Hoilett Hell

By Benjamin Massey · September 30th, 2015 · 1 comment

I have the hardest time convincing people that just because international soccer is corrupt and insane, it does not necessarily follow that the Canadian national soccer program should be corrupt and insane. We can, and should, hold ourselves to a higher standard. The United States may run out a team full of Germans, fine, the Qataris may massacre platoons of slave labourers to build stadiums for tournaments gained under false pretenses, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. However, this has nothing to do with how Canada needs conduct itself. Just as bad, when fans (and “fans”) urge us to sell our souls, usually we don’t get anything for it. Our morals are compromised, our dignity cracked, and we’re exactly where we were before, and nobody sincerely thinks it’ll be any different. It’s just naked cynicism, a total lack of ideals in an area where we can actually afford to be idealistic, all so that the commentator can look jaded and therefore knowledgeable.

Today, the Canadian Soccer Association released a teaser video where… well, I say “teaser” video, actually it’s quite obviously Junior Hoilett in a Canada kit talking about how fans should support the team. It is a miracle Hoilett did not explode from hypocrisy. Hoilett is 25 years old, was born and mostly raised in Ontario, and has never chosen to represent Canada internationally. There were long rumours that Hoilett would play for Jamaica, the land of his father, and as recently as April, Hoilett was, according to Canadian head coach Benito Floro, “fighting a lot with the decision to play for Jamaica or to play with us.”[1]. Years ago when his career was going well he publicly expressed interest in playing for England, even though under current rules that would be impossible.

Finally, Hoilett has decided to come home, at a moment where his stock at his club has never been lower and it’s doubtful he’d crack Jamaica’s starting eleven. He is a reserve player in the English Championship, and Queen’s Park Rangers are so dismayed by his wages and his inconsistent play that they are quite literally willing to give him away for free[2]. Players who have answered Canada whenever and whereever she has called are being bumped for a guy in hid mid-twenties who can’t crack the first team in the English second division. Is this the man for whom you are willing to sell out your principles? Is he really?

Curiously, in spite of his new-found dedication Hoilett chose not to appear for the recent World Cup qualifiers against Dominica or Belize. He probably had a dentist’s appointment. However, he has found the time for a more glamorous friendly in the United States against Ghana that will put him in the shop window. This does not particularly indicate a sincere embrace of Canadian soccer. I’ll be interested to see how many craphole Central American stadiums we ever see Junior suit up in.

I’m not saying Hoilett is a terrible human being. He left Canada at an early age and made us no promises. In a free country he is entitled to look out for his own interests. Nor am I saying that I would never take Hoilett back. If I were king of Canada and he was interested in returning, I would say “that’s terrific, Junior. Start playing some first team soccer and we’ll bring you in for a camp.” This would leave the door open and he could enter our picture or exit it, at his leisure. It would hinder the perception that Hoilett is being gifted a roster spot at the expense of loyal Canadians, an impression all the stronger when Hoilett is a reserve player and Floro has long complained that his players aren’t getting enough first-team minutes[3]. Finally, it would not hurt us competitively in any meaningful sense. A Championship reserve player is not the difference between Canada qualifying for the World Cup and not doing so. At best he’s the difference between 8-1 and 8-2.

But what we’re getting is a widely-promoted celebration of a player who’s coming back for a relatively noteworthy neutral-site friendly in the United States when he needs to give his career a boost. We’re rewarding somebody who ignored us for years when we needed him, and who quite publicly sought alternatives to us for as long as they lasted. Someone like Tosaint Ricketts, who has been incredibly loyal and worked incredibly hard, or Cyle Larin, who despite his prominence has accepted every single call the nation has made on him, is going to sit on the bench while Hoilett exults in the limelight. Meanwhile, other potential Canadians will look on and say “it does not matter what I do, the Canadian soccer program will be there for me as a last resort, welcoming me with fanfare and a fucking parade. Why shouldn’t I flirt with Chile? I could not possibly be hurt.”

If you reward bad behaviour, you’ll get more of it.

And what about basic pride? We’ve been chasing this kid for years and years, and he is finally so out of options that he’ll toss us a pity fuck. Is this something to be happy about? Canadian men’s soccer is debased, pathetic, but that’s no excuse to glory in it, to rub our faces against the concrete and kiss the boots of anyone who stops kicking us. People say we need to get top players to commit to Canada and I agree. How will we do that by showing that Canada is always there as your fallback option, and that we have so little dignity that we will thank you for ignoring us, and put you on a pedestal above those who have shown us loyalty?

In soccer as in life, nobody is attracted to somebody with no backbone. Making our program the bitch of our least deserving players, from the Frank Yallop era onward, has been a complete failure. The Hoilett party is the apotheosis of this attitude. He spits on us and spits on us and spits on us, but it doesn’t matter, because he will condescend to pull on a red jersey, and the years of scorn only makes him more worthy of praise from the Canadian soccer establishment. Despicable. Hoilett has proven nothing to me. The mere act of showing up, eight years late, hasn’t earned him a single fucking clap. Canada means too much for that.

(notes and comments…)

Independent vs. Reserve Team Attendances Part II: USL 2015

By Benjamin Massey · September 28th, 2015 · No comments

2015 was a success at the gate for the re-re-re-rebranded United Soccer League. Despite adding ten teams from 2014 while losing Orlando City to MLS, per-game attendance actually rose from 3,114 to 3,339. Sacramento remained incredibly well-supported, Rochester continued to do well, and new boys Louisville approached 7,000 fans per game. In a league that’s struggled with franchise stability, many new clubs posted numbers to be proud of. If the real numbers are as good as the attendances look, there’ll be a party down at the league office.

The pity is that, for the casual soccer fan, the big story was not how well USL’s done in its independent markets, or towns brand new to professional soccer turning out in their thousands. No, the story was how USL has eight MLS reserve teams in it.

Reserve teams are not intended to be financially self-sufficient. They lose money but keep veterans match-fit and develop youngsters. Putting these teams in USL, from MLS’s perspective, increases costs but gives them a product that might make some of it back. This is fine. It also expands USL’s reach and talent base, from the league’s perspective, for free. This is also fine. (It’s certainly better than a system of half-farm half-independent bastard teams, as remains sadly common in USL.) Do not mistake what I’m about to say for an attack on the concept of putting reserve teams into the main league pyramid.

However, there was a perception among some fans that the MLS reserve teams joining USL would be a masterstroke in the North American soccer business. Buoyed by Soccer United Marketing the MLS reserve teams would be well-attended and financially successful. Moreover, they would act as a major boost to the independent USL teams, all helping SUM and USL to crush their rival, the North American Soccer League. That, far from being a pragmatic way for MLS to permanently establish a reserve structure, MLS reserve teams in USL would Change Everything.

On the field, while most of the MLS reserve teams were competitive, none blew the doors off. Half the teams in USL make the playoffs. Only two three of the eight MLS reserve teams will see the postseason, and none of the other six five were very close. Four of the five bottom-ranked teams in USL this season were MLS reserve teams. It turns out keeping a team of professionals together full-time will result in a stronger eleven than a crew of kids plus marginal pros rotated in and out of the lineup as needed. Who knew? There’s nothing there to change the world, though it might be a bit better for player development. Many a player who could be a key USL reserve, like Akira Fitzgerald, Josh Ford, or Dane Richards, still goes on loan to the NASL. Not much has changed there.

So how did the MLS reserve teams do attendance-wise? Last year I said that “fans can get behind their own club even at the lowest levels but reserve teams? They just don’t care.” The 2015 USL season bears this out.

Here is the table I made comparing the attendance of reserve and non-reserve in the same division last year, updated to include the 2015 USL[1].

Note: I am missing attendance data for three games (Toronto v. Pittsburgh August 8, Los Angeles v. Arizona August 9, and Harrisburg v. Saint Louis September 6).These games are not included in any averages. I also have one Seattle game (July 24 v. Portland) from a different source. However, if you’re attempting to reproduce these numbers yourself, the missing games break the USL website’s team stats page, and as a result USLSoccer.com shows unreliable figures for the total and average home attendance for Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Toronto. Therefore my data, which are compiled game-by-game, will differ from data compiled team-by-team.

Season League Level Avg. Attend/G Reserve Teams Non-Res Attend/G Reserve Attend/G Diff # Diff %
2012-13 Liga Adelante Spain 2 6724 2 6998 3990 3008 75.39%
2013-14 Liga Adelante Spain 2 7879 2 8328 3395 4932 145.26%
2012-13 3. Liga Germany 3 6162 2 6616 2077 4539 218.52%
2013-14 3. Liga Germany 3 6071 2 6556 1707 4849 284.15%
2012-13 Regionalliga Germany 4 1022 27 1288 390 898 230.62%
2013-14 Regionalliga Germany 4 1139 25 1380 524 856 163.36%
2014 USL Pro USA 3 3114 1 3308 597 2711 454.03%
2015 USL USA 3 3339 8 4135 1747 2388 136.70%
2012 USL PDL USA 4 488 5 455 1026 -571 -55.63%
2013 USL PDL USA 4 588 7 578 686 -109 -15.81%
2014 USL PDL USA 4 590 9 606 482 124 25.83%
Averages 2603 2856 875 1980 226.28%

USL keeps up the trend we see world-wide. Fans care far less about reserve teams than they do about an independent team at the same level. By world standards, MLS reserve teams in USL do by no means badly, but the variances can be wild.

Take Real Salt Lake, the best-attended MLS reserve team. Playing at Rio Tinto Stadium, the RSL reserves managed 4,698 fans per game, sixth in the USL and good by any measurement. But that included two games over 11,000: July 11 versus Austin, and August 28 versus Seattle (13,979; the best-attended game in USL all season). It also included 1,001 to see the Los Angeles Galaxy reserves on April 25, 2,192 to see Colorado Springs on August 26, and 2,230 to see Oklahoma City on September 2. Four of their fourteen home games were above that 4,698 average, but two of them were so far above it shot Salt Lake right up the table. A fan is a fan, they all count, but the Salt Lake reserves were weird and it’s beyond me to guess whether the high numbers or the low ones better reflect their long-term potential.

The only other reserve team in the top half of the USL attendance charts was Portland, in twelfth. Their numbers were consistent: as I’ve always said, Portland is mental. Of the eight worst-supported teams in USL this past season, six were MLS reserve sides. That fits in very well with the international norm.

Of the Canadian teams, Vancouver averaged 1,682 fans per game, playing mostly in the sun at a heavily-marketed, entertainment-filled, dedicated stadium at the University of British Columbia. Toronto started the season at BMO Field but moved to a training centre mid-season while Montreal bounced between Saputo Stadium, the nearby turf field, and (once) Olympic Stadium: both were generally less interested in promoting their teams. Their reported attendance was effectively nobody. Vancouver and Toronto charged for games; Montreal was free.

No doubt fans will be saying “I would have gone to the reserve games but [excuse].” Everyone has an excuse. Some of the games were mid-week or at weird times? Welcome to USL, sunshine; you’re not special. The TFC training centre in Vaughan is hard to get to? Tell that to the good people of St. Louis, whose stadium is two and a half hours by transit from downtown. To put it bluntly, if you cared you’d go. There’s nothing wrong with not caring about your reserve team. Very few fans anywhere in the world do.

Probably more worrying is that attendance declined over the course of the season. Montreal and Toronto are hard to judge. But in Vancouver, after a decent start, attendance fast faded. After their first two games of the season the only Whitecaps Reserve games to break 2,000 were June 14 versus Los Angeles (date of the frankly brilliant “Bark at the Bird” promotion) and July 15 versus Colorado Springs. The marketers will need to work hard to build on these numbers in 2016.


There’s another angle to consider. Do MLS reserve teams bring in more support for the independent USL clubs? Do fans in Charleston or Austin rush to the box office to see the Toronto or Los Angeles reserves? You cannot answer this question definitively, because the sample size is small and the unbalanced USL schedule means some teams see different sets of reserve squads, and get more or fewer games. But here are the figures from 2015.

Attendance for Independent USL Clubs Hosting MLS Reserves
Team Games v. MLS Reserve Attendance Reserve Attend/G Non-Reserve Attend/G Diff # Diff %
Arizona 6 20380 3397 2895 955 33.00%
Austin 5 17943 3589 3025 563 18.62%
Charleston 3 14362 4787 3886 901 23.18%
Charlotte 3 5382 1794 1802 -8 -0.45%
Colorado Springs 7 20262 2895 2551 343 13.46%
Harrisburg 4 12147 3037 2392 645 26.97%
Louisville 3 20380 6793 6757 36 0.54%
Oklahoma City 5 21439 4288 4828 -541 -11.20%
Orange County 7 10714 1531 1266 265 20.94%
Pittsburgh 3 8193 2731 2602 129 4.95%
Richmond 3 9696 3232 3887 -655 -16.85%
Rochester 6 30385 5064 5949 -885 -14.87%
Sacramento 8 90064 11258 11409 -151 -1.32%
Saint Louis 3 14585 4862 4891 -30 -0.60%
Tulsa 5 23608 4722 4710 11 0.24%
Wilmington 4 12965 3241 2847 394 13.86%
League-Wide Total 476 11.92%

Across USL, teams drew 11.92% more fans when an MLS reserve team was in town than when an independent club was. That’s more than a rounding error but isn’t a significant margin, and is hard to separate from the game-to-game inconsistency that’s endemic across the lower divisions. Possibly more fans bought season tickets for the sake of MLS reserve teams, but why woulde that level of interest hardly be reflected in single-game sales? Moreover, the teams best-supported in general seemed least interested in MLS reserve teams, and it doesn’t take much of a change in Orange County or Harrisburg to look significant.

None of this takes away from what’s been a good 2015 for the United Soccer League. In fact, 2015’s been a great year for lower-division professional soccer all over Canada and the United States. But the credit doesn’t go to reserve teams.

EDIT, September 29: this article originally claimed two MLS reserve clubs made the USL post-season rather than three.

(notes and comments…)

Canada, Canada, Your Number One Team (Ya Gat Dat Right!)

By Benjamin Massey · September 9th, 2015 · 12 comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

On Tuesday almost everyone in Canadian soccer went crazy for Mad Bull and Maestro, the Belizean television commentators for the Belize – Canada World Cup qualifier.

The game itself was dull, almost beyond description, and shocking to the Canadian fan who saw a team we hope will beat Honduras draw mere British Honduras. Deon McCauley, who spent last year as a utility player for NASL sadsacks Atlanta, scored a goal through nasty marking by national team veteran Adam Straith and could have had two. Milan Borjan made a great save in the last second but was off his game otherwise, the midfield failed to provide service to the forwards, and when Larin, Nakajima-Farran, or Ricketts did get possession in Belizean territory not much came of it.

Our goal was a fine opportunistic 19-yard finish by Will Johnson, but he also shot what should have been the winner, after a lovely touch to take the ball to his left foot, about ten yards from goal with a decent angle and entirely unmarked, well wide. There were a few other half-chances but nothing you could write home about, and while in my books Larin won a penalty when a Belize player tackled through his back it was hardly highway robbery. There was very little to say about the action. Fans who feel overly optimistic about Canada should be chastened, but for the most part this is the same sort of soccer we’ve seen in the post-Mitchell era.

The web stream itself was hilarious, boasting equipment remarkably out-of-date by Canadian standards. There were blue screens and vertical tracking problems, like an old VCR with a loose coaxial cable. Colour went in and out like a dying Colecovision. Many of us are used to Central American and Caribbean broadcasts, but not even the old Puerto Rico Islanders brought us mid-’90s high school video club quality on this level. Then there was the advertising; some online TV service that used an ancient Eric Hassli clip, entertaining Carnival ads, but above all a hardware store, Benny’s, which immediately equaled Phillip’s Bakery in Voyageurs lore. This ad changed my life.

We loved all of this, but a little ironically, like bad beards and the Backstreet Boys. They do things differently abroad! Belizean television standards aren’t as high as ours! Haha! However, the Mad Bull and Maestro experience was entirely sincere.

You will get some idea of their personality if I say that “Mad Bull”, the play-by-play man, and “Maestro”, the colour commentator, are the nicknames they gave each other. Gavin Day, the Canadian Soccer Association’s renaissance man, posted photos of Mad Bull and Maestro in which they look like ordinary soccer pundits. Mad Bull, real name Ladrick Sheppard, turns out to be a reasonably prominent local politician. Perfectly respectable people who, in a commentary booth, put on some rare entertainment.

There are homer announcers, then there are Boston announcers, then there’s Mad Bull and Maestro. They were so enthusiastic, and they gave Belize everything they had. Maestro got carried away shouting “Belize, Belize, Belize!” on more than one occasion. Low-percentage Belize shots that went miles wide were as good as a hat trick. They both sounded like they could die for a Belize goal, and when Belize got one it was like the greatest moment of their lives. There is nothing they would leave unsaid to support a team that was hopeless underdogs even to the lowly Canadian selection. In the second half Maestro said, and I’m not making this up, “these are the players, we’re talking about Neymar and all of them, [Deon] McCauley is number one.” Mad Bull got more excited about McCauley having possession at the halfway line than I’ve ever been about a Canadian player doing anything.

Not that they disrespected the Canadians: Will Johnson was (correctly) called a flopper, but his skills were admired. Ledgerwood and Hutchinson came in for specific praise and Ricketts, who scored a brace on Belize in the first leg, was described by Maestro as someone “who can score the ball like no-one else.” They struggled to pronounce our names but frankly fair enough; anybody who listened to Two Fat Bastards will know my record there.

And the nicknames. To Mad Bull, every player is some combination of deadly, an assassin, or a killer. Deon McCauley drew the unmatched distinction of being a magician. Their metaphors were liquid gold: “this is a different food they’re eating on the table!” enthused Maestro after Belize took the lead. Nor did they use verbosity to distract from ignorance, as some commentators around the world do. Their terminology was unfamiliar to Canadians, and Mad Bull had the unnerving habit of using “spot kick” in any dead ball situation, but they knew what was going on and, in their way, accurately diagnosed how Belize playing was well above their level, with the sheer intensity of their runs overwhelming a Canadian team that was never fully engaged.

Honestly, Maestro is what I wish I could be if I were a soccer colour commentator, though I know I haven’t got the talent.

The intensely high energy of Mad Bull and Maestro might wear on me over a 30-game season but, for one night, it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. Above all, their love for their country and their team radiated through the crummy stream. Both men also called the leg in Toronto, which had been a dispiriting performance for their side, but it wasn’t until they needed four goals in five minutes that Maestro even partially sounded like he was losing hope. Dodgy technical equipment, a team with no hope, a stadium that not long ago was considered unfit for international competition, a commentary position that was literally behind a pillar, none of it could dampen their passion. Many supporters around the world could learn from them.

Meanwhile, in far richer Canada, our far superior national team has no television deal at all. Even when we did, it was almost unheard of for Sportsnet to pack up a camera crew and leave the country to broadcast a game. At best we’d get Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest talking over a St. Kitts video feed from a studio in Toronto on Sportsnet 8 (THE OCHO); more often we wouldn’t even get that. We were an afterthought to, well, pretty much anything, and I don’t just mean the Blue Jays or the CFL or other things that are more popular than our men, but cycling and re-runs of highlight shows and just about any excuse to bump the Canadian national team down the running order they could find. These days, with our television rights held by no-one, we’re stuck with an overworked Day and occasionally a guest commentator on unreliable CSA web streams even during home games. Day’s a good play-by-play man, and it turns out Terry Dunfield is excellent on colour commentary, but it’s all restrained and low-rent, accessible only to the current hardcore fan. During the Women’s World Cup, when TSN had the rights and gave our women’s team serious coverage, it was almost a shock to the system. “Oh yeah, that’s what real soccer countries do!”

Now Mad Bull, Maestro, and a few Belizean cameramen with 20-year-old equipment have again shown Canada how it’s done.

I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expect from a match recap. You’re watching Channel 5, you can’t complain.

Waited Too Long for Our Freedom

By Benjamin Massey · August 27th, 2015 · No comments

The best part of the Vancouver Whitecaps winning the Voyageurs Cup was not the winning. It was seeing Russell Teibert, the only Canadian to start for either team, and his undisguised pleasure. First at the victory, second at the individual triumph of the George Gross Memorial Trophy for tournament MVP. Teibert’s gotten rather good at generic sportsman interviews over the past three years but when Sportsnet collared him after the game he couldn’t keep the emotion out entirely, babbling in joy during what is normally the most tedious, pro forma part of an athlete’s job. To a long-time fan it was a great moment, and while it would be presumptuous for me to say I was proud, I was.

Nobody reading this site on the regular will need reminding that the Whitecaps and I have drifted apart. It’s not really their fault – the moral turpitude of MLS is the main factor, and as for the team’s refusal to play Canadians, it’s what most of their fans want – but it’s no use denying it’s happened. I enjoyed Schadenfreude at the Impact, absolutely. (I may not love the Whitecaps but I will always hate the Impact.) There was the satisfaction that 2009 and 2013 had, to some degree, been avenged. Even as an FC Edmonton fan, there is a solemn pride in having brutally lost a semi-final to the eventual champions in second-leg stoppage time for the second year on the trot. And there was gratification for the supporters who embrace this tournament, particularly the Voyageur who brought out the Cup, Nazz Catania. Nazz is a much longer-time Vancouver soccer fan than me, and I am glad he is not a meme.

However, when the clock ticked down on Wednesday I found myself without real joy. I learned I was a Whitecaps fan when, during the 2009 Montreal Screwjob, I grew dementedly furious as the Impact more-or-less-deliberately allowed Toronto FC to beat them at home by five goals so the Whitecaps would be denied their first Voyageurs Cup. Six years later, a perfect bookend. This is what MLS has taken away from some of us: the Whitecaps finally took the one trophy we’d have sacrificed animals to get, did so utterly convincingly and without the least drama, and the taste of glory turns to ashes in our mouths, corrupted by allocation money and SuperDrafts and supporter crackdowns and Don Garber Sports Entertainment. Oh, for a fair and serious Canadian soccer league.

That is a reaction that can be taken too far, though. I was happy for Teibert, who has been slogging through shit for both club and country the past few seasons and deserves a moment in the sun. As many viewers saw yesterday there is nothing like the satisfaction of seeing a locally-developed Canadian lad on top of the world. Pa-Modou Kah cruising around the field on a robotic scooter was cool; Canadians winning the Canadian championship is imperishable. Let that provoke thought in fans who can’t be arsed whether the Whitecaps (or the Eddies, or the Impact, or…) play Canadians or not.

I was happy for Gershon Koffie, who is not just a gentleman but the all-time on-field leader in Voyageurs Cup Heartbreak. He arrived in Vancouver too late for the 2010 edition but has been slapped in the face by the soccer gods every summer since. I was happy for Bob Lenarduzzi, since whatever I think of his attitude on playing Canadians in the first team he does love Canada and he’s been chasing this trophy, quite seriously, since 2008. There are plenty of fans in Vancouver who have wanted the Voyageurs Cup even longer than that, going back to those A-League years when Montreal monopolized it, and for them a day like this justifies a lot of heartache. There is nothing I would say to take away that euphoria even if I could.

May I, someday, celebrate a Voyageurs Cup final without reservation. MLS delenda est.

Rowdies Can Rongen

By Benjamin Massey · August 21st, 2015 · No comments

Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

Today, Thomas Rongen lost the NASL sack race. 261 days after being named Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach on December 3[1], the veteran has been fired along with general manager Farrukh Quraishi[2].

Whenever you fire your coach eighteen games into his first season while tied for third in the NASL combined standings you’re hitting the panic button. Was I Rowdies owner Bill Edwards I’d have given Rongen more time. Well, I tell a half-truth; was I Edwards I wouldn’t have hired Rongen at all. When I wrote my 10,000-word NASL preview in March I called Rongen, as politely as I could, “the sort of coach who always seems to get a new job somewhere.”[3] I’m sure he will, too. Rongen is affable, fun on social media, and wears a bowtie. He is a “character” with support in the soccer community and such people are never out of work indefinitely, though the litany of disappointment since the 1999 MLS Cup is now a bit longer.

It’s not like Rongen and Quraishi were serene themselves. The two ex-bosses tore down virtually the entire Rowdies roster over the 2014-15 offseason; they must take credit for the new team’s achievements and blame for its failures. Recently they made headlines by signing two high-profile busts, Freddy Adu and Omar Salgado. Adu, who is frequently injured, has played a total of fifteen minutes in one game. Salgado, who is even more frequently injured than that, spent some time waiting for paperwork, played twelve minutes in one game, and hasn’t been seen since. They joined a team of career underachievers like Corey Hertzog, Gale Agbossoumonde, Maicon Santos, and Rich Balchan, with only Hertzog inherited from 2014. There’s little material to suggest a championship run, and maybe a hot start raised expectations beyond reason. If so that would be cruel: the luck that made Rongen look good in the spring turned out to be really bad.

Tampa Bay had a fine spring season. They finished in second place, only a point behind New York (who nobody’s going to get) and were second in goal difference as well. If not for the Cosmos beating the Rowdies 2-0 in New York on April 18, Tampa Bay would already have booked a playoff spot thanks to the NASL’s split-season format. There’s no denying that firing the leadership of a team which came so close so quickly looks odd.

NASL TSRs and PDOs through August 21
Spring 2015 Fall 2015 Total 2015
ATL 0.448 92.35 0.385 114.52 0.419 103.74
CAR 0.427 117.20 0.419 98.37 0.423 107.93
EDM 0.478 94.20 0.556 110.74 0.511 100.68
FTL 0.504 102.69 0.562 91.55 0.527 98.97
IND 0.535 103.77 0.558 90.68 0.546 97.62
JAX 0.503 80.00 0.509 103.57 0.506 102.04
MIN 0.528 99.74 0.503 106.60 0.518 102.04
NY 0.557 107.35 0.548 98.18 0.553 103.65
OTT 0.528 91.39 0.528 107.01 0.528 100.67
SA 0.500 94.28 0.422 95.00 0.469 94.54
TB 0.492 111.00 0.500 85.71 0.495 99.26

But the spring season is only ten games. Drawing conclusions from ten games’ worth of results is stupid. To the right are the Total Shots Ratio (TSR) and PDO of each team in the NASL so far this season. Fully explaining TSR and PDO is beyond the scope of this article but think of them as statistical smell tests. PDO is simply a team’s shooting percentage plus its save percentage, and TSR the proportion of total shots in a game taken by the team in question. So a team that’s generating more chances than its opposition will tend to have a higher TSR, and a team which is converting on a lot of its shots or getting lights-out goalkeeping a high PDO. This is important because history suggests that a team with an outrageous PDO, either high or low, is deceiving you: over the long haul a team’s PDO approaches 100.00, and if the PDO is way out from that said team is probably either better or worse than the standings show.

NASL statistics aren’t perfectly accurate, but people who minded their TSRs and PDOs would have guessed that the Cosmos would be killing it this year while the Scorpions and Railhawks slumped, and that FC Edmonton wasn’t nearly as good as their 2014 autumn. The point isn’t that comparing TSRs and PDOs allows you to glean soccer’s well-hidden secrets, but that it allows you to guess broadly who’s lucky and who isn’t.

Tampa Bay’s TSR is solidly middle of the road. In the spring they surged with the second-best PDO in the league and the best among anybody who should seriously be considering playoff spots. In the fall their luck’s run out and their spot in the standings has fallen with it. The result is that their current position is about right, or maybe a little flattering. They’re average. They have average tattooed all over their foreheads. That certainly isn’t enough to blow away your coach after eighteen games, but it’s not worth making a real fuss to defend the guy either.

Last year’s Rowdies, much-maligned with a long-time coach playing his kid in front of a crowd demanding a lot more, were pretty average as well until they were decimated by the new management. 2014 Tampa Bay ended the year with a perfectly respectable TSR of 0.509. Where they fell apart was in PDO: 85.85 was last place in the league by a lot. A 22.09% shooting percentage was bad, but their save percentage of 63.77% was the real killer, and so the Rowdies finished well out of the playoff running.

Break down Tampa Bay’s spring PDO and you’ll see how their save percentage improved and nearly brought them glory: 84.21%, first in the NASL by a long way. Quelle différence, but not a sustainable number. An anti-stats type might grumble that Rongen should get credit for finding talent in goal, but the problem is that Tampa Bay’s keepers have been Matt Pickens, one of the few returning 2014 Rowdies, and veteran Kamil Čontofalský, who despite obviously being a good player had an unlucky save percentage last year in Fort Lauderdale. Rongen did not find brilliant new talent capable of posting high percentages: two keepers coming off low percentages, one of whom Tampa already had, rebounded.

Moreover, the Rowdies are not a young team building for the future: as mentioned above, a lot of their players have been plucked from the busts of a higher level. Men like Adu, Hertzog, and Agbossoumonde will not develop into star players now that they’re in their mid-twenties with several professional seasons behind them. There’s been much talk of a “five-year plan” but, in Tampa Bay’s case, that didn’t mean developing home-grown talent this season at the cost of results. On the Rowdies roster Salgado, Darwin Espinal, Robert Hernández, and Jeff Michaud are under 22 years old, and only Michaud played his teenage years in Florida. Michaud and Hernández essentially never play, leaving Espinal as the only young-ish regular. Čontofalský is 37, Pickens is 33, and leading scorer Maicon Santos is 31. That’s a long way from a youth movement.

Again, there is nothing here to justify so large a change to the team so quickly. For Rongen and Quraishi’s firings to make sense on their own terms there has to be something else: maybe all those new players came at a high price their performances haven’t justified, maybe something went on behind the scenes, or maybe Bill Edwards is just sick of waiting and doesn’t see enough improvement on the horizon. So that’s my defense of Rongen and Quraishi. The other side is there’s no reason for Rowdies fans to stay up wishing they were still around, either.

(notes and comments…)

The Pro/Rel Fantasy

By Benjamin Massey · August 11th, 2015 · No comments

North American Soccer League

North American Soccer League

As you probably know, North American Soccer League commissioner Bill Peterson recently told The Telegraph‘s Bob Williams that he will “take action” on bringing promotion and relegation to North American soccer[1].

Obviously a serious fan will wish Peterson all the best, but talk is cheap and pro/rel chatter goes at a discount. The only thing in the soccer universe less likely than the NASL getting USL onboard for a promotion/relegation scheme is the NASL getting MLS onboard. Peterson talks about a partnership with the American National Premier Soccer League but even for the Yanks that’s hardly a national pyramid while Canadians and Puerto Ricans would be, as Steven Sandor pointed out, up the proverbial creek. Itself a long shot, such a setup might be better than nothing but, for Canadian fans, not much.

Obviously promotion and relegation would be terrific in North America, as it has been everywhere else in the world. The North American sports palate is not as coarse and unrefined as Don Garber would have you believe. Take it from me, who cheers for many a last-place team: if I could honestly urge my lads to win at the end of the season rather than lose for the sake of a draft pick I’d be overjoyed, even if relegation was the price of failure. Leagues with business models based off collecting franchise fees will be have to find another way but that’s a feature, not a bug. Likewise with anti-labour concepts like discovery lists, allocation orders, and SuperDrafts which a real pyramid would make untenable.

The discussion, however, is academic so long as professional team owners are more interested in prestige and soccer-like sports entertainment than building a system that might hurt individuals even if it’s a collective boon. Which is why you don’t see much pro/rel ranting on this website: clearly pro/rel can’t be beat, but equally clearly it would require a shift in the North American soccer landscape of such scale that any forecast is essentially a personal fantasy.

Hell with it, let’s fantasize. Tomorrow morning Don Garber, Bill Peterson, Victor Montagliani, Sunil Gulati, and USL president Jake Edwards walk into my apartment. “Ben,” they say, “we’ve read your blog, we really like it (especially the blasphemous Photoshops), and we have therefore appointed you generalissimo of North American soccer. Your mandate is to implement promotion and relegation in Canada and the United States. The catch is that you don’t really have any new money and if you stomp all over the owners they’ll launch a coup, establish an Emergency Government of National Security, and hang you from a lamppost. What’s your plan?”

Major League Soccer need not give up its primacy. With promotion and relegation giving any club a route to the top, a professional domestic division developing domestic players, and the roster rules of a North American pyramid with three soccer nations (Canada, the United States, and Puerto Rico) as equal partners, most objections to our all-consuming top division disappear. Successful teams will thrive, the unsuccessful will fail, and if a Canadian team decides to focus entirely on foreign players, that team a couple divisions down nurturing local talent will have every chance to eat their lunch. Many MLS rules, like a salary cap and designated player slots, might remain in place all the way down the pyramid: what we’d lose would be favouritism between domestic players in different countries and the shady deals, weighted lotteries, and suspicious bursts of undocumented cash that make MLS such a joke.

The much-discussed Canadian second division is essential without promotion and relegation and would be essential with it. Hopefully the prospect of promotion would attract NASL loyalists FC Edmonton; in a pro/rel universe we couldn’t really hook them onto the American ladder forever. If not I guess we’re selling the nice china and pawning our guitars until we can buy the Faths out. As for the Puerto Ricans, the existing Liga Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico is a good starting point for a third division. Their league structure is a hot mess right now, with traditional powerhouses Bayamón F.C. having to join the mainland NPSL, and as an ignorant outsider it seems unlikely that they’ll have a league at second division standard in the near future.

Amateur and youth levels, such as USL PDL, are left out. They don’t belong in the discussion of an open-age professional structure, even if some teams are plenty talented enough to compete at a third-division standard. Their role is an independent one, though doubtless some teams more interested in entertaining the community than developing college players will move over.

Canada United States Puerto Rico
Division 1 Major League Soccer
24 teams
Division 2 Canadian Premier League
8+ teams
North American Soccer League
10 teams
Division 3
Top reserve level
regional third divisions
(PLSQ, L1O, etc.)
United Soccer League
18 teams (plus reserves)
Liga Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico
12 teams
Division 4+ local premier leagues National Premier Soccer League
65 teams
local soccer?

A thorny practical problem is how to determine who gets relegated. (This is where I’m glad I’m generalissimo.) Your standard three-up-three-down rule would be poorly received by MLS owners who’d paid huge expansion fees, and competitively unfair given the sometimes dramatic gaps in quality between different levels. Then there’s how to deal with three soccer nations under one roof.

I would put the three last-place MLS teams into an annual playoff with the top two NASL teams and the Canadian champion and have them play off, home and away. The last-place MLS team and the three second-division teams play one round. The winners face the second-last and third-last MLS teams. The winners of that play next season in MLS; the losers get a last chance third-place game. The big-money MLS teams would have every chance to keep their place, and if they took the drop in spite of everything it would be their own damned fault. If the NASL/Canadian teams are completely uncompetitive they’ll get wiped out in the playoff and, hopefully, come back stronger next year. It’s a conservative format which favours the existing powerhouses, but that’s okay if it gives everyone an honest chance.

This would happen without prejudice to nationality. If a Canadian league team wins promotion and it’s all American teams in the relegation pot, there’s one more Canadian team in MLS that year. The reverse applies when Toronto FC inevitably comes unglued and gets themselves sent to the U-Sector outdoor league. The numbers favour the Americans (remember, the NASL gets two entrants to the promotion playoffs to Canada’s one), which is probably only fair. Combined with their competitive advantage Americans need not fear a Canadian takeover of their national league, but if a Canadian team punches above their weight like this year’s Ottawa Fury then they can be justly rewarded.

The principle applies further down the pyramid. The USL and Puerto Rican champions play the bottom NASL teams: USL is far stronger than the Puerto Rican league but the playoff will shake out most pretenders. In Canada, let our regional semi-pro champions battle to send somebody to a promotion playoff against the basement-dwellers of the national league. Clubs would need the right to decline promotion for financial or other reasons, and reserve teams should probably not rise higher than the third division. It would also be important that Canada has a semi-pro league for every region, lest FC Edmonton be relegated to League1 Ontario, but that’s something that has to happen anyway.

Theoretically this could lead to regional leagues running short of teams: if League1 Ontario has a good run and half their teams get promoted, that would be inconvenient for the smaller number brought up to replace them. There would therefore have to be provision for extra promotion to keep leagues viable. Indeed, as the strength of the second and third divisions grow, both Canadians and Americans would doubtless want to bring additional teams to a higher level rather than stick with the relatively small NASL and Canadian league numbers forever.

At the bottom we integrate the various men’s amateur leagues that are currently thriving across Canada and the United States. Why shouldn’t Sunday players in the smallest communities have the chance to enter the semi-professional ranks if they’re willing and able? No doubt most of these teams would be incapable of winning promotion and be obliged to decline it if they ever could; the point is to give the exceptions a chance and allow grassroots teams, maybe even supporter-owned ones, to rise in stature and support until they’re on the biggest stage.

MLS teams would play more must-win games than ever before, bringing in fans and television viewers. A community in the driver’s seat for promotion would be captivated rather than trying to remember what the NASL regular season championship is called*. More teams at more levels would have more ways to draw more fans than in any other format, and when an underserved community could support a professional club they could make it on their merits rather than wait for a patron to pay an expansion fee. This all sounds brilliant, until you’re New York City FC, you just paid MLS a $100 million expansion fee, and there’s a real chance you’re swapping places with the Cosmos next year.

Indeed, the selfishness of empire-building ownership and league front offices is why our soccer pyramid is stuck in imagination. You’d have to be a much better politician than I to make it real.


Wes Knight Retires, Aged 28

By Benjamin Massey · July 31st, 2015 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

So farewell then, Wes Knight. Enjoying what seemed to be a renaissance with his hometown Carolina Railhawks, Knight has announced he will be hanging up his boots[1], aged only 28, and moving into coaching. In hindsight, this isn’t a total surprise: Knight’s struggled with injury for several years and already kicked off his coaching career, earning his USSF “A” license in May. But 2015 had been a long-overdue success for Knight, who had played every minute with the Railhawks and been an important part of a veteran back four. The fans’ loss is Carolina soccer’s gain: Knight is joining the Colorado Rapids program to coach at their Carolina youth academy.

Knight’s best years were his first, when was with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2009 until 2011. There he was a one-time USL First Division finalist, passed over for league honours by narrow margins, and one of the great cult favourites. Born, raised, and educated in South Carolina, Knight appeared at the USL Men’s Player Showcase at the end of 2008 and caught the eye of the Whitecaps staff, but passed through the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. So the southern man made the long trek north, signing with Teitur Thordarson and the Whitecaps on February 11[2]. It was the same day future Canadian international Marcus Haber joined the team; Haber would have an fine 2009 season, be purchased by West Bromwich Albion, and become a semi-regular on the senior Canadian national team, but in strictly local terms you have to say Knight was the better signing.

The odds were against Knight from the start. The 2008 Whitecaps had won the USL championship, and while several core players departed during the offseason a strong defensive crew remained. Steve Kindel, the popular local leftback, was gone, but ageless wonder Takashi Hirano was more than a replacement. In the middle was St. Vincentian colossus Wesley Charles, teaming up with talented American androstatriendione user Jeff Parke. Right back, where Knight would be expected to make his mark, could be occupied by Parke as well as incumbent Lyle Martin, a Whitecap since 2007 when he was team Newcomer of the Year, and a tough boulder to push aside.

In the event Charles and Parke were much less of a team than you’d like: they fought in training, Charles was released, and Parke left anyway to explore European options. The depth was called upon again and again, from veteran Marco Reda to youngster Luca Bellisomo in the second season of his underrated professional career. Most importantly, in preseason training Martin broke his foot. The door had opened a crack, and Knight barged through.


Where’s the BC Semi-Pro League?

By Benjamin Massey · July 29th, 2015 · No comments

Devon Rowcliffe/Groundhopping Canada

Devon Rowcliffe/Groundhopping Canada

The success of League1 Ontario and the Première ligue de soccer du Québec has again raised interest in a provincial, semi-professional soccer league for British Columbia. Some knowledgeable observers have considered a BC league almost more of a “when” than an “if”, yet we’ve hardly moved an inch towards that goal in the past ten years. This league’s inability to just get off the ground has become a very old story.

Semi-professional soccer could be a success in British Columbia. The clubs, the players, and the fields already exist. Much of the province has a history second-to-none in North America and a local soccer culture with fans used to supporting their local amateurs. Attendances aren’t regularly high, but cup weekends can draw crowds good enough for anybody and the quality and professionalism of higher-level soccer means growth. Many organizations already find sponsors, get fields every week, and boast competitive youth programs sending players to university soccer or the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. That’s half the reason why a semi-pro league is so widely anticipated, and why there’s such frustration as it fails to launch: nobody needs to build anything for the league to work. It’s already there.

A new league has been seriously discussed since before the Whitecaps moved to MLS. In 2010 Ontario semi-pro team Toronto Croatia played Burnaby amateurs Athletic Club of BC at Swangard Stadium, part of a long-rumoured potential expansion of that Ontario league to the west coast. (The visitors got waxed.) That league was eventually reduced to a ruined outlaw league by match-fixing allegations; a lucky escape for the west coast, maybe, but we didn’t build anything on our own either. In 2013 the Canadian Soccer Association aimed to have semi-pro in BC by this year[1], a target that was missed. A BC Soccer committee was to provide an update at its Annual General Meeting this past June[2]. It doesn’t sound like much came out of that either.

We talk about needing investors but several clubs already operate with a budget serious enough to support expanding into semi-pro. This being Canada, of course the big problem is politics. As always. For once, though, we can reserve some sympathy for the politicians.

Yes, British Columbia’s elite adult clubs are divided but that’s on account of differences going back decades. Important institutions would be happy to combine forces if only they could agree on how to combine them. It’s not about power plays (well, it’s not entirely about power plays), but genuinely different visions of elite adult soccer in British Columbia.


The Other Side of the Cereal Box

By Benjamin Massey · July 21st, 2015 · 1 comment

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

My June visit to Montreal happily coincided with a cup weekend in Quebec’s semi-pro soccer league, the Première ligue de soccer du Québec or PLSQ. You seldom see it discussed in the English-language media; even the English section of their official website is in French. Yet despite its lower profile than League1 Ontario the PLSQ is in fact older, playing its first season in 2012. It’s not just the language barrier that’s kept the PLSQ relatively obscure: Ontario has developed young players while Quebec’s stars have been its veterans, seldom catching an out-of-province eye, and Ontario has higher-profile established clubs like TFC Academy and Sigma FC. So despite reasonable success the PLSQ can be overlooked even by die-hards.

But if the much-ballyhooed British Columbia semi-pro division ever happens the PLSQ model might be the one to follow. While L1O has a developmental mandate PLSQ teams operate more like, well, competitive clubs: young players appear, many clubs have youth setups, but first-team stars are the best players available. It’s akin to British Columbia’s existing teams in the VMSL, FVSL, VISL, and PCSL, some of which could already give the Quebec semi-pros a run for their money. An attractive, competitive league is important because the PLSQ is geographically almost as spread out as British Columbia. Two teams in Ottawa-Gatineau join five teams spread very broadly around greater Montreal and, starting in 2016, an expansion club in Quebec City. At such distances travel costs become an obstacle and you better be able to draw fans.

The game I saw would have brought ’em in. Powerhouses CS Mont-Royal Outremont, based in the picturesque community of Mont-Royal, hosted FC L’Assomption, mid-table make-weights representing a farming community of about 20,000 people, for the first leg of the PLSQ Cup semi-final. Familiar names abounded. The most famous was L’Assomption head coach Eduardo Sebrango, ex- of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact, Quebec soccer legend, and leading goalscorer in Voyageurs Cup history. In 2013, aged 40, Sebrango scored five goals for L’Assomption, second on the team behind indoor legend Frederico Moojen. The next season saw Sebrango finally hang up his boots and move to L’ACP Montréal-Nord as coach and technical director. Montréal-Nord finished tied for last and folded at the end of 2014, so Sebrango returned to L’Assomption as head coach for this year.

Nor was Sebrango the only Impact alum. Forward Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, so recently signed he wasn’t on the program, played three years alongside Sebrango on the pre-MLS Impact and saw time in 2014 with the NASL’s Ottawa Fury. Mayard was influential at the beginning of the game, though he wasn’t fully match-fit and seemed to think he was above this calibre of league (he was wrong). Starting goalkeeper Greg Walters was a random sighting: an American who spent some time in New Zealand and on the USL-1 Carolina Railhawks in 2008, now coaching at McGill. Some players other than the ex-pros impressed too: midfielder Bilal Lachoury was a sly, creative presence, and right back Julien Beauséjour was much more active and aggressive than you sometimes see at this level, eager to get involved and more than able to spread the attack.

The home team boasted ex-professionals as well. The most notable was Moojen, far and away the leading scorer in PLSQ history, who joined CSMRO in 2015 after three successful years at L’Assomption. He did not start but skipper Abraham Francois did, a great veteran of Canadian soccer who played A-League in Toronto and Montreal, a couple years of Ontario semi-pro, a couple years of indoor, and had brief stops in Vietnam and Paraguay. Francois had turned 38 a week before the game but was in fine fettle. Midfielder Dimitrios Anastasopoulos had a brief career in the Greek leagues, and a couple other players spent time on nowhere teams in France. Despite running a few imports the large bulk of the CSMRO squad, as usual at this level, was from the region, and it had worked out for them with championships in 2013 and 2014. One of those locals was winger Adama Sissoko, 22 years old and a former CIS player at the Université de Montréal. Crafty and fast, just the sort of player who should get chances in these leagues; he sure took this one.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

The ground at the Parc de récréation Mont-Royal was modest but very attractive. I am told CSMRO’s field is the finest in the league and it made for picturesque viewing: sitting in front of the ivy surrounded by suburban peace, the players on new-ish and well-lit artificial turf, plum on the corner of Churchill Street and Montgomery Avenue, sun setting through the clouds. Tickets were five bucks and a few steel bleachers provided seating, though some fans preferred to sit on the boundary or pop out to a barbecue run by volunteers; I estimated attendance of around a hundred. Kids were kicking a ball around on the touchline and the linesman had to gently warn them for encroaching. The crowd was quiet but knowledgeable, save one old man who gave no fucks and shouted fake “man on!“s to discombobulate L’Assomption. It couldn’t have been better calculated to appeal to my sensitivities, and when I think of similar grounds around British Columbia my hopes go up.

The game, especially in the first half, was rousingly high-paced with speed down the flanks prominent for both sides. Sissoko was the early star, having a great chance for CSMRO then setting up another for midfielder Renan Dias, but both shots were poorly hit. Mayard had a dangerous free kick for L’Assomption nicely saved by CSMRO goalkeeper Nizar Houhou, and a promising run into the CSMRO area was snuffed out when Anastasopoulos stripped the ball cleanly off Mayard and, seemingly knowing he was safe from what passed for Mayard’s tackling, merrily strolled out of his own eighteen without a care in the world. L’Assomption struck first when CSMRO’s Samuel Thomas stuck an arm out to knock down a cross in the eighteen and the penalty was given. L’Assomption captain, and centre back, Jean-François Fournier took a sly penalty to put the visitors up 1-0.

Clutch play by the skipper but Fournier almost immediately gave it back, fouling Armel Dagrou millimetres from the corner of his own eighteen-yard box. Anastasopoulos took the free kick, direct, and planted it past L’Assomption’s Walters. At once the flag went up and the CSMRO players went mad with outrage: offside off a direct free kick? A rare call! The referee consulted with his linesmen, surrounded by protesters… and the goal was given. 1-1. Now it was L’Assomption’s turn to shout, this time to no effect. In truth the referee made few bad decisions but he didn’t have an easy game: physicality abounded and there was more controversy to come.

Those goals, just past the half-hour, were the signal for attack. Not always accurately: three balls were shot clean out of the park and CSMRO’s Dagrou blasted a shot way high but so hard it rebounded off the fence and lodged itself between the chain links and the fencepost. Sure, it was no technical masterclass, but it was great fun, and even a polite suburban audience could get into it. The game went into the interval tied at one, with L’Assomption already having made two subs that included removing Mayard for Jean-Lou Bessé (the PLSQ, at least in the cup, appears to play the five-from-seven substitution rules used in USL).

In the second half, with fresher legs from Sebrango’s early substitutions, L’Assomption went on the attack. Bessé stung a shot that was parried by Houhou, but he spilled the rebound and the second bite at the cherry was only just blocked. For Mont-Royal Sissoko remained the most potent threat, turning playmaker and creating two first-rate chances for Felipe Costa de Souza, the first superbly saved by Walters, the second a wide-open header that glanced wide. Felipe was consistently getting into dangerous areas and receiving good service, and consistently failing to finish. L’Assomption might have been put away before the hour mark had his sights been straight.

But CSMRO had quality. Forward Dagrou was on the verge of being substituted off, his number was on the board, waiting for a stoppage. Maybe he noticed. Felipe’s low dagger of a pass picked the broad attacker out at about twenty-five yards, Walters came off his line but caught himself in no-man’s land, and Dagrou launched a magisterial 25-yard chip that just got in under the crossbar, a first-rate finish that would enthuse any crowd and put CSMRO up 2-1. Dagrou wasn’t subbed off.

In contrast to the speedy first half, the second half was a trench fight. No challenge too aggressive, artificial turf and all (so much for soft Quebec soccer). A number of players, including L’Assomption goalkeeper Walters, got their bells rung and had to shake it off or help themselves to one of the many substitutions. CSMRO held onto their lead and, getting into the 80th minute, expanded on it: L’Assomption fullback Stuardo Bonilla may or may not have clipped Johann Loe, but Loe made a meal of it and the penalty was given. Felipe went to the spot, took a stutter-step, and buried the spot kick top left. It didn’t get much better than that for the home team: 3-1 up, ten-ish minutes left, what could go wrong?

Well, in Canadian soccer, there’s always something. Five minutes later, CSMRO’s Thomas was burned for the second time when down in the area to block a cross and may or may not have handled it again. FC L’Assomption protested and, after a moment, the referee pointed to the spot. That got CSMRO’s dander up, vociferously getting into the referee’s face, players on both teams getting into it with each other even as Fournier prepared to take the penalty. Anastasopoulos gave Bessé a shove right in front of the referee. The referee sternly warned Anastasopoulos, who promptly shoved Bessé again. Anastasopoulos saw a yellow card. I’m not sure what he thought was going to happen. With both teams melting down, Fournier kept his head at the spot, showed why he was FC L’Assomption’s captain, and stroked a too-central shot just beneath a diving Houhou, who buried his head in his hands. It was a stoppable penalty and CSMRO’s lead was down to one.

Houhou kept his spirits up. As soon as play resumed the aggressive keeper was back charging down crosses and playing gung-ho. His teammates kept the tempo up, and it was they who got the last chance of the match: Loe busted in on a half-break and got a good shot off, but Walters barely tipped it wide. CSMRO held on for a 3-2 win in front of their home fans, and richly deserved. On July 12 they took the second leg 3-1 in L’Assomption to win 6-3 on aggregate and advance to the PLSQ Cup final against AS Blainville. The man of the match, CSMRO’s Adama Sissoko, deserved the honour, though FC L’Assomption captain Jean-François Fournier was also strong. More important than individual honours, both teams played a very entertaining game, well worth my $5, and I would encourage anybody able to see PLSQ soccer to find out for themselves.

I hope someday we in British Columbia have the same opportunities.

Put Canadian Soccer Jesus back in “Jesus I need to turn the difficulty down.”

By Benjamin Massey · July 20th, 2015 · No comments

Today, EA Sports announced the cover athletes for the Canadian version of their popular FIFA 16 video game. I for one was shocked. You know I’m no slave to political correctness, and the idea that EA would hoist a second-rate athlete on Canadian gamers purely for the sake of marketing is an affront to the ordinary Canadian consumer who cares only about a great sport. Being put on a video game cover should be an honour for a world-class soccer player, not a token thrown out so you look “cosmopolitan.”

For the sake of my fellow countrymen, I have produced a cover removing the objectionable athlete and using instead a bona fide star.