Canada Archive

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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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1

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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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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0

Herdman on CNWT: “There’s not too many cards left up our sleeves”

John Herdman

John Herdman

We’re now at the stage of the poker game where it’s time to call. We’ve gone through the bets, the bluffs and the folds.

As Canada’s national women’s team prepares for the Cyprus Cup — its final tournament before the Women’s World Cup, coach John Herdman knows he has very few secrets left to keep. He knows he has to have his team playing to its strengths — and that means there’s very little left to hold back and to keep those scouting for their World Cup opponents guessing.

“You can’t hide everything,” Herdman said in a conference call on Tuesday. “You’ve got to do what you do better than the other teams.

“There’s not too many cards left up our sleeves.”

Canada begins group-stage play on Wednesday. Scotland, not a World Cup side, will provide the opposition. Then it’s South Korea, a World Cup qualifier that won’t be in Canada’s WWC first-round group, and then another non-World Cup side, Italy.
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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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1

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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4

Before you tweet about a Canadian player, read this first

10349900_1008071179208840_1372189140274955851_nSome days, writing about Canadian soccer is depressing. Some days, I swear to myself “this is the last article about Canadian soccer I’ll ever write.”

Of course, that would make some of my harshest critics very happy indeed.

I’ve been very public about Issue 5 of Plastic Pitch. A group of great writers are working on stories about our relationship with the American soccer system. Is having Canadian pro teams mixed into the American system good for the our country’s development in the game? Has it actually hurt us?

Through the last few weeks, I’ve been working to get Canadian players to tell their stories. Many Canadian soccer writers hear the tales about aborted contracts, bizarre under-the-table deals, broken promises, fly-by-night agents and the like. But players, understandably, are worried about coming forward. They don’t want to be seen as bad eggs, dressing-room malcontents or selfish players.

But, finally, slowly, some players are coming forward. Until the stories have faces, the system won’t change. But in the process of putting stories to paper, you can’t help but get snowed under by it all. You wonder if supporting Canadian soccer is like plunging into an endless pit of hopelessness. You understand how the cards are stacked against our players. Those stories will be (at least partially) told in the next issue. It will be by far the most important thing we’ve done.

There is something I want to address, though. Something I’ve thought hard about in the process of doing these interviews. We’re in that part of the NASL and MLS silly season (and right near the closing of the transfer window). So, the message boards and Twitter are filled with jokes about the number of Canadian players on Unattached FC. Many fans wonder “why doesn’t player A try to join NASL Team X or MLS Team Y? Why doesn’t he take a chance to play halfway across the world?”
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2

Scary thought: De Ro is STILL Canada’s best scoring option

Dwayne De Rosario

Dwayne De Rosario

So, national-team coach Benito Floro called in an experimental, youthful lineup to face Iceland in a pair of friendlies, the second of which was played Monday.

Canada lost the first game, 2-1. On Monday, the Canadians had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Iceland as Hólmbert Fridjonsson converted a second-half penalty after Manjrekar James committed a foul in the box.

With so many new, fresh faces on call in the two Florida friendlies, of course it would be the elder statesmen who would score both goals. Dwayne De Rosario, currently without a club, headed home a goal in the first game and scored from the penalty spot in the second. He now has 22 goals in his Canadian national-team career. He’s padded his lead atop the Canadian all-time scoring list.

De Rosario will turn 37 years of age in May. And he still remains our country’s best scoring option. The fact that De Ro is a necessity, and not a luxury, for Floro, is a sign of just how badly we have failed as a nation to produce goal-scoring skill players. When Canada begins World Cup qualifying this June, it would be hard to make a case for not having De Ro on the squad. It might be hard to make a case that he shouldn’t start.
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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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0

Iceland beats Canada in battle of not-ready-for-prime-time players

Dwayne De Rosario

Dwayne De Rosario

How to analyze Friday’s friendly between Canada and Iceland? That’s a very difficult question.

Sure, Iceland has been a rising power, and its success in Euro qualifying has been one of the great post-World Cup national-team success stories. But, for the first of two friendlies Iceland will play against Canada, the islanders started just two players who were part of the XI that beat the Netherlands 2-0 in 2014.

Meanwhile, Canada brought in a lineup that was a mishmash of selected MLS players, MLS academy prospects, some League1 Ontario talent, a select few guys who play off the continent and, of course, five unattached players.

These weren’t close to the teams that Icelanders will see when their team gets back to European qualifying or Canadians will see when their team begins World Cup qualifying in June.
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