Wes Knight Retires, Aged 28

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

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

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

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

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

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

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Where’s the BC Semi-Pro League?

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

Devon Rowcliffe/Groundhopping Canada

Devon Rowcliffe/Groundhopping Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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The Other Side of the Cereal Box

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

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

csjfifacover

Nearly Legitimate Writing!

By Benjamin Massey · July 15th, 2015 · No comments

Be sure to pick up a copy of the latest (Summer 2015) issue of Plastic Pitch magazine. In addition to a plethora of other great content, yours truly contributes with a look back at the centenary Jackson Cup final in Victoria this past spring.

I re-read the article for the first time in months this morning and it’s amazing how far up my own ass my head gets when I’m writing for something other than the Maple Leaf Forever! these-guys-know-how-full-of-shit-I-am audience. But even if you think I’m crap, buy it anyway. Each online-only issue is only $5 Canadian and supports one of the few sources for long-form Canadian soccer writing out there.

Get Plastic Pitch through Shopify, Apple, or Google Play.

Presented Without Comment

By Benjamin Massey · July 15th, 2015 · No comments

Attendances at Canadian national team home games in the past two years, by city.

Attendance at NT Home Games, Past 2 Years
Date City Team Comp Attendance
7/14/2015 Toronto MNT GC 16674
7/12/2015 Hamilton U23MNT Pan-Am
7/11/2015 Hamilton WNT Pan-Am
6/27/2015 Vancouver WNT WWC 54027
6/21/2015 Vancouver WNT WWC 53855
6/16/2015 Toronto MNT WCQ 9749
6/15/2015 Montreal WNT WWC 45420
6/11/2015 Edmonton WNT WWC 35544
6/6/2015 Edmonton WNT WWC 53058
5/29/2015 Hamilton WNT Friendly 23197
10/28/2014 Vancouver WNT Friendly 14328
10/25/2014 Edmonton WNT Friendly 9654
9/9/2014 Toronto MNT Friendly 12162
8/16/2014 Edmonton U20WNT U20WWC 22421
8/12/2014 Montreal U20WNT U20WWC 13031
8/8/2014 Toronto U20WNT U20WWC 16503
8/5/2014 Toronto U20WNT U20WWC 14834
6/18/2014 Vancouver WNT Friendly 15618
5/8/2014 Winnipeg WNT Friendly 28255
11/24/2013 Vancouver WNT Friendly 21217
10/30/2013 Edmonton WNT Friendly 12746

Note: I have no source for attendance on the Pan-Am Games. If you can fill in the blanks, please send me a tweet, a comment, or an e-mail.

Attendance Per City, Past 2 Years
Total Per Game Competitive Friendlies
Edmonton 133423 26685 37008 11200
Hamilton 23197 23197 N/A 23197
Montreal 58451 29226 29226 nan
Toronto 69922 13984 14440 12162
Vancouver 159045 31809 53941 17054
Winnipeg 28255 28255 nan 28255

Note: Missing Hamilton games excluded from calculations; if all figures were available, their average would be lower.

Scatterbrained Canada 2015 Thoughts

By Roke · July 8th, 2015 · No comments

So that was a World Cup, held in Canada no less. I guess these are some late (especially with the Gold Cup having kicked off) and scattered thoughts.

It certainly did not end the way I had hoped with the Americans winning and more than once during the final I thought, “at least that isn’t Canada getting blitzed.” Carli Lloyd’s performance made it a good spectacle though, topping it off with that wonderful goal from halfway. The Americans were worthy winners, turning things up when the knockout stages came about. Most of the followers of the US Women’s National Team I follow didn’t think Jill Ellis had it in her to make the player and tactical changes necessary to get the Americans to play well but she did, and they did. Kadeisha Buchanan picking up the Young Player Award at the end made it all the more worthwhile

Canada played pretty well, if nothing else this team makes it easy to be incredibly proud when cheering for them. It would have been nice for them to reach the semi-finals but losing in a very even match of a single-game knockout can hardly be disappointing. That sort of thing happens all the time in sport. At least the quarterfinal featured another wonderful Christine Sinclair performance, there cannot be many more of those left. Ashley Lawrence’s marauding play in midfield and Kadeisha Buchanan’s stellar play at the back were particular highlights. With Jessie Fleming continuing to show promise the future is reasonably bright, in some areas.

The attack was the most underwhelming part of the Canadian performance. The setup and talk was all about a fluid front three but it seemed to me to lack structure and had difficulty carving out chances short of moments of individual brilliance. Herdman not having much in the way of attacking options may have compounded that. I thought the team also struggled more than most teams playing out from the back and they never seemed to having the passing options the other teams had but I am not observant enough to figure out why that is (or whether I am in fact completely wrong). While there were some poor individual performances in matches, the thought that quickly followed was often, “Jesus, I didn’t realize player –x- was in already in their 30s.” With the peak performance age in soccer being in the 23-28 range it is not very surprising for players on the wrong side of that to not be at their best.

The tournament in general was wonderful. Goal-line technology kept working (I still hold out hope that we’ll have offside technology one day to free up the assistant referees to help spot fouls . The expanded field was rarely exposed, the officiating was largely solid, and there was a nice variety of playing styles. China’s nearly successful bus parking against Canada contrasted nicely with France’s flowing attacking play. There were magnificent team goals, brilliant strikes, and as heartbreaking (and spectacular) an own goal as you will ever see.) It had pretty much everything that makes soccer great.

Shockingly the artificial surfaces did not lead to MASH units having to set up tents pitch side, nor cause cricket scores, nor make headed goals impossible, nor lead to soccer matches spontaneously combusting into Canadian football games. The one tangible thing to come about was that sports reporters and media know that infrared thermometers are on sale (congratulations on catching up to home cooking). You would think that any surface temperature issue would be obvious with artificial surfaces used throughout North America for soccer and football but in the buildup to the tournament the only mention I saw was in a few of Duane Rollins’ tweets.

To be honest I am still not sure of the effects of artificial surfaces have on how soccer is played. The surfaces seem to merely be a Rorschach test for any number of grievances. On social media I saw turf blamed for the ball rolling too quickly on the surface and too slowly, the ball bouncing away from players on long passes and the ball held up by the surface when it bounces. With my eyes I still cannot pick out the differences between the turf and grass. I may well be terrible at watching soccer the lack of tangible evidence or consensus on turf effects make it seem like complaints are nothing more than appeals to tradition or some naturalistic fallacy.

If there was one thing that bothered me throughout the tournament it was the completely patronizing, “there’s no diving, antics, of faking in women’s soccer” that seemed pervasive throughout the tournament. I can only assume these people do not watch women’s or men’s soccer because they sure as hell did not watch the London Olympics if we are talking about antics. For one, the diving and playacting were not up to CONCACAF levels but CONCACAF men’s antics are in a league of their own. This tournament did not seem any different from your average English or European fixture. For another I am not sure why a dive is worse than any other foul and it is certainly not as bad as harming your opponent with say, dangerous tackles (of which there seems to be much less moralizing). Yes, I would like to see more yellow cards handed out for diving but I would like to see more handed out for iffy tackles and tactical fouling.

At the end of the day, the World Cup was a tournament and I quite enjoyed. If hosting FIFA events did not mean supporting and dealing with FIFA I would like for it to happen again sometime.

A Canadian Premier [Women’s] Soccer League

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

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

For some time the Canadian Soccer Association has semi-openly been trying to start a national soccer league, in cooperation with the Canadian Football League. So far it’s only amounted to rumour and ambition, but Duane Rollins reports that an announcement is virtually imminent[1]. Dark histories and hard-won cynicism keep fans from daring to hope, but if you’re not excited by the prospect you have no soul.

A domestic Canadian league will face monumental obstacles that may be overcome by the right investors. CFL support means access to stadiums and potential media coverage with CTV/TSN, who did a masterful job at the Women’s World Cup. It also (currently) means operators with a bit of cash and experience rather than fly-by-night confidence men. But there are a lot of problems left.

For casual fans, Canada’s three largest cities are monopolized by Major League Soccer, who may not welcome and will certainly not join a Canadian league set up in response to their inadequacies. Edmonton and Ottawa’s NASL teams would not necessarily take part either. As of the beginning of June neither the Ottawa Fury nor FC Edmonton had even been invited to discussions[2], and with Eddies owner Tom Fath invested heavily in the NASL the only reason for him to jump would be patriotic fervour. These two leagues, both playing at a higher level in the medium-term, would compete for fan interest with any Canadian league. Without huge investment or cunning marketing the new organization would be branded super-minor-league by non-fans, below even the American second division. These are risks worth running, for a national Canadian league is an absolute necessity, yet they are risks all the same.

There is, however, a way to ensure that the Canadian national league would not merely be the top league in the country but one of the top leagues in the world. It would fill a niche left open by MLS and NASL, and possibly encourage those leagues to see the newcomer as a partner rather than a competitor. It would not jeopardize the Voyageurs Cup, nor our CONCACAF Champions League success, nor anything else that the five existing professional teams have helped build. It would appeal to fans untouched by Soccer United Marketing and allow die-hard MLS supporters to develop a second allegiance without compromising their first. Furthermore, it would provide direct help to the Canadian national program immediately: rather than wait a decade for academies and opportunities to increase the level of play, we would see players cracking the senior national team at once. It would even lower costs. And it would capitalize on Canada’s strengths, which saw record-breaking crowds for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The magic solution? Make it a women’s league.

Canadians support women’s soccer. We have held three serious women’s competitions in 2002, 2014, and 2015, and enjoyed world-class support at each. Germany is traditionally accounted the world’s strongest women’s soccer nation with several top club teams, but Canada 2015 saw higher average attendances than Germany 2011 throughout the knockout stages[3]. When Canada played England in the quarter-final an average of 3.2 million Canadians watched on television, with an average of 2.3 million throughout the group stage[4]: better than some UEFA Champions League finals. TV viewership was even higher for the 2012 Olympics, where the match against the United States ranked behind only the men’s 100 metres[5].

Would Canadians come out for professional women’s clubs? It’s hard to tell, because there has never been a professional women’s soccer club in Canadian history. This is a strength of a sort, because any league would come untarnished by past failures. It’s also a scathing indictment of how we’ve chased the men’s game altogether too single-mindedly. The fact that the likes of Christine Sinclair and Erin McLeod are obliged to go to the United States to make a living should be a national scandal, let alone the diamonds-in-the-rough who have to leave the game early or, if they’re very lucky, pull an Allysha Chapman and find a club overseas.

There is reason to hope. The late Vancouver Whitecaps W-League team, despite being an amateur club and an afterthought to the men’s program, several times achieved attendances that would rank well in the men’s USL[6]. Other W-League teams in Victoria, Quebec City, Toronto, and Ottawa also drew decent numbers for amateur soccer. However, in recent years many of these teams have been shut down in an era of fast-increasing budgets for men’s team and reduced regional women’s competition. The potential for women’s pro soccer exists, but not even an attempt has been made to exploit it.

How about finance? Travel and marketing costs don’t change because you swap men for women, but player payroll plunges. As of 2012, CSA guidelines specified the minimum budget for a fully professional men’s team of $1.5 million with a player payroll of $500,000; the Easton report of that year estimated the actual figures required as $4.2 million with $900,000 on players. Rollins’s report ups the figures to a $3 million budget and a $1 to $1.5 million salary cap. However, a women’s team wouldn’t need to come near this: the NWSL salary cap for 2015 is US$265,000[7]. This doesn’t count the marquee allocated players, but that’s money the Canadian Soccer Association is spending anyway: thirteen players currently sent to the NWSL that could easily be sent to Canada instead.

Canada could pay salaries competitive with the world’s best women’s soccer leagues for less than the cost of keeping pace with USL. You want first-class soccer? The opportunity is in front of us, waiting to be grasped.

Yes, it’s a gamble, an idealistic dream that will succeed only with luck, dedication, and patience. That’s no less true of a men’s league. It’s true of everything worth doing that might improve our position in the viciously competitive soccer world. Women have a unique opportunity here, for the female game is still taken seriously only by a minority of soccer powers and Canada retains an important position. That advantage will not last; is already diminishing. Let us exploit it while we may.

(notes and comments…)

The American Hate Conundrum

By Benjamin Massey · July 5th, 2015 · 3 comments

Anti-Americanism is the Canadian vice. Not sporting rivalry but the full-blown Carolyn Parrish “damned Americans, I hate those bastards” experience. When Americans run into this attitude they treat it with the indulgence of an older sibling seeing the younger’s inferiority complex – quite correctly, too – but I think your average American would be surprised to realize just how deep and widespread genuine antipathy to his country can be up here.

This places the soccer fan in an awkward position. On the one hand, the genuine anti-American nauseates anybody of feeling. The attitude ranges from an “I like a lot of them as individuals, I just don’t like their culture” to, well, Carolyn Parrish, and provokes a careful changing of the topic or a robust neighbourly defence, depending. All very proper, but naturally it leads to some reluctance to cheer against American national teams too zealously, lest one become the sort who expresses distaste for rap music and winds up chatting to the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

On the other hand, rivalry is rivalry and the United States is the most ancient of enemies. That alone doesn’t cover the unique virulence of the loathing many Canadians feel, but there is something especially awful about this United States team. Our domestic clubs chafe under the Yankee yoke and condemn too much Canadian talent to obscurity. Abby Wambach is the bane of sports, an opinionated, arrogant, self-promoting and self-absorbed moral dumpster fire who is finally turning off even her own fans as her ability falls far behind her attitude. The only thing saving Wambach from being Lucifer incarnate is that she plays on a team with Hope Solo, who simply put ought to be in remand rather than a World Cup final. Add Sydney Leroux, who seeks all the affection and benefits of a Canadian star without any of the responsibilities, and tries to escape the consequences of her actions behind a phalanx of sycophants, and you have the best recipe for legitimate hatred ever concocted. Even players both decent off the field and skilled on it like Alex Morgan indulge in nauseating gamesmanship, and while real jewels like Megan Rapinoe may shine the more brilliantly for their rarity, they are too few to make the difference.

If you are a non-American, and particularly a Canadian, you have plenty of reason to boo the USWNT even if you wear a tattoo of George Washington over your heart.

But did that paragraph not restate the bad sort of anti-Americanism in a different way? For why do we so intimately know about Wambach’s swineishness, Solo’s actual evil, Leroux’s dishonesty? Because they are Americans. Their media are our media, and for every four rah-rah-U-S-A reporters there’s still one to dig in the dirt, and in a country that size it adds up to quite a few.

If a Japanese player smacked around her family, and two more had gone on TV shouting superstitious fear-mongering about artificial turf, and the locker room was a hotbed of the worst sort of infighting, how many Canadians would know? The Americans are disadvantaged because they speak our language and we know them, or think we do.

Moreover, don’t the sins for which we excoriate the USWNT – colossal arrogance, violence, hyper-competitiveness mingled with entitledness – match awfully well with the worst Canadian stereotypes of Americans? German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, while unquestionably gifted, is by all accounts an unpleasant customer and was highly active in the anti-artificial turf controversy. Which Canadians booed Germany because of her? Some of our attitude is a bit too pat, a bit too flattering to ourselves, to withstand much criticism.

In the end the heart wants what the heart wants, and those American women are hard to like while the Japanese team plays an attractive style and is otherwise a blank canvas onto which we can project our ideals. Oh, I’ll be rooting for Japan today, make no mistake. Leroux alone makes any team she plays for my least-favourite team in women’s soccer. But let’s keep our brains running as well as our hearts, and stay away from the Canadian vice, that twists disliking a national team into disliking a nation.

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

Just so you know, this was all Roke’s fault.

Tune: Stan Rogers, “Barrett’s Privateers.”

Oh the year was two thousand and fifteen,
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now.)
A World Cup tourney came from the Swiss,
To a country whose fields were plastic piss,

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

Oh, Johnny Herdman, he searched Canada,
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
For twenty-three women, all talented, who
Could win for him a trophy true.

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

The BC Place pitch was a sickening sight.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
She had lines from the cars and plastic bits,
Would rise every time the ball was hit.

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

On the sixth of June we took the field.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
We scraped past China at the death,
And never drew calmly a single breath.

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

Three more times we’d play again.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
They were just little countries filled with sheep,
But even the Swiss nearly made us weep.

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

Then at length we met the English gals.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
They were tall and quick and full of guts,
While our fans punched each other in the nuts.

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

The Canadians rocked and fell apart.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
There wasn’t an answer from the boss,
And Canada went straight down to the loss.

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

And the Americans killed the German side.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
There’s a Surrey girl playing for the Yanks,
’cause when Canada called she said “no thanks!”

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.

Now here I await the final game.
(How I wish I was in Edmonton now!)
Four years ago we got the Cup,
How I’d wish we’d given the damn thing up!

God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the fields
For American goals
We’d ship not one.
Shed no tears!
Now I’m a broken man drinking sour beers,
The last of Herdman’s Voyag-eers.