The Maple Leaf Forever! 2015 North American Soccer League Preview

By Benjamin Massey · March 26th, 2015 · No comments

Xaume OIleros/Power Sport Images/North American Soccer League

Xaume Oileros/Power Sport Images/North American Soccer League

It’s hard to view the upcoming NASL season dispassionately. Many fans have feared that, with their high spending, worldwide ambitions, and superior media profile, the New York Cosmos would become bigger than the league just as they did in the 1980s. But last year they were beaten in the regular season, didn’t get into the Soccer Bowl, and the world was instead treated to a marvelous tilt between founding NASL member Fort Lauderdale and high-profile expansion team San Antonio. The Scorpions won, under Canadian head coach Alen Marcina and captain Adrian Cann, and fans on both sides of the border could feel pretty good.

The Cosmos have apparently decided that this will not do. They spent something around one jillion dollars on new players, including Spanish legend Raúl, 37 years old but still the most prominent acquisition by any North American team since Thierry Henry, if not David Beckham. They also picked up Adam Moffat, who would be a headline grab for most NASL teams in most seasons. All this without losing anybody terribly important, and with the possibility of a fully healthy Marcos Senna wrecking havoc again. I would not like to be the New York Cosmos’ opposition.

But are the Cosmos so clearly the NASL’s best team in 2015? (Yes.) What about Minnesota United? (Not as good as the Cosmos.) Or do defending champions San Antonio match up? (No.) Will newly Brazilian-owned Fort Lauderdale fit Ronaldo for a jersey and a bib and challenge for the regular season championship, the Woosnam Cup? (No and no.) Below is one man’s prediction of how the 2015 North American Soccer League season will shake up, team by team, from first to eleventh, informed by a little table showing their 2014 statistics including TSR and PDO. You didn’t think I’d write a post this long without some tables in it, did you?

Note: this article contains many photos and without notes is pushing 10,000 words, which according to literary authorities is long enough to count as a “novelette”. The good stuff is therefore after the jump. Feel free to get through this in installments. Pack a lunch.

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Canada Snubs the NASL; Should the NASL Snub Canada?

By Benjamin Massey · March 22nd, 2015 · 2 comments

It’s been a rough week for those of us who worry Benito Floro is snubbing the NASL. Floro announced his roster for the senior men’s national team friendlies against Guatemala and Puerto Rico this month, and no NASL names were on it[1].

There are always excuses. The NASL teams are in preseason, though Edmonton’s camp is only a two-hour drive away from Canada’s. We are told that Floro wants to look at U-23 players for Olympic qualifying this summer and Ottawa’s Mauro Eustaquio, who should be in that pool, has been battling injury. I take the view that the time to examine U-23 depth is in U-23 camp and the senior team should worry more about the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying. But if Floro wants to run the rule over young players then why call Toronto FC reserve captain Chris Mannella and Hungarian league defender Manjrekar James? Neither has played a minute in a top league and both already have two caps. Mannella, a defensively-oriented central midfielder, joins a roster that is full of defensively-oriented central midfielders but lacks Hanson Boakai-esque attacking flair. If Floro is testing his top team neither player is yet near it.

Then, a few days later, defenders Sam Adekugbe and Andre Hainault were obliged to withdraw due to injury. Adekugbe is a youngster, though one who earned his call-up on merit and was finally getting MLS starts at Jordan Harvey’s expense. Replacing him with another kid is fair enough. But with Hainault gone Floro did not call another already-capped veteran like Nana Attakora or Mason Trafford. Nor did he call a veteran who he doesn’t know but really should, like Eddie Edward. Nor did he throw a bone to a player like Mallan Roberts, a good NASL centre back who could start for FC Edmonton this year, got his Canadian citizenship in February[2], and is very close indeed to giving up Canada as a bad bet and playing for his birthplace of Sierra Leone.

Instead the summons went to Jonathan Grant, out of the semi-professional League 1 Ontario. It’s great to see L1O getting a boost but Grant’s another player in a league below NASL level who Floro has already seen. The second injury replacement, Tyler Pasher, recently signed with USL Pittsburgh and is hoping to break though at a sub-NASL level after failing to stick in the also-sub-NASL Finnish second division. These decisions only make sense if the NASL is so, so low on Floro’s radar that anybody in the U-23 pool beats it.

Steven Sandor reports that Julian de Guzman has offers from NASL teams[3], so this might be his Canadian swan song. Too glib? Given that James, Pasher, and Grant apparently thundered past Attakora on the depth chart the instant young Nana joined the San Antonio Scorpions, I don’t see why.

This post’s purpose is not solely to gripe. As this NASL scorn continues for year upon year, we will see NASL fans murmur about playing Canadians at all. What’s the point? Unless our players manage to catch on in the Colombian second division like David Monsalve they won’t get a cap. Why play Canadians if the national team’s not interested? Already the proportion of Canadian minutes for both FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury seems set to decline in 2015.

The Canadian Soccer Association is not synonymous with Canadian soccer. Developing the domestic game, and domestic players, is certainly more rewarding when those players may join the national team. But domestic players are worthwhile for their own sake. Ex-Vancouver Whitecap David Morris and ex-Whitecap/Edmonton Aviator Gordon Chin became local favourites despite never making a senior Canadian team. Eddies fans didn’t love Shaun Saiko or Paul Hamilton the less for being left out of the national squad. Albertans succeeding at Clarke Stadium was enough.

Having Canadian players on professional Canadian clubs should not be the means to an end, it should be the end. Every player that winds up on the national team is a bonus and a credit to his club, of course, but the development of a serious domestic professional player base, the presence of local and regional players we can cheer on from Victoria to Moncton, should be its own reward for fans. It is for this reason we shouldn’t worry about the short-term player strength in a Canadian “division 1A” league. It will be weaker than the NASL almost by definition, but over years of full-time professional development the gap will narrow and someday, hopefully, it’ll be too good to ignore.

Until that league comes, let us apply the same philosophy to our NASL teams. The more Canadians the better, and if Benito Floro doesn’t rate them it’s his loss.

(notes and comments…)

A Canadian Perspective on American Problems (and “Problems”)

By Benjamin Massey · March 13th, 2015 · 9 comments

Noah Davis has been getting boffo box office for his detailed look at the American Outlaws, the United States national teams’ semi-official supporters group. Deservingly so. Go read it, I’ll chill until you’re done[1].

Some shocking stuff, isn’t there? Sexual harassment, ignorant central powers enforcing diktats on locals, the faint stench of minor corruption. It’s easy to shake our head at the Americans and, here in Canada, culturally obligatory, but we feel superior at our own risk. There are lessons about the risks of growth, the downside of the central organization many Canadian supporters want, and avoiding the point where fun nationalism turns ugly. Like many of you, I read Tanya Keith’s story of being felt up at a pre-match gathering and thought first “God, I hope that never happened at a Canadian supporters’ pub,” and second “God, if it ever did I hope we’d deal with it better.” Such offenses are possible up here, and the honest will admit it. But there are many fewer of us, who meet less often and mostly know each other. That means fewer opportunities for Canadian soccer support to give itself a black eye, not some sort of Nordic superiority.

Take racism. There have been racist incidents in Canadian soccer supporters sections (yes, really). I don’t mean nationalism, or even jingoism, or controversial chants like “show us your passport.” I don’t mean the sort of racism you accuse someone of when they disagree with you in the Student Union Building. I certainly don’t mean magical racist abuse imagined by an attention-seeking traitor which is invisible and inaudible on television. What I mean is no-doubt-about-it hollers of epithets that would have been a viral YouTube video in another life. Nothing organized, nothing audible enough to hit the press, executed by social lepers high on moonshine whose neighbours quietly text stadium security, but undeniable. Multiply the number of soccer supporters by ten, which multiplies the volume of incidents by ten, and see if it stays off the web for long.

To an extent these things happen when you combine young men, abundant alcohol, fervent tribalism, and encouragement to go, as the song sings, “fucking mental.” That doesn’t mean you tolerate them, Lord no, but you don’t pretend it can’t happen to us because we’re red and white and very polite while they’re crass Yanks. You don’t lose yourself navel-gazing about the root causes of all the hate in our society. You dispatch the racists from your ranks like a Soviet penal battalion being sent through a minefield and you make sure everybody affected knows it. Likewise with the boob-grabbers, the fight-starters, the vandals, the cornucopia of boys we’ve all seen who make us go “oh God” and hope somebody else deals with this. They have always been with us, and when we grow in numbers so do they.

That last paragraph was awfully masculine. There’s a reason for that: if you’re reading this site, you’re probably a man. Sports have always predominantly appealed to men; it has been thus since the Nika riots. In Canadian soccer especially supporters are usually young white males of the middle classes. Supporters’ groups, promoted on rowdiness, energy, and passion, trend young. Most Canadians are white, while many recent immigrants and their children cheer for their countries of origin. Young people more commonly have the desire and the stamina to pound beers for two hours then jump around singing for another two, creating the trademark supporters’ atmosphere. In Canada, mainstream acceptance of domestic soccer is a relatively recent phenomenon championed by twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings rather than what you see in hockey, where generations of fans have spent lifetimes cheering for the same team. Acting shocked when a soccer supporters’ group is largely a collection of young white males is like being amazed the sun keeps rising in the east rather than giving the other side a chance.

So how is this inevitable demographic predominance treated as an inherently bad thing? Scroll through Davis’s article on the American Outlaws and read phrases like:

There’s also the issue of inclusion. “I don’t think we’re in a position as soccer fans to exclude anyone,” [American Outlaws communications director Dan] Wiersema said. Still, the organization is demographically skewed heavily twenty-something males. AO doesn’t have specific demographic data, but co-founder Justin Brucken said the membership on Facebook is 80-20 male to female and the majority of its members are between 18 and 34 years old.

…or…

[Ex-American Outlaw Magdalena Barajas] said she wasn’t angry, but she had concerns about the future of the organization. “It ended well, I guess, in that I don’t hate AO and I hope things go well for them, but I definitely feel that if things don’t start to change, it’s going to limit the way it can grow,” she said. “The bro culture is not something you want to develop. And it’s potentially dangerous.”

[AO Phoenix chapter leader Tony] Hernandez agrees that the Outlaws “have a very ‘frat boy’ image” and that the group “should try to shake it off.” But it might be too late to control the rowdiness inherent to AO. That is, after all, part of what attracts the masses.

The natural population of a soccer supporters group in the United States is apparently a problem: not the most serious, but an “issue” to be addressed. An 80% male membership (not atypical in my experience) is sufficient to cast doubt on Wiersema’s pieties about inclusiveness. The risk is of “bros” and “frat boys”, not hooliganism. When Canadians got hold of Davis’s post some echoed this philosophy. People whose support for Canadian soccer is beyond question but know the Voyageurs are packed with penises think that’s bad. The implication is that there’s a better way, that the American Outlaws should emulate some supporters’ group out there with a good 50-50 gender mix. Possibly such a group even exists, but I’ve never seen or heard of it.

None of this is to imply supporters’ groups shouldn’t aim for inclusivity. When I started attending Vancouver Whitecaps games with the Southsiders there’d be, what, three women every match? Now the city’s largest sausage party has been enriched by more clams, some of whom have taken prominent roles in the organization. The unanimous opinion is that it’s been fine. More volunteers and die-hard supporters, great, couldn’t care less what their genitals look like. So be welcoming. If a member of your group repels half the human race by being a crass sexist, kick him in the balls. The more the merrier: that’s easy, obvious, and uncontroversial. Yet every group that has any personality whatsoever will be anathema to some perfectly reasonable people whose personalities clash.

Some fans want nothing more than to stand up, watch a soccer game with passionate friends, and occasionally yell encouragement. Others want to do research on the opposing goalkeeper and try to break him in half mentally like a stale pretzel, their chants filled with cheekiness and even obscenity. It is trendy in North American culture for supporters’ groups to be “big tents” that walk a middle ground, but people who want less of one or more of the other will have a bad time and do something else. Again there’s nothing weird here, just human nature. And treating human nature as a problem to be solved is very stupid.

(notes and comments…)

Four (Non-Playing!) Predictions for MLS in 2015

By Benjamin Massey · March 7th, 2015 · 3 comments

Many people are making their predictions for the coming 2015 Major League Soccer season. Unfortunately, I have no idea who’s good, who’s bad, who’s the best newcomer, whether Landon Donovan is dreamy or the dreamiest, or any of the other topics your garden-variety North American soccer writer preoccupies himself with.

However, I do have opinions. So here are four (non-playing) predictions for the coming MLS year.

MLS will continue to pick on its supporters. Back in January Los Angeles Galaxy supporters the Angel City Brigade were sanctioned by the league and the club[1] for the heinous and unprecedented crime of throwing streamers onto the pitch at the MLS Cup Final. For added justice, their punishment is also double jeopardy for earlier offenses that had already been dealt with. During the first eight matches of the season the Brigade will have no “supporters privileges” (a phrase which, itself, speaks volumes) and are forbidden streamers for all of 2015. If you think this overreaction is because the Galaxy supporters made MLS fans look too undignified in the league’s marquee event, you are probably being sensible. And if you then asked “hey, does MLS’s highlight video of that match have a bunch of approving shots of the Angel City Brigade with streamers and drums?” you’ve clearly seen these collective punishments before.

This very standard action by MLS met a very standard reaction from supporters. Various groups said “we stand with the ACB!” while spending huge sums on the single entity that majority-owns the Galaxy. The Brigade responded with “sanctions” of their own[2] that amount to not buying beer or merchandise from the Galaxy for four games. (Spend like mad at the fifth, of course!) Still buying tickets, still going to games and cheering their hearts out, still giving MLS much of what they want. That’ll show ‘em.

So business as usual in Major League Soccer. Supporters are great when they look good on video and do coordinated, family-friendly chants, but corporate disapproval may come from anywhere and the suits’ vengeance has no appeal. Naturally there will never be any suggestion that, if MLS insists supporters exist to entertain its billionaires and promote its product, said supporters should find another outlet for their money and passion. The great cycle continues.

Watch for the next spit in the face of its most dedicated fans from Don Garber and company! It’s a surer sign of spring than the flowers opening.

MLS will continue to be sleazy. Another easy one! We are all familiar with the way MLS’s ill-defined allocation rules shift and twist when a player everyone’s heard of wants to go to a certain city. It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe how no team ever says “actually, Clint Dempsey, I think you’ll find you’re playing for Chivas USA now.”

Recently MLS and their players’ union agreed upon a collective bargaining agreement. The deal has not been made public; nothing unusual in that. But there was a total blackout over official MLS sources during negotiations that came very near to ruining the start of the season. When Gary Bettman locks out the NHL every few years he at least has to face the press; meanwhile, in MLS the official league site is gagged and a handful of dedicated beat reporters need to wrangle not-for-attribution tidbits from players and agents just so fans can have some idea what the hell’s going on.

Meanwhile, news from New York: MLS is sabotaging the NASL New York Cosmos in their bid to get a privately-funded soccer-specific stadium.[3]. MLS interference has been rumoured for some time but went on the public record courtesy New York Assemblyman Francisco Moya. This on top of throwing an expansion team at Atlanta to try and kill the NASL Silverbacks, continuing to poach the NASL’s best teams whenever possible, and working with a USL that, despite soothing words, still views NASL as an inferior upstart[4]. It’s a different side of the same coin: MLS isn’t interested in growing its game, or in growing supporters culture, just in growing its business. And the thing about a single-entity league with no promotion or relegation is that it is all one business.

MLS punditry is easy. If you identify their lowest possible motive, you’ve more than likely identified the correct one.

There will be more bad news for Canadians playing on Canadian MLS teams. About ten years ago the Vancouver Whitecaps hosted the Toronto Lynx to open the 2005 USL First Division season at Swangard Stadium. As was too typical for the Lynx it was a bore 0-0 draw. The only thing interesting about that game, ten years later, is that fifteen of twenty-two starters, and twenty-one players overall, were Canadians[5].

Tonight, when the Vancouver Whitecaps host Toronto FC, each team might start one Canadian. The Montreal Impact have already been busy, with two CONCACAF Champions League games in which no Canadians saw the field. With World Cup qualifiers and a Gold Cup this year, our top professional teams fly the flag of the United Nations. Again.

I know very few of you give a crap. But after years of the Whitecaps telling their fans “it is completely impossible to sign a Canadian from Europe! They demand payment in elephants made of gold!”, Sporting Kansas City recently signed standout Canadian international Marcel de Jong. It’s not difficult, they just don’t want to.

In Vancouver some fans who do pretend they care point to the Whitecaps signing a larger-than-usual number of players from their Residency program as a promising omen. It takes time to develop Canadian talent and the Whitecaps have only had twenty-nine years. Surely, surely, these young Canadians will be given the opportunity to break into the first team like Phil Davies and Bryce Alders… shit.

The new MLS reserve teams will be the most overrated development of the year. Reserve soccer is useful, obviously. There’s no replacement for a real match, and even if it’s not for the full stakes of a first-team game before 20,000 fans that experience does matter. Nobody denies this.

But as you know, this season the Whitecaps and many other MLS sides have moved their reserve teams to the newly-rebranded United Soccer League. Some people seem to think this particular incarnation of the MLS reserve program is going to be magic. Playing the Seattle Sounders reserves is one thing, but playing the Seattle Sounders reserves and the Harrisburg City Islanders, whoa, buy World Cup tickets now lads!

I don’t mean to pick on USL, who know their own business. Nor do I mean to pick on MLS (this one time), since they have a reserve program in an established, independent league that won’t get bored and go home like MLS’s reserve divisions always do. But Jesus, some people’s expectations! Some fans seem to think that playing MLS reserve games has suddenly become a ticket to the Premier League just because the name of the league has changed. “Three new professional teams! Whole new opportunities for our players!” I have a spreadsheet of the Whitecaps’ 2013 reserve players. Seven Canadians are on that list who were then over twenty years old and not on MLS contracts with the Whitecaps. How many of them are getting first-team minutes anywhere in the world right now? None!

Gagandeep Dosanjh had a promising start with FC Edmonton until his knee decided to stop working; that’s as close as you’re going to get. A few of those players — Yassin Essa, Brett Levis, Derrick Bassi — may be on the 2015 Whitecaps Reserves roster. Levis only got a cameo, but Essa and Bassi have been part of the Whitecaps Reserves pretty much since we joined MLS. Three years of reserve soccer is not what player development’s usually about.

I can’t speak for Toronto or Montreal, but in Vancouver the Whitecaps have filled out their reserve roster with available or interesting Canadians since they joined MLS. It’s the sensible thing to do. And it has led them nowhere. More games will help, obviously, but it’s no bloody revolution. The opposition will, if anything, be weaker, since MLS teams will be unable to send backup goalkeepers and bench players away to Richmond the same weekend they’ll be needed on the first team’s bench.

By the way, the attendance won’t be great either, not even for USL. Reserve team attendances around the world almost never are[6]. It’s curious that many of these same fans assume that the MLS/USL partnership spells certain doom for the NASL when about half of the USL’s independent clubs are shaky, it’s impossible MLS will make a profit on these teams, and they’ve scrapped their reserve program for financial reasons before.

(notes and comments…)

Standing with the MLS Players Union

By Benjamin Massey · March 3rd, 2015 · No comments

The beginning of the MLS season is under threat. As I wrote this article, top pundits upgraded the odds of a strike by MLS players from “50-50″ to “near-certain”. Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hanson was fined by the league for calling the MLS Players Union’s demand for free agency “a go-nowhere conversation” and “a foolish waste of time”[1]. American federal mediators have been called in[2], as they were in 2010. These parties love extending negotiations to the last minute: that year a new collective bargaining agreement was signed five days before the season opener[3]. But as I write it is Tuesday, March 3, and the MLS season is due to start on Friday, March 6. This is cutting it a little close. Washington soccer reporter-king Steven Goff said that DC United players might skip their upcoming CONCACAF Champions League fixture without an agreement[4] and everybody in the MLS press, save the curiously mute league propagandists at MLSSoccer.com, is openly biting their fingernails.

We’re used to scoffing at “millionaires versus billionaires” when professional sports tangle with their unions, but that doesn’t apply here. MLS players put up with labour restrictions few would tolerate. The salary cap means that unless you’re a fancy imported designated player your wage is limited from the start. A player can be randomly sent to another country without their consent (or even advance knowledge) and no-trade clauses are unheard of. Not just trades but waivers, re-entry drafts, expansion drafts, weighted lotteries, the borderline-corrupt allocation process — small wonder few MLS players spend more than three seasons in one city. Their employment can be terminated without notice, for any reason, and they had to fight in 2010 just to get severance pay. The famous “2+2″ contract, two mandatory seasons and a two-year team option, means a player doesn’t know whether he’ll be working for two years or four. And when that contract finally expires their options are limited: MLS teams retain the rights to ex-players in the same fashion that went out of baseball and hockey in the 1970s. Even players who’ve never set foot in MLS are restricted by discovery claims and allocation orders.

In exchange for all this sacrifice, many MLS players are paid less than their fans. In 2014 seven Toronto FC players, three Vancouver Whitecaps, and eleven members of the Montreal Impact earned less than $50,000*: they’d have trouble affording decent season tickets to their own games. They also have shorter careers than your average footy-goer: even the best will be out of soccer at 40 years old, just the time an office worker’s earnings are starting to peak. Their “retirement” means going to work in a different field missing decades of workplace experience: small wonder most wind up coaching soccer at some low, and low-paid, level. If you want to get rich, playing in Major League Soccer is just about the last way to do it.

A player chasing his dream of being a professional athlete can be expected to sacrifice his liberty. Or sacrifice his financial well-being. MLS players are asked to do both. An NASL player may well bank $20,000 with no health insurance while working construction over the winter, and some sign half-season contracts promising a few months of nothing like stability. Quite a few of these cheap-ass contracts aren’t guaranteed, either (it’s negotiated by the player). An NASL union would get a pretty good hearing, at least from players who could afford the dues. But at least there’s freedom: no salary cap stomping on a player’s head, no reserve clause tying him down when his contract ends. If an NASL player has a good season he may freely sign elsewhere in the league and make good money, guaranteed, with control over his future. If he has a bad season he may try his luck in another town without persuading the team to trade a draft pick or allocation money for his rights. Despite MLS’s vastly greater financial clout, such simple options are unavailable there.

If the MLS was insolvent, perhaps its players could take one for the team. But it’s not the late ’90s: Soccer United Marketing fills swimming pools with tens of millions in expansion fees from eager investors. Big name talents like David Villa are paid league-record sums while new signings earn the wages of a McDonald’s fry cook. Last year, Jermain Defoe earned $6.18 million, Michael Bradley $6.5 million, Clint Dempsey nearly $6.7 million. Kaka, a past-his-prime player for an expansion team, will bank over $7 million. David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco are expected to both exceed $7 million total compensation. It is flatly impossible for MLS to cry poor, though God knows they’re trying.

Let’s compare them to another league with some strong teams, a fair few weak ones, and too much expansion. The top-paid NHL player in the 2014-15 season is Shea Weber, with a nominal salary of $14 million per season (slightly over the current maximum of $13.8 million). The NHL minimum salary is $550,000. So while the highest-paid NHL players are approximately twice as well-paid as their MLS counterparts, the cheapest NHL player makes more than fifteen times the salary of an MLSer on his league minimum, $36,500.

Last year the mean MLS player salary was $226,454.26, though that includes the marquee designated players. Remove the fifteen players making over a million dollars and that drops to $131,524.39. The median salary, $90,000, shows even more clearly how the biggest earners skew the numbers. Decent enough money for all that, but it leaves 145 players league-wide making less than $50,000[5]. The NHL average salary, by comparison, is $2.58 million[6]: more than eleven times better than his MLS equivalent even by the most generous measurement.

So the players have a superb argument against the league. Fans, on the other hand, might just want soccer to come back. In practice, that means cheering for the owners, and every Facebook call of “come on lads sort it out” seems to amount to “give up the fight, you’re paid to play a game and we’re waiting”. Labour disputes bring out the most jaded and cynical, especially in North America where athletes make stratospheric amounts of cash and (at least in the NHL) are locked out every couple of years. Such apathy is common, but this time could not be more misplaced. The fans have almost as much to gain as the players do.

A few benefits would be visible on the field. True free agency would inevitably increase the quality of the league. Players frozen out of MLS, rights were owned by a team unwilling to deal, would be able to return. This won’t affect top talent but can only mean an improvement for the bulk of the roster. Moreover, any increase in the market power of ordinary players results in additional spending on said ordinary players. A world where depth fullbacks make $80,000 instead of $50,000 is a world where more, and better, players are in your price range. The salary cap would have to increase, or DPs would have to lose out: bad news for overpaid has-beens who get millions because they’re good marketing value. Good news for most of the men on the field, and the fans who watch them.

In the end, though, such concerns will appeal mostly to the die-hard and have an affect that’s real, but relatively minor. The pitch is not the main battleground. This CBA battle is, ultimately, a conflict between a restrictive, centralized MLS that infuriates and even attacks those who should be most important to it and a players union that, even if by accident, is fighting for long-awaited liberalization.

Look at how the negotiations have lined up. As is standard with the league, obfuscation and misinformation has flowed like a river of sewage. Despite record attendances, enormous expansion fees, and spending like Qatari oil sheiks on new players, MLS commissioner Don Garber insists the league is losing over $100 million annually[7]. It would, of course, be unthinkable to reduce the $56,272,755.51 MLS paid its fifteen best-paid players in 2014, even though that’s just slightly less than the total guaranteed compensation for every non-Designated Player in MLS. Owners like Hansen and MLS PR flacks insist that free agency is impossible with a single-entity structure, but there’s no logical reason why. Goff (that man again!) said that MLS actually offered free agency restricted to incredibly limited criteria[8]; under this proposal, the entire 2016 free agent class would be Houston’s Brad Davis[9]. Fun though it is to imagine TSN’s MLS Free Agent Frenzy special, with Jason deVos and Luke Wileman texting Davis every couple minutes for four hours, you can’t call that a serious offer.

Insisting free agency is legally impossible, then offering free agency but restricting it to one guy. Oh, turns out free agency is possible after all, the owners just don’t want it. Saying that the league loses nine figures every year despite banking a reported $170 million in expansion fees for New York City FC and Orlando City, and enormous player spending that suggests somebody’s got cash. The official league press not mentioning the union’s stories, just in case MLSSoccer.com readers start to do some thinking (these negotiations have put paid, forever, to anybody crying “MLSSoccer.com isn’t propaganda!”). Does this sound typical of MLS yet?

Of course a victory for the players’ union won’t change MLS’s soul, to the extent it has one. But true free agency — no discovery, no allocation claims, no lingering rights in re-entry drafts, nothing — would inevitably mean a more transparent league. Who owns that guy’s rights? See whose roster he’s on. If he’s not on one, nobody owns them. Little room for uncertainty or even fraud: many fans have noticed how MLS’s allocation rules seem to change every time a marquee player should join a particular team. Secret laws and numbers cooked up in New York City conference rooms and never, ever shared with the public in case they detect inconsistencies affect every single MLS transaction. Nothing the players can do will change all of that this year, but every time they push on the door they let a little more light in. Eventually, not tomorrow but in ten years, it will be open. Provided the players are victorious.

(notes and comments…)

A Prediction

By Benjamin Massey · February 25th, 2015 · No comments

After a trial with the New York Cosmos, Canadian central defender Nana Attakora has signed with the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. Congratulations to him. San Antonio is a good organization and a great opportunity, and Attakora will play under one of the league’s three Canadian coaches, Alen Marcina. With the Scorpions’ defense threadbare now that Greg Janicki has moved closer to home and Adrian Cann’s career seems over, I tip young Nana to start (probably alongside former Toronto FC teammate Julius James).

Attakora, as you probably know, is an active member of the Canadian men’s national team pool and has been a regular for head coach Benito Floro. He started both friendlies earlier this year against Iceland and was in camp, without playing, for a 2014 match against Panama. At the time Attakora was without a contract, having failed to stick at MLS DC United. 25 years old, Attakora already has nine caps should have many more years of professional soccer ahead of him.

I predict Attakora will not receive another cap while at San Antonio.

There will be many excuses not to call him. Even at his best Attakora comes in behind David Edgar, Andre Hainault, and Dejan Jakovic on the centre back depth chart; most will add Doneil Henry. Attakora is a depth player but one who has answered Canada’s call with enthusiasm and not looked out-of-place on the pitch. We have always been forced to use our depth more than countries with domestic leagues and kinder schedules, and with friendlies, the Gold Cup, youngsters hosting the Pan-American Games, and World Cup qualifiers, the national pool will be under pressure this year. We will certainly see players of less significance and experience than Attakora called in.

Maybe Attakora will visit a camp or two under similar circumstances to Frank Jonke, who attended one of Floro’s camps in January 2014 after signing but before playing with FC Edmonton. However, no NASL player has yet made a cap for Floro, despite Canadians like Edson Edward and John Smits performing well at positions of need. Unattached players may certainly play, as Attakora did. So may players from the amateur ranks. But NASLers? Not yet.

Is it so implausible that Attakora, who Floro thought useful when he had no club, will be looked down upon now that he has one? He’s no prospect and won’t force his way into our best eighteen. Perhaps prospects like Hanson Boakai have a chance, but NASL players could hardly ask less from Floro than he’s given.

I hope that I am wrong; I often am. Attakora’s arrival in the NASL may motivate our coaches to learn more about that difficult but useful league. Edwards, the useful depth right back Canada has wanted for five years, may finally get his chance. Mallan Roberts may yet be dissuaded from playing for Sierra Leone, who would already have cap-tied him if not for ebola and a coaching change. But I don’t think so. High up in the Canadian Soccer Association there is respect for the NASL, but it has not yet been inherited by the technical staff.

Why a Canadian Soccer League?

By Benjamin Massey · February 20th, 2015 · 3 comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

It’s an axiom that almost every Canadian men’s soccer fan’s fondest wish, after the senior national team making a World Cup, is that Canada join the civilized world and get a national soccer league. I say “almost” because for some people it is their very fondest.

The pro-Canadian league contingent is still the majority, if only in a “wouldn’t it be nice if…” sense. But opposition is growing. Some look at our three MLS clubs, two NASL clubs, and a USL Pro which will happily take Canadian clubs if we let them, and say “good enough.” Why would we want a Canadian league? A league that, even if it did prove sustainable, concedes our three biggest markets to MLS off the trot and could never be as good as the top American competition?

Of course nobody pretends a proper Canadian soccer league would be easy. Our history is littered with exciting national leagues that started up, ran out of money in half an hour, and was selling off the furniture before the leaves turned brown. The doubters use this to imply that, unlike the mighty Gambia or ultra-wealthy Honduras, we must rely on our more successful neighbour and take what we can get.

But American sports leagues, boasting big budgets and cities with a million people and nothing better than college football, go bust all the time. Sports are risky business, most teams lose money, and every twentieth-century success story began “we decided to burn millions of dollars.” Depending on how you count it took as many as four cracks at a serious national soccer league before MLS became established. Even the Canadian Soccer League, all seven tumultuous seasons of it, lasted twice as long as Donald Trump’s USFL and aeons longer than Vince McMahon’s XFL. A second USFL has spent six years trying to play a game.

If the Yanks said “we shouldn’t run the risk” think how much poorer our sports stations would be. But they don’t say that, because it is anathema to the American psyche to be second-class. The United States is next door to the biggest and best youth hockey leagues in the history of the world, each accepting American teams, and Uncle Sam still spends time, effort, and cash improving NCAA and the USHL because he is not content to be an appendix. They want to be the best damned hockey country they can.

It’s a treasonous sentence in this country, but: we could learn a lot from the Americans.

Patriotism is out of fashion in the smart, young, left-leaning set that goes to Canadian soccer games, but I don’t want Canada to be a second-class soccer citizen. I know that a Canadian league will no sooner surpass MLS globally than put a team on the Moon. But get a rabid American fan drunk and he’ll admit MLS isn’t passing the EPL in his lifetime. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want them to try.

Right now, when a Canadian MLS team makes money, it’s for the American who dominate Soccer United Marketing, under the aegis of the American executives at the top of MLS. They’re drafting American college players, developing the American soccer pyramid, and (let’s be frank) giving playing careers to more Americans than Canadians. The vast official league media is full of American stories, and the less competent reporters who take their cue from there talk them up. Landon Donovan’s retirement was big news: when Dwayne De Rosario goes it’ll be a ripple in a very big pond. Logically there’s nothing wrong with any of this, but nothing in sports fandom is about logic.

Meanwhile, from Victoria to St. John’s, many of Canada’s best cities have no shot at professional American soccer. These cities support junior hockey and sometimes Canadian football with great success but will never, ever, and I mean ever get into MLS. Their chance of seeing the NASL, while the league has to focus on its American markets by USSF regulation, is one in a million. And even if we let USL up here they’d face the same remorseless math. American leagues have to focus on the United States; that’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a fact of life.

So let’s aim higher. The Canadian Soccer League, remembered as a failure, still brought us players and teams that resonate to this day. Before the CSL, Domenic Mobilio was not on the soccer radar: today he is one of our most beloved, legendary players. The Vancouver 86ers, undefeated in 46 straight. The Winnipeg Fury, who kayoed those immortal 86ers in the 1992 final and brought us players like Geoff Aunger and Carlo Corazzin. I could go on, and it was all long before my time. Superstars on the world stage, teams remembered with the Arsenal invincibles? God no. But Canadian players on Canadian teams who left a legacy that still comes up whenever our fans gather.

By all means, let the Whitecaps and the Impact and the FCs remain in MLS if they wish. Let the idea of them joining our domestic league be as absurd as the Canucks playing in the WHL. The point is not to instantly create a league that can compete with the Americans: the point is to make Canada the best soccer country it can possibly be. A colony can never realize its full potential.

Oh No, Guys, New York City FC Isn’t Full of Home-Made Supporters Love

By Benjamin Massey · February 18th, 2015 · 2 comments

It's hard to illustrate this post. (Blue and White Army under a Creative Commons license)

It’s hard to illustrate this post. (Blue and White Army via Flickr under a Creative Commons license)

I love to rant about supporters getting screwed over by Major League Soccer but sometimes pity don’t come easy.

SB Nation’s New York City FC blog Hudson River Blue recently righteously skewered a particularly pernicious piece of front-office plasticity[1]. New York City FC sent an “online research study”[2] to its Lampard-less supporters soliciting an official nickname for the team’s “twelfth man”. The hackneyed phrase “twelfth man” alone is get-thee-to-a-nunnery stuff, used only by odious men in shiny suits holding up t-shirt designs and talking about “social media engagement”. Adding a bucket of uninspired corporate suggestions makes it all the goofier.

Sam Dunn of Hudson River Blue, like anybody liable to read this obscure Canadian soccer website, believes that these sorts of traditions should develop organically from the supporters rather than be proclaimed from on high by marketing gurus. From Timber Joey on down the best, most lasting traditions that resonate in the stands for the long-term always come from fans creating and embracing them. Sure, the club might get on board (witness the little rally rabbit on the back of FC Edmonton’s kit; a supporter-birthed nickname come to life) but it’s the genesis that determines what’s part of the club’s heritage and what’s cynical marketing trash.

This view is, undeniably, correct. And yet I laugh at the poor, insulted New York City FC supporters. Fake club shocks fans with its fakeness! Idiots outraged!

People who say “soccer culture always grows organically” are palpably full of it: New York City FC’s very supporters are proof. How do you “organically” develop a supporter’s frenzied passion for the farm team of a big European club that has never played a game and lives in a baseball stadium? Nor is anything “organic” about the thousands who never cared for USL-1 soccer in Toronto, Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver suddenly becoming frenzied supporters when the cities joined MLS like a switch had been flipped. The norm in Major League Soccer is big marketing, soccer teams named “FC” offering twee faux-British match experiences sanitized and turned into a theme park for the hip North American crowd. Some clubs are better, some are worse, but all participate. This plastic bullshit is the game you’ve chosen.

And if you signed on with New York City FC, a team conceived as an expansion of existing sports brands, hatched as a marketing concept, and raised with fake players to sell season tickets, you have even less of an excuse. What did you think was going to happen, the offspring of the soulless New York Yankees, cash-for-titles Manchester City, and Soccer United Marketing would bring a small, supporter-focused local club to the intimate confines of New Yankee Stadium? No you didn’t, because you’re not demented. You must have known what you were getting into and if you didn’t you had no excuse.

So my sympathy turns into giggling, my criticising NYCFC is drowned out by the tones of the world’s smallest violin. Of all MLS’s problems, New York City fans getting exactly what they were promised is way down there.

(notes and comments…)

Whitecaps Rape, Pillage Vikes; Campus Protests Offensive Headline

By Benjamin Massey · February 16th, 2015 · No comments

I didn't take any photos of the match so here's some classic UVic literature. (Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!)

I didn’t take any photos of the match so here’s some classic UVic literature. (Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!)

When the Vancouver Whitecaps left the University of Victoria yesterday afternoon, it was with a bachelor’s in the inhumanities. Final score 6-0 to the Whitecaps over UVic, with Canadians (Teibert, Bustos, and Froese) accounting for three. It took three minutes for Pedro Morales to score the afternoon’s first goal from the Student Union Building parking lot and from then on it was easy. The Whitecaps lads had more trouble getting into the buffet on the ferry home, while Victoria was reduced to stumbling around like extras in Saving Private Ryan. I think Cam Stokes carried his own arm off the field.

With the Highlanders gone that was the highlight of the Victoria soccer season. Poor, poor fuckers.

The goat of the hour was UVic goalkeeper Noah Pawlowski. Not only did he suffer Whitecaps supporters heckling him about his haircut and his GPA, but two of the goals he conceded were certifiable stink-a-roos and two others didn’t smell much better. When you put your team down 1-0 early by forgetting the accuracy of a set piece specialist from La Liga, you frankly earn a bit of abuse.

However (as I was reminded on Twitter), Pawlowski played well against Vancouver last year and was brutalized by his defending. Russell Teibert made me a happy man by scoring against my alma mater but it couldn’t have been much easier: a header from the UVic midfielder straight down to his feet at point-blank range, even I would have buried it. Marco “PLEASE DON’T PLAY FOR CHILE” Bustos is becoming something of a wondergoal guru and his UVic effort was one of the best yet, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Sam Prette’s windmill impression. And the sixth goal was a sheer failure of effort: Caleb Clarke had nobody within five yards of him when he made the cross, and while Kianz Froese was being marked you could hardly tell.

I’ve been to all six of these games since 2009. Every year Vancouver looked better, as you’d expect from professionals against amateurs, but that was the first time I’ve felt UVic didn’t belong on the same field as the Whitecaps.

What does that mean? Probably nothing, let’s be honest. UVic was behind so far so early they obviously lost heart. Cam Hundal, who keeps playing well in these bloody games, generated opportunities and would have had an assist if forward Michael Baart hadn’t been too tired or dispirited to reach his cross. It’s a bit surprising this is the first time in the MLS era the Vikes have really been waxed: UVic generally loses but makes Vancouver work for it, as in last year’s game decided by a last-minute goal in miserable conditions. Back in the bad old days of Lilleyball the Whitecaps managed a 4-0 win in 2006 on a Sita-Taty Matondo brace, and that was a team that famously only attacked when supported by heavy artillery.

Moreover, for the most part it wasn’t the big names who were dominant. Morales and Rivero both scored but needed goalkeeper mistakes to do so, and the stars of the day were known quantities like Teibert, Bustos, and Waston. In short: draw grand conclusions, about the strength of MLS or the quality of the Whitecaps, at your own risk.

Which individuals showed well? If you missed the highlights, the Whitecaps have a package of more-or-less just the goals (then again, there were six of them).

You will see Bustos good in those highlights. Besides his terrific goal he launched several incisive passes and influenced the offense more than Morales. He also threw one of his patented Canadian hip-checks, though this time referee Alain Ruch called him on it (PLEASE DON’T PLAY FOR CHILE). Carl Robinson ran out eight of his possible starting eleven, with Tornaghi, Adekugbe, and Bustos in place of Ousted, Harvey, and Manneh. The keeper change didn’t signify and Adekugbe blew hot and cold, but Bustos made a hell of an argument for himself.

Kendall Waston was, as the stereotype goes, a beast. Hundal will be feeling one of his almost Bryan Marchment-like tackles for a while. As for the new lad beside him, Diego Rodriguez, he was never extraordinary and Pawlowski should have done better on his goal, but nor did he blunder. Victoria had more offense than a 6-0 scoreline might imply and under the circumstances the Whitecaps defenders can’t be blamed for switching off a little.

Many Vikes chances came after Carl Robinson’s 63rd-minute line change; it was weird seeing Tim Parker at centre back and Jackson Farmer at right back, and the results did not impress. The other Residency lad, midfielder Mitch Piraux, didn’t get many opportunities to make an impact and was maybe too unobtrusive. Ethen Sampson, who must be approaching “playing for his career” level, had a rough time: worrying, given that his predecessor Greg Klazura was the Dani Alves of the UVic friendly. Trialist Robbie Earnshaw nearly made the highlight reel with a bicycle kick, generated other offense, checked back defensively, and revved his motor to the max the whole afternoon: afterwards he was especially prominent in applauding Vancouver’s supporters and seemed to try everything to get into the fans’ good graces.

There was nothing too negative to say and the positives come with a grain of salt. It was a 6-0 win, with Canadians standing out. There isn’t much to do besides hope it’s the first of many.

Those Sainey Nyassi Statistics, in Full

By Benjamin Massey · February 10th, 2015 · 1 comment

New England Revolution

New England Revolution

Today FC Edmonton announced the signing of Gambian Sainey Nyassi[1]. Nyassi, 26, is a hella-fast diminutive winger who fizzled out in MLS but enjoyed a successful comeback in 2014 with Finnish club RoPS. Nyassi counts as a domestic player in the NASL and will compete with Michael Nonni and loanee Oskar Orn Hauksson for minutes out right.

Nyassi’s performance in MLS was sometimes exciting, oftentimes disappointing. He bounced between “integral starter” and “low-impact substitute” enough to get a concussion. Up until 2011 he was part of the Gambian national team pool, but a couple disappointing MLS seasons put paid to that. At first he was the better of the Nyassi twins, but while Sanna’s established himself Sainey’s injuries caused him to wander the wilderness after 2010. Having rediscovered his scoring boots in Finland, and started two games in the 2014-15 Europa League against Greek side Asteras, Nyassi returns to North America as a question mark.

The last winger with MLS experience the Eddies signed out of Finland was Mike Banner. That did not go brilliantly. Banner’s 2014 season, and maybe his career, was ruined by injury. But Nyassi hasn’t been a healthy bunny either. He missed the end of the 2011 MLS season and most of 2012 with a series of lower body problems, losing his spot in the New England eighteen. He bobbed up and down with DC United in 2013 but was still sporadically hurt and unremarkable when healthy. Nyassi has spent the past nine seasons on artificial turf in Foxborough, Washington, and Finland, and Edmonton’s new surface will hopefully be more forgiving than the infamous carpet in New England and DC, but the Eddies have had their share of leg problems. This is, perhaps, not a match made in heaven.

For Nyassi, whose calling card is speed, it wouldn’t take much of an injury crisis for this banner signing to turn into a Banner-like mistake. Yet you don’t get risk-free players in the NASL and at least Nyassi has produced in the past, while bringing that Horace James-like athletic punch that helped turn the Eddies’ fortunes around last fall. Ex-MLS signings always draw attention in the NASL, but FC Edmonton’s balanced midfield hopefully means Nyassi won’t be relied upon too heavily.

In the approved manner, here are Nyassi’s statistics from his professional career so far in North America and Europe. Regular season only[2]:

GP Strt MIN G A PKG SD SoG SoG% S% Yl Rd G/90 SD/90 SoG/90
2004-05 Gambia Ports Authority Gam-1
statistics not available
2005-06 Gambia Ports Authority Gam-1
statistics not available
2006-07 Gambia Ports Authority Gam-1
statistics not available
2007 New England MLS 1 0 8 0 0 0 0 0 nan nan 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000
2008 New England MLS 25 18 1661 2 1 0 28 13 46.43% 15.38% 7 0 0.108 1.517 0.704
2009 New England MLS 28 22 1940 2 1 0 28 14 50.00% 14.29% 1 0 0.046 1.299 0.649
2010 New England MLS 28 27 2297 3 2 0 39 11 28.21% 27.27% 3 0 0.118 1.528 0.431
2011 New England MLS 21 8 959 1 0 0 21 10 47.62% 10.00% 1 0 0.094 1.971 0.938
2012 New England MLS 1 0 11 0 0 0 0 0 nan nan 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000
2013 New England MLS 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 nan nan 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000
2013 DC United MLS 14 7 676 0 0 0 10 1 10.00% 0.00% 1 0 0.000 1.331 0.133
2014 RoPS Fin-1 19 17 1437 4 2 0 3 0 0.251

As you can see, despite his flash Nyassi has never been a classical attacker. While his shooting percentages have been consistently low this seems to be a family trait: his brother Sanna does exactly the same thing, speedsters hazarding many more low-percentage shots than classical strikers. Sainey’s best season, 2010, saw him tied for fourth on the Revolution in goals, second in shots directed, fifth in shots on target, and tied for fifth in assists. Small wonder that, between injuries and the emergence of more well-rounded attackers in New England, Nyassi struggled for playing time late in his MLS career. Yet there was still some value there, and his trademark direct speed provides a dimension that the Eddies previously lacked.

According to Wikipedia, a young Nyassi got his start with the Gambia Ports Authority team in the country’s first division, based in the capital of Banjul. Statistics are hard to come by, but he clearly did well enough to catch the eye at least domestically.

In a sense, by signing in Edmonton Nyassi returns to where his career started. He got his big break at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, making a surprising round-of-16 appearance. New England Revolution boss Steve Nicol scouted Gambia and Nyassi caught Nicol’s eye, even as they lost 2-1 to Austria at Commonwealth Stadium. Nyassi and teammate Kenny Mansally signed with New England shortly after the tournament, and though bureaucracy delayed their debuts both would remain part of the Revolution family for several seasons[3].

Nyassi began his MLS career in earnest in 2008. The season got off on the right foot: Nyassi’s first goal for the Revolution was MLS Goal of the Week for Week 1, a seemingly-straightforward run down the right-hand side in the third minute of stoppage time that simply outpaced the Houston Dynamo defenders until Nyassi plastered a shot from fifteen yards over Pat Onstad[4]. The 2008 Revolution were a good team and young Nyassi was one reason why. Had it not been for his eight minutes in 2007 Nyassi would certainly have gotten rookie of the year buzz (though it’s hard to imagine him beating eventual winner Sean Franklin). It wasn’t all good news: their playoff experience was short, an attempt to defend the US Open Cup ended in the semi-finals, and Nyassi and the Revolution got waxed 6-1 by Trinidad and Tobago’s Joe Public in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round. Still, admirable work from a 19-year-old winger. Nyassi was established as one to watch.

The first hiccup came in 2009, when Nyassi failed to make much progress. Another Goal of the Week in Week 3, as Nyassi made FC Dallas’s George John look stupid at range and stroked an 18-yard left-footer home[5] but defenders were giving his speed more respect. He bagged two goals and an assist that year (again), and even managed roughly the same number of shots. The Revolution finished third in the Eastern Conference (again) and fell to Chicago in the first round of the playoffs (again). 2010, which ought to have been when a 21-year-old Nyassi made the leap, was only a half-step forward: his best attacking season to date but the Revolution were on the decline. The question was whether Nyassi was a limited talent who could only stand out on bad teams, or whether his ascent was being held back by the cast of has-beens and never-weres that filled out Steve Nicol’s lineup card. It is a question that, frankly, has still not been convincingly answered.

2011 was where it all went wrong. Nyassi was in and out of the starting lineup, starting three of the first four games but only five more the rest of the year. He recorded neither a goal nor an assist until June 26 in Seattle, his only point of the campaign. Nyassi’s already-troubled season ended August 13 when he strained his right MCL[6] and subsequently his right hamstring, an injury that would recur. When the season ended Nyassi’s long-time fan, coach Steve Nicol, left the struggling Revolution and was replaced by former Revolution defender Jay Heaps. Heaps, it turned out, had little faith in his ex-teammate.

Nyassi had supposedly healed by the 2012 preseason, scoring in a friendly against FC Tucson, but against Boston College he re-injured the hamstring and was sidelined for four months[7]. Even when Nyassi recovered Heaps kept him out of the Revolution lineup. He made what turned out to be his last appearance in a New England shirt on July 18 in Montreal (where he faced Sanna), playing eleven nondescript minutes off the bench. The Revolution were returning to competitiveness, led by young guns like Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe, and Nyassi was hardly going to get into the lineup at their expense. But there was still a fair share of thorough-going scrubs who Nyassi could well have beaten. Didn’t happen. A right adductor strain cost Nyassi what little chance he had of breaking back in, and though he was on the Revolution bench to end the season he didn’t see a minute.

Finally healthy at the beginning of 2013, Sainey rarely even made New England’s bench. Loyal to the last, the Revolution faithful ran a “#FreeNyassi” Twitter hashtag to show their support and in the end he was freed, though not in the manner they wanted: waived on May 16[8]. The lamentable DC United soon snapped him up, and with the Revolution rebounding Nyassi was back in the MLS basement. He made fourteen appearances, with seven starts, on that sorry squad and recorded few statistics of note. Though he participated in DC United’s US Open Cup-winning run, more injuries kept him out of the final rounds and several league games. Nyassi actually recorded a decent number of shots and threatened some offense on a team with few attacking options, but all in all his 2013 campaign was another disappointment.

It was no surprise that Nyassi was among those let go when the chainsaw went through DC’s deadwood at the end of 2013. As he tried to move clubs for the second time in a year naturally Nyassi was hurt; this time with a broken nose[9]. He did not resurface until June, when he went on trial with Finnish first division club RoPS (thanks, ironically, to their injury crisis)[10]. Nyassi made his Finnish debut June 8 at FC Honka and immediately became a regular. June 27, at Frank Jonke’s former club FF Jaro, Nyassi scored his first goal in two years, bumping home an opportunistic header off a failed clearance from a long throw[11]. He went on to score three more goals that year, the best being his last: in the season finale Nyassi capped a goal-and-two-assist performance against domestic powerhouse HJK Helsinki by chasing down a seemingly hopeless long ball, exploiting a mistake by Finnish international Valtteri Moren, and sweeping home a sly left-footer[12]. Nyassi’s four goals and two assists in a bit more than half a season was a fine mark, third on the team. But his hopes of an improved contract were dashed, as RoPS elected to let Nyassi move on[13].

Though naturally a right-sided player, in Finland Nyassi played quite a bit of left wing and looked dangerous. He’s got a bit of touch with both feet and can shoot with power, though his sometimes-dodgy runs and positioning don’t make this as decisive an advantage as I’d like. He’s also been a decent but not brilliant crosser from either side, though he won’t eat Lance Laing’s lunch there. Defensively he’s better than you probably think but that doesn’t mean “good”. And for such a little player he’s fair with his head. Two of his goals for RoPS were headers; both came from dodgy defending but you do get that in the NASL. Given Edmonton’s strength out left with Lance Laing, Hanson Boakai, Tomas Granitto, and the versatile Oskar Orn Hauksson, the smart money says Nyassi will go back to the right wing. He’s even been spotted at fullback, though it’s hard to imagine him returning there.

Given Nyassi’s modest contribution in recent seasons and his nasty injury bug I’m not sold on this signing. Certainly, I hope Nyassi wasn’t too expensive and his is by no means the first position I’d be looking to fill. That said, even a versatile, quick impact sub would fill a need for the Eddies, so keep our expectations modest and we may be pleased.

(notes and comments…)