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.

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter dammit.

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.

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter for even more!

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.

Have a nice time by following 99 Friendship on Twitter.

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.

Fonseca’s Unusual Firing

By Benjamin Massey · March 1st, 2017 · 1 comment

Martin Bazyl/Canadian Soccer Association

Today the Canadian Soccer Association announced that it has “released” long-time technical staffer Tony Fonseca. The statement is so brief it can profitably be quoted in full:

Canada Soccer announced today that it has released Director, High Performance, Tony Fonseca effective immediately.

Fonseca joined Canada Soccer in 2006 on an interim basis as an Assistant Coach with the Men’s National Team before becoming a full-time staff coach including responsibility as Head Coach with the Men’s U-20 and U-23 Teams in 2008. He was named Director, High Performance for the Men’s National Team Program in 2011 and became the organization’s Technical Director in 2012 before transitioning to his most recent role as Director, High Performance.

Canada Soccer would like to thank Tony for his years of service and for his professionalism and commitment to the development of the game in Canada.

This is weird. The announcement falls between CONCACAF U-20 men’s World Cup qualifying, where Canada did horribly, and U-17 qualifying in a few weeks. Fonseca enjoyed overall responsibility for the men’s youth setup and coached both teams in the past. The Gold Cup is also this summer. Canada is currently searching for a senior men’s head coach, and it’s possible that Fonseca’s being pushed out to make room for a candidate who will want all the keys to the castle, such as John Herdman enjoys on the women’s side. But there’s been no announcement of a coach, no reports of anyone notable, no sightings of Luis Enrique at Ottawa airport or anything. Moreover, after all these years as a good soldier it would be striking to sack Fonseca so perfunctorily, without the figleaf of resignation or reassignment, to make room for a coach.

By no means was Fonseca unanimously loved. More than a decade of prominent roles in the Canadian men’s game coincided with mixed results at all levels, and as the longest-serving technical staffer Fonseca drew automatic heat. That said, his record as a professional coach in this country before joining the CSA was good, he’s always been on hand for thankless jobs, from chipping in at camps to helping with the futsal team, and steady promotions in a high-turnover field suggest he was well-thought of. Though much sport was made of his transforming three senior caps for Portugal into a whole career at Canada Soccer, the man did the work and until the moment he was sacked there was never any suggestion he’d become disposable.

Only last Monday, Fonseca was in the news for “positive Boys’ U-15 identification camps,” speaking as if to his knowledge he was in the program for the long haul, and hanging out with fellow coaches. If press releases are any indication, Fonseca’s job title was changed from “technical director” back to “Director, High Performance” between December and February 7, though without any announcement. He was also, in hindsight, conspicuously unmentioned when changes were made to development staffing in January.

The boys’ results have been poor for a few years but, frankly, that’s seldom a firing offense in Canada. The routine is for a contract to quietly expire and for fans to learn about it when the old boss is replaced with the new boss. A talented women’s U-20 team had an appalling World Cup last November and head coach Danny Worthington took much of the rap. To this day, Worthington’s fate has not been formally announced, but when the women’s youth department was juggled in January Worthington was absent, and program director Bev Priestman led a U-20 identification camp in January.

Fonseca’s predecessor as technical director was Stephen Hart, who changed roles to become the men’s head coach; his predecessor was Richard Bate, who drew a very pleasant press release despite resigning only ten months into his appointment.

When senior men’s head coach Benito Floro’s contract was not renewed last September, he received a relatively-lavish send-off that included quotes from Floro and CSA president Victor Montagliani. The previous coach, Hart, another long-term CSA servant, also got a dignified “resignation” announcement and Montagliani’s thanks. Dale Mitchell, perhaps the least popular coach among players and fans the Canadian men ever had, was tersely “released” like Fonseca in 2009, but again then-president Dr. Dominic Maestracci put his name an explicit quote about a new direction and, unlike Fonseca, Mitchell’s canning had been in the wind for weeks. Former women’s boss Carolina Morace, the ugliest departure of note after the ugliest tenure in the CSA’s recent history, abruptly resigned in a cascade of sour grapes and while there is no announcement on CanadaSoccer.com about it, they didn’t exactly bury it either.

Fonseca’s departure looks more like authority stuck its head into the CSA’s press office and said “Tony’s been canned, put out a release” than a deliberate, long-contemplated and decisively-executed action. This is so out-of-the-ordinary that speculation can’t help but swirl. From outside, unless there was some serious misdemeanour that hasn’t yet seen the light of day, it looks like Fonseca may have fallen victim to politics. Former men’s national team captain Jason deVos was named director of development in September, with a remit that overlapped many of the traditional activities of a technical director. Simple intraoffice friction may have culminated in this explosion, and it may even be for the best. But in the absence of knowledge all we can do is raise our eyebrows at how odd this is, and guess.

99 Friendship Episode 31

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

For the love of spinning granite, we didn’t seriously make our 31st episode of 99 Friendship an hour-long all-curling spectacular, did we?

No! Because there’s the introductory and closing songs, which add up to about 48 seconds combined. On top of that we spend 77.3 seconds of talk time discussing the Algarve Cup and its roster. Carolyn took note of Diana Matheson’s absence, but had we known while recording that she had suffered another debilitating knee injury we would have used considerably more time. Most of it would have been screaming. Perhaps it was for the best.

The rest of the hour (yes, an hour) is given over to curling. Canada’s women’s curling championship, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, had just wrapped up in St. Catharines, and the team Carolyn and I had more-or-less reluctantly decided to cheer for had won. This was no credit to us, since we had deliberately picked by far the best team in a field that had us all a little worried Robyn MacPhee or somebody was accidentally going to the World Championships. But it was nice, especially since the games featured some of the best curling seen in a while, so good that even the faintly-annoying skip and team we were “cheering” for emerged likable from their hard-fought victory.

It was such a marathon podcast that we recorded it over two evenings; that’s my excuse, and not “on Sunday night my wifi wrecked like Marla Mallett trying to draw behind a guard.” Yeah, we ran off at the mouth a little. It was worth it, though. If you have any interest in curling, grab a couple Homan-Englot draws off YouTube, sit down with three hours in booze, and enjoy yourself.

Although the social media prize of the Scotties, which by the way is consistently an excellent category, probably goes to Carolyn’s fellow Toban Michelle Englot for grace in defeat.

Anyway, listen to and follow 99 Friendship on Twitter.

99 Friendship Episode 30

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · February 20th, 2017 · No comments

On this very special thirtieth episode of 99 Friendship:

  • We discuss bread. Now, look, I know you’re thinking “okay this was a Canadian women’s soccer podcast on day one, and I signed up and I indulged when they started talking about curling, and ringette, and other irrelevant things, but now they’re talking about bread and this is a bridge too far.” But the bread is a topic relevant to one of our regular subjects. Admittedly that subject is “curling.”
  • We have two pieces of canwoso news, and dispose of them in about three minutes. It’s February. Deal with it.
  • Canada’s women’s curling championship, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, is beginning. I missed all the opening games so we don’t mention it at all. Ha ha just kidding this is a mostly-curling podcast when we aren’t talking about bread. But we’re very entertaining so listen to it anyway.
  • Carolyn wrote a huge blog post about curling that was very enjoyable, but she didn’t post it publicly, so I read a paragraph from it. I promise I am not mentioning it just to shame her into sharing it with the world.
  • I wrote a short blog post about the Scotties, but I shared it with the world so we don’t mention it at all.

What’s that, it sounds like the same old crap? You’re right it’s not a very special thirtieth episode of 99 Friendship at all. But follow us on Twitter anyway, or I’ll come to your house and yell about Emma Miskew’s outturn while you try to sleep.

99 Friendship Episode 29

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

Oh my God I hate writing these blurbs, especially when I have to confess a technical glitch. You see, I recorded this episode on a different computer than usual because I was trying to watch John Morris whip some guy, and maybe that’s why the recording is suffering from what I can only call “missing syllables.” Carolyn and I will be chatting along merrily and then some phoneme which I know we enunciated will just not be there anymore. At one point I say “the house was all Pepsi.” I promise this made sense when I said it but now I’m crazy.

Anyway I tried to cut the worst bits but you’ll still be able to tell. Don’t worry, you’re not having a stroke.

So what did we talk about? Well the provincial men’s curling championships wrapped up this weekend so we talk about that. There wasn’t much Canadian women’s soccer news but we work in a little bit, mostly revolving around a Canadian on trial in Norway. And then we end by seemingly-randomly discussing commercials and accents. Once upon a time there was a segue but there ain’t anymore. This is the 99 Friendship experience.

Also, some errata. At one point I say the woman on the old Macdonald Lassies curling trophy was holding a broom. This was in error. It was actually a broadsword.

Follow us on Twitter or something.

99 Friendship Episode 28

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · February 7th, 2017 · No comments

Carolyn and I rained blows upon young girls being ushered into our seats by their overwhelmed guardians. The Canadian women’s national soccer team rained goals on young Mexico. The Canadian Soccer Association rained flowers on Marie-Ève Nault, Rhian Wilkinson, and Melissa Tancredi to honour their great careers, and rained noticeably fewer flowers on Karina LeBlanc, Carmelina Moscato, and Emily Zurrer because they had also retired and happened to be in the neighbourhood when Peter Montopoli was walking by the flower stall. Then our podcast rains, uh, conditional praise on Nault, because given that she was playing 90 minutes out of position and hasn’t played at all in over a year and we honestly thought she was already retired, she was really decent! We rain no particular scorn on Melissa Tancredi, as we have learned our lesson from Germany. Rhian Wilkinson also played. No new young people did, apart from Sarah Stratigakis who was rained with company in midfield for once. Abby did not get chased, Janine Beckie scored two goals but neither of them were brilliant 90th-minute winners, it was a good, memorable game and we have many things to say about it, and the bronze medal was celebrated.

On the other end of our usual topics, Pinty’s rained money on Jennifer Jones and Kevin Koe. Yes, there was curling! There was so much curling! More than two curlings! We discuss Canada’s legendary wheelchair-curling drug smuggler, who is the same age as the current non-wheelchair curling champion of Ontario and, we hope the, future non-wheelchair curling champion of Northern Ontario.

I liked this episode very much.

Do you… do you like it? Please? If you like it you should follow 99 Friendship on Twitter, not that we care or anything.

Eight Years of Russell Teibert Hair Choices

By Benjamin Massey · January 30th, 2017 · No comments

Once-and-future Canadian national team standout, and eventual Vancouver Whitecaps captain, Russell Teibert has always had the distinctive fashion sense that has gone along with his outstanding play and gentlemanly demeanour. Even as the Whitecaps were mired in their worst Canada-hating spells there was Teibert, looking brilliant both off and on the field, promising better days without a word. (I am a Russell Teibert fan of the old school; perhaps you can tell.)

With MLS bringing in flashy foreigners every year no home-grown soccer player can stand still. Teibert certainly has not. In his professional career he has gone from a dazzling number 10 to a workmanlike defensive midfielder. He is not only the last Vancouver Whitecap remaining from their pre-MLS era but has almost a year’s seniority on the next-longest servant, Jordan Harvey. He has worn the armband for his club. He has quarreled, and made up, with national team coaches. He has played defense, central midfield, and wing. He has survived many players who supposedly were going to do him out of a job. He is still only 24 years old, barely aged out of NCAA and the MLS SuperDraft.

More importantly, his haircuts have moved with him, up and down, and I mean that literally. Like his own career they have been a roller-coaster of promise and nightmare, but they have always been interesting. Let us recap the most important thing we can talk about in the world today: Russell Teibert’s hairstyles.

(more…)