99 Friendship Episode 39

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 25th, 2017 · No comments

I don’t say this every week, but I really liked this episode. It was also – and to be honest we should at least consider the possibility this isn’t a coincidence – one of the more soccer-focused episodes we’ve done in a while. With the NWSL season kicking off, and the world mixed doubles curling championship horrifying us, we sink about twenty of the thirty minutes into pure, uncut woso, shot straight into your eyeballs like a junkie who thinks fentanyl is the spice of life.

On this week’s 99 Friendship:

  • As alluded to, NWSL action! No Canadians troubled the scorers this past week but many of them still did things, from Christine Sinclair contemplating murder to Adriana Leon possibly contemplating a change of career.
  • The NWSL’s statkeeping causes me to have a massive nervous breakdown live on air.
  • Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence are odds-on to face in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final on May 1, which would be awesome if the Women’s Champions League had ever been broadcast in Canada, which it hasn’t. This exercises us.
  • Kaylyn Kyle, Canadian cap cententarian and longtime faithful servant to the national team, recently announced her retirement from international soccer on Twitter. I put on the sad music and we talk about one of the country’s most loyal soldiers, who got her start when most people had never even heard of soccer.
  • Okay, we do spend the last eight minutes talking about mixed doubles curling, but for once curling has made us very angry, so even that is fun. I also briefly mention another mixed doubles game, between Russia and Qatar in 2016, that almost literally made me throw up.

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Supplementary listening, because we’re bros:

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99 Friendship Episode 38

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 19th, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s fabulous episode of 99 Friendship:

  • A new NWSL season would mean a new week of women’s-club-soccer-featuring-Canadians excitement, if we had watched much of the first week of the NWSL, which we didn’t.
  • The Grand Slam of Curling continued its slamminess. Val Sweeting won curling’s Rogers Cup, which there is no independent evidence of the existence of but was definitely mentioned by Rob Faulds. She also got Chelsea Carey, who was not at this event, into the Olympic trials. I was going to say “it makes sense in context” but I’m not sure it does?
  • Also Jennifer Jones won. We can go back to hating Rachel Homan now; it is therapeutic.
  • Apparently Colleen Jones (no relation) is representing Canada at the world senior curling championships in Lethbridge. My voice rises an octave when we talk about this.
  • Colin Hodgson’s hair happened.
  • Four of those five bullet points were curling. Deal with it.

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99 Friendship Episode 37

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 10th, 2017 · No comments

Episode 37 of 99 Friendship. I don’t know how we got this far either, as Chelsea Carey said to Colin Hodgson before their mixed doubles semifinal.

Carolyn instructed me to say that she has been so sated by mixed dubz action that she no longer likes regular curling. Despite having tickets to the regular curling later this week. I’d make fun of her, but when the rubber met the road I cut almost everything we had to say about the men’s world curling championships from the podcast, in favour of more mixed doubles. (And soccer. Actually quite a bit of soccer this week. Given that we’re discussing two games of soccer and about seven hundred games of mixed doubles curling, the attention we give to soccer is really greater, when you think about it.)

You see, Canada’s women’s soccer team did something triply amazing: they played two friendlies (!) that were webstreamed (!!) and went excellently (!!!). About the only frost on the ice of their perfection was the fact that we played two goalkeepers and both of them made a mistake. Kailen Sheridan’s was heartbreaking because she literally cried after. Steph Labbe’s was infuriating because it was the same damned mistake she’s been making non-stop ever since Erin McLeod’s knee decided it didn’t want all its ligaments anymore. Is the moral of the story that I’ll sympathize with athletes more if they cry when they screw up? Well it’s worth trying isn’t it? (glances sidelong at the Edmonton Oilers)

Anyway, we do the soccer talk early, so if you’re repelled by curling you can wait until my awkward segue then turn off and listen to people masturbating over 12.5% of a World Cup. But trust me, the Team HoMo, Brennifer and Courruthers mixed dubz experiences are much more fun.

Waste of a World Cup

By Benjamin Massey · April 10th, 2017 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

On Monday the Canadian Soccer Association, along with Mexico and the United States, announced we are bidding to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. All three countries had expressed individual interest and collaboration had long been in the wind, especially when the 48-team format was announced. The expectation is that Canada will host ten of a total 80 games.

To the Canadian this is a mixed blessing. Should we get an automatic spot Canada’s players will probably be humiliated, because after thirty years getting worse at men’s soccer there’s no sign we’ll be any better in the next nine. Our men’s U-20s, who will be in their primes in 2026, just got the everloving hell beat out of them at the CONCACAF championships. On the other hand, to play is to have a chance. Eddy Berdusco scored against Brazil once. Richard Hastings scored the golden goal against Mexico. Anyway even in defeat it would be a hell of an experience.

There’s the overhyped development angle. Mythology says that, after the ill-fated NASL, the 1994 World Cup kickstarted professional soccer in the United States. Well, in 1993 the Americans had 43 professional soccer clubs between the fully-professional APSL and the weird-hybrid USISL. By an equally generous count Canada has five. 2026 is a long way away, but unless there’s a revolution comparing ourselves to the 1993 Americans is honestly embarrassing. The generation which grew up in the shadow of Canada’s success at the 1986 World Cup happens to be the current one; it is vile.

Hosting ten games worth of World Cup couldn’t hurt of course. If the Canadian Premier League is limping along, maybe it’ll even be the vital shot in the arm, but for the money surely to Christ we could do a lot more. Because that’s the only real objection to this plan: money.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Canada could host ten games tomorrow. Shove teams into BC Place, Olympic Stadium, Commonwealth Stadium, even SkyDome if Toronto isn’t busy with the North American synchronized diving championships. Buy new artificial turf maybe, but all those buildings meet structural requirements and are in cities that have trains, airports, and hotels. Sell ’em out for Belgium – Botswana, it’ll look respectable, total cost six bucks. This is more-or-less what we did for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and that was great!

But that’s bullshit, we both know it, it absolutely does have to be that way. Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux were wrong that artificial turf is a misogynist plot but right that it is impossible in any sense but the physical for a first world country to host the men’s World Cup so efficiently. For 2015 Canada’s only hosting competition was Zimbabwe and even they dropped out. In 2026 we’ll face a lot worse, including comparisons between us and the Americans with their trillion-dollar taxpayer-subsidized gold-plated NFL palaces. If Canada cheaps out we’ll look second-class before the world next to the Americans. It is inconceivable that FIFA would approve us hosting our games on artificial turf in CFL-calibre stadiums, but equally inconceivable that our governments would have the strength of character to let us.

Can you honestly imagine FIFA, or the Canadian government, letting a billion people watch a World Cup game at SkyDome? On artificial turf? Cathal Kelly’s head would burst like an balloon full of blood. We’re going to have to build, or rebuild, everything. None of our existing facilities, save Commonwealth Stadium, are even theoretically capable of taking real grass, which you can bet your life will be a requirement. Even a token role in this tournament is going to cost a fortune.

2026 is a long way off and even if the World Cup doesn’t happen we’ll have something new by then. No doubt paid for by irresponsible public servants capitulating to pro sports owners, like the already-crumbling new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium. But that is no reason to invite even more expensive mistakes for the sake of an eighth of a World Cup.

With 48 teams playing between three countries, disconnected bureaucracies, and participating regions not known for probity, the opportunities for graft will be colossal. Maybe no single event in the history of the First World will give as many opportunities to the crook. Huge “public works” not meant for much more than looking pretty for a month, spread out between ridings. The semi-legal embezzlement of environmental impact statements, First Nations consultations, economic benefit analyses, that already put insiders’ kids through university. The knowledge that, whatever happens, we daren’t look like the poor cousins, and that the chequebook always has one more page.

I am a great soccer fan. The Canadian men have never made the World Cup in my lifetime and to experience that, even on television, would be the sort of sports pleasure I can barely imagine. Moreover there ain’t nothing wrong with taking it through a host’s spot in an inflated tournament. They don’t ask how, just how many. But none of that justifies me asking that the 99.99% of this country that doesn’t care about Canadian soccer be compelled under threat of force to pay enormous sums for my hobby.

Even if you don’t think maybe Canadians should keep their own money, surely (to pick one of a thousand examples) a Toronto downtown relief subway line would be cheaper, generate more jobs, help more people, and have more benefits than 12.5% of a soccer tournament, and I don’t even live in Toronto. Compare it to what proponents will call the “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to host part of a World Cup, though at age 30 I’ve seen four World Cups we hosted by ourselves. It could be justified if all we needed was to repaint what we’ve already paid for, as in 2015, or if it was a self-confident country in a spirit of vigour and celebration splurging on a luxury, and here I can’t help but cite the Montréal Olympics though even they went pearshaped. Neither describes Canadians spending billions of dollars to play third fiddle to Mexico and the United States, as if we didn’t live that every day for nothing.

99 Friendship Episode 36

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 3rd, 2017 · No comments

As inevitable as David Murdoch disappointing his fans but at least 50% more entertaining, it’s 99 Friendship Episode 36! Sadly we recorded this on Sunday afternoon, before Brad Gushue had humiliated ol’ Davey Boy and let Carolyn dance triumphantly in the face of Scottish Carolyn. But happily, I edited this on Monday afternoon, when I was very tired and a little insane from working on MySQL for 48 of the past 72 hours. If you aren’t familiar with MySQL, just know that I’m simultaneously exhausted and crazy, like Emma Miskew.

On this week’s episode of 99 Friendship, we talk about women’s soccer for eight minutes, welcoming back Adriana Leon and crying out loud for some real fullbacks! I talk like a crappy tour guide for twenty seconds but don’t worry, it seems much longer! The Women’s World Hockey Championships are taking place in Plymouth, Michigan featuring what can only be called “an American team you’ve heard of,” and as sad as that is Canada losing to Finland for the first time ever in real play was even sadder. So we tell ourselves we’re not going to talk about it, then we talk about it.

And, as the lede alluded to, a lot of curling. World Men’s in Edmonton. Brad Gushue doing well (and doing even better after recording time). Not Thomas Ulsrud not exactly looking like the next Michelle Englot, but beating supposedly real curler David Murdoch, who is currently refunding his haggis all over the frost-scarred cool water that Northlands Coliseum insists on calling ice. Also some Russians played one of the worst games of curling in the history of humanity. Don’t worry about which Russians they are, it doesn’t matter, their coach has changed all their positions by now anyway. (That’s not a joke he actually has.)

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99 Friendship Episode 35

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · March 28th, 2017 · No comments

I can’t be arsed to do an entertaining blurb for this week’s episode so here come the bullet points again.

  • Rachel Homan won the World Women’s Curling Championships. I insist on continuing to call it the World Women’s Curling Championships because that’s stupid phrasing. This in no way stops me from phrasing everything I say throughout the 30-minute episode stupidly.
  • Yes, we devote time to discussing whether Rachel Homan hugged Emma Miskew after winning. (I don’t want to spoil it.)
  • Given that his approach just achieved a considerable international success, I make fun of Adam Kingsbury a lot.
  • Various fashion Choices are discussed in detail.
  • There was not much women’s soccer. We do say the words “Adriana Leon” at one point. NWSL is going to start someday presumably, though you can never be sure.
  • We talk about a U-18 curling tournament in St. Albert, and a mixed doubles event in Brantford. Look it was one of those weeks? Yeah Rachel Homan won the world women’s but all her games were at Fuck Off o’clock! I accidentally fell asleep during the final! Twice!
  • Then right at the end of the episode we remember the men’s Worlds are happening this coming week so we talk about them for a short time.

And we don’t mention it at all in the podcast, because it hadn’t happened yet, but I’m going to embed this video of Sophie Schmidt’s scorching goal for 1. FFC Frankfurt anyway because both it and her Lawrence of Arabia-style motorcycle goggles are well worth seeing.

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99 Friendship Episode 34

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · March 21st, 2017 · No comments

Thank you for bearing with this day-late upload of your favourite women’s soccer/curling podcast, 99 Friendship, as Carolyn and your humble author go quietly mad trying to balance work, school, and staying on Beijing time to see Rachel Homan curl questionably on violently bad Chinese ice at the World Women’s, then somehow beat absolutely everybody. Since we recorded Rachel has edged another squeaker over the United States’s Nina Roth then slapped the kilt off of Eve Muirhead, because this tournament is subtitled with whatever is Chinese for “randomness makes things interesting.” There’s a big draw against Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg tonight/tomorrow morning depending on what time zone you’re reading this from, and God knows what will happen.

Also, she’s smiling quite a bit. She seems to be in a good mood. Her high-fives of Joanne and Lisa as she slides up to take her shots seem less perfunctory than usual. At once point against Sidorova she spent a while looking at a house that could have been cleared out with Random Big Weight Madness, mused worriedly to Emma Miskew “I don’t think I have a shot,” then played a glorious high-precision soft-weight tap-back to get a big end. There’s a lot of smog in Beijing and she may be suffering from hypoxia. When Hasselborg inevitably drops Homan like a sack of doorknobs in the final, I’m worried Rachel is going to snap in a way beyond even the reach of a sports psychologist.

Also the Elite 10 happened, and Old Man Curling was a lot of fun, and Kevin Koe tried very hard to go home earlier, and we have some laughs.

Women’s soccer content this week consists of a) “hey Saskatchewan named its players of the year I guess?” and b) “oh the Kent State woso recruiting class.” I mean it’s not a high-content woso week, the fact that we get as many minutes out of it as we do is a tribute to how much we care. You’re welcome.

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99 Friendship Episode 33

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · March 13th, 2017 · 1 comment

There is exactly 4:20 of women’s soccer content in this week’s 99 Friendship. Dank af.

In our defense, there were better-than-usual reasons for skimming over our podcast’s nominal topic. First off: yes, the Canadian women’s soccer team played two games in the last week. But neither was streamed (fuck you, Portugal!) and Canada didn’t score any goals for us to salivate over. So what the hell were we supposed to say? “Losing to Spain is kinda sucky, unless we played really well but it wasn’t our day, which is possible, though it might not be what happened, and anyway it was the Algarve Cup so who actually cares, we lost to Denmark at the last one of these then won an Olympic bronze medal.” The most interesting thing to happen was Nichelle Prince and Jordyn Huitema getting substituted off after only 40 minutes in the final, and the story there is “what happened? I dunno.”

Also, the Brier (Canada’s men’s curling championship) happened. Both Carolyn and my rink lost in awkward ways, but I’m louder so we talk about mine more. Also the women’s world curling championships (sorry, the world women’s curling championships) are happening next weekend at Oh God-o’clock, which gives Carolyn an excuse to recount old stories of Rachel Homan blowing world finals. Also also, Cathy Overton-Clapham is playing with my girl Chelsea Carey next year. Which is excellent.

Solid solid content this week.

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99 Friendship Episode 32

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · March 6th, 2017 · No comments

Our women’s soccer podcast has some women’s soccer in it this week! Yes we spent the last ten minutes talking about the first two games of the Algarve Cup, and made some pessimistic predictions about the third game against Portugal that wound up not being quite pessimistic enough. We’re in the final against Spain, we told you we would be, but instead of squeaking out a narrow 1-0 win we drew 0-0. And the Portuguese didn’t bother broadcasting it. Sad!

But if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. And the Brier, Canada’s brocurl championship, is on, so yeah we treat you to twenty minutes talking about curlers we hate (Adam Casey, Brad Jacobs) and curlers we love (Carly Howard, on the basis of her running Team Glenn Howard’s Twitter account and apparently treating the Brier as a week-long party, which is the only way it should be treated if you aren’t competing).

Good episode. If you like our curling talk. And I mean you’ve got to be used to it by now, we’ve been doing it for how many months now? I feel like I should apologize for it but come on.

Anyway, here are the CSA’s Algarve Cup highlights. Especially nice to appreciate that backpass to Sinclair in the Russia game, which was something. And the killer dramatic music. Ooh ah.

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Putting the Team Second

By Benjamin Massey · March 5th, 2017 · 1 comment

Ville Vuorinen/Canada Soccer

On a dreary Friday morning, far from and unseen by almost all of her fans, Christine Sinclair scored. She does that a lot. On this occasion, Russian forward Anna Cholovyaga dropped a long way back and attempted a backpass to… well, it’s hard to say who she wishes it went to, but anyway it went to Sinclair, and she buried it with the nonchalance of Kutuzov against Napoleon. The only thing easier would have been to knock away a failed clearance while unmarked, which come to think of it is how she scored against Denmark on Wednesday.

Sinclair, 33 years old, now has 167 international goals, 17 behind American legend Abby Wambach for the all-time lead in the history of international soccer. Two have come at this year’s Algarve Cup and both were cheapies. But the only reason we phrase it that way is because we compare the goals to the good old days when Sinclair could never capitalize on an awkwardly-handled Deanne Rose cross because there was no Deanne Rose to cross it to her. If she’d been doing this all her life we’d call her a “poacher” and count it in her favour, but because we’re used to her being the team, notwithstanding a Melissa Tancredi having the game of her life or a Kara Lang having moments of inspiration between months of injuries, it seems like an insult. This is how genius, as it fades to mere intelligence, becomes its own condemnation.

There are asterisks all over the record. Male soccer players play many fewer international games than women. Sinclair has 253 senior international appearances, no Canadian man has more than Julian de Guzman’s 89, and the leading male worldwide is Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan with 184. The top men’s international goalscorer of all time is Iran’s Ali Daei with 109, dozens away from the both-genders podium. In short women’s soccer is one of the few athletic fields where men are statistically behind the women, and with the enormously different economics of their respective games they will never catch up.

Whichever of Sinclair or Wambach finishes on top will probably be there forever. The age where large, lone strikers can write the record books like Charles Dickens being paid by the word are passed. Alex Morgan caught the tail end of the glory days and possessed a preternatural innate talent, and is still over a hundred goals behind Wambach with no prospect whatsoever of catching her. Brazil’s Marta has 105 goals in 101 caps, hurt by her association’s indifference to the women’s team outside Olympic years, but for all her great early seasons she’s no record threat. Truly excellent young strikers no longer score such circus numbers thanks to tactical developments, and while the men’s record book is full of Arab players who got loads of opportunities against mediocre opposition, this for obvious reasons will not affect the women’s game in the foreseeable future.

The Sinclair/Wambach duel is one for history. It’s like when Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were fighting for scoring titles: they were both obviously historic greats, but whichever one of them set the highest mark was never going to lose it.

Wambach scored her 167th goal at the age of 33 years, nine months, and ten days, on March 12, 2014 against North Korea (at, coincidentally, the Algarve Cup). On the day of her 167th Sinclair was 33 years, eight months, and 19 days old. Moreover, and I do not pretend to be objective when I say this, on quality I would take March 2017 Sinclair over March 2014 Wambach.

But Wambach infamously hung on too long, all-but-forcing the United States to carry her to another World Cup victory in 2015 when on merit she certainly should have been dropped. Sinclair is already overall less effective than Janine Beckie and has the reputation of a woman who will not put herself ahead of the team. The alarm clock will go for her eventually, and it’s hard to imagine her playing boardroom games to keep her minutes up. Essentially tied with Wambach at her age, Sinclair may not have the same advantage in her autumn years.

The day will come, if it has not already, when Canada will have to ask whether it would rather Sinclair passes Wambach or Canada wins soccer games. Promising Canadian attacking players such as Deanne Rose and Ashley Lawrence have been shuffled around the formation, buying Sinclair time, but this will not last forever. Another promising forward who’s scored plenty in the NCAA, Alex Lamontagne, just made her senior debut. At any time her own development or Canada’s wide defensive frailty might necessitate moving young Deanne Rose to the centre of the park, where Sinclair currently roams. Against the weak Russians, Beckie was involved in several good chances, but she was substituted off for Lamontagne while Sinclair went the full 90. This probably isn’t strategy, since Canada faces the also-feeble Portuguese on Monday and only after that will meet a real team in whatever their placing match is. If anything, Canada should have pumped goals past the mistake-prone Russians to improve their goal difference. But coach John Herdman apparently wanted Christine Sinclair to get them.

This could have hurt the team, though since China and Sweden drew later in the day Herdman probably got away with it. But he was right.

Dedication to the individual rather than the whole runs contrary to what we know we should think, in sports and in life. English writer E. M. Forster, with his usual straightforward contrarianism, said “if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” This was most famously quoted by Soviet spy Anthony Blunt when, still unexposed, he defended not reporting friend and fellow-traitor Guy Burgess. In his context the inevitable first thought is that either Blunt did not know what sort of swine his “friend” Burgess really was, in which case protection reflected poorly on him, or that he did know, in which case it reflected even worse. We now know it was the latter: Blunt was himself in the pay of totalitarianism and by supporting Burgess he was supporting “his” country, the Soviet Union. So Forster’s attitude, that of the individual ahead of the institution, did not really apply, and yet the ordure that sprayed from the wound of Blunt’s treachery caught Forster as well.

Yet even those of us who would dissent as a rule have to admit that Forster was, maybe not right, but right enough. His aphorism is unusual because it’s wrong in general but right in detail. Most of the time the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but sometimes the needs of the one trounce them both. It is impossible to define when those times are. Sometimes you need to fire the pleasant but incompetent employee to help save the jobs of six others. But once every blue moon you’ll give up the ship to save one man, and there is no formula to tell you if a dilemma is coming until it arrives.

The object’s own opinion does not always matter. Part of why we honour Christine Sinclair is because we know that if we grabbed her and said “answer now: world record or World Cup?” she’d say “World Cup!” without hesitation. And we’d believe her! Like Cato the Younger, she would subordinate all to the health of her people, and if we insisted on raising personal ambition would not sneer, but remind us when the time came to pay the price. She’s the one we can trust above all, to act for us rather than for herself, and so we should honour her especially. It is the contradiction where sincere public-mindedness in an individual means that individual should get more of our favour.

Every four years, somebody wins a World Cup, and every four years, somebody wins the Olympic Games. Huge achievements that will survive the players who won them. But however great such a victory is, give it a few years and there’ll be another one for somebody else. Galt FC won Canada gold in men’s soccer in 1904, but to the casual or the foreigner it’s an excellent trivia question. So it will be if Canada wins the World Cup in 2019: our grandchildren rubbing foreheads over the Trivial Pursuit board, mumbling, “I know we won it somewhere in there…” A heck of a thing, immortality of a kind, but not Mount Olympus.

I want players like Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott and Ashley Lawrence to wear gold medals. I want them to win, lots. I want them to have it all. If a soccer team made up of good, dedicated Canadian men or women wins a world championship, that should be the greatest day of my sporting life. But if Lucifer popped up at the crossroads and said “Ben, I will let you choose. Either a senior Canadian soccer team will win the World Cup, or Christine Sinclair will become the leading scorer in international soccer history,” I’d decide for Sincy. She wouldn’t. If she found out I cast the deciding vote, she’d probably be pissed. That’s part of why I’d vote for her. Nobody said philosophy should be easy.