Sunday, July 29, 2012

Confirmed call-ups for T&T friendly

I'll admit to being a bit surprised that the Canadian Soccer Association managed to find a dance partner for the August international window.  Stephen Hart's team will return to their usual training grounds in Florida and take on Trinidad and Tobago August 15th in a closed door friendly.

The two main complaints about this friendly announcement were the quality of opponent (others in the region, including Colombia, were available) and that the match was not being played at home (Montreal's Stade Saputo is available).

But Canadian supporters should recognize how fortunate the team is to be playing at all given past history. Rumour has it that getting players released for this match has been a big challenge already.

Speaking of which, in typical fashion the roster is leaking out in bits and pieces. Here's what we have so far:

Pos Name Club Age Caps Goals Source
D Ante Jazic Chivas USA 36 32 1 [source]
D Andre Hainault Houston Dynamo 26 27 2 [source]
D Dejan Jakovic DC United 27 11 0 [source]
M Dwayne De Rosario DC United 34 68 19 [source]
D Doneil Henry Toronto FC 19 0 0


The selection of Ante Jazic and Andre Hainault reunites half of what was a solid back line in June. Dejan Jakovic had been a part of the previous squads but didn't see the pitch. Perhaps Dwayne De Rosario will finally score his 20th international goal that will put him top of the all-time chart.

I have it from a reliable source that Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry has been called up to his first senior camp. The same source tells me that currently unattached defender Nana Attakora has not been selected.

A recent edit to the national team wikipedia page would suggest that FC Edmonton keeper Michal Misiewicz and Vancouver Whitecaps winger Russell Teibert have also been selected. If true, it wouldn't be the first time national team news was broken via wikipedia, but I won't put much stock into it until there's a more solid source.

The roster will be announced in full on the afternoon of Friday, August 10th.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I needn't have bothered

With a bit of reader help I had started to develop an archive of Canada match reports to use, as I often do, in future posts on this blog. I think it's only coincidence, but the CSA has finally put its own match reports back online.

The match data is here, and the relevant bits for me fall under "Timeline and Statistics" and "Team Sheet".

If I have any readers at Metcalfe St, thanks for putting this resource back up.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crowd-sourcing Canadian match data

Most of you probably haven't spent as much time as I have sifting through match data at the CSA site for some statistical nugget.  You certainly haven't done so lately, as the data has been unavailable for some time due to, they say, a server failure during site renovations.

This is seriously cramping my style.  I like to refer to actual data in my posts, not just hazy rememberings. For example, I was planning on writing a post about Canada's upcoming friendly with Trinidad and Tobago, including our past matches against that side. However, the best archive of international matches that I can find only runs to 1999; I know Canada played T&T five times in the year 2000.

So here is my project: to find links to official, or at least very probably accurate, match reports, including accurate player (minutes, cards, goals) and match data (time of match events, attendance if possible).

I've started a Google Docs spreadsheet for this purpose. It contains a (hopefully) complete list of all matches from 2000 forward. What I need help with is links to match reports.  The MLSsoccer website is a good source for matches in the last 2 years, though most reports lack attendance figures.  Soccerway is also a good archive of match results, though I'm hesitant to use the match data as a source as I've noticed errors in the past.

It can be edited by anyone with a Google account. Don't be an idiot.  Please follow the format that I have used.

Google Document: Click here to view and edit

Friday, July 20, 2012

Canadians on the move

The silly season of the summer transfer window is coming to a close, and it seems every day we have a new story of another Canadian international on the move. I've spent a half-dozen days off the grid, and a few more busy with a family wedding, so I've missed a lot of this player traffic. I went through Canada's 22-man squad for its recent matches against USA, Cuba, and Honduras, and found that nearly half of the team is with a different employer than at the time of those matches.

KEEPERS


Lars Hirschfeld: remains with Valerenga (Norway)
After some turbulence earlier in his career, including a stint in Romania which should have served as a cautionary tale for some of his Canadian teammates, Hirschfeld has found stability as the #1 for the mid-table Norwegian side.

Milan Borjan: returns to Sivasspor (Turkey) from loan period with Vaslui (Romania)
Milan was one of the rare Canucks who enjoyed success in Romania, going on a late-season run after signing a loan deal in winter. His earlier time with Sivasspor was not positive so hopefully a further deal is in the cards.

Kenny Stamatopoulos: remains with AIK (Sweden)
The Canadian third-stringer stays on as second-stringer with the Swedish club.

DEFENDERS


Mike Klukowski: signs with APOEL (Cyprus), last season with Manisaspor (Turkey)
Klukowski's Turkish adventures soured pretty quickly. Joining APOEL is a positive move: the Cypriot team had a dream run in the Champions League last season and will be taking part this year in Europa League.

Kevin McKenna: remains with 1. FC Koeln (Germany)
Despite rumours of a TFC move, Canada's captain for now remains with Koeln, who were relegated from the 1.Bundesliga in May. He would likely enjoy more playing time with a smaller 2.Bundesliga side; a move before the beginning of the season should not be ruled out.

David Edgar: remains with Burnley (England)
Edgar has found a home, and his level, with the Championship side.

Andre Hainault: remains with Houston Dynamo
Dejan Jakovic: remains with DC United
Ashtone Morgan: remains with Toronto FC
Ante Jazic: remains with Chivas USA
The MLS defensive crew is a beacon of stability.

MIDFIELDERS


Nik Ledgerwood: signs with Hammarby (Sweden), last season with SV Wehen Wiesbaden (Germany)
Ledgerwood was one of the few Canadians to perform above expectations in this June's matches, which is why I was surprised to see him take what looks like a backwards step from the German 3rd tier to the Swedish 2nd.

Julian de Guzman: traded to FC Dallas from Toronto FC
This probably deserves a post of its own, but the good news from a Canadian perspective is that he should be featuring in the starting lineup in each match, as opposed to languishing on Toronto's bench with a coach that hasn't a clue how to use his talents.

Samuel Piette: signs with Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
Although this signing was rumoured earlier, Piette was not yet with the German club when he was a surprise inclusion to the Canada squad. Fortuna Dusseldorf play in the 2.Bundesliga, but Piette will begin with the U23 squad who compete in the German 4th tier.

Issey Nakajima-Farran: signs with AEK Larnaca (Cyprus), last season with Brisbane Roar (Australia)
Nakajima-Farran's role with Australian champions Brisbane diminished as the season wore on. A move to Larnaca should be viewed as positive.

Atiba Hutchinson: remains with PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
Canada's best central midfielder remains for now as PSV's first choice right back.

Pedro Pacheco: remains with CD Santa Clara (Portugal)
Perennial bench filler keeps his job in the Portuguese 2nd division.

FORWARDS


Iain Hume: no longer training with Preston North End (England)
Iain Hume is one of a group of players that has been told they will play no part this season with the relegated side. One hopes he will find a gig before the beginning of the season.

Tosaint Ricketts: signs with Dynamo Dresden (Germany), move disputed by Timisoara (Romania)
After spending much of last year not being paid by Timisoara, Ricketts impressed on trial with Dresden and signed a deal. The Romanian side are protesting that he is still under contract.

Olivier Occean: signs with Eintracht Frankfurt, last season with Greuther Furth (Germany)
After a dream season with Furth ended in promotion, Occean moves to a bigger promoted side in Frankfurt where he is teammates, for the time being, with fellow Canadian target man Rob Friend.

Simeon Jackson: remains with Norwich (England)
We hope Jackson will have a larger role to play this EPL season.

Dwayne De Rosario: remains with DC United
After the 2011 MLS season saw him play with 3 different teams, De Rosario is enjoying a solid campaign in the USA capital.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is Patrice Bernier Canada's missing midfield man?

After a disappointing start to his MLS season, Patrice Bernier's star is rising. He is now Montreal's goals leader with 5 (albeit 3 penalties), and joint lead in assists (5, tied with Felipe). Impact fans are pumping the tires for a Bernier all-star bid on the social media. 

Even if I had a horse in the MLS race, I wouldn't care a lick whether he makes the all-star game. Any sort of non-competitive match midseason is a waste. But of more relevance to all Canadian fans should be whether Bernier will, and whether he ought to, play any part in Canada's four remaining World Cup qualifying matches in 2012.

Should he have been in Canada's midfield already earlier this year?

I was mildly surprised when he was left off the roster for Canada's two earlier qualifiers and the friendly against the USA, but I think Stephen Hart got it right. To that point in the season Bernier had only featured in 7 of the Impact's 13 MLS matches (6 starts) and 8 of 15 overall, and was clearly in the bad books of boss Jesse Marsch. There simply was no argument to be made that he should start in Canada's midfield ahead of Atiba Hutchinson, Will Johnson, or Julian de Guzman.  

There's a big drop-off in quality after those 3 (though Nik Ledgerwood acquitted himself well enough) but a guy like Bernier, going on 33, doesn't come into a squad just to make up numbers in practice.

What does Bernier bring to the table?

I'll admit that I haven't watched a lot of Montreal's play this season. But I have seen some of the performances that have propelled Bernier into the all-star conversation. What I have noticed is that Marsch seems to allow him a fair degree of freedom to operate all over the midfield. That is, he pops up in often surprising positions, both defending and in attack.

Here's my summary of Bernier's skills and deficiencies:
  • He is confident on the ball and his more offensive vision than any Canadian midfielder not named Hutchinson.
  • He can shoot from range, and is a competent penalty-taker.
  • He is useful breaking up attacks, but is not always in the best defensive positions.
  • He is a bit wasteful of possession, with too many giveaways, though not often in dangerous positions.
  • He could probably stand to lose a few pounds or otherwise improve his stamina.
Bernier is not a perfect player but a guy with that profile definitely has something to offer to a flawed Canada squad.

Should Bernier be called up to the next Canada squad?

Whether Bernier is called in to the next Canada squad depends largely, for me, on when Canada's next match takes place. The only confirmed dates on the calendar are the two Panama qualifiers in early September. A friendly for August 15th has not been confirmed as such; the only evidence Canadian fans have to cling to is CSA president Victor Montagliani's remark that they are speaking to four different countries about a match in this hemisphere (ie: not in Europe).

If the CSA can book a friendly Bernier needs to be selected. Despite only having played three times for Canada in the last two and a half years he is an experienced national team player. Whatever you think of the system Stephen Hart has Canada playing (I don't think much of it) Bernier deserves a chance to show that he can fit in.

By now I think most Canada watchers would agree to the following:
  • Whether you call it a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3, Stephen Hart favours a lineup with three central midfielders.
  • Guys like Tosaint Ricketts, Iain Hume, Dwayne De Rosario, Josh Simpson (if he was healthy) and the like are wingers or forwards in such a set-up.
  • The only real candidates for central midfield roles are de Guzman, Hutchinson, Ledgerwood, Johnson, Pedro Pacheco, and Bernier, if he was selected.
  • Hutchinson is a cut above the rest of that back, and Pacheco and even Ledgerwood a step or two below.
To my mind that leaves Johnson, de Guzman, and Bernier competing for three spots. Thankfully, all three play in MLS and are in mid-season which makes at least superficial comparisons somewhat easy:

Player G GS Min G A YC RC
Patrice Bernier 13 12 995 5 5 3 0
Julian de Guzman 15 10 968 0 3 4 0
Will Johnson 16 15 1343 1 2 3 1
Johnson has been his usual consistent self while Bernier and de Guzman have both spent time in their respective coaches' doghouses. I'm not convinced new TFC boss man Paul Mariner has any sort of clue, but the fact that de Guzman has been sitting on the bench is a strike against him. Point Johnson.

MLS also calculates a highly flawed Castrol Index stat (I say highly flawed because TFC's Danny Koevermans currently tops the chart) but said index also doesn't think highly of de Guzman, who ranks 142nd overall. Bernier slots in at 64th, and Johnson at 84th. Point Bernier.

If you want to find a way to conjure up a point for de Guzman, it is this: Julian has been a national team fixture for years and tends to step up his game when he pulls on a Canada jersey. He does not (or is not allowed to) play with much creativity under Stephen Hart, but he also rarely puts his team in trouble by giving possession away cheaply.

The latter is my main worry with Bernier which is why I'd be wary about giving him the start against Panama without first having seen him fit into Hart's system under less dangerous conditions. If he replaces de Guzman (and if Hutchinson is healthy this is the only way I can see Bernier getting in to the starting eleven) then Hart will need to be sure that Bernier is ready for the defensive responsibilities, and knows how to keep the team's shape. With Dwayne De Rosario all but assured a starting spot on the wing, the team cannot afford another freewheeler.

The only other solution with a midfield 3 of Hutchinson, Bernier, and Johnson is to rotate the triangle and have Atiba play more defensively. Hutchinson is Canada's best player and would no doubt do well in that role (for me, he'd probably be the best guy at 3 or 4 of the positions) but you lose some attacking potential if he's not in behind the central striker.

If Canada can't get a friendly (given my experience as a Canada supporter I'd put the chances at about 50-50) then I don't see Bernier starting against Panama unless either: 1) de Guzman completely falls off the map for TFC, or 2) Atiba Hutchinson or one of the other midfielders isn't healthy. Neither of those two are that unlikely.

If all goes well, a friendly can be booked, Bernier can show he belongs and players are all healthy come September, than he's in my starting XI. Is he in yours?