99 Friendship Episode 54

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · September 13th, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s 99 Friendship:

  • Holy macaroni, that ancient Twitter header that we only just stopped using on our Twitter account is finally relevant! Not only did Jaclyn Sawicki (right) score last week but she made her first Japanese first division start this past weekend, while Amy Pietrangelo (left) is not only starting but scoring in the Frauen-Bundesliga! It’s a great time to be a Canadian soccer fan.
  • But we don’t start talking about that of course, we start by talking about sexy curlers.
  • Elsewhere, in less inspiring corners of the Canadian women’s soccer world, Christine Sinclair is scoring and Stephanie Labbé is taking a leave of absence for the rest of the season. We hope she does okay.
  • French woso makes me crazy. Why is the one who doesn’t really know French trying to look up French woso? Look don’t nitpick us.
  • Val Sweeting, Canada’s princess, won the season-opening event in the Sportsnet Pinty’s Fake News Bonspiel Sextet, while Chelsea Carey, Canada’s something-else, got to the final of the Sportsnet Pinty’s Fake News Second Division Bonspiel. There was man curling as well but nobody cares because Alberta didn’t do brilliantly. Kevin Koe is transparently only doing this to golf.
  • Finally, we comment more on the physical appearances of professional athletes.

Sorry about episode 54 being so late. But rest assured, episode 55 will be even later, as half of the team will be wandering around the woods in the rain feeling sorry for himself all week. Normal service will resume whenever it does.

99 Friendship Episode 53

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · September 5th, 2017 · No comments

Maybe it’s because I was trying not to fall asleep on Carolyn’s air mattress while recording this, maybe it’s because I feel weirdly unwell now and am bitter, maybe it was the lack of woso news and the broso madness and the hapless rambling I inflicted upon poor Carolyn for 20 of the 28 minutes in this episode, anyway, this is one of my least favourite 99 Friendships ever! Listen out of morbid curiousity! It’s only the second episode Carolyn and I did while actually in the same room, which proves that millennials should go outside to talk to each other less, and hang out on the Internet more!

In this week’s word-packed show:

  • Mormons are nice. Yes. Yes it’s one of those sorts of filler episodes.

  • The only actual women’s soccer news of the week comes out of Japan, where honourary-friend-of-the-show Jaclyn Sawicki finally made an extremely stylish debut with her new club!

  • We talk about some other things? Briefly?

  • There was a mixed doubles tournament in Winnipeg featuring a fabulously dodgy webstream, which should have given us plenty of delightful #content. Unfortunately the tournament was still ongoing while we recorded this because we are idiots. (Chelsea Carey and Colin Hodgson, of Alberta, won.)

  • We end the episode by looking at old Newfoundland Tankard results. Spoiler: Brad Gushue won. Also spoiler: boy the Newfoundland curling authorities sure gave Brad Gushue every chance to win they possibly could.

Hyping Handsome Bowties

By Benjamin Massey · August 31st, 2017 · No comments

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

In a century of international futility Canadian men’s soccer has had more cautionary tales than fairy tales. Hanson Boakai, the 20-year-old former FC Edmonton homegrown phenom, should have been the latter and is now the former.

Having become the youngest player in NASL history and dazzled most prominently against Montreal in the 2014 Voyageurs Cup, Boakai left Edmonton at the end of autumn 2015. For all his talents he had not become a regular starter, but the Eddies made an unsuccessful offer to keep him. He trained with notable European clubs, and in November of that year Duane Rollins called a move to Toronto FC “close to done.” It never got there. Despite many rumours he didn’t land for another eight months and when he did it was after a fall.

Joining Swedish third-division side Landskrona in July 2016, Boakai played less than two hours over four appearances and left in November. Since then he has been the Littlest Hobo. In January he trialed with Albanian champions Skenderbeu but no contract resulted. He trained with Lebanese club Nejmeh and got a kit number and again did not sign. Caronnese, of Italy’s Serie D, announced his signing but didn’t deign to spell his name correctly. Thanks to trouble with his residence paperwork, Boakai allegedly was close to joining CS U Craiova’s second team, which would put him in the Romanian third division. This deal has not closed; until tomorrow he’ll just keep moving on.

It’s not often you say this about a soccer player but he should have stayed in Edmonton, which while not La Liga is surely to Christ not Lebanon. Even under supposedly anti-creative coach Colin Miller, on artificial turf, before indifferent crowds, and burdened by youthful weakness, Boakai won a rep at Clarke Stadium. We clamoured for him to star on the youth teams, where he hardly played but looked good when he did. We insisted Benito Floro give him a look on the senior squad which, technically, happened, Boakai participating in a camp in October 2014. The Edmonton Journal called him a potential “Canadian Messi,” and that is still quoted abroad. After leaving FC Edmonton everyone expected Boakai to ascend the soccer pyramid. The idea that he would go down was unthinkable, yet here we are.

Never write off a kid with talent, but he has more mileage than the US Air Force. If his career winds up a success it’ll be the greatest comeback since the Resurrection. This is a player who has been viewed by dozens of coaches from a multitude of cultures on three continents, and many of them saw something, but not enough to be worth the bother.

What happened? Obviously it isn’t his natural talent that keeps him from sticking in semi-pro Scandinavia. No, I mean that: obviously it isn’t. Did you see this kid, back when he used to play? A world in which, on skill alone, Erik Hurtado prospers and Hanson Boakai can’t get a contract does not exist.

Paperwork hurts him. Boakai was born in the Republic of Guinea and his parents are Liberian. He has played official youth competitions for Canada so presumably his passport is settled, but when trying to get a work permit (not always easy for a Canadian without EU residency), bothersome bureaucratic bologna brought by small-African-village-migrant upbringings can make life even worse. Stars and big clubs can batter through such obstacles with cash and prestige; Serie D teams, and the players they attract, less so.

Then again, Boakai actually did get his contract in semi-pro Sweden, and actually did play, and actually couldn’t get much action. Reportedly, the company which sponsored Boakai’s contract at Landskrona backed out. That sounds bad. FC Edmonton, community-minded but not a soup kitchen, claimed FIFA-mandated compensation for a player they developed, invested in, made the reputation of, and lost. But that’s not unique and not that expensive. So what happened? Well it’s 2017 and this is a thinkpiece so here’s the boilerplate: it was we, the people. We did this to Hanson Boakai. We hyped him up too far. Remember that “Canadian Messi” remark? Boakai himself has referenced it with what can only be called an insufficient level of self-aware irony. What seems like it should be a personal responsibility in fact rests on all our shoulders, for making him what he is.

Of course, upon examination, the theory is ridiculous. First off, what you’d expect from a kid who has been convinced he is God’s gift to cansoc is that he is so secure in his superiority that he dogs it in training, and that is one thing I have not heard about Boakai. He has his foibles but work rate is not one. Indeed, as a little kid who faces frequent abuse from larger veteran pros, his ability to take and avoid a licking was a prominent asset. He was no theoretician, he had put in the work and could handle clumsier adversaries.

Other Canadians have become aware of hyper-flattering nicknames and if they haven’t met our hopes (because Canadian soccer players never do unless they are Christine Sinclair) they also haven’t flamed out. Prospects do become tubby and useless in their early 20s and retire young or go to League1 Ontario, but generally the attitude that allows that to happen is incompatible, in today’s competitive fitness-focused world, with becoming a professional in the first place.

Second off, what hype?! Have you walked around Canadian soccer lately? Alphonso Davies, a wunderkind in a bigger media market and at a higher level than Boakai, with a more impressive physique, superior statistics for club and country, and a life story that appeals even more directly to cansoc’s sensitivities, is enormously well-known by diehards from Halifax to Port Hardy. The Canadian Soccer Association ranks him beside Atiba Hutchinson and behind only Christine Sinclair in their advertising.

But among casual fans in Vancouver, people who go to a couple games a year and consider themselves Whitecaps fans but “not like those Southsiders, whoa, my buddy got a couple tickets in their section and we had to stand all game,” it’s not the same. They know him, remember him, but struggle for detail. He is not Connor McDavid. He is a blur on a field whose precocious powers are recognized but not obsessed over. He can walk down the streets here, which a hockey player as average as a Ryan Kesler finds difficult.

Boakai’s hype was below Davies’s. Among civilians he is behind even Jessie Fleming and Deanne Rose in name value. If that much praise ruined him, he was doomed regardless. The sort of love Boakai got would not overwhelm a strong junior hockey player. Soccer is catching on in Canada but it doesn’t come close to attracting the obsessive attention that hockey… Jesus, that curling enjoys in large parts of the country.

Yet we soccer fans possess a strange self-consciousness about openly praising our young men, and for that matter our young women. We can’t get too enthusiastic, because it might all be a dream. Not only in the sense of “Jessie might blow out her knee while playing for UCLA because when has that ever happened HAW HAW,” but there’s an idea that our promotion is part of the problem. We few fanatics convince our kids that they are stars, and the rest is doom.

I do not say that it is impossible for our praise to go to a player’s head. On the contrary, I know that it has happened. But our community’s praise doesn’t get you a good table at a crowded restaurant, let alone freighters of cocaine and women. We hardly exist in the real world. There are people philosophically incapable of sustaining the pressures of professional sport, and if the Voyageurs forum is swelling your head you’re one.

However, there’s a curious flip side. The Internet age has made a commonplace of seemingly-informed profiles provided by nothing more than thorough Googling; hey, this site hosts a couple. But these analyses can be influential. As a former Vancouver Whitecaps fan I remember well the excitement when we found that midfielder Davide Chiumiento was supposedly known—by whom we never discovered—as “the Swiss Ronaldinho.” This was not only fan buzz but got mainstream traction. When Chiumiento arrived in time for the 2010 USSF D2 playoffs he was fat and bored, and his short MLS career was more potential than realization. But we knew that former fans of his had thought he was something special, and were ever-so-slightly but importantly biased in his favour. What’s more, we weren’t wrong: Chiumiento may or may not have been worth it, but he possessed an undeniable spark that made him beautiful in a way that transcended how many points he helped the Whitecaps win. Take them in broad strokes and such fan assessments contain a lot of truth.

Boakai’s “Canadian Messi” title has followed him to Romania. Obviously such plaudits won’t carry a career on but they can make a difference, elevate someone above other unknown trialists. Though Boakai himself may not pan out, if he does it’ll be because some serious club is willing to take a chance on him despite the complications, and Boakai does enough to exploit that chance. We fans are almost impotent in that process. But if our hype convinces some otherwise-indifferent manager to view Hanson’s highlight tape, we could actually do something positive. Just yesterday FC Edmonton announced the signing of midfielder Abraham Dukuly who, they tell us unabashedly, is “a special 1-on-1 player with great instincts that draws comparisons to former Academy graduate and FC Edmonton player Hanson Boakai.” Quite right.

Sometimes good prospects bust. It’s lousy if your team needs them, and ours does. But in Canadian soccer the deficiencies are inborn. The 300 of us who care do not have the power to create them. On the other hand, we can do a minuscule but non-zero amount of good. Do not forfeit the pleasure of promoting a young player you love. If it ruins the kid, he was never going to make it anyway. And it is our positive duty to promote those who we think are worth it, even when we fear we may be wrong.

99 Friendship Episode 52

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · August 29th, 2017 · No comments

  • In a week of NWSL action… not much happened of note to you and me. Kailen Sheridan got a clean sheet. I forget what Allysha Chapman’s name is. It’s a scorcher.

  • In a week of NCAA women’s soccer action, the most notable event by far was that goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx may have made her NCAA debut by playing about 17 minutes of defense against West Point. It was more likely a recordkeeping mistake but it’s still a possibility that gives us much joy.

  • Erin McLeod, Ella Masar, and Jenna Hellstrom helped FC Rosengard defeat Linköpings in the final of the Swedish Cup. Yes, Jenna Hellstrom actually did help, starting and going the 90 minutes. We are pretty hyped about that. We are also pretty hyped about how horrible the Swedish Cup actually looks.

  • Okay obviously we talk about curling quite a lot. We’re outraged by the Fake News Curling Draft, which was nowhere near as awesome as fantasy draft last week. Parts of it were still okay, but only parts. As always Curling Canada should put us in charge of everything.

  • But that wasn’t as bad as a special rule the curling authorities put into place for this tournament, which let John Epping beat the Sweet and made me use up all my profanity for a whole episode in fifteen seconds.

  • But that wasn’t as bad as this commercial, of which I present the extended cut.

  • And even that wasn’t as bad as Ben Hebert.

By the way, sorry about worse sound quality than usual, there were technical problems on Carolyn’s end. Yes I am throwing my podcast buddy straight under the bus.

99 Friendship Episode 51 CURLING FANTASY SPECIAL!

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · August 23rd, 2017 · No comments

Yes I know it’s Wednesday. But this was worth the wait. We have one of the most special episodes of 99 Friendship ever: the 50-minute Curling Fantasy Spectacular!

But don’t worry, woso fans, we love you. Yes, this is a super-curling episode, but there’s actually a solid 20 minutes of soccer!

  • NCAA season is underway! Jessie Fleming is already a meme again, as well as the Muscle Milk Student-Athlete of the Week! Is it just me or does that sound indefinably inappropriate for an underage woman? Also Vital Katz, Sarah Stratigakis, and Deanne Rose have walked straight into college and started doin’ work.

  • Because we recorded a day later than usual, we learned that the United States – Canada second friendly on November 12 will be in San Jose, California, or as Carolyn and I are going to call it “San Francisco.” Enjoy the three minutes where we basically talk about our upcoming California vacation!

  • Another week in the NWSL happened!

  • The Universiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaade is happening in Taiwan and I get frustrated with their website! Carolyn wants to play pool!

  • FIFA announced its shortlist for THE BEST and, while Marta is somehow not on it, Carli Lloyd is there to represent the “inexplicable famous person from the Americas” vote. We talk about this. Yes this gives me an excuse to use the Carli Lloyd Theme for the third episode in a row.

Anyway, the reason this became an hour-long special is that we found out the Everest Curling Challenge, the late-August kickoff to the curling season about which I had previously been so cynical, is actually a mixed event with drafted teams. The skips pick teams of two men and two women and we get to experience enormous drama! Also Val Sweeting is in it now! So we did a fantasy draft. Yes this was so much fun.

Our rules, by the way, based off what we know about the tournament and what we made up was:

  • each skip drafts his or her own three players, serpentine, in the order Carolyn came up with

  • you can’t have two members of the same unmixed quints team on the same mixed quads team

  • everyone throws boy-girl-boy-girl, but you’re not limited by position so you can put Mark Nichols at lead or whatever and you can sweep in any rules-legal manner

  • as a necessary mid-draft rules patch, you can’t snooker one of the other teams by drafting players such that the next team to draft wouldn’t have any players eligible given the rules above

So what happened?!

  • We invent the field of “fantasy curling strategy!” Load up your thirds in the early rounds! Nobody needs scrubbers in the first round, take your third! But sometimes it’s late in the day and you need to pick Best Harnden Available.

  • We ignore the field of “fantasy curling strategy” in favour of principles like “John Epping seems like he wants to play with nice people” and “Brad Jacobs can fuck off!”

  • By the way, Fantasy Team John Epping actually turns out to be pretty good somehow! So maybe niceness pays off! On the other hand, Brad Jacobs’ team is ridiculous and Chelsea Carey’s team goes off the rails instantly.

  • Also, since Carolyn and I pick girl-boy, I only have one Alberta rink to play with and I get a little too excited about sincerely trying to get Kevin Koe a competitive team, right now to being really disappointed I couldn’t get him Dawn McEwen. (I’m so traumatized by this that later in the podcast I confuse her with Lisa Weagle in an uneditable way!)

  • Neither of us have any idea who John Epping’s guys are. That’s another piece of good fantasy curling strategy, don’t get stuck with an Epping.

  • Last, but absolutely not least, Carolyn turns Team Jennifer Jones into the greatest thing in the history of human communication. And if you last 43 minutes you can hear Carolyn and me talking ourselves into it.

Then we talk about more curling at the end. This is my favourite episode since the amwosolit episode. Please listen to it all.

99 Friendship Episode 50

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · August 14th, 2017 · No comments

Whether you missed us or not, we’re back! Yes, at long last, episode number 50 of Canada’s favourite women’s soccer/curling podcast, 99 Friendship, is upon you like Carli Lloyd upon the injured list.

On this week’s fabulous, long-prepared episode:

  • Remember the Canada Games? Okay, you have no excuse to have forgotten, they ended last weekend. But the women’s soccer portion ended ages ago and we have some extremely scattered thoughts and memories which, given that you are listening to a show hosted by an Alberta fan and a Quebec fan, naturally focus primarily upon British Columbia.

  • I’m not even going to pretend we fully recap the past three weekends of NWSL action. We do, however, briefly recap the past weekend, and even-more-briefly recap the history of NWSL discipline!

  • In honour of Canada’s CIS athletes doing very respectably against ostensibly-superior teams, we try and fail to say “Universiade.

  • It’s ’90s night at the Houston Dash! Or rather it was ’90s night at the Houston Dash, then after we recorded it actually happened and Carli Lloyd allegedly broke herself. Also, we spend a lot of time making fun of Carli Lloyd, which would be uncomfortably ironic in light of her injury if, y’know,
    it wasn’t Carli Lloyd and she didn’t melodramatically exaggerate an alleged curb-stomping from Melissa Tancredi at the 2012 Olympics or we’d ever forgiven her. Anyway the point is that we talk about the ’90s. Only one of the members of this podcast is old enough to have a clear memory of all the ’90s. So naturally it’s the other one who actually remembers more ’90s stuff.

  • Finally, lest this sound like too much of a good thing, we end on our recurring feature when we have like five minutes of show left to fill, Carolyn’s Canwoho Corner, where she laughs about what ridiculous thing Hockey Canada has done with the world’s second-best women’s hockey program this time.

The Canada Games at Their Most Canadian

By Benjamin Massey · August 3rd, 2017 · No comments

Lee Kormish/Canadian Soccer Association

I’ve been watching an unusual amount of Canada Games women’s soccer for the past week. This is to say, I have been watching any Canada Games women’s soccer. The tournament is taking place in Winnipeg and the soccer crowds have, while decent, been largely family members. When SportsCanada.tv runs a webstream you hear parents deriding referees, mumbling about poor tactics, and shouting “let’s go red!” It’s like being back in U-14 except for the camera guy telling the parents they’re on the Internet.

I am a hopelessly absimilated British Columbia resident of thirteen years’ standing, so as always I am cheering for my native Alberta. This has been a better time than you’d think. Alberta beat British Columbia, who feature multiple players 99 Friendship devotees have heard of, 3-0 thanks to clever breaks and two terrific free kicks. Alberta went on to drop its semifinal to Ontario 1-0, which is more than fair enough, and will play Nova Scotia for bronze.

Some players I’ve seen have looked interesting but, with all respect, not worth a blog post. The Canada Games are weird. The soccer tournament is restricted to under-18s and obviously doesn’t lure overseas talent. Their website tantalizes you with top players who have participated, some of whom are very heavy metal, but only the cognoscenti would have known their names at the time. Kara Lang, who played as a 14-year-old in 2001, was as close as you’d get and she was more than a year from her senior international debut.

That’s by design. In fact even youngsters who might lend the Canada Games some star power, a Jordyn Huitema or a Deanne Rose, are deliberately excluded. Canada Games rules forbid not only professional athletes but all senior soccer internationals. Even if Rose and Huitema wanted to go to Winnipeg again they weren’t given the choice. Cara Lang actually is playing for Alberta alongside her twin sister Brooke, but that joke works much better verbally than written down.

The Canada Games are not a glamour tournament. Never have been. It is only natural to make your rules on the “well I didn’t want to go out with that smoking hot woman anyway” principle. Once you’ve accepted your mediocrity there’s even a competitive argument to keep out the occasional slumming elite. Andre De Grasse randomly blitzing the field in athletics wouldn’t help anybody; Jordyn Huitema getting on the end of Julia Grosso and Emma Regan’s excellence would probably have guaranteed British Columbia woso gold but that somehow isn’t a priority of the organizers.

But maybe it should be.

Canadians love inter-provincial competition. The Canada Games themselves seem like they ought to be a joke but never really are; better crowds show up in Sherbrooke or Prince George or Whitehorse to cheer on a bunch of unknown teenagers than you would ever get in any other context.

Soccer provinces are represented by amateur champion clubs fighting for national honours, which is not quite the same thing. Provincial rivalry has never really been a serious part of ice hockey, that greatest Canadian sport, and in Canadian football only the Saskatchewan Roughriders exemplify it. But the other great Canadian winter game knows what’s what.

What is the most respected championship in the world of curling? The Olympic Games, probably, but that’s glory reflecting off five Olympic rings rather than anything intrinsic. If we exclude that as a special case, who’s next? Not the World Championships, tightly contested though they are. Certainly not the European Championships, nor the Pacific-Asia Championships, nor any crown where hundreds of millions of people are represented by the gallant sliding warriors vying to wear it. The answer is the Brier, the Canadian men’s curling championship, and the Tournament of Hearts, the women’s championship. (Curling, not incidentally, joins soccer as the only team sports in Canada where affection for the women rivals that for the men.)

Is it because the best rinks in the world are all Canadian so the worlds are just a coronation for Canucks? Definitely not; prior to this past year Canada had lost eight World Women’s Curling Championships in a row, four times to the Swiss. The best men’s curling team in the world is probably Swedish, that of Niklas Edin. The Worlds have a higher all-round standard than the Brier or the Tournament of Hearts, where 40% of the entrants are always thorough sadsacks. Even if we give Canada special merit for all-round excellence our Olympic trials, where only the best teams compete, are played at a noticeably higher level. Yet the Brier and the Tournament of Hearts are much, much more prestigious.

Though I somehow doubt it was deliberately done, we have the perfect Dominion for sports rivalry. A couple big bad provinces to play the ubiquitous heels, a wide second-tier of provinces with people and resources enough to dominate a particular sport or win on their day, and utterly lovable underdogs in the three Territories. The United States, with fifty states and a bevy of variously-categorized colonies, cannot help but turn interstate competition into dull knockout affairs where you don’t care three-quarters of the time. Australia may have too few states, and those they have are too unbalanced, but Sheffield Shield interstate cricket remains alive. The English do rather well on the county scale with rugby and cricket, though in recent decades the complaint has been that these competitions have become second-class adjutants to big-money tournaments. Then again, in Canadian soccer, that’s all we’re asking for.

Canada is the perfect size. Not only can every province play every other regularly, but any citizen has very specific reasons for hating the other nine. Except maybe New Brunswick. Then again I’m not a Newfoundlander dealing with Saint John versus St. John’s. That’s another happy element: it’s everyone versus Ontario, always, but we also have our own particular rivalries.

Other sub-national entries compete in soccer. In CONCACAF we are used to French insular regions, integral parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and whatever Puerto Rico is showing up at the Gold Cup and sometimes even World Cup qualifying. Something similar happens in Oceania. In Spain, both the Basque and Catalan “national” teams occasionally play and beat independent countries, but they are expressions of nationalism rather than competing subdivisions of the Spanish kingdom. Should Canada launch a first-rate inter-provincial soccer competition along the lines of curling it would be unique in the world.

In its current format the Canada Games can never give us what curling already has. To deeply care about U-18 teams with the famous players taken out, you have to be much more personally invested than I am. What’s more, especially on the men’s side, it’s hard to imagine an elite player returning from Europe to spend a week at the Canada Games under any circumstances.

We could still move forward. The Canada Games organizers are no fools and work closely with governing bodies in their respective sports. What would we do if the Canadian Premier League took a ten-day break midseason and sent domestic players to the Canada Games? It would be a hell of a lot more interesting than an All-Star game. This year in particular, while NCAA is out of season and the NWSL has spun down for the European Championships, the women’s Canada Games could have been astonishing, even if McLeod and Sinclair stayed away. Not just the current professionals, but those hoping to kick their way back into the game. Imagine if it was Kara Lang, as well as Cara, suiting up for Alberta.

When looking to grow soccer in Canada, we talk about marketing and elite players and everything everyone in every other country talks about. What we don’t spend enough time on are characteristically Canadian elements. We have our own history, something like our own culture and values still bobbing to the surface through a flood of global sewage. Say “make soccer Canadian” and people imagine MLS and old NASL-style rule changes to attract yokel-fans allegedly too unsophisticated to handle the world’s most popular sport. What we should actually be doing is fitting the game we all love into the right holes in the country we hopefully love even more.

The Vancouver Whitecaps Do Not Hate Canada

By Benjamin Massey · July 27th, 2017 · No comments

The Vancouver Whitecaps made news earlier in the week when they exiled two young Canadians to inhospitable Arctic climes. Don’t worry, for once I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Calgary-raised left back Sam Adekugbe is off to IFK Göteborg of the Swedish Allsvenskan. You know Adekugbe from persistently promising cameos. In MLS, in the most recent Gold Cup, last season in the English Championship with Brighton and Hove Albion. Then he gets hurt and has to try to break through again. Usually in a different country. Lots of players get hurt; Adekugbe’s most serious injury is always to the memory of the coach who used to rate him.

Second, local boy Ben McKendry has joined FC Edmonton. McKendry is not even the flashiest player named “Ben” on the Eddies from his Whitecaps Residency class. In those days he ways always respectable and rarely a future professional. He reeked of someone who’d play a PDL season or two, be okay, and eventually you’d see him running second in the VMSL in assists and go “oh yeah.”

But he stepped up for the Whitecaps U-18s; no star but someone you always wanted in the lineup. He went to the University of New Mexico, stepped up, was no star but someone you always wanted in the lineup. Trained with the Whitecaps, stepped up, was no star but etc., got his pro deal and settled in with the reserves, stepped up. In 55 career USL appearances with the Whitecaps reserves, he has 53 starts.

This is not a phrase you often hear on Maple Leaf Forever!, but the Whitecaps have done right by both Canadians. Adekugbe, born in England, has an undisguised desire to play in Europe. Since Jordan Harvey appears invulnerable in Vancouver’s affections and Carl Robinson hasn’t yet appreciated how washed-up fellow Canadian Marcel de Jong is, Adekugbe could either be a rotation player in Vancouver or go to Sweden and fight his way into the eleven with a clean slate. Sweden, like Canada, plays on a summer schedule, so Adekugbe is even positioned to recover and win a Whitecaps starting spot in 2018 if it comes to that. The Swedish league is nice and good players come out of it, but it flies under the radar and it took open minds to make this loan happen, whereas Brighton was an obvious target league-wise and has an old relationship for Vancouver through CEO Paul Barber. Well done Whitecaps.

The MLS Whitecaps have loaned players to Europe before, but it was all very second-rate. A prospect’s dad gets a team from the German third division on the hook, the Whitecaps say “why not?” Top-division Sweden is quite a bit better, and it probably took some doing.

McKendry is the opposite. He isn’t forgotten or anything: CONCACAF Champions League and Voyageurs Cup games for the Whitecaps, one MLS appearance, even a start earlier this year for the Canadian national team against Bermuda. He never embarrassed himself, but he also never gave the Whitecaps a reason to bench Matias Laba or Cristian Techera or other central midfielders that haven’t been superstars but possess some fascinating aspect in their games (Laba has been a stud before but you take my meaning). And he’s 24. He’s not a prospect anymore. Whatever he’s going to be he is; now he needs to go prove it’s good.

The Whitecaps have been a service to McKendry too. You’d be stupid to write him off when he’s stepped up so often before. He is, in fact, somebody Edmonton needs, a safe team-first right foot in the middle of the park who runs all day. The Eddies need that guy so badly they’ve tried to turn Allan Zebie into a left-footed version; with, it must immediately be declared, early success. He won’t help their desperate offensive problem directly, but if he frees Dustin Corea to go insane for attack that’ll be something.

Ben McKendry is not somebody who impresses you with his tools. He never has been, and that’s why I underestimated him with the Whitecaps Residency. The only way McKendry will have an MLS career is if he goes to a level just below MLS and proves that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; to put his coach into the position where he says “well, I know Ben can do it.” I do not say that McKendry has that additional rise in level, but he did it the same way from USSDA U-18 to PDL to NCAA to USL.

This space has put much effort into hating the Whitecaps for their handling of Canadians. Philippe Davies, Bryce Alderson, Russell Teibert (still!), Ben Fisk (McKendry’s new Eddies teammate), Daniel Stanese, you’d need a few hours for me to get through the Canadians who I think the Whitecaps didn’t give their due.

The Carl Robinson epoch has been an improvement. Recently I was in a Twitter argument about whether Alphonso Davies could be considered a “bench player” because he has made slightly more than half of his Whitecaps appearances off the bench, and whether that was justified. Then I realized that arguing in those terms was, itself, a sign of progress that shouldn’t be discounted. McKendry and Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese have at least seen the chances Bryce Alderson never did, and I won’t pretend they seized them. Among the veterans, Marcel de Jong plays and David Edgar did when he could. The Whitecaps plucked de Jong from the Ottawa Fury for God’s sake.

Now we have McKendry and Adekugbe away on loan. These are happy moves. Vancouver and Edmonton have been friendly for the entire Colin Miller era, but McKendry is actually the first Canadian Whitecap loanee to go to Edmonton. At least two other Canadians in an earlier era refused a move after the teams agreed, but that was a failure of Vancouver salesmanship as much as anything. The Whitecaps coach in question didn’t believe he was doing anything more than keeping a write-off occupied.

As for Adekugbe, much though I wish he was starting in Vancouver, I bet young Sam himself would prefer to start in Sweden. He is the closest thing to a bad old Vancouver story: the young Canadian who did great in limited action but never got past the mediocre American, the MLS-standard crappy veteran of whom Jordan Harvey is the anthropomorphic personification. But Sam’s injuries are very real; not “nagging knocks” that are half-excuse, necessitating three months to get over a cut little toe, but serious surgery-demanding problems. It’s a point of view even if it’s not one I agree with.

Steven Sandor has been tracking Canadian minutes every week in Canada’s three professional leagues. As of this moment Vancouver runs fourth in MLS at about an hour per game, behind not just the other two Canadian teams but Cyle Larin’s Orlando City. They are also behind four NASL teams, and the NASL has one Canadian side in it. This is very bad. No other country would tolerate this from a club that’s allegedly part of it. But oh my God it is so much better than what we used to have.

The Whitecaps should give young Canadians more minutes. Their first team prospects aren’t good enough to sacrifice the future for, and their U-18s and U-16s (minus Alphonso Davies of course) just had a nice run in the USSDA playoffs. However, progress and good intentions are important when they have been absent for so long. Sam Adekugbe and Ben McKendry are two players who, under Martin Rennie, would have languished until their contracts expired and everyone forgot about them. Now they have excellent first-team chances and, if they don’t make it, it won’t be for want of an opportunity. Give the Whitecaps credit for what they’ve worked hard to do.

99 Friendship Episode 49

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 24th, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s episode of 99 Friendship:

  • It’s a crappy buffet of women’s soccer content! There’s nothing delicious enough to really grab a plateful of it, you’re just helping yourself to a multitude of sides and sweets and hoping that makes the hunger stop long enough for you to get home. I may have lost track of my metaphor here.

  • The week in NWSL action was… a week. Nichelle Prince scored a beauty, Kailen Sheridan was involved in an epic slugfest I mean no she wasn’t Kailen Sheridan had nothing to do with any of it everyone respect and admire her unconditionally.

  • Stories about coaches, and their inability to leave when referees tell them to.

  • News from France! There will be a couple more Canadians in les Divisions 1 et 2 for the 2017–18 season! Pretty cool stuff!

  • News from curling, as the teams for the first Grand Slam of next season, the Tour Challenge Tier One, were announced. Some of them have changed, and we talk about that.

  • And finally some olds from curling. We were wondering, how would Curling Canada determine the sixteenth team at the Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this coming year? Turns out Curling Canada answered that for us on June 28. So we get you, and ourselves, caught up.

Doing It to Ourselves

By Benjamin Massey · July 20th, 2017 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Let me take you back, to the heady days of last Friday evening. After a 0-0 draw with Honduras that was more than respectable as these things go, Canada has emerged from the group stage at the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time since 2009.

The 2009 crew was a rag-tag bunch of misfits plus Atiba Hutchinson, and while they outplayed Honduras in the quarter-final they were always an average team overachieving. This year, by contrast, we have the future of the Canadian national team minus Atiba Hutchinson. Hoilett, Arfield, Vitoria, Cavallini (!), hardly a dodgy dual-national is missing. The sole blot on the copybook is Cyle Larin, who, returning from Canada’s June friendly against Curaçao, had far too much to drink, got in his car, drove down the wrong side of the road, and tried to excuse himself to the arresting officer by saying he was a professional soccer player from Canada. We learned that there was video footage of Larin inexcusably, disgracefully drunk at the wheel of his vehicle and that this was as open and shut an incident as you will ever find. Even fans who disdain soccer teams playing judiciary felt a distinct uneasiness.

It’s interesting, how the Canadian Soccer Association handled the Larin case. There clearly was discipline, since he was left off a Gold Cup roster he obviously would otherwise have made. They can’t claim it’s none of their business since they intruded into it. But there was no announcement saying Larin had been suspended for x games, and he was on the “taxi squad” of players to be recalled in contingencies. One is inevitably left with the impression that Octavio Zambrano would sooner have not punished Larin at all, and the Canadian Soccer Association was most concerned with public relations. Had Canada been eliminated in the group stage, as in the previous three Gold Cups, they could have said “we suspended Cyle for the tournament” and nobody could have contradicted them. In the event Canada was not only alive, it was well, and for the umpteenth time principle was discarded for expediency.

You see where this is heading. CONCACAF rules permit a coach to replace six players from his team with guys from the taxi squad, and Zambrano replaced one. The successful Canadian team was broken up only so far as Cyle Larin, who missed Canada’s earlier achievements on account of his literally criminal selfishness, replaced the blameless Raheem Edwards. On top of that, come Thursday evening, Larin was immediately put into the starting lineup. Team? What team?

It’s hardly necessary to say Larin was terrible, because for Canada he usually is. Larin has scored two goals in fourteen games, including ten starts, against remotely serious soccer countries and one was by accident. His howling misses outnumber his tidy finishes. He scores in Major League Soccer, but MLS is too poor a league to predict quality. Bradley Wright-Phillips, a bad English Championship striker with only one aspect to his game and never anywhere near international honours, may be the best striker in MLS history. Add in Larin’s incapacity in other aspects of his game and there’s no reason, beyond a superstitious admiration of the Americans, to give him the benefit of the doubt in the tougher CONCACAF arena.

Larin was just trash. Breaking up a winning setup he had no part in making, he missed an open header, failed to make challenging runs, went wide left a couple times and did nothing, failed to harass his defenders into mistakes, failed to execute a single defensive or midfield play. The man is garbage when he can’t finish chances, so for Canada he is almost always garbage.

But a team can survive a selfish, one-dimensional, mercurial player. In fact Canada did: infinitely-ballyhooed mercenary Junior Hoilett played almost every minute of the Gold Cup like he thought England would notice him if he just dangled one more guy, but in this quarter-final his selfishness also yielded a stunning goal from a mile out. When Hoilett is on the ball his teammates almost slump in despair, they know they’ll have to run sixty yards back when he almost-inevitably turns it over, but the point is they do know and they account for it.

The real damage was not in having a bad striker. The damage was that the team collapsed around him. By the time Larin was finally removed we were down 2-0 to Jamaica. Jamaica! A team Canada, even in its present decadence, consistently outplays. A team whose idea of a star is Darren Mattocks. Jamaica.

Lucas Cavallini, who replaced Larin, is no holy terror. I would have preferred Anthony Jackson-Hamel or Tosaint Ricketts, the maligned man, the guy who doesn’t create drama or try to get on SportsCentre so doesn’t get his minutes, he just delivers. But Cavallini has a defender-annoying hip-checking level of pissy effort that Larin hasn’t. Canada tried countless long shots with Larin on: Jamaica smothered them like unplanned babies. With Cavallini agitating the Reggae Boyz, not only could Hoilett score an unchallenged thirty-yarder but he could damned near do it twice. In the last half-hour, especially when Jackson-Hamel entered, Canada looked like they could play heroes and overturn a two-goal deficit for the first time since, according to the Carolyn Duthie Research Bureau, October 1988. They didn’t, but what a reasonable effort it was all the same.

We are cynical men, we soccer fans. We sneer at the idea of intangibles, of friendship and connectedness and team cohesion and other woo-woo nouns. Any Canadian men’s head coach of the last twenty years would have done what Zambrano did and give liquored-up Larin his starting spot based on pedigree and club form. But John Herdman, coach of Canada’s women’s team, definitely wouldn’t. And ask yourself, out of the men and the women which team consistently outperforms the theoretical sum of its parts, and which team consistently underperforms it?