Two Fat Bastards Podcast Volume 2, Episode 8

By Brenton Walters and Benjamin Massey · April 17th, 2014 · No comments

twofatbastards180whiteAn unfortunately unfocused podcast this week. Brenton and I talk about the Los Angeles Galaxy as well as, erm, the Los Angeles Galaxy. Some rambling happens. I mention FC Edmonton, their actually-very-thrilling draw in Tampa Bay last weekend, and look forward with eager breath but also a sort of fear to the visit of the New York Cosmos before what is expected to be an exceptional Clarke Stadium crowd. It could be a big weekend for soccer in western Canada, and we slur and stutter and snap-crackle-pop our way through almost thirty minutes about it. (Our original recording length was a probably-record 75 minutes; the fact that I whittled it down more by two thirds without two much angst probably says something about what sort of session it was.)

If I say that this week’s podcast is not an excellent one I hope you’ll understand (and believe me the next time I say an episode is an unusually good one). There are some interesting bits in it but mostly we get away from ourselves. Sound quality was also disappointing. It’s impossible for me to tell in the moment whether my mic is crackling or not, and I think the erratically-good quality fooled me. Ah well. It wasn’t a disaster at least.

Follow Two Fat Bastards on Twitter at @2FatBastards. Please remember this podcast contains mature language and govern yourself accordingly.

Two Fat Bastards Podcast Volume 2, Episode 7

By Brenton Walters and Benjamin Massey · April 10th, 2014 · 1 comment

twofatbastards180whiteLast week we’d planned to record, but for once Brenton canceled on me, I believe for the first time ever. It was probably just as well; I’d just gotten back from dining out and had to repair my dishwasher. (Those two points are not related.)

So we didn’t talk about some shit I didn’t really care about anyway. What a loss to posterity; I hope you can contain your grief.

Anyway, this week we sat down, Brenton with some Heineken possibly and me with some tea definitely, and talked about more crap. There’s a discourse about the Whitecaps’ loss that was against Colorado and the loss that will be against Los Angeles, although I’m so fed up with Major League Soccer that I contribute virtually nothing. Then I take a very brief look at the coming FC Edmonton season opener against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, mostly by listing off some guys Tampa has added and some Edmonton is missing, along with a certain, slight amount of general NASL chatter. Then we go into the rest of MLS, and there I have a contribution.

And we throw some love to Out of Touch Jono’s legendary Voyageurs Cup pool, still accepting entries for 2014. My bid’s not in yet, as I’m waiting to see Edmonton and Ottawa first, but I encourage you to think it over!

The result is actually a… kind of weirdly well-balanced show. I think Brenton’s gotten a bigger share of the final edit in most episodes, but this one kinda goes both ways. (Which isn’t great since my sound occasionally crackles but still.) I dunno. I think it might kinda work. But do let us know.

Follow Two Fat Bastards on Twitter at @2FatBastards. Please remember this podcast contains mature language and govern yourself accordingly.

Those FC Edmonton Preseason Games Against TWU and UBC, in Full

By Benjamin Massey · March 30th, 2014 · No comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

For the second year on the trot FC Edmonton has spent their preseason in Vancouver, warming up for their first game on April 12 in Tampa Bay. As I am likely to miss the Tuesday afternoon game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (damn this job of mine), you get my preseason round-up now.

First, FC Edmonton beat Paul Hamilton’s alma mater Trinity Western University on a damp cow pasture in Langley 3-0[1], a game that the Eddies controlled even more thoroughly than the scoreline indicated. Frank Jonke, Horace James, and Daryl Fordyce scored. Then up on Burnaby Mountain the Eddies knocked off NCAA D2 playoff team Simon Fraser University 3-1 with goals from Kareem Moses, Jonke, and Tomi Ameobi, with Mateo Espinosa replying for the Clan[2]. Last Wednesday Edmonton beat a team of Alan Errington’s Abbotsford Selects at Bateman Park 4-0 through Fordyce, Edem Mortotsi, Edson Edward, and Ameobi[3]. Finally, and most recently, the Eddies drew Canadian collegiate champions UBC 1-1, with Niall Cousens scoring for the T-Birds and Fordyce replying for Edmonton[4]. The same score, incidentally, that UBC and Edmonton managed last year, though that time Edmonton played mostly with ten men[5].

I won’t bore you with match recaps; click the footnotes and check out the Eddies site if you like. I’ll just give some general impressions.

Mallan Roberts and Gagandeep Dosanjh didn’t play, although they were around. (Dosanjh in particular spent as much time on Saturday yarning it up with his old UBC teammates.) It’s too bad. Roberts, in particular, could have come in handy: the centre back paired with Albert Watson in the starting eleven was new player Kareem Moses. Moses had a rough time. Against TWU he really struggled to keep his composure on the ball; at UBC his movement was much better but defensively he still had a lot to be desired, and his battle with Niall Cousens did not go Edmonton’s way. (More on that later.)

Of course we saw a lot of the new players. Ex-Manchester United midfielder Ritchie Jones was a regular starter in central midfield alongside ex-Atlanta Silverback Milton Blanco. He has quality. There’s no doubt. That cultured touch on the ball which makes you say “ah, yeah, you can tell where he was trained.” It never really amounted to anything, though. He shot fifteen yards over the crossbar, he hit his passes fractionally off the mark, that sort of thing. I think I like him, though. He put in a few decent shifts and didn’t slack off like you might fear from a former top European professional taking on a Canadian university. His grit and willingness to fight for the ball was very welcome in that midfield. I am cautiously optimistic there. Nothing remarkable, but plenty useful.

Mike Banner really impressed. He played left midfield, as I expected back when he signed[6] and was a pleasant surprise. He took free kicks and corners from the left and did pretty well, whipping in some nice crosses although he didn’t trouble the scorers himself while I was watching. What I liked was he did it with both his right and left feet. He had one right-footed cross in particular to Jonke against Trinity Western that really ought to have been a goal and was generally one of the most lively players on the pitch whenever he was there. Now that’s a good sign. The Eddies have been short on aggressive wing play; even Massimo Mirabelli, who I like, feels more like a central attacking midfielder who just happens to line up out wide. Banner should add a horizontal dimension, though he wasn’t always under much pressure from his opposition and we’ll see how he deals with the Carlos Mendeses and Aaron Pitchkolans of the league.

Frank Jonke, Banner’s ex-teammate at FF Jaro, also looked good. He’s slower than I expected, I’ll admit that. And against UBC his first touch was stone-heavy for most of the first half, meaning that rather than holding the ball up he usually rebounded it straight to a T-Birds defender. But boy he was tough for defenders to deal with, and his headers created problems even when he wasn’t scoring. He’s big, strong, and isn’t afraid to play a little dirty; a useful dimension on the Eddies attack. And while I’m normally skeptical of professionals outmuscling amateurs, Jonke is basically a tank shaped like a human so I think he’s legit. He handled the ball at his feet well once he was in possession and generated a few chances as well, though his shooting accuracy was poor: hopefully that’ll regress to the mean.

The two ex-Silverbacks, Milton Blanco and Horace James, were okay. Blanco started, and I liked his audacity as a playmaker, but he seemed a little slow, not quite effective enough defensively, generally not bad but not remarkable. James is electric, much more so than I expected from his modest NASL experience. His goal against TWU was very well-taken, top cheddar, exploiting the opportunistic work of Jalali and Fordyce. Against UBC, coming on for an injured Hlavaty, he didn’t generate much but ran hard and always gave the UBC defense plenty of work to do. As an impact sub, sort of a right-sided equivalent to Mirabelli, there might be something there, but we’ll see when he has a few hours of game time under his belt. Certainly his primary virtue is athleticism, and he lacked sophistication in attack or defense, but you can get somewhere with that in the NASL if you play smart.

Some of the younger players looked good as well. Edem Mortotsi was terrific in the second half against TWU, and was no small part of the reason the young second eleven took the game to the collegiates so effectively. His short appearance against UBC saw few touches so I can’t draw much from it. Hanson Boakai, well, I think he thought some of the TWU defenders were a bit worse than they actually were, trying to beat defenses by himself, but against UBC his ambitions were a bit more reasonable and he was rewarded with some useful possession, though he wasn’t really spectacular. Sadi Jalali, on the other hand, played two very good games. He was muscled off the ball a bit too often last year in the NASL, but he handled the bigger opposition of TWU and UBC excellently. He showed speed, aggressiveness, and made himself available for passes. He also had nicer playmaking chops than I remember, making a couple of goals against TWU and the Abbotsford selects and generating a good counter against UBC. I like that. I’m not saying “put him in the starting eleven” but he’s developing, as a player his age should.

Edmonton, in general, played on the ground a fair bit. There were a few lumped long balls but also spells of sustained possession and passing attacks that we haven’t really associated with the Colin Miller era. We’ll find out if that’s a new way of playing or whether it was just a reflection of the quality of Edmonton’s opposition, but UBC is not at all a bad team and Edmonton was still happy to try and pass it around them, especially in the first half. Good to see.

Not that everything went perfectly. Take Neil Hlavaty. He played out wide right and didn’t do a whole hell of a lot. I like Neil Hlavaty. I don’t like Neil Hlavaty as a right midfielder. I mean, missing an easy chance then almost immediately missing a penalty against Trinity Western didn’t flatter him, but the usually-tenacious, intelligently-passing Hlavaty was replaced with the quiet, not-doing-much, awkwardly-crossing Hlavaty. You remember when Miller decided to play Shaun Saiko out left it sent him into an Eddies death spiral that resulted in the best player in team history getting cut midseason. So maybe I’m sensitive. But it’s not like Blanco is so good that it’s worth wasting Hlavaty’s talent.

The highest-profile new player, apart from Jones, was probably trialist striker Tomi Ameobi, late of the Newcastle United academy, Leeds United, and about fifteen other teams, some of which you might almost have heard of. As one of Newcastle’s fightin’ Ameobi brothers he comes with a reputation exceeding his actual soccer achievements. Though still on trial, in the UBC game Ameobi had his name on the back of his kit, which he didn’t against TWU; read into that if you like.

Now, maybe it was my bad luck to show up at the two games Ameobi didn’t score in. But I just wasn’t impressed. Not just seemingly struggling with his fitness, but he didn’t seem to make clever runs or generate much on his own, something you especially wouldn’t expect given his pedigree. He’s big, he can jump, he can head the ball, especially against Canadian amateurs, and he poached a nice sliding goal against Abbotsford from Jalali’s hard work, but NASL centre backs don’t make that nearly as easy, and with the ball at his feet he simply didn’t have much to offer. With Jonke already fulfilling the “big guy” role and doing a better job of it, would Ameobi be worth the doubtless-substantial salary of a European import?

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Couldn’t they at least give Niall Cousens a call? Maybe they did; not like Colin Miller hasn’t plucked fruit from the UBC tree before. But Cousens was maybe the star of quite a good Whitecaps U-23 PDL team last year and tournament MVP in the CIS national championship[7]. Against NASL opposition he looked plenty comfortable, comfortable enough to be worth considering for a higher level. Albert Watson managed to keep Cousens in check, more-or-less, although his strength and jump still gave the NASL Best XI centre back some work to do, and against Moses Cousens had a consistent advantage, with only last-ditch defending keeping Cousens from generating a few more chances. Not only did he score (and a well-taken goal it was) but only a good diving Lance Parker save kept Cousens from winning it in the 80-somethingth minute. In general Cousens was bringing down long passes, holding it up, threatening defenders, and even clearing the occasional free kick all game. Cousens is 6’4″, Canadian, an all-round striker, you wouldn’t rather have him on Edmonton than Ameobi? Cousens even has professional experience in the Czech Republic. He may well want to stay at UBC and finish his schooling, or stick with the Whitecaps U-23s (on whose roster he is listed for the coming PDL season), but I hope the Eddies at least checked.

Reynold Stewart, the reigning Canada West MVP who actually went to the NASL combine[8], wore the armband for UBC and also went 90 minutes. I regret to say he didn’t rise above his peers. At left midfield he was largely isolated in the first half but didn’t help himself, a few times getting possession under pressure and just lumping it forward with no clear idea what should happen. He was unable to beat Hlavaty or Michael Nonni and failed to put the Eddies under much pressure. It was too bad; I liked Stewart in PDL and was cheering for him to impress. In the second half he moved back to left fullback and, because the play was in the UBC third so often, spent more time on the ball, including a few aggressive tackles, but again didn’t do anything extraordinary. He was never bad, he just didn’t stand out, and that’s what I was hoping to see.

There was also a memorable player on the Trinity Western roster, Kalem Scott of the Victoria Highlanders. I like Scott, he plays well in PDL, but I must admit he didn’t impress against the professionals. Mind you, he was the best part of a defense that was getting utterly speedbagged for 90 minutes, but he didn’t cope well with getting the ball shoved continuously down his throat. There were some moments of the calmness on the ball that makes Scott look good for Victoria, but not enough, particularly late in the game when he was clearly bagged. He’d continuously run like hell and in the last twenty minutes it was showing. A bloody tough situation for a fullback to try and impress in, moving positions a few times, facing an endless attack, no defender looks brilliant. I feel he could have done more, but maybe that’s the pessimist in me.

Most importantly, the Edmonton jerseys look okay in person. I like the blue especially. The stripes look goofy in a photo but don’t really stand out on the field.

FC Edmonton finishes preseason against a Whitecaps team on Tuesday, 2:30 PM, Thunderbird Stadium. Good seats will unquestionably be available.

(notes and comments…)

Two Fat Bastards Podcast Volume 2, Episode 6

By Brenton Walters and Benjamin Massey · March 25th, 2014 · No comments

twofatbastards180whiteThis is an interesting episode of Two Fat Bastards for a couple reasons. One, I didn’t actually watch the game we’re reviewing (which makes it more One Thin Bastard Plus One Sarcastic Ignoramus, but that lacks pith). Second, for whatever reason the recording quality on my end was just appalling: I crackle like I’m recording live from 1872. There’s nothing I could do about it besides, well, record the whole thing again, and if you are familiar with the text-missing balcony-sitting Wodehouse-reading antics I put up last week to get out of recording an episode, you recognize why that would be an impossibility.

So Brenton talks about the New England game and I belch offensive jokes. That’s actually not that big a departure from normal, come to think. Then we consider the Houston Dynamos, of whom I have seen zero minutes, and the trend continues. Then I finally get my own back by rattling off thoughts on an FC Edmonton preseason game I watched down in Langley. And basically we shamble through thirty minutes of your life that you can never have back, because we’re podcasters and by fuck if we have to ruin our own days for this we’re ruining some of your’s too.

Follow Two Fat Bastards on Twitter at @2FatBastards. Please remember this podcast contains mature language and govern yourself accordingly.

Two Fat Bastards Podcast Volume 2, Episode 5

By Brenton Walters and Benjamin Massey · March 13th, 2014 · No comments

twofatbastards180whiteI forgot what time it was when we recorded this. Late, anyway. So late it was early. Bloody hell what an awful time it was for podcasting. I think I saw the sun rising. (Disregard Brenton’s scurrilous comments that I’m an old man who likes to go to bed at 10 PM every night, drinks tea in the morning, and gets grumpy about this “modern Whitecaps football” while wishing we were back at a crumbling concrete stadium in Burnaby, and that therefore it couldn’t have been later than 11:30 PM when we finished up.) I can’t keep talking intelligently on these late-night podcasts like I could as a young man, but I have my ways. One trick is to tell stories that don’t go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry to Victoria. I needed a new ribbon for the Juan de Fuca Plate. So I decided to go to Camosun, which is what they called Victoria in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them. “Give me five bees for a quarter” you’d say. Now where was I… oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn’t get white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…

What were we talking about? Oh, right, soccer.

The Whitecaps beat the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, which pleases us to no small extent even if I haven’t decided how to capitalize “MetroStars” yet. And the Whitecaps are off to beat perfect Chivas USA, which is also pleasing because I don’t give a damn if they beat whatever-team-that-was, Chivas USA is still awful until proven otherwise, and if we don’t win this game then fuck us.

Good episode for one tired guy and one beer-swilling one going “woo” about Whitecaps goals for half an hour.

Follow Two Fat Bastards on Twitter at @2FatBastards. Please remember this podcast contains mature language and govern yourself accordingly.

Those Whitecaps Home Opener Victories, in Full

By Benjamin Massey · March 11th, 2014 · 1 comment

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

A little thing I’ve enjoyed this “40th anniversary” season is how the Whitecaps, and their media partners, are tossing a few more nods to the team’s second-division history. TSN’s graphic on Carl Robinson during the New York/New Jersey Metrostars match, for instance, called Robinson the fifteenth head coach in Whitecaps history and fourth in MLS, which is approximately correct if you count the NASL (I wouldn’t; that’s another argument). It’s nice. Little things which show the post-2011 casual fan there’s more to team tradition than Carl Valentine, “White is the Colour”, and Eric Hassli’s wondergoals.

One tidbit provided by the Whitecaps I was unaware of was that the Whitecaps are now undefeated in their last thirteen home openers dating back to 2002[1]. Vancouver is perfect in home openers in the MLS era: 4-2 over Toronto on March 19, 2011, 2-0 over debutants Montreal on March 10, 2012, 1-0 over Toronto again on March 2, 2013, and now 4-1 (and what a 4-1 it was; the best game of the bunch) over New York on March 8, 2014. The past wins haven’t exactly kicked off legendary seasons but they were good fun and an endorsement of the Whitecaps’ preseason preparation stretching back, it turns out, more than a decade.

We all know the MLS victories, and the first Toronto game in particular will live forever. But not everyone will remember the second-division days, and I certainly only just learned about most of these. So let’s look at the Whitecaps’ home opener success from 2002 to 2010.

Vancouver’s last loss in a home opener came on May 18, 2001 against the Milwaukee Rampage in the USL A-League[2]. It was Vancouver’s first year under the Whitecaps name since the old NASL, when David Stadnyk bought the Vancouver 86ers in late 2000 and announced after the 2000 season he’d purchased the Whitecaps rights[3]. 2001 became a pretty good season: the Whitecaps won the A-League Western Conference by six points but went out ugly in the playoff semi-final to the surprising Hershey Wildcats.

The opener defeat marred what should have been a storybook return. Back in their beloved blue and white for the first time on May 18, the Whitecaps took an early lead through Steve Kindel but gradually let Milwaukee back into the game. Despite the Whitecaps controlling most of the play, Milwaukee clawed back, Whitecaps goalkeeper Didar Sandhu probably made a mistake charging down a ball, and Milwaukee equalized on a goal from tenacious (and low-scoring) midfielder Steve Bernal. In the second half Kindel missed a penalty and, despite a flurry of Vancouver chances and two shots off the upright, the Rampage took the lead on an Ollie Ellsworth header, giving the Rampage what sounds like a most undeserved 2-1 victory before a stunning crowd of over 7,000 at Swangard Stadium[4].

It must have been a tough way to ring in the new name but head coach Dale Mitchell probably would have felt better had he known that he was en route to being the A-League coach of the year and that the Whitecaps would not lose another home opener for over a decade and counting.

The 2002 Whitecaps were a minor dud: after a tumultuous offseason, the permanent loss of coach Mitchell, and the temporary loss of GM Bob Lenarduzzi, they lost the limelight to the stunning Seattle Sounders, who won 23 of 28 games and finished with a +44 goal differential and 104 points (the A-League was weird). Vancouver finished fourth out of five teams in the A-League Pacific Division, though they once again made the playoff semi-finals thanks to what was frankly an upset-of-the-decade hammering of Seattle[5], beating the 100-point Sounders 2-0 at Swangard and annihilating the favourites by the shocking score of 6-2 at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium to take a frankly-I-still-can’t-believe-it 8-2 aggregate win[6]. (The Whitecaps went out to eventual champions Milwaukee in extra time; a relative footnote.)

But the game that matters to us was on May 3, 2002, when the new-look Whitecaps stepped onto Swangard’s grass for the first time against the Minnesota Thunder. Under new head coach Tony Fonseca Vancouver beat Minnesota 1-0 before 5,816 fans. Jason Jordan, who by all accounts had a blinder of a game, scored the winning goal, while new goalkeeper Jim Larkin stopped a penalty from Minnesota’s John Menyongar[7] (a minor Minnesotan soccer legend apparently still active in Liberia).

The 2003 Whitecaps returned to contention and were second in the Pacific Division behind Seattle, though the Sounders got their revenge for 2002 by beating Vancouver on penalties in the playoffs, Jeff Clarke missing the climactic spot kick[8].

Vancouver’s home opener was May 3, 2003 against the Calgary Storm, so of course the Whitecaps were going to win that one; the Calgary Storm were always terrible. But the manner of their victory would have been a surprise all the same as the Whitecaps went out 6-0 winners in front of 5,075 fans. Unusually all six goals were from separate scorers: Tiarnan King put the Whitecaps up in the eleventh minute and Ollie Heald scored a header to make it 2-0 before the quarter-hour. Jason Jordan scored a close-range effort in the twenty-third minute and only one minute later Tommy Wheeldon Jr., son of the Calgary head coach, was sent off; from then on the game was more-or-less a scrimmage. Steve Kindel scored on a mistake just after the half hour, Paul Dailly and Andrew Veer finished affairs in the second half, and that was that. For Veer the goal was his second, and last, as a Whitecap. Alfredo Valente had three assists and eventual fan favourite Gordon Chin made his professional debut replacing King; it was a good day to be a Whitecaps fan[9].

The 2004 Whitecaps were an unremarkable lot, decent (second in the Western Conference behind a solid Timbers team) with an acceptable playoff run (win over Minnesota, disappointing loss to Seattle), but it wasn’t a very interesting season. 2004 was the Montreal Impact’s season and everyone else was just making up the numbers: Montreal took three of five league awards, four spots in the league Best XI (all Canadians), and won the championship[10].

But as in the previous year the Whitecaps were handed a piece-of-cake home opener, facing the expansion Edmonton Aviators at Swangard Stadium on April 30, 2004. The hapless Aviators, one of the worst teams in Canadian professional history, stumbled into Swangard Stadium against the strong Whitecaps, all oblivious to what lay ahead of them, and… drew, 0-0, in front of a sell-out 5,722 fans. The Whitecaps saw the debuts of Kevin Harmse and Justin Thompson, the only game as a Whitecap for journeyman midfielder Andrew Gregor, and started a fistful of significant players it would be insulting to recite. The Aviators had Chris Lemire plus ex-Whitecaps Gordon Chin (not a fan favourite yet, obviously) and Rick Titus[11] and nobody else. It must have been quite a shock, more so given that the A-League played with overtime that season, though perhaps only in hindsight knowing what the Aviators became. The next week Edmonton drew in Seattle 1-1 on a stoppage time spot kick by Jaime Lopresti in a game that finished 10-v-10[12], but those two road points against good opposition were out of a mere 18 that Edmonton would rack up that horrible year.

The next season the Whitecaps kept up their habit of drawing home openers against shoddy Canadian teams when, on April 24, 2005, another sell-out saw Vancouver draw the Toronto Lynx 0-0 at Swangard. By all accounts the game was fairly even[13], mind-numbing given that the 2005 Lynx were definitely Aviators bad and finished dead last with 17 points from 28 games. Ex-Aviator Liam da Silva was starting for Vancouver and a few Edmonton and Calgary alumni were splattered across the Toronto lineup: I guess they got their stink on this game. The “highlights” have survived, silent like the Charlie Chaplin comedy this so nearly was; watch for a young Ali Gerba in the #19 kit showing atypical speed and finish.

Not a great year for Vancouver, though it got better: they finished third in the single-conference league and lost their first-round playoff match to Richmond on penalties (the Richmond Kickers were in their last year of USL-1 play before self-relegating to the USL Second Division)[14].

2006 was happier. The Vancouver Whitecaps became league champions, their first title since the 1991 Canadian Soccer League. It was a solid team, bolstered by excellent signings such as Adrian Cann, David Testo, Jay Alberts, and the return of Eduardo Sebrango. Bob Lilley’s “Lilley-ball” is a byword for dull soccer in Vancouver but, this year, it worked. The Whitecaps scored 40 goals (actually more than any team ahead of them in the standings and third in the league) and clawed their way through the playoffs before handling Rochester easily in the final[15].

The home opener on April 22, 2006 was Lilley-ball at its best: few chances, one goal, and the Whitecaps beat a major rival, the Portland Timbers. The Timbers had an unusually poor year but their lineup included a few players memorable today: Josh Saunders got the start in goal, long-timer and Portland Thorns assistant coach Scot Thompson was on the back line, future El Salvadoran international Edwin Miranda started in midfield. But it was the Whitecaps who prevailed thanks to Joey Gjertsen’s tidy finish[16], the first of twelve goals Gjertsen would score that season en route to a league MVP and best XI nod.

The Whitecaps, however, regressed in 2007, finishing seventh out of twelve teams and dropping out of the playoffs in the first round. The infandous trade of Gjertsen and David Testo to Montreal for Zé Roberto and Alen Marcina put the Whitecaps well behind the eight-ball starting in July, and decent years from Eduardo Sebrango and Martin Nash didn’t disguise a mediocre lot. Small wonder Lilley was done at the end of this year, being replaced with the fondly-remembered Teitur Thordarson.

But they won the first one, again against Cascadia rivals, the Seattle Sounders, on April 21, 2007. Though the happy home opener results streak continued it was the end of another, the first home opener in four years that didn’t sell out despite welcoming home a defending champion. And apparently the game was a dull affair despite involving not only a major derby but the last two USL champions. Sebrango chested in the only goal of the evening, assist to Alfredo Valente[17]. There’s very little to say about this game, in spite of the run of form it continued. It happened, the Whitecaps won it, and it was a dreary thing. The highlights are on DailyMotion, for some reason: the most interesting bit is the pre-game show.

With the appointment of Teitur Thordarson as head coach 2008 marked a transition point in the history of the Vancouver Whitecaps. I don’t just say that because it’s when I started watching… well, not entirely. It was also the first season of the full-blown Canadian Championship for the Voyageurs Cup, the last season for several veterans including Eduardo Sebrango, Jason Jordan, Jeff Clarke, Alfredo Valente, and Steve Kindel, the first year Residency products like Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Ethan Gage cracked the first team, and the last time to date the Whitecaps have won a major championship, beating regular season champions Puerto Rico 2-1 at Swangard Stadium[18] when, controversially, despite expecting the right to host Puerto Rico’s Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium was judged not a fit venue for the final match[19].

One thing that did not change was Vancouver’s quality in home openers. On April 12, 2008 Vancouver once again faced a rival to start the season, hosting the Montreal Impact in front of a blessedly-once-again-a-sellout 5,288. For the second straight season Eduardo Sebrango, only a year from signing with the Impact, scored the only goal, bulling through the truculent Nevio Pizzolitto and knocking a right-footed shot past Matt Jordan. Vancouver goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic, also not far from joining the Impact, kept a clean sheet for the Whitecaps while Jay Nolly of future magic hat fame sat on the bench[20]. Taka Hirano, about to be renowned as the ageless left-side Japanese destroyer of Vancouver’s last second division days, made his debut with the team and immediately won about 5,000 loyal fans. It was a dandy tilt, as Vancouver – Montreal games almost always were in those days, and it was fitting that they met again in the playoff semi-final with the Whitecaps taking a high-intensity series 2-1 on aggregate.

The biggest event of 2009, from a Whitecaps perspective, was the team officially being accepted into Major League Soccer: long rumoured but, starting in March, official[21]. On the field Thordarson’s second season in charge was drearier. Despite a league-best strike force of Charles Gbeke, Marcus Haber (in his reputation-making season), and Phillips Bakery-loving Marlon James, Vancouver slipped down the table to seventh of eleven teams, getting into the last playoff spot (but eleven points up on eighth-place Minnesota; it was very much a season of have-nots). Defense was a concern all year, as you might imagine, James wasn’t consistently healthy (ever), and despite the powerful scoring troika the Whitecaps struggled for production from midfield. But it meant they had the firepower to go far in the playoffs, charging to the final where the Montreal Impact took their revenge in a series I still don’t like talking about.

With all that punch one might expect the Whitecaps to really go for entertainment in their home opener on April 11, 2009, and one would be wrong. Once again the defending champions were greeted with a sub-sellout crowd at Swangard Stadium and this time they replied with a 0-0 draw against the second-rate Charleston Battery (one of the last times, incidentally, the Whitecaps would play their future USL Pro affiliate competitively as the Battery dropped to USL-2 for 2010, and therefore a sort of “rivalry match in hindsight”). Future NASL star Paul Hamilton made the Whitecaps bench; he had recently signed a PDL contract and was called up due to an injury crisis for I believe his only appearance in the Whitecaps first 18, while another future Eddie, Dan Antoniuk, came off the bench for the Battery. Making his professional debut for Charleston in that game was Tom Heinemann, who would be heard from again, while future Whitecaps Nelson Akwari and Chris Williams also got the start[22]. It was a strangely incestuous game.

It’s a good thing there were some off-field angles to discuss because on the pitch not much happened: a 0-0 draw, couple half-chances either way, little of interest. Marcus Haber missed a gilt-edged chance, not for the last time in Whitecaps colours, but that was as close as they came[23], and while the Whitecaps were perhaps the better team nobody seemed impressed. That would actually be a decent summary of the whole Whitecaps season, from the Voyageurs Cup they should have won until Montreal gave it to Toronto, to the playoff games that might have gone very differently if not for Dave Gantar. That was a horrible season. Let’s move on.

2010, the Whitecaps’ last in the second division, was the only year of the concisely named United States Soccer Federation Division 2 Pro League. I won’t bore you by discoursing on the USL/NASL war, it was bloody tedious even at the time, and so was much of the soccer. There was comedy value in the likes of AC St. Louis and Crystal Palace Baltimore, but the Whitecaps trudged their way to a good mid-table position with stolid defense and not much imagination before losing a playoff series to the eventual champion Puerto Rico Islanders that was actually very exciting but did take years off my life. It made sense that they had to lose in extra time. In 2010 the Whitecaps drew more than Bob Ross. They were undefeated in the Voyageurs Cup with a record of 0W-3D-0L. It was that sort of year.

It was fitting that the Whitecaps would end their second division home opener streak against the heir to the team that started it. On April 11, 2010 Vancouver took on the NSC Minnesota Stars, successor to the late lamented Minnesota Thunder who Jason Jordan beat in 2002. My abiding memory of that game, besides an unbelievable sunshiny day that made the ferry ride from Victoria one of the world’s great joys, is laughing at the names on the Minnesota roster: look, it’s Devin Del Do (who has since become a serious second-division player)! It’s Two-Boys Gumede (who has since, er, not)! Those will never stop being funny to me. The other memory was that of Minnesota starting keeper Louis Crayton, who was taken off injured at the end of the first half and replaced by 35-year-old Joe Warren, making his first appearance in half a decade and beginning one of the great second acts in North American soccer history.

Although the Whitecaps started out slowly they came on, with the second half belonging to them entirely. Luca Bellisomo, playing up in midfield for the first time in a while, scored his second professional goal while Marlon James bagged what turned out to be the last goal of his not-unworthy Vancouver Whitecaps career[23]. Not at all a bad way for the Whitecaps to open their last season in the second division, disappointing a year though it turned out to be.

I won’t insult your memory by recapping the MLS-era home openers in the same depth. That skunk Dwayne De Rosario ended a nine-year streak of clean sheets in Whitecaps home openers in the 20th minute of the Whitecaps’ March 19, 2011 MLS debut, but the undefeated streak remained strong with a 4-2 win that still sets my heart quivering at the memories. The next year Montreal didn’t put up much of a fight March 10, 2012 at BC Place, going down 2-0; remember when we thought Sebastien Le Toux was the answer to our scoring woes? The March 2, 2013 1-0 victory over Toronto FC was closer both in score and in play than anyone was comfortable with, given Toronto’s woeful 2012 and the fact that half their team had been assembled in the week before the match; in hindsight, it did seem to point the way to disappointment, didn’t it? And of course the March 8, 2014 victory over New York, a pleasantly excellent performance though it’s too early to say whether it’ll be a lone highlight or the first sign of our greatness.

One thing’s for sure. With a record of 10W-3D-0L in home openers starting in 2002, if you’re only going to buy one Whitecaps ticket for 2015 it should probably be the first one.


Whitecaps Home Openers Since 2002
Date Opponent Score Attendance Vancouver Scorers
2002-05-03 Minnesota Thunder 1-0 5816 Jordan
2003-05-03 Calgary 6-0 5075 King, Heald, Jordan, Kindel, Dailly, Veer
2004-04-30 Edmonton 0-0 5722
2005-04-24 Toronto Lynx 0-0 5722
2006-04-22 Portland 1-0 5722 Gjertsen
2007-04-21 Seattle 1-0 4948 Sebrango
2008-04-12 Montreal 1-0 5288 Sebrango
2009-04-11 Charleston 0-0 5037
2010-04-11 NSC Minnesota Stars 2-0 4934 Bellisomo, James
2011-03-19 Toronto FC 4-2 22592 Hassli 2, Dunfield, Harris
2012-03-10 Montreal 2-0 21000 Le Toux, Camilo
2013-03-02 Toronto FC 1-0 21000 Koffie
2014-03-08 New York 4-1 21000 Miller 2, Fernandez, Morales

(notes and comments…)

Two Fat Bastards Podcast Volume 2, Episode 4

By Brenton Walters and Benjamin Massey · March 5th, 2014 · 2 comments

twofatbastards180whiteThe start of a new MLS season is always an exciting time for amateurish demi-pundits since we get to predict what we think is going to happen in the forthcoming season. And Two Fat Bastards are no exception! Relying on our literal minutes of research and a knowledge of the Eastern Conference so great that we can almost name all of the teams in it, Brenton and I sit down to take our best stab at how we think the 2014 MLS season is going to pan out. Will the Whitecaps make the playoffs? Will Chivas USA challenge the Antigua Barracuda and the Sacramento Geckos? Will we spend yet another volume working references to El Chelis into every episode? Click the triangle-shaped button below and take a listen!

But it’s more than just predictions from us, of course. We consider the cases of Marco Carducci (recently signed!) and Ben Fisk (recently not signed! Although we didn’t know at the time he had a trial with Deportivo lined up, which would have put me in a bouncier mood.) We faffer on about soup and beer in our inimitable-because-who-would-be-bored-enough-to-try manner. We don’t say a word about Pedro Morales, because he wasn’t officially signed at recording time, or the new blue kit, because our analysis would have consisted of “see the old one? It’s a lot like that.”

Good times. Plus we come in like fifty seconds under time, which as the editor I can assure you is a great relief. But it’s a good dense episode, full of fun and facts. I liked it.

Follow Two Fat Bastards on Twitter at @2FatBastards. Please remember this podcast contains mature language and govern yourself accordingly.

Welcome to the Whitecaps, Marco Carducci

By Benjamin Massey · March 4th, 2014 · No comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

The Vancouver Whitecaps today announced the signing of Residency goalkeeper and Canadian U-17 international Marco Carducci as a homegrown player[1]. The signing was widely expected and makes Carducci the third-goalkeeper-presumptive behind David Ousted and Paolo Tornaghi.

I want to say a very few brief words about Carducci, who deserves them as the latest and one of the brightest homegrown players to join Vancouver’s first team. Anybody who’s spent thirty seconds watching Residency soccer over the past few seasons could tell you all about Carducci. Though not tall for a keeper he has an eye for the acrobatic save and, at least at the youth levels, makes few mistakes. He’s vocal, at least with the young defenders he’s comfortable with, and while I don’t pretend to be a goalkeeping expert I certainly don’t see any glaring holes in his game. Obviously he has work to do but, as a prospect, he has loads to recommend him: indeed, back at SuperDraft time one reason I was terrified of the Whitecaps possibly taking Generation Adidas keeper Andre Blake was that Blake would obstruct Carducci’s development and, well, from limited experience I like Carducci more.

Sure, Carducci has played relatively few minutes against men. But those relatively few minutes were awfully damned good: 270 minutes at the USL PDL level, where both statistics and style were magnificent and he was the major reason the Whitecaps U-23s repeated as Juan de Fuca Plate champions. Plus, he’s Canadian. His play as captain at the U-17 World Cup last year was widely praised in a losing cause, with Iran’s Tehran Times[2] and Khaleej Times[3], among others, praising his performances. It all led to Carducci being named Canadian U-17 Player of the Year for the second consecutive time[4], joining Bryce Alderson and Russell Teibert as Canadian two-time winners.

As I like to do, here are Carducci’s vital statistics so far in the Whitecaps organization. Regular season only.

GP Strt MIN G A PKG Sh Sv GA Sv% GA/90 Yl Rd
2011-12 Vancouver USSDA U-16 14 14 1080 0 0 0 10 0.83 2 0
2012-13 Vancouver USSDA U-16 17 16 1270 0 0 0 28 1.76 0 0
2012-13 Vancouver USSDA U-18 4 3 275 0 0 0 3 0.98 0 0
2013 Whitecaps U-23 USL PDL 3 3 270 0 0 0 17 15 2 88.2% 0.67 0 0
2013-14 Vancouver USSDA U-18 4 3 315 0 0 0 4 1.14 0 0

As you can see Carducci’s numbers have left nothing to be desired at any level. It’s tough to tell with USSDA statistics, since shots are recorded, but take my word for it that Carducci’s good goals-against average with the Residency didn’t come cheaply. I still remember the first time I noticed Carducci on a soccer field: it was at Starfire in Tukwila back in 2011, and on a chilly day Marco allowed four goals to the Seattle U-16s and was still my man of the match, making some saves so startling that it was all we could do to applaud him off the field. In a four-goal loss! The Residency’s defense has allowed some pretty shocking nights when players were injured or on international duty or just too young, and Carducci’s been their equal.

Does this mean I’m penciling him into the Whitecaps eighteen right away? Of course not. Carducci should certainly spend this season and probably the next as Ousted and Tornaghi’s understudy. But don’t take this to mean I think he’s completely unready. In fact, depending on how the season goes, I’d like to see Carducci get a start or two against the Chivas USAs of the world; there’s no better way for a goalkeeper to learn than experience and I hope he gets more of a shake than (to pick one example of many) Quillan Roberts of Toronto FC has. Bill Hamid began making appearances for DC United at age 19, as did Philadelphia’s Zac MacMath, and while Carducci is younger (18 in September) the Whitecaps have the veteran defense, the occasional lowly opposition, and (with the demise of the reserve team) the incentive to give Carducci some spot time. I’m being deliberately ambitious by saying that but, at minimum, if injuries force Carducci to take to the Vancouver bench nobody should panic.

It’s tough for third goalkeepers, even one as talented as Carducci. It’s easy to become just a face in practice, the kid the veterans crank shots at for a little while before being forgotten, lost in the shuffle, taken as a known quantity and susceptible to being “upgraded” on without being given a fair shake. To bring up Quillan Roberts again, he still hasn’t seen a professional minute though he turns 20 in September, has been generally healthy, is well thought-of, and hasn’t exactly had a murderer’s row of veteran goalkeepers competing with him or a desperate playoff race that called for every veteran the coaches could lay hands upon. The likes of Joe Bendik and Chris Konopka, mediocrities who may be forgotten by the time you read this, have been brought in to take minutes (or at least bench time) that could have gone Roberts’s way. I don’t blame Toronto FC for this, individually each part of this makes sense, and that’s the problem. That’s what being lost in the shuffle means. That’s what might well have happened to Simon Thomas, ex- of the Whitecaps, now looking for work. I hope Carducci can avoid that.

If skill is all that matters then, for a player his age, Carducci is fine. But 17 is young for any player and almost infantile for a goalkeeper. There’s a long way to go, and I will watch with bated breath.

(notes and comments…)

Two Fat Bastards Podcast Volume 2, Episode 3

By Brenton Walters and Benjamin Massey · February 27th, 2014 · No comments

twofatbastards180whiteAlmost three weeks after our last go-round, Two Fat Bastards returns with a jam-packed show where, in spite of being audibly out of our mind on quaaludes throughout the recording, Brenton and I try to feverishly recap the preseason games we’ve missed and, of course, the startling and fascinating Matias Laba signing, as we try to figure out whether we should raise our middle finger before Toronto’s face in exultant glee, or wait on tenterhooks until we know just what “future considerations” means.

I give my précis on the University of Victoria versus Whitecaps game I saw back on February 16 and the Whitecaps versus Portmore squash match last weekend. Back in Vancouver Brenton took in the intrasquad match after the UVic game; he talks about that. And of course we both watched the Whitecaps play San Jose on a live stream, or at least I watched the first half and Brenton watched more-or-less the whole thing, so we pretend that in some way qualifies us to talk about how great Sam Adekugbe is (spoiler alert: pretty great).

You’ll be unsurprised to learn I remain firmly on Team Alderson and Team Teibert, Brenton has some nice words for Team Carducci, and absolutely nobody anywhere in the world is on Team Abdallah. No need to listen to the podcast now, I guess. But please do anyway.

Follow Two Fat Bastards on Twitter at @2FatBastards. Please remember this podcast contains mature language and govern yourself accordingly.

Canadian Domestic Content Before and In the MLS Era

By Benjamin Massey · February 14th, 2014 · 9 comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Last week, Don Garber broke from his usual policy of pretending Canada doesn’t exist to talk up Major League Soccer’s impact on the country at his press conference to announce David Beckham’s new franchise in Miami. He hoped Canada would qualify for its first World Cup since 1986 (so do I!) and that he thought MLS would get us there. Which is optimistic, given that the MLS era has coincided with the all-time nadir of Canada’s men’s national team, but of course that’s not all MLS’s fault.

Still, it’s worth evaluating the big picture, and if Garber is right that Canada is getting something out of its association with his league hopefully we can rustle up some evidence besides all those goals we haven’t scored. So let’s see what the Major League Soccer era has done in one area clubs can control on their own: the number of Canadians getting minutes every season on Canadian clubs.

Many of you will be familiar with Out of Touch‘s traditional Canadian content report, where Jono looks at what proportion of its minutes each Canadian professional team gives domestic players[1]. It’s a great way to see how the Canadian teams are doing relative to each other. But Jono’s tables are set up to show the percentage of minutes, rather than the mass of them, which is fair when you’re trying to ask which team is doing better (since some teams play more games), but unfair when you’re trying to figure out the bulk benefit to Canadian players as a whole. More importantly, his archives only go back to 2008 while the Canadian MLS era began in 2007. So, to get a clearer look at where we’ve gone in the MLS era, I decided to re-invent the wheel.

I have compiled the Canadian content numbers in domestic professional soccer (defined as USL A-League, USL First Division, USSF Pro D-2, NASL, and MLS) since 2004. This was the last year, prior to the upcoming 2014 season, where five professional teams operated in Canada (Calgary Mustangs, Edmonton Aviators, Montreal Impact, Toronto Lynx, and Vancouver Whitecaps, all of the USL A-League) and may be taken as a high-water mark since the demise of the Canadian Soccer League. It was also the earliest season for which player-by-player numbers were easily available. My figures do not agree with Jono’s at many points: I suspect his are the more accurate because many of mine are taken from season totals rather than game-by-game summaries, but it’s small change either way[2]. I also list players who appeared to have been in match-day eighteens but gotten no minutes, but who then later appeared in a senior international training camp, for the sake of completeness.

If you like, my spreadsheet listing each of the players is available online, so you can use the numbers for your own purposes. I’ll also give the full figures for a few major seasons in-line with the article, and a summary at the end.

2004 USL A-League
Calgary Mustangs Edmonton Aviators Montreal Impact Toronto Lynx Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Auvigne, Jaime 2264 Akok, Freddy 1354 Biello, Mauro 1723 Arango, Andres 1131 Clarke, Jeff 2017
Castrillon, John Jr. 462 Bosch, Kurt 1833 Braz, Adam 1510 Ashton, Brian 38 Corazzin, Carlo 1211
Chala, Conrad 306 Chin, Gordon 2379 Budalic, Niki 304 Bartolomeu, Edgar 1528 Craveiro, Nico 1040
Frazao, Steven 237 Da Silva, Liam 2054 Cann, Adrian 256 Connor, Matthew 45 Cucca, Tino 33
Gillespie, Jordan 1650 Devlin, Chris 1296 DiTullio, Jason 844 Diplacido, David 1805 Dasovic, Nick 2143
Holdt, Steffen 1969 Dhaliwal, Paul 1417 Fronimadis, David 217 Dodds, Jamie 1940 Franks, Chris 984
Jesic, Damir 1580 Drummond, Daniel 470 Gervais, Gabriel 2386 Faria, Shawn 1231 Franks, Mike 895
Kooy, Chris 1048 Fraser, Sean 2401 Grande, Sandro 1902 Gbeke, Charles 657 Gomes, Mark 250
Mert, Mesut 2202 Handsor, Chris 950 Hainault, Andre 17 Gerba, Ali 2083 Harmse, Kevin 510
Pavicic, Mike 1353 Kassaye, Simon 604 Leduc, Pat 2074 Handsor, Chris 202 Heald, Ollie 1427
Peszneker, Charles 1773 Kaushal, Vikram 506 Lemire, Chris 383 Hughes, Tyler 1703 Jordan, Jason 1359
Reyes, Nic 744 Lemire, Chris 1049 Olivieri, Andrew 281 Mattacchione, Joe 2546 Kindel, Steve 2307
Richer, Aaron 754 Molina, Cesar 32 Pizzolitto, Nevio 1653 Munthali, Rumbani 1353 Lyall, Geordie 1090
Sestito, Angelo 1667 Munoz, Eric 668 Ribeiro, Antonio 1737 O’Connor, Matthew 329 Morris, David 1800
Slade, Mark 99 Sibiya, Sipho 1248 Selaidopoulos, Kyriakos 148 Prostran, Igor 519 Nash, Martin 1752
Zuniga, Nicolas 1051 Stankov, Nick 1208 Sutton, Greg 2366 Rowland, Brian 90 Sulentic, Johnny 1676
Stankov, Robert 2 Williams, Chris 976 Serioux, Adrian 1184 Thompson, Justin 1301
Stephens, Wesley 21 Valente, Alfredo 1633
Tachie, Desmond 654 Xausa, Davide 1796
Vignjevic, Nikki 1989
Subtotal 19159 22135 18777 18384 25224
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 103707

Naturally the five-team 2004 season had the most Canadian minutes I have recorded, but not always with the best results. Edmonton and Calgary were legendary disasters, the two worst teams in the league, and their Canadian content was mostly picked for price rather than quality. The large majority of those Canadian players were out of professional soccer when their teams folded; a lucky few got a season or two elsewhere, but very few did much. Edmonton’s Chris Lemire and Calgary’s Mesut Mert became the answers to trivia questions when they were the only players in their teams’ history to be called up for a senior Canadian men’s national team training camp under Frank Yallop for non-official friendlies in July 2004[3] (Mert got another camp in 2007 after his final year with the Montreal Impact[4] but never received a full cap). A few other Aviators and Mustangs surfaced for odds-and-ends seasons here and there; Edmonton’s Gordon Chin had runs with Toronto Lynx and Vancouver, Calgary’s Chris Kooy and Edmonton’s Lemire returned for the first season of FC Edmonton in 2011, and for reasons best known to themselves the Toronto Lynx scooped a handful of ex-Aviators for 2005, but by and by large it was a sorry group.

But the Vancouver Whitecaps, who recorded more Canadian minutes in 2004 than any professional team since, were second in the Western Conference and made the conference semi-finals. Montreal, whose 18,777 Canadian minutes would have been considered very good in any other season, won the whole thing. Even Toronto was less bad than usual[5]. Giving big minutes to Canadians was no guarantee of success but nor was it any impediment. Counting Mert and Lemire, twenty-five Canadians on a Canadian A-League team in 2004 would at least be called up to a senior men’s national team camp over their careers. Twenty-five! And those weren’t bad teams by today’s standards; they put up a credible fight for 2006 World Cup qualification and made a strong run in the 2007 Gold Cup.

2004 was the high water mark for Canadian domestic professionals in more ways than one. In 2005, with fewer Canadian teams naturally total minutes declined, but so did the domestic minutes in (very good) Vancouver and (regular season champion) Montreal. The Toronto Lynx increased to 20,257 minutes but were a nightmare on the field; with a bunch of old Aviators so I don’t know what they thought was going to happen. Long-retired legend Lyndon Hooper hit the pitch on August 21 and September 5. But it wasn’t all 38-year-olds, scrubs, and Robbie Aristodemo: Charles Gbeke, Ali Gerba, Dave Simpson, and Chris Williams were all on that team and had their best years ahead of them. Toronto FC today would consider that a decent haul.

2006 USL First Division
Montreal Impact Toronto Lynx Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Biello, Mauro 2192 Antsey, Ryan 42 Cann, Adrian 1902
Braz, Adam 1914 Arango, Andres 2430 Clarke, Jeff 2316
Di Ioia, Massimo 516 Aristodemo, Robbie 2051 Djekanovic, Srdjan 0
DiTullio, Jason 262 Bartolomeu, Edgar 496 Harmse, Kevin 0
Fronimadis, David 210 Bedenikovic, Marco 1761 Jordan, Jason 373
Gatti, Simon 157 Chin, Gordon 1283 Kambere, Diaz 146
Gervais, Gabriel 1988 Dekker, Niels 834 Kindel, Steve 2053
Leduc, Pat 1570 Diplacido, David 1719 Lyall, Geordie 1628
Mert, Mesut 919 Dodds, Jamie 2154 Matondo, Sita-Taty 510
Pizzolitto, Nevio 1980 Eja-Tabe, Huffman 84 Morris, David 1438
Ribeiro, Antonio 994 Faria, Shawn 151 Nash, Martin 2220
Sutton, Greg 1260 Mattacchione, Joe 1184 Valente, Alfredo 664
Medwin, Cameron 546
Menezes, Tony 339
Palleschi, Matthew 1326
Pottinger, Damien 1016
Shepherd, Jeremy 340
Williams, Chris 2114
Zagar, Theo 1834
Subtotal 13962 21704 13250
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 48944

In 2006 the decline in Canadian content continued, again apart from Toronto, but three Canadian teams still totaled 48,944 domestic minutes. The Whitecaps were hurt by several key Canadian departures: Kevin Harmse went overseas to Slovakia, Mike Franks got a cameo in England, Carlo Corazzin, Nick Dasovic, Mark Watson, Davide Xausa, Chris Franks, and Liam Da Silva left professional soccer. Most of the remaining players were older, although Adrian Cann was a young bright spot. It was a tough season in terms of Canadian content, if in no other sense: Vancouver won the championship and recorded 13,250 domestic minutes in spite of the serious losses; a poor number by the standards of the day, but 3,000 minutes better than any of our (unsuccessful) MLS teams have ever recorded and in fewer games.

The regular season champion Impact also had good Canadian content led by the eternal Biello, Braz, and Gervais, and got a first-rate season out of their 13,962 Canadian minutes (this would also be a Canadian MLS record by about 33%). The Toronto Lynx were also present and as focused on mediocre Canadian players everybody’s already forgotten as always. Hey, it’s Tony Menezes! He would have been well into his thriving beach soccer career by 2006. What a random lot that was. It was hard not to love the Toronto Lynx, they were so earnestly mediocre. Only the Impact came off as villains, and that was because they ran out a lineup with Braz, Biello, and Nevio Pizzolitto and more often than not finished with eleven men rather than eleven years in prison. The mid-2000s Montreal Impact were the soccer version of the Charleston Chiefs, right now to the Canadian lads and championship appearances. I didn’t love them so much.

Man, the little things we thought were problems back in the mid-2000s, with Vancouver barely getting 13,000 minutes out of its Canadians, and Montreal not winning the right way, and Toronto being dedicated and low-budget but steadfastly incompetent like a college film. In fact things were about to get worse, much worse, beginning with the very next season when Toronto FC came into Major League Soccer, the Lynx went down to USL PDL, and the age of the Canadian playing at home began to end.

2007 USL First Division/Major League Soccer
Montreal Impact Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Arango, Andres 1725 Attakora, Nana 0 Cann, Adrian 2430
Biello, Mauro 992 Braz, Adam 771 Clarke, Jeff 2069
Fronimadis, David 923 Brennan, Jim 2430 Jordan, Jason 350
Gatti, Simon 2046 Chencinski, Tomer 0 Kambere, Diaz 905
Gbeke, Charles 1884 Djekanovic, Srdjan 635 Kindel, Steve 1855
Gervais, Gabriel 1505 Gala, Gabe 222 Leslie, Stefan 106
Leduc, Pat 2328 Hemming, Tyler 239 Lyall, Geordie 907
Marcina, Alen 411 Lombardo, Andrea 726 Marcina, Alen 343
Matondo, Sita-Taty 349 Melo, Joey 110 Marples, Nigel 74
Pizzolitto, Nevio 102 Monsalve, David 90 Morris, David 654
Ribeiro, Antonio 856 Pozniak, Chris 1497 Nash, Martin 1999
Reda, Marco 573 Smith, Graham 85
Stamatopoulos, Kenny 1080 Valente, Alfredo 1170
Sutton, Greg 720
Subtotal 13121 9093 12748
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 35020

Toronto FC brought many good things (three previously-little-known goalkeepers in David Monsalve, Kenny Stamatopoulos, and Tomer Chencinski; didn’t keep any of them, of course, didn’t even play Tomer) and some bad (the careers of Andrea Lombardo, Joey Melo, Gabe Gala, and Tyler Hemming). They won many fans, which is of course a good thing, but not many games, in a plain but charming stadium for which I still have a soft spot. They hired Jim Brennan back from England for a few years of replacement-level left back before he knifed Dale Mitchell in the spine and became irrelevant to the national picture. What they didn’t bring was Canadian content. The 9,093 Canadian minutes from Toronto that year, though very good by later MLS standards thanks to a then-higher Canadian quota, represented a fall of over 12,000 from the now-departed Lynx. To absolutely no effect, as first-year TFC finished dead last. Small wonder the jump from 2006 to 2007 represents the largest recorded plunge in Canadian domestic minutes per game.

The two USL First Division teams did fine. Montreal lost minutes due to Mauro Biello and Nevio Pizzolitto missing significant time (so what; they were third in the league). Vancouver lost a few hundred minutes because of niggling injuries knocking time off the likes of Morris, Lyall, and Nash (more significant; the Whitecaps had a mediocre year). The changes in Montreal and Vancouver amounted to a rounding error; the damage was done in Toronto.

Yet even as I rag on TFC let’s set the historical record straight in their favour. There was a time when second-division fans like me hammered Toronto FC for their policy of giving minutes to imports over Canadians. Little did we suspect the problem had little to do with the team and everything to do with the league and the era: TFC never got as good as the USL teams we were used to but they were, and remain, far more Canadian than the MLS Whitecaps and Impact. I say “and” for a reason: in both years of three-team MLS play Toronto has out-Canadianed Montreal and Vancouver combined.

Looking back Toronto FC almost look like national heroes. Sure, their 9,000+ minute seasons (when the quota was high) and 5,800+ minute seasons (when the quota was lowered) are despicable compared to the second-division teams but among the Canadian MLS teams Toronto has each of the seven best seasons for domestic Canadian content, with Montreal and Vancouver never coming close. Montreal and Vancouver have given Canadians a combined 9,162 minutes in their MLS histories, which is below two individual Toronto FC seasons. See if I say a bad word about the FCs dedication to Canada for a while; even if Michael Bradley eats Kyle Bekker for lunch Toronto’s first team will have done better by Canada than either of their rivals.

But during the second division Vancouver, especially, continued to do well. A healthier Whitecaps team had a more Canadian 2008 and helped themselves to another championship for their patriotism. 2009 was less good, caught in transition as Jason Jordan, Jeff Clarke, and Steve Kindel retired with a title while the likes of Luca Bellisomo, Philippe Davies, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, and Ethan Gage began to make their names, but still an improvement over 2007 and good enough for a USL-1 finals appearance. Montreal lost domestic minutes as Biello and Leduc got old and hopefuls like Felix Brillant and Alex Surprenant didn’t work out. They were 2009 league champions and had a famous CONCACAF Champions League run, so it’s not like they were struggling, but they suffered the indignity of becoming the first second-division team ever to have fewer Canadian minutes than an MLS side (Montreal, in its worst year to date, had 10,244; Toronto, in its best year ever, 10,736).

In spite of the Impact’s decline, which was temporarily halted in 2010, Montreal and Vancouver exceeded 10,000 Canadian domestic minutes every year until they began preparing for MLS. They won games with those Canadians: Vancouver took the 2008 championship, the two teams met in the 2009 final with Montreal prevailing, and in 2010 neither team was elite but the Impact were unlucky to lose as early as they did. The 2010 Montreal Impact did something that would almost be unthinkable today: stuck in a surprising slump when they’d expected to be contenders, Montreal loaded up mid-season… with domestic players, adding among others Ali Gerba and Antonio Ribeiro. It worked, too: I forget how many goals Gerba scored down the stretch in 2010 but it was around a million while Ribeiro looked very lively. The Canadian-reinforced Impact went on to thump probably the league’s best overall team, Austin, 5-2 in the first playoff round before losing a highly unlucky two-legger to Carolina.

The Whitecaps also had a mediocre 2010. Like Montreal, they tried to reinforce midseason, and like Montreal they brought in a few Canadians to do it: Kyle Porter, Alex Elliott, and Terry Dunfield. But that season also saw the team “preparing for MLS”, and they did it by giving minutes that would normally have gone to Canadians over to almost-invariably-disappointing imports. Porter’s playing time amounted to half an hour. Edwini-Bonsu was benched in favour of the likes of Cody Arnoux and Jonathan McDonald, which would be funny if it hadn’t cost us games then and today. Journeyman defender Chris Williams sat with his thumb up his butt while Willis Forko bungled every ball that came towards him. Ethan Gage, once promising, got only a few hundred minutes, including a playoff run where he showed what had gotten people so excited, and was promptly shipped out. The one import worth a scintilla of a damn was Davide Chiumiento, who was useless in his few competitive minutes because he was a perfect sphere and seemed to think USSF D2 was a beer league. For all that there were still Canadian regulars: Bellisomo, Davies, and Martin Nash. But 9,603 Canadian minutes was an all-time low, and 877 of those came from an on-loan Marcus Haber. And none of those three regulars I named would ever play MLS minute one.

The disease had spread to Vancouver.

2011 North American Soccer League/Major League Soccer
FC Edmonton Montreal Impact Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Cox, Michael 743 Agourram, Reda 379 Attakora, Nana 373 Davies, Philippe 0
Craig, Paul 544 Gatti, Simon 1953 Cann, Adrian 988 Dunfield, Terry 928
Duberry, Andre 151 Gerba, Ali 833 Cordon, Oscar 144 Harmse, Kevin 126
Hamilton, Paul 2414 Ilcu, Mircea 317 de Guzman, Julian 1325 Teibert, Russell 503
Jonke, John 1478 Mayard, Pierre-Rudolph 305 De Rosario, Dwayne 180
Kooy, Chris 2430 Pizzolitto, Nevio 1261 Dunfield, Terry 263
Lam, Sam 376 Ribeiro, Antonio 758 Henry, Doneil 503
Lemire, Chris 825 Terminesi, Marco 64 Makubuya, Keith 45
Monsalve, David 90 Morgan, Ashtone 903
Oppong, Dominic 1723 Stinson, Matt 675
Porter, Kyle 1699 Zavarise, Gianluca 569
Rago, Antonio 2318
Saiko, Shaun 2168
Saler, Niko 450
Semenets, Alex 377
Sidra, Eddy 515
Suprenant, Alex 1603
Yamada, Kyle 1417
Subtotal 21321 5870 5968 1557
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 34778

In 2011 FC Edmonton joined the competition and as a result we saw the number of Canadian domestic minutes rise to 34,778, the best since 2007. Since Edmonton accounted for 21,321, or 61.3%, of those minutes, I don’t think the other teams get any credit for that. Vancouver, in its first MLS season, gave Canadians a total of 1,557 minutes. 1,557?! From a team that took almost ten times as many to championships in 2006 and 2008? What the hell is this? But of course the 2011 Whitecaps were probably the worst team in the league so at least it was worth it. Sure, Edwini-Bonsu got cut without a serious opportunity (Joe Cannon tweeted his surprise that the Whitecaps had cut a player he’d never heard of before hastily deleting it[6]), Kyle Porter was nickel-and-dimed out of town, Terry Dunfield was traded mid-season for nothing, no Residency guys apart from Russell Teibert got a chance, and Philippe Davies got zero minutes, even in the nothing games at the end of the year, but at least the Whitecaps gave valuable development to Peter Vagenas, John Thorrington, I can’t even keep talking about this it still makes me so furious. Teibert was unlucky, starting off gangbusters then showing everybody why you shouldn’t bike in flip-flops, but for the rest there was no excuse Tom Soehn could have offered that would be sufficient.

Edmonton also stank, but they made the playoffs (briefly) because pretty much everyone in the NASL did that year. They loaded up on Canadians to a degree unheard of these days and reminiscent of the old Toronto Lynx, and for pretty much the same reason: they were cheap. Look at all those AMSL guys! Actually, many of them were okay, which is why the Eddies managed respectability (and Edmonton Scottish today terrifies the amateur ranks). I still have fond memories of Chris Kooy, John Jonke had his uses at centre back, and Dominic Oppong was a decent tough-as-nails motherfucker of a central player as long as you didn’t ask him to do too much. In the old days, with a few other second division teams kicking around, those players would have landed somewhere. Instead, when Edmonton moved them on they had nowhere to go.

As for Toronto, they get some credit for a poor Canadian season: Dwayne De Rosario set fires in lockers until the FCs finally traded him, Julian de Guzman was hurt much of the time and lousy for the rest of it, Nicholas Lindsay was allowed access to a snowmobile, and Adrian Cann was physically falling apart like a counterfeit Chinese Frankenstein’s monster. Still, they did so little with the decent Oscar Cordon and the never-even-got-a-chance-to-find-out-if-he-was-decent Keith Makubuya, preferring to drag in Americans because this is MLS and this is what you do dammit.

But oh, Montreal. Wave the carrot of MLS and they’re throwing out Canadians left, right, and centre. Placentino retired. Gerba, only partially for health reasons, played fewer than 900 minutes. Young players like Mircea Ilcu, Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, and Reda Agourram got short stints but nothing more than that. All told Montreal lost almost 5,000 Canadian minutes, the biggest drop for a Canadian team in half a decade. The Impact loaded up with every foreigner on whom they could physically lay hands, and the pre-season title favourites were rewarded for this sell-out by missing the NASL playoffs altogether, an astonishing achievement in a league where six of eight teams qualified and one of the others was the 2011 Atlanta Silverbacks. But it’s a good thing Montreal dumped half their Canadians from 2010 to 2011, and then dumped every single one of the rest from 2011 to 2012, because they didn’t make the playoffs either of those seasons. Imports win you games? Really? After the examples of Vancouver and Toronto FC that’s what the Impact were going with? Of course it was, they were heading into MLS, and if you haven’t figured out the pattern by now you’re not going to.

2012 North American Soccer League/Major League Soccer
FC Edmonton Montreal Impact Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Caceros, Kenny 1422 Bernier, Patrice 2194 Cann, Adrian 735 Clarke, Caleb 15
Cox, Michael 919 Ouimette, Karl 66 de Guzman, Julian 1028 Teibert, Russell 117
Craig, Paul 668 Sutton, Greg 24 Dunfield, Terry 2493
Gardner, Dino 10 Henry, Doneil 1139
Gigolaj, Elvir 172 Makubuya, Keith 10
Hamilton, Paul 2024 Morgan, Ashtone 2528
Kooy, Chris 1816 Stinson, Matt 89
Lam, Matt 1215
Lassonde, Fabrice 555
Misiewicz, Michel 360
Monsalve, David 90
Porter, Kyle 1772
Rago, Antonio 1942
Saiko, Shaun 1816
Sememets, Alex 17
Smits, John 630
Subtotal 16276 2284 8022 132
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 26776

In 2012 the Whitecaps wrote their names in the pages of infamy forever by giving Canadians one hundred and thirty-two regular season minutes, a record I pray on bended knee will never, ever be bested. For that sell-out of their entire country they managed to sneak into the playoffs by a fluke and go out to the Los Angeles Galaxy with a bit of dignity while losing yet another Voyageurs Cup final, coming up short in the Cascadia Cup, and generally gassing a season without even player development to show for it. I don’t even have anything to say about that anymore; it is beyond comment, it is the nadir of everything this alleged “promotion” to Major League Soccer has meant for the Canadian game.

Edmonton had dumped a bunch of the metro-league players and gone down to 16,276 domestic minutes, still over 60% better (on a per game basis) than any Canadian MLS team has ever done. They missed the playoffs, of course, because they were harder to get into, but that had little to do with their Canadians, most of whom were excellent (Saiko, Hamilton), quite good (Porter, Rago, Smits, Kooy), or not around long enough to make a difference. Matt Lam was a disappointment, but he also got a lot of shots off and his fate was probably determined more by contract problems than actual incompetence. And Toronto actually had a good Canadian year, by MLS standards, thanks to full-timers Dunfield and Morgan and semi-regulars de Guzman and Henry.

No, it’s the Montreal Impact who were charming the nation in 2011, signing Patrice Bernier out of Norway and giving a total of 90 minutes to any other Canadian, 24 of which were a farewell to Greg Sutton. Better than Vancouver, obviously, at least Montreal had a local lad they were willing to show some loyalty to, but still a shocking disappointment, even considering that Montreal had long been the least domestically-focused of the second division Canadian teams. I say “disappointment”; in fact I think we all saw it coming.

Most recently, in 2013, the Whitecaps disgraced themselves a bit less than usual with 1,865 minutes (all but 90 to Teibert, and those 90 forced by a suspension to Jordan Harvey). Montreal did better with 3,324 minutes (2,474 to Bernier). And Toronto, of course, ran out six Canadians, with three breaking 1,500 minutes, and ruled the Canadian roost once again. Sure, the FCs weren’t very good, but neither were the Whitecaps and the Impact were plunging so fast when the playoffs started NASA counted it as a re-entry. So at least this near-abandonment of Canadian players is all worthwhile because now our MLS teams are so competitive.

Even FC Edmonton lost momentum, with only 9,011 minutes going to Canadians. Not all of it was their fault (an injury to Michael Cox and intermittent hurts and suspensions for Eddie Edward) but a lot of it was (the summary execution of the excellent Paul Hamilton and Shaun Saiko). They did at least try to load up on Canadians in the second half of the season, though Gagandeep Dosanjh got injured and Anthony Adur remained Anthony Adur, but this did not stop the team, and its Canadian coaching team led by Colin Miller, from facing criticism from fans for overly favouring foreign players. That said, as they played fewer games than any other team in our spreadsheet Edmonton’s 346.6 Canadian minutes per game, while extremely poor for the second division, is not far behind the best season ever in MLS (2009 Toronto FC, 357.9 Canadian minutes per game). The hope is that, with Ottawa Fury moving up to the NASL for 2014, Edmonton and Ottawa can bounce Canadian reclamation projects off each other in the way that the Impact, Lynx, and Whitecaps once did to some success.

The following table will summarize the decade in Canadian domestic players better than my thousands of grief-stricken words ever could.

USL A-League/First Division/USSF D2/NASL Major League Soccer
Games Calgary Edmonton Montreal Toronto Vancouver Games Montreal Toronto Vancouver Total
2004 28 19159 22135 18777 18384 25224 103707
2005 28 17182 20257 21591 59058
2006 28 13962 21704 13250 48944
2007 28 13121 12748 30 9093 35020
2008 30 11984 14195 30 6606 32845
2009 30 10244 12996 30 10736 34036
2010 30 10614 9603 30 9236 29513
2011 28 21321 5870 34 5968 1557 34778
2012 28 16276 34 2284 8022 132 26776
2013 26 9011 34 3324 5804 1865 20064

To illustrate the decline in a different way, here is a graph showing the number of Canadian domestic minutes per game. This is just the total number of Canadian minutes from each team in a given season, divided by the total number of games played by the teams that season. The straight line is a linear illustration of the horrific fall.

canadianminutespergame

The number of Canadian domestic minutes per game has been declining, almost without exception, since 2004. This is fair enough, as the silver generation which brought us the 2000 Gold Cup retired and the quality of Canadian players at home deteriorated. But the biggest drops correlated with MLS. When Toronto FC entered MLS and sent the Lynx to PDL in 2007, almost 180 Canadian domestic minutes per game (two full-time players!) was lost. If you count Vancouver’s 2010, where they were signing the likes of Cody Arnoux and Willis Forko thinking that would in some way help, or 2011 when Montreal was pulling the same tricks to an even greater degree, you can see what a debacle the self-appointed “first” division has made of Canadian content. In fact, so calamitous was the impending arrival of Montreal and the continued deterioration of Vancouver in MLS that in spite of adding over 21,000 Canadian domestic minutes with the arrival of FC Edmonton 2011 still saw a decline in Canadian domestic minutes per game (from 327.9 to 280.5). Only in 2009, buoyed by Toronto FC’s best season ever for Canadian content combined with a still-strong Montreal and Vancouver, did the number of Canadian domestic minutes per game slightly, and temporarily, rise from the season before.

In conclusion: if Don Garber thinks that Major League Soccer is going to steer Canada into a World Cup I’m at a loss to think how. It might not be the league’s fault, but Canadians simply don’t play in this country compared to before MLS came along.

Of course MLS cannot take all the blame. Canadian minutes had been declining, a few thousand at a time, since I was able to begin tracking this. But from 2007 to 2009 Vancouver had found a pretty stable level of about 13,000 Canadian minutes per year, many in young players, until 2010 when they were loading up for MLS and the number plunged. Montreal was averaging almost 11,000 Canadian minutes from 2008 to 2010, generally veterans but with a few kids, until 2011 when they were loading up for MLS and the number plunged. And not to belabour the point but those were good teams, with each side beating Toronto FC head-to-head. Neither has shown any sign of improving, with the Impact getting the large bulk of their Canadian minutes these days through Patrice Bernier and the Whitecaps through Russell Teibert. Squad players are, as a rule, imports: this was not the case in the second division, when you could count on Sita-Taty Matondos, Davey Morrises, and Pat Leducs getting utility minutes.

We’re told that the biggest impact of MLS will be in youth development but there’s nothing stopping a Canadian second division team from running a professional academy of their own (Edmonton does and the Whitecaps did). Indeed, it was the Whitecaps Residency which promised the beginnings of a fine team in the early 2010s, until its elite players were scattered to the five winds for the sake of mediocre, foreign journeymen. The Whitecaps U-18s reached the USL PDL semi-final in 2008, and of the starting eleven in the final match six (Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Ethan Gage, Gagandeep Dosanjh, Philippe Davies, Antonio Rago, Simon Thomas)[7] remain active professionally. These players have a combined zero MLS minutes.

So what’s the solution? Raise the Canadian quota in Major League Soccer? As the example of Toronto FC shows, this would inevitably lead to an increase in Canadian minutes. But setting rules that teams will begrudging follow with a host of Gabe Galas and Tyler Hemmings is no long-term solution: the dud players are signed half-heartedly, they turn out to be duds, they are released equally half-heartedly and replaced with others, it is an old story. This may get more minutes but the minutes wouldn’t be very good.

A good step would be to limit the existing Canadian quota so it applies only to those players who can actually play for the Canadian men’s national team. In this way Canadian-eligible talent would regain their advantage over the likes of Alain Rochat and Gershon Koffie with the right paperwork but no prospect of ever playing for Canada. Both Rochat and Koffie are fine players, that’s not the point; the point is that their excellence will never be relevant to the national team we are hopefully trying to develop.

The only meaningful change can be one of attitude. I hope we are beginning to see this in the Carl Robinson-run Vancouver Whitecaps: Residency players hopefully getting a sincere chance in the first team. Augment them with a few U-23s in the Brett Levis mold and we might be getting somewhere, if only in a few years time. Canada’s MLS teams need to resist the inclination to prioritize the draftee over the homegrown player: the drafted guy is 21 and comes with a big article from south of the border, the homegrown guy is 18 and only the nerds have ever heard of him, the drafted guy gets all the minutes, the homegrown guy is released when he’s 20 years old. It’s an old story, but one resulting from short-sightedness. And when teams are splashing millions upon millions of dollars for designated players whose profile outweighs their ability, why not make them Canadian? There are only a few out there, of course, but I hope Toronto at least called Atiba Hutchinson before ringing Michael Bradley, that Simeon Jackson’s agent heard about the open vault before Jermaine Defoe’s. That sort of thing can make a real difference.

There’s no reason why Canada’s MLS teams couldn’t build Canadian rosters like the old days. They might have to butt heads with the American-oriented MLS front office to do it, but at minimum the effort must be made if we want to return to even the then-seemingly-lowly, now almost idyllic days of 2004.

(notes and comments…)