MLS Archive

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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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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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New Voyageurs’ Cup sked: For NASL teams, short-term pain for long-term gain

PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/Bob Frid

PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/Bob Frid

If you’re a fan of FC Edmonton or Ottawa Fury, the Canadian Soccer Association’s announcement of the coming scheduling changes to the Voyageurs’ Cup may have you slightly perturbed. Or angry. Or furious.

That’s because, to accommodate the change to a new summer schedule for the Voyageurs’ Cup, no NASL team will be able to try and qualify for the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League.

But you shouldn’t be angry. Anything but. Really, the new scenario is the best thing the NASL teams could have asked for.

OK, let’s backtrack to the announcement made earlier Friday. To try and make more the Amway Canadian Championship — which has been plagued by poor ratings and terrible gates as it went head-to-head with the NHL playoffs — more fan-friendly, the CSA is moving the tournament to the summer, starting next year.

This year’s tournament, which begins April 23 with the first of a play-in two-game series between FC Edmonton and Ottawa, will go ahead as normal. The winner of the five-team tourney gets the Canadian spot in the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League.
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If not resolved by April, PRO referee lockout could also affect the NASL season

pro_logo_headerMajor League Soccer has a slate of replacement referees who will look after this weekend’s First Kick matches.

But the decision by PRO, the body which assigns the officials, to lock out its member referees, doesn’t just affect MLS. Remember that NASL also takes its American-site officiating assignments from the PRO pool. Last season, there were many cases where a PRO referee would look after an MLS game one week, and an NASL game the next.

The NASL doesn’t begin play till the second week of April, and the league has declined to make any official comment on the referee situation. But, it did confirm that the dispute will not impact games played in Edmonton or Ottawa, as the Canadian Soccer Association, not PRO, handle the referee assignments for those matches.

But, when FC Edmonton opens the NASL season in Tampa Bay, and the Ottawa Fury visits the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (both on April 12), there’s a growing possibility that those games won’t be overseen by PRO refs.

Sources have told The 11 that NASL is working to have a contingency plan in place in case the first-choice referees aren’t available to work in the league’s eight U.S. stadiums.
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Folan’s experience a bonus for FC Edmonton

Caleb Folan

Caleb Folan

It’s an odd pairing; FC Edmonton’s teenage defender Marko Aleksic, trying to mark 31-year-old veteran Caleb Folan in training.

But, Folan, an Irish international who is in Edmonton as a trialist, doesn’t miss the chance to pass on a little instruction to the teen. Even though Folan is in Edmonton to prove his worth to the NASL club, he still takes time to pass on some knowledge to the younger players on the team.

Folan’s gregarious nature hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“He’s an interesting player, we’ll see how things work out,” said FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller. “He brings a different dimension to the team. Here we have Marko, a 17-year-old, and he’s picking up a 31-year-old with Premiership experience, with international experience. He’s not just playing against Marko, he’s helping to coach Marko.”

Folan has made many stops in England, including Wigan Athletic, Hull City and Chesterfield. He’s also played in Asia. He’s played in World Cup qualifiers for the Irish national side. But, to fans in North America, he’s most familiar for the 2011 season he spent with the Colorado Rapids, where he played in 26 matches and scored six times.
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Former Red Devil Ritchie Jones chose FC Edmonton over San Jose

Ritchie Jones

Ritchie Jones

Ritchie Jones had a good a pretty good idea that he’d be spending the tail end of the winter playing in North America, for a Canadian coach.

The question: Would it be FC Edmonton boss Colin Miller? Or would it be Miller’s old national-teammate, Mark Watson, now the coach of the San Jose Earthquakes?

Jones, a former Manchester United prospect, decided to go with NASL over MLS; not only did FC Edmonton offer him the certainty of a contract over a San Jose camp, but after speaking with Miller, the midfielder decided that heading to Alberta would be the best next step for his career.

“I spent time with San Jose Earthquakes last summer and they wanted me to come back for their preseason,” said Jones after an FC Edmonton training session at Commonwealth Fieldhouse. “But, since I talked to Colin, I felt Edmonton was the right place for me.”
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FC Edmonton turns down a couple of loan offers from the Whitecaps

Whitecaps-FC-big-e1329410722765-116x150The Vancouver Whitecaps have an affiliation deal with the USL-PRO’s Charleston Battery in place, but that hasn’t dimmed their close relationship with NASL’s FC Edmonton.

On Monday, FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller confirmed that his club has already turned down two potential loan offers from the Whitecaps for the 2014 season. The reasons? FC Edmonton is already very deep in one of the positions played by one of the players who was offered. And, the other simply didn’t fit with the club.

“Bob (Whitecaps’ president Bob Lenarduzzi) and his staff know that their players need to be on the first team or on the fringes of the first team for us to consider them at the moment,” said Miller. “That’s how strongly I feel about the quality of our squad.”

Last season, the Whitecaps loaned defender Carlyle Mitchell to the Eddies; he was a standout performer in NASL, but was recalled to Vancouver just before the end of the spring season. A Whitecaps’ injury crisis forced his recall, and then he played so well, he wasn’t sent back.

Mitchell is still a major booster of the Eddies; his recommendation was key in central defender Kareem Moses coming to the team in 2014 — along with a personal endorsement made to Miller by current Trinidad and Tobago national-team coach (and former Canadian national-team coach) Stephen Hart.
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After being cut by Impact, Jordan Ongaro returns home to try and crack the FC Edmonton squad

Jordan Ongaro

Jordan Ongaro

He was released by the Montreal Impact only weeks after being taken in the fourth round of the MLS SuperDraft.

Now, Jordan Ongaro will try and crack the lineup of his hometown pro team.

Ongaro is now on trial with FC Edmonton, and was at the Commonwealth Fieldhouse Tuesday as the Eddies began their preparations for the 2014 NASL season.

Ongaro wasn’t the only trialist on hand; former United States U-20 midfielder Brandon Manzonelli, who played his youth soccer with Spanish side Villarreal, is also with the Eddies, trying to impress coach Colin Miller enough to earn a contract.

Ongaro would be a massive feel-good story for the Eddies; his uncle, Ross, played with the Edmonton Drillers of NASL 1.0. Ross Ongaro also coached the Edmonton Aviators, the Edmonton Drillers of the National Professional Soccer League and is currently the head coach of the Chinese national beach soccer team. Jordan Ongaro represented Canada at the 2012 CONCACAF Futsal championship (CLICK HERE), and that team was coached by former Driller Sipho Sibiya. And, Sibiya played under Ross Ongaro.
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Impact coach Schallibaum: “Season as a whole was a good one”

Marco Schallibaum

Marco Schallibaum

Following Tuesday’s team postmortem with President Joey Saputo and Sporting Director Nick De Santis, on Wednesday it was the Impact players as well as head coach, Marco Schallibaum, who shared their impressions of the 2013 season with the media.

Team President Saputo made a brief appearance to award the Giuseppe Saputo Cup to Marco Di Vaio, voted the Player of the Year by the club’s season ticket holders and then gave way to Schallibaum who, as he has done all year, took questions rather than make an opening statement.

As was the case yesterday the queries concerned his uncertain future with the Montreal organization.

“I think it’s perfectly normal,” he replied. “When you have a season that stats well and finishes as poorly as ours did, there are questions that arise. Nick and Joey have questions and they need answers. I’m not worried, I have questions too.

“You have to say that the season as a whole was a good one. We may not have achieved everything we wanted but it’s normal. We’re going to have some serious discussions. It’s important for the future that the club move forward and that everyone is going in the same direction.”
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Saputo: Impact has not made a final decision on Schallibaum’s future with the club

Joey Saputo, left, and Nick De Santis PHOTO: MIKE WYMAN

Joey Saputo, left, and Nick De Santis PHOTO: MIKE WYMAN

In what was billed as a postmortem to the Montreal Impact’s 2013 season, club President Joey Saputo and team technical director Nick De Santis spoke to and with the media for about 45 minutes this afternoon. Given Friday’s Sports Illustrated assertion that recently retired defender Alessandro Nesta had been handed the reins for next season, the bulk of the conversation centred on the matter of head coaches.

“I’m happy to tell you that we achieved our prime objective, namely to take part in the playoffs, and as a bonus, to take part in the CONCACAF Champions League thanks to winning the Canadian Championship. But after a first half of the season that was exceptional, the second half of the 2013 campaign was less than acceptable,” said Saputo in his opening remarks.

“Even if we did reach our goal, I’m disappointed in the way we got into the playoffs. Since we were in the chase for the first place in our conference until the month of August I didn’t think I’d have to watch to see if three other teams would lose after we were defeated in Toronto to find out if we would qualify or not. While we had our fate in our hands we were not dominant late in the season, particularly at home,” he continued before apologizing for the Impact’s final game.

“And our performance in Houston last Thursday, especially our behaviour at the end of the match, was not worthy of the Montreal Impact,” he said, referring to the mass confrontation and multiple expulsions that ended the Impact’s playoff participation.

“On behalf of the team I would like to say I’m sorry to our supporters following our conduct in Houston. A particular apology on my behalf to the MLS family for the way we conducted ourselves in Houston last Thursday night. This is not the image we want to project. There was a lot of frustration but that does not excuse such behaviour.“
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