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As MLS announces expansion franchises, the temptation to add more playoff teams needs to be curbed

Don Garber

Don Garber

I’ve always been a big believer of a playoff system that might exclude some good teams rather than one that includes mediocre teams.

I preferred it when Major League Baseball went straight to National League and American League Championship Series. Two division winners in each league was enough. Its playoffs were once about best vs. best, and were far more compelling in the ‘70s and ‘80s than they are now.

If the NFL could find a way to lower the number of playoff teams, that would be great. Personally, I’d love to get rid of the divisions, because the law of averages suggests that one of the eight groupings of four teams will be so collectively awful that a 9-7 or an 8-8 team will get into the post season. If it was up to me, top four teams in the AFC and top four teams in the NFC make the playoffs. That’s it.

The NHL continues to worry me, with rumours of adding more playoff teams in seasons to come.

I’m not anti-playoffs like some Euro soccer snobs. I grew up in North America. I’m fine with a league champ being determined after a post-season process. I just don’t think playoffs that are super inclusive are nearly as interesting as ones that are exclusive in nature.

Before the start of the NASL season, commissioner Bill Peterson declared that the league would not increase the number of teams that go to the post-season, even when (and if) the circuit gets to its goal of 18 franchises. The NASL will have four teams go to its “Championship” rounds this season, out of a 10-team league. Peterson vowed that the format would not change.

To me, it’s a great compromise. For the traditional soccer supporters, who believe nothing should be more important than league play, a four-team set-up makes for a very exclusive playoff process. The difficulty of getting into the Championship means that the regular-season games will matter, that there won’t be as many occasions where a team can take a week off. But there still we be a few playoff games satisfy the North American sports fan.
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Citytv and FC Edmonton announce broadcast deal: Geoblocking plans have been aborted

citytvThere’s been a change of course for FC Edmonton’s broadcast plans.

After some discussions between the club and the league, the broadcasts of FCE home games in the 2014 season won’t be geoblocked on the new NASLLive subscription service. To make it work, Citytv/Rogers will broadcast the games on Sunday afternoons through the season, but won’t be streaming the matches.

Originally, the plan was to have the Canadian broadcaster have the rights to stream the matches, which would have forced NASLlive to geoblock FCE’s home broadcasts north of the border. But, after some discussions, those plans have been changed.

Citytv will broadcast home games on Sundays throughout the season. The three FCE Saturday home matches will be shown on tape delay. Of course, those who subscribe to the NASLlive.com service will be able to watch the Saturday games live.
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Love or hate the NASL’s 9-game spring-season sked, it made for a heck of an opening weekend

Ritchie Jones: Held back in Edmonton, but was cleared to start — and set up the equalizer in Tampa.

Ritchie Jones: Held back in Edmonton, but was cleared to start — and set up the equalizer in Tampa.

In MLS, a month and a half into a marathon where 10 of the 19 teams make the playoffs, it’s hard to make the argument that any game is really important at this stage. We’re still trying to ascertain the weaknesses and strengths of teams around the league, and no match has a do-or-die feel.

Now, whether you love or hate the NASL’s decision to create a spring season in which each of the 10 teams plays a nine-game schedule — with one of the top two playoff, er, “Championship” seeds going to the league champ — there’s no doubt it brought a sense of immediacy to the opening weekend. After just one week, we can seriously discuss which teams are on their way to being contenders (Minnesota, New York Cosmos) and which teams had disastrous opening weekends that badly damaged their spring seasons (we’re looking at you, San Antonio Scorpions).

As for FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury, the stakes weren’t as high because they were both burning road games on the abbreviated schedule. The key to winning the spring season will be making sure to take care of business at home. The Fury is still feeling the bitter sting of losing the season opener 2-0 at Fort Lauderdale; but those who hold optimism for the expansion franchise can point to the fact that five of the eight remaining games on the schedule will be at Carleton University, where the turf and odd lines should provide a significant home-field advantage.

As for the Eddies, a 1-1 result at Tampa — despite hitting a post and failing to convert a penalty in a game that saw them significantly outplay the host Rowdies — isn’t bad at all. FCE was one of five teams that had five road games and just four home dates on their schedules. Now, the Eddies have burned arguably their most difficult road date (FCE doesn’t have to visit the New York Cosmos in the spring) and didn’t allow the Rowdies to get three points out of a home game. Now, the rest of the Eddies’ schedule reads four at home, four away.

With a day to reflect on the draw, coach Colin Miller said that 1-1 was a bittersweet result.
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Despite late equalizer, FCE should feel frustrated with draw in Tampa

John Smits stretches to make a save in Tampa on Saturday night.

John Smits stretches to make a save in Tampa on Saturday night.

In the game of soccer, it’s not about number of chances you create, it’s about the number of chances you convert.

If there was a way to sum up FC Edmonton’s season-opening 1-1 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies on the bumpy grass of St. Petersburg that would be it.

The Eddies got a late equalizer off the head of sub Tomi Ameobi, who finished a perfect cross from Ritchie Jones. The exhilaration of a late equalizer can make up for almost 90 minutes of frustration — and a draw on the road in the heat and humidity of Florida isn’t a bad season-opening result.

Yet, it shouldn’t completely cover up the ill feeling that should come with the knowledge that the Eddies, based on the run of play, should be coming home from Florida with a lot more than a single point.

The Eddies created more scoring chances, and were the better side based on style points. But a missed penalty and another effort that caromed off the post punctuated a night of missed opportunities.
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After Iacchelli fails physical, Canada loses another NWSL allocation

Selenia Iacchelli

Selenia Iacchelli

(The first issue of Plastic Pitch features an in-depth look at Selenia Iacchelli’s journey through injuries and adversity, and finally to a debut with the Canadian women’s national team and an NWSL allocation at the age of 27. We follow it up with this update)

When the NWSL season starts this Sunday, 15 Canadians will be on team rosters across the nine-franchise league.

Fourteen of them will come from the 2014 roster spots the Canadian Soccer Association. Those 14 will be joined by Nkem Ezurike, who was taken in the draft by the Boston Breakers.

But, Canada has 16 allocations, not 14. Why did the number shrink?

Earlier this offseason, midfielder Desiree Scott announced her intention to move to England’s Notts County — and after weeks of waiting, the move finally went through. After the move was made, Canadian women’s team coach John Herdman chose not to fill Scott’s allocation spot, saying there wasn’t another unattached member of the national program who would merit it. (CLICK HERE)

And now there’s bad news on the injury front. And that comes from 27-year-old midfielder Selenia Iacchelli — the former University of Nebraska captain who overcame a series of injuries to work her way back into the senior national-team picture. Iacchelli has played professionally in Italy with Torres, and had been offered a contract by Doncaster Rovers, but that deal was scuttled because she broke her arm in an Edmonton indoor game. After making her debut with the senior national team late last year, she was granted an NWSL allocation in January of 2014. But yet another injury — following two foot breaks and that broken arm that put her career on hold — has set her back again. A serious knee injury has made her allocation spot null and void.
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8

NASL commissioner to meet with CSA execs: To discuss how NASL “can be a better partner” to Canada

Bill Peterson PHOTO: NASL

Bill Peterson PHOTO: NASL

NASL commissioner Bill Peterson will be in the nation’s capital on April 19, when the Ottawa Fury plays its first regular-season match on the Carleton University turf against Minnesota United.

As part of the trip to Ottawa, Peterson will meet with the Canadian Soccer Association officials. His stated goal? To find ways that NASL “can be a better partner” to the CSA. He said that, now that he’s settled in as the league commissioner, he wants to create a closer working relationship with the CSA.

Peterson said the league “will explore options on how we can better align ourselves with the CSA’s professional goals.”

What that means is unclear. The Canadian Soccer Association has a mandate to create a series of regional Division-3 leagues, but the NASL’s role as a recognized Division-2 league in Canada is untouched. But, as the NASL fights for relevance, the optics of going to the CSA with a “how can we help you?” stance definitely scores PR points for Peterson and his crew. Remember that the Canadian Soccer Association’s continuing plea to have Canadians recognized as domestics in Division-1 MLS has consistently fallen on deaf ears. In 2009, Canadians saw an average of 1404.1 minutes per team in MLS; in 2013, that number had plummeted to 1025.2 minutes allocated per team to Canadians, despite the fact that the number of Canadian franchises had gone from one to three in that time.
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1

Edward, Parker miss out on FCE season-opening trip to Tampa

Edson Edward

Edson Edward

FC Edmonton will be at least two players short of full strength when the club faces the Tampa Bay Rowdies in their NASL opener Saturday.

The team returned to Edmonton over the weekend from its nearly three-week long Vancouver-based training camp. But, on Monday, it was wheels up as the coach Colin Miller’s selected squad left for Florida, where the team will have a week to try and acclimate to the heat and humidity of the American southeast.

But regular starting keeper Lance Parker and first-choice right back Edson Edward weren’t on the plane. Parker is out with a dislocated finger and Edward has what the club calls a “lower body injury.”

Look for John Smits to be in goal this coming weekend, with new signing Tyson Farago handling the back-up duties.
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8

NASL’s new pay-per-view streaming plan: Breaking it down for Fury and FCE supporters

NASL_logo_previewEarlier this offseason, the NASL outlined its plan to charge for streams of its games.

Now, with a little less than a couple of weeks to go before the 2014 spring season kicks off, the league has released the specifics on the rollout of the new streaming service.

And the new system isn’t as cut-and-dried for Canadian followers of the NASL as it is for those in the United States and the rest of the world. For them, the process is simple: The NASL Live feature will offer all league games (with a few exceptions in Canada, which we’ll get to). The price is US$4.99 per month or US $29.99 for the whole season.

The league has promised a better standard of broadcasts this season: Teams will all be required to have multiple camera positions, so the broadcasts where we follow one camera angle back and forth across the field should be done. Replays have to be of a higher quality. The graphic packages, too. But, for teams without terrestrial TV contracts, who are only webcasting their matches, these are big asks.
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Jonke and Ameobi: Rivals in Finland, teammates in Edmonton

Tomi Ameobi trains with the Eddies in Vancouver.

Tomi Ameobi trains with the Eddies in Vancouver.

Last season, Tomi Ameobi and Canadian Frank Jonke were rival centre forwards in the Finnish first division. Jonke played for FF Jaro, while Ameobi played for rival, VPS.

And while the two players wore different colours, there was definitely some mutual admiration. When the chance came for Ameobi to get a trial with FC Edmonton, Jonke told coach Colin Miller that the English striker would be a good fit with the club. And, on Monday, Ameobi’s trial turned into a contract, as he fills the last international spot on the Eddies’ roster.

Jonke signed with the Eddies late in 2013. Now, his former rival has followed him from Finland to the Alberta capital.

Miller said the fact that both Jonke and midfielder Mike Banner — who also played with FF Jaro — vouched for Ameobi meant a lot. When players are willing to endorse their peers, coaches listen.

“He’s going to be a good signing for us,” said Miller. “We had Frank and Daryl (Fordyce) at striker, but the only option after that is Sadi Jalali, who is a very promising young player. We could also move Horace James, with his speed, up front. But Tomi is very god with the ball at his feet and he can do a good job keeping us in possession.”

If Jonke and Ameobi play together up top, it gives the Eddies a twin-tower attack, with two players who can act as true target men. The two are expected to play together on Tuesday, when the Eddies meet the Vancouver Whitecaps in a friendly at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Stadium.
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Plastic Pitch launches on Apple — now available on all IOS and Android platforms

PpitchThe release of Plastic Pitch is complete.

Late Thursday night, we got word from Apple and our developer, MAZ Digital, that the magazine is now live for iPhone and iPad. It’s already available to Android users through Google Play and Amazon, so the rollout is now 100 per cent done.

For those who subscribed through our Kickstarter campaign, your e-mail address is key to unlocking your subscription. Thank you!

Inside, you’ll find a chance to win one of three Canadian national-team jerseys, courtesy of Umbro Canada.

And why should you pick up the first issue? From looking at Canadians in NASL to the BMO Field controversy in Toronto, we’re providing a comprehensive guide to soccer in Canada — through storytelling. No filler. No season previews or match previews or predictions or lists or power rankings, the kind of content that’s made just for the sake of creating content.

Here’s what you’ll find inside!
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