. According to MLSPU Executive Director Bob Foose: “All contracts are calculated in U.S. Dollars, players can then choose to have them paid in either, or a combination.”

So, according to the union, it’s the player’s (or agent’s) call when it comes to determining if the cheques are paid in American or Canadian dollars. And, it’s hard to imagine a player not choosing to get paid in the more stable currency — the Yankee dollar. In the NHL, where there are seven teams out of 30 are Canadian, contracts are paid out in U.S. figures — including Canadian players on Canadian teams.

Toronto FC has confirmed that all MLS salaries are in US dollars.

The salaries we see published by the MLS Players Union are all in American dollars. So, if Toronto FC has Designated Player Michael Bradley on for an MLSPU-reported salary of $6.5 million, that’s American dollars. So, as of Thursday’s exchange rate, Bradley’s salary is now at nearly CDN$8.05 million, and going up (in Canadian currency) as the loonie plummets.

Try this as a comparison: At the start of the 2014 MLS season, the Canadian dollar was at 90.2 cents US. So, a year ago, Bradley’s contract was worth about $7.2 million in Canadian bucks. This year, it’s over $8 million. And that’s all because of the plunging dollar.
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Back in the fold: Zebie signs deal with FC Edmonton

"Friendly Match"Allan Zebie didn’t take the most direct route to an FC Edmonton contract. But he got there.

On Thursday, the Eddies announced that the France-born, Canada-raised fullback — who played with Canada’s U-20 side in 2013 — has been signed. Zebie, now 21, joined the FCE Academy in 2012 but left to explore options in Europe. He had trials with Rangers, a club that once employed FCE coach Colin Miller (and is still close to his heart) and Leeds United. In 2014, Zebie returned to Edmonton and spent much of the season training with the Eddies.

Zebie said he only spent a week at Leeds, but had a positive first three days with Rangers. And then Murphy’s Law came into play.

“I was supposed to be there for a week, I was there, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then they asked me if I could stay another week. But then I got injured.”

Zebie hoped to get back to Rangers once he got healthy, but a deal never worked out.
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