Anyone who watches players on the lower levels of a soccer pyramid for months winds up biased in their favour. There are no exceptions.
The bigger the league, the more accurately you can see what’s going on. When Toronto FC plays the Colorado Rapids you better know the opposition, which means you can better evaluate your friends, and when you’re uncertain there are a plethora of analysts, statisticians, and fellow fans backing you up. Whereas, down in U-Sports or PDL, you’re got your own two eyes, a handful of questionably-accurate statistics, and a couple other fans dealing with the same problems as you try to figure out why your fave is dominating because he’s brilliant or because he’s facing a future sandwich artist.
All fans want to promote their outstanding talents. Seeing their quality week on week, getting to know their traits, maybe even getting to know them personally. Eventually saying “this kid will be a player.” It’s natural bias: you learn everything about a talent while his opponents are anonymous; it’s fun, but a lousy way to scout.
There are exceptional players in the Canadian bus leagues. Guys who saw Alphonso Davies on the Whitecaps Residency teams are walking around with Jeremy Clarkson-sized smug expressions. I named Russell Teibert and Ben Fisk early on as guys who’d have careers and I was right. I also would have bet big money on Alex Semenets and Jack Cubbon; whoops1. There must be a million other players one of us made a mental note about and evangelized for, and it’s merciful for everyone that we can’t remember them all.
This is the joy of the CanPL draft for the fan, and the agony for the pundit. I’m excited to watch Pacific FC and suddenly they draft players I’ve known for years. I got hype. But I am as biased as can be. Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer is a Dane, co-supremo Rob Friend comes out of the British Columbia interior and has been away from provincial soccer for decades, and his fellow boss Josh Simpson is a Victoria legend who played abroad for almost 15 years. Somehow they hit upon three players from the University of British Columbia, which isn’t even the nearest school to their ground in Langford. Funny, that.
I rate two of Pacific FC’s picks highly and the third gets respect. But trying to be objective, UBC made nationals but was briskly dispatched by Carleton (one player drafted; first overall pick Gabriel Bitar) and UQAM (also just one; old man Andre Bona). It’s hard to imagine the best option being a UBC player every single time. Still, Langford is CanPL’s western outpost, there’s a lot to be said both morally and strategically for recruiting from the region, and for all my partiality I still fly the flag for Thomas Gardner and Zach Verhoven.
The Canadian Premier League’s draft of Canadian university soccer players was right on-brand. It was bespoke, with rules seen nowhere else which neither players nor teams will quite figure out for a year or two. The players chosen were a mix of prospects and full-grown veterans looking for the spotlight, with a handful of intriguing second-chancers mixed in. Inevitably most players picked won’t amount to much but there are flashes of quality and the draft looks set to do what it’s meant to: give overlooked or discarded Canadians a fair shot at professional soccer.
Since there were no standings to base a draft order on, they picked one randomly and used a “serpentine draft” familiar to any fantasy player, where the team that picked seventh in round one would pick first in round two and so on. Not that this draft is going to be anybody’s prime way to stock his team. There were only three rounds. According to the league’s release, players in U-Sports, the top level of university sport in Canada, are eligible for the draft regardless of age or years served. Being drafted essentially amounts to a trial, and the drafting team may offer the player either a developmental contract (if he has university eligibility left) or a standard first-team contract (if he has none).
The draft itself was clearly explained, it’s everything around it that we don’t know. What is the motivation for drafting players who’ve used up all five years of university eligibility? They’re out of school, they have nothing left to protect, they are in principle free agents. Drafting graduated players is explicitly provided for by the rules and was positively mentioned by commissioner David Clanachan, so there is probably a puzzle piece we’re missing. What is the Canadian Premier League equivalent of the MLS “discovery process?” Are undrafted U-Sports seniors just out of luck, or could clubs still bring them in? Because at face value the only reason to draft a senior is because you think someone else will draft him later, and as we’ll see there were cases this year where that looked very unlikely.
Then there is the ability for players to return to school after playing a year of CanPL; in fact, given that U-Sports fixtures take priority over CanPL ones1, you might even say university players will be on loan to the Canadian Premier League. This is a bit undignified but good for the players. Canadian universities have always had much looser rules about amateurism than the American NCAA division one: there are men who actually go play professional soccer and come back to compete in U-Sports with, at worst, a few years of eligibility burned off. Players can try to make it in professional soccer with low risk: they are literally still in school. And players who leave their CanPL teams and return to university play will be entered back into the draft, should they so choose.
Probably related is the geographic bias in selection. Some leagues have formal rules about this. In the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, for example, players are asked to list which areas they’d be willing to play in when they declare for the draft. It’s not a coincidence that les Canadiennes de Montréal just drafted players named Genevieve Bannon, Caroline Daoust, Marie-Joëlle Allard, and Caroll-Ann Gagné. In a league where pay is extremely marginal2 this is a common-sense way to humanely, and cheaply, keep players in the game.
CanPL hasn’t documented anything similar but there are hints that the team sounded out players they were interested in. A majority were from the region the team represents, or went to school in the region, or both. Even among those who weren’t, there could be similar factors: Joel Waterman both lives and goes to school in the Lower Mainland and was drafted by Cavalry, but played PDL in Calgary this past summer. Another Cavalry pick, University of Alberta forward Easton Ongaro, is from Edmonton, which is an easier commute than North Vancouver to Langford. Players expected to sound out European options, like Caleb Clarke, were not selected.
“Area” is loosely defined as the region a team claims to represent. For example, the University of British Columbia is within the Pacific FC area, and Cape Breton is within Halifax Wanderers’, but the University of Alberta is not within Cavalry’s.
The process is of interest, but so are the players themselves. The 21 selected represents a little cross-section of U-Sports athletics: ex-pros, late-bloomers, Academy players who never got a professional look, former youth internationals who couldn’t make the final step, and players who were in the wrong place at the wrong time to get onto Canada’s elite development pathways. Approaches varied from FC Edmonton pretty much drafting its own guys to Cavalry picking from three different schools, none of which was the University of Calgary. Each of these players deserves a comment, and this article will give it, together with the players’ most recent statistics from the 2018 club and university seasons3.
Later on I’ll take a deep dive into two teams whose draftees I know a bit more about: Pacific FC and FC Edmonton. But until then this article—some 8,000 words, altogether—should provide detail enough.
With the 2018 U17 Women’s World Cup kicking off in Uruguay this week, I wanted to take a look back at the previous iterations of the team. Canada is one of only six nations, and the only one from CONCACAF, to have qualified for every edition of the U17 WWC, but has never progressed past the quarterfinals.
As this is Carolyn’s College Corner (more articles will be up soon, I promise), I initially intended only to look back at the 2014 and 2016 rosters, as the bulk of those players are now playing in NCAA, but as I started it became more interesting to see where the older players are now. U17 players from 2016 still have time to grow into the senior team; U17s from 2008 probably aren’t going to break in now if they haven’t already.
There are a couple of ways to interpret the following information—one, as pure trivia, which is always fun. John Herdman fans will say that something about his development path obviously worked, because the 2010 team advanced almost nobody to the senior team while the 2012 roster now makes up the young core of the senior WNT1. Even if he didn’t have much say on the roster—it’s unclear how much impact Herdman would have had on a roster that was assembled only a year after he was hired—his ability to integrate these youth players into the senior team is clearly notable.
One could also look at this list and decide that U17 rosters and performance are unlikely to have much bearing on senior performance for the future, so we shouldn’t try to interpret too much while watching the upcoming tournament. The 2012 U17 team, featuring the likes of Buchanan, Lawrence, Quinn, Prince, and Sheridan, among others, went out in the quarterfinals after a group stage draw with Nigeria and an unconvincing win over hosts Azerbaijan. Four years later, those players all won a medal at the Olympics. The United States, 2015 Women’s World Cup winners, were runners up in 2008. Since then they failed to advance from the group stage in 2012 and 2016 and failed to qualify at all in 2010 and 2014.
The major hope for Canada is that the current coaching staff can continue developing these youth players into solid senior national team players, regardless of this team’s performance in one U17 tournament. The 2008 team seemed promising at the time but only two of the players on that team have developed into CanWNT mainstays, which leaves a bit to be desired in terms of youth player integration.
Now, a look back at Canada’s previous U17 rosters. I’ve stuck to the World Cup rosters, though most did not change dramatically from qualifying rosters. Bolded players have earned at least one senior WNT cap; italicized players are those who have earned senior caps but have not had a recent enough call up to still be considered part of the player pool. When noting other rosters players were on, I checked only the highest level Canada attained that year—any U15 CONCACAF championships, U17 Women’s World Cups, the U20 Women’s World Cups in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016, and CONCACAF U20 qualifying in 2010 and 2018.
Give the Whitecaps credit: their farewell to young star Alphonso Davies last Sunday left no page in the storybook unturned.
In his last match before moving to Bayern Münich Davies scored twice in a win over old rivals Portland before leaving in the 86th minute to a standing ovation. His parents named “Parents of the Match,” a tribute to that beer-sponsored Man of the Match award he’s not allowed to win but should have. Even the Whitecaps’ coach for the day, Craig Dalrymple, was perfect: an unsung hero in the Whitecaps’ youth organization going back to the pre-MLS days, probably the longest-serving man in Vancouver’s soccer operations not on the Football Death Panel and a much-respected man to whom many talented young players, Davies included, owe a great deal.
What else could you ask? For the game to have been relevant, maybe. But then Dalrymple would have been dropping cones for the U-18s rather than pacing an MLS touchline, and the Whitecaps would have sent Davies off far from the fans amid endless recrimination. Whitecaps veterans who should know better, like Russell Teibert and Stefan Marinovic, have already been in the press murmuring about poor team spirit, and aging scrub Efrain Juarez has been delighted to escalate it. Davies’s last day could so easily have tasted like sour grapes rather than ambrosia. All in all, Davies got a blessed ending.
Now he belongs to the ages. Or to Bayern, which is much the same thing, facing that big step up to the pantheon. Ask Kei Kamara, a very fine MLS player who washed out at Norwich and Middlesbrough, or Brek Shea, another pacey winger with size who was a young star in MLS until he went to England and became, um, Brek Shea. Except that neither was a league-record transfer for one of the top clubs in the world. What’s the MLS record for most pressure on a guy?
It comes with advantages. (An inability to choose either good or bad will be a theme of this post.) Learning cultured wing play from Franck Ribéry is good. Given the scale of their investment it’s safe to say Bayern will nurture Davies in the way Shea, say, wasn’t. Opportunities will abound: as Bayern boss Niko Kovač said, “when you spend that much money on a player, you don’t just put him in the second team.” Michael Petrasso could lose important years in the QPR U-23s because the club didn’t have much invested in him; Alphonso Davies, less so.
The kid obviously has every physical gift you could desire and to my knowledge Davies’s work ethic has never been questioned. He isn’t afraid to do the little things to win, whether it’s diving (all the time) or trying to kick Damion Lowe in the head. But his defining skill is his pace, and MLS is a pacey league, and the Bundesliga is not necessarily.
Davies finished the 2018 MLS season with eight goals on fifteen shots on target and 37 shots directed. More than half of his shots on frame, and 21.6% of the shots he attempted, went in. Good for him, but not sustainable even in MLS. Brek Shea could shoot like that in this league, once.
Current Vancouver Whitecaps in Breakout Season Before Europe
Season given for each player is his big year just before he went to Europe; for Davies it is the MLS season before his full-time departure, for Kamara and Shea the year before. Shea was injured in the 2012 MLS season and Kamara was in and out on loan in 2013.
While a player’s ability has everything to do with how many chances he can create, the proportion of those chances hit the back of the net is usually luck1. In his big season, Brek Shea generated more shots than Davies did in his. Shea was 23, a mark against him, but the enormous regression to the mean he’s suffered was more than just running out of time to develop. Davies would be sure to regress as well: 53.3% goals from shots on target is just not sustainable. If anybody expects him to score at about the same rate in a better league he will be badly disappointed. Even Kei Kamara, whose breakout seasons in hindsight have very little of the smoke and mirrors, could not keep it up in England. Then he turned right back into a very good striker in MLS. MLS to Europe is a long way.
Spreadsheets have good news for Davies too. He had 11 assists this past year, tied for fourteenth in the league, and among “physical wide players” the class is him, Romell Quioto, and human regression magnet Julian Gressel. A big guy who can move the ball like Davies can is… there’s no point trying to estimate his worth, the league doesn’t produce them. You can compare Davies’s finishing to Shea’s but Davies provides so many other contributions, with his assists totals never impressing. Davies didn’t even get statistical padding from a hot teammate cashing in his feeds: Kamara, Yordi Reyna, and Cristian Techera did no better than you’d expect, and between them and Davies that’s pretty much the 2018 Whitecaps offense.
MLS flatters offensive talent. The best striker in league history is Bradley Wright-Phillips, a one-dimensional star who runs well and kicks hard and was exceptional in the English League One but on his best day couldn’t star higher up the pyramid. Davies has never had a season in MLS half as productive as Wright-Phillips’s worst full campaign. Wright-Phillips was a known quantity when he joined MLS and nobody yet knows how good Davies will be. Wright-Phillips is an out-and-out striker; Davies is a winger who played wingback when a sweater cut off circulation to Carl Robinson’s brain. Davies is taller, stronger, more useful in his own third. But the comparison holds value: ain’t nobody spending a king’s ransom on Alphonso Davies for his man-marking. He and Wright-Phillips are both attacking stars whose powers are based on speed and who look very good indeed against second-rate CONCACAF defenders.
We know Canadian-trained players can succeed at Bayern Münich: they once plucked a Calgary lad by the name of Owen Hargreaves2 who enjoyed great success. His transfer to Manchester United fetched Bayern what was then the club record fee, since bettered by Toni Kroos and Douglas Costa, and while injury took out his career soon enough he was a cult favourite everywhere and genuinely excellent when healthy3.
But for all the things we would call Owen Hargreaves, “pacey” is not one. He was successful at Bayern because he played soccer well, and he survived a lot more Canadian coaching that Davies did. A good sign for Davies, who spent his formative years in Ghana and landed in Edmonton needing at most a bit of finishing before he was professional-ready. The argument that Canadian coaching inherently ruins players is overblown, but even if you believe it it hasn’t got much to do with Davies.
My inclination towards Davies is cautiously optimistic. You really can’t teach height or speed, but more importantly you can’t teach work rate, and Davies has all three. If you compare Davies to the like of Juarez, who has proven he can get it done at a world-class level but really doesn’t give a damn anymore, you see how much that’s worth. Davies has tools and desire. We can’t see that he has everything else he needs but that’s two hurdles cleared.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves. Alphonso Davies is a talented young man who in the past year probably looked better than he really is. That doesn’t mean he won’t make it, but don’t be afraid to be cautious.
The 2019 CONCACAF Women’s Championship is over, the Canadian women’s national team has no more games scheduled for 2018, and Christine Sinclair is eight goals away from passing Abby Wambach for the all-time women’s international soccer record.
Eight goals. Christine Sinclair has scored eight goals in 2018. She scored eight goals or more in 2015, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2002, and 2000. Her international goals per 90 minutes this year is 0.736, her best since 2012. If you watched Sinclair play the United States Wednesday, your eye will confirm common sense: the 35-year-old woman is slowing down. But she was regardless our best attacking player on the night against a first-rate opponent that looked sharp. Had Sinclair spent the tournament shooting as singlemindedly as Adriana Leon, we might be planning the #ChasingAbby parade already.
Any way you cut it, the grande dame of cansoc has been the country’s leading attacker. Her eight goals for the senior WNT led the team for the first time since 2015. In the women’s game, one year of international soccer is not that small a sample size: Sinclair has played 12 matches for 978 minutes for Canada plus 2,160 for the Portland Thorns. In the NWSL Sinclair scored nine goals, tied for fifth in the league and second on the Thorns behind Lindsey Horan.
International scorers for CanWNT, 2018
Whitecaps Girls Elite
TSS FC Rovers
All figures accurate as of October 18, 2018. All club figures are league play only, 2018 summer season or 2018–19 winter. Asterisks indicate seasons still in progress.
Sinclair also bagged six NWSL assists (tied for fourth in the league, second on the Thorns behind Tobin Heath) and her biggest impact internationally was behind the strikers, holding up and chipping balls to the front line. When we played the United States or Germany and had a nice spell of passing, odds were Sinclair was the fulcrum. If you don’t plan to put Christine Sinclair at the top of your ballot for 2018 Canadian women’s player of the year then I’m not sure who else you can have in mind; it has been a glorious Indian summer for our captain. But the real focus is on her finishing, because the question around her is “can she still pass Abby Wambach?”
I looked into it last December. At the time the tail end of Sinclair’s career was lagging a mile behind Wambach’s: at ages 30, 31, 32, 33, and 34, Abby Wambach scored international goals at a considerably higher rate than Christine Sinclair1. Indeed, the lines for Sinclair and Wambach trended with spooky similarity, except Sinclair was just that 0.4 or so goals per 90 minutes behind. But Sinclair’s age 35 season has been a clear exception. In 2015 a 35-year-old Abby Wambach scored seven times in 24 appearances with a goals/90 minutes of 0.678. This is a darned good number, but, to date, Sinclair has just surpassed it.
Wambach spent 2015 scoring against the likes of Ireland, Mexico, and Costa Rica in friendlies and at the Women’s World Cup. Not first-raters but no minnows. She didn’t get no three goals against Panama and Cuba to pad her totals, as Sinclair did, though when you look at it Sinclair’s 2018 goals against South Korea, Germany, and Costa Rica hold up pretty well. Given how close the figures are you’d probably still give 35-year-old Wambach the edge over 35-year-old Sinclair as a pure finisher, but suddenly it’s an argument again. More importantly, the prospects of successfully #ChasingAbby have probably improved in the past ten months.
Sinclair’s 2019 World Cup qualifying gave her four goals, tied for second on the team behind Adriana Leon, who played 180 minutes, and with Jordyn Hutiema, who got 111. But Huitema and Leon shredded Cuba. By the time Sinclair entered at half, Leon was gunning for a career-best tally and not inclined to give chances away. An opportunity missed. Four is still nice, and Sinclair did unusually well in the first half of the year’s European friendlies, producing a season none of her countrymen could match. In fact Sinclair’s eight international goals is the best among the fifteen women nominated for the 2018 Ballon d’Or Féminin, though not the best in the world2. This isn’t to say Sinclair was the best player in women’s soccer in 2018 but she’s deservedly on the longlist.
If Sinclair is healthy she’s got at least four probable games in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Since France, the host country, is a world leader anyway Canada has a fair chance of being seeded for the draw, which would mean a group as weak as the one we got in 2015. In an inflated 24-team tournament we can count on a game against a minnow and a second-rater, and being seeded would improve our chances of advancing to score more. There’s a goal or two for Sinclair there, and Wednesday’s final against the Americans demonstrated that Sinclair is still a money player.
Moreover, the Canadian Soccer Association tends to schedule plenty of friendlies in World Cup years. In 2015 the WNT played nine pre-World Cup friendlies, in 2011 nine, in 2007 a mere five, but in 2003 we played fifteen. Not for nothing has Sinclair scored at least eight goals in every World Cup year of her career, and at least ten every year but 2011. She gets opportunities. If she was on bad form we might be nervous but she isn’t, nor for club nor country. And with Janine Beckie’s skillset broadening, her runs taking her wider and her playmaking instincts improving, there’s no need for Sinclair to defer to a more athletic poacher unless Leon or Prince makes a leap.
Touch wood, but barring injury Christine Sinclair passing Abby Wambach in 2019 is no longer just “possible.” It’s probable.
We Canadian soccer fans have had a good six weeks. Unusually, both the men’s and women’s senior national teams are playing competitive tournaments, with the gentlemen playing qualifying for the first ever CONCACAF Nations League, and the women playing the confederal championship that doubles as World Cup qualifying. Even more unusually, both teams are living up to all our hopes against, admittedly, shabby opposition.
Neither tournament is an end of itself. The women have three goals: first, qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup (already done in style), their second to beat the United States, God willing, and their third to lift CONCACAF’s huge, silly trophy for the third time. The MNT is in a double qualifier: they must finish top ten in this 34-team tournament to make the 2019 Gold Cup1, and a top six finish puts them in the top group of the Nations League proper starting next September with all the teams you care about.
Since the men’s tournament is the 34 teams in CONCACAF that didn’t make the hex, among whom Canada actually looks pretty powerful, and the CONCACAF women’s tournament is, well, a CONCACAF women’s tournament, you will guess that we are playing lousy teams. We are. In four women’s games and two for the men there has hardly been a moment of adversity. Give or take Scott Arfield and Desiree Scott the teams are even healthy. It is, and this is not a word you get to use much in Canadian soccer, relaxing.
When the women beat Panama 7-0 in the Sunday semi-final that was gratuitous, even unsportsmanlike, but goal difference might have counted in the earlier group stage where both Mexico and Costa Rica were burned by big upsets. The final, Wednesday against the United States, is not likely to be a large Canadian victory, and if somehow it is then sportsmanship can go hang. The men are cursed with needing as many touchdowns as possible: the ridiculous Nations League format has each team play different opposition then compares the goal difference, with all the favourites guaranteed plenty of chances against minnows. Without some big wins Canada could go undefeated and miss the Nations League’s top tier anyway. Even Junior Hoilett flopping in the box with an early 2-0 lead against an island with less population than Saanich had a purpose.
Anyway, our country is scoring more than a ten on Tinder. The MNT broke its record win by beating the US Virgin Islands 8-0 away in September. The WNT’s record 21-0 win over Puerto Rico in 1998 is, we almost hope, unbreakable2, but 12-0 over Cuba set the national record for a win against an independent nation-state.
gg jk ez no re
In both cases, teams cap-tied exciting teenage talent. Okay, maybe we weren’t worried about Julia Grosso turning to Portugal, but this is the best soccer we’ve seen from her yet and we should be glad to have her. Liam Millar, Jonathan David, Ballou Tabla, and Alessandro Busti are getting quite a bit more hype and, until FIFA changes the rules again, they’re stuck with us. Besides, there are other teenagers: Alphonso Davies, Jordyn Huitema, Jessie Fleming, you might have heard of them.
Both teams are bidding adieu to legends. Atiba Hutchinson, on a shortlist for the best Canadian men’s player of all time, has already announced his plans to retire from international soccer after the 2019 Gold Cup. Christine Sinclair has not given us her timeline, but at age 35 she’s obviously winding down and may well be done by 2020. She’s on the shortlist for best female soccer player ever, full stop, and both Hutch and Sincy are worth showing the grandkids while you can under any circumstances at all.
And of course, given Canada’s unbiased love of skipping international windows, it’s delightful to get the lads/lasses together for extended camps. This goes double when you’re getting used to a new head coach, and it so happens both teams are doing that as well. John Herdman left the WNT to coach the MNT, his assistant Kenneth Heiner-Møller replaced him, and as such they have had more-or-less identical amounts of time as the new boss.
Really, the similarities are spooky.
But there are differences. The men are, through no fault of their own, engaged in a truly risible tournament. Their game in September against the US Virgin Islands was played in Bradenton, Florida, because facilities in the islands were considered inadequate. Soccer fans of Toronto did a magnificent job making BMO Field look good for the Dominica game: the Voyageurs were in fine voice and an attendance of 10,500 on a Tuesday evening was terrific. Compare it to 9,749 when Dominica visited for a World Cup qualifier in 2015 and I guess all that promotion of Ballou Tabla did some good. But the game itself is ridiculous. Busti, the 18-year-old backup goalkeeper with Juventus’s U-23 team, made his professional debut starting in goal for a competitive international; John Herdman admitted quite frankly before the game that he wanted to captie the kid. Given that we wanted goals, we couldn’t go full silly-season: the outfield starting lineup was something like our best ten minus the injured Arfield. But later in the game Herdman brought in two teenagers, Tabla and Zachary Brault-Guillard, plus one 23-year-old trying to find his international scoring touch in Cyle Larin. Sam Piette and Tosaint Ricketts sat, unneeded, on the bench. It was goofy, a friendly in which you were obliged to humiliate the other team. Dominica played with pluck throughout and deserved a more dignified context.
The way the Nations League qualifying works is that each of the 34 teams are separated into four spots, based off ranking. Given that the six 2018 hex teams aren’t included, you run out of quality teams before you finish Pot A: top-seeded teams include Haiti, Cuba, and three French overseas departments, including a Florent Malouda-less French Guiana. Each team plays four games, two home and two away, one against a member of each pot. But there are no groups: Canada plays the US Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and French Guiana. French Guiana plays Anguilla, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana (ooh aah), and us. Everybody gets thrown into one huge table and may the most lopsided scores win.
Whose bright idea was this? We have four games that would be comic if it wasn’t so important to pummel these trash bags as hard as ever we can. Many fans are getting excited for these games and I don’t know how. At least when we go to Spain and play Mauritania we’re seeing something different and potential unpleasant surprises. These games are nearly pointless, apart from cap-tying kids: you could build as much chemistry and get a better game by gathering in Toronto and playing the League1 Ontario all-stars.
The women’s tournament has blowouts, but also structure. Canada went to a semi-final as a top seed because we won the group. The real minnows, the 21-0 teams, got a chance to qualify fair and square but were weeded out long before they faced anybody of quality. It’s not all according to Hoyle: nobody would have picked either Jamaica or Panama to impress before the tournament but one of them is going to the World Cup and the other has a shot in a playoff against Argentina. Plus there’s the #ChasingAbby factor, with Christine Sinclair grinding four goals closer to a world record. Tosaint Ricketts is playing so little behind all these kids that #ChasingDeRo isn’t even on the board for the five of us who’d cheer for it.
In hindsight Jamaica’s 2-0 loss to Canada, while flattering to the Reggae Girlz, laid the groundwork for their famous win over Costa Rica. Nations League qualifying will give us no such consolations. The closest thing to an upset so far was St. Vincent’s win over French Guiana, and despite their 2-0 loss to Nicaragua they are alive in the race for the Gold Cup, but to be the top six of 34 teams playing four games each means more than one upset win.
This format is not the Canadian Soccer Association’s fault. 10,500 fans at BMO Field prove the CSA is doing all they could. Nor is it their fault that the women, playing the more interesting games, are playing down south for the third consecutive championship, in empty stadiums with indifferent media attention and broadcast rights allocated to the federation’s streaming service. CONCACAF is CONCACAF and always will be. But while blowouts are always fun, for now the women’s are more compelling.
Randy Edwini-Bonsu, born in Kumasi, Ghana and raised for several years in Edmonton, has been named to FC Edmonton’s “prospects” roster for two Al Classico friendlies against Cavalry. There are several fine professional and former professional players on the list: Jackson Farmer, Allan and Bruno Zebie, Edem Mortotsi. As Steven Sandor pointed out, both goalkeepers most recently played in Europe. With nobody under CanPL contract or committed in any way this is analogous to a training stint, perhaps. But it is more than nothing: at minimum, mild mutual interest.
Edwini-Bonsu is only 28 years old but—and as an extremely early REB fan I say this affectionately—he is last year’s man. His stint as a teenager with the Vancouver Whitecaps, while ferociously promising, was only moderately productive and he was not retained for Major League Soccer. Probably just as well: Tom Soehn would have ruined him anyway, and a stint in the Finnish second division saw him score in bunches. That led to the German second division, a better level by far, one which sent players to the Canadian senior national team in droves. Edwini-Bonsu was one of them, and he boasts fifteen caps with one goal for his adopted country.
By all accounts, many of his performances in the 2.Bundesliga were not bad, and there was hope among his fans that he’d establish himself. But he never quite held down a lineup spot, and his next contract dropped him down a division. In the 3.Liga he was, again, sometimes good but not good enough. His Stuttgarter Kickers side was relegated, Edwini-Bonsu was one of many players released, and he signed on a division down anyway with FC 08 Homburg in the German Regionalliga Südwest for a season. His last action was with fifth-division Tennis Borussia Berlin in 2017–18, and he is currently unattached.
Needless to say, Canadian soccer supporters have not seen him in some time. German semi-professional games are not regularly televised and Edwini-Bonsu was last called to the national team in June 2015. When last seen he was a pacey striker with decent finish, a bite-sized Tosaint Ricketts; these days he apparently plays more wide right. I thought he was very good almost a decade ago, but I do not guarantee it today. I understand they know something about soccer in Germany, where his career has not been a success, and even those with very modest expectations for CanPL’s initial calibre will certainly expect it to outgun the NOFV-Oberliga Nord.
Besides, Edwini-Bonsu’s one of those players who seems interested in European play on principle. He has spent far more of his life outside Canada than in it, immigrating in 2002 and beginning his foreign adventures nine years later. There’s every possibility that Randy Edwini-Bonsu’s time in Edmonton will end at a couple friendlies.
But he’s still the sort of player Edmonton, and the rest of the Canadian Premier League, should be looking at.
As I said I don’t know if Edwini-Bonsu still has anything left. But I am certain he used to have something. To the assorted German clubs who brought him in and threw him out, he was a tool to be used and replaced like any other. To a Canadian team, he would be a potential investment in the future of our game. He is, very specifically, the sort of player you want to give second chances to.
Jackson Farmer, to pick another Edmonton player I’ve liked for a while, is still a young man on the way up. He needs an opportunity to show what he can do and CanPL can provide that. But there are older players in the same boat. A Canadian player in his late 20s struggling to draw a European paycheque drops out of the game or puts out his shingle for some Lithuanian or Serbian or seventh-division French team would promise, however unreliably, to pay him for six months. Recently some of them have joined the PLSQ or League1 Ontario, but that’s what you do while making an honest living somewhere else. Real second chances have been hard to come by.
Around the world, many useful players have revived their careers from the real depths of obscurity because they landed on a decent team willing to invest in them. Jamie Vardy was playing non-League soccer until he was 25. On the Canadian end, Richard Hastings might well have dropped off the face of the Earth by 2004 had Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who already knew and liked him, not brought him back for a second successful spell and another half-decade of national team service. We need more stories like Hastings’s, and not just because of the golden goal.
Fans sometimes seem to think CanPL is almost a development league: given that they won’t be able to bring in more than a handful of famous players, roster spots should go to promising youth and as many random foreigners as it takes to make it watchable. But think also about the Randy Edwini-Bonsus of the world, or Derek Gaudet, who went from MLS to USL to surviving the Halifax open trials at age 29. Not everybody does anything useful with a second chance; heck, most players won’t. But some will, and the rest will give the kids something to push against. FC Edmonton’s Al Classico roster is heavy on the prospects, heavy on the early-20-somethings, and has a couple guys looking to redeem themselves… and that’s about right.
Later the camp roster was released. Of the college players Carle, Grosso, Fleming, Regan, and Rose were called into camp, and only Huitema among those younger. There are still three cuts, one a goalkeeper, to be made from this camp before the final roster of 20 is named. Hilariously, Jenna Hellstrom is listed as a fullback despite playing as a forward for her club and Gabrielle Carle is listed as a forward despite playing as a fullback or wide midfielder for FSU since arriving there. I am not here to tell anyone how to coach but perhaps a switch is in order there.
Canada faces Jamaica, Cuba, and Costa Rica in group play, beginning October 5th in Edinburg, Texas. Group winners and runners-up move on to the semi-finals, played in Frisco. CONCACAF has 3.5 qualifying spots, so the winners of both semi-finals as well as the winner of the third place game qualify directly, while the fourth place finisher will play for the final spot against Argentina in a two-legged qualification playoff.
This has nothing to do with college, but Sophie Schmidt has been training with the Whitecaps REX kids ahead of qualifiers.
Starting line up for the U18s match last night, featuring Sophie Schmidt as part of her preparation for the CONCACAF Womens World Cup Qualifiers pic.twitter.com/FC7ZdNvb8d
Conference play has begun for NCAA woso teams. The Big 10 is likely your best bet for decent play and good number of Canadians, though the Big 10 network does require you to pay money (and possibly tell it you’re in the United States) to be able to watch it.
Recent Standouts (trading quality for quantity this week, I’ve been busy)
These two teams have 19 Canadians rostered between them, so look out for high Canadian content in this matchup. Vital Kats and Isabelle Mihail have both been strong offensive performers for the Golden Flashes, while for Eastern Michigan, Sabrina MacNeill and Kristin Nason have both been significant contributors.
Hannah Taylor has been a regular starter for the Ducks and will look to continue her strong play as the PAC-12 season begins. Canadians Natalie Kump and Kristin Fairbairn have both made several appearances for Utah, with Fairbairn winning three starts and collecting two assists.
This weekend saw the Canadian women’s national team play Brazil with three college players on the roster: Julia Grosso, Jessie Fleming, and Deanne Rose. Grosso is still breaking into the senior national team and saw time off the bench in Canada’s 1-0 win over Brazil on Sunday. Fleming and Rose, however, both having already been to the Olympics (and for Fleming a Women’s World Cup as well), did not appear. From reports of those who were able to watch it in person, they did not see any action in Canada’s Tuesday closed-door game either.
One might presume this is merely performance-based, except that if one has see Jessie Fleming play recently, one would know that this is not true. Even if she plays poorly, the Canadian midfield is at this point better with Jessie Fleming in it. Now, those of us who consistently watch NCAA will know that Fleming was injured in her last game before the international break against Penn State. Not to play doctor, but it didn’t look too serious at first glance—Fleming did try to continue playing before taking herself out of the game. I have no problem with the CSA bringing rehabbing players to camp, even, but it would be nice for them to mention something.
The case of Deanne Rose might be even more curious, because it’s harder to say that she has to be on the pitch starting for Canada. It is entirely possible that Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie and some newcomer named Christine Sinclair would win starting spots over a healthy Deanne Rose. Except that Deanne Rose has played only 77 minutes for Florida this season, all in one game. For someone who started every game last year and was the Gators’ leading scorer last year, it seems unlikely that that’s performance related. So is she injured? Maybe! Who knows?!
Now, look, I am not looking for Canada Soccer or any college program to release medical information on any of their players. I am genuinely just looking for “injured” or “uninjured,” and if they’re feeling generous, a vague timeframe for return. Especially if you’re a national team holding a camp for a series of games, yes, bring them anyways if they’re able to participate in training and you anticipate having them on upcoming rosters but mention that they are unable to participate in the games?! If Deanne Rose is left off the CONCACAF qualifying roster do we just get to guess why?
Meanwhile, Canada Soccer apparently has a new assistant coach, Andrée Jeglertz. I learned of his presence at camp when scanning through the Canadian Soccer Association Flickr album and stumbled upon this one, captioned “Andrée Jeglertz and team huddle.”
Like any curious fan, I Googled him, and his Wikipedia promptly informed me that he is the current manager of Umeå FC, a third division men’s team in Sweden, having formerly managed the Finnish women’s national team. A cursory Twitter search of his name, however, directs us to a tweet in Swedish which informs us that he isn’t? maybe? the coach of Umeå FC anymore because he left to coach Canada? maybe? (I don’t know anything about the source of this tweet but this seems like something you’d only tweet about if you know about it.)
Med all respekt för Kanadas damlandslag och Andrée Jeglertz personliga val, men att hoppa av som huvudtränare i detta läge är ett tecken på att han inte tror på Umeå FC:s satsning mot Superettan fullt ut. Varken på kort eller lång sikt.
I guess the theme this week is increased transparency, or in some of these cases, any transparency. Melissa Tancredi was also at this camp in what appeared to be a coaching role, but we can’t know for sure! One time the CSA did not release a roster for Canada at the U17 Women’s World Cup until after the U17 Women’s World Cup had begun. This is not the way to get more people to follow your team.
Madeline Feist, UC Riverside. The senior from North Vancouver, BC scored a goal in each of UC Riverside’s wins this week, bringing her goal total on the season to four, to go with two assists. This well surpasses last seasons’ total of two goals and one assist in nineteen games.
Kaela Hansen, Kansas has started every game as a freshman for the Jayhawks, who this week defeated Utah and Butler, holding #25 Butler scoreless. The U17 Canadian looks to continue her strong start through the remaineder of the non-conference season and into Big 12 play, where Kansas will look to improve upon their sixth place finish last season.
Julia Mahoney, Maine. The freshman midfielder from St.-Augustin-de-Desmaures, QC, scored two goals and added an assist in Maine’s win over Bryant. Mahoney and fellow Black Bears freshman Emma Donovan also went to the same high school, Séminaire Saint-François, outside of Quebec City, known for its strong sporting program.
Marike Mousset, Ohio State had two assists in the Buckeyes’ big win over Morehead State, while also helping Ohio State keep two clean sheets this week, including over a strong Notre Dame side. The Canadian youth international looks to continue her strong start to the season over 4-0 Florida Gulf Coast.
Evelyne Viens, South Florida. I don’t like to include the same players in this week after week, but Viens was too good not to be included again. She scored twice and added an assist over Detroit Mercy, but mostly I have included her here so that I can show you this:
The Canadians at Michigan have gotten off to a strong start this season, with Sarah Stratigakis already scoring three goals from the midfield while Sura Yekka has been a regular starter on defence. Central Michigan features six Canadians on the roster, all from Ontario.
Florida State looks to be one of the elite teams in college soccer this season, having dismantled a Jessie Fleming and Hailie Mace-less UCLA 4-1 on Sunday. Canadian Gabby Carle has played nearly every minute for a defence that has only surrendered one goal all season. Florida, meanwhile, looks to turnaround what seems a disappointing start for a perennial SEC favourite, and should be glad to have Deanne Rose back, hopefully for more minutes.
Rice and Memphis both feature a number of Canadians on the roster, so look for significant Canadian content in this matchup. Clarissa Larisey has continued her strong form for Memphis, scoring two goals last week and bringing her season total to five.
Louisville is a perfect 6-0 this season, and Canadian youth international Nadège L’Esperence has been a strong performer for the Cardinals in midfield, tallying a goal and two assists thus far. Eastern Kentucky features several Canadians of their own, including Brampton’s Sarah Owusu, who has scored three goals so far this season.
In October 2016 the Ottawa Fury, then of the North American Soccer League, announced they would move to the United Soccer League for the 2017 season. There was some drama.
At the time it had been the Canadian Soccer Association’s avowed policy not to permit teams in what was then called “USL Pro.” The Victoria Highlanders had once been interested, but the CSA was not and the Highlanders wound up folding out of USL PDL for a couple seasons. Exceptions were made for MLS reserve teams in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto, but, as the CSA had said at the time, that was different than opening another level of the American soccer pyramid for independent Canadian franchises.
The United Soccer League was then sanctioned in the United States as a third division league, below the NASL and Major League Soccer. Ottawa already had access to a domestic third division: League1 Ontario, also rated below the NASL and MLS. Of course these sanctioning “tiers” are fake news and nobody pretended L1O teams were as good as USL ones, but if the NASL was too rich for the Fury’s blood there was another option, one which fit with the CSA’s official goal to build Canadian leagues rather than American ones.
The reason for the Fury move was nakedly financial. The team, like many in the NASL, lost millions of dollars a year. In USL, as Fury president John Pugh stated quite frankly, he’d be able to send his team by bus rather than plane more often while somewhat cutting his wage bill. Later the bill was slashed further by having the Fury serve as reserve squad to the MLS Montreal Impact, giving him a few free players and a marquee home friendly every season. Seems like good business, though the team’s average attendance has declined year on year since leaving the NASL.
Ottawa could never have brought their team, whole, into League1 Ontario: it would have run away with the league if they had. Their budget, even trimmed, would be way out of line with the competition. Fans would have left and Canadian players would have lost jobs. Most importantly, the Canadian Premier League was imminent. In October 2016 Paul Beirne was picking out furniture for his new office. Surely the most important thing was to keep the Fury going on their terms, to keep the organization running until they could come back into the fold.
So the CSA made an exception.
The Fury’s move didn’t come without a cost for the rest of Canada. It was one of many cuts that led to the NASL suspending operations for the 2018 season, costing us a year of FC Edmonton first team action and leaving talented Canadians like Ben Fisk and Adam Straith to wander the byways of Europe. Nik Ledgerwood, Tyson Farago, and Nathan Ingham had to drop down to PDL, Marko Aleksic and Allan Zebie are out of the pro game altogether. If the Fury had remained in the league then the NASL would have had the vital six teams for 2018 even had North Carolina and Indy both still defected. This was not unforeseeable: any NASL fan will remember the handwringing about getting enough teams for 2017. Still, the most important thing was to keep the Fury operating, and the rest of the chips would fall where they may. The Fury did what they thought was good for their bottom line and the CSA went along.
Now, the Fury have announced that, even though the Canadian Premier League is kicking off for the 2019 season, they will remain in the United Soccer League. There’s all sorts of speculation why: they’re probably over the future CanPL salary cap, they have a roster that they well might want to bring in en bloc against expansion-team competition, and as a Montreal Impact reserve team they’ll come into conflict with a league that absolutely steadfastly wants nothing of the kind. Some of the Fury’s arguments are probably pretty good. But what’s important is that, once again, the Fury want an exemption because they think it’ll be good for their business.
Unquestionably, the Fury have been very good to Canadian soccer the past couple seasons. They give over a dozen Canadians regular USL minutes, many of whom are decent talents who needed an opportunity and are getting it. Without the Fury Carl Haworth would never have had a pro career, but today he’s the team captain and a one-time senior international. Callum Irving needs to be playing pro. Maxim Tissot needs to be playing pro. Julian de Guzman should be involved in the game here, and not “giving two-weekend youth camps for $500 a man” involved. Thanks to the Fury, they are.
But no team can ever do as much for Canadian soccer as an entire league. It’s a mathematical impossibility. The Vancouver Whitecaps play two or three Canadians a week: even seven teams as unpatriotic as that add up to more Canadian content than the laws of the game would permit the Fury to field. In CanPL, with generous domestic content rules, the Fury won’t even look exceptional in 2019. And if their playing USL jeopardizes the Canadian Premier League, then regardless of what they’ve done in the past or might do in the future, for the good of the nation they should be stopped.
This isn’t just about “team eight” in the 2019 CanPL season. Let’s assume that ship has sailed. But if the CSA permits the Fury to remain in USL then every time CanPL totters (and it will), every time a potential owner is counting the pennies and deciding whether this soccer lark is worth his millions, every time a current owner is debating how to wring his budget a little thinner, he’ll look south across the border and say “why can’t I just join the United Soccer League, like Ottawa?” There’ll be no good answer. On what grounds could the CSA allow the Fury but refuse a fleeing Forge? What judge would allow it if they tried?
The Ottawa Fury’s intentions may be the best in the world but it doesn’t matter: willingly or otherwise, they are directly competing against the league that is Canada’s number one men’s soccer must-have. Until the CanPL can offer as many short-range road trips with as many established teams and as many high-profile players as USL—and that will be many years from now, if ever—it will never clearly outperform USL as an investment opportunity, especially in Ontario and Quebec. And no players, no team, nothing in Canadian men’s soccer, is worth risking CanPL’s future for.
The Fury’s permission to play USL is conditional, up for renewal every year. The Canadian Soccer Association has every right to revoke that permission for the good of the game. They already revoked sanctioning from the so-called “Canadian” Soccer League, an Ontario-based semi-pro circuit, for rampant match fixing. The CSL still operates, and players you’ve heard of have laced up in it, but only well into effective retirement as joining a non-sanctioned outlaw league spells the end of your international career. The USL is unlikely to court trouble from FIFA by condoning an outlaw Fury, and even if they did players with any ambition would flee in droves. In short, the CSA could get the Fury out of USL any time they wanted, and if the Fury wanted to stay in business in CanPL afterwards, that would be up to them.
It is a power the Canadian Soccer Association should use. Ottawa Fury fans are good, loyal people, who have put up with a usually-mediocre team with smiles and energy. Their team has done prodigies for Canadian talent, and their supporters are justly proud. But do we want Canada to be one vast American branch plant or don’t we? When Ottawa joins a happy, healthy Canadian Premier League, the rest of the country will be overjoyed to see them again.