MLS Archive

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Quintessentially Canadian Power Rankings, Week 4

Sam Adekugbe

Sam Adekugbe

This is a strange week for the Quintessentially Canadian Power Rankings. As MLS played through the international break, there were a few Canadians who would have been eligible for MLS minutes this week who are still with the Canadian national side, which beat Guatemala 1-0 on Friday and will play in Puerto Rico Monday night.

But, with Sam Adekugbe playing the full 90 and Kianz Froese coming in as a second-half sub, the Vancouver Whitecaps padded their lead when it comes to MLS teams giving minutes to Canadian players. But one word of caution; Toronto FC has one game in hand on the Whitecaps.

We also changed the way we do the list in week four. Why? We have headaches when it comes to four players. Kofi Opare got his first minutes of the season with D.C. United; but the Niagara Falls, Ont.-raised player has been with the U.S. U-20 squad, which puts into question his eligibility for Canada down the road. But D.C. United says, “on the international stage, Opare is eligible to play for the United States, Canadian and Ghanaian national teams.” Columbus Crew forward Ethan Finlay has yet to accept Canada’s overtures to join the national-squad. Tesho Akindele has not closed the door on playing for Canada, and there remains hope for Steven Vitoria playing for Canada down the road, we still count them. So, to deal with this confusion, we’ve created a NEW category for “maybes.” That is, players who aren’t sure-fire Canada-eligible players, but there still remains some hope for eligibility.
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7

Why we in Edmonton should see Minnesota’s move to MLS as bittersweet

10659388_10152654651984494_3033798155037099486_nBeing in Edmonton on the day that the Twin Cities officially gets the nod as the next MLS franchise is well, kinda bittersweet.

Let’s face it; the Eddies used to have a decent rivalry with Atlanta a couple of years back because the teams didn’t necessarily like each other very much. But, really, it’s hard to pinpoint who is supposed to be FCE’s rivalry team. Ottawa? No. Except when we play each other, we all kinda cheer for Ottawa because the club is committed to giving Canadians minutes on the field.

But, with the Flyover Cup — a supporter-driven initiative which sees the winner of the FCE/Loons season series get the award — it should be Minnesota who is our closest rival. But, in a weird way, the Loons are kind of like the Eddies’ best frenemy. We’re the cold-weather cities in a league filled with tropical teams; we’re united in our sense of isolation from the rest of the NASL.

And our matches against each other, well, they’ve been excellent. The interaction between supporters has been great. It won’t be forgotten that the Dark Clouds, the main support group for the Loons, raised money when they found out about the fire that devastated the town of Slave Lake, north of Edmonton, back in 2011.

I have a lot of respect for the organization; whenever they’ve come into Edmonton the team has been great to deal with. Coach Manny Lagos has always been open with our broadcast team.

So, it’s kinda like seeing a best friend get married; you are happy for the guy, but you know your relationship will change.

Minnesota United will move to MLS in 2018; and while there will no doubt be those die-hard factions of NASL supporters who will see the team’s move as some kind of betrayal, the fact is this: The Loons’ acceptance into MLS is very, very good for NASL.
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3

MLS deserves praise for explaining why Morrow’s red card wasn’t rescinded

Justin Morrow

Justin Morrow

Major League Soccer is regularly criticized over its lack of transparency; allocation money, draws held to assign players to teams, we’re not even 100 per cent sure of the roster rules governing the 2015 season because, well, they haven’t been posted by the league as of yet.

So, when the league does make itself more transparent, it deserves to be pointed out — and lauded.

Case in point; on Wednesday morning, the league announced that it an independent panel had rejected Toronto FC’s appeal of fullback Justin Morrow’s red card. Two weekends ago, Edmonton-based referee Dave Gantar ruled that Morrow’s slide tackle had denied Columbus forward Ethan Finlay of a goal-scoring opportunity and sent off the defender. The replays looked to indicate that Morrow in fact got the ball on the challenge.

The incident was sent to the review panel, made up of three officials — one from the Canadian Soccer Association, one from the U.S. Soccer Federation and one from the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), the body that administers officiating assignments in MLS.

To win an appeal, it’s not good enough to get two out of three votes. The board has to be unanimous.

And, in stating why the appeal was rejected, MLS was clear that the lack of unanimity was the issue. The league stated the panel members “were not unanimous that the referee had made a serious and obvious error in the send-off.”

So what we know from this is that the opinions on the panel were mixed. Some thought that Morrow should be taken off the hook, and others didn’t. It gives fans some needed insight into the obstacles a team or player must overcome in order to overturn a referee’s decision.
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2

Quintessentially Canadian Power Rankings, Week 3

Marcel de Jong

Marcel de Jong

Four Canadian players made their MLS season debuts (or MLS debuts, period) in the third weekend of the MLS season. That boosts the number of Canadians who have played in the league so far in 2015 to 12.

But, take that with a grain of salt. The two strong leaders in minutes played by Canadians may never ever suit up for the Canadian national side — Philadelphia Union defender Steven Vitoria and FC Dallas strikes Tesho Akindele, who scored this past weekend. Because there is still more than a snowball’s chance in hell that either could play for Canada down the road, they are included in the list.

And five of the remaining 10 have seen nothing more than substitute minutes.

But it is encouraging to see Marcel de Jong get his second straight start (and full 90) for Sporting Kansas City, which puts him in the minute lead for Canadian players who actually have senior national-team caps. And Toronto FC had a bye week, so take the Reds’ numbers with a grain of salt.
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2

Catching up: Canada’s U-17 loss, Week 2 of the Quintessentially Canadian Power Rankings

Steven Vitoria

Steven Vitoria

The last few days have been a whirlwind; and it’s meant I’ve had to a take the last 72 hours away from soccer.

Getting the fifth issue of Plastic Pitch to release required a massive push last week; as well, I have until the end of the month to finish the final draft of my latest novel for young adults. And, I am writing this post from an Austin, Tex. hotel room; last night, I attended the premiere of Malcolm Ingram’s new documentary, Out to Win, at the SXSW Film Festival.

(Full disclosure: I’m a partner in OTW’s production company.)

I got the chance to meet some incredible athletes, both Canadian and American, who have come out; and, the film is a reminder — to paraphrase Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler — of the power sport has when it comes to social change. It was my pleasure to be in the company of Dave Kopay, the NFL player who, in the early ‘70s, was the first “out” athlete; Canadian women’s hockey goalkeeper Charline Labonte and her partner, Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis; retired NBA centre Jason Collins and Wade Davis, former NFLer and the director of You Can Play.

And, well, when in Austin, let’s just say the whole town carries a mesquite smoke smell. So, yes, the barbecue is fantastic.

But, I did want to take the chance to catch up on a couple of things: The elimination of Canada’s U-17s from the U-17 World Cup picture and the second instalment of The 11’s Quintessentially Canadian Power Rankings. (For more on the methodology, click here).
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11

ISSUE 5 OF PLASTIC PITCH: What is Canada getting out of participating in U.S.-based soccer leagues?

PP - Spring 2015 FINALWhen a magazine comes out, its all shiny and brand-new to the reader.

To the editor, it’s the end to a long process that takes months to come to fruition.

And, Issue 5 of Plastic Pitch, out now, represents our most pain-staking effort. This issue is a labour of love, of passion for the Canadian game — and asks questions about our Canadian identity within the game. It should easily become the most talked-about issue we’ve put out.

It’s our biggest issue ever, and all of the features relate back to a central theme: Is Canada benefitting from having teams in U.S.-based leagues? Is it the way forward, or do we need to find a new solution?

Inside, you’ll find:

• A look at a history of promises and pledges MLS has made to Canadian soccer fans, many of which we’re still waiting to see followed through;

• Paul Hamilton, David Monsalve and Shaun Saiko talk about the difficulties of being Canadian players in a North American league. You’ll read about contract offers that skirt minimum wage. You’ll read about Monsalve’s trial with the Jacksonville Armada, and how the team looked for ways to get him U.S. status so he wouldn’t count as an import. And Saiko opens up about a move from FC Edmonton to the Montreal Impact that went from being a sure thing to blowing up.
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13

Introducing our new quintessentially Canadian MLS power rankings

mls-primary_colorLong-time Canadian international Iain Hume had an interesting take on Saturday’s “Canadian” MLS season-opener at BC Place between the Whitecaps and Toronto FC.

In a tweet delivered just as the game kicked off, Hume used the #farce hashtag to sum up his feelings about the game. With each team starting just one Canadian — Russell Teibert for the Whitecaps and Jonathan Osorio in TFC red — Hume wanted his followers to know he wasn’t happy.

But, looking at the rosters throughout MLS, you can’t help escape the feeling that Hume could tweet out #farce week after week. And, in the spring issue (#5) of Plastic Pitch, we’re going to take a cold, hard look at the leagues we share at the United States and how we’re treated. The issue, which will be out later in March, will ask the hard question: Does being in MLS or NASL or NWSL really benefit Canadian soccer?

And, in keeping with that theme, we’re going to launch a new sorta power-rankings system. Sure, most power rankings are just throwaway click-bait; the kinda of mind-numbing stuff we promise ourselves we’ll never have to write again each time we bang one out.

But this one is different. Throughout the year, we’re going to rank MLS teams (and NASL, too, once the season starts in April) on how many minutes they give to Canadians. We’re not going to wax poetic about U-23 teams or developmental sides; for Canadian soccer to move forward, we need to see players regularly moving from developmental squad to first team, not just more and more Bryce Aldersons (and, look for our interview with Alderson in issue 5 of Plastic Pitch). We also don’t really care that some teams might have a Canadian warming the bench. To benefit our national program, we need our players getting first-team minutes.
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2

Free agency lite: A small step forward in new Major League Soccer CBA

mls-primary_colorThe players went into the Collective Bargaining Agreement process looking for some form of free agency. Major League Soccer and its owners said that free agency would never happen in their single entity system.

The compromise that was reached on Wednesday will ensure that no labour stoppage will delay the 2015 MLS season. But it’s hard to judge just what this new agreement in principle will do to the North American player market. According to reports, free agency will be granted to players who have eight years of service in the league, and are 28 years of age or older. But, the salary increases these “free agents” can earn for themselves will be capped.

So, in terms of owners opening the door on free agency, it’s barely open a crack. The lock is off, though — and it will be up to the players to kick it down when this CBA expires five years from now.

1) If you go into free agency, and the raise you can potentially earn for yourself is capped — well, that’s not really free agency, is it? It’s a reasonable facsimile of free agency. The league already has a salary cap — which would prevent GMs from overspending on the free agent market; capping the potential increases only adds another barrier for the player.
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3

On a big night for soccer, we should celebrate Sadiki’s goal more vociferously than Porter’s

Kosovar Sadiki

Kosovar Sadiki

So, on a Tuesday night packed with action for the Canadian soccer supporter — what was the most important moment?

Was it a last-gasp goal from Cameron Porter, or a second-half marker from Kosovar Sadiki?

Porter’s injury time equalizer was what the Montreal Impact needed to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League at the expense of Mexican side, Pachuca. When it looked like the Impact would once again be foiled by a Mexican side at the quarter-final stage, the rookie-turned-super-sub notched the marker that turned the Big O into a big party.

Meanwhile, in front of about 37,995 fewer spectators in the stands in Honduras, Sadiki scored the goal to give his Canadian U-17 side a precious 3-2 win over Costa Rica. The win moved Canada to two wins in two matches at the CONCACAF U-17 Championships; to have any shot at the qualifying for the U-17 World Cup, the Canadians have to finish in the top three in their group. And that means the Canadians will need to finish ahead of either Mexico, Panama or Costa Rica. If the Canadians finish atop their group, then they get a direct route to the World Cup, with no worry of a crossover playoff.

Let’s face it; after the U-20 team flamed out at their age group’s CONCACAF playdowns — and with the overall malaise that has gripped Canadian men’s soccer for, well, at least five World Cup qualifying cycles, we’ve grown accustomed to not expecting much from our national teams. Sadiki’s goal might end up being fool’s gold; but, for one hopeful night, it’s a light at the end of dark, dreary tunnel.

Now, let’s get back to Porter’s goal. A wonderful moment in Montreal sports, but definitely not a milestone in Canadian sports. In 2009, when more than 55,000 jammed into the Big O to watch the then-second-division Impact play Santos Laguna in the CCL quarterfinals, there was a lot to admire about that group. On that day, four Canadians started. Sure, there were Americans and other foreigners on the team, but with John Limniatis coaching, and local players on the pitch, there was no shaking the Canadian — no, the Quebecois — heart of this team. You might have loved that team, you might have hated that team, but with the passion of Canadian players like Sandro Grande and Nevio Pizzolitto, you had to admit that the team had a soul.
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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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