Thursday, June 14, 2012

Canada-Honduras in review


It's not always easy to follow up a maddening 90 minutes of pacing around my living room with some cogent analysis and rational thought, so I've had to wait 2 days before posting some musings on Canada's 0-0 draw Tuesday against Honduras.

Hart lacking guts?


The main lineup questions prior to Tuesday's match concerned Atiba Hutchinson. Milan Borjan for the suspended Lars Hirschfeld was fait accompli, and there was no sense messing with a back line that seemed to have a good thing going.  As for Atiba if he was fit, he would surely start, goes the logic and, sure enough, he was there in the starting XI. The prevailing wisdom had him replacing Nik Ledgerwood, a man who had been dogged both against the USA and in Cuba, but who is a clear step down in quality from the other midfield options.

Instead Stephen Hart moved Ledgerwood to wide right, a position that had been Tosaint Rickett's against Cuba and the Americans. This move signaled a defensive posture, and perhaps a lack of confidence in the team's ability to defend against a Honduras side that is on a clear downward arc. Canada struggled to generate chances, particularly down the right, and might not find themselves having wasted a golden opportunity to pick up 3 points had Hart made a more attack-minded choice.

Another criticism of Hart in this match was his substitution patterns. While Hutchinson was the class of the midfield early, he began tiring at 60 minutes and was gassed by 70.  He should have been removed sooner. Likewise with Olivier Occean, whose hold-up play was brilliant again, but was replaced a quarter-hour too late. Word is Simeon Jackson is not match fit, but there is a deep bench with other options.

Johnson not on form


I have become accustomed to seeing Will Johnson be one of the team's best performers on a consistent basis. To my surprise, he was clearly off in Tuesday's match. His work rate was there, his running tireless, but his passing was suspect. On several occasions he turned the ball over without being pressured, and more than one of these was

A typical De Ro outing


Dwayne De Rosario was the focal point of the attack for much of the night. When Canada got the ball and began moving forward, the default option seemed to be to play the ball out wide left to De Rosario and let him run at defenders. While his undeniably among the best on the team in this role, too often a flowing attack stalled and defenders were given time to set up. Canada needs to be willing to play down the middle from time to time.

Disappointment


There were many positives in Tuesday's match, but the fact of the matter is that the match was there for the taking. Canada will rightly feel like they left 2 points on the table. The jaded fan can already see these points coming back to bite them in October.

A home crowd


The time Honduras visited Canada for a competitive match they filled two thirds of Montreal's Saputo Stadium. Tuesday's crowd at BMO Field featured a Honduran contingent that was smaller in number and weaker in voice. Several factors were working in our favour this time: a mid-week match making travel difficult, and a Honduras side on the wane less inspiring to their supporters. Nevertheless, Toronto fans should be commended for filling the stadium (or at least the 16,000 seats that were opened for the match) and supporting the team loud and proud.

Chalkboard


Some items from the MLS chalkboard feature:

  • Will Johnson and Julian de Guzman had the ball the most in midfield, completing 40 passes each.
  • Dwayne De Rosario lead the way in the category "Tackled and possession lost" with 21, more than twice as many as any other player on the team bar Occean (13).
  • As was the case against Cuba, the attack favoured the left side, with Jazic (43, most on the team) and De Rosario (22) playing more passes than Edgar (25) and Ledgerwood (11).

And now we wait.

The next matches are not until September, and in a conference call today Hart seemed resigned to the fact that the CSA would not be able to organize a friendly for the remaining FIFA date on August 15th. All one can hope for in the intervening months is that the team remains healthy, especially Atiba and the defensive four, and that a striker or two hits a rich vein of form.


GROUP STANDINGS

Pld
 W D L GF GA GD Pts


 Panama 2 2 0 0 3 0 +3 6
 Canada 2 1 1 0 1 0 +1 4
 Honduras 2 0 1 1 0 2 −2 1
 Cuba 2 0 0 2 0 2 −2 0



CANADA STATS after 2 group stage matches



player start sub mins goals yc rc
Ante Jazic 2
180
1
Andre Hainault 2
180


Kevin McKenna 2
180
1
David Edgar 2
180


Nik Ledgerwood 2
161


Will Johnson 2
180
1
Dwayne De Rosario 2
180
1
Olivier Occean 2
165 1 1
Julian de Guzman 2
158


Lars Hirschfeld 1
65

1
Tosaint Ricketts 1 1 84


Milan Borjan 1 1 115


Atiba Hutchinson 1 1 110


Simeon Jackson
2 11


Iain Hume
1 6


WCQ goals contest: Standings update

After the first two rounds of the current CONCACAF WCQ group stage, here are the standings of my goals prediction contest:

Entry Pts
Trevor C 12
Alex G 11
Branden F 11
Scott B 10
Paul B 9
Seth G 9
Jon W 8
Jamie M 7
Theo G 5

The multiple goal scorers through two rounds of matches are Blas Perez (Panama) and Clint Dempsey (USA) with 2 each, and Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) with 4. Missing out on any of these hurts one's position in the standings.

It seems kind of pointless to have allowed entrants to select 3 Canada players since the team is on pace to score exactly 3 goals this entire round.

You can view the full spreadsheet to see your competitor's picks.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Canada-Cuba in review

I followed Canada's 1-0 win in Friday's World Cup qualifier against Cuba the way many Canadian fans do when a game is played in the middle of a workday: searching for a web stream, stealing furtive glances at Twitter and the Voyageurs forums, and mostly hoping for the best.

It's one thing to live this way when the match in question is a far off, and ultimately meaningless, European friendly.  When it's a close to a must-win game against a beatable opponent but under terrible conditions, it's two hours of pins and needles.

So I only got around to watching the match today.  The pitch conditions and recording quality make a complete set of player ratings rather difficult. Instead, here are a few thoughts:

Olivier Occean: Beast?


The Olivier Occean performance on Friday was unlike anything I've seen from him for Canada. His hold-up play was fantastic, and he won almost everything in the air. The goal was clinically taken, but I was more impressed with the way he absolutely dominated his area of the pitch. He was physical without being reckless, and it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the job against Honduras. He asked to be subbed out and was limping around after the match, but it looked to me to be a textbook case of cramps.

Hirschfeld's moment of madness


I am one of the dwindling few who prefers Lars Hirschfeld over Milan Borjan as Canada's #1. The point is moot, for the next match at least, due to Hirschfeld's sending off for handling the ball outside the area. That he did so is not in dispute. I might argue that it did not negate a direct goal scoring opportunity and should only have been yellow (Kevin McKenna had his man under control) but it was still foolish.  What I am most concerned about Tuesday is the communication between Milan and his defenders.

A de Guzman mini-resurgence?


Julian de Guzman was the most influential Canadian player against the USA, and did a good job moving the ball on Friday as well, despite the cow pasture of a pitch. If Atiba Hutchinson has indeed returned to health, then he should be in the team in place of Nik Ledgerwood. The Julian de Guzman I've seen over the last two matches, with his close control, and ability to pick out teammates with long cross-field passes, it too good to be left on the bench.

De Ro is due


Dwayne De Rosario probably doesn't much care that he is one goal away from being sole goals leader in a Canadian shirt, but he has to feel snakebitten with the amount of chances that he has narrowly missed over the last 180 minutes. Canada will need a De Rosario goal in this round yet, and there is no better time to start than Tuesday.

Chalkboard


The MLS website has the same chalkboard feature for CONACAF internationals as it does for league matches. Some interesting items:

  • Julian de Guzman, as he was against USA, was Canada's most prolific passer, with 47. He also completed a high percentage, misfiring on only 7.
  • The attack favoured the left side of the pitch, as Dwayne De Rosario (23 successful passes) and Will Johnson (26) had more of the ball than Nik Ledgerwood (16) and Tosaint Ricketts (7).
  • I don't understand the numbers beside each player's name. Is it saying that David Edgar had the best game for Canada?


I'd be surprised to see Hart insert any other players into his XI than Hutchinson and Borjan. There may be a case to be made for Simeon Jackson, as Tosaint Ricketts had a fairly anonymous game on the right.  But a game in 40-degree heat is not the best venue for a burner to display his talents, and I'm not sure Jackson would have done better in his place. Some are concerned about the short recovery for a 36-year old Ante Jazic, but he had little chasing to do in this match and is renowned for his fitness in any case.


GROUP STANDINGS

Pld
W D L GF GA GD Pts


 Panama 1 1 0 0 2 0 +2 3
 Canada 1 1 0 0 1 0 +1 3
 Cuba 1 0 0 1 0 1 −1 0
 Honduras 1 0 0 1 0 2 −2 0


CANADA STATS



player start sub mins goals yc rc
Ante Jazic 1
90
1
Andre Hainault 1
90


Kevin McKenna 1
90


David Edgar 1
90


Nik Ledgerwood 1
90


Will Johnson 1
90
1
Dwayne De Rosario 1
90


Olivier Occean 1
81 1

Julian de Guzman 1
68


Lars Hirschfeld 1
65

1
Tosaint Ricketts 1
65


Milan Borjan
1 25


Atiba Hutchinson
1 22


Simeon Jackson
1 9


Thursday, June 07, 2012

'Twas WCQ Eve ...

A little poetry:

'Twas WCQ eve
And all through the house...


...people are jabbering on about fucking TFC

Pardon my language. I'm simply a little confused and dare I say upset that TFC would choose the day before Canada's biggest match in 4 years to announce that Aron Winter has been fired as team boss.

Aside the lame Borat reference, I don't feel the need to back down from this sarcastic tweet.


Toronto FC's profile is already out-sized in relation to that of the national teams. It's position at the centre of the universe, and as a gem in the crown of a massive sports ownership behemoth, affords it a media profile Canada could only dream of. The fact that Canada had to move a Stephen Hart press conference call due to the TFC news, or that the number of journos on that call would be dwarfed by the regular TFC beat corps, speaks to the same point.

So today's news, at a time when Canada's team needs any kind of attention it can grab, comes at exactly the wrong time.  Already snowed under by the Euros, tomorrow's game against Cuba will be further buried.

This would never, NEVER, happen in a real football country.


Lest I be guilty of the same thing, here are some national team items of actual importance and time-relevance:

  • Some choice Kevin McKenna quotes from Kurt Larson, who is on the ground in Cuba: "There’s nobody here enforcing any rules. For me, it’s a joke – playing at 2 p.m., CONCACAF has to step in. ... The worst pitch I’ve ever played on. This is CONCACAF and this is World Cup qualifying... That's the way it is"
  • There's still time to enter my WCQ goals prediction contest.  We're looking to get up to the double digits in entries.
  • Don't be afraid to be confident of tomorrow's result.  The bookies sure are. bwin has the odds at 1.72 / 3.50 / 5.00 (Canada win / draw / loss)
  • Lots of new videos up on the CSA youtube channel.  Atiba Hutchinson looks like a man who will be playing tomorrow.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Canada vs USA: Player ratings

I was prepared to let yesterday's centennial friendly against the USA pass without paying it too much attention. I expected an acceptable but uninspired Canada performance that would be punished with a few late American goals, and brush off the 2-0 or 3-0 loss as a result that would have little bearing on Canada's important qualifiers in the next week.

With a day to mull things over, I've managed to keep myself from taking too much encouragement from yesterday's 0-0 result.  While Canada were certainly lively, and the defense kept its form against a dangerous USA attack that put 5 pass Scotland less than a week ago, they also failed to convert any chances against a team that seemed to lose interest late.

There are plenty of positives and thinking back on things it's hard to a player that didn't have a creditable outing.  Hence the high average rating.

Here are the player ratings, out of 10.

STARTERS

Lars Hirschfeld - 7: Lars made the one world class save that was asked of him, and was better with his distribution than is often the case.  There was one occasion where I felt he was a little slow off his line, but you can't argue much with a clean sheet.  Mr Borjan will have to wait to be handed the job.

Lars saves the day


Ante Jazic - 6.5: The official CSA tweeterer tweeted a tweet today on twitter that Jazic was the 3rd oldest player ever to feature for Canada.  On the one hand, this made his lockdown of (an admittedly disinterested) Landon Donovan rather impressive, but on the other it was clear he didn't have the legs for running the left sideline for 90 minutes.  This will be even more of a problem if he is given the start in Cuba.

Andre Hainault - 7: Canada's central defense pairing won most of the aerial battles and kept their shape against some speedy USA attackers.  I was hoping Hainault would get on the end of a set piece or two, but that will be even more of a weapon against some of Canada's more diminutive Central American opponents.

Kevin McKenna - 6: See Hainault above.  Except McKenna's man beat him two a cross or two, including the injury time chance that Hirschfeld saved.  In the 1st half he hoofed the ball straight forward a few times too many.

David Edgar - 7: We've been wondering for weeks what Hart's back line would look like in WCQs.  Left back is still up in the air, I think, but Hainault at CB and Edgar at RB (the opposite of their regular club positions) seems here to stay.  Which is fine by me.  Edgar was turned inside out once by Hercules Gomez but apart from that had a solid night.  Like he did against Puerto Rico when deployed wide right he had a lot of the ball, and put in the most dangerous Canadian crosses.

Nikolas Ledgerwood - 6: I don't know why I've always had such of a hate on for Ledgerwood.  He seems like a nice guy, but is probably out of his depth at this level.  By his standards, though, he had a good game.  It is probably good for him to be freed from some of the defensive responsibilities of a right back position which is not his regular spot.  While some USA players may have heard the whistle before he scored his disallowed goal, USA keeper Tim Howard did not, and was wrongfooted by a classy finish.

All that said, give me Atiba Hutchinson in his place any day of the week.  Please.

Julian de Guzman - 7: After the 90 minutes were up I tweeted that Julian was my man of the match.  His close control was excellent, he completed more passes than any other Canadian player, and moved play forward more often than in the past.  But I was concerned by the carelessness by which he earned the yellow card.  This has become a habit for him and is a dangerous game to play in CONCACAF.

Will Johnson - 8: Johnson's game shared many of the strengths of de Guzman's; he combined this with an excellent work rate. And while Julian's yellow card was foolish, Johnson's was vital, the product of a quick and correct calculus (hey, his parents are scientists).

Dwayne De Rosario - 7: In a way this was a typical De Ro performance.  He had lots of the ball, showed his class beating players one on one, but often gave away possession attempting a final pass or shot.  It's not his fault Simeon Jackson missed a sitter after a fantastic setup, but he coughed up the ball all too easily on other occasions which were quickly turned into counterattacking chances.  I should say that I was quite keen on his willingness to track back and defend from his left wing.

Tosaint Ricketts - 6: Ricketts' considerable physical gifts were on display throughout the match.  He has speed to burn and was a headache for Mr Castillo most of the night.  But he also showed his naivete at times.  I prefer him off the bench; it will be interesting if Hart feels the same way.

Olivier Occean - 6.5: Occean showed glimpses of what he needs to be for Canada: an ox-strong target forward who gets into good positions and links well with the wide players and midfielders.  Some of these moves just seemed a little out-of-sync, whether it was Olivier or his teammates that were to blame.

SUBS

Simeon Jackson - 6: He missed Canada's best chance of the night.  He also created another by running straight ahead with pace and no American defender bothered to challenge him.  The trick for Hart will be finding a way to get Jackson close to goal without isolating him from his teammates.

Pedro Pacheco - 6: It never hurts to have a midfielder that is comfortable on the ball, though he is not blessed with speed.

Iain Hume - NA: A brief appearance off the bench.

Samuel Piette - NA: Not sure if he even touched the ball, but congratulations to the 17-year old on his first cap.

Mike Klukowski - NA: It was telling that a less than fit Klukowski was Hart's choice to replace a winded Jazic than TFC youngster Ashtone Morgan.



Attendance - 15,247: The stands had a noticeable American contingent, but the spirit was good and the Canadian support was in full voice.  The same crowd for a TFC game this season would likely have been announced as a much larger number.


This was undeniably a strong Canada performance, but the team will need to find goals against more committed opponents.  I look forward to Friday afternoon with cautious optimism, though I'm also certain the quality of my work that day will suffer.

I strongly encourage you to read up on our CONCACAF opponents and use that information to enter my WCQ goals prediction pool.  Free to enter, and there will be prizes.  Promise.