Sunday, February 27, 2011

WSA Winnipeg schedule for 2011

Before we begin, a quick acronym lesson:
  • USL = United Soccer Leagues: and umbrella orgranization of division-3 and lower level leagues, based in U.S., but with teams from Canada and the Caribbean
  • PDL = Premier Development League: A largely amateur, mostly U23 loop of the USL, including 64 teams spread over 9 regional divisions.
  • WSA Winnipeg: Winnipeg's entry in the Heartland Division of the PDL, playing its inaugural season in 2011.
With that out of the way, the PDL announced its 2011 schedule last week, no doubt to much fanfare.

Here's WSA Winnipeg's 16 dates:

May 2011
PDL Sat May 28 8:00 PM ET Thunder Bay at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Sun May 29 3:00 PM ET Thunder Bay at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
June 2011
PDL Tue Jun 7 8:00 PM ET Des Moines at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Wed Jun 8 8:00 PM ET Des Moines at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Sat Jun 11 8:00 PM ET Colorado at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Sun Jun 12 3:00 PM ET Colorado at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Sat Jun 18 8:00 PM ET St Louis at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Sun Jun 19 3:00 PM ET St Louis at Winnipeg Winnipeg Soccer Complex
PDL Sat Jun 25 9:00 PM ET Winnipeg at Colorado Shea Stadium
PDL Sun Jun 26 4:00 PM ET Winnipeg at Colorado Shea Stadium
July 2011
PDL Fri Jul 1 8:30 PM ET Winnipeg at Des Moines Valley Stadium
PDL Sat Jul 2 8:30 PM ET Winnipeg at Des Moines Valley Stadium
PDL Fri Jul 8 8:30 PM ET Winnipeg at Springfield Cooper Sports Complex
PDL Sat Jul 9 6:00 PM ET Winnipeg at St Louis Tony Glavin Complex
PDL Wed Jul 13 7:30 PM ET Winnipeg at Thunder Bay Chapples Park
PDL Thu Jul 14 7:30 PM ET Winnipeg at Thunder Bay Chapples Park

In what can surely be described as one of the quirkiest of scheduling quirks, the team will play its entire 8-game home schedule before heading out on the road for the first time. Barring playoff competition, the team will have played its last home match 4 weeks after opening the season on May 28th against Thunder Bay.

I'm sure the league or the team have their reasons, but surely this cannot be considered ideal. The team website also has a placeholder page for an "exhibitions" schedule. Hopefully there are one or two marquee (by North American standards) opponents that will make an appearance later in the summer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canada's summer of soccer

Congratulations are in order for head coach Sean Fleming and the players of Canada's male U17 national team, who have qualified for this summer's U17 World Cup in Mexico. The decisive result was a 2-0 quarterfinal round win over Trinidad & Tobago. Highlights are available on the CONCACAF site, and are worth watching, if only to witness the Kevin Aleman wundergoal (ok, that might be laying it on a little thick) to make it 2-0.

Qualification into this tournament is certainly a significant accomplishment. No less significant, though, will be the efforts required by the Canadian soccer fan over the months of June and July. Consider the following schedules:

CONCACAF Gold Cup: 5 June - 25 June
FIFA U17 World Cup: 18 June - 10 July
FIFA Women's World Cup: 26 June - 17 July

There is significant overlap with these tournaments. Throw in Toronto FC, the Vancouver Whitecaps in their inaugural MLS season, FC Edmonton and the Montreal Impact in NASL, and for those of us abiding in the Chicago of the North, the opening salvos from WSA Winnipeg, and all of a sudden, there are a lot of matches to watch over a short span.

A few words of advice to the diehard Canadian fan, in order for this June and July to go off with as little friction as possible:
  • Beverages of choice should be well stocked;
  • Employees should begin now to ease off at work in order to make summer productivity declines appear more gradual;
  • PVRs should be obtained and assured of being in good working condition;
  • Spouses/significant others should be informed in advance of your emotional absence for June and July;
And most important of all for the Canada supporter.
  • Prepare for disappointment!
It's going to be a great summer!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nutrilite Canadian Championship (contest) format

I need your help.

While it was hardly a national secret to begin with, the CSA confirmed today the format and schedule for the 2011 edition of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

The change was necessitated by the inclusion of a 4th team, FC Edmonton, in our national club competition after two years of a 3-team round robin. In its place, a pair of two-legged semi finals will produce a championship final also played over two legs in April and May. Check the link for all the details, but really, all you need is this:

SEMI-FINAL STAGE
27 April 2011

Impact Montréal (3) v Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2) at Stade Saputo

FC Edmonton (4) v Toronto FC (1) at Commonwealth Stadium

4 May 2011

Toronto FC (1) v FC Edmonton (4) at BMO Field

Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2) v Impact Montréal (3) at Empire Stadium

CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
The highest seeded team in the final will determine whether it opens at home or away
18 May 2011

First Leg
25 May 2011

Second Leg

The merits and demerits of the new format probably deserve their own discussion, but what I am most concerned about is how this will affect this blog's Voyageurs Cup/NCC prediction league that I've run over the past two years.

You see, those contests were one of this blog's most (and only) popular features, and I want even more entries this year.

With the round robin format, the rules were relatively straightforward:
  1. Entrants would predict the number of goals scored for each team in each of the 6 matches.
  2. Your score is the difference between your predicted score and the actual result. For example if you predicted VAN 2 - MTL 0 and it ended up VAN 0 - MTL 1 you'd have a score of 3 for that match. High numbers, like golf, are bad.
  3. I think I may have had readers predict a golden boot winner as a form of tiebreaker.
With the large number of entries in 2009 and 2010 I was worried about a potential logjam for 1st place overall, and indeed in year 1 it came down to who got their entry in soonest. But last year, over the course of 6 matches a champion managed to separate himself from the pack. (No women, as far as I can tell, have yet distinguished themselves in the contest). If you want to see for yourself, check the contest wrap up posts:
  • 2009: squizz wins(29 entries)
  • 2010: Lank wins (40 entries)
Since the total number of games played will be the same (6 -- 4 in the semis and 2 for the final) there is no reason to think that the method of predicting match scorelines would be any more or less likely to produce a clear winner.

However, there are a few problems:
  • The vagaries of two-legged ties means the first result often determines to a large degree the second. It presents a greater challenge than predicting individual round-robin matches.
  • It has not yet been confirmed (though of I have put in a request for clarification via twitter) whether these aggregate draws will be decided by away goals. The spectre of what to do with any matches going to overtime/penalties looms large.
  • What to do with the final? A second round of predicting once the teams have been decided, or predicting blind?
I have my own ideas, but I'd love to hear yours. Flood the comments with your suggestions, or send me an email. I'll open the contest to entries likely by the beginning of April, so a format will be decided before then.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Richard Hastings announces retirement

Longtime Canadian national team defender Richard Hastings announced his retirement this week from professional soccer. Hastings had spent most of his career playing in Scotland.

Hastings, of course, is best remembered for scoring what is likely the second most important goal in Canadian soccer history:



The scenario: Canada has made it to a Gold Cup quarterfinal against Mexico, and rather unexpectedly has taken the match to a sudden-death (golden goal) 30 minute overtime.

Hastings earned 59 international caps over 12 years, but that goal, which came in his 8th international match, was the only goal he would ever score for Canada. It was a watershed moment, and for many of the Voyageurs, including myself, represented the first time they really became aware of the Canadian soccer team.

In recent years, many fans would often be critical when Hastings would receive a call up, me among them. It is the same story with Stalteri now: both players clearly don't have the ability any longer to compete at the level Canada needs to be. But this is more an indictment of Canada's depth or of Canada's coaches' inability to find other options than it is of the players themselves. Hastings always answered the call, and when he was surpassed for talent at leftback by Mike Klukowski and Marcel de Jong, he willingly moved into a less familiar centre back position, sometimes with excellent results, such as the 2007 Gold Cup, which featured Hastings knocking around Landon Donovan.

Hastings had been out of work professionally since the fall, and to be honest I had already retired, so this will cause no great ripples on the current composition of the Canadian NT. Still, Hastings was a loyal servant and this career milestone deserves to be recognized. He will be returning to the West Coast to work at a soccer academy.

(By the way, Martin Nash, who was the orchestrator of the Hastings goal in the video as well as most of the other goals in the 2000 Gold Cup run, also retired since the end of the 2010 NASL season. I always felt he was an underrated performer for Canada and I wish him all the best in his future endeavours in the Whitecaps offices.)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Roster changes for Canada-Greece (and other news)

The curse of the German-based Canadian national team defenders continues. News that Kevin McKenna had been ruled out of action for this Wednesday's friendly in Greece came down mere hours after the roster had been released. Now, more bad news: Nik Ledgerwood and Marcel de Jong, possible candidates for the RB and LB spots respectively, are both not making the trip.

As a replacement, Stephen Hart was forced to call up Paul Stalteri, a man who hasn't played for his club in over a year. This is what Hart said about Stalteri on the conference call after the original lineup for this friendly was released:
I did speak with Paul at length about his situation and what he is trying to do. In the discussion, I told him that I wouldn't be bringing him in for this game and he understands the situation completely. He has not been playing and he's trying to rectify his situation. Once he gets playing again we will keep an on eye on him to see how he is progressing. [rednation]
While Hart likely had few players he could have called at the last minute, I'm a little disappointed that Paul will be flying in. As long as Stalteri is content to collect a paycheque instead of fight for a starting job elsewhere, he is not a realistic option for any of Canada's important matches in the next year or two. We need to see what else we have.

At the very least, I'd like Hart to do his best to keep Stalteri out of the starting XI, though that becomes more difficult with De Jong's absence (I hadn't expected him to start). This was my preferred starting group that I posted yesterday:

Hirschfeld
Straith - Edgar - Jakovic - de Jong
Johnson - Pacheco - Hutchinson
Jackson - Friend - Simpson

There are no obvious candidates to replace de Jong at left back, which is why I worry Stalteri might start there. He has filled in at that spot before. Jaime Peters might have played a few games there for Ipswich. But here's my proposed back four:

Peters - Straith - Jakovic - Edgar

David Edgar would like to be a centre back, but he has so far been mostly played at other positions by Newcastle and Burnley. I believe he was starting at left back when he scored his EPL goal against United. I'd rather have Peters start than Stalteri, though I have little confidence in either. Alternatively, if Adrian Cann shows he has the legs, Hart could send out this group.

Straith - Cann - Jakovic - Edgar.

Needless to say, I've revised my prediction from 1-0 to 2-0 for Greece.

* * * * *

Other news in brief:

Canada will play Belarus in an international friendly to be played at a neutral site in Turkey on March 29th. This is a two-match window, so Canada could still possibly line up another opponent for the 25th or 26th, but my guess is they won't.

Canada moved up 4 spots in the most recent FIFA rankings, but more importantly, remain 8th among CONCACAF teams.

Greece has also named its roster for the Canada match.

Hey, I said brief, right?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Canada roster for Greece friendly

It may be old news by now, but Stephen Hart has released the list of players from which he will select his starting XI against Greece this coming Wednesday. The roster has been discussed and covered on other blogs and forums for days already.

In the intervening days one of the players originally selected, defender and likely captain Kevin McKenna, had to withdraw due to injury. Toronto FC defender Adrian Cann, training in nearby Turkey, was brought in to take his place. Word is that callup Nik Ledgerwood, a possible starter at right back, picked up a hamstring injury today as well and might not make the trip. We'll see. For now, this is the roster:

PLAYER POS CLUB LEAGUE CAPS GLS
Lars Hirschfeld GK Valerenga Oslo Norway 32 0
Jaime Peters D Ipswich Town England 23 1
Marcel de Jong M FC Augsburg Germany 15 1
Dejan Jakovic D DC United MLS 9 0
Adrian Cann D Toronto FC MLS 8 0
Nik Ledgerwood M SV Wehen Wiesbaden Germany 6 0
Pedro Pacheco M SD Santa Clara Portugal 1 0
Will Johnson M Real Salt Lake MLS 13 0
Rob Friend F Hertha Berlin Germany 28 2
Simeon Jackson F Norwich City England 13 2
David Edgar D Burnley FC England 0 0
Adam Straith D Energie Cottbus Germany 5 0
Atiba Hutchinson M PSV Eindhoven Netherlands 50 3
Dwayne De Rosario M Toronto FC MLS 55 15
Josh Simpson M Manisaspor Turkey 30 1
Tosaint Ricketts M Poli. Timisoara Romania 0 0
Olivier Occean F Kickers Offenbach Germany 18 2
Milan Borjan GK FK Rad Serbia 0 0

Given the circumstances (friendly during short international window, MLS players out of season), this is as close to a first choice lineup as one might expect to see. Notable absences might include Julian de Guzman, Mike Klukowski ('personal reasons' given as explanation), Tomasz Radzinski (retired from international duty?) and Ali Gerba (out of season).

McKenna's injury leaves a number of question marks in the back. The 4 candidates to start in central defense (Straith, Edgar, Jakovic, and Cann), have a combined 22 caps. My guess is Adam Straith and Dejan Jakovic will be the starting pairing, but that would mean that the versatile Straith would be unavailable to fill in at right back. With Ledgerwood questionable, that would leave the defensively unreliable Jaime Peters to start at the position .

McKenna's absence also leaves the job of captain wide open. The most experienced of the remaining players are Lars Hirschfeld, Atiba Hutchinson, and Dwayne De Rosario. De Rosario has been saying the right things lately, but is known to behave in a way that is, let's say, "uncaptainly". Hutchinson is more the lead-by-example type, while most managers are loathe to give the armband to a keeper. Hirschfeld might not start anyway, with the intriguing Serbo-Canuck Milan Borjan also making the trip.

With the players available, here's how I'd line them up (no doubt Hart will have a different opinion)

Hirschfeld
Straith - Edgar - Jakovic - de Jong
Johnson - Pacheco - Hutchinson
Jackson - Friend - Simpson

I very much doubt Dwayne would have joined the team if he hadn't been guaranteed to play, so the lineup you're likely to see would probably have him in midfield with Pacheco shuffled out.

* * * * *

By the way, you will in fact be able to see the match. Sportsnet One will be broadcasting live, with the other regional channels showing the match later in the day. But for the 99% of the country that can't access SN1, the match will also be streamed live on sportsnet.ca.

Your match predictions? Throw them in the comments. The bookmakers seem not to like our chances. bwin.com is paying 8.25 for a Canada win so if you're feeling confident, put some money down.

As for me? Not so much. I'm not one for bold predictions, so I'll go with the most prosaic of results: 1-0 Greece.