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Canada vs. Japan: Hard to dislike the World Cup champs

Erin McLeod PHOTO BOB FRID/CANADA SOCCER

Erin McLeod PHOTO BOB FRID/CANADA SOCCER

Sure, when it comes to rivalries in women’s soccer, the Americans are at the top of the Canadian totem pole. They are the ones we, as Canadians, love to hate.

So, as the Canadians women’s national team gets set to face the World Cup champions from Japan twice in the coming week, you can’t expect there to be a war of words. Really, the series of friendlies sorta feels like we’re inviting a well-respected friend and the kids over for a playdate.

Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Fieldhouse to help conduct a clinic for local minor soccer players and, after, she spoke of the challenge of playing the Japanese.

“They are so tactically disciplined, I think it will be a wonderful match for us,” said McLeod. “They are wonderful opponent, they are so well organized, we can’t afford any slip-ups for the entire 90.

“I think Japan reminds me of Germany. Germany is always so very organized and so is Japan. You saw in the World Cup, it was incredible what they did. It was after the tsunami and they really brought a nation together, so the spirit and the heart that team has, we won’t overlook it.”
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Wild night at the U-20 WWC: Canada survives, Germany and China in 10-goal thriller

Player of the match (CHINA) Beiyan Zhu, right

Player of the match (CHINA) Beiyan Zhu, right

It really is something to try and pay attention to two matches at the same time — one in front of you at the stadium, and the other on the screen.

They are both so enthralling, so wonderfully bizarre, that you feel absolutely torn in two.

That was the situation for me on Friday night. And it was a refreshing reminder of why I love this game so damn much. As I watched Germany and China contest one of the most incredible matches in the history of the U-20 Women’s World Cup at Commonwealth Stadium, I had the Canada-Finland feed up on my laptop, seeing if our national side could recover from its opening game loss.

As I got back upstairs from the coaches’ press conference in Edmonton after a stunning 5-5 draw, I was able to get to my laptop just in time to see Nichelle Prince tuck in a goalmouth rebound to give Canada a 3-2 lead over Finland. After some wonderful work down the right wing from sub Janine Beckie, who had scored earlier in the half to begin the Canuck rally from two goals down, the ball fell so wonderfully to Prince.

After an awful beginning to the game, which saw Finnish striker Juliette Kemppi punish a mistakes from Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan and then pounce on a giveaway from Canadian defender Sura Yekka, the home side was able to rally. And the Canadians held on to that 3-2 score.

The Germans and Chinese had just wrapped their 10-goal marathon in a torrential rainstorm, as news spread that Canada had just scored to make it 2-1. No, wait, 2-2. Two of the subs brought on by coach Andrew Olivieri, Beckie and Valerie Sanderson, had scored within two minutes of each other.
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Invincible! Edmonton’s Lam finishes remarkable undefeated season with Kitchee SC

Matt Lam (20) celebrates with his Kitchee teammates.

Matt Lam (20) celebrates with his Kitchee teammates.

(The first issue of Plastic Pitch included a feature on Edmonton native Matt Lam’s push for a perfect season in the Hong Kong league with his side, Kitchee SC. We follow it up as the Hong Kong season comes to a close.)

Matt Lam can add the term “invincible” to his soccer résumé.

The former FC Edmonton midfielder and his Kitchee SC teammates enjoyed a 4-1 victory over Yokohoma FC Hong Kong over the weekend. With the win, Kitchee finished the Hong Kong league without a loss.

“It has been a fantastic season,” said Lam in a message from Hong Kong. “Obviously, having clinched the league a few weeks ago took away from the dramatics a bit, but we were very determined to finish undefeated. Being a part of winning a league title is a great honour in its own, but to also be one of only three teams in Hong Kong to have finished without losing a match is something I take a lot of pride in.”
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Former Eddie Matt Lam waiting on his Hong Kong paperwork

Matt Lam, left, in action against Manchester United's Robin Van Persie.

Matt Lam, left, in action against Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie.

There’s a good chance that Matt Lam will join the ranks of Canadian prospects who have answered the call of other nations.

The former Ajax youth player, former national U-20 midfielder and ex-FC Edmonton midfielder is waiting on his paperwork that would make him eligible to join the Hong Kong national team.

Lam joined Hong Kong side Kitchee SC last winter, after being released by the Eddies. He’s become a regular starter at the club, scoring a goal this season. He also scored in AFC Cup qualifying in the previous campaign. He also put in a very decent shift in an off-season friendly against Manchester United (CLICK HERE). And he’s looking good for a league championship this season, as Kitchee is still undefeated in the league, and has a seven-point cushion atop the standings.

But Lam has been frustrated by the process of getting his paperwork to make him a domestic in the Hong Kong FA.
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Whitecaps to honour Lee on final matchday of the MLS season

Young-Pyo Lee_thumbVancouver Whitecaps supporters will get the chance to bid farewell to Korean fullback in Sunday’s MLS regular-season finale at BC Place.

Lee announced his impending retirement on Tuesday.

Lee was the Whitecaps’ player of the year of 2012. He has a goal and 10 assists in 64 MLS games since he joined the Whitecaps before the 2012 season.

The team will honour the right back before its match against the Colorado Rapids, the same team that eliminated the Whitecaps’ from the playoff race last weekend.
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Canadian Matt Lam plays over an hour for Kitchee against Manchester United

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

In 2012, Matt Lam played against the likes of the Carolina RailHawks and Puerto Rico Islanders. On Monday night, the former FC Edmonton midfielder got to play for more than an hour against Manchester United.

Lam came on in the 30th minute of Kitchee SC’s friendly in Hong Kong against the Premiership champions. Lam moved to Kitchee this past winter, under the regime of previous manager Josep Gombau. He now has to use Kitchee’s preseason to impress new coach Alex Gomez, who moved to Hong Kong from Barcelona’s youth system.

You cannot have any better experience then playing one if the best clubs in the world,” Lam wrote in an e-mail to The 11 after the match. “It was a day that I will never forget. You can truly see the class of these players when you are up close and personal.”

When Lam came into the game, United was already leading 3-0, on goals from Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Fabio. The score finished a respectable 5-2. And, Lam set up what should have been Kitchee’s third marker. Late in the second half, he showed outstanding control to corral an awkwardly bouncing ball at the offensive end of the pitch. He kept the ball from going out of play, then squared a perfect cross for teammate Deshai Xu to head home. When it was easier to score than it was to miss, Xu missed.
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Kitchee wins Hong Kong FA Cup; but Canadian Matt Lam out with injury

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

Canadian midfielder Matt Lam was able to savour a trophy win on Saturday, but an injury kept him off the field.

The former FC Edmonton midfielder had to remain on the sidelines as his Kitchee SC side beat Sun Pegasus 1-0 in the Hong Kong FA Cup final. Substitute Pablo Counago got the winning goal.

For Kitchee, the FA Cup salvages a season which saw it lose the league title to arch rival South China AA.

But Lam, who had been a regular starter since he signed with Kitchee earlier this year, couldn’t take part in the final. Lam told The 11 he was “disappointed” to be a game-time scratch, as Kitchee coach Josep Gombau held out as long as he could to see if his midfielder’s “tweaked” ankle would be good enough for game action. Unfortunately, the decision didn’t go Lam’s way and he had to play the role of cheerleader.
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Canadian Matt Lam off to Hong Kong FA Cup final

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

Matt Lam is off the Hong Kong FA Cup final.

Lam’s Kitchee SC squad beat rival South China AA 2-0 Sunday in the second leg of their FA Cup semifinal. The Kitchee win came three weeks after the teams drew 1-1 in the first leg. Lam played an hour in Sunday’s win, which was decided by two late goals from substitute Yago Gonzalez Lopez.

The Sunday match marked the third time since April 7 that the two top rivals in Hong Kong soccer have met.
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Canadians Lam and Luk settle for draw in Hong Kong FA Cup

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

Canadians Michael Luk and Matt Lam had to settle for a stalemate after the first leg of their Hong Kong FA Cup semifinal.

Neither Kitchee SC’s Lam nor South China AA’s Luk hit the scoresheet, but both were very involved in the 1-1 first-leg draw. The two rivals will meet in the second leg on April 28. The two teams also have a league match in April — and South China leads Kitchee by two points at the top of the first-division table.

Lam, who signed with Kitchee earlier this year after spending the 2012 season with his hometown team, FC Edmonton, played the full 90 minutes. Luk, a Toronto Lynx alumnus, started and played 71 minutes.
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Canadians Luk and Lam will be part of Hong Kong’s most passionate derby

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

Two Canadian players will have a lot to say over the fate of the Hong Kong first-division race and that association’s FA Cup.

This Sunday, Kitchee SC, which features Edmonton’s Matt Lam, will face its rival, South China AA, in the first leg of the FA Cup semifinal. South China AA is home to former Toronto Lynx defender Michael Luk.

The two clubs are the class of Hong Kong football. And, over the course of the next four weeks, the teams will meet three times. They have FA Cup legs on Sunday and on April 28, and meet in league play on April 14.

South China leads Kitchee by two points in the table — and Lam’s side hasn’t helped itself by drawing its last two matches against inferior opposition. Lam — who spent 2012 with FC Edmonton — has started the last two games for Kitchee. And, ironically, he had initially been contacted by South China after he became a free agent. He could have been Luk’s teammate if the South China interest had turned into a contract. But Kitchee saw the opportunity and swooped for Lam.
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