Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The best soccer video of 2011

If you only watch one footie clip this year, please, oh please, let it be this one:



One of the underrated aspects of this video is the adidas ad in the back which reads the fastest boot just got a brain, when it is abundantly clear that the dude's brain just got a boot.

This video is interesting in a personal way to me. I spent a year living in the Netherlands and the first 6 months were spent in a small town in the dunes, where the nearest Eredivisie side was AZ Alkmaar, then just beginning their rise to big 4 status along with PSV, Ajax, and Feyenoord. In the middle of a fairy tale UEFA Cup run, I quickly caught the AZ fever. So popular was this club at the time that I couldn't manage to get tickets to a match at their cozy stadium (since replaced).

I did manage to take in two Ajax matches during the second half of my stint in the country while living in Amsterdam. Ajax are much like the New York Yankees of the Eredivisie: if you don't love them, you hate them. I sat through two underwhelming wins over bottom-feeders at the ArenA (where the above incident took place) secretly hoping the home side would fail to pull out the points. My friend and I were on the receiving end of a dual glare from father and son for failing to celebrate a late winning goal against long-since-relegated FC Den Bosch.


The kicking incident took place in a KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) match with Ajax leading 1-0 in the first half. The match will now be replayed in its entirety, with teams allowed to field any XI they choose, at an empty ArenA on January 19th, a Thursday afternoon. AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek had pulled his players off the field in protest, and rightly so, after the AZ 'keeper, Esteban, had been red-carded for his actions.

Meanwhile, the Ajax fan at the centre of it all has become somewhat of an internet celebrity; a Hooligan Wesley meme is all the rage these days in Holland. On a not-so-light note, he has been sentenced to six months jail time.

2011: A blogging year in review

2011 was the year of twitter. Or was that 2010? In any case, what better way to summarize the most popular posts on the blog from the past year than to copy/past the tweet retrospective that I recently subjected my followers to.

out of touch

Thanks to all my readers, contest entrants, and especially commenters at Out of Touch in 2011. Looking forward to a big 2012 in Cdn soccer!

out of touch

1. "Nutrilite Canadian Championship pool: 2011 edition". For most, the only time they'll visit the blog

out of touch

2. "The new Canada kits: the good and the ugly" Remember when you cared about this? Me neither.

out of touch

3. "New contest: Gold cup goals" Players picked tournament goal scorers to win a 2" Radzinski doll.

out of touch

4. "Canada to host 2015 WWC" This successful hosting bid is one of the successes of 2011 that I barely remembered.

out of touch

5. "Know your enemy #1: St Lucia" Will you ever give this country a second thought again?.

out of touch

6. "Canada v Greece: the roster so far" Roster speculation from the first friendly of 2011.

out of touch

7. "Canadian content: A dismal report" A midterm grade on the atrocious Cdn content showing for the pro teams, esp. Van

out of touch

8. "Voyageurs Cup Pool: Week 2 report". Interest in my contests always outstrips interest in my thoughts.

out of touch

9. "FIFA rankings: April" Of particular interest since they would affect seeding for WCQ.

out of touch

10. "CONCACAF WCQ round 3 schedule". It is what it says it is.

out of touch

The year in blogging: I'll be counting down the 10 most popular posts on my blog from 2011. Feel free to put me on ignore.
The lesson? If the goal is to give the people what they want, then expect to see more sartorial musings and contests in 2012. But if you're being realistic expect more (or likely less) of the same.

Thanks for reading, and commenting. I'll give a special shout-out to my most dedicated commenter, BearcatSA, who is a real human and not a spammer (I think) and appears always to have read my posts before writing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

National team debuts in 2011

One of the rituals in these parts at year's end is to have a look to see how the player pool for our men's national team has evolved. It's not always easy to say which players may have had their final kick of the ball for Canada in a given year (though I can't imagine we'll be seeing Paul Stalteri again in a Canada shirt), but it is possible to recognize those who had their first taste of the soup in. This will be the fifth year running wherein I carry out the exercise on this blog.

Have a look at previous years' debutants:
Before we get to the list of Canadians to receive their first senior cap this year, let's quickly look at how involved the 2010 first timers were in Stephen Hart's setup in 2011:
  • Adam Straith: 5 matches, 450 minutes
  • Terry Dunfield: 6 matches, 532 minutes
  • Pedro Pacheco: 4 matches, 87 minutes
  • Nana Attakora: 1 match, 20 minutes
  • Marcus Haber: 1 match, 8 minutes
  • Massih Wassey, David Monsalve, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Gavin McCallum, Gianluca Zavarise, Carlo Rivas: no appearances
Being a non-Gold Cup year, and far away from critical WCQs, 2010 was used by Stephen Hart to see a number of players, with a total of 11 new selections. Of those 11 only two, Adam Straith and Terry Dunfield, were regular players in 2011. Haber and Attakora suffered from injuries and might otherwise have been more involved, while Randy Edwini-Bonsu is still one to watch for the future.

Now for 2011's debutants, first opponent, caps, and minutes played:

PlayerDebut againstCapsMins
David Edgar
Greece7489
Milan Borjan
Greece5405
Tosaint Ricketts
Greece9225
Ashtone Morgan
St Lucia
2109

Unlike 2010, where a lot of fringe-y players were given a chance, in 2011 Hart seems to have focused on those who he felt would be able to make an impact in important matches.

Here's a closer look at their contributions:

David Edgar (24 years old / Burnley FC, England)

It has been quite gratifying as a Canadian supporter to see the always-promising Edgar finally make his mark in 2011. One can only imagine how much more gratifying it must be for the player himself. On the club side, he had a handful of Premiership appearances and a memorable goal to his name years ago, but it took until this year for him to settle into a regular role in the Championship for Burnley. For Canada he was captain of the disastrous 2007 U20 side, but did not make an appearance for the senior side until February in Greece. His playing time was probably inflated by injuries to regular centre-halfs Kevin McKenna and Dejan Jakovic, but he's likely one of the first 3 or 4 names pencilled at the position for Canada. He also showed some versatility by deputizing at right back in one match, with mixed results.

Milan Borjan (24 years old / Sivasspor, Turkey)

Milan is a guy most of us probably hadn't heard of 18 months ago. For me, he is the most exciting of the players to get their first cap in 2011. Not because of any standout performances -- in fact, he had a memorable and costly gaffe in the Gold Cup match against Panama -- but because he provides quality at a position of little depth. Until Borjan's emergence, there wasn't much behind Lars Hirschfeld on the 'keeper depth chart; the minutes doled out to Kenny Stamatopoulos recently are evidence of that. Add Borjan's frequent statements of appreciation and devotion to his adopted country and you've got yourself a popular guy.

Tosaint Ricketts
(24 years old / Politehnica Timisoara, Romania)

Somewhat of a super-sub under Stephen Hart, Ricketts made the most appearances of all new faces in 2011, featuring in 9 of 11 matches, but garnering only 225 minutes. He was also the only newbie to score, notching goals against Ecuador, Puerto Rico and St Kitts. He has speed to burn, but is unlikely to play a regular starting role until he can learn to better fit into the team concept. This much was in evidence in that final WCQ against St Kitts in Toronto, where his one goal disguised a bevy of squandered chances.

Ashtone Morgan (20 years old / Toronto FC, MLS)

The youngest man to make his debut, Morgan featured in late WCQs against St Lucia and St Kitts. He is the first product of the MLS academy system to make his Canada senior debut, which is itself an exciting development. At left back, he'll face continued competition from veterans Mike Klukowski and Marcel de Jong, both of whom play at a much higher level. Still, he looked adequate for Canada and his strong showings for TFC in MLS and CONCACAF Champions League suggest he is one for the future at the international level. One can only hope that his career continues to progress; he should look at Nana Attakora's 2011 season as a cautionary tale of how quickly a promising start to a career can become derailed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

CSA Players of the Year 2011

As they do every year, the CSA has been soliciting votes from coaches and media for their 2011 Players of the Year. Awards are handed out to men and women in the U17, U20 and World Cup categories.

The criteria for selection, as worded in the CSA press release, follows:
The award will celebrate Canada’s top-two soccer players in recognition of their 2011 achievements with both the national team and their respective club teams.
I hope I am not offending anyone when I state that I care little about the female categories (though Christine Sinclair should win the senior womens' award again) and the junior nominees (though it would be tough to go against Ashtone Morgan in the mens' U20 category).

My interest lies with the senior male nominees. As always, the list of suggested players is a bit curious. Here it is:

Male Nominees

  • Marcel de Jong | GER / FC Augsburg | Toronto, ON
  • Dwayne De Rosario | USA / DC United | Scarborough, ON
  • David Edgar | ENG / Burnley FC
  • André Hainault | USA / Houston Dynamo | Hudson, QC
  • Simeon Jackson | ENG / Norwich City FC | Mississauga, ON
  • Will Johnson | USA / Real Salt Lake | Toronto, ON
  • Olivier Occean | GER / SpVgg Greuther Fürth | Brossard, QC
  • Tosaint Ricketts | ROM / FC Politehnica Timişoara | Edmonton, AB
  • Josh Simpson | TUR / Vestel Manisaspor
  • other selection
Most curious is the absence of 2010 winner Atiba Hutchinson. This could be explained by an extended injury absence in the latter half of the year that kept him out of action for club and country. But the exact same could be said of Marcel de Jong, who with 180 minutes played less for Canada than any other player on the list.

I think I may value a player's national team contributions more than most voters might, so despite the fact that Hutchinson played more matches at a higher level than anyone else on the list, his lack of time for Canada (5 matches and 429 minutes in 2011) disqualify him from my consideration.

Unfortunately, we are left then with a relatively uninspiring bunch. None of the remaining players were consistently excellent for Canada. Will Johnson would be closest, but he was downright atrocious at St Kitts following Salt Lake's exit from the MLS playoffs.

Let's eliminate some more names, shall we?
  • Tosaint Ricketts is an exciting player for the future and opened his Canada account with 3 goals in 2011, but he is a bit part player for the near future and surely knows it. He is a regular in the Romanian second division, which kind of says it all.
  • Olivier Occean played in 5 Canada matches in 2011 and split time between the German 3rd and 2nd divisions. He is a journeyman European striker, an accomplishment in itself, but doesn't jump off the page.
  • David Edgar, finally, is a full-time player. He seems to have found his level in the English Championship. Still, I don't think he plays much for Canada this year if it wasn't for injuries to Dejan Jakovic and Kevin McKenna.
  • If the award was based purely on club performance, it would possible to make a case for Andre Hainault. But the man was absent too often for Canada.
  • Simeon Jackson would have been a good choice if this award was handed out in summer. But he hasn't been featuring for Norwich and has delivered mostly unremarkable performances for his country, hat trick against St Lucia notwithstanding.

We are left with Dwayne De Rosario and Josh Simpson. These players are second and first, respectively, in minutes for Canada in 2011, so their contribution can't be knocked, at least for quantity. Simpson had 3 goals in 2011, De Rosario had 4, though all were penalties. Simpson is an important player for a mid-table Turkish side, undeniably a higher level than MLS, where De Rosario was a controversial selection for MVP.

De Rosario will win the award, clearly. He has the name recognition due to time spent in North America, and more specifically, the vote-rich Toronto market. But does he deserve to?

I'm almost ready to admit that he does. Because there were no standout performers in a Canada shirt in 2011, one has to look to club performances. And unlike the MVP vote, where an argument can be made that team success must be considered, this vote can more easily be made on the basis of individual excellence.

His MLS tally (16 goals, 12 assists) blows away any other 2011 calendar year stats, adjusting for level of play, and despite my reluctance to admit it, equaling Dale Mitchell's all-time Canada goals record at 19 deserves some form of recognition.

So if I had a vote (and I don't), it would be for (gulp) Dwayne De Rosario. I know.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lies, damn lies, and .500

Allow me to take a break from my irregular soccer-themed postings to provide you with a rant from a secondary (actually tertiary, behind CFL gridiron football) passion.

Did anybody catch the big Jets game yesterday? The one where they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champs from Boston, a team that was unbeaten since October (actually, they weren't)? You know, the game that put the Jets over .500 (they're not)?

If you've spent any time reading this blog, you'll know that I have a thing for spreadsheets. Mostly, they're an elegant way of organizing data, and of course the spreadsheet was the first killer app for the PC (remember those?) But sometimes it's about the numbers contained therein and the story that they tell.

Moreso than a lot of anecdotal tripe and breathless speculation that constitutes sports writing these days, numbers are able, concisely and precisely, to narrate happenings on the pitch, ice, or court. Statistics is a powerful tool to analyze teams and players, and to suggest means of improving both.

Which is why it is so endlessly infuriating when the language of numbers and statistics are so carelessly misused in the popular media. And more than anything, it is the use of the term ".500" when referring to NHL teams that has me blowing my lid.

WHAT IS .500?

.500 is a decimal number. Mathematical speaking, the trailing zeros are redundant. .5 would be more correct, but gives some people other ideas.

In sport, .500 is used to refer to teams:
  • that have lost exactly as many games as they have won
  • whose records are statistically average

In North American sport, this stat is rarely problematic. In baseball and basketball, where rules have legislated ties out of the game, a team with a winning percentage of .500 (also infuriating, as 0.500 is a decimal number, 50% is a percentage) will have won exactly as many games as they have lost. In gridiron, where ties are rare, a 7-7-1 team is rightly called .500 and will have amassed exactly half of the available points.

Only the NHL and other lower divisions in hockey, with the recent abomination of points awarded for overtime and shootout losses, do scribes and fans alike play fast and loose with the .500 truth.

WHAT IS .500 IN HOCKEY?

This is the common use of the term, at least around these parts:

The 12-11-4 Jets — first time this season over .500 — skated vigourously for an hour at the MTS IcePlex today, now looking ahead to their Friday night home game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Forget for now that the dashed and bolded clause is grammatically incomplete. Instead, look to the record: 12-11-4. If this were 1985, you could say the Jets were over .500. But it's not, and you can't. First off, Dale Hawerchuk is like 100 now while my Jets lovechild Alex Burmistrov is barely 14. Of more importance, the meaning of that third column has entirely changed.

Let's break it down for the uninitiated. The first number, 12, represents wins. Wins of any kind, whether recorded in regulation, overtime, or the shootout (please, Gary, kill it). The second column represents losses in regulation. Period. These two are not created equal.

The final column represents losses in overtime and the shootout, for which a point is awarded. So my beloved Jets (long may they remain) have 12 wins and 15 (11 regulation + 4 extra time) losses. By any of the definitions of .500 given above, they are above it.

The only case one can make is to state that the Jets have earned more than 50% of the points available to them. That's great, but so have all but 7 teams in the 30-team NHL.

This is a term that has outlived its usefulness, at least in referring to hockey. My own preference would be for records to be listed thusly: total wins (OT/SO wins) - total losses (OT/SO losses). Reporters would quickly remember what decade we are in and could easily compute which teams are over .500 by doing the old math exercise with the < symbol (the little snake eats the bigger animal!)

Maybe sports style guides have already proscribed the correct use of .500(hey, it's only been over a decade) and it's only a problem here in Winnipeg where things take a while to catch on (we've only recently completed the Zubaz pants craze). Of course the easy solution would be to do away the unnecessary loser's point and even less necessary shootout.

But that's me. Rant over.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Canada in 2011: All player stats

The Canadian Soccer Association website seems to have misplaced most of their match and player stats in the recent site overhaul, but that hasn't stopped me from compiling the stats of all players to pull on a Canada shirt in 2011 (thanks, soccerway!)

The Google Spreadsheet itself is more elegant than the hack job blogger does with cut and paste, so go have a look for yourself at all the data.

Collectively, Canada went 6-2-4 (win-draw-loss) in 2011, and hopefully the coming weeks will provide time for some analysis of the team's play as a whole. The team was 1-1-1 in friendlies, and 5-3-1 in competitive matches (1-1-1 in the Gold Cup, 4-0-2 in World Cup qualifying).

Briefly, here are some of the highlights:
  • A total of 33 players featured for Canada under Stephen Hart in 2011.
  • Josh Simpson (11 starts, 1 substitute appearance) and Simeon Jackson (9 and 3) were the only Canadians to appear in all 12 Canada matches. Josh Simpson was also the minutes leader with 938, of a possible 1080 (87% of available minutes).
  • Dwayne De Rosario was the other player to start 11 matches, and played the second most minutes. After Simpson and De Ro, the rest of the minutes top 11 were: Simeon Jackson, Will Johnson, Nik Ledgerwood (!), Julian de Guzman, Kevin McKenna, Andre Hainault, Terry Dunfield, Lars Hirschfeld and David Edgar.
  • De Rosario and Jackson were the goals leaders in 2011 with 4 each. These totals are made less impressive when you consider that all four of De Ro's goals were penalties, while 3 of Jackson's 4 came against St Lucia. Other players to score in 2011 were Simpson, Iain Hume, Olivier Occean and Tosaint Ricketts (3 each), and Johnson, Hainault and Dunfield (1 each).
  • Milan Borjan and Lars Hirschfeld each made 5 starts in goal (Kenny Stamatopoulos filled in for the remaining 2 matches). Lars had the edge in minutes, at 495 to 405.
  • You will not be shocked to learn that Terry Dunfield led the way with 3 yellow cards. Also picking up cautions were Simpson, Johnson, de Guzman, Edgar and Ashtone Morgan (1 each). There were no sendings off.
  • Tosaint Ricketts seems firmly entrenched in the super-sub role, coming off the bench 8 times, by far the most in that category. Rob Friend was next, with 4 substitute appearances.
  • Julian de Guzman's minutes total for 2011 was 666.

Again, have a look at the spreadsheet and tell me what you found most interesting in the comments.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November FIFA rankings

While the FIFA rankings aren't worth the digital paper they're printed on, from a statistical perspective, it still remains heartening when Canada finds itself in a more decent position.

In the most recent edition of the rankings Canada is 72nd, up 11 spots from October. I wouldn't be doing my reporterly duty if I didn't also mention that the team is sandwiched between Austria and China in the table.

It won't be important for a few years now, but here's how CONCACAF stacks up:

RnkZon. RnkTeamPts+/- Pos

201Mexico Mexico8662Up

342USA USA7210Equal

473Jamaica Jamaica6093Up

514Panama Panama5852Up

545Honduras Honduras5703Up

646Costa Rica Costa Rica503-2Down

697El Salvador El Salvador46313Up

728Canada Canada45511Up

789Haiti Haiti43829Up

8310Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda4187Up

Antigua 10th in CONCACAF, 83rd in the world. Crazy, right?!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dwayne De Rosario: The Enigma Variations

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma
- Winston Churchill, October 1, 1939, on Russia

The Enigma Variations represent the finest work of turn of the century English composer Edward Elgar. Each of the variations was composed in honour a different one of his friends or acquaintances. The entire set was said, by Elgar himself, to hint and some unplayed hidden theme, which he would go to his grave without revealing.

[part 1] [part 2]


Dwayne De Rosario is a figure whose diverse performances for his (now many) club sides and for Canada are cause for much discussion and controversy, the reasons for which are equally shrouded in mystery.


DE ROSARIO THE MLS PLAYER

As you should by now have heard, De Rosario is the 2011 MLS Most Valuable Player. By any statistical measure, he had an outstanding individual season, scoring 16 goals and adding 12 assists. The award voters were able to look past the fact that all 3 teams he was a part of failed to make the playoffs, and so should you. MVP awards across the sports world routinely favour the most outstanding player over the far more nebulous 'most valuable'. Dwayne was surely the most outstanding in 2011.

And he's had an outstanding MLS career. My earliest memory of watching any MLS match was the 2001 final, televised on ABC. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the young Canadian, only to be disappointed that he had started the match on the bench. But he entered as a supersub, scoring the golden goal (remember those?) that delivered the championship to the San Jose Earthquakes.


He is now a 4-time MLS Cup winner, and one of the league's most consistent talents over the last decade. He seems to have developed the outsized attitude to go along with his considerable talent, but I won't begrudge him that. At the MLS level, it is well-earned, and he should rightly feel slighted when teammates are paid far better.


DE ROSARIO THE CANADIAN NATIONAL TEAMER

Also in the last week, De Rosario has placed himself in the conversation with the all-time greats (such as they are) in a Canadian shirt by scoring his 19th international goal, tying former coach Dale Mitchell at the top of the list.

He reached this level in most inspiring fashion: by converting 4 penalties in 2011, each earned not by himself but a teammate.

The enigma of Dwayne De Rosario is that his 10 years of MLS success have not translated to consistent positive play for Canada. He reached the 19-goal plateau, itself not much to get excited about (Landon Donovan has 46 goals for the USA), not so much through consistent greatness, but rather by being the most-capped ever of Canada's attacking players. Being the designated penalty-taker for most of his run has not hurt either.

More often than not his performances on the pitch have been frustrating and underwhelming. In MLS he is a bona fide star, and has the attitude to go with it, and teams are built around him. For Canada, he fails to fit into the team concept and therefore drifts into and out of games. This was much in evidence in the latest round against Puerto Rico, St Kitts, and St Lucia where he was the only attacking player to fail to score from open play, despite playing the most minutes of any Canadian.

Ego is not the problem. If anything, Canada's rosters are full of players that lack for confidence and deliver performances that are far too timid in big moments. Ego men are the ones that take big games by the balls. Think Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch in South Africa.

Somehow, Dwayne's ego seems only to lead to sulking. He seems to revel in drawing attention to his own good deeds (the "one love" scrawled on an undershirt in 2001 is Dwayne's twitter in 2011) but despite being Canada's captain, fails to lead in word or deed.

It remains to be seen whether De Rosario can be made to work within the rigid tactical framework required in international football, where tight timelines prevent the free-flowing chemistry that is possible on the best club teams. It seems to me that Stephen Hart is hardly the man to make this happen.



As a Canadian supporter, one cannot but be excited for Dwayne in MLS and the recognition of the MVP award. Ultimately, though, he will be a big part of deciding whether Canada will reach the Hex next year. Unless something changes, it is hard to imagine a team in which he is the most influential figure winning on a sweaty Panamian evening, or against a hostile Honduran crowd in Montreal.

Though it is inevitable that De Rosario will soon stand alone as Canada's all-time leading scorer, it is not foreordained that the riddle of De Ro and his Canadian performances will ever be unraveled.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

WCQ stats: Round 2 player facts and figures

All player facts and figures from the just-completed round 2 group stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying:

player start sub mins goals yc
Dwayne De Rosario 6
494 2
Josh Simpson 5 1 459 3
David Edgar 5
450
1
Julian de Guzman 5
450

Simeon Jackson 4 2 369 4
Adam Straith 4
360

Ante Jazic 4
360

Lars Hirschfeld 4
360

Iain Hume 4
296 3
Will Johnson 4 1 279 1
Nik Ledgerwood 3
250

Olivier Occean 2 2 226 3
Terry Dunfield 2 1 225
1
Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault 2 1 189

Andre Hainault 2
180

Kenny Stamatopoulos 2
180

Kevin McKenna 2
180

Mike Klukowski 2
180

Tosaint Ricketts 1 4 166 2
Ashtone Morgan 1 1 109
1
Patrice Bernier 1
81

Atiba Hutchinson 1
69

Nana Attakora
1 20

Marcus Haber
1 8