A Prediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why a Canadian Soccer League?

By Benjamin Massey · February 20th, 2015 · 2 comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's hard to illustrate this post. (Devon Rowcliffe under a Creative Commons license)

It’s hard to illustrate this post. (Devon Rowcliffe via Flickr under a Creative Commons license)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(notes and comments…)

Whitecaps Rape, Pillage Vikes; Campus Protests Offensive Headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those Sainey Nyassi Statistics, in Full

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

New England Revolution

New England Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(notes and comments…)

That USL Pro Rebrand, in Excessive Depth

By Benjamin Massey · February 10th, 2015 · No comments

United Soccer Leagues

United Soccer Leagues

Earlier today the United Soccer Leagues announced a rebrand. A new league logo, with versions for each team straight out of the Major League Soccer Guide to Hipster Trendiness. (Still miles better than its MLS equivalent.)

USL Pro has dropped the “Pro”, which a cynic would say reflects the part-timer MLS reserve players and an optimist would say is rationalization: with USL operating one professional league “United Soccer League” makes sense as a name even if it’s hokum as a concept. In my books it’s an improvement over USL Pro, but anyway there’s no need to get too attached.

Welcome to a new dawn in North American soccer“, USL said. For once that is more than purple prose, because USL rebrands pretty much every morning.

Let’s take the Rochester Rhinos, a club of remarkable pedigree, established 1996. The Rhinos have never deliberately moved leagues: while peers and rivals bounce up to MLS or down to the semi-pro levels, Rochester’s been happy with their position*. So one would expect their history to show a reasonable level of stability.

Seasons League
1996 A-League team formed
1997–1998 USISL A-League A-League merged with USISL
1999–2004 USL A-League USISL rebranded to USL
2005–2009 USL First Division USL rebranded its leagues to the First and Second Divisions
2010 USSF D2 Pro League USL/NASL split; temporary league
2011–2014 USL Pro USL merged and rebranded First and Second Divisions
2015– USL USL rebranded USL Pro

The Rhinos have played in seven different leagues, five of which were run by the USL or its predecessor the USISL. These guys change names more often than MLS changes reserve leagues.

According to reports USL is also trying to regain second division status in the United States, which they held from 1997 to 2009. NASL kingpins Traffic Sports is one of the Canadian Soccer Association’s better friends. and the NASL is our country’s best hope for professional men’s soccer, so maybe we should cheer for USL to fail. However, the distinction between American second and third divisions is meaningless. There is no promotion/relegation and, as long as MLS refuses to spend on roster depth and half of USL’s players are MLS reservists, USL will never equal the NASL on the field. The pitch to potential owners won’t change: USL can offer tightness with MLS, NASL can offer independence, stability, and the prospect of an MLS expansion anyway. I find I want USL to succeed in its bid because the Americans having two second divisions in 2015 would be hilarious.

(notes and comments…)

USL PDL’s Victoria Highlanders Fold

By Benjamin Massey · January 31st, 2015 · 8 comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

So farewell then, Victoria Highlanders FC. The last USL PDL club in British Columbia is, suddenly, gone. CTV News Victoria’s Chandler Grieve tweeted it Saturday afternoon[1] and on CTV’s six o’clock news it was made official. Team owner Alex Campbell, Jr. has stunned soccer fans, and after six seemingly-successful seasons Victoria is now without soccer above the University of Victoria and the Vancouver Island Soccer League.

To all appearances the Highlanders did well. They exorcised the demons of the troubled CSL Victoria Vistas, who played only two seasons. Top ten in USL PDL attendance every year, a solid supporters culture by league standards, and no shortage of victories. Three times the Highlanders made the playoffs (hard to do in the Northwest Division), with a good run in 2013 as division champions. This past season saw a playoff appearance plus their first Juan de Fuca Plate, the supporter-created British Columbia semi-pro championship. Popular local players like Tyler and Jordie Hughes, Andrew and Adam Ravenhill, and goalkeeper Elliott Mitrou combined with memorable veterans like Blair Sturrock, Riley O’Neill, and former Canadian international Manny Gomez to create a likable, talented crew. Last year they were even nominated for a USL PDL marketing award[2].

Almost until the last minute fans and staff had their eyes on professional soccer: though the Canadian Soccer Association forbade them from joining USL Pro, the NASL seemed a tantalizing possibility when the Canadian division rumours started. Their attendance seemed to prove they could take a step up. Indeed, the Highlanders were successful enough to finish off PCSL club Victoria United, who dated back to 1904[3].

Victoria Highlanders Attendance
Year Avg/G PDL Rank
2009 1,734 3rd
2010 1,375 4th
2011 992 10th
2012 1,017 8th
2013 1,637 5th
2014 1,314 9th
2009 to 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 statistics from kenn.com via the United Soccer Leagues.

For their first three seasons the Highlanders played at Langford’s ironically-named City Centre Stadium, a considerable trek from Victoria. But after moving to Royal Athletic Park downtown fans returned. Victoria’s attendance was several times better than, to pick a name not at all at random, the PDL-era Ottawa Fury, now in the NASL. They were competitive with the resurrected Austin Aztex, now in USL Pro. Apart from perennial off-field powerhouses like the Des Moines Menace, the Highlanders were a tier behind nobody in North American semi-professional soccer.

It would be interesting to know what happened to Victoria’s partial supporter ownership. At the beginning of 2013 the Highlanders announced that season ticket holders would take a 30% stake in the team, exercised by an elected board[4]. Little was heard of this board in 2014 and that 30% seems to have vanished into smoke without warning, let alone consultation with fans who’d purchased Highlanders season tickets up until the last moment.

How last moment? The Highlanders’ early-bird season ticket offer is still available, as of this writing[5]. The Vancouver Whitecaps have their annual friendly at the University of Victoria February 15; the Highlanders have been promoting the game, promised a merchandise booth at Centennial Stadium, and offered a discount for season ticket holders[6]. The Highlanders Academy informed their academy members the game was up only after the news had broken on Saturday[7]. Their U-21s played January 17, defeating Peninsula 5-1 and staying top of the Vancouver Island Soccer League U-21 table; no word yet on their scheduled January 31 fixture against Nanaimo.

It’s hard not to stagger when confronted with the sudden end of such a vibrant organization. What the hell happened? Travel was tough this year, with the Vancouver Whitecaps PDL team withdrawn. It’s replaced by the Calgary Foothills U-23s: a long ride from the Island. The departure of the Whitecaps’ W-League team helped kill the Highlanders’ entry back in 2012. But we’ve known the Whitecaps were leaving PDL for months and, with plenty of regional rivals remaining in Washington and Oregon, it hadn’t held the Highlanders back. At first.

In his telephone interview with CTV from Phoenix, owner Campbell said a deal with unnamed investors had fallen through. We’ve known for years Campbell wanted a partner and when the Highlanders ran out their seemingly-valueless supporter ownership scheme there was even a 20% share left open for a future “operator”[8]. Yet there was no suggestion that their demise was imminent.

It’s hard to hold a grudge against Campbell, who brought high-level soccer back to Victoria after almost twenty years, invested in new players while retaining local favourites, hired a young Canadian coaching staff and a highly competent front office, worked with his supporters, fought Victoria City Council’s hopeless addiction to low-level baseball, and even in the best-case scenario was never going to make serious money. But as demises go this one stinks even more than usual. The optics of Campbell winding up his team from Arizona, the end descending on fans, employees, and players like a flight of bombers over Pearl Harbor, are appalling. Surely the end could have been handled better than this. It could only have been worse if Campbell flew over Royal Athletic Park crapping out the window. The unavoidable impression to the fans is that the Highlanders have been rather murdered than killed.

Despite their premature end the Highlanders made a mark on North American soccer. Defender Jamie Cunningham, who played for Victoria in 2010, had a brief professional career with the NASL’s Puerto Rico Islanders. Matt Polster, a midfielder for Victoria in 2013, was just drafted seventh overall by Frank Yallop’s Chicago Fire[9]. Jared Stephens briefly played in England with Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest soccer club[10] and later with Belper Town. Defender Andrew Ravenhill, son of the CSL’s Dave and brother of teammate Adam, had a good trial in 2013 with the San Jose Earthquakes[11]. Sly, strong ex-Highlanders forward Sasa Plavsic turns out for IK Frej in Sweden[12] and versatile teammate Jamar Dixon just signed not too far away with Finland’s FF Jaro[13]. 2013 Highlanders star Brett Levis got a look with the Vancouver Whitecaps and, after playing PDL in Vancouver last year, is expected to be part of the Whitecaps’ USL Pro side. FC Edmonton trialed Victoria’s Michael Marousek and Diaz Kambere, and Victoria’s inaugural head coach Colin Miller now runs the Eddies.

Persistent rumours of a semi-professional league in British Columbia like those in Ontario and Quebec have left some pundits optimistic: the div-3 semi-pros will come along in a year or two, Victoria will certainly have a team in that, it’s more a nap than a death. But, firstly, if you think serious semi-pro is coming to BC above the VMSL Premier level in the next decade you’re way more optimistic than I am, and secondly the international and developmental nature of USL PDL seems to appeal more than regional semi-pro. The best League 1 Ontario teams draw crowds a quarter of those the Highlanders got, and that’s without considering the way the Highlanders’ vaporisation will poison the well for any future soccer team seeking fan acceptance and civic support. BC semi-pro in Victoria may be the best chance the city has – cry even more for Victoria United now – but the Highlanders are probably irreplaceable.

(notes and comments…)

FC Edmonton Academy Graduates Another One: Allan Zebie Joins Eddies

By Benjamin Massey · January 22nd, 2015 · 1 comment

Les Meszaros/Canadian Soccer Association

Les Meszaros/Canadian Soccer Association

Today, FC Edmonton announced the signing of former Academy fullback Allan Zebie[1]. Born in France buft trained in Canada, Zebie’s name may be familiar: he was a member of the Canadian U-20 pool in 2012 and 2013 and a non-playing substitute at the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 championship. Zebie spent most of last year trialling in Europe but returned to Edmonton in the fall, got more good reviews, and has now signed his first professional contract. His younger brother, Bruno, is a midfielder, a current member of the FC Edmonton academy, and has received some positive notice with appearances for the Canadian U-18 team.

A 21-year-old 5’9″ fullback, Zebie will provide cover on both flanks. As always see Steven Sandor for the best-informed take[2], but Edmonton’s roster has room for Zebie. The departure of Cristian Raudales Beto Navarro and the possibility of Lance Laing playing midfield means a need for depth fullbacks: as of today Eddie Edward is the first right back, either Laing or Kareem Moses will play left, and from there it’s wide open. No doubt more signings are coming but there’s a chance Zebie will have what many first-time professionals wait years for: the prospect of cracking game-day eighteens and seeing minutes.

Officially, Allan Zebie is the tenth player signed by FC Edmonton from their Academy since the first five in February 2013. Unofficially I count eleven. Six remain with the team in 2015 and two have become important, though none are yet everyday starters. This is an enviable record: not all of these players have been prominent first-teamers but many have played a part and one, Hanson Boakai, has already been called to the Canadian senior men’s national team. Though roster rules mean you shouldn’t compare raw numbers between NASL and MLS teams, this compares very well to more established youth academies in Vancouver and Toronto. Let’s take a look at those eleven players.

1. Midfielder Hanson Boakai is the most prominent Academy alumnus in the Eddies ranks to date. Boakai was one of the five “original” FC Edmonton reserve players to sign a first team contract in February 2013[3] and during that season became the youngest player in the history of the North American Soccer League. His star turn in the 2014 Voyageurs Cup drew national headlines and a call to a senior men’s national team training camp from Benito Floro, though he did not play. He was also the most electric, and most underutilized, Canadian player at the recent CONCACAF U-20 championships.

Boakai remains at Edmonton for 2015 and, still only 18 years old, will be looking to crack the first eleven (though competition is stiff). The 2014 season saw him become semi-regular, getting a handful of starts and more appearances off the bench, and he was very much the team’s twelfth man during its successful fall.

2. Rock-solid central defender Mallan Roberts was another one of the February 2013 originals. He’d earned a reputation in Edmonton as an amateur athlete, both as a take-no-prisoners defender for Jeff Paulus’s NAIT Ooks and the Eddies reserves, and as a junior football prospect eyed by the Edmonton Eskimos.

For all the Boakai hype, Roberts not only has more appearances for FC Edmonton but more goals, scoring twice so far in the NASL. His appearances in the first team have been marred by inconsistency, indiscipline, and injury but he’s shown upside as well, winning an NASL Team of the Week nod last year. In some ways Roberts recalls new West Ham United signing Doneil Henry, though citizenship problems have delayed the opportunity to play for Canada. He remains with the roster for 2015 and, turning 23 in June, will be expected to make big strides.

3. Strong forward Sadi Jalali arrived with a pallet of promise: while a member of Edmonton Juventus Jalali played the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup for Canada and scored against England. Despite interest from the Eddies Jalali visited Germany’s 1. FC Kaiserslautern academy, then the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency (where he was excellent at the USSDA U-18 level) before, finally and after a little controversy, signing with his hometown club. Thanks partially to injury Jalali hasn’t yet made a decisive impact on the NASL, but he scored his first goal last year against Carolina from the spot. He is on Edmonton’s 2015 roster but will be behind some solid veteran forwards in Daryl Fordyce, Frank Jonke, and Tomi Ameobi.

4. Montreal-born defender Chris de Guise, another NAIT alumnus, was one of the first five 2013 signings. Despite making the bench in the NASL a few times he has yet to see a professional minute and left Edmonton at the end of the 2013 season. De Guise remains in the game, making sixteen appearances last year for Quebec semi-pro league champions CS Longueuil.

5. Forward Ajeej Sarkaria, an Edmonton local, was the last of the “original five”. After starring in Maple Leaf Forever!‘s 2012 Worst Goal of the Canadian Year (So Far) Sarkaria signed first-team terms in February 2013 but did not appear in the Eddies eighteen. At the end of June Sarkaria was dropped back to the Reserves[4] and appeared in Reserve friendlies through the summer of 2014. He was also the leading scorer at the 2013 Canada Games, helping Team Alberta to a fifth-place finish. Though he hasn’t been heard from much lately, Sarkaria is 19 years old and still has time.

EDIT, January 24 10:00: thanks to John Anderson in the comments; Sarkaria spent last year redshirting at Grant MacEwan University.

6. Though not one of the original five, midfielder Edem Mortotsi joined the Eddies at the beginning of the 2013 season. Mortotsi was initially fairly prominent and saw a few games, including one start on November 3 in Fort Lauderdale. However, 2014 was a disappointment and he was released at the end of the season. Mortotsi also played a single Voyageurs Cup game, in 2013 against Vancouver.

7. Goalkeeper Norbert Janas, one of the original Academy members, signed with FC Edmonton in August 2013. Though he appeared on the bench a few times while Lance Parker was injured, Janas did not make an appearance before being dropped at the end of the season.

8. Lanky young central defender Marko Aleksic joined the Eddies before the beginning of the 2014 season. He’s already made a couple first team appearances when injury and suspension intervened, getting a half against Minnesota United and starting at home against Montreal in the second round of the Voyageurs Cup. Aleksic has also been a member of the Canadian U-20 pool, though he was not part of the team Rob Gale took to Jamaica this month. He remains on the Eddies roster for the 2015 season.

9. Goalkeeper Connor James signed with FC Edmonton in May 2014. This was almost openly an emergency signing: his contract was for the spring season only[5]. James got onto the bench once in the NASL and again in the Voyageurs Cup, but moved on after the spring season ended. He now plays at the University of Alberta, alongside other former Eddies and Eddies Academy players such as Tim Hickson, Ajay Khabra, and Niko Saler.

10. Another young goalkeeper, Christian Kaiswatum joined FC Edmonton’s first team in October 2014 after serving with the Academy and as a non-playing substitute for Canada at the 2013 U-17 World Cup. Kaiswatum has yet to make a first team appearance and is probably fourth on the depth chart for 2015, but he’s also turning 18 this season. According to his Canadian Soccer Association profile, one of his favourite goalkeepers is fellow Edmontonian Asmir Begovic.

11. Now, defender Allan Zebie joins the team. He’s the first fullback to come out of the Academy and the first youth signing of 2015.

The success of graduating Eddies Academy players hasn’t been universal, but Boakai, Roberts, and to an extent Jalali show that, even in these early days, there’s a chance to make a professional career in Edmonton. Good luck to Allan Zebie; our youngsters need to play somewhere.

EDIT, January 22: this article originally confused midfielder Cristian Raudales (still with FC Edmonton) with departed defender Beto Navarro.

(notes and comments…)

The Only Canadians in Jamaica Who Didn’t Get High

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

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

When Honduras’s Bryan Rochez buried a rebound from a spot kick in the 72nd minute of their CONCACAF men’s U-20 championship match against Haiti, he sealed the fate of the Canadian team. Coming off a 2-1 loss to the Cubans – appalling even by our standards – Canada is now eliminated with a game to go in the group stage. I was a pessimist before this tournament began and even I am horrified by this abject failure.

There’s a game left for Canada; not quite a dead rubber with Honduras playing for position, but to hell with it, the guys who count are done. What the flying fuck happened? This over-ballyhooed team, supposedly the best men’s U-20 crew we’ve ever assembled, produced our worst CONCACAF U-20 result since 1988, when we not only lost to Cuba but drew Bermuda. Even then we had a crumb of comfort: the Mexicans who won the group were cheating on their age. This year there will be no excuses.

Yes, two leading Canadians, Fraser Aird and skipper Dylan Carreiro, were held back by their Scottish clubs. This is trebly bad in Carreiro’s case, since he was pulled at the last minute and has been an unused substitute by Dundee all tournament long. But two players, however talented, should not be the margin of defeat to fucking Cuba.

We’re Canadians, and our tradition is to blame the coach. Rob Gale is making it awfully easy. His background is one some Canadian fans love to hate: English-raised and trained, a longtime Canadian staffer who was technical director of the Manitoba Soccer Association and bounced his way up the CSA ladder. Many fans believe Canada is so deficient technically that only outsiders, or at least Canadians with a non-CSA background, should be in responsible positions. This tournament will give them ammunition.

After the Cuban debacle, Gale made a couple curious comments in his press conference:

Unfortunately I think it was a case of that early mistake and the fragility of the team mentally after conceding late in the last game, and we didn’t put the heart and the effort in that is usually associated with us.

[. . ]

When they put in the effort and commitment and drive [. . .] that has to be the bare minimum at this level. And that’s where they’re looking at themselves now, and the mental fragility (again) of the players in these conditions, and against these oppositions.

So much for a coach protecting the team. Maybe Gale didn’t mean to blame his players but he went without a word of personal responsibility.

Frankly, who thought the Canadian players were dogging it? There was honest effort and few conspicuous slackers. The problem is that the effort was all individual: there was no linkage, the forwards were too high up, the midfielders were trying to beat everybody with their feet, the defenders lacked outlets, the closest Canada came to building an attack was playing it around the back for a while, then if they were very lucky driving down the flanks and flinging in a cross. There was plenty of possession, almost all meaningless. We were playing Cuba and we couldn’t turn the heavy artillery on them. Against El Salvador we kept punching against rampant time-wasting and dodgy tactics, but while we scored on a couple moments of individual brilliance the players’ inability to work as a unit was exemplified by the 90th-minute El Salvador winner. “Effort and commitment and drive” is an easy excuse, but only that.

Gale’s lineups were equally dodgy. With respect to two good young goalkeepers, I’ve spent a lot of time watching both Nolan Wirth and Marco Carducci, I know several other people who have spent a lot of time watching both Wirth and Carducci, and Rob Gale is just about the only guy in Canada who’d take Wirth over Carducci. Carducci, a full-time professional who’s played magnificently at the USL PDL level, started the tournament’s first game against Haiti, allowed a very bad goal, and has been benched ever since. Wirth, an NCAA amateur whose USL PDL record was mixed, did well against Mexico but had a horrible time against El Salvador. Yet while one bad goal finished Carducci, Wirth got the nod against Cuba… and made a back-breaking mistake for the first Cuban goal. “Squad rotation” won’t do; Cuba was Wirth’s third game on the trot. And if Wirth was “mentally fragile”, which I doubt, shouldn’t the coaches have caught that?

Then there’s Hanson Boakai. One of the few regularly-playing professionals in Gale’s arsenal, Boakai was coming off an injury in December and not fully match fit. Boakai did not play against Haiti (but was not needed) and saw only thirteen minutes against Mexico in an impossible situation. Then the Handsome Bowtie came in at half against El Salvador and nearly saved the game for Canada single-handed, scoring the Canadian goal of the tournament and providing Kianz Froese with a lovely marker. It was an electrifying display and surely earned Boakai a start in the effective must-win against Cuba. Yet he did not appear at all, with the final substitution going to the invisible Calum Ferguson. There have been rumours (and relying on the rumour mill for this is condemnation in itself) that Boakai aggravated his injury, but there are other rumours this is incorrect, and Boakai was listed as available. There was no “tomorrow” to save him for.

This isn’t to absolve the players entirely. Many highly-hyped hopefuls did nothing. Cyle Larin was in over his head. Jordan Hamilton pushed Haiti around but against determined opposition couldn’t find space. Sam Adekugbe’s tournament was hit and miss, but his utter pummeling at the hands of Mexico’s Hirving Lozano showed a gulf in class. Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé had a terrific assist against Haiti but that was his one moment of quality. Michael Petrasso got unjustly bad reviews: he was at least generating offense and getting into position but his shooting was wildly off, exemplified against Cuba when, undermarked, he stroked a B+ chance from within the eighteen into the Caribbean.

The thing is, these tournaments matter very little in themselves. What matters is the players they produce. Many of the Canadian individuals were up to snuff, at least compared to middle powers like El Salvador (Mexico throttled us but only the insane dreamed we deserved to compete with them). There were fleeting moments where Canada’s opposition lost cohesion and gave room for individual talents to work, and in those moments (I think particularly of the first half-hour against Haiti and much of the El Salvador second half) Canada kicked ass. Am I wrong to take hope from that? Disaster though we were, talented players will now return to clubs and coaches that seem to have done decently nurturing their abilities so far.

I leave this tournament as confident as ever in Petrasso and Boakai, a little more hopeful for Farmer, Serban, and Bustos, and with slightly larger question marks drawn beside a few names. I mentioned Canada’s 1988 team earlier: those U-20s were a disaster on the field but brought useful players in Paul Fenwick, Carl Fletcher, Eddy Berdusco, and most famously Paul Peschisolido. If the 2015 team generates a similar hit rate, which it easily could, we’ll look upon this generation of players with a smile.

Clearly, the Canadian Soccer Association needs to take this level more seriously. They got the U-20s a host of training camps and warm-up friendlies, including the prestigious Milk Cup, and the investment sunk without trace into a Jamaican swamp. A coaching staff of Paul Stalteri, Ante Jazic, and Bob Gale was an inexperienced crew: there was no professional hand on the tiller, not even a Pesch or a Nick Dasovic. It’s important for the CSA to develop its coaches as well as its players, but those coaches need somebody to follow and learn from. Even an out-of-season NASL coach like Colin Miller, Marc dos Santos, or Alen Marcina would have been useful. Failing that, even a college coach who knows young players like Alan Koch or Mike Mosher. Just not the same old Canadian Soccer Association echo chamber and a vain hope that our staff will learn on the fly.

Considering Canadian Priorities

By Benjamin Massey · January 8th, 2015 · No comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Compare and contrast. Yesterday, two major Canadian soccer bosses spoke to the media about domestic players on their teams. Here is Ottawa Fury head coach Marc dos Santos, as quoted by La 90e minute‘s Marc Tougas and translated from French by me[1].

“To be very honest, at first [using Canadian players] was done in a very conscious manner. I thought that by doing something like that, I was going to actually help Canadian soccer, I was going to help young Canadian players have another option to grow and all that. So it was in our hearts, in our minds. The intentions were good.”

“But ultimately, this is not something that is widely recognized. You do not get much praise at this level as we would have thought, not as much respect as one would think we’d have the right to from some people because of the work we did with Canadian players.”

Although the Fury came to exercise the contract options of two Canadian players, Haworth and Eustaquio, the order in 2015 will be more to pick the best players available, regardless of nationality.

“The fans, they want to win. And we, we are Ottawa Fury FC, not Mother Teresa FC,” said MDS. “What will make the fans happier: miss the playoffs with just Canadians, or win the championship with strangers?”

“So we had good intentions but now our intentions are to win as much as possible, with Canadians, Québécois, or players from other countries.”

Second, the words of Vancouver Whitecaps’ ashen-faced supremo Bob Lenarduzzi, quoted by AFTN Canada’s Michael McColl[2]:

“It’s nice when you look at [Whitecaps on Canadian youth national teams] and you look at the representations from the other professional clubs, it’s something at this stage that we can be proud of. But we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We’re going to continue to put the emphasis on development and I think as much as we want to be a club that develops players, we need for the coaching staff to play those players.”

[. . .]

Lenarduzzi admits that there isn’t too much point developing all this young homegrown talent if they’re not going to get too many minutes on the pitch and sees that as the next step for the Whitecaps to take.

“We’ve stayed the course and now we’re starting to see the dividends from it,” Lenarduzzi feels. “Ultimately, we will see the dividends from it when we have three or four or five of those guys in our first team on a regular basis but I’ve always suggested that development is time consuming. It takes time for players to come through and do what you want them to do at the first team level. You don’t just snap your fingers and have players go from not playing to playing. We’ll continue to do what we’re doing.”

[. . .]

But what of all those naysayers out there who like to say that the Whitecaps hate Canada and do nothing for Canadian football?

“It’s shocking to me, but that comes from a very small circle as far as I can gather,” Lenarduzzi said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to that but whenever I hear that and I hear that we’re not playing Canadian players, what I often do is turn that question back around on the person that’s making those comments.”

“[I ask them] tell me of a player right now in Canada, that’s not in our Residency program, that should be playing in our first team? And more often or not I get silence. I also believe that if you’re going to make comments like that, you should also have the ability to back them up. A lot of people say it but a lot of people can’t back it up and that’s frustrating.”

Set aside whether it is better to win or to play Canadians. (The Whitecaps, I remind you, used to do both and now do neither.) Lenarduzzi makes good points, and it’s true that only a tiny minority cares about his team’s Canadian content. He also makes poor ones, saying a team founded in 1986 with a Residency program from 2005 needs more time to develop talent and implying the only domestics he can sign already play within Canada. I guess bringing Canadians home from Europe is for giants like Montreal and Edmonton, but if Bob wants my ideas for domestic-based Canadian players he need only ask.

Dos Santos rightly says the 2014 Ottawa Fury were the most Canadian team in the world without much credit from the public and no calls from the Canadian national team. He’s wrong sometimes too. Only a handful of the Fury’s Canadians were in any sense developmental projects (Phil Davies is 24 for God’s sake) and not many NASL fans I met in Ottawa were interested only in results; if they were they wouldn’t have been there.

So what’s the difference?

Last season, Marc dos Santos actually played his Canadians. According to the venerable Out of Touch, Ottawa’s Canadians saw 8,250 minutes in the regular season last year, 30.9% of the team’s total compared to Vancouver’s 2,209 minutes for 6.6%[3]. The most prominent members of the Fury’s Canadian contingent were defenders Mason Trafford and Drew Beckie, midfielder Philippe Davies, and forwards Pierre-Rudolph Mayard and Carl Haworth.

Most of these Canadians did not perform. The Fury defense was average, their midfield was saved only by their imports, and the attack was led by Brazilians Oliver Minatel and Vini Dantas with Mayard more a hindrance than an asset. Canadian bench players such as Andres Fresenga and Kenny Caceros saw the field but did nothing to stay there. Only Haworth and Trafford stood out positively and both are on the 2015 roster. I would take Beckie over Omar Jarun, but he didn’t exactly impress.

Some of these failures were predictable (seriously, Marc, Pierre-Rudolph Mayard?!), some were gambles that didn’t pay (if Phil Davies recaptured his 2010 form he’d have been perfect, but that was ever so long ago), but there were no clear cases of a Canadian performing below his ability. They were plain lousy players.

Even so, smart money says Ottawa will again be more Canadian than Vancouver in 2015. Trafford looks like a starter, Haworth and youngster Mauro Eustaquio ought to see more playing time, and with only nine players signed including five internationals* some of Ottawa’s additions will be Canadian through sheer necessity.

Meanwhile, as McColl points out, no Whitecaps Canadians look likely for the first eleven in 2015 and few will regularly make the bench. Lenarduzzi’s own comments shows he realizes Vancouver has Canadians on the roster but not on the field. The recent release of Bryce Alderson, member of many a Canadian U-20 national team, source of look-at-all-the-players-we’re-developing bragging rights, and player of zero MLS minutes, is merely the most recent example. While in Ottawa international players brought most of the quality, in Vancouver Canadians were and are ranked behind foreign flavours-of-the-month of indifferent commitment or limited skill. Mediocrities Jun Marques Davidson and Erik Hurtado played more as a Vancouver Whitecaps than every one of their MLS Canadians combined.

Dos Santos gave his domestic players a fair opportunity: his frustration comes from legitimate disappointment. Apart from, here and there, Russell Teibert, Canadians in the Whitecaps MLS years have not gotten the same chance. Obviously the Whitecaps have good intentions, but when Vancouver is compared to its rivals Lenarduzzi’s cavalier condemnation of concern seems less-than-earned.

(notes and comments…)