Saturday, January 31, 2009

Housekeeping

Cleaning house. Everybody should be doing it.

I'm going through my blogroll (look to the right if you're viewing the blog, you won't see it if you have only the feed) and culling the seemingly inactive sites, while adding a few. If you're reading this and have a blog that deals in Canadian soccer (for now I'm not into TFC-only blogs, or Whitecaps or Impact, though I haven't run into any of those) post a comment and I'll add yours too.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The shit is hitting the fan

From the Voyageurs:
January 29, 2009
For immediate release

The Voyageurs Demand Soccer Coaching Change
Time for Dale Mitchell to Go, Say Canadian Soccer Fans


The Voyageurs, Canada’s leading soccer supporters group, call on the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) to reconsider its decision to ratify Mr. Dale Mitchell as coach of the Canadian senior men’s soccer team.

Given the extremely poor results, substandard play and lack of leadership in the men's national program, the Voyageurs believe that Mr. Mitchell should be immediately relieved of his responsibilities.

The success of the men's national program – and with it, the development of elite soccer players to represent Canada – depends on the CSA's ability to respond to the flagrantly deficient situation within the men’s national team. This team has performed well below its potential ever since Mr. Mitchell was appointed coach in 2007, which we believe is linked to Mr. Mitchell's inability to inspire top performances from his players. Canada's recent result in attempting to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (zero wins, two draws and four losses in our semi-final qualifying group, for just two points out of a possible 18) is unacceptable, given the calibre of elite players Canada currently enjoys. Mr. Mitchell’s overall record with the national men's team is three wins, five draws and eight losses, with two of those wins coming against CONCACAF minnow St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the preliminary round of World Cup qualifying. These results speak failure, and the lion’s share of that failure belongs to Mr. Mitchell.

The CSA must also take into consideration the unacceptable reluctance of Mr. Mitchell himself to openly assume his share of the responsibility. Mr. Mitchell has exacerbated his estrangement with the Canadian soccer community with unnecessary criticism of his players and disrespectful comments about Canadian fans, who have always unconditionally supported the team on the pitch.

As the passionate voice of Canadian soccer fans across the country and around the world, the Voyageurs are not so naive as to believe that Mr. Mitchell is the only party responsible for the disappointing results of the men's national team. We believe that individual players need to be called to task for their performance on the pitch during the recent World Cup qualifying campaign. As elite professionals, those putting on the Canada jersey have to understand that much more should and will be expected of them. We admire their 100% effort and commitment, but cannot respect those who decide to make weak excuses for poor results. The Voyageurs also believe that the CSA needs to show stronger leadership in taking Canadian soccer to the next level. We as fans have made a concerted effort to bolster our game-day support of all Canadian soccer teams, male and female and of all age groups, just as we support our local Canadian clubs. We are all in this together.

Yet the ultimate responsibility for team performance in top-level men’s soccer has always and will always belong to the coach and his technical staff. This is true in every serious soccer nation in the world. There are sufficient precedents from around the world to prove that Mr. Mitchell's current status is an aberration. He has not done his job and needs to go.

The Voyageurs ask that Mr. Mitchell's release be immediately followed by the opening of a rigorous hiring process to identify the best professional to lead our men's national program to international success. Canada deserves to give its best shot, and the time is now. After the abject failure of the recent World Cup qualifying campaign, and his previous failure with the winless and goalless Canadian Under-20 team at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup (hosted by Canada), there can be no justification for the continuation of Mr. Mitchell in his current position.

The Voyageurs wish to make clear that Canadian fans have no personal agenda with Mr. Mitchell. We have admired his contributions and performances as a leading Canadian player and have recognized his past successes as a youth coach. Those fine moments, however, have faded. When it comes to the men's national team, it is time to look to a brighter future under someone else's leading light.

We reject any other solution on the part of CSA Board of Directors. The Voyageurs encourage the current president and his board to give first priority to the interests of Canadian national soccer, its players and its fans, and to ignore partisan interests, regional lobbies, personal agendas and extraneous motivations that have nothing to do with ensuring the long-sought success of our men's national program.

There can be no excuses. Nor can there be any other acceptable response from the Canadian Soccer Association. We call on the CSA to make the right decision, now.

From the CBC:

De Guzman rips into Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman blasted the Canadian Soccer Association on Thursday, saying it does not take the game seriously, and that is what led Canada's national team to play like "a bunch of amateurs" in its failed bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

De Guzman, a midfielder with Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna, told the Associated Press that Canada's national team would never succeed internationally until major changes are made.

He noted that the federation has only scheduled one friendly — against Cyprus on May 30 — in preparation for this July's Gold Cup, the CONCACAF region's championship tournament.

"They're not going in to win it," De Guzman said. "We're going to play one game in May to prepare for the Gold Cup? How real are you being trying to compete at a high level internationally?

"It feels like we're taking a step backwards. That's the feeling in the whole association. They lack knowledge about the present game."

CSA spokesman Richard Scott told the Canadian Press he preferred not to comment, although he did say the team will play more than one friendly before the Gold Cup.

When contacted by the Associated Press, Canadian team manager Morgan Quarry said he had no comment.

Canada, ranked No. 9 in the region and 86th overall, has already been eliminated from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after a dismal performance left it last in its group behind Honduras, Mexico and Jamaica. It failed to win a match, earning only two draws in six matches.

"The players we have were good enough to make the World Cup, I don't care what anyone says," said de Guzman, who was selected as Canada's best player in 2008. "I heard statements from the coach [Dale Mitchell] where he said the team wasn't good enough … but this team for me was the best team … It was just the way he went about it — we went about it like a bunch of amateurs."

De Guzman, who has made 35 appearances for Canada and helped lead the team to the Gold Cup semifinals in 2007, said he would never refuse a call-up — even during his off-season break from playing in Europe.

He said he took great pride in playing for his country, although he feared that motivation would be absent at the Gold Cup unless some changes were made.

"You're not going to make everyone happy if you don't have a proper plan," the 27-year-old Toronto native said. "But if they're going to just go about it like amateurs and waste our time, then it doesn't really make it interesting for all the guys. We're not playing a provincial tournament here. This is a different level of football, and they're taking it like a provincial tournament."

De Guzman said he has voiced his concerns to the CSA but hasn't heard any response.

"I'm lost for ideas right now," he said. "I already gave all my ideas out, and they put them in their back pocket and sat on it."

This isn't going away any time soon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Do we want the Gold?

Mr. Rollins, of the 24th minute, has been analysing the 2009 MLS schedule to death over the past two days, ending with speculation about Canada hosting a group for the 2009 edition of the Gold Cup.

The salient bits:
"We are still discussing the possibility with CONCACAF and can do it from a logistics standpoint," one high ranking official wrote in an e-mail. "Ultimately it is their call. I am confident we can get it, if not in '09, (then) for 2011 (more important strategically as it counts for Confed Cup)."

However another official was less positive.

"I don't think it will happen for 2009," he wrote.
I'm not privy to his sources, but I don't doubt that this info is from legit correspondence. There is a dearth of matches scheduled at BMO in June-July (although the Voyageurs Cup will undoubtedly claim two of the empty dates) that suggests hosting a group is a possibility.

If Canada (read: Toronto) hosts a group during the Gold Cup tournament, is this a good thing? I'm not so sure. Let's break it down.

Pros:
  • Canada will be forced to play more than a couple of "home" games in 2009
  • Knowing the way CONCACAF "draws" groups, Canada will almost certainly be placed together with Jamaica, allowing for a measure of revenge of the WCQ matches
Cons:
  • Holding a major continental championship in 3 cities (you can bet the other two groups would be split between USA's east and west coasts) makes CONCACAF look even more Mickey Mouse than they do already
  • Countries like Mexico deserve a chance to host the tournament (full stop) before Canada
  • It's another chance for Canada to be embarrassed by lack of support
Am I being too negative here?

Jamaica fans at BMO, August 2008.

(I'm not picking on the T-dot, we all know that Montreal and Edmonton were worse, and just as bad, respectively)


If you're filling up your soccer calendar for this summer, take note that the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps schedules are also available.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fun with math

It's been nearly two weeks since I posted about a contest to guess how many tickets will be sold for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal clash between Santos and the Montreal Impact at Olympic Stadium. To date, it hasn't attracted a lot of attention.

To keep this contest at the front of your mind, I've done a little hard hitting numerical analysis. Ticket sales have been announced on three separate occasions, each time when the tally crossed a psychologically significant milestone (10 000, 15 000, 20 000. Can you guess which we'll be hearing about next?). These round numbers make the whole game pretty easy, as illustrated below:

Date Tickets Source
01/14/09 10000 (Impact)
01/20/09 15000 (Canoe.ca)
01/26/09 20000 (Impact)

If you're more of a visual person, this graph should tell the story:

OK, it's not much of a story. The line is trending upwards, as one might expect (as long as people aren't turning in their tickets). It's a conveniently straight line; convenient because it allows for extremely easy, but likely inaccurate and statistically unsound, extrapolation.

It works this way. You'll note from the chart that about 5 000 tickets are being sold every 6 days. The match in question is 30 days away. Some quick figuring shows that at the going rate, 25 000 more tickets will be sold, for a grand total of 45 000.

Which would be, in a word, awesome.

I have my own ideas about how many tickets will be sold. A big number is good for the Impact and good for soccer in Canada. The financial implications aren't really even the big thing. The perception matters, and a full house looks good whether fans have paid $5 or $50 to fill a seat.

Are you going?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Save the date

Correct date not pictured.

While Canada is missing out on the hex in 2009, the soccer calendar for the year is beginning to fill up. The latest announcement is a friendly with Cyprus on May 30th:
Canada’s men’s national team has announced that it will play an international friendly match against Cyprus this 30 May 2009. The match, which will take place in Cyprus, will be an important part of Canada’s preparations for the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup which takes place this summer.
I'm inclined to take a positive view of this development. In particular, it is good to see that the tall foreheads at the CSA haven't decided to take the year off, essentially, and are scheduling prep matches for our most important tournament of the year.

Some would question the choice of Cyprus as an opponent. In all likelihood, there wasn't much of a "choice" to begin with. I'm sure you've noticed that national sides aren't exactly beating down the door to play us. We aren't exactly slumming by playing with Cyprus, ranked 94th by FIFA, and whose most recent results are a win over Belarus, a 1-0 loss in Dublin, and a draw with Georgia. (For comparison's sake, we're generously ranked 86th, and our most recent results are a loss to Jamaica, a draw against Mexico, and a loss to Honduras).

Looking good, Cyprus!

Sure, Cyprus isn't Brazil, who we played at the end of may in '08. But they're not Malta either (one of Canada's more embarassing results, friendly or otherwise, in recent memory). It would be nice to play at home, but it might be asking too much for more than one home friendly in a calendar year.

Still in the cards for '09 is a home date with Iceland, and the Gold Cup itself, of course.

Here are the important dates on my soccer calendar for the first half of 2009:
  • 25 February: CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal: Impact - Santos in Montreal
  • 3 March: CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal: Santos - Impact in Coahuila, MEX
  • 6 - 15 March: CONCACAF U20 Championship (qualifying for U20 WC) in Trinidad and Tobago
  • 30 May: Canada - Cyprus in Cyprus
  • 3 - 26 July: CONCACAF Gold Cup ***
It's highly doubtful that they Cyprus match will be on TV in any way, shape, or form. We'll probably all be madly refreshing some Cyrillic match tracker, and misreading things hilariously. Unless somebody wants to front me the money for a plane ticket and a Blackberry, and I'll do the deed.

*** Intrepid commenter and normally reliable blogger Sam notes that the Gold Cup is likely to be moved up on the calendar and some European leagues will have begun already by the end of July.



I'm still waiting for the CSA to announce it's Fan's Choice award. Voting closed, theoretically, on Tuesday, and I doubt even the gang on Metcalfe St in Ottawa takes 3 full days to tabulate a few hundred votes. But if it's not Julian de Guzman, I'll eat my hat.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Lensky interview

There are many mysteries in Canadian soccer. Why does Dale Mitchell still have a job? Will Canada ever qualify again for the World Cup? Who does Julian's hair? One of the more compelling for me was the strange and abrupt retirement of Jacob Lensky, at age 19, from professional soccer. He quit Feyenoord and went home to Vancouver in 2008, and hasn't really been heard from since.

Until now.

Lensky (#3) had his eyes opened to the harsh realities of professional football. Really. I went there. The lame eyes closed/eyes opened joke. You get what you pay for.

In an interview with Dutch football website V-Bal, Lensky tells all (or some) of the reasons for this decision, and hints at future plans. If you read Dutch, follow the link, otherwise enjoy this translation:
At the end of 2006 Feyenoord brought, in the person of Jacob Lensky, a talented Canadian to de Kuip [Feyenoord's stadium]. The youth international made his debut for the team under Erwin Koeman not long after that. In the following season the midfielder, due to injury, among other things, didn't step on the pitch. This past summer the almost 20 year old Lensky, that ought to have been considered a great talent, abruptly quite professional footbal. Months after this farewell, V-bal spoke with the now-returned to his homeland, former Feyenoorder.

You quit professional football just six months ago. What you have done in the time since then?
For me it wasn't very hard to move on with my life. I went to school and found it nice to be home more often. Apart from that, it was nice to be closer to friends and just to live as I did before my professional football career.

In the winter of 2006 you left Celtic for Feyenoord. Were there big differences for you between the two clubs?
It was a big difference for me because with Celtic I only played with the youth teams, while with Feyenoord I played immediately with the first team. I trained well in the beginning and felt good. To succeed with the first team I needed to understand the game better and above all be consistent. I think that this was sometimes hard for me.

What was your experience like under Erwin Koeman?
I really enjoyed playing for him. Call me sentimental, but I thought he was a nice man and I think he also saw something in me. I also enjoyed his manner of coaching, and I wish that I could have worked for him a little longer. Sadly he left at the end of that season.

As you mentioned, Koeman left after your first season at de Kuip. Was there a big difference between him and the trainer that succeeded him at Feyenoord, Van Marwijk and Verbeek?
There was a big difference between Erwin and Bert [van Marwijk]. Erwin helped me individually with specific things and I had a lot of contact with him. I think that Bert didn't know a lot about me and had more important things to do. As a result I felt left ignored and shut out, for example with the arrival of still more new players.

How was your relationship, in this difficult time, with technical director Peter Bosz?
During this time I didn't have a lot of contact with people in the club. At the end of the season under Erwin I was starting to feel like I was in my element and I was focussed. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to get along with the new coaches and players, and I lost that connection.

In the Netherlands, everybody is talking about Feyenoord losing touch with the big 3 [AZ, Ajax, PSV]. How different was the Feyenoord that you strengthened in 2007 with the club you left a year and a half later?
In this period, there were many comings and goings of players and coaches, which from my point of view resulted in many changes during my stay with the team. I had many ups and downs, because I constantly had to prove myself. As I said earlier, I felt that I had already proven myself at the end of the "Koeman-season". At the beginning of my second season the situation was completely different and I felt like that I was back to ground zero, and this affected me mentally. I still don't have a real idea of what went wrong with the club and what they should do now, I'm just saying what I saw myself.

Were these developments with the club the reason you quit football?
I had my own reasons for quitting, and they had to do with personal affairs. I think that you could say that a particular combination of events and circumstances also helped lead met to this decision.
What do you think the near future will look like for Feyenoord?
I think that the best analysts have already tried to figure this out, haha. I think that people need to stop taking things so seriously, but that is my personal opinion. Do I stillcare about Feyenoord? I wish the best for certain people at the club and certain people in the Netherlands.

Finally, is there a chance that we'll see you again in the sport?
I think that I'll play again, but when and where, we'll find out soon.
This last question has been answered perhaps sooner than expected. Lensky is trialling with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are beginning to hoard young Canadian talent in anticipation of a future move to MLS.

The mystery of why young Mr. Lensky decided to quit professional football, for the time being, remains as unsolved as ever: "personal affairs" and a "combination of events and circumstances" hardly help to clear the air. Still, it's good to see a player get back on the horse and with a team that has the right attitude about developing and deploying Canadian talent (you'll note that Keegan Ayre and Marcus Haber are also in the Whitecaps camp right now).

I'm interested in what future, if any, he has with the Canadian program. At one point it seemed he was going to follow in the footsteps of Owen Hargreaves and fellow Feyenoorder Jonathan de Guzman, although Jacob's "reason for the treason" was the Czech Republic. Ultimaltely, he settled on Canada and played most recently in the U23 team that missed out on qualifying for Beijing.

In his recent interview, Dale Mitchell singled out youngsters Marcel de Jong and Will Johnson, incidentally both players that also played in the Dutch Eredivisie, as players who would become a bigger part of the Canadian setup over the next year. I'm hopeful that Lensky can join them one day.


Speaking of hope, Mr. Duane Rollins employs even more soaring rhetoric than the recently inaugurated Barack Obama in a recent post finally confirming De Rosario's signing for TFC. An example of this stirring prose.
Toronto the Good became Toronto the Colourful, a vibrant city that aspired to something. We weren’t always sure what that was, but we knew that it was going to be special. The city that once was in bed by 9 p.m., now was as likely to sway to the sounds of a samba beat to the wee hours of the morning.

Dwayne De Rosario comes from that city. He will represent it better than any other athlete imaginable. And it’s about time because even though the city has changed its sports heroes have not. There hasn’t been a modern athlete vibrant and exciting enough to capture the city’s heart. Vince Carter, for a while, but we all know how that turned out

DeRo will be that athlete. His coming to Toronto is the final piece in the near perfect storm that has allowed TFC to explode into the city’s consciousness. The sport has always had a place in new Toronto, but it has struggled to focus its attention. Not anymore. And, now the star, the local star, comes home to complete the picture.
I'm more inclined to take a wait-and-see approach for Dwayne. He recently completed his worst professional season in some time, and is reaching that age at which soccer players' skills and influence begin to decline. He no longer can be considered one of the best 3 or 4 Canadian players, in spite of his decent scoring record in international play. Still, he's a relatively big fish in MLS and offers something that Toronto hasn't had enough of in its first 2 seasons.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mitchell says the darndest things


Real quotes from a real interview. You can listen for yourself, with the Dale Mitchell portion of the show ("Full Time", from Vancouver's TEAM 1040), beginning at the 13 minute mark.

FT: How do you respond to those . . . who think you should probably resign?
Dale: I don't know. I have a contract, you know. I'm not accustomed to quitting, and I'll continue to honour my contract until its expired, and we'll see where we go from there.

FT: How are things between yourself and some of the players (Brennan, Sutton, De Rosario, De Guzman cited as examples)? Have any bridges been burned here?
Dale: Well, I think you've touched on a few different subjects, and I think it is fairly easy to throw it all into one pot. I think you have to take it all at face value. The bottom line for me is, as a coach, you know, is that I'm there to win. Every situation that you're in in coaching is different. There's positives and negatives to any environment. Certainly anybody that's coached with Canada and the national team program knows that it is a tough environment. You've got to be able to get your hands dirty and to take your lumps and you're going to do that. The bottom line is that we didn't get the results and there's a lot of opinions out there about why we didn't get the results. I certainly have mine. There are supporters and media that are voicing theirs and in some ways I think it affects the players, and some of the have theirs. Bottom line is its a winning business, and if you win I think you continue and if you don't win, I think you know what the eventuality is.

FT: What do you think some of the reasons were that you failed to qualify for the next round?
Dale: The two biggest ones are Honduras and Mexico. [that we finished behind Jamaica was also a serious impediment to qualifying - J]



Ladies and gentlemen, our fearless leader!


After writing this point, I discovered that one of the great minds at some canadian guys . . . had already done the same, only better.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quick hits

Nothing big to write about today, but it's been a while, and I don't want any readers to give up on me...
  • CSA will announce their 2008 Fan's Choice award on Tuesday. (Maybe they won't announce it, but that is when voting closes. I had some early concerns when De Rosario was leading the voting, but expect Julian de Guzman to take it.
  • I spotted this article in the Winnipeg Free Press, of all places. The news that former women's coach Even Pellerud has found work in Trinidad is mildly surprising (24th minute guest blogger Andrew Bucholtz takes a closer look), but the wishful thinking part of me would like to see Dale Mitchell to follow Even's lead and sandbag our opponents while he's at it. The possibility that Stephen Hart, a T&T native, might be the one to eventually head to the islands, and probably do a reasonable job, is a little sobering. (Extremely idle speculation, no shred of a rumour).
  • TFC drafted one Canadian and one Jamaican who gets to take a Canadian spot on the roster. Kyle Hall was a bit out of his depth in the matches I saw in last year's U23 qualifying tournament, but did score a bonerrific 5th goal against Haiti that proved momentarily to be important.
  • Canada has been drawn in a group with Mexico, T&T, and Costa Rica in CONCACAF qualifying for the U20 World Cup.. No cakewalk, but I expect Canada to qualify. This tournament takes place in March, and especially with no important MNT games on the horizon, I expect to follow it closely, as I did with the aforementioned U23 qualifiers last spring.
  • [voetbal alert!]: With PSV stumbling today, drawing against lowly Roda JC, I am willing to wager a fair bit that the Eredivisie champion will come from the trio of AZ, Ajax, and outsiders FC Twente.
Stay tuned for some real good stuff in the next while. I hope.


If you're up late tonight
, a recorded interview with Dale Mitchell is airing on Full Time, a soccer show on the radio in Vancouver, at 10 pm PT (1 am ET). According to a poster on the Voyageurs forum:
Dale Mitchell answers questions on why he hasn't quit and about his future in the job. He also talks about his relationship with some national team players and about some young players who may be brought in in the very near future.
It will be available in podcast form soon after the show has aired. I won't be staying up that late, so any commenters who can fill me in on the most salacious of details are most welcome. This thread should also have all of the good stuff.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2" Radzinski contest RESULTS

After receiving entries numbering in the low to high single digits for the 2" Radzinski contest, we have our winner.

Here is the winning submission:
This is why I should receive a 2 inch doll of Tomasz Radzinski. I have the double misfortune of being a fan of the Canadian MNT (since those heady days of 2000) and captain of a woefully underperforming university intramural team down in the states: we are graduate students trying to keep up with undergraduates, and we never live up to our promise. Anyways, I think that what our team needs is a mascot, and a 2 inch Radz doll would be perfect. What I would do is, every time the team wins a game (assuming we win a game), at our post-game drinking, offer up a shot to the Radz doll. I will take a picture of the doll with its offering (again, assuming there is ever an occasion to do so) and send it to you.

There you have it. Let it be judged worthy.

Yours in woeful fandom,
P
Radzinski is best employed for celebratory purposes.

Radz rocking the celebratory oversized women's parka.

As a member of a recreational/recreational-drinking curling team (don't laugh -- it's the only 'sport' where drinking before, during, and after is encouraged. I tried that once with soccer and didn't feel so good) that just won its first game, I can identify with these sentiments. A miniscule mascot would have made our first victory that much sweeter. And I await the photos with bated breath. Hope he can explain things to his teammates.


Also on this fine day, Duane at the 24th minute is going apeshit about the MLS Draft. I expect his final tally of posts on the day to be in the mid-teens.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Contest: Olympic Stadium Jellybean Guessing Game

This blog's first ever contest (with a prize) has but a few hours left, but another is just beginning.


The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match between Montreal Impact and Santos Laguna, to be held at Olympic Stadium, promises to be the biggest happening in Canadian soccer in the next 6 months, barring substantive news on the Dale Mitchell front (if you really love the U20 qualifying tournament, then cut it down to 2 months).

The game is simple: Guess how many people are going to attend the match. Email your answer here, before February 11th.

Standard Price is Right rules are in effect, though it's a secret guess, so the oneupmanship of that show will be difficult to achieve. There will be a prize, however small.

The early word is that 10,000 tickets have been sold after a couple of days, which is brisker than I anticipated. And in order to reduce the chances of having to give out a prize, I'm entering as well. My guess is 37,450 spectators.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Voetbal: Winterstop

I've introduced a new system for those of you who would rather ignore my posts about my own Euro obsession: Dutch football. If you see the word 'Voetbal' (I think you can figure that one out) in the title, then you may want to ignore what follows. Or not. The Dutch league is often pretty interesting, and at other times good for a laugh.

Anyway, the Eredivisie, having reached its halfway point just after Christmas, is currently enjoying the winter break, or 'winterstop', as they call it.

Winter break: Like spring break, only colder.

I've had a good rundown of the action to date bookmarked for some time, and have been reading it in pieces, in between some of my more scholarly pursuits. You're welcome to do the same, though I should warn you that you may experience some linguistic difficulties.

The lead paragraph employs typically Dutch understated self-confidence:
Klein, fijn en immer onvoorspelbaar Eredivisie halverwege

AMSTERDAM - Wie het naar de overdaad van het clubvoetbal in Engeland of Spanje begerige oog kan sluiten, heeft zich ook het afgelopen halve seizoen kunnen vermaken met de verwikkelingen in de eredivisie. Klein maar fijn, is het predicaat.
In other words:
Small, good and always unpredictable Eredivisie at the halfway point

AMSTERDAM - Whoever is able to turn their greedy eyes away from the excess of club football in England and Spain could have amused themselves quite well with the developments in the eredivisie of the past half season. Sometimes good things come in small packages.
The article goes on to spill the details in a rather general way for those who haven't always been paying attention. In short, it's been entertaining for the following reasons:
  • 6 different teams have occupied top spot in the 17 matchdays of the season to date: PSV (Eindhoven), ADO (Den Haag), FC Groningen, NAC (Breda), Ajax (Amsterdam) and AZ (Alkmaar)
  • In contrast to previous years where the big city sides (Ajax and Feyenoord) have dominated, some of the boeren are now having their way; in particular AZ and FC Twente.
  • PSV, the strongest side in recent years, is 11 points off the chase
  • The reputation for attacking football is confirmed with an average of just over 3 goals per game.
  • 3 teams (Ajax, Twente, and NEC (Nijmegen)) remain in the UEFA Cup
  • The big money owners of the world like Abramovic are also popping up on the Dutch scene with mixed results (AZ - good, Utrecht - bad!)
Another nugget points to the strong attendance numbers. The league is averaging nearly 20 000 spectators per match, putting them right in the mix with Europe's strongest leagues. Not bad for a country of 16 million half the size of New Brunswick.

For the 2007-08 season:

League Attendance
Bundesliga 38612
EPL 36076
La Liga 29124
Serie A 23180
Ligue 1 (FR) 21804
Eredivisie 18732

Of Europe's leagues, it ranks sixth, which is probably where I'd rank the standard of play as well, although I suspect Russia is better than most would think.

An interesting development, more on the business side of things, is the proposal for a merger of some southern teams into a super club called FC Limburg. The idea was floated by the management of Roda JC (home of Marcel de Jong) and second tier side Fortuna Sittard, with fellow lower level teams MVV and VVV being encouraged by the KNVB (Dutch association) to go along for the ride.

Fortuna fans don't want to bus 30 km to matches

Fans are not pleased (headline translates to 'Few hearts have room for FC Limburg'). The Netherlands has a history of club mergers, just like any other country (ever wonder where all those 'United's come from?) with a particularly busy period in the 1950s and 60s. Case in point:

Almost as convoluted as a Steinbach family tree. (At least no names appear twice in this one.)

Even without including the lineage for MVV and VVV, the two principals Fortuna and Roda JC already make the picture cloudy enough. FC Limburg isn't a done deal yet, but something to watch.


Other news:Maybe throwing these real newsworthy items will convince people to read to the bottom next time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Radzinski rumours?

I don't intend for this blog to become a clearinghouse for all Tomasz Radzinski news and merchandise. But I did stumble across something interesting in my Saturday morning perusal of Flemish second tier football sites (Did I ever say that I had a life?)

A story from just before the new year (30.12.2008) has some interesting tidbits on the 2008 Voyageurs International Player of the Year and Lierse striker. The most interesting parts are in the first half of the article, excerpted from the Gazet van Antwerpen:
Tomasz Radzinski drukt geruchten over vertrek de kop in

Vooral Tomasz Radzinski nam na de 1-0 winst tegen Hamme ruim de tijd om handjes te schudden met de thuisaanhang. Het had voor vele fans wat weg van een afscheid, zeker nadat de geruchten over een mogelijk vertrek de voorbije dagen de kop opstaken. "Larie", weerlegt de Canadees. "Ik wil met Lierse naar eerste klasse."

Of er dan geen interesse is van clubs uit eerste klasse? "Dat weet ik niet en het interesseert me ook niet", zegt Radzinski. "Ik ben met een bepaald doel naar Lierse gekomen en we zitten momenteel ook op schema. Ik zie dan ook geen enkele reden om hier nu te vertrekken. Natuurlijk wil ik graag opnieuw in eerste nationale voetballen, maar die stap wil ik de komende maanden met Lierse zetten. Dat was ook de reden van mijn komst."
Babelfish if you dare, but if you prefer the translation work of one whose crowning achievement in the Dutch realm is reading 6 of the 7 Harry Potter books, read below:
After the 1-0 win against Hamme, Tomasz Radzinski especially took time to shake hands with the home crowd. For the fans, it had the feeling of a farewell, especially after the rumours of a possible departure that have popped up over the last few days. "Nonsense", the Canadian replied. "I want to go to the eerste klasse [Belgian Jupiler League] with Lierse."

Is there any interest from teams in the eerste klasse? "I don't know, and I'm not interested either", said Radzinski. "I came to Lierse with a particular goal and we're currently on track. I see no reason to leave. Of course I'd love to play again in the top flight, but I'd like to take that step in the next few months with Lierse. That was the reason for coming here."
That's a pretty firm denial, and the words of loyalty ring pretty true. On the other hand, if he did have one foot out the door, you'd expect him to say kind of the same thing. Another article on the subject sums up the situation pretty well:
De Poolse Canadees is er al 34, maar duidelijk nog te goed voor tweede klasse.
Engels:
The Polish-Canadian is already 34, but clearly too good for the second division.
Radzinski seems to be fighting a winning battle right now against time, but how long will that last? Can he wait eight months to return to top flight football? Are top teams still interested in a guy like Radz? AZ, the top team in the Dutch Eredivisie, a better league than Belgium, were interested in Tomasz in August, so it's not that far-fetched.

Radzinski enjoys the physical play of the lower divisions.

The winter break, the natural time for any transfer, is on for a few more weeks in Belgium. Radzinski is currently enjoying a vacation/training camp in Egypt with his team, and played in their most recent match against an Egyptian side.



Another interview answer that I hope isn't true:
Voyageurs: “Can you say whether Dale Mitchell be the coach of the Canadian Men’s Team at the Gold Cup?”

[CSA General Secretary Peter Montopoli]: “Yes, Dale will be in charge.”
The truth?

Friday, January 09, 2009

CSAaPOTYA2009

That alphabet soup you see in the title is intended to abbreviate "Canadian Soccer Association adidas Canadian Players of the Year award". The association has been announcing award winners all week: U17s (Russel Teibert & Monica Lam-Feist), U20s (Nana Attakora-Gyan, although apparently the Gyan is being excised, & Jonelle Filigno), and senior women (Christine Sinclair).


If the Brothers De G were the Brothers Karamazov, he'd be Alyosha.

Today's announcement of Julian de Guzman as the senior men's winner is no surprise. He is the best Canadian player. He has arguably the highest profile. He has the best afro. He plays in the best league. I could quibble about his performances for the MNT in '08, but I've done it before.

But I'm not going to pass entirely on the opportunity to crap on a few heads. Here is how the voting pool for this award is described:
De Guzman was honoured in a vote shared by Canadian media (50%) and Canadian coaches who have taken the Canadian Soccer Association’s national course at the B and A levels (50%).
And the tabulation of results:
1. Julian de Guzman (30.5)
2. Dwayne De Rosario (15.6)
3. Ali Gerba (11.3)
4. Atiba Hutchinson (8.9)
5. Tomasz Radzinski (8.6)
6. Mike Klukowski (6.4)
7. Adrian Serioux (6.1)
8. Rob Friend (5.2)
9. Paul Stalteri (3.9)
10. Iain Hume (0.3)
11. David Edgar (0.3)
12. Lars Hirschfeld (0.2)
I've already explained why I think De Ro shouldn't be anywhere near the top of the list. Iain Hume's selection is a surprise. The choice of David Edgar (though likely only by two voters) is downright mind-boggling. If the only criteria for the award is having played a minute or two in the EPL, then he might be deserving; there is no other rational explanation.

Maybe a few of Edgar's coaches from his youth soccer days are playing favourites. And maybe some of the media can only name one soccer player (Dwayne).

Anyway, this is probably the second last post where I'll be bothering you with player of the year business (CSA Fan Choice Awards have yet to be named). That time of the year is winding down, though it will leave a void of things to talk about.


Interesting news, but not sufficiently interesting or contentious for me to discuss it in detail: Impact gets go-ahead to play CONCACAF match at Olympic Stadium


By the by, I'm imposing a deadline for submissions in the two-inch Radzinski contest. It is 11:59pm, Wednesday January 14th (really any time before I wake up the next day). I have at least one good entry already.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Contest: What would you do with a 2" Radzinski?

* * * CONTEST DEADLINE: 11:59pm, Wednesday January 14th * * *

As part of my extensive research for my previous post, I came across a photo of a miniature figurine of Radzinski in a Canada uniform. The picture itself is funny; the comedic or dramatic possiblities of a 2" figurine of the 2009 Voyageurs International Player of the Year are endless.

Actual size. (Of the figurine, not of Radz).

It's part of a series called Corinthian Microstars, a puzzling name since the players aren't on the roster of Brazilian giants Corinthians, nor do they hail from the ancient city of Corinth. Says the website, about the dolls (figurines, I suppose, is the preferred nomenclature):
Corinthian Microstars are small (2" high) collectable football figurines produced by Corinthian Marketing plc. These soccer figures are highly collectable as well as being part of a game.

The first Corinthian Microstars were released in February 2001. Working with Magna Confectionary, the Microstars figures were only available inside the hollow chocolate Powerpodz and soon became a firm favourite with young and old.

Recently, the Powerpodz have been replaced with small foil wrapped chocolate Footballz.

So whether your preference was for Powerpodz or Footballz chocolatez, you could yourself have ended up with Radz (see what I did there??)

There must be quite the culture surrounding these little guys. The site I came across seems to remarket the figurines exclusively (no chocolate) for those who don't want to be disappointed by the likes of Titus Bramble or Joos Valgaeren. These re-sellers have gone through the trouble of munching the chocolate for you and listing a variety of prices based on rarity and likely player popularity (Radzinski goes pretty cheaply, at least Canada Radzinski. There's also Everton Radz and Fulham Radz, which is out of stock).


My game here is simple. Tell me what you'd do with a 2" Radzinski. (Don't be gross.) If I like your idea, I'll buy you one. Of course, I'd expect a photograph of the resulting display.
Example
: A picture of a 2" Radz pointing to a flaming bag of dogshit on the steps of CSA headquarters in Ottawa. Just sayin'.

If I don't get an idea I like, or there are no entries at all, I'll just buy one and have it shipped to Radzinski's club, SK Lierse. Email your ideas here, but leave a comment telling me to check the email.


And for those of you who are proficient in the dark art of voodoo, there are 8 different Owen Hargreaves dolls in the series. The mind boggles.

The Voyageurs International Player of the Year 2008

Press release:
It is with great pleasure that The Voyageurs wish to announce TOMASZ RADZINSKI as their International Player of the Year for 2008.

For the 35 year old striker this award recognizes the inspiring contributions made during 2008's World Cup Qualifying campaign along with the continuing goal scoring successes which Mr. Radzinski has been enjoying with his club side Lierse S.K. of the Belgian 2nd division and his previous club in 2008, Skoda Xanthi SC of the Greek top flight.

Being blessed with the faults of being too outspoken and too honest for his own good has done little to dampen the Wee Man's growing popularity with Canadian soccer fans over the past several years as Mr. Radzinski has used his seniority within the Canadian Mens National team to publicly act as player advocate as well as enthusiastically promoting the sport of football both at home and abroad.

Easily the most famous Canadian footballer of this generation, Mr. Radzinski has lived a charmed life these past several seasons escaping serious injury while producing impressive goal scoring results in both Greece and of late, Belgium. No small achievement for a footballer who has seen both his career and on-field role evolving with the advancing years.


[. . .]

Last years run away winner of the International Player of the Year award, Julian de Guzman of Spanish top flight side, Deportiva la Coruna finished a strong 2nd in polling after enjoying another wonderful year in 2008 which included recognition from the players, fans, and staff when he was named Depor's Player of the Year for the 2007/2008 season. The first time a Canadian has been so honoured at such a high level.

Ali Gerba's impressive play, and equally impressive goal scoring exploits during World Cup Qualifying did not go unnoticed during voting. Strong performances with the national team, including home and away goals against Mexico, out weighed the near invisibility to Canadian fans which comes with playing club football with English League One side Milton Keynes Dons and allowed the striker to finish a comfortable third in polling.
I don't normally consider parroting a press release worthy of a blog post, but I'll make an exception for the Voyageurs. My ballot for this award was 1-Radzinski, 2-Gerba, 3-de Guzman, which is either a sign of how well-balanced I am, or the type of groupthink that reigns on those forums.

Radzinski celebrating. And yes, this is a real thing that you can buy!

The award is a fitting send off for a player who recanted and returned to the Canada squad late in his career (or to put it biblically), and has likely played his last match wearing the half-soccer ball/maple leaf. And that last match, by the way, was a doozy.

I voted Gerba for the CSA's fan choice award, and am waiting with baited breath for the announcement this week of the winner. (At last count, Julian de Guzman had a healthy lead in the voting after De Rosario had taken a puzzling lead in the early voting). Perhaps that announcement will provide with a chance to make a final, clean break with 2008 and begin talking about the present. You know, instead of dwelling on one of the darker years (which come every 4 years, incidentally) for the national side.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Too many cooks spoil the soup?

In Sunday's post, I invited discussion regarding the following statement from a year-in-review article on the CSA site:
Coach Dale Mitchell called 46 players over the course of the year (39 of whom featured), the most ever in program history.

Good or bad?

Colin Smith weighed in in the comments section, and in the interest of people other than me (and especially you pesky RSS subscribers who can't see the comments) getting a chance to read what he had to say, here it is:
Bad, bad, bad. It shows complete lack of scouting of the MNT pool. It wouldn't have been such a problem if they had played a number of friendlies leading up to WCQ, but they didn't. I can't understand using so many different players during a serious competition like the WCQ.

I'll always remember Mitchell only using 2 subs in the first game against Jamaica with me thinking 'he has no plan whatsoever'. Canada could have won that match and bringing on some fresh legs in the 80th minute could have done it.
I have no argument that the in-match tactical decisions were often puzzling.

OK, maybe I should stop writing this tortured prose with adjectives that cover for Mitchell's frequent incompetence. Puzzling is far too weak a word. The decisions, like the one cited, were stupid. Lacking any thought. Falling fully under a take-no-risks managerial approach fully consistent with our society's rampant anti-democratic corporatism (actually, ignore that last one -- I've been reading too much John Ralston Saul these days).

But as to the central question of whether Mitchell experimented too much with his roster in important matches (WCQs) and a small number of friendlies beforehand, I wasn't quite yet convinced. My general impression was that a small group of players constituted the lineups for the friendlies and important (read: early) qualifiers.

So I went about it this way: How many players played (and were called) in the calendar year 2008, when matches against Martinique (31 January) and Jamaica (17 November) are excluded?

I chose to exclude those matches because the January camp could not have been intended to provide real preparation for WCQ with so many key players in season in Europe, and the Jamaica match was a lost cause, with no real reason for top players to be called.

The numbers are interesting. Omitting the bookend matches of 2008, here's who played:


Player First called First played
1 Lars Hirschfeld at Estonia at Estonia
2 Daniel Imhof at Estonia at Estonia
3 Mike Klukowski at Estonia at Estonia
4 Andre Hainault at Estonia at Estonia
5 Kevin McKenna at Estonia
6 Julian de Guzman at Estonia at Estonia
7 Paul Stalteri at Estonia at Estonia
8 Marcel de Jong at Estonia
9 Tomasz Radzinski at Estonia at Estonia
10 Ali Gerba at Estonia at Estonia
11 Richard Hastings at Estonia at Estonia
12 Issey Nakajima-Farran at Estonia at Estonia
13 Atiba Hutchinson at Estonia at Estonia
14 Dwayne De Rosario at Estonia at Estonia
15 Josh Simpson at Estonia at Estonia
16 Rob Friend at Estonia at Estonia
17 Patrice Bernier at Estonia at Estonia
18 Kenny Stamatopoulos at Estonia
19 Greg Sutton vs Brazil vs Panama
20 Ante Jazic vs Brazil vs Panama
21 Adrian Cann vs Brazil vs Panama
22 Tam Nsaliwa vs Brazil vs Brazil
23 Jaime Peters vs Brazil vs Brazil
24 Pat Onstad vs Brazil vs Brazil
25 Adrian Serioux vs Brazil vs Brazil
26 Josh Wagenaar vs Brazil
27 Jim Brennan vs Panama vs Panama
28 Iain Hume vs Jamaica vs Jamaica
29 Dejan Jakovic vs Honduras
30 Olivier Occean at Mexico at Mexico
31 Kevin Harmse at Honduras at Honduras
32 Nik Ledgerwood at Honduras
33 Chris Pozniak at Honduras vs Mexico
34 Charles Gbeke vs Mexico vs Mexico

34 players called, and 28 saw the pitch. This is still a large number, but that is to be expected of one of the busiest calendar years in some time. You could argue the list could easily have been even smaller, seeing as:
  • Josh Wagenaar and Kenny Stamatopoulos were called as backups but never played
  • If Tam Nsaliwa's citizenship issues had been worked out (no fault of Mitchell's that they weren't), it is likely a player like Pozniak or Harmse would not have needed to be used later in WCQ due to injuries and suspensions to other midfielders
  • Josh Simpson would have been involved in the team had he not been injured; his spot was filled largely with Brennan, Jazic, and de Jong. Any of those players might have stayed home for all of 2008 had Simpson been healthy.
In short, I am of the opinion that an overly fluid roster was not chief among Canada's problems in '08. Midfield had been pretty much settled (De Guzman, Hutch, De Ro, Radzinski) while forwards were narrowed to two options. Klukowski and Stalteri were constants on the wings. Only the centre back position was in real flux, which is where I would begin my criticism.


Speaking of problems with Canadian soccer in 2008, the blog Canadian Stretford End (some England reference?) has an interview with Julian de Guzman. (Don't misunderstand me: Jules wasn't the big problem with Canadian soccer, but he discusses some in the interview).

Spurns our digital advances, and speaks ill of the CSA and OSA. What a misanthrope!

I also once tried to score an interview with Canada's #6 by sending a vaguely worded email to the address listed on his website, but obviously "Sam", as he calls himself, has better connections.

Also, I got a bit of an ego boost yesterday as this blog experienced a little bit of a traffic spike. Closer investigation, though, revealed an all too obvious reason: I had all the details for streaming Canada vs Sweden, who apparently got together in some other sport last night.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut . . .

I'm not as anti-CSA as some. I won't argue with many of the most common criticisms, but I also think those levelling the accusations need to take note of factors like the game's near-invisible profile at the national level and persistent and chronic underfunding. But the organization's handling of the Nykamp fiasco and keeping Dale Mitchell on after failures with the U20s and the MNT are more or less inexcusable.

But I like to think myself a fair-minded individual, and I'll give credit when credit is due. And while PDF match trackers remain as laughable a use of internet technology as ever, the Association has improved their website in a big way over the last year. The most significant improvements are to the search- and sort-able player database.

In recognition of occasional unshittiness of the CSA, I check the site from time to time to read news releases, check up on players, etc. You know, the regular behaviours of a Canadian soccer creeper with too much free time. A year-in-review release of 30 December caught my eye, and appealed to me for the following reasons:
  • a healthy diet of numerical analysis; in other words, by eliminating the emotions and agony of the matches of the year gone by to simple statistics, the write-up hides some of the sting
  • a good deal of neutral prose glossing over what was an abysmal 2008
Some highlights from the article, which is a MustRead:
Canada wasn't lucky enough to score when it counted most in the so-called CONCACAF Group of Death against opponents Jamaica, Honduras and Mexico.
This seems like a bit of revisionist history. But then remember this:
Just before the second half, Paul Stalteri created a marvelous chance when he centered the ball to Ali Gerba. Gerba's header in the 45th minute somehow hit the post and stayed out.
There were 2 moments/bounces/unlucky breaks that really defined the lost campaign. The first was Onstad's boner (in a bad way) against Jamaica in Toronto. The second was that missed chance against Honduras. If either ball is a few inches in another direction, Canada could very easily have had 6 points after 2 matches. It's easy to forget now, but the team played well against Jamaica and for 60 minutes against Honduras at Saputo.

Some other nuggets of numerical goodness:
Not since 1993 has Canada scored as many as 17 goals in a season. Canada scored in nine-straight matches from 31 May to 15 October. Were it not for an off-side call in the 19 November match (Chris Williams in the 91st minute), Canada would have managed at least one goal in every match of FIFA World Cup™ Qualifiers for the first time in Association history.

Unfortunately, Canada also allowed 21 goals in 2008, tied for third-most in program history. As such, Canada's goals weren't enough to secure wins and pick up much-needed points on the road to South Africa 2010.
A result of hiring a striker as coach? I've been hard on De Ro and others for failing to produce offensively, but clearly defense was the problem. Not the defenders or keepers necessarily, but defending as a team. The offside goal in Kingston is news to me (Chris Williams in a WCQ!), but I guess none of saw anything from Jamaica so a pink elephant could have stampeded onto the pitch and I wouldn't have known about it.

Another:
Coach Dale Mitchell called 46 players over the course of the year (39 of whom featured), the most ever in program history.
Good or bad? Discuss? I'll go first -- the year featured 2 experimental rosters (vs Martinique in January and vs Jamaica in November) which skewed the number a bit. Dale was actually pretty consistent in the players he chose while fates still hung in the balance.

All time stuff:
Also in 2008, Canada won its 100th game in men's program history. It has an all-time record of 100 wins, 67 draws and 122 losses. Canada's all-time record at home is 44 wins, 17 losses and 37 draws; Canada's all-time record in official FIFA/CONCACAF competitions is 50 wins, 37 draws and 45 losses.
The home record looks good.


In summary: Read this article, and the CSA doesn't always suck.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Will Canada play a home match in 2009?

This is something to watch in the New Year. One of the few bright lights in 2008 was the growing Canadian fan support at venues across the country. It wasn't always enough to shut out or shout down opposing fans (think Hondurans in Montreal or Mexicans in Edmonton), but it is support that had some momentum. Some of that momentum would no doubt be lost if Canada doesn't play at home in 2009.

Mexico fans in Edmonton (2008.10.15)

All we have to go on is recent evidence of Canada's playing history in years where the team doesn't have any official matches (read WCQs) on the schedule that would require a few home dates. Fortunately, there are many such years in the past decade. Here's a selection:
2000: WCQ year (Canada eliminated before the Hex)
2001: No home matches
2002: No home matches
2003: No home matches
2004: WCQ year (Canada eliminated before the Hex)
2005: 02 July 2005 - Friendly match international amical
Canada 1, Honduras 2
Swangard Stadium, Burnaby, BC, Canada

2006: 04 September 2006 - Friendly match international amical
Canada 1, Jamaica 0
Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard, Montréal, QC, Canada

2007: 12 September 2007 - Friendly match international amical
Canada 1, Costa Rica 1
BMO Field, Toronto, ON, Canada

2008: WCQ year (Canada eliminated before the Hex)

2009: ??????

There's word that part of the deal for the Iceland friendly (in Reykjavik on 22 August 2007) was a return engagement in Canada sometime in 2008 or 2009. 2008 having elapsed it would seem Iceland could be a possible opponent at BMO or in Montreal in 2009, though if the ball is in the CSA's court on this matter, I wouldn't count on it.

Canadian fans often have to grasp at straws and I will do so here: Canada hasn't failed to play at home since 2003. 1 home friendly a year isn't really enough, but the fact that there have been home dates in each of the last non-competitive years (aren't they all, though?) gives me hope for '09. At the very least, a Gold Cup prep match on the same coast as Canada's first round dates would be a nice touch.