Saturday, February 28, 2009

Canadian Content on Canadian Teams 2009

Canadian Content 2009
Last year, towards the end of the soccer season, I started tracking which of Canada's professional teams had the most Canadian content on the pitch. At the end of 2008, in addition to being champions of USL-1, the Vancouver Whitecaps were also crowned (metaphorically, by me) the most Canadian team in Canada. As a result, I'm trying to become a Whitecaps fanboy in '09, although Montreal's current flirtation with Champions League success has me a little distracted.

In '09, I'll make it easier for you to follow me following the Canadian content of Canada's teams. There's a link in the sidebar, and right here, to a PDF file with a summary of the Canadian content. I'll try to keep it updated weekly. Ish.

So far there's only 1 match to report. Montreal had 5 Canadian starters against Santos: Pizzolito, Braz, Grande, Placentino, and Sebrango. Brillant came on as a sub. I'm counting Sebrango as Canadian, just like I did last year when he played mostly with Vancouver. He has Canadian citizenship, so who am I to argue. To all you TFC fans who might complain about it, when Dichio gets Canadian citizenship, I'll count him as well. In total, the Impact were 43% Canadian for the match.

In case you're curious, I'll be maintaining detailed records, with game-by-game details on the Canadians for each team that make it onto the pitch. I'll make these available from time to time.


2" Radzinski in the wild, 3rd edition
Dispatch #3 from our contest winner:
subject: the magic is gone?

There is much that a 2" Radz doll can do, but it seems there are limits. It was a hard-fought, scrappy, passionate game full of hard challenges (hard as intramurals go) and whispered threats when the ref's back was turned. The result: a narrow 2-1 loss. It was a sombre, more reflective Radzinski doll that contemplated his Corona, but his little painted eyes showed a determination that the final game of the season (Sunday) would not pass in vain, that the playoffs were still within grasp. The voodoo powers were not entirely absent, and their flame will kindled again until all fuel is exhausted.

P


The photographs this week are decidedly more contemplative. To wit:

Dejection

I enjoy the new pics each week, if only because it shows the doll from some new angle I hadn't seen. This picture really hows how disproportionately large the head is.



Radz in thought

What's that white thing? A 2" Radzinski carrying case? Or the world's smallest stick of women's deodorant?


Resolve

In case you're wondering, the real Radzinski is doing just fine. His Lierse side sit in second in the Exqi League standings, in a promotion spot and 9 points clear of the third place team.


(In the same neighbourhood, my AZ have a stranglehold on the Eredivisie. Not that I'm bragging or anything).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

55,571


Unless you've been stuck under a rock since yesterday, or your only source of sports news is the Winnipeg Free Press, you know by now that the Montreal Impact knocked off Santos Laguna 2-0 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

They did it the same way that they managed to win matches in the earlier rounds of the competition: a well-organized defense, timely goalkeeping, and dangerous counterattacks. Eddy Sebrango's two goals weren't things of beauty (and the first was likely an own-goal), but they put Santos in a tough spot going home. That Santos failed to score an away goal was even more important.


But the real story is the crowd. 55,671 fans to watch soccer in a decrepit indoor stadium (though I'll admit to still having a soft spot for the Big O). In February. While Duane at the 24th minute was right all along about there being a fair number of families and children in the building with cheap tickets (from the few times the camera panned the crowd, I'd guess around 10,000), it still managed to sound like a soccer crowd. And a big one at that.

Duane really captures the zeitgeist with this quote:
In the middle of the winter -- hockey season-- 55,000 people watched a soccer game in Canada. The sport might have turned a corner tonight. Maybe Montreal wasn't the only winner. Maybe every person who has fought to bring this sport into the mainstream in Canada also walked away with a victory.
If I failed to mention it yesterday, major kudos to the Ultras section who were really into it the whole 90 minutes, and beforehand too (as per this piece from The National).

[More photos from daylife]

And thanks to my buddy Zapataloco in the comments to yesterday's liveblog, some early analysis from the Mexican press:
The analysis culled from the Mediotempo article goes something like this:

Sebrangos surprising early goal set the tone for a match in which the mexican side played without offensive creativity and lacked penetration, leaving forwards Benitez and Vuoso all alone up front.

The Canadian team played a pragmatic game which built on their advantage in aerial and physical play.

Every passing minute (in the first half)saw the Impact establish themselves more steadily on the field, constantly preventing the Mexicans from playing their style by not letting them come into their half while in full control of the ball, save for a a few early chances from Benitez who was left to fend for himself by his teammates.

By the 50th minute Santos were becoming desperate for the draw and started to over rely on shooting from distance, with little success.

The impact played the game in the way that best suited them: waiting for the Laguneros, pressuring them on the transition and occasionally touching the ball or going for the quick counter-attack, and also looking for aerial play and set pieces to take advantage of their physically imposing players.

Mediotempo describes Sanchez as "immobile and contemplative" on Sebrangos second goal.

They also thought the officials did a good job, making good calls and not letting things get out of hand when tempers flared up.

Hope this helps.

Zapatoloco.
Muchly appreciated, Z! Thanks also to all the readers yesterday who one made the liveblog one of my most successful, in terms of traffic. If all goes well, I'll be liveblogging again next Thursday at 10 pm et.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Impact - Santos 1st leg live blog!

CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTERFINAL FIRST LEG
SANTOS LAGUNA @ MONTREAL IMPACT

25 February 2009

Olympic Stadium, Montreal, QC
8 pm ET / 7 pm CT / 6 pm PT

Live on CBC Bold and CBCsports.ca
Other streaming options at rojadirecta and myp2p


It's been a while since I've done of these, so let's hope I still remember how.


Drinking menu: I know I've got beer in the fridge. To fully adopt the Quebec spirit, I should be swilling Molson Export but even I have my limits. And if I need to switch to mixed drinks, I also have a bottle of Maine's finest vodka.

Even I have my limits!

Starting lineups:
  • MONTREAL (4-4-2): Matt Jordan, Adam Braz, Nevio Pizzolitto, Cedric Jocqueviel, Leonardo Di Lorenzo, Joey Gjertsen, David Testo, Sandro Grande, Rocco Placentino, Eduardo Sebrango, Roberto Brown [source]
  • SANTOS: Sanchez, Hernandez, Garcia, Santiago, Mares, Torres, Toledo, Rodriguez, Torres, Benitez, Vuoso

We're all excited about the crowd. Even the TFC blogs are holding up their noses and admitting this is a good thing. I'm not too concerned about a Mexican presence in le Stade, although this recent google search query has me concerned: 'santos laguna official soccer shirt in montreal'.

Confirmed sales are over 50,000, with a sell-out possible.


Gambling? The odds I listed yesterday have shifted, and now most sports books have Santos as the favourite. I've got a handful of bucks down on a draw (now paying at 3.15 at bwin); if I win anything I'll spend it on a domain name for this site.


In case you're already sitting at your computer, compulsively refreshing this page, GET A LIFE! Kickoff isn't for another hour yet, and I've got work to do. I've banged out 2000 words of academic hoop-jumping the last hour, and need to get through another 1000.



The livestreaming feed will kick in at 7:50 ET, while CBC bold (it's a lowercase 'b', apparently) will pick up the broadcast at 8. In the 10 minutes until the feed kicks in, I'm going to grab some supper. No burritos tonight.

Think about it!

OK, so I'm not on the stream yet. I'm a little concerned that no link to the web stream has yet appeared on the CBC sports site, though they are advertising all over the page that the match can be viewed live there. Nothing to get too worked up about, though. There are other options (see above).

Watching right now on Veetle (Fox Soccer Channel). I'll let everybody know when I get a CBC link. Crowd looks to be arriving late, though big already. Handshakes are done with, kickoff in minutes. The Santos lineup is now listed above.


1st minute: 20 seconds in Adam Braz hits his first hopeless high ball forward. Thanks for coming out!

4th minute: Gjertsen cross draws a corner. Sandro Grande is the straw that stirs the drink so far.

5th minute: BONER!! Sebrango and Brown play a little back and forth game against a lax Santos defense, and Sebrango strikes from the top of the 18. 1-0 Impact!

7th minute: Sloppy defending on the other end nearly results in a Santos goal. Foul near the corner flag by the Impact doesn't amount to anything for Santos.

Brief radio silence as I am switching from the annoying FSC brayers to the French CBC. Again, I'll let you know when English CBC gets their technical issues sorted.

10th minute: Jordan makes a "grand arret" on a long through ball to Benitez. Impact need to lock it down defensively.

13th: It's settled in a little bit. The Impact are putting Santos under pressure when they are in possession.

The link is on CBCsports.ca right now, but I'll stick with French for the 1st half. 18 degrees inside the stadium.

16th: Grande does some more good work in midfield, and the play results in a long ball to Placentino, in a dangerous position. His pass connects to Brown, but his shot attempt is closed down. The Impact broke down the Santos defense fairly easily on that play.

21st: Santos are controlling things right now without creating any chances. Montreal is relying on the counterattack, and occasionally look dangerous.

22nd: Santos can't compete with Montreal in the air. After a throw-in near the corner flag, a cross was headed on by Sebrango to Brown, whose header looped and hit the bar.

24th: Benitez, the lone forward, is Santos' offensive threat. He's physical and fast, and gets onto long balls from the halfway line. His latest work ended with a corner that was cleared.

If you're scoring at home, the Impact have 4 Canadians in their starting XI this year. I don't think they'll be much better than TFC in that regard this season, unless Jordan gets injured.

29th: Vuoso tries to put the pull over the defender's head and go around him, but is fouled instead. Medium-dangerous free kick range, but it is easily handled by Jordan.

31st: Brown had a half chance on a header at the back post. The chance itself wasn't that dangerous, but this Santos defense is pretty questionable.

The Frenchies calling the game are right, I think, to say that Montreal's chances on the counter
have been more numerous than one would have expected.

37th: Whenever Montreal gets into trouble, they are making inch perfect tackles. Jocqueviel especially. Now a corner to Santos after another ball long to Benitez. On one of the rare occasions that Santos wins a header, they put it well over and wide.

The Frenchie announcers are digging on the "Ole" chant, and get in a few shots at Habs fans for their derivative chanting and piped in music.

41st: Brown is flagged for offside on a long ball from Grande. I'm really impressed with Sandro Grande so far tonight. He just hit another perfect 40 year ball to Gjertsen.

44th: Roberto Brown gets a yellow card for a challenge. The card looked a bit harsh, but he'll have to be careful now.

HALF TIME: No added time from the referee, which seems about right. I don't think the Impact could have played much better, which is both positive and worrisome.

Santos have been owning the ball a lot, and you get the sense that a breakdown by Montreal is inevitable. On the other hand, Montreal's chances on the counterattack have been more dangerous than anything Laguna has created.

Don't forget to post your own thoughts in the comments, even if you aren't watching.

I think I'll be sticking with the French CBC for the whole match. They have a nice feature on right now about Matt Jordan, who turned down an MLS move to stay with what he feels is a great organization in Montreal.

I know the game isn't about the crowd, but they were in fine form late in the first half after a tentative start. And it looks big.

46th: One switch for Santos. I didn't catch the names. Now a free kick 30 yards away, straight on goal for Montreal. Placentino strikes and puts it over.

Benitez immediately gets a chance at the other end, but Jordan handles it.

Jordan claims on yet another chance. Again, the Impact are a bit shaky early, just like the first half.

52nd: Benitez runs at two Impact defenders and gets a good shot away, but Jordan saves. I think Benitez will have to get his teammates involved in the offense more for Santos to score.

Testo is giving the ball away a little too cheaply, and after doing so, gives up a free kick 35 yards out. Jordan is forced into a difficult save down low at the post. Corner. Jordan claims.

Grande was the best player for Montreal in the 1st half. Now it's Jordan, which isn't a good sign, necessarily.

58th: If I was John Limniatis, the guys I would think about taking off are Placentino, Brown, and Testo. Just I write this, new acquisition Stephen De Roux comes on for Placentino, who gets a nice hand. De Roux is a speedster, apparently.

60th: Benitez does some nice solo work, but is shut down by Jocqueviel, who has been good. Benitez lays it off, and a long shot goes wide.

63rd: They had a shot of what I believe was the hardcore fans section. Looked good.

A cross took a minor deflection, so Brown couldn't head it properly. He was in a good position. Now it's another free kick from 35 yards for Santos. Gjertsen jumped into it and blocked it, and then Jordan cleaned up another cross.

66th: Santos make another change, Ludena in for one of the guys named Torres. It seems like they are switching their lineup from a B+ to an A team. The new guy will be playing on Adam Braz's side, which is worrisome.

They just announced the attendance, but I wasn't quite listening at that point. Sounded like 55,571. Now Brown is down clutching his face. He took a fist to the jaw, or maybe a chin to the jaw.

69th: Brown tries a bicycle kick in front of Garcia, who was none too pleased about it.

72nd: Now I can die in peace. I've seen everything. Adam FUCKING BRAZ nutmegged a guy, running down the right flank. His cross wasn't great, but they got a corner out of it.

Sebrango gets a head onto a ball from Grande, but it was offside anyway.

75th: The final substitution for Santos. They take off the other Torres, and bring on a tiny dude named Quintero.

Chances at both ends. The first is wasted by Gjertsen, the second is eventually closed down by Jocqueviel and the Pizz, and cleaned up by Jordan.

A total boner, in the both senses of the word. Major cock up between the centre back and the keeper, and Sebrango gets in and heads it over the goalie. 2-0 MONTREAL!!

I'm not a big fan of Brown, but he made that play as well. He's been quietly good today. The crowd is also really into it.

82nd: The first time Jocqueviel has looked bad, he lets a ball through to the Santos striker who shoots into the side netting.

Now Brown is coming off for Felix Brillant. It's the right move, but Brown is also getting a deserved ovation. The minutes can't run off fast enough now.

86th: Brillant is full of running. His job is clearly to run to the corner flag and waste time. De Roux has been useful as well. Santos haven't threatened in the last 5 minutes.

90th: Felix Brillant picks up a yellow card. It's getting a bit hairy now, with 3 minutes of time added on. Now a corner for Santos.

The play-by-play half of this Frenchie team is getting a bit carried away, talking about being CONCACAF champions. Probably popping a boner himself.

90 + 2: Classy and tactical move by Limniatis taking off Sebrango for Peter Byers. Sebrango didn't play in the earlier CONCACAF matches, because he was with Vancouver.


FULL TIME: It's over! 2-0 Montreal
.

Even I wasn't crazy enough to expect this (I bet on the draw, and lost the farm. Or 3 or 4 euros).

I'll keep my parting shots brief for now, since Top Chef, another of my vices, is on in a few minutes.

Props to:
  • The crowd: Sure, they showed up in numbers. Same with those meaningless Beckham World Tour matches. This sounded and looked like a soccer crowd, particularly the hardcore faction at the one end.
  • Limniatis: Santos may not have been prepared for Montreal, but Limniatis was prepared for Santos. He had the right approach to shutting down the Santos attack (ie: Benitez), and made smart tactical subs.
  • Sebrango: His goals were mostly the result of being in the right place at the right time, but he also did the right thing so many times in the match.
  • Jordan: He was quietly outstanding. Not so quiet even in the second half. If you caught the story of the French Ceeb in the second half, you found out he is a good guy too.
  • Grande: I wouldn't normally suggest a USL-1 guy is deserving of a national team call-up, but who couldn't use a guy who wins balls, is confident on the ball, and makes the right pass. Sure he's slow, but he's sharp.
More to come later, I'm sure. I'm especially interested in the reaction from the Mexican press.



From a Mexican press article, this photo:

This picture needs no translation.

If anyone can give any help with the article, especially those sections that are analysis, and not just reporting the bare facts, that would be swell

A quick request

If you're going to the game tonight (I hope by now everybody knows which game I'm talking about), and are planning on taking some pictures, especially crowd shots and snaps of Mexican and Canadian fans, and you wouldn't mind sharing them with the world, let me know by leaving a comment or dropping my a line.


And in case you were worried about the Big O falling apart tonight or the match being postponed, the game will go ahead as planned on Wednesday.


If you're not going to the game, tune in here at 8 pm ET (or a little sooner) for the live blog. I'll have some viewing options at that time for my readers (CBCsports.ca also has the details).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Montreal Impact - Santos: Tuesday Preview

How many of these seats will be filled?

It is easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding tomorrow's match. For me, it's a continuation of the surprise success the Impact had in the round robin portion of the CONCACAF Champions League. Backing the underdog is always fun, but every so often I need a reality check.

A good source of no-emotion wisdom is, oddly enough, gambling sites. Oddsmakers are in the business to make money, and giving long odds on favourites isn't the way to do it. So I checked in with a few of the internet's most reputable sports books to see what they think of the match.


bwin

2:00 AM
Impact (CAN)2.25
X3.25
Santos (MEX)2.75


bet365

Feb 25 17:00 Montreal Impact v Santos De Laguna +120 +220 +190

The formatting is screwy, but what this means is that a $100 bet on Montreal pays an extra $120 in winnings, $220 for a draw, and $190 for Santos.

Interwetten

Montreal Impact (CAN) - Santos Laguna (MEX)Separator2,30
Separator3,10Separator2,60SeparatorDetail

betfair

Montreal Impact
2.18
Santos Laguna
2.62
The Draw
3.15

I would have been tempted to throw a few dollars down on the Impact if they were giving better odds. But as it stands, the real money making proposition is betting on the draw.

The interesting part is that all of the sports books (I looked at a few others as well) have the Impact as favourites. It could be they don't know enough about the tournament, so they're just giving the regular homefield advantage, or maybe there are other reasons.

Just something to think about.


Also to think about, on this CCL quarterfinal eve:
  • How are you planning on watching this match? Canadian viewers can choose to watch it live, at 8 pm ET on CBC Bold or streamed live at CBCsports.ca. They also have the option of tuning in to a tape-delayed broadcast at midnight local. (Out-of-country viewers may want to check this website for online streams closer to game time)
  • Will you be tuning in to the live blog? This is the place.
  • No Biello for l'Impact. Biello is a good heart and soul player, but I think Limniatis has it right:
    Impact head coach John Limniatis said the loss of Biello isn't insurmountable for the team because of its depth, but expressed sorrow the veteran player won't be on the field.
    In the matches last season, I never felt like Biello was one of the best players out there.
  • Will Stade Olympique sell-out? I'm not sure what the sell-out mark is for Wednesday's configuration, but I can tell you that they were at 48,000 tickets sold on Monday. (Video on Olympic Stadium and the big match.)
  • Interviews: John Limniatis / Nick De Santis / Sandro Grande
  • It appears the Santos manager doesn't quite know if they're playing outside or not:
    On climatic conditions that will live in Montreal, which registered very low temperatures, Guzmán hope that is not a factor against them.

    "I think the stadium is roofing, but if we want to transcend this competition we have to put everything, even the cold, the stadium will be filled in Canada and that speech that we want to win and place and now we're going with the dream of winning "established.
    As far as I understand it, temperatures inside the Big O should be reasonably warm.

Good news on the Toronto FC front yesterday as they signed Canadian international and bad ass motha Adrian Serioux.

Monday, February 23, 2009

2009 Voyageurs Cup dates announced

L'Impact celebrate their 2008 win

Well, sort of. Expect the official announcement sometime on Tuesday.

However, an on-strike, but hard-at-work, reporter of the Journal de Montréal has published the 4 dates of 6 that involve the Impact at Rue Frontenac.
L'Impact entamera la défense de son titre de champion canadien des clubs et cherchera ainsi à conserver le privilège d'être le représentant du Canada à la Ligue des Champions de la CONCACAF, en affrontant le FC Toronto au stade BMO, le mercredi 13 mai, quatre jours après le lever de rideau de sa saison locale dans la USL-1. Les Reds viendront disputer le match retour de la série au stade Saputo, le mercredi 17 juin.

Quant à la série contre les Whitecaps, les affrontements seront disputés à une semaine d'intervalle, avec le match aller à Montréal le 20 mai et le match retour à Vancouver, le 27 mai.
En anglais:
The Impact will begin the defense of its Canadian club championship and will also seek the privilege of begin the Canadian representative in the CONCACAF Champions League, when they meet Toronto FC at BMO stadium, Wednesday May 13th, four days aver the curtain rises on the season in USL-1. The Reds will battle in the return leg at Saputo Stadium, Wednesday June 17th.

As for the series against the Whitecaps, the confrontations will be a week apart, with the first leg in Montreal on May 20th, and the return match in Vancouver on May 27th.

Again, in short:
  • Wednesday May 13: Montreal Impact @ Toronto FC, BMO Field
  • Wednesday May 20: Vancouver Whitecaps @ Montreal Impact, Stade Saputo
  • Wednesday May 27: Montreal Impact @ Vancouver Whitecaps, Swangard Stadium
  • Wednesday June 17: Toronto FC @ Montreal Impact, Stade Saputo
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the two missing matches between Vancouver and Toronto will fall on the intervening Wednesdays (June 3 and 10). I know a lot of people are griping about all of the midweek matches, but it is nice to a see a schedule so normal looking.


Also, from the same article, Santos arrive in Montreal this afternoon, and will hold their one and only training session on the FieldTurf at Olympic Stadium tomorrow afternoon.


V-Cup schedule update: I was wrong. It's not the first time either. TFC's matches with Vancouver will be in Toronto on May 6th, the tournament opener, and on Tuesday, June 2nd, in Vancouver.

That means Toronto will be done with its home matches after May 13th. Better hope they do well in those matches, as we (Canada fans) know what happens when you don't take advantage of an early home head start in a round robin tournament.

Montreal Impact - Santos: Monday Preview

If you're looking for a just-the-facts-Jack preview of Wednesday's big match, with links to all the Canadian news stories, Joe Ross at the Footy Blog has already gone through the trouble of collecting those into a single post. Most notably entertaining of the articles linked is the Gareth Wheeler preview from the Toronto Sun, Believe the hype: Soccer madness hits Montreal.

Wheeler obviously holds a grudge, and the object of that grudge is a certain chance-wasting high-jersey-numbered striker that was on the TFC roster for most of last season:
Come Wednesday, Toronto FC supporters will be asking themselves: 'What if?'

What if former TFC striker Jeff Cunningham could have buried that sitter he made a meal of last July to qualify TFC for the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League?

If so, TFC might have progressed past a knockout round and a group stage to make it to the quarterfinal. And if it did, would it be playing in front of a full house at the Rogers Centre this Wednesday?

That question won't be answered for another year -- and you can blame Cunningham.

[... concluding paragraph now]

Regardless what their future holds, on Wednesday, the Impact will be Canada's team, while TFC supporters will continue to curse the name 'Cunningham'.
I love it!

But cribbing Canadian news articles isn't what I'm all about. Let it never be said that I don't go the extra mile for my readers. In this case several thousand miles. I've gone south of the border, and then south of the next border, to find you a preview of the match from the Mexican press.

Quieren impactar al Santos Laguna from a newspaper in Durango, takes a look at Montreal's team from a Mexican perspective. Spanish (or "Mexican", as George W would say it), isn't one of the languages I can claim to read, but even I was hip to the jive that the headline is clearly a play on the name "Impact" (It amounts to "They want to hit [or impact] Santos Laguna"). I guess the lazy headline writers/bad punsters are a fixture that crosses language barriers.

Unfortunately, when I got around to translating this bad boy, it turns out that Mexicans are even lazier than we all assumed, as it is merely the translated Impact press release detailing their 3-1 win over the Trois Rivières Attak (Montreal's reserve side) in a warm-up match.

(As you can tell, I've taken a stream of consciousness, or at least stream of browsing, approach with this post. Since there's nothing new in that article, I'm stuck. I'm in deep, and have wasted too much of my day to throw it on the discard heap).

With nothing substantive to report on from down Mexico way, here are some photos of what Olympic stadium looks like, configured for soccer.

Will those house frames, at bottom left, be around for game time?



4 out of 6 guys in this warmup line are rocking some pretty serious soccer hair.


The 24th minute rightly points out that much of the focus in the lead up to this match has been on the ticket sales (guilty!), and gives a pretty sobering analysis of the Impact's chances. When he's on about USL-1 teams, I'm never sure whether he's drawing on realism or bitterness. Probably a little of both.

I have no club allegiances of my own (I'm trying to turn myself into a Vancouver Whitecaps guys this year -- a New Year's resolution of sorts) so I can maintain a steady diet of sunshine and rainbows and pretend that Montreal's going all the way.


Another article that Joe Ross missed is a Jason De Vos blog post. He uses the first half of his piece to ponder whether Don Garber isn't kicking himself for shutting the door on Montreal's MLS bid. He (rightly, I think) conjectures that whoever is announced as the next franchises, likely sometime in March, won't be handing over the full $40m (US) expansion fee. So, in that case, why not Montreal.


Commenter Zapataloco adds, on the subject of Mexican coverage of the match:
Looking at papers from Coahuila today reveals that Santos coach Daniel Guzman doesn't even know if they'll be playing under a covered stadium outdoors.

There has been absolutely no scouting on the part of Santos, they just figure the Impact will play long-ball physical football.

All player comments suggest overconfidence in themselves and underestimation of their opponents.

Santos Laguna's official website doesn't even see fit to mention wednesdays game in montreal.

It's looking like they're not taking this one seriously at all.

by

Zapatoloco from Montreal.

Useful stuff, and I hope it's true, particularly the bit about thinking they are playing outside. I haven't had any Mexican readers recently, so clearly they aren't scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to learning everything possible about Montreal, the stadium, and the match.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2008 Fan's Choice Awards

We can finally close the books on 2008. After a full month had passed after voting was to have closed, the CSA finally got around to announcing the Fan's Choice award winners for the year:
Melissa Tancredi and Julian de Guzman may very well be the 2008 CanadaSoccer.com Fans' Choices, but this year the real winners are fans Tara Jovaisas and Lucas D'Allessandro. Just this week, the Canadian Soccer Association shipped red Canada jerseys to both Tancredi and de Guzman which will be personally signed and then returned to the lucky fans.
I haven't exactly been waiting with baited breath for this announcement, but I have been somewhat surprised (disappointed?) that it took this long to make the announcement.

Julian, a sometime critic of the CSA, kept it pretty neutral in his press release statements:
"I would like to thank all the dedicated fans who took part in this poll as I am truly honoured to receive this recognition," says CanadaSoccer.com Fans' Choices co-winner Julian de Guzman. "This continues to motivate me with my mission overseas and worldwide by helping give Canada a place on the football map. I'd like to thank my teammates who made this happen for me on the pitch and my family and friends who've have been there throughout this wonderful journey."
And:
"Let this be a celebration to all of those who continue to show passion for the game across the nation," says de Guzman.
De Rosario, Radzinski and Gerba finished in positions 2 through 4, while on the women's side, Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang, and Rhian Wilkinson finished behind Tancredi.

The most interesting thing of all were the sweet player cards that were displayed along with the article:

I wonder if these player cards exist in a less ethereal form, and how one is to acquire them.

(Just as a reminder to my less faithful readers, I picked Gerba and Sinclair, then was later shocked to learn just how many voters had picked De Rosario, who had a poor 2008).


I plan to hype the Santos - Montreal match us much as possible over the next few days. But for today, let me direct your attention to a preview by CBC.ca soccer columnist John Molinaro.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

2" Radzinski in the wild, 2nd edition

The dispatches from our 2" Radzinski contest winner are coming fast and furious now. As ever, Radzinski is the motor for some dominating soccer. In honour of the 67-inch Radzinski's virtuoso performance against Mexico in October (I'm reading between the lines here), the 2-inch version is celebrating with tequila:

subject: 2" doll enhances performance, lifts your... game

Is there no end to the powers of the Tomasz Radzinski? Perhaps the distillation of his essence into a tiny figurine channels his powers into a potent ray of player improvement. A 4-0 scoreline with chances to spare and a brief stretch of domination by ball-possession that approached what pale Argentinian graduate students must be able to achieve on their better days. Plagued even by international... call-ups (international conferences, international debaucheries, or something) our team won through thanks to the serene influence of the Radz doll. No power on earth could keep him from his tequila shot tonight.

P

If you're scoring at home (and I am), you'll note that P's gradtramural soccer team is 2-0 with a 9/0 GF/GA since Radz arrived on the scene. Awesome much? As with our previous dispatch, there is accomopanying photographic evidence.

The fruits of victory!


Tequila and bling! (It's all about the benjamins-- err, Washingtons . . . Stupid economy!)


Diving in.


If our man P doesn't mind, could he leave a note and tell us what is inscribed along the base of the podium of the doll? Much obliged.

Soccer 360 magazine: A review

I've been meaning to do this for a while. Really, I have. Ever since fellow blogger, real-life journo, and Soccer 360 contributor Colin Smith alerted me to the mag's existence, either in a post on his blog, or in a comment to mine. It's so long ago that I can't remember.

The problem (there are very few) with the magazine is that you can only get it at the big book outlets with a large newsstand. Here in Winnipeg those are all located in malls, which I tend to avoid. If they don't have it at the grocery store, I probably won't get it.


But I was cleaning some things this morning and discovered an unworn Christmas gift (shirt, too large) that needed to be exchanged before the store's (The Gap) statute of limitations on returns kicked in. That precipitated a trip to a suburban shopping centre, and with time to spare before the next bus, a trip to Chapters.


Becks, cover boy for issue #19

When it comes to Canadian-based football/soccer publications, I really have no standard to measure against. The few magazines that have been in existence have typically been regional and short-lived. Soccer 360 looks to be taking a national approach, and hopefully will be around for the long haul.

Since I'm inventing my own criteria, Canadian content ranks as pretty important. I don't measure Canadian content like the CRTC; if I did, the mag would rank as fully Canadian since, as far as I can tell, all the authors are Canucks. Instead, I'm counting pages of Canadian articles.

The tally:
  • An interview with Canadian and Middlesbrough U18 Derek Bassi (1 page)
  • An interview with Brazil legend Careca during a coaching clinic in Canada (1 page)
  • An interview with Ali Gerba (1 page)
  • An interview with Dragon's Den dragon and Derby owner Brett Wilson (1 page)
  • 2 pages on CCL, focussing on Montreal's run, and a 1-page Ben Knight smackdown on the Impact's failed MLS bid
  • A 1-page Marvell Wynne interview and 3 pages of TFC year-in-review
In addition, there's 8 pages of general MLS stuff, and a Beckham article from a North American perspective. This might not seem like a lot in a magazine that runs nearly 90 pages, but domestic content is also given a prominent spot at the front of the mag.

A lot of the world soccer content is pretty strong as well. Instead of merely running down the big leagues, which is a bit pointless in a magazine that comes out every few months, there are good articles on match-fixing (Declan Hill book review), football and the financial downturn, and the emergence of the Russian league. The latter two articles are excellent, and are written by Jerrad Peters, who also scribes a weekly soccer column in my local rag.

Returning to the Canadian content, and specifically the Ali Gerba interview. Colin Smith asked about his feelings on the failed WCQ campaign. Said Gerba:
I'm very disappointed. Personally it's one of the biggest disappointments in my career because as a young kid you grow up with a dream that you will go to the World Cup. I don't know that any soccer player grows up and says I don't want to go to the World Cup and we had a chance to go and unfortunately we cannot do it and we're out. We were really motivated and I think we had one of the best squads to go as far as we can.

I'm not going to point any fingers because we know exactly what's the problem. And it's not because of the players. The players have something to do with it, but the organization, the whole organization, has to ask questions and we have to find out exactly what went wrong. I just want to see change. It's not only the players that have to be motivated to go (to the World Cup) and to try to do good in qualification, the whole staff has to come together and (find) solutions as soon as possible. We can't just wait for things to go bad and then ask 'Why? Why? Why?' Right now, any action would be good action. It would send a message that the national team is not something to be played with. It's not a toy that people can come and enjoy for a little bit and then that's it. It's something serious. People need to take it serious.
I'm surprised that I haven't read this anywhere else, sooner, if only because Gerba clearly lashes out at the CSA, and any such statement is usually trumpeted by the anti-CSA crowd at the Voyageurs forums. The first bolded statement is seemingly contradictory: he absolves and implicates the players in the space of two sentences. The last bolded bit is a criticism that could and should apply equally to the players and the organization. (The italics are there merely to highlight where our man Ali should have used an adverb and not an adjective. Gotta be pedantic, sometimes).

The fact that nobody at the Voyageurs picked up on this is probably a sign that there just aren't enough people reading this magazine yet.


Soccer 360 provides good value for money. At nearly 100 glossy full size pages, it clearly is expensive to produce, and I doubt the circulation numbers provide for much of an economy of scale. The domestic content itself is nearly worth the $9.95 sticker price (actually, I'm not sure why the bookstore affixed a sticker, since the price is clearly indicated on the cover) and the Canadian perspective on world soccer is also valuable.

If you've been reading this magazine longer than I have (apparently there have been 19 issues to date), let me know what you think about it.

Edit: After spending a little more time with the articles, the one accusation that I'd level at the magazine is a lack of careful editing. But then again, I'm a blogger who doesn't proofread his articles. On the other hand, you're not paying to read this.



And to prove that I don't hold up my nose at those who let their eyes linger across the pond, let me draw your attention to a couple of big wins in the 1. Bundesliga this weekend:
  • Rob Friend and Paul Stalteri get their first win together for Borussia Moenchengladbach, a 3-2 home decision over Hannover. Friend set up the decisive goal by Germany legend Oliver Neuville.
  • Kevin McKenna plays 90 minutes in central defense as his 1. FC Koeln upset Bayern in Munich, 2-1.
And, my own personal vice, the Dutch Eredivisie, became a little more interesting last week with AZ leaving a few points on the table by letting PSV back into a draw after leading 2-0. The boys from Alkmaar look to be back to winning ways this week, although leaving it to the 2nd half against Almelo is hardly inspiring.


Also, on this Hockey Day in Canada, the Canadian Soccer Assocation website seems to have undergone an extreme makeover. I like it, especially the goal compilation video (compressing all the good times into a few minutes makes it easier to forget the far more numerous and long-lasting painful memories). Though, like most makeovers, this one seems mostly to be at the surface level, as a lot of the articles and content seems still to have the same format as previously.



If you watch the video, about halfway through, you'll see the Hastings golden goal against Mexico, and a few highlights from the final against Colombia at the 2000 Gold Cup. That was 9 years ago this weekend. 9 years! There hasn't been much to cheer about in that time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pot pourri

I've been spurned into action as a result of my inaction.

Or something like that. What actually did it was a little tidbit dropped in yet another Voyageurs thread that devolved into yet another pissing match. The tiddy little bit, from "MediaGuy", a.k.a. Duane Rollins of the 24th minute:
I started the blog in November. I was just offered a major sponsorship deal today (literally today). I'm widely linked throughout Canada and the United States on both independent blogs and those connected to the mainstream. Again, this is in three and a half months in the off-season. It takes time to build something and I'm happy with the growth.

FWIW, the blog is accessed about 600 times a day, with that number representing about 400 unique visitors. My biggest day had 1,200 visits and 800 visitors. On average 27 per cent of my visitors are from Toronto proper, 35 per cent are from the GTA (including Hamilton) and 57 per cent are from Southern Ontario (including Ottawa). In total, 76 per cent of my traffic is Canadian and 19 per cent is American. International visits represent less than 1 per cent and typically are referred from this board. The difference in the number represents visits that can't be traced.
To this humble blogger, those numbers look awfully big. I've been at this a while (technically since 2004 or 2005, but really in earnest since early 2008). I've been so dumbfounded by this bold claim of internet traffic that I've been forced to reconsider my own relative lack of success. To what do I attribute his tenfold advantage* in blogging reach?

A few reasons:
  • I don't know who the authority would be on such matters, but I'm fairly certain one of the Golden Rules of Blogging is to post often, and to avoid long periods of hiatus. I've been doing alright recently, but month-long gaps between posts exist in the history of this place.
  • Does interest in TFC trumps interest in Canadian soccer generally? It appears that way.
  • Duane contacts sources, scours the interwebs, and generally applies some journalistic principles to his work. My blog posts are inevitably commentary, and entirely derivative (I am cited as an authority only when I go through the trouble of compiling statistics that can be used to start or settle incendiary pissing matches).
  • I'm not giving the people what they want. At one time I thought what the people wanted was pictures of Kara Lang stretching. This no longer appears to be the case.
Or maybe it's just that I often have very little to say. Like today. Just a couple of tidbits, hardly deserving of their own post.


I've said "tidbits" and "pissing matches" a few times in this post, and I'll try to continue. A few tidbits that I should share:

* If you're wondering about my own blog stats, you leave a very sad existence. I get about 50 visits a day, twice that when the Score's Footy Blog links me, and probably about 10% of those visits are from me; a further 25% are Google Image search results.

** The numbers that produced the graph (everytime I copy-paste this spreadsheet, blogger messes up the formatting in the same way. Gadzooks!):

Date Tickets Source
01/14/09 10000 (Impact)
01/20/09 15000 (Canoe.ca)
01/26/09 20000 (Impact)
02/02/09 25000 (Rue Frontenac)
02/04/09 35000 (Impact)
02/13/09 42000 (Impact)
02/18/09 45000 (Rue Frontenac)



Monday, February 16, 2009

Self-indulgent Monday

Out in my neck of the woods, we're observing Louis Riel Day. Whatever your opinions of the man, I'm sure we can all appreciate a Monday off.

On this Monday, I was pointed to this excellent article on my beloved AZ, on the Guardian's sports blog:
Louis van Gaal has lost his religion. And in so doing, he has contrived a new one. By relinquishing his former belief system and marrying it to a more modern approach, Van Gaal has, with AZ, reinvented Total Football. Call it Total Football 2.0, if you will.
I'm not a tactical geek, but whatever English language coverage I can get of the Alkmaar club is good in my books. It's an interesting read.

Besides the tactical stuff, the really amazing bit is this:
And the argument can no longer be made that AZ lead the Eredivisie by default because PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord are having an off-year. For AZ have now gone undefeated for five months and this weekend was their first failure to win in almost three months.
Not a bad little streak, though it should be noted that the Dutch league did recently return from a month long break, included in these 5 months.


The latest word out of Impact headquarters is that 42,000 tickets have been sold for the CCL quarterfinal match on 25 February. 9 days away. It seems the pace has slowed a bit, but I would not be surprised with a final tally of around 50k. Which, you know, isn't bad.

Friday, February 13, 2009

2" Radzinski in the wild

If you're new to the blog, then this post will require a few points of clarification. First: where have you been until now? And, second: at the beginning of January, after stumbling upon a retailer selling miniature footballers, including Radzinski in a Canada shirt, I launched a contest, with a Radzinski doll awarded to the winner.

The contest

The result

The winner vowed that the doll would serve as mascot for his underachieving intramural soccer team. It appears that the miniature version has the same talismanic power that Radzinski displays on the pitch for Canada. To wit:



subject: Magic Voodoo Power!

What can a 2" Tomasz Radzinski doll do? It can preside over a 5-0 drubbing, the first clean sheet in this humble intramural team's humble history, when our sick, coughing, unfit selves--yet inspired by the doll--found the tenacity, speed, and sometimes even finesse to dominate on ball control, pick apart the opposition's defence, and fire in scorching shots to injure their goalkeeper. We played like Canada played against Guatemala in the last Gold Cup, which means we missed some a few sure things but nonetheless got the job done in decisive fashion. We have no where do go but down, but with the RadzDoll it will at least be a slow descent.

P

p.s. Necessity dictated that we find a place that served mexican food instead of shots, but there was no end of beer for the totem figure of our team.
The P.S. relates to the photos accompanying the email, displayed below:

Radzinski astride a Corona tripod



Tomasz deliberating between Corona and Dos Equis (?)



A triumphant Radzinski. A pose we wish we could have seen more often


Thanks to our contest winner for his well-written and self-deprecating update.



A reminder to any and all that there is still another contest ongoing, although as yet without a prize. Perhaps another Radzinski doll could be awarded, though he really has little to do with Montreal Impact ticket sales.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

MLS vs USL-1 head to head

It's not uncommon for threads on internet forums to run off the rails. For whatever reason, sensible discussions often degrade into an old fashioned pissing match.

A pissing match. Who's winning?

Even a place like the Voyageurs forums, usually the best place to go for news and views on Canadian soccer, has threads that follow this pattern.

A discussion on whether the Canadian cup tournament, currently known officially as the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, though referred to by many others at the Voyageurs Cup, should be expanded to include more teams mutated into a debate of the relative strength of the USL and MLS. It had something to do with a suggestion that Toronto FC, as a member of the better league, should get a bye into the later rounds of the competition.

It is taken for granted by most that MLS is stronger than USL-1 (formerly the A-League). In the Canadian context, it is not as clear, since Vancouver and Montreal are perennially among the strongest franchises in USL-1, while Toronto FC has been decidedly mediocre, at least on the pitch.

And since teams from these leagues don't compete in a single-table or promotion-relegation system, it's hard to compare. All there is to go on is results of American teams going head to head in the US Open Cup.

Without going into too much detail, I was waiting for yesterday evening's episodes of Scrubs to finish downloading so I could watch them before bed. I used that time to get into the numbers a bit, and see how well MLS and A-League/USL teams fared head-to-head.

The results, in brief:

Year MLS wins USL wins
1996 2 2
1997 5 1
1998 5 1
1999 4 6
2000 8 1
2001 9 3
2002 8 1
2003 5 1
2004 7 4
2005 4 4
2006 3 0
2007 6 4
2008 4 4
Totals 70 32

A 70-32 record (all extra time games and shootout results could have been counted as ties, which would have narrowed the spread a bit), seems like pretty convincing evidence in favour of MLS. (A more detailed version of the spreadsheet, including all the matchups, is available here).

But is it enough to draw any conclusions? Likely not. To argue that this places USL in a clear subordinate position, like a second division, you'd have to look at European cup competitions and see how 2nd tier teams fare against those of the top flight, and see if the numbers compare. And I haven't the time to do that. ***

There is also evidence that the stable clubs in USL do pretty well. Rochester, Charleston, Minnesota, and Seattle all had records near the .500 mark. In the last 5 years, when USL-1 has become a much stronger division that it has been in the past, the win-loss record for MLS in these matches is 24-16 (a 60% winning rate).


My own conclusions are really only matters of opinion. MLS is clearly a better league than USL. I don't think anybody would argue the point. (Are franchises really with $40M? Hell, no. But that's another discussion).

But the gap between the top teams in MLS and the top teams in USL-1 is smaller than the gap between the top teams in MLS and the bottom teams in MLS. In other words, the best USL-1 sides (Vancouver, Montreal, a few others) are better than the worst in MLS. If they played in that league, they wouldn't finish last. And for me, that means a player is better off being a starter in USL than a bench player in MLS.

There is still some riffraff in the USL-1 division that will almost always lose to MLS sides. But there is some quality (Charleston, for example) that will always compete.

Care to argue the point?


Remember, in Canadian competitive matches between USL and MLS sides, each league has won and lost once, with 2 draws.


***
I flexed my academic muscles this morning and plowed through a whole lot of the work that I needed to complete, so I had a few moments to spare to look at how a few other lower divisions have fared.

I looked at the DFB Pokal competition of 2007-08 and 2006-07, particularly because that country is thought to have one of the strongest second divisions among European nations.

I went pretty quickly, so I can't be entirely sure of the numbers (I had to look up each team to see which division they were playing in at the time), but I know that they are close. In head-to-head match ups between 1. Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga teams, the results are:


Winner
Season 1. Bundesliga 2. Bundesliga
2006-07 12 3
2007-08 7 4
Totals 19 7
Percentage 73% 27%

The 73% winning percentage is better than the 68% rate enjoyed by MLS teams in US Open Cup competition, and significantly better than the 60% clip that MLS teams have shown over the last 5 seasons. But this is a situation of a sample size that is far too small to provide any statistically valuable information.