CONCACAF Archive

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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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Canada’s U-17s fail to take advantage of chance to make up goal-difference gap

2015-CONCACAF-U17-Championship-logoThere’s an old sports adage that tells us that we shouldn’t criticize the wins.

But, for Canada’s U-17 team, the 3-1 win over Saint Lucia Monday at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Honduras comes about as close as we can get to the win that you’re not 100 per cent happy about.

Canada went into the game tied on points atop the Group B standings with Mexico, but trailed El Tri by five on goal difference. To improve the odds of winning the group, Canada didn’t just need to beat Saint Lucia, but throttle the islanders. Daniel Sagno, Duwayne Ewart and Ballou Tabla scored for Canada in a game it expected to win by more than two.

“I think there was an intensity level we didn’t have and I don’t understand that,” Canadian coach Sean Fleming said after the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Canada has left: How it can qualify for U-17 World Cup

2015-CONCACAF-U17-Championship-logoSo, after Friday’s encouraging (and maybe just a bit surprising) 1-1 draw with Mexico, Canada is sorta tied with El Tri at the top of the six-team Group B table at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship. Both team have two wins and one draw.

But Mexico’s goal difference is +8, the Canadians are just three goals to the good.

To recap: Under the new format, the top team in the group gets an automatic entry into the U-17 World Cup. The second- and third-place finishers will play win-and-in playoff matches that also include the second- and third-place teams from Group A (but, under the new rules, they don’t necessarily cross over; the four teams would be ranked based on the points they got in the group stage; then it’s 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3).

Costa Rica and Panama have six points each, while Mexico and Canada each have seven. But the Costa Ricans and Panamanians have to play each other, so we know that one or the other (or both, if they draw) won’t get maximum points out of their remaining two matches.

So Canada knows this: Win one of its remaining two games, and it will be guaranteed a top-three spot and, at worst, a playoff game. (That’s because Canada already beat Costa Rica and wins any potential tiebreaker with the Ticos). But, there is still the chance to actually win the group, but goal difference is the issue.
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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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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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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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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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Dissecting another U-20 loss: Why didn’t Hamilton start for Canada?

Jordan Hamilton

Jordan Hamilton

Canadian coach Rob Gale has held to the same philosophy throughout the CONCACAF U-20 Championship; that he has to keep the squad fresh.

After losing two of its first three games at the tournament, Gale had some difficult roster decisions to make for Monday’s must-win date against Cuba. The Cubans won 2-1, and Gale’s rotation policy will now be under scrutiny.

He elected to keep Jordan Hamilton, who scored twice against Haiti in the opener and had some effective runs in a loss against Mexico, on the bench for the start of the Cuba game; instead, Cyle Larin got the job up top. Larin, unfortunately, has not lived up to the No.1 MLS SuperDraft pick hype throughout the tournament; he was ineffective in the loss to El Salvador, and headed the ball over the goal on his best chance of the game against the Cubans.

The decision to leave Hamilton on the subs’ bench at kickoff helped limit Canada’s goal-scoring options. And Hanson Boakai’s absence will force Gale to answer even more questions.
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Canada no match for Lozano’s class

Hirving Lozano

Hirving Lozano

You would have to forgive Canadian fullback Sam Adekugbe if he has a few nightmares on Monday night.

Adekugbe was given the thankless task of trying to mark Mexican forward Hirving Lozano, who loves to lurk on the right wing. And Lozano burned the Canadian time and time again as the Mexicans triumphed 2-0 in group stage play at the CONCACAF U-20 Championships in Jamaica.

The loss drops Canada to 1-1-0 and the goal difference is even.

But, make no mistake, even though Canada had a few scattered chances on counterattacks, the 2-0 scoreline flattered our boys. Had the Mexicans wore their shooting boots — and if goalkeeper Nolan Wirth hadn’t put on a Canadian man-of-the-match performance — the scoreline would have been (deservedly) more severe.

Let’s get back to Lozano. If you were a neutral, his performance was something to see. Lozano shows how far we still have to go in Canada to develop players. Before the tournament began, Canadian coach Rob Gale lamented how few of his players had played meaningful first-team minutes at a professional level. And, on Monday, the Canadians had to try and stare down Lozano, who already has played 17 Liga MX matches this season for Pachuca.

While many of Canada’s players are in MLS academies, Lozano is playing senior matches in a league that’s much tougher than MLS.
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What’s the frequency, László? Canada opens up U-20 tourney with up-and-down performance

2015_CONCACAF_U-20_ChampionshipThere’s always something spectacularly bizarre about watching a Canadian national-team game stream from the fine folks at CONCACAF.

Canada had a very on-and-off performance Saturday in a 3-1 win over Haiti in their CONCACAF U-20 Championship group-stage opener. But, as coach Rob Gale predicted when he spoke to journalists on Friday, the squad featured a few notable hold-backs, as the team has to face Mexico within 48 hours. Cyle Larin, predicted to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming MLS Superdraft, came in only as a 70th minute sub right after Michael Petrasso buried the penalty kick to give Canada its third goal of the match. Hanson Boakai, the FC Edmonton wunderkind who has been nursing an injury, didn’t see the field.

But, for some reason, a CONCACAF technical staff member was asked to take a microphone and do a play-by-play to the best of her abilities. So, as the game went on, all we could hear was numbers being read out “Number 5, to number 7, to number 9…” It was like SPECTRE had taken over the game. And, near the end of the game, she asked someone named László for direction, on how Canadians could access the feed.

Along with terrible field conditions in Jamaica and bizarre officiating, it was another example of the surrealist theatre that only Samuel Beckett or CONCACAF could give us.
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