Saturday, December 29, 2012

Canadian MNT stats for 2012

Presented without comment.

Player Start Sub Min G A Y R
Julian de Guzman 9
774
1 1
Kevin McKenna 8
720 1
1
Andre Hainault 8
720

2
David Edgar 8
697 1 2 1
Will Johnson 8
691 2
2
Tosaint Ricketts 6 3 619 2


Ante Jazic 7
583
2 1
Nik Ledgerwood 6 2 492

1
Atiba Hutchinson 5 1 469
1

Simeon Jackson 5 3 453

1
Dwayne De Rosario 5
369 1
1
Olivier Occean 5
369 1
1 1
Mike Klukowski 2 1 182



Patrice Bernier 2 1 159



Marcel de Jong 1 2 140



Dejan Jakovic 1
90



Iain Hume
5 88 1


Pedro Pacheco
4 84



Terry Dunfield 1
77



Adam Straith 1
61



Josh Simpson 1
61



Doneil Henry 1
45



Lucas Cavallini
2 41



Nana Attakora
1 29



Russell Teibert
1 28



Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault
1 13



Marcus Haber
1 11



Samuel Piette
1 4



Player Start Sub Min GA CS Y R
Lars Hirschfeld 7
559 10 5
1
Milan Borjan 2 2 206 1 2

Kenny Stamatopoulos
1 45 2


Thursday, December 27, 2012

The MNT in 2013


Remember 8-1? Me neither. After all, that was way back in 2012. (By the way, that link is in the top 10 for the rather generic search term 8-1, if you're searching from Canada).

Despite not having critical Hex matches to play in 2013, the year ahead still promises to be an interesting one for the Canadian men's national team that I still (kind of) care about.

Here are 5 predictions for the year ahead for the team and some of its players.

1. The team will play 2 friendlies in January*

* Not actually a prediction.

This fact is something I would never have predicted. There is a FIFA international window in late January and the team has actually played during that break only three times since 2005: in 2010 at Jamaica,  in 2008 at Martinique, and in 2006 against the USA.

It was surprising, then, to learn that Canada will be playing two international friendlies in January. The first to be announced was a date with Denmark in Tucson, AZ on January 26th. A few weeks later, a match with the USA was booked for January 29th in Houston.

A quick look at the squads for previous January matches should give you some idea of the kind of team that will be selected.  These have often been a mix of out-of-season North American- and Scandinavian-based players and a mix of youngsters from reserve squads and the like. The USA will likely feature a similar mix, while Denmark will be able to bring a largely domestic squad, as the Danish Elite League has an extended winter break.

The fact that the CSA went about negotiating these friendlies is made all the more surprising by the fact that the team won't be playing any truly meaningful matches in 2013, and they don't have a coach (see #2).

2. The CSA will hire a new national team manager

Given that Stephen Hart exited stage left after the aforementioned 8-1, this one seems rather obvious.  Yet on past form, it is hardly a certainty.  Prior to earning the full-time gig Hart ran on the show for nearly a year (2006-2007) on an interim basis during the interregnum following Frank Yallop's term and prior to the hiring of Dale Mitchell (what a coaching murderer's row there!).

It has already been made known that the team will be under the guidance of an interim manager for the two January friendlies. Who that interim hand will be is difficult to decipher, especially as the most obvious candidate, Tony Fonseca, has been ruled out on account of his duties as technical director.

But the identity of the new full-time manager is even more of a mystery. The only rumours strong enough to have names attached to them were recently fired departed ("by mutual consent") Impact-manager Jesse Marsch, and an Iranian guy working in East Asia. Neither gets the heart beating faster, though if I was forced to choose between the two I'd opt for Marsch. Former NT forward Paul Peschisolido also publicly threw his hat into the ring, though surely even the CSA isn't foolish enough to give him serious consideration.

Since this prediction is not high for degree of difficulty, let me narrow the window: the CSA will have a new coach on board prior to July's Gold Cup (see #3).

3. Canada will have a reasonable showing at the 2013 Gold Cup

This prediction does not come from any great confidence in the current group of players (8-1!) but rather the fact that the stiffest competition in the region will be focused on rather more important matches to be played this coming spring, summer, and fall. Those teams that do not bring weaker experimental teams will still (and rightly so) be using the tournament as preparation for the remaining WCQs later in 2013.

Canada's lineup may also include a number of younger and marginal players with an eye to 2015's more important Gold Cup which may serve as a qualifier for the Super Copa (Google it) and relevant WCQs beginning in 2016.  But it still should include some of the team's current stars including Atiba Hutchinson and the long-awaited return of Josh Simpson.

The tournament may also serve as a stage from which several longtime team members will say their farewells (see #4).

4. Several prominent national team members will retire from international football

I already touched on this in a previous post. Skipper Kevin McKenna has retired from international football. Patrice Bernier said in an interview that he didn't expect to play a part in the team going forward. Other players who have likely taken their last kick for Canada or will do so in 2013 include Mike Klukowski, Dwayne De Rosario, Ante Jazic, Kenny Stamatopoulos, and Terry Dunfield (though in his case skill is much a deficiency as age).

Retirements or diminished participation by these players should provide opportunities for younger players but   I need convincing that there are many of these that are in any way ready to take the reins. Expect to see a lot more of Ashtone Morgan and Lucas Cavallini, an even more prominent role for Will Johnson, lots of run for a snake-bitten Tosaint Ricketts, and many other more disappointing outcomes.

Despite his advanced age, I didn't include Julian de Guzman in the list of retirees.  This is because, like Atiba Hutchinson, I think he has one good contract left (see #5).

5. Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman will both sign for teams in the 1.Bundesliga

This is probably the only prediction that requires any sort of chutzpah to make. After all, Julian de Guzman's reviews as a Toronto FC player ranged from "mediocre" to "not fit to tie Terry Dunfield's boots".  He was better for FC Dallas, enough so that some fans would like him to re-sign there. But he is also looking at his options in Europe, especially in Germany where he has a child. If Julian's decline over the last 3 years is not purely the result of a permanent reduction in physical ability, then I think he can make a useful contribution to a lower- to mid-table side with a decent manager, a luxury he did not enjoy in his TFC days.

Atiba Hutchinson is also investigating his options. He has already announced he will not be re-signing with PSV, who will be Dutch Champions in 2013 (see how easily the predictions flow now?). He has stated an interest in playing in England, but the flow of transfers from Holland to Germany is greater and generally smoother.

What Hutchinson should be looking for is whichever deal will pay him the most, as this is likely his last big contract. Canadian fans should be hoping for him to land at a team where he is given the opportunity to play in his natural midfield position. Despite playing at right back at PSV for the better part of 2 years, where he displaced the team's only right-sided defender, Atiba consistently earns much better reviews when he is asked to deputize in midfield, as he did recently for a suspended (of course) Mark van Bommel. The main criticism of Dutch fans is that he kan niet echt voetballen which means he doesn't play in the desired Cruyff-y sort of way, but he is praised for never giving away the ball and for his strength and conditioning.  Those attributes would serve him well in Germany.


What are your predictions for the team in 2013?  Add them in the comments.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A thin red line

Player Age Age in 2016
Ante Jazić 36 40
Lars Hirschfeld 34 38
Kenny Stamatopoulos 33 37
Patrice Bernier 33 37
Kevin McKenna 32 36
Julian de Guzman 31 35
Michael Klukowski 31 35
Olivier Occean 31 35
Terry Dunfield 30 34
Atiba Hutchinson 29 33
Iain Hume 29 33
Pedro Pacheco 28 32
Dejan Jaković 27 31
Nikolas Ledgerwood 27 31
André Hainault 26 30
Marcel de Jong 26 30
David Edgar 25 29
Milan Borjan 25 29
Simeon Jackson 25 29
Tosaint Ricketts 25 29
Will Johnson 25 29
Lucas Cavallini 19 23

Canada's roster for last 2 World Cup qualifying matches of 2012.

Patrice Bernier has announced his retirement from international duty. Ditto skipper Kevin McKenna. But these surely aren't the only players who have played their last matches for Canada.

Exit stage left

The placement of the red line on this list -- the players selected for Canada's October qualifiers -- may be rather generous. It is meant to divide those likely to be in position to play some role in Canada's next World Cup qualifying campaign. The important matches begin in earnest in 2016.

Of the players to that took part in this most recent set of matches, only 'keeper Lars Hirschfeld and Ante Jazic, enjoying a late-career indian summer, would have found themselves on the wrong side of the line. Dwayne De Rosario, who missed the last two WCQs injured, would have been on the edge.

The point is that players north of 33 can not be counted upon to be making useful contributions to the team.

Are these losses worth grieving?

Perhaps it's my Mennonite upbringing.  Or maybe it's that I live in a city that never changes and tends to indulge in instant nostalgia for those rare exceptions (witness this coverage of the Winnipeg Stadium trough, or the fact that the opening of a furniture store is being treated like the second coming). Either way, I seem to be stuck with some conservative tendencies when it comes to change. Nature abhors a vacuum. I abhor major roster upheavals?

But should I? The core of the national team for the last decade has been made up of the likes of McKenna, Mike Klukowski, Julian de Guzman, Lars Hirschfeld and Dwayne De Rosario. All players have had successful professional careers, and surely have pocketed multiple millions as paid players. Yet they have accomplished approximately nothing while wearing the colours of their country.

Yet I have enough experience of bad sports teams (Winnipeg!) to have some appreciation of the difference between teams that have enough quality to occasionally produce hopeful moments (the Bomber teams of Matt Dunigan, Khari Jones and Kevin Glenn) and those that have no redeeming qualities (the rest). I am rather concerned that Canadian fans are in for several years of the latter.

The kids are not alright

Perhaps one ought not to be concerned about the farewells for those players above the red line, but the bottom of the list is of far greater concern. Apart from a Lucas Cavallini cameo, the 2012 WCQs did not feature any players currently under 25.  A core group of Milan Borjan, David Edgar, Will Johnson and Simeon Jackson is young enough and good enough to be important players for at least another half decade.

But if one operates under the assumption that footballers peak in their late 20s (surely you can find the research to back this up) these really ought to be the veteran leaders of a younger team.

And there is a dearth of names for the blanks that need filling in. Rewind the careers of Johnson, Edgar, Jackson four years, and you will find that these were already established professionals at a decent level, and a bet placed on their national team futures would have been a safe one. Yet apart from a possible headcase (Randy Edwini-Bonsu) and a future Rob Friend (Marcus Haber) there are few players that I'd be relatively confident in seeing on the pitch in four years time. Ashtone Morgan and ... ?


All of which is to say that supporting Canada's national team is going to suck. But you knew that already.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Canadian content 2012: Final data

Vancouver's 2-1 loss in Los Angeles in the MLS playoffs' first round puts a wrap on competitive action for the country's four competitive teams.  As always, the Canadian content for each match is reported in my spreadsheet.  Below are the club-by-club summaries.

As with the national team, one hopes that 2013 will have better Canadian success stories to tell.

FC EDMONTON
Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 16416 27529 59.63%
Canadian Championship 1235 1980 62.37%
Totals 17651 29509 59.82%

TORONTO FC
Competition CDN Total Percent
Champions League 1851 7920 23.37%
MLS Regular Season 7692 32634 23.57%
Canadian Championships 1625 3853 42.17%
Totals 9317 36487 25.54%

MONTREAL IMPACT
Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 2194 32509 6.75%
Canadian Championship 45 1980 2.27%
Totals 2239 34489 6.49%

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Competition CDN Total Percent
MLS Regular Season 132 33616 0.39%
Canadian Championship 0 3928 0.00%
MLS Playoffs 0 990 0.00%
Totals 132 38534 0.34%

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The dream is dead, again

Hedging one's bets

I'm not much for gambling. But I did sign up for an account through one online sportsbook because doing so would give me access to streaming coverage of Bundesliga matches.  I log in and place a small wager or two every now and then, but for the most part my account balance hasn't strayed far from the minimum deposit required to sign up.

But last Tuesday, in anticipation of Canada's biggest match in some time, I went for an emotional hedge. That is, by betting against Canada in Honduras, I provided a small cash reward to hedge against the emotional downfall of a Canada loss.

To be honest, I should have gone way bigger.  The excitement of Canada advancing to the hex would have been worth losing far more, while winning enough to buy a six-pack hardly hedges anything at all.

I can't help but feeling that this is in some small way my fault.


*     *     *     *     *

Honduras 8, Canada 1

If you're a reader of this blog, then this nearly week-old result is not news to you.  Having provided themselves with the best opportunity to make the hex in over a decade, the team and its players failed in the most spectacular fashion possible.

And there was hardly any drama to it.  I watched as the team started brightly, and were a more talented man than Tosaint Ricketts to receive Nik Ledgerwood's cross just three minutes into the match, it was probably 1-0 Canada.  Instead, four minutes later Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault combined to make a real mess of an innocuous bouncing ball and it was quickly 1-0 Honduras.

I wasn't surprised.  From that moment, the writing was on the wall.  I didn't even bother to watch the last 80 minutes of the match.  Instead, I stepped out onto the porch with a couple of magazines, and enjoyed the last nice fall day of an October in Winnipeg.

I feel as though I made the right choice.

*    *     *     *     *

Who is to blame?

A Toronto Sun article on Stephen Hart's resignation contains a poll with the question "Who is to blame for Canada's 8-1 loss to Honduras?" The readers divided the blame between the players (57%), the coach (1%), and both (42%).

It's hard to understand how anyone could select anything other than that last option.  The match was such a comprehensive failure that nobody can come out of it untainted.  Hart's prompt exit suggests that even he would recognize that he could have done more to avoid such an embarrassment.

The players' failings were there for one and all to see.  There is clearly a mental issue that this team has not been able to overcome when playing in these hostile environments.  8-1 may not tell the true tale, as the team more or less checked out after three goals against, but it would be hard to credit any player's performance in that match, with the possible exception of team stalwart Atiba Hutchinson.  A back line that had been mostly good until now was shredded.  It was not helped by a clearly-past-it Mike Klukowski going in for the ill Ante Jazic, but it was the ungodly performances of Hainault and McKenna that were truly shocking.  And the players weren't any better elsewhere on the pitch.

But even the fact that Klukowski was put into that position falls on Hart.  There is no excuse for not starting Marcel de Jong, the team's best-pedigreed player (considering playing level and playing time).  There is also no reason that Hart should have forsaken the 4-3-3, the only formation the team has known under his control, in both of the team's most difficult matches (Panama away, Honduras away).  And the team's psychological failings must to some extent rest at his feet as well.

An underachieving generation of players, including Lars Hirschfeld, Kevin McKenna, Mike Klukowski, Ante Jazic, Patrice Bernier, Julian de Guzman, Dwayne De Rosario, Olivier Occean and Iain Hume, and some more peripheral players, have all likely played their last meaningful matches for Canada.  Some of these have had excellent professional careers but have not done themselves much credit with their international performances.

A sporting axiom is that it is easier to change the coach than the players.  In the next few years, Canada will have to do both.

To be continued...

Friday, October 19, 2012

WCQ goals contest: Final standings


You may have noticed this blog has quiet in what has been a rather unquiet week for Canadian soccer.

Rest assured that I have some stuff in the works. Topics I'm mulling over include:

  • Tuesday's shitfest in Honduras
  • The departing generation of MNT players
  • Hart's resignation, whether he was the right man, and what kind of coach should be hired next
  • How much it sucks being a Canadian soccer (and local sports) fan in Winnipeg
  • Central America, the shithole

In the mean time, there is business to be taken care of.

I've been running a contest for this semi-final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, with entrants selecting players for each of the 12 participating teams and gaining points for each goal scored.  Despite counting 5 Honduras goals towards my tally on the final match day, I didn't quite manage to finish first.

Two participants, Trevor C and Paul B, are tied on top and I did say there would be a prize.  I'll be in touch in a few days when I get that figured out.

Entry Pts
Paul B 30
Trevor C 30
Jon W 29
Scott B 29
Alex G 28
Seth G 28
Branden F 27
Jamie M 25
Theo G 20


You can view the full spreadsheet to see all of the picks and players.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Canada all-time vs Cuba

I remember a cool-ish June evening 12 years ago. Behind me, in a mostly full stand, a group of older men were discussing Germany's match earlier in European Championships. On the pitch Canada was pushing around a Cuba squad that didn't seem much interested in scoring a goal, even though their World Cup lives depended on it. A dreadlocked Jason Bent drilled a long-range shot against the cross bar.  Paul Stalteri took a throw-in just a few feet in front of me. Canada's best chance came late as Paul Peschisolido's effort dribbled just wide of the post.

My lone Canada cap ended in a 0-0 draw at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex. Jason de Vos' goal a week earlier in Havana was enough for Canada to move on to the next round of qualifying.

It won't be this week.


* * * * *


Canada's upcoming World Cup qualifying match this Friday against Cuba is critical.  With two matches left in the round Canada is third in Group C, even on points with Honduras but down two in goal difference.  Both teams trail leaders Panama by 2 points.

For a number of reasons, a big goal scoring win against Cuba would make things easier going into the team's final match in Honduras next Tuesday.  There are two realistic scenarios where a large margin against Cuba would help Canada's chances:

  • If Panama beats Honduras on Friday, a big win over Cuba leaves the possibility that Canada could advance even should they lose. Here's the math: (PAN margin over HON + CAN margin over CUB) > (HON margin over CAN + 2) then Canada would advance.  At a bare minimum, the goal difference of the teams would have to shift by 4 to make a 1-goal loss in Honduras a useful result.  Realistically, Canada would likely have to score 3 goals against Cuba.
  • Should Honduras manage to beat Panama, Canada could still advance with a draw if they can eliminate Honduras' current goal-difference advantage. For other tie-breakers to come into play the following needs to be true: (HON margin over PAN) + 2 <= (CAN margin over CUB)
I refuse to countenance anything but a win over Cuba. Should Honduras beat Panama, Canada may need to win in Honduras to advance (the scenario above being the lone exception).  Any other result combined with a Canada win over Cuba means a draw does the job (the first scenario is the only by which Canada could advance with a loss).

With the desire for -- and in some quarters, expectation of -- a big win over Cuba, we look to likelihoods.  The historical evidence provides reasons for encouragement and for caution:

CANADA ALL-TIME VS CUBA
Date
Location
CAN CUB
Result
Type
Jan 5, 75
Havana
0 4
Loss
Friendly
Nov 11, 81
Tegucigalpa, Hon
2 2
Draw
WCQ
Oct 10, 96
Edmonton
2 0
Win
WCQ
Oct 13, 96
Edmonton
2 0
Win
WCQ
Oct 6, 99
Los Angeles
0 0
Draw
Gold Cup Q.
Jun 4, 00
Havana
1 0
Win
WCQ
Jun 11, 00
Winnipeg
0 0
Draw
WCQ
Jul 14, 03
Foxboro, USA
0 2
Loss
Gold Cup
Jul 12, 05
Foxboro, USA
2 1
Win
Gold Cup
Jun 8, 12
Havana
1 0
Win
WCQ


In brief:
  • Canada has faced Cuba ten times with an all-time record (W-D-L) of 5-3-2, and GF-GA of 10-9, though that stat is skewed by a 4-0 friendly loss in the 1970s.
  • In WCQs Canada is unbeaten with a 4-2-0 record, with 8 goals for and 2 against.
  • In home matches Canada has 2 wins and a draw.
  • Canada has never managed to score more than two goals against Cuba, while keeping a clean sheet in 6 of 10 matches.
The latter is the greatest cause for concern. Canada is a team that has struggled to score goals, matches against Caribbean minnows on cricket pitches excepted, but will have to reverse their record on Friday to make their road easier in Honduras.

As a Canadian supporter, I'm reluctant to hope for too much. The likeliest scenario, in which Canada needs only a draw in San Pedro Sula to make the Hex, is one I would have gladly accepted when the groups were drawn last winter.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2012 Canadian content: FC Edmonton final report

The NASL regular season is a wrap, and so to the competitive year for FC Edmonton. The Eddies finished out of the playoffs in a league where 6 of 8 teams advance (as a Blue Bomber fan I'm no stranger to this particular brand of achievement) and bottom of the table.

A comprehensive review of their season has been compiled by the never-at-a-loss-for words Ben Massey. Having only watched part of 2 or 3 matches this season, I have neither the interest nor the ability required to compete with his analysis.

Instead, allow me to highlight the only table FC Edmonton will be topping this season: the ranking of Canada's pro teams by Canadian content based on minutes played.

The complete dataset for all 4 teams is available as a Google Docs Drive spreadsheet. Below is the Eddies-relevant summary:

FC EDMONTON
Competition CDN Total Percent
NASL Regular Season 15786 26539 59.48%
Canadian Championship 1235 1980 62.37%
Totals 17021 28519 59.68%

A brief explanation of the numbers:
  • One would normally expect the total minutes to be some multiple of 990 (11 positions * 90 minutes per game).  This is not the case because minutes forfeited due to red cards are not counted (in a game where player was sent off in the 49th minute, the team's total would be 949)
  • Real minutes for substitutes are generally under-reported.  In most cases a sub who enters in the 85th minute will play 8 or 9 minutes depending on how much time is added on. Since data on time added is generally incomplete, the data for the sub and substituted player must add up to 90.
Edmonton's final percentage of 59.7% is far and away the highest among Canada's pro teams. Though the MLS season has a few games remaining, none of the three teams in that league are close (Toronto is nearest; their rating is currently 26.4% and has been in decline most of the year).  But Edmonton's 2012 number represents a sharp drop-off from last year's 77.3%.

2011 was surprising both for the high proportion of minutes awarded to Canadian players, and Edmonton's relative success as an expansion team (they qualified for the playoffs and promptly crashed out with a 5-0 loss to Fort Lauderdale). Some of the changes that affected the nationality balance of the team may also have been responsible for their on-field woes in 2012. Disappointing seasons from import regulars such as Kevin Hatchi, Serisay Barthelemy and Yashir Pinto may be partly to blame.

Among the Canadians, the top 3 in terms of minutes were defenders Paul Hamilton (2024 minutes) and Antonio Rago (1946) and midfielder Shaun Saiko (1817). The latter was also the team's leader in goals scored with 7, yet was still frozen out of the lineup for much of the second half of the season.

Edmonton does deserve credit for mining the oft-overlooked talent pool of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). In addition to Hamilton, who spent several years at Trinity Western University, the Edmonton roster includes another XXXX players who formerly played collegiately in Canada: Paul Craig (attended UPEI, 693 minutes in 2012), Elvir Gigolaj (St Mary's, 167 minutes), and keeper John Smits (University of Toronto, 630 minutes)

Looking forward to 2013, one would hope that a continued willingness to feature Canadian talent will correlate to greater success in the standings.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

WCQ goals contest: Matchday 4 update


I'm not in the moody for a breezy intro to the standings for this blog's goals prediction contest after Canada's no-show in Panama City.

After 4 of 6 matchdays, here are the standings:

EntryPts
Trevor C23
Alex G21
Paul B20
Seth G19
Scott B19
Branden F18
Jon W17
Jamie M16
Theo G14

Two matchdays to go. One thing that is certain: Dwayne De Rosario won't be adding to anyone's tally.

You can view the full spreadsheet to see your competitor's picks, and your own if you've forgotten.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hate-watching Canada-Panama

Canada lost 2-0 yesterday in Panama City, deep-sixing their chances of advancing to the Hex out of Group C. The result was bad, but there was so much else that I hated.

Panama, the country
How do I hate thee? Let me name the ways:

  1. Your countries' priorities are so profoundly warped that a 6-hour night time party outside a business hotel with the sole purpose of disrupting an opponent's sleep is considered a legitimate form of expression. Police stood by and watched. In any civilized country demonstrators would have been jailed.
  2. You can't keep the stadium lights on for more than 6 minutes. Seriously.
  3. You can't competently produce a television broadcast from your national stadium of the 1 sport your country cares about. Constant switching of camera angles, action missed for replays, etc.
  4. Throwing beer at foreign press is a standard form of celebration.
We had been told that Panama was of a different sort than the other Central American hellholes (I'm looking at you, Honduras) but that was clearly not the case.

Panama, the players
We had also been told that the players respected the game a bit more than their dive-happy neighbours.  The team's outrage in Toronto over Kenny Stamatopoulos' hide-the-pickle routine, and repeated harping about the Hutchinson-to-De Ro goal-without-honour would suggest they felt some claim to the moral high ground.  This is what I saw.
  1. Early swarming of the young El Salvadoran referee to ensure he would fail to stamp any sort of authority on the match.
  2. Repeated diving/simulation to earn fouls in the attacking area by Blas Perez and Quintero.
  3. Repeated diving/simulation to waste time in the second half by the above-mentioned players, and the rest of the team, notably the keeper Pinedo.  I counted 4 separate occasions where a player went down, rolling and clutching his face, looked upfield for the ref's reaction, that jumped into a sprint when no foul was awarded.
Elmer Bonilla, referee
He didn't make any game alteration decisions but was clearly cowed by the occasion, helped along by some early protests by the Panama team. This was a game begging for 4 or 5 yellows for rash challenges and simulation but he mostly kept the cards away.

Canada, the players (Marcel de Jong, excepted)
I hate everything about Panama, its people and the players, but the Canada performance was out-of-this-world bad.  They clearly were not up for the occasion from the start and any result would have been entirely undeserved. The midfield was awful, especially Julian de Guzman.  Patrice Bernier deserves his own sentence, so terrible was his contribution. David Edgar was shambolic at right back, though Kevin McKenna also had an off-night.

Marcel de Jong put in a creditable performance.  Canada has one player that can cross the ball.

Stephen Hart
By what logic does changing the formation for the team's most important match during his tenure to a 4-4-2 after four years of 4-5-1 make any sense? His hands were somewhat tied, but the team had no idea what to do under that alignment, and it forced him to play several out of position. The performance level ticked up noticeably when the side shifted into the more familiar 4-5-1.

He must be fired if Canada doesn't qualify for the Hex. And a proper international coach (not Tony Fonseca!) brought in to take his place.

Canada's chances
There is an off-chance (a big Panama win over Honduras and a big Canada win over Cuba in the next matchday) that Canada could go to San Pedro Sula in October, lose, and still qualify. This is good because Canada will lose in San Pedro Sula, another epic shithole.

What did I miss?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

WCQ goals contest: Matchday 3 update


Though many of the entrants may no longer recall it, prior to the start of this round of qualifying I set up a goals prediction contest. Pick 3 scorers for Canada, 2 each from our Group C opponents, 2 from the giants of CONCACAF (Mexico and USA) and 1 from each of the remaining countries.

Halfway through the round, here is how things stand:

EntryPts
Trevor C18
Alex G17
Branden F15
Paul B15
Scott B14
Seth G14
Jon W14
Jamie M12
Theo G9

Poor Theo.  He's the only one to be missing both Alvaro Saborio (4 goals) and Clint Dempsey (3) in his team.  Not surprisingly, all 9 entries earned the point for having Dwayne De Rosario in one of the 3 Canadian player slots.

You can view the full spreadsheet to see your competitor's picks, and your own if you've forgotten.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Canada vs Panama: Player ratings

PREAMBLE

As luck would have it, I had a can't-be-missed obligation during last night's match. I don't have a PVR. Instead, I bookmarked the match video thread at the Voyageurs forum before the match, in order that I wouldn't see any spoilers by finding the thread after the match.  (This is a neat trick if you should ever need to use it).

But there are no need for spoilers here: In the most crucial match at such a late stage of qualifying in at least 15 years (I know, it's pathetic) Canada beat Panama 1-0.

Here's the goal:


Veteran Canadian supporters will note the similarities between Dwayne De Rosario's record-breaking tally and a Tosaint Ricketts strike against Ecuador.

NOTES

Things are far from set in stone, and Canada will almost certainly need to pick up a point either in Panama City on Tuesday, or in October in San Pedro Sula, but there is no way to overstate how massive this victory was.  There are other places to find excellent match reports and analysis; I'll stick to the ratings below after offering the following thoughts:

  • Craig and Gerry did a good job lauding the atmosphere at BMO Field. Though the field mics seemed to have been set low, there was no hiding how electric the place was.  We may now be taking for granted the tireless work done by the Voyageurs and others to pack the south end with hardcore support, but what was most heartening to me was the level of excitement clearly visible among the rest of the 17,000+ Canadian fans.
  • The antics of Panama's Quintero were absolutely despicable; if Julian de Guzman's card from Quintero's second half dive is not rescinded, or at least transferred to Simeon Jackson, the team should be furious.  But Canada seems to be learning.  De Rosario and Jackson both went down more than once on light contact, and Kenny Stamatopoulos' hidden-ball trick was classic CONCACAF.
  • Speaking of which, the referee did buy into some of the play-acting, but otherwise did a decent job taking control of the match.
  • Will Johnson will miss the next match due to accumulation of yellow cards, forcing a change to the starting XI on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if Hart makes any other roster moves, possibly including the insertion of Marcel de Jong into the lineup.
  • Dwayne De Rosario's winner puts him atop the all-time list for Canada, finally moving ahead of ex-boss Dale Mitchell
RATINGS

Lars Hirschfeld - 6.5: Canada's keeper had little to do, but made the few saves required of him and was aggressive off his line when necessary. There was clearly some miscommunication on a Kevin McKenna back-pass, but distribution was decent by his mediocre standard.

David Edgar - 6.5: Edgar did have some trouble on occasion in one-on-one battles against the quicker Panamanian winger, but was usually solid and strong in the air when called upon. He got forward occasionally, though not always to great effect.

Kevin McKenna - 7: That teammates don't turn away from Kevin when he is ripping into them is a sign of how much of an acknowledged leader he is with this team. Strong in the air in the defensive end, and met the ball twice in the opposing penalty area. I won't fault him for his header onto the post, but his complete miss on the earlier free header lowers his grade.

Andre Hainault - 6.5: There were some fitness concerns after an injury at the weekend with Houston and Andre did look a step slow at times. But he combined with McKenna to shutdown the dangerous attacking pair of Luis Tejada and Blas Perez and like his partner was strong in the air, though both men had a few clearing headers that weren't cleared far enough.

Ante Jazic - 6: Jazic was solid defensively, save for a lapse that left Roman Torres free for a 2nd half chance, likely Panama's best opportunity of the match.  He got forward often enough on the overlap with De Rosario that Panama's defenders had to honour the option, opening up space for Dwayne to cut in.

Julian de Guzman - 6.5: There is no doubt that the widest divergence of opinion of the men on the pitch will be in regards to de Guzman.  It is hard to judge his efforts without knowing what role Stephen Hart asked him to play. He won the ball for Canada countless times by being the third man into a 50-50 situation, and his close control allowed Canada to start the offense from its own end. The critics will the occasions when he lost possession in midfield sparking a counterattack, and his few incisive passes forward. Both camps are likely correct.

Atiba Hutchinson - 8: Back in March, I penned a magnum opus making the case for moving Atiba to right back. Let me rescind  those remarks. A healthy Hutchinson in midfield is among the class of CONCACAF and he showed it last night. His quick thinking on the De Rosario goal will be celebrated, but he showed the kind of creativity and quality in the middle and attacking thirds that the team is mostly lacking.  He made some vital tackles and showed his wiry strength, though there were also a few loose touches.  My man of the match.

Will Johnson - 7: The blunting of Panama's attack was a battle won in midfield and Will was a big part of that.  He did his normal Will thing, full of running and ball-winning, and generally solid in possession.  He will miss the return engagement in Panama City and his quality on corners and set pieces will be hard to replace (though Patrice Bernier might do the job if he is given the opportunity).

Dwayne De Rosario - 7: My usual criticism of De Rosario is that he too often takes an extra touch and in the offensive end when a quick pass or shot would do.There were times last night when he was guilty of that. But he did also combine well at times with Occean, and of course he was hip to Hutchinson's jive on the record-setting goal.

Simeon Jackson - 6.5: Simeon Jackson and Stephen Hart seem to be learning how best the player can be deployed on the right. He gave Panama's left back fits, and of course won the foul that created the goal. He also put in a good defensive shift. I would like to see him drift into the middle more often where he can be a more direct goal threat, but this is not the job that is being asked of him.

Olivier Occean - 6.5: The quality of the work done as a target striker and hold-up man done by Occean was largely revealed once he was taken off and Tosaint Ricketts took his spot. He doesn't have the speed to get on to through passes, but was involved in some good combination play and had two strikes narrowly wide.

SUBS

Patrice Bernier - 6: Did not make much of an impression but for a decent bending free kick. 

Tosaint Ricketts - 5.5: His speed late in matches is a massive asset, but it took him some time to get involved (that his teammates were mostly thumping the ball aimlessly forward at that point clearly didn't help).  BUT: run to the corner flag, young man!

Marcel de Jong - 5.5: His two-way game is surely going to come into play at some point in this round of qualifying.

BENCH

Kenny Stamatopoulos - 10: I never imagined I'd mention his name in the report of a crucial match but his hidden-ball trick was something to behold.  I'm ready to admit I'd be howling in protest if the roles were reversed, but the situation was escalated by the Panama player pushing him when he appeared ready to give up the ball.

NEXT MATCH

The vitally important return leg is this Tuesday in Panama City (9 pm et / 8 pm ct / 6 pm pt).  Of note, the match will be broadcast nationally on the widely carried CityTV in addition to Sportsnet One.  A result in this match would go a long way towards securing progress into the Hex.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Canada - Panama preview

Some links and info on the biggest men's match of the decade . . .

Betting odds: CAN 2.40 draw 3.10 PAN 3.00 (bwin)

I check these from time to time to get some idea of how the rest of the world view our chances (Canadian fans are of course scared shitless).  I am increasingly of the opinion that with these relatively low profile matches they don't put much thought into the odds.  Canada was a much heavier favourite earlier this week (1.95 or so) which means most of the betting action as been on the Panama side.  I'm not surprised.

Media previews




I don't speak Spanish but I'm smart enough to figure out this is good news.

Tactics

Stephen Hart talks tactics with The Score's Kristian Jack (youtube video): Parsing his comments, it seems to me he is considering starting Marcel de Jong at left back although observers at practice yesterday seemed to suggest the group of Jazic - Hainault - McKenna - Edgar would stay together.

Butts in seats

Word is the lower bowl is all but sold out and the upper deck will be opened to walk up attendees. Pack the place, Toronto.

Prediction

1-1.  I'm too jaded as a fan to be more hopeful than that.


Thread to be updated nearer to game time with more info.