Returning to Pain Like Moths to a Flame

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

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

The Voyageurs Cup is the worst tournament in the world. Every year I and thousands like me end it with spears through our hearts, mouths agape like male salmon, eyes shot red with gin and hate, staring up at the ceiling wondering where it’s all gone wrong and knowing that each fœtid whiff of miasma from our decomposing soul is our own responsibility, for being stupid enough to get caught up in this game.

For thirteen years this competition has been an unrelieved parade of misery. First you are dumped straight into a tunnel full of sewage. You climb, headlong, through the filth, grasping vainly towards the light, and when you finally flop out, reeking of damnation, you discover that light was the portal to Hell and the next eternity will be a perfect specimen of agony, suitable for the Canadian soccer fan who has endured everything the mortal world can throw at him. There is no joy, no respite, and any alleged bright spot is merely an apertif to make the torture go down less smoothly.

Take last night’s semi-final between FC Edmonton and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The superior Whitecaps played a solid B+ team and took the early lead on a (deserved) penalty. But Edmonton raged, raged. Chances were missed. Hanson Boakai squared off against Russell Teibert in the battle of Canadian soccer saviours. Frank Jonke, the über-goat, a man booed by his own supporters, came on in the last minutes and made himself a hero, hip-checking Darren Mattocks into the North Saskatchewan and drawing a penalty from Kendall Waston. Tomi Ameobi buried the spot kick and became the all-time leading scorer in Canadian Championship history, thrilling maybe the best crowd FC Edmonton had ever drawn to Clarke Field. Heroism! Glory! Extra time! Bonus soccer in a tie that completely deserved it! What could be finer?

Then, in the seventh minute of stoppage time, Matt Van Oekel, who has already cost FC Edmonton multiple games with his howlers, who had given away a penalty in the first ten minutes, conceded a goal five-hole to Matias Laba, a man who had scored once in six years of professional soccer. Hello darkness my old friend…

Whitecaps fans are happy. The better team won, though it was close. Both teams flopped all over the pitch and wasted time when it was to their advantage so there is no moral high ground. The refereeing was fair; Vancouver supporters were outraged at the seven minutes of stoppage time given in the second leg until it went in their favour, and while the decisive free kick was a dodgy call against Eddie Edward, it wasn’t as bad as all that and the real responsibility falls on the Eddies for conceding when they needn’t have.

You might think that Vancouver’s faithful will, therefore, be happy about the Voyageurs Cup, disproving my thesis that it is non-stop anguish, like watching a child die every single year for a decade and a half. Not so. In August the Vancouver Whitecaps will play the Montreal Impact in the final. The Impact are the Voyageurs Cup equivalent of that bad guy who just won’t die no matter how many times you frantically pump shotgun rounds into the spasming ruin that was once his body. There is nothing that is beyond them in this tournament. By August the Whitecaps will be the acme of MLS fixture congestion and the Impact will be eliminated from the playoff race: I predict that the Whitecaps will dominate Montreal to a greater degree than they did Edmonton, and lose, because welcome to the Voyageurs Cup sunshine.

Of course these endless nightmares made flesh do not reach Montreal or even Toronto. Kurt Larson was quite right to scoff at the Canadian Championship in the Sun a couple weeks ago, because he is a Torontonian so cannot understand its true purpose. For most of us it’s not about qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, or crowning a professional champion of Canada. It’s about us fans being kicked incredibly hard in sensitive areas, until we’re curled up and coughing blood and limping back to the pubs and stadiums next year for another thrashing, another chance to discover how low we can go, what fresh glaze of despair the soccer gods will put on the dry, crumbling cake that is Canadian soccer.

This year, for example, FC Edmonton fans will be thinking “if we put in this effort, and got this calibre of refereeing, we would have gone to the final in 2013 or 2014. Even this year, if we hadn’t inexplicably used some Chesapeake cretin as our starting goalkeeper and ran out Toronto’s John Smits instead, it at least would have gone to penalties. Instead Colin Miller made the worst possible choice and ran smack into the worst possible opposition, right when the stars seemed finally to have aligned.” That’s a very fæcal cupcake for a second division supporter to swallow, his team ignored by the national media for another twelve months and the thousands of part-time fans who showed up at that game thinking “fun, but the Eddies lost again!” Not much hope of positives from that valiant defeat, unless you count Van Oekel grabbing his false passport and fleeing to Argentina.

Readers of this site will be experts in torturing themselves. A surprising proportion supports the Edmonton Oilers, possibly the most consistently disappointing collection of athletes in world history. Most cheer on the Canadian men’s national team, whose last triumph came in the year 2000. Many are fans of Toronto FC, whose incompetence need not be described. Yet these teams are just terrible. Except for rare nadirs that remain in a fan like Thor’s hammer gouged out a piece of his heart, Toronto and Canada and the Oilers just lose, a lot, to everybody. There’s nothing like the feeling of someone punching you in the stomach, tearing out your heart, and openly relishing the sound of your screams as he squeezes the life out of you, every single damned year. That’s the Voyageurs Cup. Oh God, why will we all be back for 2016?

But we have one-goal leads to keep, / And miles to go before we sleep.

By Benjamin Massey · May 14th, 2015 · No comments

Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps via FC Edmonton

Once again, FC Edmonton has stunned an MLS club. We should be used to this by now.

Oh, not because they’re some elite NASL side capable of hanging with anybody. Edmonton just visited the league’s best team, the New York Cosmos, and got killed. Hanging around the bottom of the table is where they belong. But yesterday the Whitecaps trotted out the bench guys, scrubs, players who could do with some match practice. This was a blunder. Ritchie Jones harried Gershon Koffie into making the careless mistake typical of players who haven’t seen a midfielder sprinting at them with murder in his eyes for a while. Tomi Ameobi converted, since he always does. It was no fluke, for the Eddies spent the next twenty minutes giving the Whitecaps an R-rated beating. They could have been 2-0 up before goalkeeper Matt VanOekel had even touched the ball. How people still believe an MLS press box is automatically superior to NASL starters, I honestly have no idea.

After that twenty minutes of dominance Edmonton sat back, absorbed pressure, pounded clearances into False Creek, tried to score on the counter. Some Whitecaps fans flatter themselves that this was a response to their superior skill. But welcome to Colin Miller route-one soccer: Mallan Roberts or Kareem Moses or whomever slamming his foot through the ball and regrouping for the next attack, the enemy coming in waves like a Japanese division on the Solomon Islands, and somehow hardly conceding any shots from within eighteen yards. He does the same thing against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and it works, more-or-less. MLS fans haven’t yet compared Edmonton to Marc dos Santos’s Ottawa Fury, who play the ball out of the back, and attack down the flanks, and show individual skill, and lose.

Were I a dime-a-word shitposter for The Daily Beast I’d whine about negative tactics but that game was terrific fun. Say what you like about Erik Hurtado, preferably peppered with obscenities and anatomical impossibilities, but he does make a game interesting, running past guys and blazing shots wide of the mark like a sniper with Parkinson’s; between him and Johann Smith both teams had players who were caricatures of lower-division mediocrity. It is only a matter of time before Hurtado realizes his destiny playing wide right for the Carolina Railhawks. Sam Adekugbe looked good before his worrying injury, and in relief Jordan Harvey looked very good, which is hard for me to say. Tim Parker may already be the best MLS ginger since Richard Eckersley and he stunned Lance Laing, no slowpoke himself, with a second-half turn of pace and a lovely shoulder-check to force a goal kick. I like Tim Parker. NCAA Americans forever. But it wasn’t good enough. The Eddies had been run ragged by travel and the soccer gods, Daryl Fordyce looked bagged in the first half, several others were almost falling down in the second, and Vancouver couldn’t take the win.

The Whitecaps will never get a better opportunity against Edmonton than the one they just squandered. They are maybe the best team in Major League Soccer and even their weakened lineup held a thousand advantages. Home field, an energetic crowd, and an Eddies squad that had never gotten so much as a point off the Whitecaps in any match, friendly or Cup. Vancouver had just destroyed the Philadelphia Union, at home. The Eddies had just been destroyed by the Cosmos, away, then flown across the continent in economy class to bounce their ragged-ass knees off a chewed-up artificial surface that’s weeks away from replacement. Edmonton is a horrible road team. They were humiliated by the expansion Jacksonville Armada, should have lost to the Carolina Railhawks, beat the Ottawa Fury by the direct intervention of the soccer gods after being hopelessly outchanced, and that Cosmos match was nowhere near as close as a 4-2 scoreline made it look. Their defense, already the weakest part of the team, was missing its best player in skipper Albert Watson. How in God’s name did Edmonton not only hold on for a draw but earn it?

Colin Miller’s an old-school manager, higher on aerobics than ability, and people hate that. But another team would have folded in those conditions and today he looks very clever. So does VanOekel, the much-criticized goalkeeper who made easy saves look difficult but still had a good game. Johann Smith is the worst soccer player of all time, but with Watson and rookie fullback Allan Zebie both injured Miller didn’t have many options. Maybe a piece of wood with a frowny face drawn on it, and even that could have been an upgrade, for Smith was culpable not only on the goal against but many of Vancouver’s best looks.

Now, the Eddies have a home match against the San Antonio Scorpions, who are not very good. Watson will probably be ready to play for Edmonton Wednesday, which means no Smith. Miller might well rest a few of his troops against the Scorpions and they’re so mediocre he might get away with it. Players like Sadi Jalali, Hanson Boakai, and Tomas Granitto could use some minutes, allowing Tomi Ameobi, Lance Laing, and Cristian Raudales to kick back on the bench, sip mai-tais, and rest up. Vancouver’s best players must deal with a Cascadia Cup derby against Seattle filled with blood, sweat, and tears. They also have to look forward to a trip to Colorado, neither talented nor a rival but apparently still more important than the Voyageurs Cup. I can’t imagine Edmonton holding onto a 0-0 draw and making that away goal count, but if their best players are at their best next week they can outscore the half-strength Whitecaps.

Even now, even having watched their bench guys failing to overwhelm a depleted team that spent an hour looking like it might throw up, Whitecaps fans by and large want their club to focus on the league and send the second-stringers, maybe augmented by a Russell Teibert or two, to Clarke Stadium. It is hard to imagine Carl Robinson disagreeing. On the radio he says the Voyageurs Cup is important, but then he treats it like a practice for the U-12 West False Creek “B” Final. I don’t get the impression he’ll be really bothered if the Whitecaps lose: with the CONCACAF Champions League and a playoff push he’ll have enough games to play. The fact is that Whitecaps fans will judge Robinson on whether he wins in MLS, but Eddies fans will give Miller big points just for getting to the Voyageurs Cup final. That will explain a lot.

Lucky Results and Lucky Lineups for FC Edmonton

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

Trident Photography/FC Edmonton

Trident Photography/FC Edmonton

Okay, Ottawa Fury friends, let’s level with each other. That refereeing was a sin. Verily it is written that Drew Fischer giveth and Drew Fischer taketh away. Certainly one of those two first-half incidents on Wednesday should have been a penalty; neither was clear-cut but if you deny a team a 50-50 call you should probably give them the next one. Unfortunately I suspect that Fischer, who ruined last year’s Voyageurs Cup by handing the Montreal Impact an undeserved victory, was thinking too hard about his screwup and overcompensated in the Eddies’ favour, which is why you shouldn’t put lesser referees in that position. Your coach chilling in the press box giving Steven Sandor and Gareth Hampshire pronunciation tips didn’t help, not that Marc dos Santos has ever been much of a winner in this tournament.

The NASL scheduling gods had already screwed you, the Eddies enjoying a pleasant weekend at the spa or whatever the heck they do on off days while you got clawed in the eyes by Fort Lauderdale. Moreover, the Fury punished Edmonton for about 70 minutes of the first leg and weren’t far inferior in the second; a neutral commentator would say you guys deserved better than a record-tying 6-2 aggregate loss.

So by all means, Fury faithful, feel free to be angry and leave hateful, profanity-flecked comments. Make a huge banner showing Drew Fischer with a white stick and a bewildered impression. Write a half-drunken 1,000-word blog post saying the Canadian Soccer Association wanted the Eddies to go through because they love oil.

In exchange, grant me that the result, if not the score, was basically just. Edmonton won two penalties this series, deserved both, and missed one. The score in the second leg would have been far more one-sided but for Romuald Peiser, who went full 2009 Jay Nolly in a losing cause. Matt Van Oekel, on the other hand, was relatively unchallenged (though he had no chance when he was beaten). While Ottawa maybe got more chances than Edmonton, when Edmonton had a chance it was full-bore odd-man-rush-from-45-yards-out five-alarm stuff. In the second half, needing four goals for victory, the Fury barely gave themselves a prayer of one. The Eddies defense is not strong, we saw it again, but compared to Ottawa oh boy. The better team won, it did, it just did.

As a result the Eddies now face the Vancouver Whitecaps, again. When Edmonton and Vancouver play it feels like incest. The Whitecaps have loaned a whack of guys to Edmonton in the past, Colin Miller is a former Whitecaps assistant coach, up until this year the two pretty much always had a preseason match, and there are a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings between the two organizations when you consider that the Whitecaps hate Canada grr grr hate hate hate. Many of die-hard Whitecaps supporters consider the Eddies are their second-favourite team and while that isn’t always reciprocated there’s not a trace of hostility anywhere. There are even some bigamous, immoral, square-headed fans who sort of cheer for both teams and can only decide which to support by which league hates Canada least at the moment.

Now, I do not believe in the fake Canadian soccer pyramid. One club being in a titular first division and another club being in a titular second, in leagues with no promotion or relegation, has no inherent meaning. Because Canada’s MLS sides have larger player budgets than their NASL teams they will tend to be better but it’s far from law. MLS Toronto FC was the worst professional team in Canada between 2007 and 2009. Since 2011 MLS clubs have been ascendant in the Voyageurs Cup, but against an FC Edmonton that has never been top half in the NASL and has consistently been victimized by disastrous refereeing. Major League Soccer is not a meritocracy, and players who are good enough for MLS can and do find themselves in the NASL or USL for reasons unrelated to ability or attitude. Most of the gap in quality between MLS and the NASL comes in the handful of designated players but these are often pure marketing signings or, especially in Cup play, uninterested underachievers. I mention this not to start an argument, but so you understand my perspective when I pronounce the following sentence:

If the Whitecaps play their first eleven, FC Edmonton is going to have a big problem.

Don’t kid yourself. FC Edmonton is still not a contender in the NASL. Their early performances have flirted around the lower-mid-table, maybe lower. They got destroyed by a Jacksonville Armada team playing its first ever game. They deserved to lose at home to the incredibly mediocre Carolina Railhawks and drew. They pulled off a great comeback for a home win over Fort Lauderdale, but that was their only really nice performance of the season and even then the Strikers outchanced them. The offense is taking their opportunities but not generating enough, the defense misses Neil Hlavaty in midfield more than I think anyone expected. Their goals have come to a disconcerting degree through quick breaks and counter-attacks that often dry up when teams expect them. Edmonton’s not going to embarrass themselves or anything but nor are they going to be good.

The Vancouver Whitecaps, on the other hand, might be honestly solid for the first time since 2008. They’re the Supporters Shield leader, which doesn’t mean much when everyone has games-in-hand on them, but look at some of those results. 2-0 at home to Los Angeles, 1-0 away to Salt Lake, two opponents who have traditionally given Vancouver fits fairly ruthlessly dispatched. Carl Robinson’s crew has stumbled in front of some mediocre teams like Toronto and DC (yes, DC is still mediocre, I’m not buying their shit for a second) but this is MLS, that’s gonna happen. Even that home loss to DC was a good one, Vancouver dominating offensively, doubling up DC’s shots total despite spending 48 minutes with ten men, and falling only due to bad luck and a classic Gantarizing. No, I don’t think the Whitecaps are going to become the first Canadian team to win a Supporters Shield. But they have to be odds-on to host a playoff game.

Albert Watson’s a good defender, but he’s physical, and he grabs guys, and he tries to tackle from behind, and Octavio Rivero is strong and quick enough to deal with that while you know referees will be looking for a reason to call a penalty. They’ve also had trouble with speed, which the Whitecaps possess in Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh. In midfield, Vancouver has the advantage both man-for-man and as a unit. The sole edge Edmonton enjoys is that if they turn a couple quick counters, Pa Modou Kah and Kendall Waston are fairly cement-footed central defenders. Kah is also cement-headed, and while Waston has serious quality asking him to babysit both the size of Tomi Ameobi and the skill of Daryl Fordyce every time Matt Van Oekel pounds a sixty-yard dropkick up to Sainey Nyassi is asking too much. Even David Ousted has more match-stealing potential than any goalkeeper in this tournament. If we see the Whitecaps’ best, Edmonton needs a miracle.

But will we see the Whitecaps’ best? In last year’s Cup Carl Robinson trotted out a B- lineup of beardless youths and Nigel-Reo-Coker-as-a-right-back which still took Toronto FC’s billion-dollar studs to spot kicks. Vancouver’s in an important stretch of games, including two Cascadia Cup derbies, and unless Robinson’s rethought his attitude to the Voyageurs Cup we will probably see the kids again. The Whitecaps might well start more Canadians than Edmonton for the first time ever, which is strange given their undeniable, seething hatred of Canada. Some of those kids are very good, but their presence may still alter the balance of the tie. I like Marco “Please Don’t Play For Chile” Bustos as much as anybody, and Ritchie Jones will need to be on his game to keep Bustos contained, but it’s not quite the same thing as facing primo Pedro Morales. Can Caleb Clarke poach some goals? Absolutely. Is Ben McKendry tough and intelligent in central midfield. No doubt. The problem is that they lack experience and, in many cases, cohesion.

Even if Vancouver plays its reservists, Edmonton won’t have it too easy. The Eddies’ have the worse schedule: while the Whitecaps spend most of May in the Pacific time zone, Edmonton has the Whitecaps home game, then a tough road trip to New York, then straight to Vancouver. The Whitecaps’ young players will be highly motivated. Remember, they outplayed most of Toronto FC’s top lineup across two legs last year, not because they were more skilled but because TFC didn’t meet expectations and the Aldersons, Froeses, and Adekugbes of the Whitecaps were going for the throat. The 2014 Whitecaps benefited from departed professionals in the Carlyle Mitchell and Johnny Leveron mold, but on the other hand the surviving kids have another year’s experience and there’s no Nigel Reo-Coker at right back either.

The Whitecaps have the better chances in this tie. If FC Edmonton wants to win then they’d better hope that Carl Robinson trots out the youngsters again, and they better maintain their killer instinct and intensity for 180 minutes. There can be none of the five-minute switch-offs which the Eddies have loved, particularly early in games. None of the airheaded mistakes that have cost them goals. The defending must be as stifling as in 2014 while the attack must be even more dangerous than it’s been this year. A lot has to go right. It can happen, but the 2015 Whitecaps are not the 2014 Impact.

Complete List of Goalscorers in Voyageurs Cup History

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

Steven Sandor has a Sporcle quiz asking you to guess each of the scorers in the history of the Canadian Championship. Go have a crack; I got a disappointing 30 out of 66.

I mention this because it covers only the 2008-and-later Canadian Championship. The Voyageurs Cup, which dates back to 2002, is still waiting for a census of all its goalscorers. It’s the question nobody was asking. So, for all us trivia nerds, here is the complete list of players to score in the history of the Voyageurs Cup.

This information is accurate as of May 21, 2015.

Note: “clubs” refer only to teams on which the player played a Voyageurs Cup game, and may not be exhaustive.

Abbreviation Club Name Years Active Leading Scorer
Aviators Edmonton Aviators/Edmonton FC 2004 Fraser (3)
CGY Calgary Storm/Mustangs 2002-2004 Smith (3)
FCE FC Edmonton 2011-present Ameobi (5)
Lynx Toronto Lynx 2002-2006 Gerba (8)
MTL Montreal Impact 2002-present Zé Roberto (10)
OTT Ottawa Fury 2014-present Dantas, Minatel, Wiedeman (1)
TFC Toronto FC 2008-present De Rosario (4)
VAN Vancouver Whitecaps 2002-present Camilo, Heald (4)

As of this writing 129 people have scored in the Voyageurs Cup. The names of those 128 come after the jump.

(more…)

Those CanWNT Roster Announcement Thoughts, in Full

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

Ville Vuorinen/Canadian Soccer Association

Ville Vuorinen/Canadian Soccer Association

How great is it that Canada’s largest sports station just featured a roster announcement? We’re used to our national teams being all-but-ignored but TSN, not Sportsnet, holds the Women’s World Cup rights and they’ve been laying on the coverage. Jason deVos and Luke Wileman flew out to Vancouver and stood in the rain to tell us twenty-three names, twenty of which you would have guessed this time last year, that will represent Canada at this summer’s Women’s World Cup. A decent crowd turned out in the middle of a rainy working day to applaud our conquering heroines; since 2014 if not sooner the people Vancouver have enjoyed a powerful connection with their women’s team, and days like this show it off.

There are two names that will draw major comment. The first is Diana Matheson, not only trying to come back in a hurry from a left ACL tear but also, according to deVos, a broken bone in her right foot. Matheson is one of Canada’s three best players when at all healthy so fans will be staying up nights hoping she’ll be ready by June. (Remember that she was coming off a serious knee injury heading into the 2012 Olympics and only won us a bronze medal.) However, as Canadian supremo John Herdman pointed out on TSN, he can make changes to the roster up to 24 hours before the opening kickoff against China. If Matheson is even faintly fit she’s an automatic selection, and if she isn’t she can be replaced pretty much up to the last minute. In this context of course she was selected, and seeing her limp down the stone steps of Robson Square without crutches or a walking boot is hopeful.

The inclusion of Selenia Iacchelli is the obvious surprise. Sura Yekka, Rachel Quon, and Janine Beckie are all staying home, and a midfielder with four caps who turns 28 the day before the tournament starts is coming. Iacchelli had a spell in the Canadian youth setup but after that fell off the face of the earth, playing part-time in the USL W-League and ping-ponging around Europe, until her return to the program in 2013. She’s had the injury bug bad and actually failed her physical with the NWSL’s Western New York Flash last spring, and while appearing on Canadian rosters she hasn’t actually played in 2015. I have seen Iacchelli play something like twenty minutes in my life; they were okay, but that isn’t much of a sample. Frankly, I doubt anybody outside the coaching or scouting communities knows much more about Iacchelli on the field, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Who loses by Iacchelli’s inclusion? Yekka is a bright young player but you hardly use a home Women’s World Cup as a development opportunity, and with Lauren Sesselmann getting healthy there wasn’t much room for her. Quon got headlines coming from the United States but has hardly seen action and wasn’t seriously expected to get a roster spot. Beckie was probably the best of the bunch: a young forward who was a regular off the bench at the Cyprus Cup, had a good U-20 Women’s World Cup, has scored for the senior team against South Korea, and is still eligible to play for the United States (she spent some time in the American program and, unlike her brother Drew, was both born and raised in Colorado). Canada has a surfeit of decent forwards: from the size and experience of Melissa Tancredi to the younger, quicker Jonelle Filigno. But Sinclair aside there are no stars, and Beckie’s technical quality seems to mark her out in a corps that’s long on all sorts of athleticism, but short on foot skills.

If it was my team I’d have taken Beckie and left Iacchelli. But then I’m not at training or in the locker room. John Herdman had made a catchphrase out of calling his players, including Iacchelli, “outstanding Canadians” (though that would leave Sesselmann out), and she certainly has a good reputation as a personality and a hard worker. The way she’s busted her ass to get back into the national team picture after half a decade in the wilderness, alone, speaks volumes about her character. Iacchelli playing a home World Cup is not only a great story but a suggestion that she has some of those “intangibles” everybody loves to talk about, and since any Canadian success will have to come through being a familiar unit of friends with loads of team spirit, rather than sheer skill, perhaps she can be justified.

The emergence of Allysha Chapman falls into a similar category. At the beginning of last year she was absolutely nowhere, grinding it out in Sweden on a just-promoted team nobody had ever heard of, then John Herdman called her up and “oh, she’s pretty good.” Undersized, aggressive, quick, and seemingly impossible to intimidate, Chapman’s made some mistakes as she adjusts to the pace of international soccer (particularly in Edmonton against Japan) but so obviously deserves to be on this team that nobody even commented when her name came up. She has started Canada’s last six matches, scored against Italy, and will be starting again. Iacchelli is the feel-good story, the stereotypical twenty-third woman who never lost hope and overcame all the odds. Chapman also slipped through the cracks, but has become such an important tool for John Herdman that we forget how quickly it happened.

Also interesting is Ashley Lawrence, one of three players (with Kadeisha Buchanan and Jessie Fleming) from last summer’s U-20 Women’s World Cup roster. Lawrence had a good, lively U-20 tournament, but wasn’t exactly outstanding. So, like Chapman, what’s remarkable about her being on this team is that it’s no longer remarkable. She’s played herself into a more prominent role every month: garbage time in a couple friendlies last fall, a few starts here and there, good minutes in the Cyprus Cup, culminating in the most recent match against France where she lined up against one of the world’s four best teams and didn’t look bad. She’s another good example of somebody who’s played her way into this tournament, and while I don’t expect her to get major minutes she’s got a bit of impact sub-style flair.

Finally, a word on Jessie Fleming. There was never any doubt she’d make this team. She was not only a fine player at the U-17 and U-20 levels but has looked promising on the senior team and was one of Canada’s stars at BC Place against world number ones Germany last year. She broke her international duck at the Cyprus Cup, has six starts in 2015, and only turned 17 years old a couple weeks ago. Most of the rosters aren’t out yet but Fleming will likely be the youngest player at the Women’s World Cup; she was one of the ten youngest at the U-20 World Cup and none of those younger are in any danger of participating this year. She’ll probably get minutes too, particularly if Matheson is ruled out. The hype is starting to build; Fleming has already been singled out for media coverage, and in an environment where relatively few pundits regularly watch the women’s national team there’s a risk of “the next Sinclair”/”soccer’s Connor McDavid” or other such inappropriate labels being applied. Be cautious. Fleming’s looked good against top teams, but had a bit of a rough time against France. She’s still very young and could definitely go either way. Personally I am very high on her, but it’s a long, long way from “prospect” to “Women’s World Cup”.

That said, a 17-year-old Kara Lang made her FIFA Women’s World Cup debut for Canada in 2003, scored twice, and helped Canada to a fourth-place finish. It was a different era, and Lang was a different player, but teenagers can still make a difference in the Women’s World Cup. How about Australia’s Caitlin Foord, who in 2011 put in a terrific tournament for an underpowered Matildas squad at only 16 years old? Or Norway’s Emilie Haavi, who had just turned 19 when she scored against Equatorial Guinea that same year?

Back in December I said Canada ought to finish fourth this summer. I see no reason to change that prediction now. The midfield, anchored by Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, and hopefully Matheson, lacks any individual world-beaters but is a strong unit. The defense will grow stronger as Sesselmann gets fit (she struggled against France but fair enough, that was her return to action), the keepers are no problem. The forwards are the question mark, but we’ve started to see a little more from Christine Sinclair. She’s already scored five goals this year in eight matches; not quite London 2012 form, and generally against B-grade opposition, but an improvement. Last year there were a lot of times when she was creating chances but not putting them away, and while she turns 32 during the tournament and ain’t what she was the tank’s not empty. If Adriana Leon (who scored against Mexico in the Cyprus Cup) and Melissa Tancredi (who did everything but score against Italy) can punish defenders physically, and the midfield led by Schmidt can do its share, Sinclair could be still be a valuable part of an all-round attack. This is not what we are used to from Sinclair, who was once the best one-woman offensive show in world soccer, but given Canada’s easy bracket it might be enough.

Voyageurs Cup: An Easy Lead to Lose

By Benjamin Massey · April 23rd, 2015 · No comments

Steve Kingsman/Ottawa Fury

Steve Kingsman/Ottawa Fury

Yesterday’s Voyageurs Cup opener was not one for the purists. Sloppy soccer. FC Edmonton had absorbed a Sunday battering coming back from the dead against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Ottawa was better rested (second home game on the trot, extra day off), but it’s early in the season and their Minnesota game Saturday had been no picnic. A few players (hello, Julian de Guzman) still looked to be playing their way into shape.

God, but it was fun, wasn’t it? An hour of near-total Fury dominance which should brighten the day for the few fans who ignored a must-win NHL playoff game to come to Lansdowne Field. The second-quickest goal in Voyageurs Cup history by young forward/strangulation specialist Oliver* and very nearly a couple more. FC Edmonton actually saw a dodgy call at a Voyageurs Cup game in their favour, when referee Geoff Gamble gave a spot kick for a tough hand ball on Ottawa right back Ryan Richter; Richter clearly had the ball hit his hand but was trying to protect his face. All’s well that ends well: Lance Laing struck the penalty hard and sideways but at a perfect height for the goalkeeper, and Romuald Peiser made a fine save.

The missed penalty, though, marked the point where it turned from a one-sided battering into a real soccer game. From there on out the Eddies attacked hard and owned most of the good chances. They tied it up through Daryl Fordyce’s third Voyageurs Cup goal against the Fury, took the lead when Laing read Rafael Alves like a children’s comic and stripped the ball with almost casual ease, and made it a 3-1 win late in stoppage time when the Fury defense had already succumbed to despair and Laing hooked up with Tomi Ameobi. The Ottawa Fury commentators seemed bewildered that Laing hadn’t started but this was by far his best effort of the season: maybe Ottawa had been lulled to sleep by the general uselessness of Johann Smith, but this was the first 2015 performance worthy of Laing’s highlight reel. The final score was very harsh on the Fury thanks to the Eddies’ gutsy, magisterial comeback: rumours that Laurie Hawn snuck a rally rabbit into Lansdowne Park at half were not confirmed by press time.

So FC Edmonton heads home up 3-1 on aggregate. They have not lost a home game since July 27, 2014 (nine matches) and have not lost at home by two goals since May 3. They have an unfair scheduling advantage: Edmonton has this weekend off while Ottawa hosts Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. Ottawa’s actually a fairly good road team, and got three two-goal wins away from home in 2014, but this season has seen a very disappointing, referee-influenced loss away to Carolina and a draw in Atlanta where an unremarkable offense carved them open more than once. The Eddies, a decent defensive side on paper, have a schwack of away goals to cling onto like the last potato in Latvia. In short, everyone will call Edmonton the favourite next Wednesday for good reason.

Naturally I am less confident. Coming into yesterday’s game I’d never anticipated a Voyageurs Cup less: last year’s criminal refereeing, and the consequent Montreal Impact fellatio for a CONCACAF Champions League run they never earned, has made me jaded, cynical, and bitter. 90 minutes of classic Canadian soccer has helped cure me, and the old nerves are back. The thing about the Voyageurs Cup is that its gods are capricious, and absolutely anything can happen at any time.

You no doubt spotted me calling the Eddies defense decent “on paper”. Albert Watson is an implacable stalwart and former NASL Best XI, Mallan Roberts makes inexperienced mistakes but also does a lot right, versatile Eddie Edward is underrated outside Ottawa and Edmonton, and even the much-maligned Kareem Moses has apparently taken classes in poise and alertness this winter. However, there have been a lot of blunders from that crew so far in 2015. The Rabbits were humiliated in Jacksonville thanks in no small part to Johann Smith at left back, making the most horrifying debut since chlorine gas. But they easily could have allowed more than one goal to Carolina, and Fort Lauderdale passed the ball through Edmonton with effortless ease at time last Sunday. According to the official statistics Edmonton has allowed 16, 12, 16, and 15 shots directed against in their four matches this year. Those are big numbers. They have been outshot every game.

In goal, Matt Van Oekel has been a human question mark, and even if Colin Miller wants to switch to John Smits he can’t since last year’s number one is on loan at Montreal. Moreover, the Eddies have already allowed two first-minute goals this season and very nearly allowed a third. If Ottawa pegs the aggregate score to 3-2 early, watch for the small crowd at Clarke Field to grow awfully nervous.

On Wednesday, the Fury easily could have scored a field goal. Wiedeman had a couple good looks. Oliver could have added one or two to his tally. Even Julian de Guzman had too much space and nearly scored from distance. Paulo Jr. was highly erratic but in midfield could be big trouble. Now that Neil Hlavaty’s gone Edmonton doesn’t really have that pain-in-the-ass defensive midfielder; Ritchie Jones isn’t really that guy and anyway that night he was either tired or dogging it. Ottawa was the best team, by a long way, for a long time, until it all fell apart and Edmonton showed superior character and cohesiveness. It’s great for fans, and even better for their heart surgeons, but guts, glory, and going for it gung-ho are no long-term replacement for preventing shots and getting more chances than the other guys.

After the game Edmonton head coach Colin Miller said all the right things about acting like it’s 0-0 and taking the second leg seriously. Good, but easier said than done. As much as you can with a heavy margin coming home against mediocre opposition, the Eddies look vulnerable.


* — The quickest goal in Voyageurs Cup history was on May 20, 2009, when the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Marcus Haber scored 33 seconds in against Marc dos Santos’s Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo. The Canadian Soccer Association press release says Oliver scored 65 seconds in but I think this is a typo: the correct time was 56 seconds. According to the best available information Haber and Oliver are the only first-minute scorers since the Voyageurs Cup began in 2002.

Hurrah for Toronto!

By Benjamin Massey · April 1st, 2015 · No comments

If you believe Gerry Dobson, and you should, Canada’s men’s national team will play its first home World Cup qualifying match of this cycle at Toronto’s BMO Field Tuesday, June 16 against Dominica.

Some pundits, steeped in cynicism, will say this is another work of uncreative Torontocentricism by the Canadian Soccer Association. That Toronto gets far more games than is their due and giving them yet another home World Cup qualifying match, their seventh on the trot, is one more reason why the Canadian men’s national team’s grip will remain so weak outside southern Ontario.

In fact, despite the history, hosting this game in Toronto is brilliant.

First, if we look at the present rather than the past, this scheduling is perfectly fair. All Canada will enjoy a plethora of marquee international soccer games this summer. The Women’s World Cup final is being held in Vancouver, Canada will play two games in Edmonton and one in Montreal, Winnipeg is sold out for the Americans, even little Moncton will see more first-rate internationals in June than in the rest of the decade. The biggest Canadian city being left out of this nationwide party? Toronto, whose councilors preferred to focus their resources on the Pan-American Games. (And even the soccer for that is being played in Hamilton.)

Sure, Toronto will host Canada’s first ever home Gold Cup match in July. But a Gold Cup group stage game doesn’t register on the same level as a World Cup. Every two years some of Canada’s marquee players give the Gold Cup a miss; it just isn’t a priority. I suspect, however, that few women will skip the World Cup to concentrate on their club careers. The Gold Cup and the Women’s World Cup, in terms of media exposure, in terms of the expected attendance, and in terms of international profile, do not belong on the same level.

Putting the World Cup qualifier in Toronto gives Canada’s largest city a chance so many other cities will have in 2015: to cheer on their country in a critical, possibly do-or-die, game. (And one Canada is likely to win.) Who could begrudge Toronto that?

Second, many of Canada’s other venues would be unavailable for the men anyway. Commonwealth Stadium, BC Place, the Big O, Winnipeg, Ottawa, even Stade Moncton, all monopolized by the simultaneous Women’s World Cup. Regina is still building their new stadium. Even secondary venues in these cities, such as Stade Saputo and Clarke Stadium, are FIFA-reserved “training grounds” and barred to Benito Floro’s interlopers. That leaves few options. Calgary, I suppose. And Cowtown is long overdue for a visit.

But here we see the clever final bonus for playing this game in this city on this date. The men, according to Dobson, play on Tuesday, June 16. The women have their final WWC group stage match on Monday, June 15, in Montreal. An expensive flight to Calgary, but a cheap bus ride to Toronto.

Canada’s most passionate traveling supporters will be concentrated in one small part of the country. Dinner in Montreal, breakfast in Toronto, two of Canada’s biggest games a six-hour drive from each other. It could not be better. No major soccer stadium is both available and nearer to Montreal than BMO Field. We should be guaranteed two nights of first-rate, pro-Canadian atmosphere in the games where it’s most needed.

So three cheers for the CSA, and three cheers for Toronto. I’m looking forward to it already.

Fine, Buy That Scarf (With Reflections)

By Benjamin Massey · March 30th, 2015 · No comments

There’d be no need for this article at all if I hadn’t tossed off a Saturday morning quickie using the Whitecaps scarf scandal to promote southwestern British Columbia’s cup finals weekend. Funny ol’ world. A few hours after that post went up the Whitecaps announced they’d donate the proceeds from their controversial “Kings of Cascadia” scarf to the Vancouver Street Soccer charity[2]. A sensible compromise in time to save the Portland Timbers game (which the Whitecaps won), everyone was happy, good job.

However, I wish to raise three matters today.

First, how in God’s name were people calling this controversy “#ScarfGate”? I realize the “-gate” suffix has achieved a post-ironic cachet where it’s used simply because it annoys so many of us, but didn’t “scarf scandal” in that first paragraph look ten times better? If you must hashtag it in nine characters go with “#ScarfScam”. Bear that in mind if it ever becomes relevant again. Why didn’t I write this when it could have done some good? Because I’m shit, that’s why.

Second, consider a précis of what happened. The Cascadia Council – the group of Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver supporters who protect the Cascadia Cup after the 2013 trademark dispute – has a legal agreement with MLS wherein, if the Council fails to object to a proposed use of the trademark by MLS within a certain period of time, permission is automatically granted. Because the Cascadia Council e-mail listserv/spam filter/POP3 daemon/Christ knows what stopped working, the Whitecaps supporter representatives never heard about a proposal they would certainly have objected to and therefore, while the Whitecaps were (and are) legally clear to sell this scarf, many supporters were outraged.

We still haven’t heard the full story (what sort of e-mail breakdown? Are we sure… no, are we sure… that the e-mail didn’t go through but nobody read it?) And as I said on Saturday, this version of events leaves a neutral observer with a lot of sympathy for the Whitecaps. I’m not at all a neutral observer and I still calmed down a hell of a lot when I heard what “technicality” the Whitecaps had used to produce this scarf. It wasn’t a technicality; legally they did their duty and were absolutely in the right. The moral question is an open one and, honestly, there’s room for reasonable people to disagree.

That said, the Whitecaps knew very well that the trademark of the Cascadia Cup was the single most sensitive issue among their most passionate, influential supporters. They further knew this sensitivity was shared by the Timbers Army, who might well show solidarity over any exploitation. The Whitecaps front office is in constant communication with their supporters, and these channels (official and unofficial) were not used. If it was me, and I were genuinely interested in a respectful, cooperative relationship with my supporters, the supporters who make my entire marketing campaign possible, and I knew that I was about to try and profit off the one thing in the world they were most concerned about me profiting off of, I would have been very careful. I would have at least asked a representative “so, what do you guys think of the Cascadia scarf?” during one of our cold pizza meetings. To do otherwise would have been to risk the perception that I was sneaking it through, trying to crack the dam so the tide of commercialism could come rushing in. If I wanted my supporters onside and happy, this would have been absolutely the last perception I’d want to risk.

When the scarf dropped, the Vancouver Southsiders suggested a compromise similar to the one eventually adopted: the scarf would be sold but the proceeds would go to charity. This was not adopted until the supporters took the matter public, made their stand, and put pressure on the club hours before one of their marquee fixtures. This pressure produced the desired result. In short, the Whitecaps, having wounded their supporter relations for something like the billionth time, appeared content to let that wound fester until said supporters turned the wheel. The eventual outcome was highly creditable to all parties involved, maintaining both the supporters’ and the front office’s rights while boosting a charitable organization long supported by club and fans, but the way that outcome arrived was somewhat unsatisfactory.

Third, we should appreciate how close the near-revolt came to being a fiasco, for reasons entirely the supporters’ own. The averted sanction was almost preposterously mild. The Southsiders would not buy that scarf, encourage others to do the same, and sit down in silence for the first fifteen minutes of the Portland game. For the final seventy-five they’d be free to go nuts, as usual. I was worried this would be too soft and thank God I was wrong, but it was so short, so moderate, and so obviously aimed at the suits rather than the players that at least there was no room for anyone to object.

Naturally, many people objected. Among the most dedicated and hard-working supporters, support for this idea was not quite unanimous but probably as close as you’ll get in such a diverse group. Some dissenters made serious, cogent arguments against a protest on this particular issue, arguments that deserve respect. But among the less committed members of supporters sections, there was actual anger.

Let me quote from a popular post on the Vancouver Southsiders Facebook page. I promise I’m not cherrypicking: this post attracted huge comment and was “liked” as many times as the Southsiders’ founding president’s appeal in favour of action. All grammar and word choice as in the original:

I’m kind of embarrassed to be a Southsider at the moment. All I hear and read is how to protest a, albeit poor, business decision. Are you actually suggesting a silent protest?!?
I respect the Southsiders business practices and property. It has NOTHING to do with the players. Don’t buy the scarf, don’t buy beer, don’t buy food, don’t buy merchandise. All great protests. But, not cheering?!? Not making the atmosphere in our home stadium, in our first Cascadia match, ELECTRIC?!?
How preposterous!!!
Are we more worried about our relationship with the FO or how we look and act in the players eyes.
We will garner more respect with more proactive and respectful protests.

This was far from the only expression of this sentiment, right down to being “embarrassed” in a group standing up for its rights. Many said, while the issue was still in the balance, that they would break the sit-down strike on the same flimsy grounds: “it’s nothing to do with the players!”. Some were unaware even of how the Southsiders voted for their board members, but regardless felt their opinions on this subject were strong and informed. Had the Whitecaps called the supporters’ bet, we can’t be sure if their solidarity would have held. It would have been shattering if it hadn’t, a demonstration that we all roll over in the end.

It’s inexaggerably obvious this issue was nothing to do with the players. Likewise, when those same players came within an ace of going on strike a few weeks ago, it was obviously nothing to do with the fans. In both cases, an aggrieved party tried to get justice from a massive corporation by putting pressure on them in the strongest possible way. Only a dim-witted infant could have been confused by that, and in fact if you held your breath in the social media shitstorm for long enough you would have heard such infants saying “just get a deal done m8 ur business shouldnt hurt teh soccr”, as if there was no principle at stake whatsoever.

Anything which might impair these cretins’ ability to shout “BOOM!” on goal kicks for ninety minutes is “business” and therefore unacceptable. Questions of justice, of supporters’ culture, of being exploited are utterly irrelevant. Taking a meaningful stand is inherently a bad move because it shows disrespect for the players. The “players”, in this universe, are uninformed and incurious morons who live in cardboard boxes and take everything that ever happens as a personal affront. They hear silence around the cenotaph on November 11 and think “what did I do?” They are unaware that their supporters are humans and bewildered by the idea that they might have interests or desires. If the supporters section took fifteen minutes off, these mythical players would think “how dare they!” and not “hmm, I wonder what is going on.”

Such belief is a transparent facade for “hey, I’m just here for the party, don’t try to harsh my buzz.” We’re seeing this sort of thing around Major League Soccer. Even the most passionate and pressed-upon supporters groups are capable of only limited action, because as outraged and dedicated as their most important members may be there’s a mass of complacent selfishness behind them restricting their options. This has led to continuing encroachment on supporter privileges in many cities. Any “don’t buy merchandise or beer if you don’t like it” so-called sanction is unenforceable even by public pressure, ineffective, and ultimately still gives MLS what it wants.

Silencing the atmosphere at a major derby match is a public statement which reaches ears otherwise unengaged in club-supporter politics, and would-be scabs face the spotlight as they stand and shout while surrounded by seated silence. This is precisely what those “think of the players!” opponents dislike about it. But it is also, as we have just seen, a good way to get results.

I’m not promoting myself as a paragon of supporters’ culture here, and would be swiftly shot to ribbons if I did. We’re all ultimately dumb, selfish creatures who stand up and shout abuse at strangers because we like it. Making that good time bad to prove a point is a sacrifice, and not one that should be treated lightly. Standing up to a front office that’s exploiting you may, in fact, be the only valid time for a supporter to stop supporting. However, for such gestures to have any value they must be made in solidarity. Excuses to invalidate any serious protest show a selfishness that has no place in the collective culture of a soccer supporters group. If you’re that sort of self-absorbed fan then, by all means, attend all the soccer games you like, but don’t pretend you’re part of something larger than yourself.

(notes and comments…)

#DontBuyThatScarf. Support These Guys Instead

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

I’ll have more to say about the Vancouver Whitecaps profiting off a Cascadia Cup-branded scarf without the consent of the supporters who own the Cup at a later date. The issue is not totally black and white, the Whitecaps are legally in the clear and may have thought, at first, there was no problem. But after the Whitecaps’ majority owners, Major League Soccer, tried to steal the Cascadia Cup in 2013 tensions have run high. You’d think they’d be more careful and more open, not less, and want to avoid any hint of exploiting their supporters. This has not been the case.

This post is a public service to those who agree that this profit-grubbing inconsideration by the front office is unacceptable, but want to get out and support their local club in a big cup match this weekend. I am here to bring good news. It is finals weekend in British Columbia’s three ancient regional cups, and whereever you are on Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland, first-class soccer without MLS chicanery is close at hand.

Vancouver Island’s Sir John Jackson Cup is celebrating its centenary year. The even older metro Vancouver Imperial Cup and the Fraser Valley’s Pakenham Cup, maybe the oldest trophy still awarded for soccer in Canada, will all be handed out on Sunday.

So you want to get out and cheer on your local lads, without being ruthlessly squeezed by money-grubbers who view supporters only as ATMs and marketing material? Here’s where to do it.

Pakenham Cup: Abbotsford United vs. Aldergrove United, Port Moody Town Centre Turf, Port Moody, BC, Saturday March 28 at 5 PM. The Pakenham Cup was first awarded in 1909 to Coquitlam and, apart from a break for the First World War and nineteen years when the trophy was lost (no, really), has been awarded ever since. Both these teams were semifinalists last year, and while Abbotsford ran a strong second in the FVSL Premier this season Aldergrove was mid-table and will be looking for some Cup magic. Aldergrove will be helped by Tyler Pedersen, the FVSL’s second-leading scorer this season but Abbotsford boasts three league all-stars on their back line, including former Fraser Valley Mariners and Whitecaps U-23 fullback Colton O’Neill. Not to mention Mark Village, another former Mariner and freshly-signed Whitecaps Reserve player, in goal; if he’s traveling with the Whitecaps Reserves then Aldergrove will be all the more optimistic about their chances. It’s a big day of soccer including youth and masters trophies, so well-worth seeing. For those outside the Fraser Valley, the match will be live-streamed. No, really.

Sir John Jackson Cup: Cowichan FC vs. Saanich Fusion, Royal Athletic Park, Victoria, BC, Sunday March 29 at 2:15 PM. As mentioned, this is the hundredth anniversary of the Jackson Cup and is sure to be a big show. Cowichan FC, headlined by former Victoria Highlanders skipper Tyler Hughes, is looking to prevent Saanich from defending their 2013-14 title. Admission $5, free for children. Show up early at noon for the George Smith U21 Cup final between two more Highlanders relics, the Mid-Isle Highlanders out of Ladysmith and the Highlanders U21 team. The Victoria Highlanders will join the PCSL this summer under new ownership, but only as a senior men’s side: this is the last gasp of what was once Vancouver Island’s most comprehensive youth setup.

Imperial Cup: West Van FC vs. EDC FC Burnaby, Trillium Park East, Sunday March 29 at 2:30 PM. VMSL powerhouses West Van might have an easy ride against a Burnaby team which finished only .500 in the VMSL Premier this year. But other teams have said that and Burnaby’s disposed of them all. West Van has some big names in local soccer, including Edmonton Aviators and Toronto Lynx veteran Desmond Tachie. But watch for Burnaby goalkeeper Hugo Vasquez, who’s drawn great reviews during the underdogs’ cup run behind a defense anchored by one-time Vancouver Whitecaps central defender Narcisse Tchoumi.

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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