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Canada avoids Haiti slip-up in tournament opener

Kadin Chung

Kadin Chung

Maybe it’s the new format — which makes it much more difficult for Canada to qualify for the U-17 World Cup than in he past. Maybe it’s the fact that the national U-20 team flamed out so spectacularly in its recent attempt to qualify for its age group’s World Cup. But there’s no denying that the Canadian sentiment towards this crop of U-17s is more muted than past years. There’s no chatter of who’s going to be the next Great Canadian Hope.

But, on Saturday night in Honduras, this group survived its first challenge of the CONCACAF U-17 Championships, with a 3-1 win over Haiti. Duwayne Ewart, Matthew Baldisimo and Kadin Chung got the goals.

For Canada, with the new format, there is no margin for error in matches against the so-called minnows. In years past, the round-robin would often see one ranked CONCACAF nation paired up with two lesser lights. Win the group, and you were well on your way to a U-17 World Cup berth or at least a playoff for a U-17 World Cup spot. ?

But, wisely, CONCACAF changed the format. For the smaller nations, sending a team to play just two games made little financial or developmental sense. You arrived and were eliminated in the blink of an eye. So, the new format sees the field split into two groups of six. Each team is guaranteed five matches in a compressed amount of time; so coaches are forced to utilize most of their squads — and, so, more players will get minutes of international action.
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Sanna’s advice helped steer Sainey Nyassi towards FC Edmonton

Sainey Nyassi

Sainey Nyassi

Last year, Sanna Nyassi was a member of the Montreal Impact, and started both legs of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal against FC Edmonton. A last-gasp Patrice Bernier penalty kick allowed Montreal to snatch that series from the Eddies.

But the Eddies’ play over those 180 minutes made a lasting impression on the Gambian player, who has since moved on to the San Jose Earthquakes. So, when his twin brother, Sainey, was looking for a club, Sanna gave the Eddies a glowing review.

Sainey decided to take up the Eddies’ offer and joined the NASL side after spending the 2014 season with RoPS of the Finnish League. Before that, Sainey had played 118 MLS matches with New England and D.C. United.

“My brother played here in Edmonton with Montreal,” Sainey said after the Eddies’ training camp session on Wednesday. “He said he was impressed by their quality, that they were a good team. He said that they were very lucky to win the last time they played.”
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Another Canadian in NASL: Attakora inks deal with San Antonio

Nana Attakora

Nana Attakora

Nana Attakora has left Unattached FC behind.

The Canadian defender, who has spent time with Toronto FC, the San Jose Earthquakes and, more recently, D.C. United, is now a member of the San Antonio Scorpions. The NASL side announced the deal Wednesday, killing rumours that had linked Attakora to the New York Cosmos.

Attakora had been on trial with the Cosmos.

“Attakora is a current, experienced, Canadian National Team defender with 70 appearances in Major League Soccer,” said Scorpions coach Alen Marcina in a release issued by the club. “He’s competed in CONCACAF Champions League while playing for Toronto FC and D.C. United. He is a powerful, fast defender that brings even more stability to our backline.”
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Midfielder Granitto had options in Serie A and MLS, but chose FC Edmonton

Tomas Granitto

Tomas Granitto

In the autumn of 2014, Tomas Granitto had options. He had a pre-contract offer from Palermo of Italy’s Serie A. He had just auditioned for FC Dallas of MLS, and had an offer to attend training camp with that team in 2015.

But he also had interest from FC Edmonton of NASL. And, he decided to go that route.

“I knew that this would be the best choice for me,” says the central midfielder after the Eddies wrap up their second-day of on-field training at the Commonwealth Recreation Centre. “I knew that I could come in here and help the team out right away, to be a great support for the team.”

In 2013, El Salvador beat Australia in the group stage of the U-20 World Cup. Granitto was named man of the match. And it was El Salvador’s first World Cup win at any age level — that game announced to the world that the young central midfielder had arrived.

“It was a great feeling to be part of that first win in an actual World Cup, and an honour to be the man of the match of that game,” he says.

So, how did FCE coach Colin Miller get in the offer that won Granitto over? The first thing he had to do was sift through the many audition videos he gets from player agents. Most of them get cursory looks. But he was struck when he saw Granitto in action.
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Now with FCE, Hauksson looks forward to the challenge of North American football

Oskar Orn Hauksson

Oskar Orn Hauksson

It’s not hard to pick out Oskar Orn Hauksson out of a crowd of FC Edmonton players wearing the team’s brand new blue and black training tops. He’s got his long blond locks tied into a knot atop his head, in a design that makes you wonder if there’s such a thing as a viking-samurai crossover.

While the long blond locks, startings of a beard and ,the Icelandic heritage might get you thinking “The Mighty Thor” right out of the gate, the veteran hopes that his crosses and ability to pick out a pass will be what makes him stick in the minds of Eddies fans.

While Hauksson has only been in Edmonton a short time — he likes what he sees. On loan from KR Reykjavik, he wants to establish himself away from his homeland. And playing in the NASL offered that chance to diversify his career.

“I’ve been in Iceland a long time, and I’ve won all you can win over there,” Hauksson says after the first formal training session of the Eddies’ 2015 training camp comes to a close. “I’ve played in Europe, too. I wanted a new challenge. I know that soccer is on the rise in North America. My agent came up with it, and we talked to Colin (FC Edmonton head coach Colin Miller) and we did the deal.”
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Ex-TFC and Bolton Wanderer Johann Smith begins trial with FC Edmonton

Johann Smith

Johann Smith

The New York Cosmos played friendlies in Hong Kong to help celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Jacksonville Armada played a much ballyhooed preseason friendly against Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. Minnesota United is training. The Tampa Bay Rowdies are playing games.

It feels like every other team in NASL has been in camp for weeks, yet FC Edmonton just began its on-field sessions on Monday at Commonwealth Stadium.

So, are the Eddies behind the rest of the NASL when it comes to preparations for the 2015 season? Coach Colin Miller doesn’t think so. He says that his players came into camp in shape — and there’s a risk of starting camp too early and burning players out.

“In the past, we’ve had an eight-week preseason, and the players complained about it,” said Miller.

This year, the players and staff will have just over a month to get ready for the April 4 season opener at Jacksonville. The Eddies will travel to Florida in late March and play all three of that state’s NASL teams in a series of friendlies before the games begin for real.
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Why the MLS-USL affiliation makes the free-agency issue even more urgent

usl_logo_detailWhen the now-expired Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed between Major League Soccer and its Players’ Union in 2010, the league didn’t have an established farm- or minor- or developmental league system.

Sure, MLS teams could loan out players or sometimes make deals to have them spend time in NASL. But, in 2010, other than reserve-team games, there was no entrenched system that could see a team send an under-contract MLS player to an affiliated lower-league team.

But, in 2015, MLS has an agreement in place with USL; the final dominoes to fall were the Canadian teams, now that the Canadian Soccer Association has granted sanctions to USL franchises in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — albeit with tough quotas on how many Canadians those teams must put on the field.

It really doesn’t matter if you call the USL a developmental league, a league that deserves to be recognized as second division across North America, a farm league or a minor league. The fact is, all MLS teams carry the power to assign at least some of their players to their USL affiliates, much like Canadian forward Kyle Porter spent most of the 2014 season in Richmond and after being sent there by D.C. United.

Down the road, it would be hard to imagine an MLS without two-way contracts, like we see in the National Hockey League. A two-way contract is a deal which calls for a player to make one salary figure if he plays at the major-league level, and another salary if he’s at the minor-league level.

And it’s at the USL level where the issue of free agency — the divide that separates the union and MLS brass — might be most important. If players can be “parked” in the lower division for the lives of their contracts, including team options, then it’s hard to call USL anything else but a farm system. But, if players who are with MLS teams but don’t get the chance at first-team MLS football are offered the chance to move on, then we can argue that truly, USL is a system that puts the development of the player, first.

How so?
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FC Edmonton reaches an agreement with Sainey Nyassi

Sainey Nyassi

Sainey Nyassi

FC Edmonton announced that it has come to contract terms with Gambian attacking midfielder Sainey Nyassi.

Nyassi has represented his native Gambia at youth and senior levels, but he has an American green card so he doesn’t count against the international roster limit. FCE is currently maxed out with seven international spots on the roster.

Nyassi played 104 MLS matches with the New England Revolution, and scored eight goals. In 2013, he made 14 appearances for D.C. United and didn’t get a goal. He spent last season playing in Finland. What Nyassi can briong to the team is his pace; Nyassi will offer speed either coming up the middle or on the wing.

Sanna Nyassi, Sainey’s twin brother, is more familiar to Canadian soccer fans, as he made 54 appearances with the Montreal Impact — scoring eight goals in his time in Quebec.
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Canadian midfielder Oppong returns to North America with Atlanta Silverbacks

Dominic Oppong

Dominic Oppong

After spending the 2014 season as teammates at Finnish second division side AC Oulu, Canadians Dominic Oppong and David Monsalve both tried their luck in the NASL.

Monsalve, the former Toronto FC and FC Edmonton keeper, auditioned for the expansion Jacksonville Armada. But, in the end, the NASL side decided it was too risky to spend an international roster slot on the keeper. Monsalve moved onto Colombia, where he signed with America de Cali. (You’ll read more about this in the spring issue of Plastic Pitch magazine.)

But Oppong, a former FC Edmonton midfielder, caught on with the Atlanta Silverbacks. The NASL side announced the signing on Thursday.
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A long MLS labour stoppage could act as a massive equalizer for Gold Cup, early World Cup qualifiers

2015_CONCACAF_Gold_CupAs soccer supporters in Canada, we certainly don’t want the MLS season to be interrupted by a long labour stoppage.

Even though the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLS and the MLSPU expired at the end of January, the sides realistically have until MLS First Kick in early March to hammer out a new deal in order to ensure that a full season can be started on time. But the sides remain on separate poles when it comes to the make-or-break issue: Free agency. And, with every report of a cancelled bargaining session or lack of progress, the worries increase that a labour stoppage will disrupt the season.

Let’s for a second imagine that we see a nuclear option: A labour impasse that stretches for a significant period of time. The Gold Cup comes up in July; Canada’s World Cup qualifiers begin a month before that. For Canada, this Gold Cup holds special significance as it acts as our qualifier for the 100th anniversary Copa America, which is set for the United States in 2016.

So, if MLS isn’t playing games, how would it affect the Canadian program?

Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani said that this country’s national team would end up faring a lot better than some of the competition.

“From the technical side, there are a handful of players in MLS who could be part of the team that would be at the Gold Cup. And it would hurt if those players weren’t playing. But, when you look at all the countries in CONCACAF, we might be one of the ones least affected by an MLS work stoppage. Certainly, it would not affect us like it would the United States, where the majority of their players play in MLS.”
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