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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

CONCACAF WCQ Round 3 schedule

In case you missed it, Canada punched its ticket to the next round of qualifying with a less than convincing effort in a 0-0 draw in St Kitts Friday. While there is still a match to play in round 2, this Tuesday against St Kitts at BMO Field, fans, players and coaches alike can start looking ahead to the schedule for 2012.

Though CONCACAF has not yet officially released a schedule for the next round, the Panamian and Honduran federations have both released the dates for next year's matches. It's easy enough to extrapolate Canada's dates from these lists.

(It should be noted that Panama's release lists the final two matches as occurring in November, but since their dates and days of the week don't agree, I'm going to assume that Honduras' listing, wherein the final matches occur October 12th and 16th, is the correct one).

The complete schedule for Group C:

DATE HOME AWAY
8. Jun. 2012 Honduras Panama
8. Jun. 2012 Cuba Canada
12. Jun. 2012 Canada Honduras
12. Jun. 2012 Panama Cuba
7. Sep. 2012 Cuba Honduras
7. Sep. 2012 Canada Panama
11. Sep. 2012 Honduras Cuba
11. Sep. 2012 Panama Canada
12. Oct. 2012 Canada Cuba
12. Oct. 2012 Panama Honduras
16. Oct. 2012 Honduras Canada
16. Oct. 2012 Cuba Panama


Start saving your Air Miles, folks.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St Kitts redux: Job done, but ...

That was one November 11th I hope to forget.


IN BRIEF

Canada drew St Kitts last night 0-0 in Basseterre, eliminating the St Kitts and Nevians from World Cup qualifying contention, and as a result moving themselves on to the next round.


IN MOVING PICTURES

The CSA produced a highlight package of the match, but it is hard for the word highlight to be taken as anything other than euphemistically. Some of the men involved expressed disappointment with their performance but from my point of view they were far too understated.


WE GOT THE RESULT?

It seems that some are suggesting that Canada set out to play for the draw and ought to be happy with the achievement of qualifying from their round 2 group with a match to play. I am not one of those people.

Call me crazy, but when I see our team being outplayed by an island nation (ok, two islands) of 50,000, I'm not happy. Listen to Hart's interview (linked above) and he'll tell you the same. After the first half, in which Canada gradually asserted itself, it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before a break through. But the second half was an enormous step backwards with Canada constantly under pressure and failing to generate much for scoring chances. (Except for easy breakaway chances that were our so-called Premiership striker could not capitalize upon).

Another axiom trotted out is that there is nothing to be learned from a match against low-ranked opponents like those Canada has faced in this group. I think this is only half-true: we can't learn much about our team by thrashing a collection of amateurs 7-0, but failing to score for 180 minutes against amateurs and semi-pros is inexcusable.


BLAME THE PLAYERS?

To be sure, the players did not do themselves any favours with their performances yesterday. Prior to the match I was mostly excited about the strong lineup Hart had fielded:



Ironically Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, currently a bit-part player in the Germany's third tier, was one of the few men to deliver a creditable performance.

The back 4 of Ante Jazic, Mike Klukowski, David Edgar and Adam Straith, which I was interested to see in action, is not one I need to see again. Ante Jazic was consistently drawn to far inside, often covering for Klukowski who was playing out of position. This left acres of space down the wing. Kluka made some vital interceptions but also looked downright foolish on a number of crosses leaving men completely unmarked. Only Straith, also playing out of position, played up to expectations.

In the midfield JBB outshone Julian de Guzman and the downright abysmal Will Johnson which is all that needs to be said.

And while Simeon Jackson was wasting chance after chance at forward, Dwayne De Rosario was slacking and sulking and providing miserable corner kicks until Klukowski eventually took over those duties. And Josh Simpson looked dangerous when running at defenders, but chronically unable to deliver a useful pass.

It turns out another pre-match tweet turned out to be far more prescient.


Hello acid reflux.


BLAME THE COACH?

After Canada's embarrassing attempt at qualification for the World Cup in 2008 Dale Mitchell was deservedly out of a job. But it also left the players off the hook for terrible attitudes and even worse on-field production.

I don't mean to let the players off the hook again because for the third match out of 5 this round they were quite poor. But this qualification effort could be over in a flash come June and we'd be remiss if we didn't question whether Stephen Hart is up to the job.

Let's not forget that this is a man with little in the way of coaching credentials. Prior to gaining the national team job Hart coached a team in the Nova Scotia men's league, and then failed to qualifying the U17s for World Cups five consecutive times. Find me an international coach with a more threadbare resume.

He earned the NT job largely on the strength of an interim gig at the 2007 Gold Cup. This was a team that had JDG and Kluka at the peak of their powers and advanced largely on the strength of a stalwart defensive performance, yet didn't win any matches in which they would have been considered underdogs. Subsequent Gold Cups have produced less inspiring results.

And he is clearly out of ideas. His 4-3-3/4-5-1 has looked dangerous at times, but not lately. And last night it left gaping holes in midfield that the defense had to scramble to cover. Hart is reputedly liked by his players but we know how that story goes.

Canada is moving on to a round where two of the opponents will feature squads of mostly superior players. We need to be punching above our weight, but what evidence has Canada provided that they are capable of doing so with Hart in their corner?

I'd be fully on board with Hart being replaced by nearly anyone with a more impressive resume (which wouldn't be hard to find) but fat chance that we see that happening.


REDEMPTION?

Canada needs a good performance on Tuesday at BMO Field. Qualification is assured but the natives are restless. The players and Hart need to prove to the fans, many of the them newly brought into the fold, that the team will be able to compete in the next round. Right now it hardly seems worth my time to follow this team when every sign points to a quick and quiet exit in the next round.


If you want to talk me off the ledge the comments section is all yours.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

WCQ week: 5 things to watch

Canada has two matches remaining in its round 2 preliminary group stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Both matches are against St Kitts & Nevis: this Friday, November 11th, in Basseterre, and the return fixture on Tuesday, November 15th at BMO Field in Toronto.

Here are 5 things to watch for during these upcoming matches.

1. Will we be able to watch the match in St Kitts?

October's 7-0 win in St Lucia was not broadcast on Sportsnet, nor on TV anywhere in the world. Canadian fans had make do with an improvised audio broadcast by CSA media man Max Bell and Red Nation's Gavin Iday. According to a Voyageurs thread on the matter, Sportsnet, represented by Gerry Dobson and John Molinaro, are investigating whether the local internet infrastracture could support a web stream of the match. If not, expect a repeat performance from Max and Gavin which, in all fairness, was pretty good last time.

2. Can De Rosario finally break Dale Mitchell's goals record?

Dwayne De Rosario has 18 goals in a Canada shirt. Dale Mitchell's record is 19. I get the feeling that this number has become a bit of a distraction for all involved. As much as I am ambivalent about De Ro's play for Canada, it would be a great achievement for the man and some much deserved recognition.

I'd much rather see him do the job now instead of have the chase for 20 linger into the next round of WCQs where turning into Me Ro would be a bit more damaging to the team.

3. Is there an answer to Canada's right back woes?

In this round of qualifying both David Edgar, a centre back, and Nik Ledgerwood, a defensive midfielder, have been used at the right back spot. Neither covered themselves in glory, though Edgar arguably had the better performances. This is a weak spot for Canada and as long as coach Stephen Hart insists that his best option for right back, Andre Hainault (who has not called for these matches), is a central defender, the question marks will remain. Youngster Matt Stinson played a few times on the right side of defense for Toronto this year but I don't expect him to feature in either match as anything other than a midfield substitute.

4. How many goals will Canada score?

This might be primarily of interest to me and a few others with whom I corresponded via this blog and twitter. Before this round began I solicited predictions of Canada's total goals scored over the 6 matches, then weighed the results.

So far this round Canada has managed 14 goals; the median from my 20 or so predictors was 14.5, the median 15.4. The most optimistic fan predicted 25 goals, which seems unlikely at this point.

5. Oh yeah. Will we qualify for the next round?

This is kind of the whole point, and while it would be nothing less than what fans should expect of Canada, nobody should be feeling 100% confident after the team failed to take maximum points from Puerto Rico at BMO Field last month. A single point is all that is required. We all hope this will be secured in Basseterre so Stephen Hart can have the flexibility to consider all his lineup options for the last match of the group on the 15th.


Will you be watching?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Canada roster for St Kitts WCQs

I'm feeling like a busy guy lately, so I'm keeping it short.

CHANGES from October squad:
  • IN: Matt Stinson (TFC), Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault (SC Preussen Muenster, 3. Bundesliga), Patrice Bernier (Lyngby BK, Denmark), Mike Klukowski (Manisaspor, Turkey)
  • OUT: Terry Dunfield (TFC), Iain Hume (Preston North End, England), Kevin McKenna (1. FC Koln, Germany)
The roster:

Player Pos. Team League Age Caps Gls
Lars Hirschfeld GK Vålerenga Fotball Norway 33 37 0
Nik Ledgerwood FB SV Wehen Wiesbaden Germany 26 13 0
Mike Klukowski FB Manisaspor Turkey 30 32 0
Adam Straith CB FC Energie Cottbus Germany 21 8 0
Julian de Guzman M Toronto FC MLS 30 51 4
Matt Stinson M Toronto FC MLS 19 0 0
Will Johnson M Real Salt Lake MLS 24 21 1
Tosaint Ricketts F FC Politehnica Timişoara Romania 24 7 2
Simeon Jackson F Norwich City England 24 23 6
Josh Simpson M Manisaspor Turkey 28 40 3
Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault M SC Preußen Münster Turkey 23 5 0
Ante Jazic FB Chivas USA MLS 35 27 1
Dwayne De Rosario F DC United MLS 33 64 18
David Edgar CB Burnley FC England 24 5 0
Olivier Occean F SpVgg Greuther Fürth Germany 30 20 4
Ashtone Morgan FB Toronto FC MLS 20 1 0
Patrice Bernier M Lyngby Boldklub Denmark 32 45 2
Kenny Stamatopoulos GK AIK Stockholm Sweden 32 6 0



Goals 41




Avg age 27.84




Avg caps 22.5


Allez les rouges!