99 Friendship Episode 3

By Benjamin Massey · July 24th, 2016 · No comments

On this episode of 99 Friendship, we have actual Canadian women’s national soccer team games to discuss. It’s true, a friendly against France that was actually on television is a positive bounty to the podcast practitioner. That is, if you can call it a friendly doo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. We may mention the commentary. It’s sometimes complimentary! More extraordinarily of all, we’re pretty pleased with how Canada played! Though we can’t just say that, it would be a boring episode if we did.

Plus, just to keep our eye in, we also analyze the match against China that came to us via opinionated Tweets and one distant video of Jessie Fleming being amazing. We also find time to mention NCAA woso. mock allegedly-Most-Connected-Teams, and generally make stuff up. Because of course we do, this is the third episode, you’ve figured this formula out by now, right?

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter.

For our listeners who would like also to be viewers, take a look at some of the goals Carolyn and I nominated as our best WNT goals that were on television that we can remember.

2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Charmaine Hooper versus China

2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Kara Lang versus Sweden

2010 Brazil invitational tournament thing, Christine Sinclair versus Brazil

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Christine Sinclair versus Germany

(note: FIFA seems to have disabled embedding on this video so just click on it, it’ll be fine)

2012 Olympic qualifying, Christine Sinclair versus Haiti

2012 London Olympics, Christine Sinclair versus the United States, and oh my God I can’t believe I actually watched this video, you better appreciate this

2015 friendly, Sophie Schmidt versus England

2016 Olympic qualifying, Nichelle Prince versus Guatemala

2016 friendly, Jessie Fleming versus China

99 Friendship Episode 2

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 18th, 2016 · No comments

It was an in-between week in the Canadian women’s soccer world. There are a couple interesting friendlies coming up, but for now what do we have? Three U-17 games in China, of which we watched half of one. And that’s it, unless you want to analyze the senior team’s selfie style. It doesn’t seem like very much for a 30-minute show, does it?

Ah, but there’s always something happening. With drama (in the good sense) in League1 Ontario, and drama (in the bad sense) in Vancouver, we give some much-needed love to the regional scene. And there’s always the future. We’re Canadian soccer fans, the future is all we’ve got.

99 Friendship Episode 1

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 10th, 2016 · No comments

Welcome to the first episode of 99 Friendship! This podcast is dedicated to mostly-Canadian women’s soccer, and features Carolyn Duthie and Ben Massey rambling on about all the latest, and maybe all the most tired inside jokes, in CanWoSo. As the European Championships conclude and a new club season revs up across the ocean, what better time to discuss our ladies and get those big page views?

On this episode, we run a thought experiment on what would happen if the women’s Olympic soccer tournament was run along the same rules as the men’s. We also discuss Canada’s U-17 roster as it heads off for an obscure tournament in China and, of course, we find time to make fun of the NWSL for deciding to play a regular season game on a tennis court in New York. Plus plenty of the digressions, jokes, and candid hot takes which make things such fun.

Be sure to follow 99 Friendship on Twitter.

The Top 10 Horrible Ways Teams Have Been Eliminated From the Canadian Championship

By Benjamin Massey · July 1st, 2016 · No comments

2016’s Voyageurs Cup final game was one for the books. By this, I mean it tore out the hearts of Vancouver Whitecaps fans and laughed at them as they died. This is what the Voyageurs Cup is for. Since its formation in 2002 the Whitecaps have, more often than not, enjoyed a long series of wide-awake nightmares. The same applies for fans of FC Edmonton, and to a lesser extent every team that isn’t the Montreal Impact. The Voyageurs Cup is wonderful and it is horrible, like eating a pound of bacon for breakfast.

In honour of this latest addition to the pantheon of misery, I thought I’d compile my list of the top ten most horrifying defeats since the beginning of the Canadian Championship in 2008. (Why not the beginning of the Voyageurs Cup in 2002? Partially because I don’t remember that far, partially because few teams cared, and mostly because I will be getting quite nerdy enough without dragging in Mesut Mert and the 2004 Calgary Mustangs.)

I am, of course, biased. As an ex-Whitecaps and now-FC Edmonton fan, you will notice these teams prominent on this list. All I can say is that I honestly believe they have had the bulk of the blackness. From another point of view these moments of agony will be moments of triumph. Soccer is a zero-sum game and one man’s collapse is another’s miracle. But let’s face it, happiness is not in the Voyageurs Cup spirit. Losing feels much worse than winning feels good, and it’s the bad beats that have always defined this tournament. Or maybe that’s the westerner in me.

Since this article is so image-heavy, it begins after the jump.


Reaction to That #CanWNT Roster, in Full

By Benjamin Massey · June 20th, 2016 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

You know those women you thought were going to the Olympics? They’re going to the Olympics.

Making Up Our Goddamned Minds

By Benjamin Massey · June 8th, 2016 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

If we Canadian soccer fans had died on Saturday, we would have died sad.

Friday morning saw our Canadian men’s national team in Austria up against Azerbaijan, current world football Elo ranking 112, nestled between Réunion and Lebanon and thirty spots below even lowly Canada. The oil-rich Azerbaijanis have been investing heavily in their soccer team; president Ilham Aliyev is both a fan and a ex-Soviet kleptocrat of the first rank whose passion is diverting public money to his own interests. Azerbaijan’s head coach is ex-La Liga star Robert Prosinečki, who succeeded ex-Borussia Mönchengladbach star Berti Vogts in 2015. In 2011 they built a fabulous new national stadium in the capital of Baku which will host matches at Euro 2020. But money can’t buy everything and Azerbaijan is crap, with most of their players stuck in their uninteresting domestic league. Not Canada crap, though: 2.Bundesliga journeyman Dimitrij Nazarov was able to turn the Canadian midfield inside-out and buried a well-deserved penalty past Simon Thomas. The Azerbaijanis had the bulk of the chances and while Tesho Akindele’s goal was pretty nice, it’s all that was.

Benito Floro’s company was under strength. No Atiba Hutchinson, no Milan Borjan, no Will Johnson, and Marcel de Jong was hurt in the first half. Yet nobody forced us to send out six centrebacks, Johnson is a useful international but no star, and Atiba is 33 years old; we should probably learns to play without him one of these decades. A 1-1 draw against a team that recently drew to Malta was well-deserved, arguably even fortunate, for Canada, who was outshot and outpossessed by the Baku boys almost from the beginning. It was our sorriest friendly performance since that time we took one point from six against Mauritania, or maybe since we tied the Ventura County Fusion.

But at least we have the women, Canada’s sweethearts, who will redeem the Dominion’s honour against Brazil before a raucous Toronto crowd oh hell. Kadeisha Buchanan looked like she was six years old, Diana Matheson and Christine Sinclair looked like they were 600, Desirée Scott had developed a paralytic phobia of the ball. Brazil’s first goal was actually an embarrassment, the sort you give up in Football Manager. After multiple comic failures to clear the ball Allysha Chapman decided to serve it delicately to Marta, who has always appreciated good service, with inevitable results. On her second goal Marta proved she could do it herself, sauntering through non-existent marking and skimming a low central shot from range that would have been easily saved most of the time, but this time bounced off Steph Labbé’s hands into the far corner. Speaking of Labbé, her Adventures In Goalkeeping drew two anguished screams in the first six minutes and had us seriously considering a #Sheridan2016 campaign, while in the booth Jason deVos and Karina LeBlanc dished out every crumb of faint praise they could sweep up. We had some positives but, in front of excellent Canadian support, Brazil beat ten kinds of crap out of us then sat back and laughed.

After the game I had two reflections. The first was that, though she is putting in an MVP-candidate season with the Washington Spirit, I hadn’t seen Matheson good with the WNT for a couple of years. Nobody contradicted this, except to add to the list of long-disappointing midfielders. The second was that, halfway through the year, I really had no idea who could possibly deserve to be Canada’s women’s player of the year, then I caught myself, said that I knew exactly who the front-runner is, and it’s Ashley Lawrence. Which, with all respect to an emerging core player, is a little frightening.

So it was a black weekend. The men were in full-on minnow mode. The women weren’t capable of living in the same universe as Brazil. Woe to the conquered.

Then again, if we Canadian soccer fans had been born, screaming and crying, on Monday night, how brilliant our lives would have looked.

First off, the Canadian men opened the week with a friendly against Uzbekistan. There could hardly be a better recipe for Monday morning misery. The Uzbeks are actually solid: their Elo ranking is 48, a worthy mark between Ghana and Wales. Save for a 4-2 loss in Pyongyang, which I suspect is a difficult road trip, they have blitzed the field in Asian World Cup qualifying and were on an eight-game winning streak when we met. They called a young team, with twelve players on fewer than ten caps and many regulars absent; in principle Canada would give them a match. But those young Uzbeks qualified for the 2015 U-20 World Cup, unlike Canada, and had an extremely respectable exit in the quarter-finals. After that Azerbaijani debacle, well.

Yet Canada did exactly what they were supposed to do. The game started well and stayed that way. David Edgar, in holding midfield, not only got his head on the goal but contributed to other attacking movement, particularly in the first half. Scott Arfield dribbled around most of central Asia and Tosaint Ricketts was always a whisker away from getting in clear. Another early injury in defense, with Manjrekar James coming off 14 minutes in, was handled far more gracefully than on Friday. We didn’t look brilliant, conceded a few chances, our goal against was a bit of a shambles, and of course there was nothing glorious about the winning goal. A bullet header from 20-year-old fullback Akramjon Kolimov, making his second ever international appearance, getting on the end of a Junior Hoilett cross and piledriving it beautifully into the back of the net, with the only blemish on the strike being that the net was his own. So no, Canada didn’t deserve the win, but they were the better team and deserved to deserve it, which against that level of opposition is good enough.

Steve Kingsman/Canadian Soccer Association

Steve Kingsman/Canadian Soccer Association

That afternoon the women went for revenge against Brazil in Ottawa. Again the crowd was good in a non-traditional city, notwithstanding the capital city dickery of Lansdowne security, who confiscated flags and generally made trouble for the Canadian supporters. Youngsters Ashley Lawrence and Deanne Rose, who had in Toronto earned another chance, got it. Fellow youngster Jessie Fleming also got a start and added style to the lineup, right down to fizzing a shot from distance just wide after two years of me shouting “Fleming needs to shoot more!” Buchanan settled in, though she flubbed a great scoring chance. Matheson, playing high, was so lively and involved in the play that I thought guiltily about deleting my Twitter. Sinclair didn’t turn any of her looks into brilliant shots, but those looks were plentiful and she distributed the ball well. Lawrence is basically the player character in a video game now, running around doing absolutely everything. And that worrisome Labbé could have played cards for all it would have mattered; Brazil handicapped its offense by leaving Marta on the bench, but Cristiane is a heck of a second choice and she was neutralized. Even when Marta came on she didn’t get a sniff.

Like the men, the women were not perfect. Buchanan was much better but not exactly A1 and Scott struggled again, but more importantly they dominated the chances through all 90 minutes. Many came off the #CanadaRED boots of sparkling impact sub Janine Beckie. She earned her moment of stoppage-time heroism: coming out of midfield Matheson could not possibly have arced her pass any better and Beckie leisurely lobbed Luciana with one touch to win it with seconds left. Then she went over to Jennifer Hedger and had a calm interview about how they pressured Brazil’s back line before posing for some photos, though scoring a dramatic winner against quality opposition in front of 20,000 fresh-baked Beckiemaniacs did rate a smile. We saw the same thing when she piled on the misery for a pleb in Olympic qualifying and was barely interested in high fiving her teammates: Janine Beckie is stone cold. She is also 21 years old and has every chance of being among our top ten all-time women’s scorers by the end of the Olympics, provided she isn’t forced into goal again.

We all swallow clozapine by the pallet in the Canadian soccer community but the past few days have been, even by our high standards, bipolar. From confirmation of how miserable we are to a bright spark of hope in less time than it takes to tie your shoes. Both pessimism and optimism have been justified by games that were exactly as miserable/promising as the worst/best of us could have feared/hoped, and the result is that we stand in the middle of the parking lot throwing our arms around and not knowing what to think. Has the MNT got the creativity and guile to break down the Hondurans at San Pedro Sula, who after all are not by any rational calculation properly good? Well, maybe? Can the WNT overcome the fact that its goalkeeping is reduced to crossed fingers and a hashtag campaign, pump goals by Zimbabwe, get out of the group stage with credit, and scrap into a knockout round which could easily bless us with a kind draw? It might happen? At their best, both our senior national teams looked plenty good enough to do what we ask of them. But at their worst, back on the pills. It’s going to be a long year.

Sabrina, the Keeping Hitch

By Benjamin Massey · May 30th, 2016 · No comments

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

When John Herdman announced his roster for the coming WNT friendlies in Toronto and Ottawa there was one, and only one, surprise. Which was not surprising. Herdman gives his big tournament teams away in advance; there are no Theo Walcotts or Julian Greens in his philosophy. Usually, three or so fringe players battle for two spots but that’s it; even the much-discussed Selenia Iacchelli was a well-established part of the roster before the World Cup. Yes, he’ll find players we didn’t expect a few months in advance, but the best of them will stay with the team all the way (Iacchelli and Allysha Chapman for the World Cup, Deanne Rose for the upcoming Olympics) and during the proper tournament prep period there will be no shocks.

This is pretty much entirely a good thing. For all the Twitter jokes, the Canadian women’s national team really does look like the #MostConnectedTeam and that is to their advantage. They know each other, are happy for each other when things go well, and fight for each other when things go badly. When you’re less talented than the Olympic podium contenders that’s an important edge. No, of course personal chemistry and being intimately familiar with your teammates doesn’t make up for a skill deficit, but it helps, and the example of London 2012 shows that sometimes that help is enough.

However, this approach has downsides. We saw one of them last summer. Lauren Sesselmann had been through the wars with her friends and adopted countrymen, was one of the biggest reasons we won the London bronze medal, had suffered a horrible knee injury, worked like hell to recover for the World Cup, and in every moral sense deserved a chance to play Canada 2015. But only in the moral sense. A year later, respect for her past achievements makes it cruel to dwell on this, but had Herdman been relentless rather than loyal, a Mourinho rather than a mentor, Sesselmann would have been out, replaced by Rebecca Quinn say, and Canada would probably have beaten England in the quarterfinal. It really was that important. (This is without even entering into the Iacchelli question.) That said, Herdman had form with bringing a much-loved, hard-working player struggling to recover from a knee injury who, on form, arguably should have been left at home, and Diana Matheson did okay in London. Moreover, we can never know whether a team run by the sort of person single-minded enough to cut Sesselmann would have achieved anything. Carolina Morace was that sort of coach and her teams always, always let you down.

This is relevant because of that one surprise on the friendly roster: goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. I like D’Angelo. In fact I believe that, with Erin McLeod’s nightmarish multi-year injury, D’Angelo should start the Rio Olympics as Canada’s number one ahead of the more experienced Stephanie Labbé. However, a couple weeks ago D’Angelo fractured her left wrist during warm-ups with the Western New York Flash. The current word from the Flash is that she’ll probably be healthy by the Olympics but is unlikely to play any league games before then[1]. When signing autographs with teammates at a Toronto Sportchek yesterday, D’Angelo still had her cast on[2]. This is not a case of “well, if the doctors clear her and she trains well we might get her in for a half.” D’Angelo is injured and will not play. This has been obvious to the public for a week, and hopefully has been known by John Herdman for longer than that.

A fractured wrist is a simple injury but a goalkeeper sort of needs it to be 100%, complications happen, and the margins here are extremely tight. If, God forbid, D’Angelo is unfit for Rio, 20-year-old Kailen Sheridan will back up Labbé. In light of Herdman’s aforementioned unsurprising rosters we may take this as a given. However, Canada will need to carry a third goalkeeper on the so-called “taxi squad.” This goalkeeper will not normally be available but, if Labbé or Sheridan is hurt, will step in to the eighteen-woman roster. Who will that goalkeeper be?

Marie-Joëlle Vandal, who backed up Sheridan at the 2014 Women’s U-20 World Cup, recently with the Université Laval and now starting her professional career in lower-division Sweden? Rylee Foster, our 17-year-old starter at the most recent CONCACAF U-20s and FIFA U-17s? Erin McNulty or Justine Bernier, who attended senior camps as late as December 2014, have relatively recent professional experience, and were mentioned by Herdman on a press call just this morning[3]? Rachelle Beanlands, unseen for a few years but whose clean sheet at the 2011 Pan-American Games was the last senior appearance by a keeper other than McLeod, Labbé, D’Angelo, Sheridan, or Karina LeBlanc? Hell, what about Karina LeBlanc? Fans keep asking her to unretire, if it gets that desperate maybe she’ll say yes! She’s going to be in Rio anyhow, may as well bring her gloves!

Of the three favourites, Foster hasn’t even attended a senior training camp yet and is an unknown quantity at this level. McNulty and Bernier are obviously still in Herdman’s contacts list but it’s been a year and a half since they spent time with the team. Alternate goalkeeper is not a high-pressure duty and any of those three would probably discharge it fine. But as the current injuries to McLeod and D’Angelo should remind us, you never need your third-string goalkeeper until you really really do, and this is the best opportunity John Herdman could ask for to run the rule over one. Two home friendlies with a week of training in the middle, a pair of good games guaranteed even if the third goalkeeper only watches them from the bench, both coach and player would learn a lot, and if the first choice fails there’s just time to test another. Instead, Herdman calls upon D’Angelo, who right now can contribute nothing besides friendship and connectedness. She could have hung out with the team had Herdman named another goalkeeper anyway, but instead our strategy seems to be “D’Angelo will be fine and if she isn’t it won’t matter.” At this late stage better not to add a stranger to the mix, even if that stranger might be nominally needed.

And you know, that strategy is probably right. If by some mischance D’Angelo does miss out then in five years we probably won’t even remember the third goalkeeper’s name. Foster, if Foster is the heir presumptive, has plenty of time to show her stuff. (Though a Bernier, a McNulty, or a Vandal would probably have killed for a few days in the shop window.) Still, we don’t often get to expand the player pool without cutting a sister from this happy few while protecting ourselves against a remote but real contingency. We’re missing out.

EDIT, 10:30 AM: thanks to Eric de Sousa via Twitter for informing me that Marie-Joëlle Vandal has recently signed with Swedish third-division side P18 IK A.

(notes and comments…)

Goals Galore on the North Shore

By Benjamin Massey · May 22nd, 2016 · No comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

On Saturday afternoon, four years after the demise of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Victoria Highlanders Women, the North Shore Girls Soccer Club finally re-launched elite women’s club soccer in western Canada. Their new Women’s Premier Soccer League team kicked off for the first time at North Vancouver’s handsome Kinsmen Park, marking the hugely overdue return of elite interregional competition to Canada’s most women’s-soccer-mad province. A respectable crowd of at least a hundred paid $5 each to watch local amateurs in an out-of-the-way suburban park, not counting ten or so freeloaders squinting through the chainlink fence. Organization was good, the free program missed only a little information, the concession did fine business, and the kids had a lovely time. In every area save on the field, it was a terrific start to a much-anticipated story. Their next home game is 4:30 PM on Sunday, May 29 against ISC Gunners FC; do come if you can.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Because this is North America, the WPSL’s place in our soccer pyramid is complicated. Primarily a summer league for college players, and using NCAA substitution rules, it is probably the third-best women’s soccer league in the United States. The best is the National Women’s Soccer League, and the second-best probably United Women’s Soccer, which also played its first ever game yesterday afternoon. UWS was formed mostly from surviving Eastern teams of the former USL W-League, which folded at the end of 2015, plus four of the more ambitious WPSL teams, which had been on the “semi-professional” side of an amateur/semi-pro divide. UWS would have included Quebec City and Laval’s late W-League teams, but the Canadian Soccer Association (and, according to Duane Rollins on the Two Solitudes podcast, the United States Soccer Federation) did not want Canadian teams in the American league[1].

Question: how is the North Shore in the American WPSL, then? It’s a good one. Quebec’s soccer federation supported their teams joining UWS[2] so it isn’t that. British Columbia doesn’t have a high-level semi-professional women’s soccer league, but neither does Quebec. Their best hope is that the PLSQ might form a women’s division in 2017 or so. Then again, British Columbia doesn’t even have a men’s PLSQ, nor does its provincial neighbours. Laval and Quebec could play in League1 Ontario; NSGSC would have no such option. Not that Laval and Quebec thought it was an option for them, preferring to fold. It was also suggested they play in Quebec’s top amateur league, and NSGSC already plays in British Columbia’s. It may be similar to how Ontario’s USL PDL men’s teams are being told to join League1 Ontario for 2017[3] while Calgary Foothills, the Victoria Highlanders, and WSA Winnipeg go unmolested. The west is the hinterland, even in areas (like Quebec semi-pro women’s soccer) where the big provinces aren’t ahead of us.

Theoretically NSGSC enters the first rank of Canada’s elite women’s clubs with the nine L1O sides. In practice, an NSGSC team featuring many of their WPSL players finished second in Vancouver’s Metro Women’s Soccer League and was demolished, 4-0, by Richmond in the Provincial Cup final. Other lower mainland clubs has talent at this level, but only the North Shore had the wherewithal to take a step up. That is a terrific move by them, a risk that deserves reward. We need more clubs to show such ambition. I will give them my $5 a game, and you should do the same. If it’s a success then, with all the talent in the Vancouver area, there’s no doubt the NSGSC can become competitive. But just because they aim at a high level doesn’t mean they automatically achieve it.

That afternoon, the North Shore didn’t belong on the same turf as OSA FC, one of the Northwest Division’s historically better teams but hardly a powerhouse. As FC Tacoma 253, OSA finished second in the division last year behind Issaquah, now called “ISC Gunners.” (Amateur soccer is confusing.) Although many of the NSGSC players knew each other from the MWSL, they didn’t play like it. Possibly it was down to a coaching change; Tony Seddon coaches the MWSL team, but NSGSC technical director and former Whitecaps Girls Elite boss Jesse Symons has the helm in the WPSL.

OSA FC was more connected than NSGSC. They were significantly more athletic, and repeatedly split the North Shore’s defense for stunning scoring chances. The final score was OSA 4, NSGC 1, and could have been worse. OSA scored a 35-yarder. They scored off a volley. They scored off a scramble in front of the keeper. They scored from an own goal. North Shore’s only goal, from midfielder Katelyn Erharden, came from a terrific cross from Margaret Hadley, but that was one of few well-worked opportunities. When the North Shore tried to hit on the counterattack they resorted too often to long balls, and the OSA defenders were so consistently faster than NSGSC’s forwards that it only tired the Canadians out. OSA’s Chyalisa Baysa, Kennya Cordner (man of the match), and substitute Lindsey Patterson had an entire North Shore’s worth of scoring chances each. Our local heroines were badly beaten at home, albeit by a strong team, and have work to do. It was a rude welcome.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Most of the NSGSC roster is young locals, and three North Shore players have international experience above the U-17 level. The most famous, World Cup observer and frozen yogurt veteran Selenia Iacchelli, did not play. Forward Rheanne Sleiman, an elder statesman at 26 years old and an eleven-time U-20 international, captained the team and put in a decent shift given her lack of service. The last was former University of Victoria midfielder Jaclyn Sawicki. Sawicki is a four-time Canada West first team all-star, played W-League with the Whitecaps and the Highlanders, was a key member of our U-20s in 2012, and in September 2011 made a single, oh-so-brief appearance with our senior WNT against the United States.

I’ve always liked Sawicki, and not just because she’s a UVic alum. She has excelled at every level where she’s got an opportunity. Had she gone to some crappy NCAA school instead of a good Canadian one we’d have heard much more from her. When Andrew Olivieri underused her in the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup I repeatedly whined about it, and wrote her onto my imaginary U-20 Women’s Player of the Year ballot. Well, guess what? At 23 years old, with no experience above the Universiade in four years, she’s still good. Unlike most of her teammates she passed accurately at medium range, and it was her superb ground ball down the left that sent Hadley off to create the North Shore’s only goal. When NSGSC had a promising development, as opposed to a big hoof that the forward happened to get on this time, it usually developed through Sawicki. She was substituted off with twenty minutes left, the score 2-1 to OSA, and from then on NSGSC’s resistance essentially collapsed. Sawicki showed a WPSL standard from the off; one of the few North Shore players who did. She is still only 23 and her CIS career is over. Hopefully she has the desire and gets a chance to play at a higher level, because she belongs there.

No other sparks were quite so bright. Midfielder Jenna Baxter was feisty in the early going and made a few good interceptions. Unfortunately she was substituted off after half an hour only to return late in the game, so I suspect Jesse Symons disagreed. Though complicit in a sloppy-spaghetti-mess of giveaways the midfield made of the first minutes, many players on both teams were as they struggled to settle in. Katelyn Erharden, the goalscorer, had another good chance and was extremely vocal trying to organize her teammates. Forward Margaret Hadley, who set Erharden up, had a few good touches in the minutes after she came off the bench. Unfortunately chasing several hopeless long balls seemed to wear her out, and there’s an opportunity to improve there.

As individuals, not many regulars looked really awful. As a team, it didn’t go well, and late in the game they were obviously downhearted. In a debut where everything else went great, that’s a let-down. However, it is at least soluble. Experience will look after a lot. The WPSL season is a short one, two games a weekend until the middle of July, so it doesn’t leave much time to become the Portland Thorns, but let’s face it. If NSGSC’s WPSL team becomes as important to Canadian soccer as it should, it won’t be because they have a great 2016 but because they build something that can last into 2026. The very fact that they’re trying, and taking it seriously, is the most promising thing to happen in western Canadian soccer since FC Edmonton started their academy.

(notes and comments…)

Futsal Fantasy

By Benjamin Massey · May 9th, 2016 · No comments

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

For decades, if you wanted to watch Canadian men win at soccer, you watched indoor. Some of the sport’s greatest ever stars, including Tino Lettieri, Dale Mitchell, and Branko Segota, were Canadian. They were the spine of our 1986 FIFA World Cup squad, and until quite recently much of our senior men’s national team had considerable indoor experience. The last major indoor product, Lars Hirschfeld, replaced Pat Onstad as goalkeeper for the 1997 Edmonton Drillers before going on to Tottenham and fame. Well-established outdoor players like Martin Nash and Jeff Clarke would play a season or two of indoor between contracts, for it was long North America’s best way to make a living in soccer.

Those days are gone, probably forever. The Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League, a western league that folded after the 2012 season, was our last serious organized competition. Though several perennially-reorganizing professional and semi-professional indoor leagues operate in the United States, none include a Canadian entry. Nor is there much appetite for a revival. Though indoor soccer may seem—and indeed for a long time was—a natural fit with severe winters and hockey rinks in every town, experts scorn it. Indoor soccer encourages the development of skills such as playing the ball off the boards which do not transfer outside. Six-a-side games mean less room for creativity, and an indoor soccer ball discourages fancy play anyhow. Besides, indoor soccer in the North American code is virtually unknown outside Canada and the United States, without even FIFA recognition.

The experts prefer futsal, a five-a-side game played on ceramic courts with a smaller, weighted ball that responds marvelously to the trickster’s touch. Futsal was developed in Brazil in the 1930s, making North American indoor arguably the older game, but unlike it futsal has caught on worldwide. Though dominated by the Brazilians, as you might expect, seven countries from three continents have medalled in the seven FIFA Futsal World Cups, including such unlikely teams as Russia and the United States. In 1989 Canada, coached by Bob Lenarduzzi, participated in the first. They took one win in the group stage with a young team of indoor soccer worthies including Eddy Berdusco, Nick DeSantis, Lyndon Hooper, Paul Dolan (fresh off his single indoor season with Tacoma), and (slightly improbably) a 21-year-old Alex Bunbury, who only ever played a few months of Minnesota indoor and didn’t do much with them. Dolan was the regular starter in goal and John Fitzgerald, an eventual 12-time international, was Canada’s leading goalscorer with two.

But despite all our indoor pedigree Canada hasn’t been back, perhaps for want of precocious Bunburys and Dolans with a few idle weeks in the spring. Most years Canada did not even try to qualify. In 2004, Edmontonian Ross Ongaro selected a twelve-man roster that included no fewer than six Edmonton Aviators, two players at amateurs Edmonton Scottish, former Edmonton Brickman Guiliano Oliviero, and former Edmonton Driller Tiarnan King. Somehow this team lost a two-leg series to Panama. (Also on the team was future United States international Ugo Ihemelu, later found ineligible for the senior Canadian MNT when Dale Mitchell wanted him in a World Cup qualifier. This is an unstoppable trivia question.) In 2008 Canada didn’t enter a team, and a 2012 group that included former senior international Robbie Aristodemo as well as U-20 internationals Alex Elliott and Robbie Tice put up a pretty good fight. They dropped El Salvador 7-6 on aggregate to qualify for the CONCACAF tournament proper, but suffered consecutive losses to Guatemala, the United States, and Panama.

In short, we are not a futsal country and never have been. Expectations were always modest for this Canadian team, run by 2004 survivor Kyt Selaidopoulos. But nor are we walkovers. The indoor soccer blood in our veins still has a little warmth. Our first task was to win a two-leg series against the United States, twice on the World Cup podium. Though far diminished from their salad days the Americans were an all-professional team, but after falling behind by three in the first leg Canada stormed back for a 4-4 draw, then won the second 5-3 on a Robert Renaud hat trick. It was a tremendous victory, but like Collingwood after Trafalgar Canada still had troubles ahead: drawn into the Group of Death with Costa Rica (hosts and defending CONCACAF champions), Cuba (four-time CONCACAF runners-up), and Curaçao (not nearly as bad as you’d think). The top two teams in the group qualify for the Futsal World Cup, by no means an impossible target, but realism promised another dignified, hard-working campaign that built on the improvements from 2012. Our first game, against the better-rested Costa Ricans, was sure to be the toughest, and a point would have been remarkable.

Well, if you’ve survived the 800 words so far you’ll have an idea what happened on Sunday night. Oh yes, Costa Rica gave Canada a futsal lesson at no charge. Nobody, and I mean nobody, left the arena in any doubt about the superior side. But Canada, living up to every cliche, fought hard, played raw route-one futsal, kept their defensive shape despite overwhelming opposition, and had the plucky grit you’d expect from a game played basically in a hockey arena. Though hopelessly outgunned in every category we blocked shots and harassed the Costa Ricans into errors. When we opened the scoring through Frederico Moojen it was hilariously against the run of play and beautifully scrappy, the veteran Moojen ushering a deflected long ball out for a corner then fighting through traffic to side-foot in an ensuing cross.

But with its short pitch futsal does not forgive a team that cannot keep possession. The little ball zips around and the talented attacker has the advantage with it at his feet. All the grit in the world avails you not against such superior skill unless, of course, you put a brick wall in goal, which Canada did.

In the pantheon of great Canadian soccer goalkeeping performances—Erin McLeod against France in 2012, Craig Forrest against anybody in 2000—Josh Lemos may be the most improbable member. Like most futsalers he had an unremarkable outdoor career, including an appearance as a central midfielder at a Canadian U-15 national camp in 2004. By his twenties he had become a goalkeeper, turning out with semi-pros North York Astros (also a home to former senior international Haidar Al-Shaïbani) and, briefly, in the Nicaraguan league with Diriangen. At the time of his central American adventure he was already an established presence in Ontario futsal, drawing good notices, and when the national team reformed in 2012 he was a natural call-up.

In 2012 qualification Lemos was the starting goalkeeper and an immediate hero: it was he who, with five seconds left, charged up the court to score the aggregate winner against El Salvador. This Jimmy Glass moment would have been enough for most careers, but alas the 2012 tournament was not broadcast and his glory was limited to soon-forgotten news articles and the futsal community. When Canada went out of the group stage in three games Lemos’s hopes of immortality faded.

But apparently in futsal lives there are second acts. Lemos was one of four 2012 players, with Vincent Cournoyer, Daniel Chamale, and Ian Bennett, to return in 2016. In the comeback against the United States he played his part, saving a penalty, but the heroes of that fight were the attackers and a goalkeeper got little notice. Anyway, the game was not broadcast. But for the group stage of the tournament CONCACAF put on a free high-definition webstream and over 2,000 people, including many Canadians, spent their Mother’s Day evening watching a form of soccer little-known up here. I’m bound to say that for me, at least, it was… well, if not ironic, at least self-consciously obscure, watching a match that I thought nobody would care about and that would surely not be interesting because it had “Canadian soccer” in the description. One of my less successful predictions.

Against Costa Rica, our outfield players struggled badly so Lemos did it all. It was an incredible performance, and the highlights do it no justice whatsoever. He made his first save one minute and twenty-two seconds in, all but ten seconds or so of which were Costa Rican possession. He and his tenacious defenders barely fended off fire-breathing attacks until Moojen opened the scoring. Seven seconds after Canada took the lead, Lemos made another massive reflex stop. Twenty seconds after that he made a staggering double-save that would have been the sure-fire highlight of the night 364 days of the year. Rattled by our star goalkeeper the Costa Ricans shaped their shots, trying to place the ball perfectly, and missed a disproportionate number for their trouble. When they did not miss, Lemos was there. On top of everything else, Lemos’s accurate throws gave Canada some of their best counter-attacking opportunities, almost the only opportunities we could get. It took a dubious penalty, after Lemos made a challenge where he clearly got to the ball first and Edwin Cubillo made a meal of it, for Costa Rica to get on the board. Erick Brenes’s penalty was probably literally unstoppable. Early in the second half Costa Rica struck again, another perfect shot by skipper Alejandro Paniagua off a corner kick, and surely, we said to ourselves, the dam had burst.

It had not. Canada settled in as Costa Rica defended their lead, and the chances were fewer, but still dangerous. With eight and a half minutes to go, Costa Rica’s Juan Cordero found himself set up with a wide-open net, but no net is wide-open when Josh Lemos is playing: he not only saved but held. Canada’s Eduardo Jauregui made an insane challenge that even more insanely received only yellow; in MLS the DisCo could have suspended him for the rest of his life, and not long after Lemos robbed Cubillo absolutely blind, getting over to parry a seemingly-sure goal that had developed out of nowhere. Finally, with five minutes to go, Lemos was again called for an unjust penalty: his challenge on Victor Fonseca was clumsy, he missed the ball, and Fonseca very deliberately tripped over Lemos’s ankle in the best CONCACAF style. Brenes took the penalty perfectly, again, and though Moojen made the final minutes interesting there was really very little doubt, save for that glorious instant in the last thirty seconds when Robert Renaud had the equalizer on his foot and shot wide. Costa Rica deserved much more than the 3-2 victory they got.

But damn that. Nobody would have bet on Canada to get a point, and thanks to Lemos and their dauntless hearts Canada very nearly did. There is no guarantee that Cuba or Curaçao will spurn so many chances, or that Lemos will find the same transcendent form. To an ill-informed eye the Canadian team didn’t show the skill to fight the best in CONCACAF on equal terms, and that’s what World Cup qualification takes. Yet, for one fabulous evening, Canadian soccer could delight in the last all-world performance we would have expected. Had we won, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of our goalkeeper which would have stirred the heart of every Canadian. These rough notes and dim highlights must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great soccer country like ours will see that those who fight on will be properly supported. Canada plays Curaçao tonight at 4:30 PM Pacific, with the game streamed on CONCACAF’s Facebook page. Perhaps, as when Lemos scored against El Salvador, there are still greater heroics to come.

Civil War: Fun and Educational

By Benjamin Massey · March 31st, 2016 · No comments

Tony Quinn/Canadian Soccer Association

Tony Quinn/Canadian Soccer Association

There was another action in the long war between the US women’s national team and its own soccer federation today, when Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo filed a claim with a government tribunal alleging that they are paid unfairly compared to the men[1]. This fight is a mess. The two parties can’t even agree whether they’re currently covered by a collective bargaining agreement. As Canadian fans, we should be watching and giggling, but then again our players have considered lawsuits against the Canadian Soccer Association in the past, so let’s at least try to consider the strength of the case.

For some, male and female soccer players should be paid the same amount of cash, full stop, regardless of whether they bring in the same revenues. These arguments are outside the purview of a soccer blog, and such readers may get off here. For the rest of us trying to see whether the men and women are being paid fairly for the income they generate, well, we can’t. Darn. Not that that stops anyone, including me, from acting wise.

Let’s be honest. Women’s soccer fandom in Canada and the United States includes fans whose primary interest in the distaff game seems to be showing off how progressive they are. It’s a minority but a very noisy one; after all, loudly signaling their virtue is the point. Cases like this are manna to them, so even those inclined to be sympathetic to Lloyd, Morgan, Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn, and Solo are going to hear a lot of very annoying memery and conspiracy theory that will try our patience, with opponents dismissed as “bros” quite unironically. Moreover, Morgan has a history with bogus gender discrimination lawsuits thanks to the anti-artificial turf case. On the other side, there are fans of the men’s team who view the women’s game as an expensive sideshow and seem unable to believe anyone sincerely enjoys it at all. To them, a dollar to Hope Solo is a dollar down the drain, and their rhetoric is full of attempts to split hairs about “non-World Cup years” and “well, if they didn’t win…” vainly trying to dismiss an obvious passion.

I have no idea how valid this particular complaint is. There is less money in women’s international soccer than men’s, but how much less? Are the men receiving a larger share of the pie? This lawsuit has brought out some information[2] but not enough for us to answer the question.

People have been filling the vacuum with whatever inadequate data support opinions they already held. Danny Page tweeted that US Soccer has the USWNT projected to outearn the USMNT in the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years[3], but the USMNT’s events outearn the USWNT’s by almost $9 million in the four-year life of that table and the figures aren’t broken down at all. Since the beginning of 2015 the USMNT has averaged 34,299 fans per home friendly versus 25,698 for the women[4], but the women play far more, win far more, and this doesn’t take into account ticket prices or ancillary revenues. You can derive any narrative you want from the numbers available, and boy people have been doing that.

The most important information is still not in the public domain. Perhaps this lawsuit will reveal it, and we will be able to judge. Because we know so little the media’s comparisons of men and women has to focus on major line items, which aren’t helpful, as well as sponsorships and league compensation, which aren’t at issue. Right now, I don’t see how any outsider can say he knows anything.

But if we’re unable to accept the lawsuit’s claims out-of-hand, we’re also unable to dismiss them, and there’s reason why the plaintiffs might be right.

It’s easy to say that players should be paid what the market will bear, and that for men the market will bear a lot more. In sponsorship and club soccer, where athletes make the most money, this is true. Alex Morgan is dissatisfied with her endorsement contracts, another company offers her more, she accepts. Her NWSL contract expires, some team in Europe wants to give her big bucks, off she goes. If nobody thinks there’s money to be made by giving her a larger salary then, well, welcome to the world of every working stiff. Of course a professional female soccer player has fewer professional leagues to choose from, but this is only stating the same truth in a different way. Nobody lawyers up when an artisanal cheese maker can’t find another artisanal cheese shop willing to give him a raise.

The problem is that international soccer is not a market. Hope Solo can’t get so ticked off with the US Soccer Federation that she signs with France. Her only options are to take what the USSF gives her, take nothing, or find a different line of work. Moreover, there’s no way to introduce a market without just making national teams into clubs by another name, and FIFA’s already gone too far down that road. Capitalism has done more to increase human quality of life than any other idea in our history, but you can’t shove those principles into a world where market rules just don’t apply.

So the male star is inevitably in a stronger bargaining position. Michael Bradley’s MLS salary as of September 2015 was $6.5 million, exclusive of endorsements. If he never plays for the United States again he should be financially comfortable for the rest of his life. He, and his fellow male players, can pump US Soccer for bonuses, perks, and luxuries without having to worry about going too far and facing financial ruin. It’s not necessary for the USMNT to actually walk out, as El Salvador recently did[5]. The bargaining power still exists, as anyone who’s ever had to negotiate a salary from either end of the table should know. The more an employee relies on you, the less he can push. Becky Sauerbrunn relies on the USSF a lot; Michael Bradley could burn every bridge tomorrow and be fine. This has nothing to do with bigotry or old boys networks or it-being-2016; it has to do with income.

The good news, for an American fan, is that the United States is almost uniquely positioned to solve this problem easily and fairly. The United States is a huge media market, domestic TV rights count more than international, and both men and women play a large number of home internationals. It should be perfectly possible to say the MNT and WNT will get an equal percentage of the revenues they generate, and distribute that according to whatever formula you like. Not only would this fairly compensate both genders for the income they produce, but it would establish the MNT and WNT as allies, a victory for one enriching both, rather than kids squabbling over serving sizes. Canada probably couldn’t do that: we don’t play enough home games, our TV rights are literally given away. Of course there’d be delicate negotiating to do over handling non-gender-specific revenues like federation sponsorships that might be generated more by one gender than the other, but surely that’s a solvable problem. It would require the USSF to open its books, at least internally, but the flip side of international soccer not being a market is that the USSF has, in this sense, no competition.

What we have here is a simple matter. A group of employees believe that they are underpaid for the value they bring their employer. But they can’t switch employers, as we would; at least, not without switching careers. So they resort to other means, and we wait to see if they’re right.

(notes and comments…)