Sunday, July 31, 2011

Canada's world cup draw

Too often I have complained about Canada's luck, or lack thereof, in being drawn into difficult groups for qualification to various FIFA tournaments. This is the loser's lament. A good team will beat its competition, no matter who it is.

Still, it never hurts to avoid some of the more difficult opponents. In that sense, the round 2 group that Canada was drawn into during yesterday's preliminary World Cup draw ticks all the boxes.

Other than Guatemala, Canada should have had few worries about its potential round 2 foes. And a group that features St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and Puerto Rico as challengers should not strike fear into Stephen Hart and the boys. These six matches should represent a chance for the team to build depth and cohesion, and possibly for Dwayne De Rosario or Ali Gerba to take a run at Dale Mitchell's goal scoring record. I am slightly worried that the team might only manage a draw in the away leg in Puerto Rico, but I have no doubt that the team should qualify comfortably.

If they do, they will end up in a semifinal group that features Honduras, Cuba, and likely Panama. The drawing of the semifinal group was always going to be more important than the round 2 selection, even if Canada had ended up with Guatemala. And this largely has to be seen as a win for Canada as well.

Cuba should be a walkover for Canada. If not, we're not good enough. That leaves Honduras and Panama. Both are teams we can and should beat. Honduras were beaten 2-1 in a friendly in Montreal, while Canada was in the driver's seat against Panama in the Gold Cup until an injury time gaffe. It won't be easy, but Canada is not a strong enough team that it ever would be.

I am certain that we will get through our round 2 group with little trouble. I'm not certain we'll advance to the Hex, but this draw has given us a good chance. And if we get into the final six, especially with the potential of a playoff with New Zealand if we finish 4th, anything can happen.

Which is all we could ever ask for.


CANADA'S WORLD CUP QUALIFICATION SCHEDULE
home team listed first

Friday 2 September : Canada v St Lucia
Tuesday 6 September : Puerto Rico v Canada
Friday 7 October : St. Lucia v Canada
Tuesday 11 October : Canada v Puerto Rico
Friday 11 November : St. Kitts and Nevis v Canada
Tuesday 15 November : Canada v St. Kitts and Nevis

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Know your enemy #1: St Lucia


ST LUCIA
Pop: 170,000
Canadian city of comparable size: Regina, Saskatchewan

Best ever FIFA ranking: 108 (April 2003)
ELO ranking: currently unavailable
National team coach: Ces Podd (yes, his real name) Alain Providence

HOW THEY GOT HERE:
St Lucia advanced to round 2 of World Cup qualifying by defeating 168th-ranked Aruba in penalties after equaling their Caribbean rivals 6-6 on aggregate over 2 legs (each team won 4-2 at home).

Colours:

# of players on team that I've heard of: 0
Best players, judging by professional pedigree: According to wikipedia, the national team features 3 players who ply their trade off the island: Vernus Abbott, Kurt Frederick, and Pernal Williams, all of whom play for Trinidad's W Connection.

Canada's history against St Lucia: Canada has never played against St Lucia.

PREDICTION: If Canada does not win each match by at least 3 goals, I'll be surprised and frankly a little disappointed. This is an opportunity for the likes of De Rosario, Gerba or heck, even Rob Friend to pad their goal scoring stats.

DATES (home team first)
2 September 2011: Canada vs St Lucia (BMO Field, Toronto, ON)
7 October 2011: St Lucia vs Canada

Know your enemy #3: The Sugar Boys (St Kitts and Nevis)

UPDATE: St Lucia roster for Canada match [source]
The full squad reads - # 6 Nathan Justin – Centre Back , # 5 Rickson Augustin – Centre Back, # 10 Tremain Shayne Paul – Midfield, #16 Pernal Williams - Left Back, # 3 Fabian Joseph – Right Back, # 9 Kevin Edwards - Midfield, # 11 Jamil Joseph - Centre Forward, # 8 Zaine Pierre – Midfield, Pierre will be travelling from Italy to Toronto to join the team # 21 Pesious Polius - Goalkeeper, # 1 Iran Cassius - Goalkeeper, # 7 Enderson George – Right Midfield/Forward, # 2 Bernard Edward - Centre Back, # 12 Hiram Hunte -Defence Midfield. # 14 Guy Joseph - Midfield (Captain), # 4 Kurt Fredrick - Leftwing, # 15 Cliff Valcin - Striker and # 17 Terran John-Midfield.

St Lucia record since 2010: 1 win (vs Aruba), 1 draw, 7 losses

Thursday, July 14, 2011

MLS TradeCentre

American Idol is the worst thing about television, culture, and possibly human history. Running a close second, though, is TSN's TradeCentre, the annual frenzy surrounding the NHL's trade deadline to which TSN dedicates about 72 hours of coverage and provides countless teams of 'analysts' (I use the word generously), each more uninteresting than the last.

For possibly the first time, a series of MLS trades, involving both Canadian MLS teams, has caused a ripple in the Canadian sports world. Terry Dunfield, traded from Vancouver Whitecaps to Toronto for future and financial considerations, was trending on twitter this afternoon, for whatever that's worth.

In addition to acquiring Dunfield, Toronto shipped out Last Original RedTM Nana Attakora, along with forward Alan Gordon and midfielder Jacob Peterson, to the San Jose Earthquakes for Jamaican international Ryan Johnson and some of the usual non-human nonsense that gets thrown into MLS trades.

I could get into the implications for teams and fanbases but to be honest, I don't much care, and there are other sites out there that will do a much better job of same. Both Toronto and Vancouver are in the midst of dreadful competitive seasons and the soccer betting websites have them as longshots even to qualify for the MLS playoffs.

I have a more immediate interest in the Canadian players involved, as well as possible consequences for other Canadians who did not change clubs today.

It's hard not to feel sorry for Dunfield. He was the returning hometown boy, scored a goal in the magical season opener for Vancouver, and generally appeared to offer every fibre of his being to the cause. He might have appreciated the change of scenery if not for the fact that he was being shipped out to another team that has been equally miserable on the pitch. Not only that, but he goes from being one of the more regular midfield players with the Whitecaps to a TFC squad that is crowded with central midfielders: Julian de Guzman, Tony Tchani, Torsten Frings, Nathan Sturgis, not to mention the youngsters like Oscar Cordon and Matt Stinson.

If he does end up playing a role for Toronto FC, it will be because Julian de Guzman has moved on to greener pastures. It's not hard to see that de Guzman and Aron Winter have not been on the same page, and Winter would surely like to have use of a DP slot and related money to acquire a central defender. If the rumours are true Julian could be headed back to Europe, which could be best for all parties, including the Canadian national team.

Winter needs to fill a whole at centre half because early on he decided that Attakora lacked the skill or temperament to do the job in his system. He was the first of Toronto's merry-go-round of coaches to question Attakora's talent, but all of those previous coaches were garbage. So he may be right, but I would not be surprised if former Canadian manager Frank Yallop is able to get the best out of the young Nana (he is still only 22) in San Jose.

As a fan of Canada first, my ultimate goal is to see as many Canadians as possible starting for their clubs and gaining valuable experience. If this flurry of activity results in each of Attakora, Dunfield and de Guzman moving to new clubs and becoming regulars, then it will have been a success. (Though I do shed a tear for Vancouver's lineup, Arsenal-like -- of a few years back --- in their lack of domestic players).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Canadian content: A dismal report

For the Canadian soccer fan, this summer has been one of disappointment. Three major tournaments, involving three different Canadian national teams, have come and gone, each ending with different levels of disappointment.

In case you have forgotten, Canada's men crashed out of the Gold Cup after failing to hold a 1-0 lead against Panama, a team we will have to be able to beat consistently in order to make anything of ourselves in this region.

Canada's qualification for the U17 World Cup should be seen as an achievement of itself, so I won't be harsh on these teenagers. But after getting the needed result against England following a wild goal by the keeper Quillan Roberts, they Canadians played down to their opponent and could only manage a 0-0 draw with Rwanda that resulted in elimination.

And the not-yet completed Women's World Cup featured a 3-game group stage run by Canada that seems the very definition of my otherwise much-hated phrase 'epic fail'.

It would be nice, then, if the Canadian soccer fan could take a break from these failures by enjoying the on-field successes of the bigger Canadian pro teams. Unfortunately the struggles of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have been making that quite difficult.

In MLS, Vancouver are last in the West, while Toronto, with their league-worst goal differential, clings to a small lead over New England in the cellar, though the Revs have 3 games in hand.

In the NASL, the Montreal Impact, who had to have been considered preseason favourites to win the league, sit second last in the table and have managed a paltry 11 goals in 14 games, and have disposed of coach Marc dos Santos. Only FC Edmonton can claim to be having a successful season, sitting a surprising second under manager Harry Sinkgraven.

I don't live in or near any of these cities and like to consider myself somewhat of a neutral, though my sympathies lie more western than east. However, when I do pay attention to Canadian professional soccer it is with an eye to player development and seeing these players develop and flourish as national teamers.

For that reason over the last few years I have tracked the on-field Canadian content of teams at the NASL/USL-1 level or higher. You can check back to see who has fielded the most Canadian squads over the past few years
We have reached or surpassed the midpoint of the 2011 North American pro seasons (it's the MLB All-Star break so we must be at the halfway mark, right) and there is no better time to check in to see how Canadian these teams have been this season.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS - 9.3% CANADIAN**

Whitecaps fans, as with TFC supporters before them, were sold the promise that the entry of a team into MLS would be a vehicle for the further development of Canadian talent. As with Toronto, it may be too soon to expect the residency program to be stocking the first team with young Canadian starlets but I don't think anybody expected Vancouver's Canadian content to be so paltry.

The team has the distinction of having twice this season fielding a lineup without any Canadian players on the pitch whatsoever. Over the course of the season only 3 Canadians have played at all: near-regular Terry Dunfield, a national team utility midfielder; youngster Russell Teibert, who has not seen the playing time some think he deserves; and the already-departed Kevin Harmse.

Here's the breakdown of their Canadian content by minutes played:

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 1523 18661 8.2%
Canadian Championship 622 4290 14.5%
Totals 2145 22951 9.3%


TORONTO FC - 15.9% CANADIAN


Toronto FC, despite a much greater number of Canadian players on their senior roster, has fielded only marginally more Canadian lineups throughout the season.

When healthy, Julian de Guzman has been a regular. So was Adrian Cann before he suffered a season-ending injury. The freezing out of Nana Attakora has caused Toronto's Canadian percentages to suffer. 25-year old first year TFC man Gianluca Zavarise has been a fairly regular substitute.

Whether it is a sign of a commitment to developing young Canadian players or a signal of the team's lack of depth, several TFC Academy products have featured, including Oscar Cordon, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson.

TORONTO FC
Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 3354 20695 16.2%
Canadian Championship 567 3960 14.3%
Totals 3,921 24,655 15.90%


MONTREAL IMPACT - 23.5% CANADIAN

This has been a disaster season for the Impact. Marc dos Santos has 'resigned', the team is languishing at the bottom of a shallow NASL table, they can't score to save their lives, and much of their veteran core has been underperforming.

Of the Canadians, only Ali Gerba and Simon Gatti have been getting consistent minutes. There are few Canadian youngsters around the team. For a squad looking to build toward MLS in 2012 there are holes everywhere, not least in the Canadian department.

MONTREAL IMPACT
Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 3255 13843 23.5%
Canadian Championship 540 2310 23.4%
Totals 3795 16153 23.5%


FC EDMONTON - 76.9% CANADIAN

FC Edmonton have been a surprise success story almost any way you slice it. Apart from the Voyageurs Cup, in which they bowed out somewhat meekly against Toronto, they have been an on-field success. There seems to be a growing fan-base and a budding excitement around the team.

Most exciting to the non-Edmontonian Canadian supporter is the seeming dedication of team management to give a chance to Canadian and local players. Edmonton regularly fields 8 Canadian starters, and others will enter the match as substitutes. Young players such as Kyle Porter, Alex Surprenant and Paul Hamilton seem destined to climb a rung or two on the professional ladder in the near future.

Mathematically, FC Edmonton have probably already assured themselves the title of Most Canadian team in 2011, and it looks good on them. Is it a coincidence the most Canadian squad has also been the most successful?

FC EDMONTON
Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 10648 13841 76.9%
Canadian Championship 1474 1913 77.1%
Totals 12122 15754 76.9%


**
A club's Canadian percentage is determined by dividing minutes played by Canadians by the total of all minutes played by all players. Detailed match-by-match breakdowns of Canadian appearances are can be viewed here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Voyageurs Cup pool: FINAL results

I'll admit it. I didn't watch and still haven't watched a single moment of the final match replay of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship/Voyageurs Cup. During the time when the match was played, I was variously floating in or paddling across northern Ontario lakes.

Congratulations to Toronto FC on their second consecutive championship. They will likely be better representatives in the CONCACAF Champions League than Vancouver would have been, given Tom Soehn's complete lack of tactical acumen and the much stronger roster that Toronto possesses.

Like the tournament itself, there was drama in this contest to the final moments. Due to the high number of entries, I had decided that prizes would be awarded to the best two finishers, which is convenient since we had a tie for first place between Free Kick and Casual Soccer Fan. Both had the exact scorelines for each of the final round matches and are deserving winners. They will be contacted to provide an address so they can receive their prize.

What is the prize? You're looking at it.

New kids on the block could always use some more pub.

Here is the final tally. You can also see all the gory detail here.

FINAL STANDINGS
Difference Entries
4 Free Kick, CasualSoccerFan
5 Russell Berrisford, Flemings, Heavy Red Flow, Cheeta
6 fil, zooko62000, Guindon
7 Lord Bob, MM2, Bill Ault, Ryan, Ivan Garcia, Austin da Silveira, Massimo, Grant, Chew, Ed
8 Will C, Mosho, RKR, KuBo, Duncan Fletcher, thesecondyellow, Diego
9 J, Theo, pejnam, Mr Impact, dyslexic nam, rmacvicar, Sam, Rudi, Branden, feardafred
10 StartingEleven, kodiaktfc, mattz, Medic1849, squizz
11 downsouth, CapsFan79, JeremyMTL, Seathanaich, mulliganl
12 Jamonty, Tuscan, soka, LWO04, Old Style Pilsner, nicotine, saviola7
13 Scottie, Mr. Caca
14 Gareth, Jay
15 Pompey Canuck, Juby
16 Sasha