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Dear MLS, please kill the No. 4 vs No. 5 playoff game dead

MLSlogoplayoffsFor a guy who writes about soccer as much as I do, loves the game as much as I do, I surprise myself about how many times I wonder if there are too many matches being played.

The world would be a better place without the League Cup (we get to see who the big clubs put on the bench today!), meaningless friendlies, North American summer tours by European clubs… They are like the cheapest of Scotch; too much exposure to these things, and you might get so turned off that you forsake the good stuff, too.

And, if Major League Soccer cared about the integrity of its playoff system, it would do the world a favour and jettison the No. 4 vs. No. 5 conference playoff games.

Wednesday’s match, which saw FC Dallas end the Whitecaps season with a 2-1 win, was another example of why the No. 4 vs. No. 5 playoff game is a massive issue. The announced attendance was 10,279. Almost Chivas bad. But, as anyone in Sports Marketing 101 would tell you, what do you expect when a team is expected to sell playoff tickets for a game that happens on a midweek evening, just three days after the regular season ends?
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Turfgate: FIFA’s Valcke affirms that a men’s World Cup could be staged on turf

fifa-logoIn an interview/press release posted on FIFA.com, FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke said that a men’s World Cup played on artificial turf could be organized sooner rather than later.

More of Valcke’s statement:

“By the way, for many years now, any organizer of a FIFA event — irrespective of whether it be a men’s or women’s competition, including the men’s World Cup – has had the right to propose for the tournament to be played on artificial turf, provided that it is of the highest quality and the same playing surface is used for all venues and training sites. It could well be that sooner rather than later the men’s World Cup will also be played on artificial pitches. The Canadian Soccer Association proposed for the tournament to be played on artificial turf based on the fact that most sporting infrastructure in Canada is on artificial turf, primarily due to the extreme climate in the host country. It would be very difficult to ensure solid natural-grass pitches at all venues. As has already been explained, this is not a question of money, or of differences between men’s and women’s events, but it is a matter of the natural conditions in Canada: We want to guarantee consistent top-level playing conditions for all 24 teams during the event, both in the official stadiums and at the training sites. This has been the sole reason behind the decision to play on artificial turf from day one.”

This statement is an important one. While no doubt many will scoff at the notion of a men’s World Cup being played on turf — and will say that Valcke is simply playing politics — this statement from a top FIFA official carries weight. Why? The legal team representing the women’s players who are taking the CSA to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario claim that their clients are being asked to play their World Cup on turf, when it’s something FIFA would never ask of the men. But FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association can now say, “if it’s good enough for women, it’s good enough for men.”
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Canada’s blunders gift win to Japan at BC Place

Emily Zurrer

Emily Zurrer

“Yeah, if you don’t beat these tier-one teams going into the tournament, you go into it with the ‘what if?’ factor. And we don’t want that. We want to go in there confident, that we can beat these teams, that we can compete with the best teams in the world. We need to do that in the build-up over the next eight months. So, Japan is a big test for us, and we’re not going out there to tie. We are going out there to win the game(s).”

The quote comes from a one-on-one interview I did with Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott late last week, before Canada played its two-games series of friendlies with Japan in Edmonton and Vancouver. (The full interview will appear in the winter issue of Plastic Pitch.)

After a 3-0 loss to the World Cup champs in Edmonton on Saturday, the Canadians really needed some kind of result Tuesday in Vancouver. Canada has played the so-called “tier-one” teams through the year, and it hadn’t yet claimed a win against the likes of Germany, the Americans or Japan. More losses and that “what if?” factor Scott spoke about just grows and grows — and you’d begin to wonder if coach John Herdman’s plan to play the world’s top dogs in the lead-up to the Women’s World Cup was going to do more psychological damage than good.

On Saturday in Edmonton, the Canadians could only claim the sort-of moral victory of playing Japan pretty even for 40 minutes in a 3-0 loss.

On Tuesday at BC Place, the Japanese ran out a decidedly B squad, making nine changes to the starting lineup. Canada did very well to be tied 1-1, but, at about the 65-minute mark, the Japanese began bringing on the big guns, including midfield superstar Aya Miyama.

And the Japanese ended up with a 3-2 win, thanks to two terrible defensive mistakes by the Canadian centre backs. Right after Sophie Schmidt had brought Canada level at 2-2 in time added on, Emily Zurrer allowed her pocket to be picked by Japanese fullback Aya Saweshima, who then went in on keeper Stephanie Labbe and picked the corner for the winning goal.
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The three games that ruined FCE’s chances for a post-season spot

Oct. 4: TB vs FCE, one of the games that killed the Eddies this season

Oct. 4: TB vs FCE, one of the games that killed the Eddies this season

When the team you support is eliminated from the post-season picture, it’s normal to look back on the season and obsess about that game where your side was robbed by the ref or that match where your team hit three posts and a crossbar.

After FC Edmonton was eliminated from NASL post-season contention last weekend in Fort Lauderdale, it would be hard to blame an Eddies supporter for not obsessing over the games where points were dropped.

In the end, that supporter should come to the logical conclusion that the Eddies could have easily gone into that game with Fort Lauderdale with an NASL post-season slot already salted away. I’ll look at three games that should have been wins for the Eddies — instead, they only got two points from those matches.
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FC Edmonton’s post-season hopes die in Fort Lauderdale

FC Edmonton's Tomi Ameobi, left, challenges Fort Lauderdale's Darnell King.

FC Edmonton’s Tomi Ameobi, left, challenges Fort Lauderdale’s Darnell King.

Soccer can be such a cruel game. A hero can be transformed into a scapegoat with just one kick of the ball.

For 83 minutes, Eddies keeper John Smits was the best player on the field in Fort Lauderdale; in a game that the Eddies had to win, Smits made a series of wonderful saves to keep the score at 0-0.

But, in minute 84, the dream game turned into a nightmare. With one very poor touch, the Eddies’ keeper set up the goal that put an end to FCE’s push for a post-season spot. The Strikers got a 1-0 win, which puts the Eddies four points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the overall standings — with just one game left.

Strikers’ forward Fafa Picault got a head to an attempted chipped pass from FCE winger Lance Laing; Smits had to come out of his area to collect it. He hit the ball first-time, and the panicked clearance went right to Pecka. The Strikers’ midfielder chipped the ball over Smits and into the vacated Eddies’ goal.
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It’s oh so quiet: Japan trounces Canada in front of disappointing crowd

A photo of the, ahem, announced crowd of 9,654.

A photo of the, ahem, announced crowd of 9,654.

I hate writing soccer-attendance stories. They remind me of the times I used to have to lobby and lobby editors to give a soccer story a little more space, or any space at all.

So, just the writing this column is making me owly and growly.

On Saturday, the Women’s World Cup champions from Japan came to Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium to play the Canadian women’s national team. The friendly was announced months ago — and, outside of the rivalry with the Americans, is probably about as “tier one” a matchup as the Canadian Soccer Association could arrange.

The Japanese and Canadian players came out to see a heck of a lot of yellow and green empty seats. In a city that is hosting more Women’s World Cup games in 2015 than any other, a visit from the reigning champions of the world was greeted with indifference. A stadium that holds a little less than 60,000 welcomed an announced crowd of 9,654 who watched the Japanese march to a convincing 3-0 win. But, to the naked eye, it looked like the actual number of bums in seats was much lower than the announced attendance. Half of the stadium was closed to fans. Only 10 sections had fans in them, and they were maybe two-thirds full. Each of those sections has 45 rows, with 16 seats per row. That’s 10 X 45 X 16 = 7,200. And those sections were two-thirds full — so maybe, at best, 5,000 fans in the stadium.

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who hails from the area, saw the glass as being half full.

“I heard (before the game) that we had 8,000 sold,” she said. “So at first I was like, ‘huh,’ but, you know, looking at the stadium today, it looked pretty full on the west side. Of course, we always want more but a part of it is us putting on a good game. There were lots of exciting parts to this match. So, hopefully, they were happy and they will come back for the World Cup.”
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