Saturday, February 25, 2012

Canada roster for Armenia friendly

Here it is. I offer it with a single comment, or rather a question: does Nana Attakora still have any official affiliation with San Jose Earthquakes?

UPDATE: Striker Rob Friend has been added to the friendly roster. Olivier Occean had initially indicated that he would take part, but there was talk of a nagging foot injury. However, when you consider he played 90 minutes for his club yesterday, and that Greuther Furth have another key match on Friday, two days after the friendly, and that a Philippines international was also not allowed to go on international duty, this is a pretty clear case of giving in to club pressure.

The Friend for Occean swap is a small step down. Both players are entering the final stage of their careers, but Occean seems to have extended his peak longer than Friend has been able to. Both have poor scoring records for Canada, but most fans would rather have Occean, currently tied for second 'topscorer' (combined assists and goals) in the 2.Bundesliga, than Friend, who has struggled to find time as a substitute in the same division.

Player Pos. Team League Age Caps Gls
Milan Borjan GK FC Vaslui Romania 24 5 0
Nik Ledgerwood FB SV Wehen Widespread Germany 27 14 0
Mike Klukowksi FB Manisaspor Turkey 30 33 0
Kevin McKenna CB 1. FC Koln Germany 32 55 10
Adam Straith CB FC Energie Cottbus Germany 21 10 0
Julian de Guzman M Toronto FC MLS 30 52 4
Iain Hume F Preston North End England 28 33 5
Pedro Pacheco M CD Santa Clara Portugal 27 5 0
Tosaint Ricketts F FC Politehnica Timi┼čoara Romania 24 9 3
Simeon Jackson F Norwich City England 24 25 6
Josh Simpson M Young Boys Bern Switzerland 28 42 4
Nana Attakora CB San Jose Earthquakes MLS 22 2 0
Atiba Hutchinson M PSV Eindhoven Netherlands 29 55 4
Samuel Piette M FC Metz France 17 0 0
David Edgar CB Burnley England 24 7 0
Rob Friend F Eintracht Frankfurt Germany 31 32 2
Marcus Haber F St Johnstone Scotland 23 2 0
Kenny Stamatopoulos GK AIK Stockholm Sweden 32 7 0



Goals 38




Avg age 26.89




Avg caps 21.56

Monday, February 20, 2012

Know your enemy: Armenia


ARMENIA
Pop: 2,970,495
World Rank: 138th

FIFA rank: 41st
ELO rank: 82nd

National team coach: Vardan Minasyan
National team nickname: The Highlanders (badass, right?)

RECENT PERFORMANCES:
Armenia failed to qualfiy for Euro 2012, but did not do themselves any discredit in the process, coming third in a tough group behind Russia and Ireland, and ahead of South Africa 2010 qualifiers Slovakia.

Colours:




PLAYERS
Here's the lineup from Armenia's most recent match, a Euro 2012 qualifying loss to Ireland:

26'

43' 64'
84'

62'





The only of those players I've heard of is Yura Movsisyan, who spent time in MLS with Kansas City and Salt Lake. The majority of the team's player pool play domestically (well, maybe not -- see below), with the remainder scattered across Eastern Europe and Russia.

I should mention that for the Ireland match Armenia had both an Artur and an Artak Yedigaryan warming the bench.

Canada's history against Armenia: Canada has never played against Armenia.

PREDICTION: Armenia were the highest scoring team in their Euro qualifying pool, but largely on the strength of home blowouts against Andorra and Macedonia. Canada, however, will be fielding a weakened squad missing most if not all of the North American-based players. I expect a 2-1 win for the Armenians.

DATE OF FRIENDLY
29 February 2012: noon et / 11 am ct / 9 am pt (Sportsnet One)

UPDATES:
So not many Canadian readers have found their way to this post yet, but it has been linked on an English-language Armenian forum. They've already offered some helpful correction:
"The majority of the team's player pool play domestically.."

Uhh... NO. Only our youngsters and our guardian, Hovsepian, play domestically.
Kevin, in the comments, provides more detail:
Armenian here, just wanted to correct you on a little tidbit. Most of our squad does not play domestically.

Here is our current proposed squad.
Berezovski-GK-Dinamo Moscow
Hayrapetyan-Lechia Gdansk (PL)
Arzumanyan- Jagellonia Bialystok (PL)
Hovsepian - Pyunik (Armenia)
Mkrtchyan - Mettalurg (Ukraine)
Badoyan - Bate Borisov (Belarus)
Yedigaryan - Pyunik (Armenia)
Pizzelli- Kuban krasnodar (Russia)
Mkhitaryan - Shakhtar (Ukraine)
Ghazaryan -Mettalurg (Ukraine)
Movsisyan - Krasnodar (Russia)
I originally thought 'guardian' referred to 'keeper, but given the information provided by the commenter, I'll assume it means captain.

To any Armenian readers, welcome. I'm interested in any impressions you have of the Canadian team, or expectations in your country ahead of the match. Heck, you'll probably have the Canadian roster announced in your media before ours, so let me know when you get it. The comments are open!

Let me correct you on one thing, though, from the forum linked above:
Canadian blogger doing a little research on us before the game. As much as some of us feel we need better opposition than Canada, this game will do us huge when it comes to exposure in North America.
I'm not sure what your translation is for the word 'huge', but I don't think 50 000 Canadian soccer fans counts as massive North American exposure.

Looking forward to the match!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

WSA Winnipeg announces 2012 PDL schedule

I failed last year, as a soccer fan living in Winnipeg, to take in a single match of the local PDL team's inaugural season. The bizarre scheduling didn't help -- the team played all of it's home games before venturing out on the road at all and thus weren't available to fans after mid-June -- and the majority of games were held at the Indoor Soccer Complex; hardly an attractive proposition during a beautiful May and June in the city.

Here, with nothing else in the way of comment, is the team's schedule for the 2012 PDL season.

All times CT

DATE TIME HOME AWAY LOCATION
May 12 08:00 PM Real Colorado WSA Winnipeg Shea Stadium
May 13 08:00 PM Real Colorado WSA Winnipeg Shea Stadium
May 19 07:00 PM WSA Winnipeg St Louis Lions Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex
May 20 02:00 PM WSA Winnipeg St Louis Lions Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex
May 25 06:30 PM Thunder Bay Chill WSA Winnipeg Chapples Park
May 26 06:30 PM Thunder Bay Chill WSA Winnipeg Chapples Park
Jun 01 07:00 PM WSA Winnipeg Des Moines Menace Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex
Jun 02 07:00 PM WSA Winnipeg Des Moines Menace Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex
Jun 07 07:00 PM Springfield Demize WSA Winnipeg Cooper Sports Complex
Jun 08 07:00 PM Springfield Demize WSA Winnipeg Cooper Sports Complex
Jun 11 07:00 PM Kansas City Brass WSA Winnipeg Overland Soccer Complex
Jun 12 07:00 PM Kansas City Brass WSA Winnipeg Overland Soccer Complex
Jun 16 07:00 PM WSA Winnipeg Thunder Bay Chill Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex
Jun 17 01:00 PM WSA Winnipeg Thunder Bay Chill Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex
Jul 13 07:00 PM WSA Winnipeg Springfield Demize Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex
Jul 14 02:00 PM WSA Winnipeg Springfield Demize Winnipeg Outdoor Soccer Complex

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Confirmed selections for Armenia friendly

It may not feel like football weather where you area (it's currently -34 C with the windchill where I reside) but Canada will be kicking off in a friendly against Armenia in under 3 weeks. The February 29th match will be held under more pleasant conditions on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

National team head coach Stephen Hart held a conference call yesterday and discussed the Armenia friendly, among other topics. Not surprisingly, he stated that the roster for the match at the end of this month would consist mainly of Euro-based players, with North American players only to be selected as a last resort.

Given the state of the Euro player pool it would not be difficult to name at least a dozen of the 16 or 18 players that will be selected. However, I prefer not to deal in speculation. Instead, I track player tweets and club press releases and provide you only with selections that have been confirmed from other sources

So far we have one name: Burnley mainstay and central defender David Edgar. Edgar received mixed reviews for his performance in the first group stage of CONCACAF qualifying, but has been having an excellent season for his Championship club. With the likes of Jakovic and Hainault not likely to be selected, and Adam Straith having dropped a level down the German pyramid to a 3.Bundesliga side, expect him to start against Armenia.

Update 14:30 12 February 2012: added Olivier Occean

In an audio interview with the excellent and heretofore unknown to me French blog Le Soccer Plus, striker Olivier Occean confirms that he will take part in the Armenia match. Occean is the in form attacker at this moment, having scored at midweek in a Cup match against 1.Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, and adding a goal for his Greuther Furth side in a big 2.Bundesliga victory over Paderborn. His 11 goals are second in the German second tier, and he ranks first in the combined table for goals and assists. Occean has not enjoyed the same goal scoring success with Canada; his tally of 5 goals in 23 matches was padded by scoring 3 goals over the last round against St Lucia and St Kitts.

Update 22:00 12 February 2012: added Pedro Pacheco

With Hart stating that he would try to avoid calling MLS players for this friendly, Canada was bound to encounter some depth issues. Midfield, in particular, would be short of talent with the likes of Julian de Guzman, Dwayne De Rosario, Will Johnson, and Patrice Bernier being allowed to stay with their clubs in pre-season. The selection of Pacheco as published on the CD Santa Clara site, the quasi-Canadian, from the Portuguese second division suggests we should be on the lookout for some other less than overwhelming selections to fill spots in the middle of the park.

Update 08:15 14 February 2012: added Tosaint Ricketts

Tosaint Ricketts has earned a reputation as a supersub, and has scored twice for Canada coming off the bench. One goal came in a friendly with Ecuador and earned Canada the draw, and the second was an insurance marker in the Puerto Rico away match that was close to that point. He also scored while getting the start in Canada's last WCQ against St Kitts. For me, he's a bit down the depth chart, especially with Occean scoring at his current clip, and isn't really in the discussion as a starter, but with his speed he'll always be dangerous late on in matches.

Update 22:40 15 February 2012: added Adam Straith

Defender Adam Straith was a major contributor in 2011's WCQ qualifying round and has long been considered a defender with some promise. He is versatile -- he can play in the centre or at right back -- but recently dropped to the German 3rd tier on a loan spell in order to get more playing time.

Update 16:40 22 February 2012: added Julian de Guzman

Midfield was always going to be a depth concern as long as Stephen Hart was sticking to his rule about sticking with a European-based squad for this match. After the only-recently-healthy Atiba Hutchinson, who else is there, really? De Guzman had an underrated season last year for TFC and seems finally to be recovering from an ongoing knee injury. He will be a big player in the upcoming qualifying campaign and it will be good to see him in action. TFC fans should have no complaints, as he is suspended (yellow cards) for the March 7th CONCACAF Champions League clash. If anything, they should be grateful he's getting live action.


PosNameClubAgeCapsGoalsSource
DDavid EdgarBurnley2470[source]
FOlivier OcceanGreuther Furth30235[source]
MPedro PachecoCD Santa Clara2750[source]
FTosaint RickettsPoli Timisoara2493[source]
D
Adam Straith
1. FC Saarbruecken
21
10
0
[source]
M
Julian de Guzman
Toronto FC
30
52
4
[source]

Saturday, February 04, 2012

All 2012 men's matches to be played in Toronto

Thursday was the big day. The day that a big CSA event was held in, of course, Toronto, to announce the following details:

-the date, location, and opponent for the glam centennial friendly
-the locations for all three home World Cup qualifying matches
-the unveiling of Umbro's design for Canada's centennial jersey

The sartorial unveiling means little to me (I'll just say I'm largely nonplussed by the design and on alert for clearance sales of the chevron jersey) and the friendly opponent was leaked earlier in the week.

So that left the location of that friendly match as well as the host cities for the three WCQs as things I care about.

Rather predictably, the CSA announced that the June 3rd friendly, as well as the World Cup qualifiers (12 June vs Honduras, 7 September vs Panama and 12 October vs Cuba) would be played at BMO Field in Toronto.

For most Canada fans, this sucks.

The USA friendly is on a Saturday, but the remaining matches fall either on a Tuesday or Friday. For someone like me, who works for an organization that does not allow one to choose vacation days (they make up for it by giving me the summer off), it means I will not be seeing Canada play live in 2012. It's not so bad though; I haven't seen the team in person since a summer's evening against Cuba at the ramshackle Winnipeg Soccer Complex.

Realistically, 98% of Canada fans at these matches will be from the GTA. And it's great for them. For the rest of us, it's not. But if the team has good reasons for locking in on a single city, and it helps them win, I'm all for it.

Of the litany of reasons and excuses for basing the team exclusively out of BMO, here are the top 5.

1. The players want to play there

This falls under the category of explanations I have no time for. The last qualifying cycle fell apart when it became clear that a number of large ego players on the team (Brennan, De Ro) were running roughshod over a weak-willed coach. There were rumours of nightclub events the night after a match, and it generally left the impression that the lunatics were running the asylum.

2. The coach wants to play there

I don't have a great deal of confidence in Stephen Hart as a manager, but he seems at least to provide reasons to back up his preference. And I'd certainly rather have him picking match locations than most of the CSA higher-ups.

3. The travel is easier on the players

This is where we start getting into explanations that actually deserve some real consideration. During the European season, it certainly makes a difference whether a player crossing the Atlantic has to continue crossing all the way to the Pacific coast. The differences in flight times is not significant, but the jet lag effects are.

However, this explanation falls flat to explain locating the June match in Toronto, as compared to a Western location. Players are out of season, and will have been together in North America since late May preparing for the USA friendly and the qualifying campaign. And there is no great difficulty involved in traveling from Cuba to Vancouver, or Montreal, or any other Canadian city, as they will be in advance of the June 12th date.

And, of course, it does not at all explain why matches in September and October could not be held in Montreal.

4. The team wants to play on grass

This seems to be where the hammer comes down on most of Canada's stadiums. While the CSA could easily get matches on turf in Vancouver, or Edmonton, or even Winnipeg, approved by FIFA if they really wanted to, playing on an unaccustomed and less forgiving surface doesn't help anybody.

Of course, that still leaves Montreal's Saputo Stadium as a viable option.

5. The team has been building a base of pro-Canadian support in Toronto

This is the clause that, it would seem, eliminates Montreal. It is also the most debatable. Toronto's recent record supporting the national team is mixed. They got expected middling crowds in the previous round against Caribbean minnows, and in friendlies against Peru and Ecuador.

There was a good crowd and strong Canadian contingent in 2008's lone WCQ match against Jamaica, but one could argue that crowd was built off an enthusiasm for soccer in the early days of TFC. The bloom is off that rose, I would say.

BMO Field in August, 2008

Matches in Toronto haven't been much better or worse than those elsewhere in the country, in terms of attendance and quality of home support.


My verdict, for what it's worth, is that considering all the factors the CSA made the safest choice. I also have some sympathy for their desire to have matches played on grass. I'm not convinced that one of the fall matches couldn't be played in Montreal.

But most of all I sympathize with Western Canadian fans. I have a group of sports-minded friends for whom the Canadian national team is barely on the radar. Yet I have no doubt that if the match was played within a reasonable traveling distance (for someone in Winnipeg, that basically means in Winnipeg) they would become enthusiastic supporters.

I'm sure they will anyway if the team defies the odds and qualifies for Brazil, but I can't help but think an Easternization of the team over the past 5 years will come to be seen as a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Canada to play USA in June friendly

Kudos to CSN's Ben Rycroft, who scooped part of tomorrow's big CSA centennial year announcement by telling us, in a piece for CBCSports.ca, that the jewel in the crown of celebrations will be a June friendly against the USA.

The date has not been confirmed, but the next available international window, following the February 29th date when Canada will face Armenia, is from June 1-5, and a match on that weekend would make for ideal preparation in advance of Canada's WCQ opener in Havana.

Rycroft gets it right when explaining why USA was the right choice:
Out of that though has grown awareness about the need to ensure home support for the Canadian team. It's what led to the decision to play all of opening round World Cup qualifiers in Toronto. And it's, ultimately, why the U.S. - who traditionally doesn't have a large contingent of travelling support - is the perfect choice as a send off to the next round of World Cup qualifying, which begins in June.
The Americans are a good measuring stick for Stephen Hart's team, and a good result in June could provide the team with confidence should they need to steal some points in a hypothetical Hex appearance.

Canada's record, as you may know, has not been good against the USA in the recent past. Many of us will recall a certain piece of skull-fuckery by certain CONCACAF officials in a recent Gold Cup match, but the misery goes back much further. In fact, Canada last beat the USA in a senior men's international in 1985. You can see the results for yourself.


The other details to be announced at tomorrow evening's event are the locations for the three WCQ matches to be played in June, September, and October; and the unveiling of Umbro's centenary jersey. Expect commentary on these announcements in the days to come.