Three Candidates for Pacific FC Depth

By Benjamin Massey · May 10th, 2019 · No comments

Stewie the Starfish’s stalwart seamen have become impotent.

From first place in the Canadian Premier League they have dropped to a lowly sixth after a mid-week 3-0 battering by Forge FC. Vainly do we say that first place was after the second game in league history, or that our two losses were another midweeker to better-rested Valour and a game well-earned by the Hamiltonians but not the worst 3-0 ever1. Pacific has not looked great by eye or numbers and this weekend’s tilt, away to FC Edmonton, will pit us against tenacious defending and lots of athleticism to weary a tired team.

We knew Pacific’s defensive depth would be a problem but maybe not so early. Former League1 Ontario man Lukas MacNaughton had two games full of quality and violence. But he was suspended for the Valour match, while Hendrik Starostzik has missed two and counting with a foot problem. In their place Ryan McCurdy was abominable and Émile Legault, a neat little player, is too short and inexperienced to play centre back professionally right now. Given Starostzik and MacNaughton Pacific likely beats Valour, and while Forge was another thing altogether being able to spell fullbacks Blake Smith and Kadin Chung with Legault would have done a power of good.

Pacific have recently added Saudi youth trainee Ahmed Alghamdi and former TSS FC Rover Zach Verhoven to their roster. Even so they stand at 20 players signed, counting the seriously injured Marcel de Jong. They had very few reserves to draw upon, have drawn upon them early, and didn’t even get wins out of it: add depth, please, and the sooner the better.

But there’s no merit in complaining about a lack of signings if you can’t suggest any, and while Sergio Ramos would be a quality addition my source at Pacific says they’re unlikely to agree terms.

Here are three ideas for Pacific FC. All are meant to be realistic. They are professionally out of contract but have played recently at a high level (no stirring Luca Bellisomo comebacks). They are not so accomplished as players that they’d automatically demand large wages, and possess some tenuous connection to British Columbia soccer. We are looking for useful players here to fill out the back of the roster, not superstars. They might make a disproportionate difference.

Alberta Soccer

Noah Cunningham

Born: December 10, 1997, St. Albert, AB
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 195lbs
Last Club: University of Alberta (Canada West)
Tenuous BC Connection: member of the 2018 Victoria Highlanders (USL PDL)

There were serious rumours that Edmonton would sign Cunningham, who in fitting with some of Jeff Paulus’s goals is an old Edmonton Academy boy and played at the University of Alberta. In the event the Eddies managed to land Amer Didic to finish off the defensive core, then lanky local striker Easton Ongaro became available from Cavalry as Paulus’s last pre-season signing. Fair enough, everyone would take Didic over Cunningham and I’d have a hard time turning down Ongaro. But Cunningham is therefore available, and the Ongaro precedent suggests he’s a free agent.

Cunningham is not a household name. He appeared in one of Rob Gale’s U-18 national team camps in 2014, alongside Marcus Godinho, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, Shamit Shome, and David Choinière. But you’re not expecting household names in this part of the roster; you’re hoping for underrated young players and Cunningham is all that. His university career at Alberta has covered him in laurels, while his USL PDL career has been mixed but positive. Neither athletic nor flamboyant, you won’t confuse him for Franz Beckenbauer, but he has size and smarts. He seems like a good guy to have around, and just because he wasn’t Jeff Paulus’s type of player doesn’t mean he couldn’t fit in at Pacific. He also provides versatility, having played a fair bit of central midfield in his time.

If Cunningham signed it would mean the 2018 Victoria Highlanders, a poor defensive team, had put two defenders in the inaugural CanPL plus goalkeeper Nolan Wirth. This does rather offend reason, especially since Cunningham’s partner Peter Schaale doesn’t look overwhelmed at HFX. In Cunningham’s defense he played only 725 minutes across 10 matches last year (Schaale had 1009 in 12) and with Calgary Foothills in 2017 he was a key player on a fine team. Victoria’s struggles were down to lacking a consistent lineup and having to gun for goals as much as anything. He was by no means the problem, his other PDL campaign was good, and surely his USports excellence earns him the benefit of the doubt.

By all accounts Cunningham is a serious student, working on his education degree: he aspires to teach high school and has at least a year left. But that just means he should get used to summers off. Van Isle could do a lot worse than giving Cunningham a developmental deal.

MexSport/Canada Soccer

Jackson Farmer

Born: May 3, 1995, Edmonton, AB
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 181lbs
Last Club: Calgary Foothills U-23 (USL PDL)
Tenuous BC Connection: Whitecaps Residency and Reserves from 2011 to 2016

Jackson Farmer just turned 24 years old. Time flies when you’re not having fun. He got a full senior international cap in his teens (against Mauritania on September 8, 2013) and peaked right there. Captaining the Whitecaps U-18s and dominating the centre back spot next to Alex Comsia, Farmer graduated to play regularly for the Whitecaps reserves under Alan Koch and trained with the first team, but never received an MLS contract. He was one of several young Whitecaps to be neglected in an ill-fated affiliation with the USL Charleston Battery, making only a handful of appearances. Farmer got in for Canada’s U-20 and U-23 teams at every opportunity, and played at home in the Pan-American Games, but those teams never went far.

The Calgary Foothills had Farmer for their 2018 championship season, and in dropping down to USL PDL he became a bench player, getting eight matches for 299 minutes plus two stoppage-time appearances in the playoffs. He lost minutes to Jordan Haynes, Nik Ledgerwood, Dean Northover, and Chris Serban, slotting in at centre back or fullback as opportunity allowed. There was never much talk that Cavalry would bring him to the Canadian Premier League, and while FC Edmonton had him in pre-season, where he played another Al Classico on the opposite end, he didn’t stick. Koch, Mike Anhaeuser, Tommy Wheeldon, Jr., Jeff Paulus, and a few Whitecaps bosses all gave Farmer a good long look and said no thanks.

There are some good coaches on that list. We can’t kid ourselves: Farmer is going the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean he’s done. Pacific, who are desperate for a decent, affordable, versatile domestic defender acquainted with CanPL-level competition, might be the perfect landing spot. Moreover, context flatters him. The 2018 Foothills must have been one of the best teams in USL PDL history: their defense allowed 7 goals in 14 regular season games and two in four playoff games. And yet, by goals against per minute, Farmer was better than average on his excellent team: Calgary conceded only one goal (to TSS FC Rovers’ Daniel Sagno) while he was on the field. When he played for Calgary against an FC Edmonton XI in the 2018 Al Classico friendly at Clarke Stadium he was a star of the day. A natural centre back, Farmer has played quite a bit of right back lately and has even suited up at DM. Versatility is good for a depth player.

FC Edmonton loaded up on attractive ball-playing defenders with high athleticism, and their big blonde guy, Amer Didic, is much bigger and almost as blonde as Farmer. The Whitecaps and their reserve teams were notorious dumpster fires, and it was no shame for Farmer that he couldn’t be a regular USL defender when he was 18. He’s played so many quality games against his peers over so many seasons, it’s hard—impossible—to believe that Farmer just turned bad. If I was Pacific and had the option I would let him and Cunningham duke it out. I might sign both, short-term, if I could.

St. FX Athletics

Ryan Ashlee

Born: 1993, Victoria, BC
Height: 6’4″
Last Club: Bays United (VISL)
Tenuous BC Connection: Born and raised in Victoria, now plays amateur soccer there.

Alas, despite their Tenuous BC Connections, both Farmer and Cunningham are Alberta boys who may not want to move to Victoria on the cheap. So we should find a local option.

Ryan Ashlee is your classic centre back. Tall, lanky, likes nothing better than getting his forehead on a soccer ball and sending it far, far away. Though born and raised in Victoria Ashlee gave the other coast a try for college, spending four years at St. FX and making all sorts of Atlantic all-star teams. But he came home for the summer, playing PDL (and PCSL) with the Victoria Highlanders and growing into the level, winning the Juan de Fuca Plate in 2014 and supporters’ player of the year in 2015. After leaving school he played first-division amateur with Coquitlam until in 2018 Ashlee starred with the awkwardly-named Surrey BC Tigers Hurricanes, a name we’ve all had to get used to as they won the national amateur championship.

Moving back to Victoria for the 2018–19 winter campaign, Ashlee joined the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s Bays United and was most unsurprisingly named rookie of the year. He also came up in the most valuable player conversation, a rare thing for a centre back in a metro league, and was most valuable player of the league All-Star game against the Fraser Valley. Bays United had an average defensive record, relying on a killer attack but still only finishing mid-table; the fact that Ashlee was so highly-touted all the same is major praise.

You see the theme. Never given a chance at a truly elite level, but everywhere Ryan Ashlee has gone he has succeeded. Without a doubt, if the Canadian Premier League had started in 2014, somebody would have brought him in. Instead he arrived too early. Yet he hasn’t gone away. The VMSL and VISL, where Ashlee stands out, is good soccer. We’ve seen what some unheralded League1 Ontario players, like MacNaughton, can do given full-time training and elite teammates, and Ashlee is certainly in that class.

And while one hates to build his first team this way, considered as a gesture, signing Ashlee could not be bettered. The VISL has been an enthusiastic promoter of Pacific FC since their announcement, a friendship which the team reciprocates, but turning Island amateur players into professionals is the real holy grail. McCurdy and goalkeeper Nolan Wirth, who both played with the Highlanders and Vic West last year, made a good start. Ashlee would keep the pipeline flowing. He would also, somehow, be the first Victoria native in team history2. From a tactical perspective, his aerial game would be valuable both defensively and on the attack, given Pacific’s overreliance on the high cross and the set piece. He’s taller than any other defender on the team, and while not a natural ball-player in the same way as Cunningham or Farmer the best-case scenario has him as the no-nonsense bastion for Starostzik to free-wheel around.

The problem is that it probably is too late: Ashlee has his degree and a real job, he’s a grown man with responsibilities now. Probably there’s no realistic offer Pacific FC could make to have him put in two weeks’ notice. But I’d like them to try. At least pick up the phone and ask the question. Ashlee’s generation has mostly either made it or moved on already, but sometimes life does have a second act.

Another Day One at Westhills Stadium

By Benjamin Massey · April 29th, 2019 · 1 comment

Never go into the archives of Maple Leaf Forever! without expert supervision. Any post written before about 2016 is pretty much unreadable. But this morning I dove into the crap to get a particular nugget: my first visit to Langford’s ironically-named City Centre Park in May 2010 to watch the Victoria Highlanders host the Vancouver Whitecaps U-23s in the USL PDL season opener.

A lot has changed in nine years. For one thing I ripped Russell Teibert, who was a year or so from becoming Canadian Soccer Jesus. Both the Highlanders and the Whitecaps U-23s folded then came back as completely different setups. Also, the ironically-named City Centre Park is almost unrecognizable. 2010’s aluminum-bleachered main stand now has beautiful purple seats with “PFC” picked out in white and wouldn’t look out of place in England’s League Two. The “Bear Mountain Stadium” sign now says “Westhills Stadium” (though it is otherwise exactly the same, which is fun). The neighbourhood has built up; a weirdly obscure tree-shrouded ground nestled in with the industry and parking lots is now in a fast-growing part of Langford that’ll probably be 50% condos by the time Noah Verhoeven gets his testimonial.

But a few things are the same. Quoting myself:

God, what a fantastic place to watch a soccer game! The sun is shining, the birds are tweeting, there’s a little man-made lake at the east end of the park which is simultaneously incredibly twee and incredibly cool. The plastic pitch is still new enough that the game is quite enjoyable on the surface, security guards aren’t uptight bag-checking assholes, and the fans have the good-spirited nature of people who are watching a semi-professional soccer game in the middle of nowhere and just having a whale of a time.

[. . .]

3-2 Victoria stood as the final, and the better team won. But it was a good contest and one that involved some pretty good fans from the Highlanders, who sang and made noise that you associate with a far higher level than USL PDL. Even the soccer parents in the grandstand were more involved in the game than your stereotypical Canadian fan, applauding and following events with visible agitation. I know there are travel issues, and stadium issues, and all sorts of issues in the way of further growth. But if the Victoria Highlanders keep this up and they’re not in the second division within five years, it’ll be a disgrace.

It took nine years, and they’re not the Highlanders, and it’s actually the first division. And security checks bags now, though they’re still human beings rather than dicks with badges and let us bring in cookies for Clare Rustad1. Otherwise 2010 Ben would be pretty happy with how those paragraphs worked out.

In April 2019 Langford hosted another opener, when Pacific FC welcomed Halifax for the second game in the history of the Canadian Premier League. The fans are still fun and, like the stadium, mostly new. In 2010 the approximately 2,000 people at that game were considered a massive success. In 2019 official attendance was 5,154, which as far as I can tell is the best-attended soccer event on Vancouver Island since the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup2. And those 5,154 men, women, and children were bouncing. The Lake Side Buoys tailgate was not only visited but largely manned by people I’d never met in the PDL days. Many of them packed into the bustling general admissions supporter stands where they cheered, shot the shit, and had such a great time that the organized chanting, for all the numbers and enthusiasm, was drowned out by spontaneous fun.

Fans lined up in the sun for merchandise and refreshment; the fish-and-chips guy probably put his kids through college. They went berserk for Hendrik Starostzik, the 3. Liga veteran who not only scored the first goal in club history but showed that Albert Watson-like ability to impose his will aerially despite not being that tall and has “fan favourite” written all over him in pen. They crowded in the general admission area, or congregated in the very handsome beer garden, or hunkered down in the new seating, howling at the fouls, cheering the passes into space, and were engaged for all 90 minutes; when the Pacific players sprinted over to the supporters after the final whistle to celebrate their win it felt completely natural despite both groups having literally just met3. It wasn’t all perfect; there were not one but two appalling DJs vomiting noise and queues for almost anything were long. The game-day experience needs some refinement. Oh well. When we have to search our memories for minor flaws in the name of balance, you did a good job.

Day one, for Pacific, was nigh-perfect. But we will need many, many more such days. You may have been surprised by that 2,000-strong USL PDL crowd at a lesser version of this stadium in 2019. The problem is they didn’t stay around. In their debut 2009 season the Highlanders’ averaged 1,734 fans per game. In 2010, 1,375, still fourth-best in the league. In 2011, 992, at which point they moved out of Langford into historic Royal Athletic Park near downtown Victoria. A more convenient stadium, attention-grabbing promotions like “supporter ownership,” and some preposterously cheap tickets brought attendance back to a high-water mark of 1,637 in 2013 but by then the business model had become completely unsustainable4.

PDL has big problems as a spectator league. The level of soccer is way below what the Canadian Premier League has shown. Media coverage and match-day operations comes from amateur enthusiasts. Probably most importantly, teams play only seven or eight home games in a season that lasts three months, then in the winter half the roster changes. It’s easy to enjoy a PDL game but really, really hard to form a lasting connection to a team. CanPL has none of these issues: Pacific FC is trying to build on more solid ground. But right now good seats are available across Westhills Stadium for the Wednesday night game against Valour. Even with the opening-day excitement over, momentum has to build.

The Highlanders would have been laughing had they brought 2,000 fans to every game; Pacific FC will need more than 5,154 every game to make money. This is why the City of Langford, the province of British Columbia, and BC Hydro are exploring how they can spend millions of dollars moving a hydro pole that prevents building stands on the north side of the ground5. Getting Westhills Stadium as ready as it was for opening day was a triumph of public works but, in five years, that stadium probably needs double the capacity it has today. There is ever-so-much to do.

Then again, think about how much was done to get to this point. Every word of this sentence deserves to be printed in bold: 5,154 fans just sold out a stadium in Langford and paid to watch a Vancouver Island soccer team play Halifax in a Canadian Premier League match. Three years ago nothing about that seemed possible. There was never going to be a Canadian Premier League, and if there was Halifax and Vancouver Island wouldn’t be in it, and if they were nobody would come. What we saw on Sunday was unbelievable. Every expectation was blown out of the water. The mountains we still have to climb don’t seem so tall today.

Terry Dunfield nailed it on the OneSoccer post-game show: “if you’re a young boy or girl watching this, how do you not play soccer tomorrow?” Or watch it, for that matter.

2019 Canadian Premier League Preview

By Benjamin Massey · April 26th, 2019 · 1 comment

On October 4, 1992, the Winnipeg Fury tied the Vancouver 86ers 1-1 and won the Canadian Soccer League title on aggregate. The next match in a Canadian national soccer league comes 9,701 days later, tomorrow, April 27, 2019. Forge FC versus York 9 (10 AM Pacific, CBC television). We’ve waited long enough.

Nobody knows how this league is going to shake out, and unusually for Canadian soccer, nobody pretends they know. We’re all excited. We’re all smashing rosters with the hammer of criticism on the anvil of looking players up on Wikipedia. I am trying to track publicly-made predictions, because that should be good for a laugh; in fact I can’t remember the last time I had this many laughs just reading about and listening to Canadian soccer takes. There are well-respected veteran pundits who were not alive the last time a national Canadian soccer league played a game and they’re gushing with the best of them. Enthusiasm is more contagious than measles in a Montessori.

Coming up is Maple Leaf Forever!‘s official 2019 Canadian Premier League preview. Like all the others it is insane in spots, biased everywhere, and probably wrong more than it’s right. But who cares? Our hopes are unblemished by the scars of experience. Here’s the one prediction you can take to the bank: there won’t be many better years to be a Canadian soccer fan, ever, than the year 2019.

Overall Prediction

Positions
Ov Team GK DF MF FW
1 Forge FC 2 4 1 2
2 Cavalry FC 1 1 2 5
3 FC Edmonton 7 3 4 1
4 Pacific FC 3 5 3 3
5 York 9 FC 5 2 7 4
6 Valour FC 4 6 5 6
7 HFX Wanderers 6 7 6 7

Consuming other league previews has been instructive. While most pundits pick the two coastal teams to struggle, Halifax-based Dylan Matthias at The Merchant Sailor favours the Wanderers to beat expectations, and Ben Massey at British Columbia-based Maple Leaf Forever! thinks Pacific will do fine, though he’d like them to sign enough locals to fill out a bench. Duane Rollins, based in Toronto, has York 9 ahead of some others. Edmonton’s Loyal Company of the River Valley podcast argues FC Edmonton’s depth is underrated. TSN 1290 Winnipeg’s Ryan Brandt told the Young Gaffers podcast that Valour is going to come together and win the fall season. Strange coincidences, these.

So given regional bias, we should pay attention when it’s absent: almost everybody has got Forge and Cavalry in the top three. Cavalry took the best part of a hilariously dominant 2018 USL PDL championship team then added a bunch of quality. Forge has a respected Ontario coach and more Canadian glamour boys than anyone else in the league. This blog is not going to dissent.

When previewing the league much is made of home-field advantage. It sucks traveling to Halifax or Langford, which means that it’s equally hard to travel from them. We each know our local ground fairly well, but the CanPL is changing them so much that the only way we’ll know what playing in each city is like will be experience. Making predictions about a brand new league is a fool’s errand; trying to guess at the differing home field advantages doubly so. Other analysts try to draw conclusions from preseason games in the Dominican Republic, or the lack thereof, that we’re hearing about second- or third-hand. This doesn’t seem a lot better.

So, in an effort to make my preview actually useful I have chosen to break the league down position-by-position rather than team-by-team. You can see my ranking of each team by position above, but if you want the details, keep scrolling.

Position-by-Position

Goalkeeping

Bob Frid/Canada Soccer
  1. Cavalry (Marco Carducci, Niko Giantsopoulos)
  2. Forge (Quillan Roberts, Tristan Henry)
  3. Pacific (Nolan Wirth, Mark Village)
  4. Valour (Tyson Farago, Mathias Janssens)
  5. York (Nathan Ingham, Colm Vance, Matt Silva)
  6. Halifax (Jan-Michael Williams, Christian Oxner)
  7. Edmonton (Connor James, Dylan Powley)

Cavalry walks away with this category. Everyone who has ever seen Marco Carducci has waited for him to get this chance in the serene knowledge that he’d be good enough. Among the players with less professional experience he’s almost the only lock in this league. Right now Maxime Crépeau is in Vancouver seizing the MLS chance that, had Marc dos Santos arrived a couple years earlier, would have been Carducci’s, and I promise Crépeau is not intrinsically any better. Marco will be fine. Probable league goalkeeper of the year. Giantsopoulos is kind of a fun guy, an attractive-playing goalie whose time in the lower Australian leagues means he’s used to tough travel and dodgy conditions. There’s certainly nothing to complain about in the backup department either.

Forge is also going to get a lot of love because of Quillan Roberts; I personally have never rated him at the Carducci level but he has some strident and knowledgeable defenders, while Tristan Henry is a well-known League1 Ontario name. Those from east of Thunder Bay can swap Forge and Cavalry around if they like. Pacific has a couple good underrated pros in Wirth and Village, both of whom definitely belong in this league; like Edmonton they haven’t got a clear number one at all, but unlike Edmonton it’s in a good way. That probably ends the list of “teams that should be happy in goal.”

By comparison, Valour suffer; while Farago is nice he’s had a rough couple years and his enormous right foot is less of a game-changer than Carducci’s shot-stopping. Young Janssens is a complete wild card, an admittedly unready European signed for the future. Unless you really know this guy’s the next Kaspar Schmeichel that’s a weird use of an international spot. Farago’s as good as Village or Wirth, but it’s a long year and Farago/Janssens together will not surpass Wirth/Village together.

HFX’s Jan-Michael Williams was a pretty good goalie before the last war but is now in the “late-stage Rein Baart” stage of his career, albeit taller. Enormous crowds of pundits tab him for CanPL goalkeeper of the year but he’s barely been a club starter for the past decade and his continued presence in the Trinidadian goal is more a reflection on the country than the keeper. Christian Oxner is an Atlantic favourite waiting for a chance, and there’s every chance he gets the gloves and doesn’t let them go for ten years, but it hasn’t happened yet. York is Nathan Ingham, who has already proven less good than two of the other starters on this list, and two other guys from deep in the Football Manager database. And while I know my low ranking of the Eddies will generate feedback that’s not angry, just disappointed, Connor James and Dylan Powley will be making a big, big step up into the Canadian Premier League without support and without much to suggest even a Wirth/Farago-like ceiling.

Defense

New York Cosmos
  1. Cavalry (Nik Ledgerwood, Nathan Mavila, Dean Northover, Chris Serban, Mason Trafford, Jay Wheeldon, Dominick Zator)
  2. York (Diyaeddine Abzi, Morey Doner, Steven Furlano, Luca Gasparotto, Daniel Gogarty, Justin Springer, Roger Thompson)
  3. Edmonton (Amer Didic, Kareem Moses, Ramon Soria, Mele Temguia, Allan Zebie)
  4. Forge (Kwame Awuah, Klaidi Cela, Jonathan Grant, Daniel Krutzen, Monti Mohsen, Bertrand Owundi, Dominic Samuel)
  5. Pacific (Kadin Chung, Marcel de Jong, Emile Legault, Lukas MacNaughton, Ryan McCurdy, Blake Smith, Hendrik Starostzik)
  6. Valour (Martin Arguiñarena, Raphaël Garcia, Adam Mitter, Jordan Murrell, Skylar Thomas)
  7. Halifax (Andre Bona, Alex de Carolis, Chakib Hocine, Ndzemdzela Langwa, Chrisnovic N’sa, Peter Schaale, Zachary Sukunda)

Good news for those worried that 0-0 draws will turn off casual fans: CanPL will not be a defensive league.

The season-long injuries to Pacific’s Marcel de Jong and Cavalry’s Chris Serban have knocked the whole league down a peg. de Jong is well-known to us all, of course, but his loss not only mauls Pacific’s competitive chances but apparently still counts against their salary cap. It is insane that the Canadian Premier League has a salary cap and no way to account for a third of your budget being injured before kickoff, but for preview purposes it doesn’t matter. They have a problem.

Serban was going to do very well in the Canadian Premier League. He’s struggled with injuries the past couple years, which is the only mark against an otherwise-excellent young player. Even accounting for that, and Nik Ledgerwood getting old, Cavalry’s going to have a deadly backline: Mason Trafford might be the best defender left in the league, Dominick Zator is little-known but very good, and Northover and Wheeldon are fine. I’m not sold on Mavila, the former West Ham trainee who made a Europa League bench but is now best known for insurance fraud, and with Serban gone he might have to carry a lot of mail, but Tommy Wheeldon has a good record here. (Though not listed, Joel Waterman can also fill in at fullback.)

York also has a first-ballot CanPL Guy With Something to Prove in Luca Gasparotto, who I have never failed to see at least decent for the Canadian youth teams. Beyond that stand Roger Thompson, a quality veteran, some pretty good semi-pros, one of the better university guys in Daniel Gogarty, and help out wide from Kyle Porter when needed. That is, by the standards of the league, a quietly solid unit. Edmonton is similar: a couple dandy fullbacks (Zebie and Soria) plus a fair one (Moses) all held together by literally and figuratively enormous centreback Amer Didic. The other spot is a problem, whether it’s dodgy journeyman Mele Temguia, Moses, or (my suggestion) underrated but so far unsigned draft pick Noah Cunningham. More top-end talent than York, less all-round quality.

Forge is like York but a bit worse, and rather than hoping Luca Gasparotto can develop they’re hoping Bertrand Owundi has anything at all. Kwame Awuah is the big dog here, but for all his enthusiasm and MLS experience he’s never gotten me excited. I’d rather have, say, a young Jim Brennan, and as it happens Brennan is constructing his roster on a similar principle.

Pacific’s not great either but has a sneaky asset. Without de Jong the Van Isle fullbacks offer the best combination of youth and excellence at any position in the league. Legault is raw and will probably be exposed but has high potential, and right-back-presumptive Kadin Chung is a fine youth and ex-USL player who has never yet failed to move up a level. Given that the CanPL is set to require a quota of U-21 starters, having Legault and Chung available gives tactical versatility. Among the oldies ex-Montreal Impact man Blake Smith, on loan from MLS, will probably swallow up as many fullback minutes as he can handle and do an unspectacular but commendable job with them. Unfortunately their centreback situation is catastrophic: lanky German Hendrik Starostzik is an intriguing signing, but “part-timer in the lower German leagues” is not something to anchor your backline with, while Ryan McCurdy was an underwhelming PDL player and Lukas MacNaughton is a versatile League1 Ontario guy trying to walk into the starting eleven. Talk that Adam Straith will join after the German season is hopeful, but a tired 3.Liga player rumoured to be arriving later is not salvation.

Halifax has nothing but issues: plenty of PDL experience and a few guys who hung out in USL or got a half-season with the Montreal Impact reserves or something but not an established name in the bunch. Their veteran is an 29-year-old from USports. Their prospect is a former Victoria Highlander also from USports. Not all these guys will be duds but they are set up for problems. At least Valour, who are otherwise in similarly dire straits, have the thoroughly tested Thomas and Murrell to lend some poise, plus the admittedly slim possibility that Martín Arguiñarena turns out to be good. They could play Michael Petrasso at right back, I suppose, but he’ll have better things to do.

Midfield

John Dorton/Canada Soccer
  1. Forge (Kyle Bekker, Tristan Borges, David Choinière, Elimane Oumar Cissé, Giuliano Frano, Alexander Achinioti Jönsson)
  2. Cavalry (Elijah Adekugbe, Julian Büscher, Sergio Camargo, Jose Escalante, Mauro Eustaquio, Malyk Hamilton, Victor Loturi, Oliver Minatel, Carlos Patino, Joel Waterman)
  3. Pacific (Matthew Baldisimo, Victor Blasco, Jose Hernandez, Alessandro Hojabrpour, Noah Verhoeven)
  4. Edmonton (Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Ajay Khabra, Philippe Lincourt-Joseph, James Marcelin, Edem Mortotsi, Son Yong-chan, Bruno Zebie)
  5. Valour (Louis Béland-Goyette, Dylan Carreiro, Nicolás Galvis, Josip Golubar, Diego Gutierrez, Glenn Muenkat, Raphael Ohin, Federico Peña, Michael Petrasso, Dylan Sacramento)
  6. Halifax (Scott Firth, Akeem Garcia, Juan Diego Gutierrez, Kodai Iida, Elton John, Kouamé Ouattara, Andre Rampersad, Elliot Simmons)
  7. York (Manuel Aparicio, Joseph Di Chiara, Emilio Estevez, Wataru Murofushi, Kyle Porter, Ryan Telfer, Emmanuel Zambazis)

Forge has got probably the best player in the league, Kyle Bekker. It’s got one of the most promising, David Choinière. Neither Tristan Borges nor Giuliano Frano are at all jokes, and though Borges has got everything to prove this is the right environment for him. Alexander Achinioti Jönsson is a sneakily good-looking import. Most of these players, and all the stars, are moderately-sized, vivacious, attacking players, but balance is for sissies. This midfield is going to be a hell of a lot of fun and in this respect, if no other, I envy the people of Hamilton.

Not that I’ll be watching trash rolling around for Pacific FC. The excellence of Bekker elevates Forge, but Noah Verhoeven is a first-rate prospect for the level who certainly sustains comparisons with Choinière, Matthew Baldisimo could be a dangerous box-to-box player if he doesn’t have to line up at fullback, and while the depth is young and occasionally highly-touted. Given how many roster spots Pacific has open one has to provisionally leave room for draft picks Thomas Gardner and Zack Verhoven in these calculations, which would only add to Pacific’s punch.

Rounding out the top half of a good midfield crop are the two Alberta teams: Cavalry gets the nod over Edmonton because of the excellence of former Eddie Mauro Eustaquio, a player who alternates between getting the credit he deserves as a potential Julian de Guzman and completely forgotten behind his brother depending on how much he’s on Canadian TV. Julian Büscher is an established, highly-credible import who deserves more press than he’s been getting, and while Oliver Minatel gets a bit too much credit for his time in Ottawa he’s fine. Calgary already knows their depth well and they’ll do what’s asked of them. Edmonton’s midfield is less spectacular, relying too much on a mid-career resurgence from Randy Edwini-Bonsu, and James Marcelin had been called underrated so often lately he’s becoming overrated. But he remains Marcelin a fine player (perhaps a Eustaquio without the potential to get better) and if anyone is going to rediscover his magic in CanPL, it’ll be Edwini-Bonsu in Edmonton. Son Yong-chan is a wild entry who I once heard called the best training-ground player of all time, the Cavalry absolutely would have taken Bruno Zebie if he was available, and Ajay Khabra gets praise as an electric prospect from Edmonton observers.

There is a bit of a dip from number four to number five. Valour boasts Michael Petrasso, who will be first-rate if he can recover from a depressing few years, Croatian Josip Golubar, a quality veteran from the lower Balkan divisions, and some locals who are reasonably well-liked. They won’t be badly let down but, bar Golubar, lack star power. Louis Béland-Goyette is the man to watch; his getting his career back on track would do more for Valour than almost any equivalent player around the league.

Halifax and York are in similarly depressing situations, but for totally different reasons. The Wanderers have a tantalizing young local, Scott Firth, who we should all hope gets his minutes, plus a procession of extremely unremarkable foreign imports who will be expected to step right up and hang with Bekker and Fisk. York’s midfielders are mostly domestic, and import Wataru Murofushi is not likely to be a star, but those midfielders are fairly well known and not of a very high standard. Aparicio, Di Chiara, Porter, and Zambazis have all fallen out of higher leagues and weren’t missed. Telfer is a 25-year-old on loan from Toronto FC and is not getting his option picked up. Good on the Canadian Premier League for giving these local players second chances; that’s why we want this league. Aparicio in particular is a pro. But a bit unfortunate for York that they’re all in one place.

Forward

Uwe Welz/FC Edmonton
  1. Edmonton (Prince Amanda, Tomi Ameobi, Oumar Diouck, David Doe, Ajeej Sarkaria, Marcus Velado-Tsegaye)
  2. Forge (Chris Nanco, Anthony Novak, Kadell Thomas, Anthony Novak, Emery Welshman, Marcel Zajac)
  3. Pacific (Terran Campbell, Ben Fisk, Marcus Haber, Issey Nakajima-Farran)
  4. York (Simon Adjei, Michael Cox, Austin Ricci, Cyrus Rollocks)
  5. Cavalry (Gabriel Bitar, Jordan Brown, Dominique Malonga, Nico Pasquotti)
  6. Valour (Tyler Attardo, Calum Ferguson, Stephen Hoyle, Ali Musse)
  7. Halifax (Mohamed Kourouma, Vincent Lamy, Luis Alberto Perea, Tomasz Skublak, Abd-El-Aziz Yousef)

Stereotypically, a new league loads up on famous, high-producing strikers who’ll sell kits and draw fans. In CanPL, though, the talent appears to have concentrated in midfield, with defenders and strikers nearly an afterthought. I could make an argument for any team ranked from one to six having any other ranking, with only the seventh-place team as an outlier (and even they have one gun). Does that say something?

Edmonton’s struck the right balance. Tomi Ameobi, one of the all-time leading scorers in the Voyageurs Cup, a popular player, and a very well-established (if streaky) goalscorer at this level who knows Edmonton well, should lead the line and be among the league scoring leaders. Diouck is too old to be a prospect and couldn’t stick around even in Belgian semi-pro soccer but you could have worse depth. Of the prospects Amanda is the biggest name, partially on account of his brother Gloire, but I’ve seen Doe good and as Steven Sandor mentioned Velado-Tsegaye is getting a lot of hype ahead of his professional debut.

Pacific’s trying something similar but less effectively. Their depth is not as bad as it looks on the official site: if Issey Nakajima-Farran is a forward then Ben Fisk is and I bet Terran Campbell’s going to spend time up top. But Haber’s strengths and limitations are perfectly clear to any Canadian fan, Issey is not a young man anymore, Fisk is a terrific player but not a prime goalscorer, and guys like Campbell or Victor Blasco are question marks. None really have pace; with a dynamic midfield they can generate offense but will need flowing soccer unusual at this level to excel. They could really, really use a Dario Zanatta type but should be fine.

On the other hand, very high marks to Forge, who have no “names” beyond Guyanese international Emery Welshman, but have assembled a first-rate collection of hungry overachievers who need a serious professional opportunity. I am very excited to see League1 Ontario star Anthony Novak, a fine goalscorer and apparently an absolute bastard to play against, getting a chance at a higher level; he will turn heads in this first season. Novak’s 24. If not for CanPL nobody in North American pro soccer would have given him a second look, but he might be good for ten goals next year. Valour and York both have decent strike-forces-by-committee: York should be headlined by Michael Cox, a pacey and unsophisticated but prolific classic striker, and people like the thicc Simon Adjei. Ali Musse’s left the spotlight but produced here and there in PDL and has gotten stronger, while Tyler Attardo gives Valour another young guy Rob Gale can develop. Stephen Hoyle’s move from New Zealand to Canada might be lateral, and he scored enough against kiwis to be rated against beavers.

Cavalry’s managed to find two players who, five years ago, would have been hailed as stars. Jordan Brown is a former English youth international and Dominique Malonga has scored in Scotland while repping the Congo. But for all the pedigree, breaking down Malonga’s past five years makes him look like a poor man’s Marcus Haber. Brown has gone from West Ham to western Canada for a reason and just flunked out of the Czech Republic. I dislike total washouts, as a rule; USL and NASL teams often take chances on such guys and usually leave disappointed. From the opposite end of the career spectrum, first overall USports draft pick Gabriel Bitar needs to prove he can replicate his sensational shooting percentages against pros. On the other hand, likely at least one of Bitar, Brown, and Malonga will adapt to this league, while Nico Pasquotti is an underrated, versatile player. Though they’re ranked deceptively low in this category we can promise that Cavalry will put the ball in the net.

Halifax has almost nothing. Up top that is a PDL roster apart from 32-year-old Luis Alberto Perea. Perea is only a year removed from being a goal-per-game striker in the decent Salvadoran league, but he’s scored at much lower rates in Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. Halifax is his ninth club in the last five years. He’s aging, living out of his suitcase, and the very opposite of a sure thing. Nobody else there is anybody. It will be a long year on the east coast.

Predicted CanPL Best XI

Marco Carducci (Cavalry)
Nik Ledgerwood (Cavalry) – Luca Gasparotto (York) – Mason Trafford (Cavalry) – Blake Smith (Pacific)
Kyle Bekker (Forge) – James Marcelin (Edmonton) – David Choinière (Forge)
Ben Fisk (Pacific) – Tomi Ameobi (Edmonton) – Michael Cox (York)

Predicted CanPL MVP

Kyle Bekker, with say seven goals and ten assists. If not him then Ben Fisk; if not them then Ameobi.

Coach of the Year

Probably Tommy Wheeldon,. Jr. at Cavalry, who has all the qualifications: his team will be good, he’ll deserve a lot of credit for that, he’s photogenic, and he’s a good quote. An extremely tough candidate to beat, but coach of the year is always implicitly a reflection of team results. If Halifax gets into contention, and this league is so unpredictable that they very well might, Stephen Hart will charge into pole position.

Young Player of the Year

Pacific FC right back Kadin Chung is a fine U-21 player who will probably see at least 1,500 minutes and should do well with them. Should he stay healthy and Pacific even produce respectable results he has to be a very large favourite. But I’m also looking at Valour’s Tyler Attardo. Winnipeg has always been better than you might think at producing very good U-20 players; they just haven’t had the opportunity to develop into adults. Attardo is a rare player who’ll be getting a big chance on a strike force that’ll be hungry for anything it can get, and he’s got the rep of a kid with ice in his veins who knows where the goal is.

2019 Canadian Premier League champion

While I think Forge is the best overall team in the league, it’s by a very narrow margin over Cavalry. And Cavalry knows how to win championships. Most of these guys just did it, and while the quality of play in CanPL will be higher than USL PDL the travel, playing conditions, and other off-field obstacles are if anything going to be easier in Canada. Nobody in Cavalry’s starting eleven is going to be intimidated by a big final, and many of them will have faith in their teammates established by experience. Forge has its share of winners, Bekker best among them. But in a very close struggle, Cavalry’s superior experience over two legs would give them the edge.

Power Ranking the Canadian Premier League Mascots

By Benjamin Massey · April 25th, 2019 · No comments

The Canadian Premier League kick-off this coming Saturday will be our biggest event in some time. The entire domestic soccer community will be settling down at 1 PM Eastern, either in Forge FC’s stadium or in front of CBC television, to witness a new and hopefully more positive era in our nation’s game. This otherwise quite ordinary league fixture is making hearts across the Dominion beat a bit faster, like an Olympic semi-final.

Nothing could better herald this dawn than our mascots. Four of the Canadian Premier League’s seven teams have, in recent weeks, introduced us to new mascots who will stand as symbols for all time, representing the Canadian Premier League to ourselves and to the world. Canada’s national coat of arms is supported by a unicorn and a lion, representing the British heritage of our governance and our culture that goes back way before Confederation. Perhaps, in a couple centuries, some new country will bear arms supported by Bolt and Stewie the Starfish. It is scarcely less probable than the existence of the Canadian Premier League itself.

In honour of this joyous week I have decided to rank all of the league’s mascots so far, from best to worst. These ratings are entirely objective and based off a proprietary statistical algorithm developed by the Prince of Wales and tested by Maple Leaf Forever!‘s secret nerd hive in Sudbury-Thunder Bay. As a result its decisions are not to be argued with, only agreed on and amplified.

Finally, if you got to this post from Reddit or something and are confused, you should know that every word in this article is completely serious.

1. Vic (Valour FC)

Valour FC

Strengths: Is, identifiably, a lion in a Valour kit. But not too identifiably. If you search Amazon for “lion costume” he isn’t on the first page. Is named after Canadian legend Vic Rauter, who has spent a lot of time in Winnipeg. Lions are classy mascots in any context, whether for a soccer club or the British Empire. Is far from the lamest of the mascots when in cartoon form. And was the first mascot announced back in February, which surely counts for something.

Weaknesses: Probably isn’t actually named after Vic Rauter.

Wild card: In Vic’s own words:

My dad played keeper for the Winnipeg Fury when they used to play at the old Winnipeg Stadium, so I followed in his footsteps.

The Fury played at Winnipeg Stadium from 1987 to 1992 so there are many possibilities, including 1990 league all-star Tim Rosenfeld. However by far the best known former Fury goalkeeper was 57-time Canadian international Pat Onstad, who played three CSL seasons for the Fury in 1989, 1990, and 1992. Vic refers to his dad being “king” of the Assiniboine Park Zoo “for years,” and Onstad was a useful MLS goalkeeper to the age of 42. It is now canon that Valour FC’s mascot is Pat Onstad’s son. The history of Canadian soccer will have to be rewritten.

Conclusions: Simple, classy. The fact that he is the bastard child of the guy who cost us a spot in the hex in 2008 can, with the passage of years, be forgiven. Vic is the clear king of the mascot jungle.

2. Ballsy (FC Edmonton)

FC Edmonton

Strengths: Nobody ever looked at Ballsy and said “what sport do they play?”

Weaknesses: Back in 2016 Jay Ball shot Ballsy in the head and buried the deflated remains behind a barn in Strathcona County. When Academy kids ask where Ballsy is they say that he’s playing with dogs on a beautiful farm where the turf is always artificial.

Wild card: Is “Ballsy” actually his name or was that just a meme? I am sure they were calling him “Eddie” for a hot second there.

Conclusions: Someday we are going to bust Ballsy out of Saint Helena and then you’ll all pay.

3. Stewie the Starfish (Pacific FC)

OneSoccer via Twitter

Strengths: The most bad-ass cartoon on offer. A shape that lends itself well to cookies. The only mascot both named after and executed in one of the team’s bespoke marketing colours. When you think about it, a purple soccer-playing starfish could actually be really good.

Weaknesses: The gap between the bad-ass-looking trident-wielding cartoon Stewie and the real-life droopy sponge could not be wider. Even CHEK News admitted he looks like Grimace in a knock-off kit. He was also possibly named after mayor of Langford Stewart Young, whose promised renovations to Westhills Stadium helped lure a Canadian Premier League team. This is not to be encouraged.

Wild card: Pacific FC held an open mascot tryout in March. This probably sounded fun at a time but created a risk that the new mascot promoting the team to children would be a guy who owned his own fursuit. Even with a bespoke design, these are concerning genetics.

Conclusions: Like David Choinière, Stewie has not put it all together yet but the ingredients are there, and at the Canadian Premier League level he will have every chance to succeed. Perhaps he can be sold to Orlando City for a lavish transfer fee and the proceeds reinvested in young mascots from Van Isle.

4. Blue Bolt (FC Edmonton)

FC Edmonton

Strengths: Has a logo. In fact has a secondary logo, which seems a little extra. Is the only CanPL mascot to date derived from his team’s history, since FC Edmonton’s the only team with any. “Bolt” is a respectable name.

Weaknesses: “Blue Bolt” is somehow not a respectable name at all. FC Edmonton 3D-rendered their mascot reveal, and the results were so creepy I will hold it against Bolt forever. Also between the blue, the lightning, and the speed theme, he is obviously a Sonic the Hedgehog clone that got lost on his way to the Sega Genesis. Except, and I know perfectly well Bolt has two eyebrows whereas this guy has one, something about the top of the face recalls an evil Bert. This is not a great association.

Wild card: What’s with how deadly-serious that reveal video was? Is this a darker and edgier FC Edmonton for the ’90s? Is Bolt going to star in a nine-hour-long comic book movie for emotionally undeveloped adults? What’s going on here?

Conclusions: Bolt is probably the mascot who best demonstrates that mascots aren’t for us. He is so cringe-worthy, and so weird, and so derivative, and the boys will probably love him anyway. He should get a Twitch.

5. Sparx (Forge FC)

Forge FC

Strengths: Is the fire emoji, so his brand is being unwittingly promoted by thirsty Snapchatters around the world. And despite this universality Frumx is not going to be mistaken for any other team’s mascot, in any league, on any continent. You could see him on a Vietnamese mountain communing with the spirits and be like “wait, is that Hamilton’s beloved Jornx?”

Weaknesses: It would probably be a copyright violation to embed the entire nine-page comic Forge released on Jankx’s origin story. But I really really want to.

Wild card: Given that mascots are for children, and that Forge owner Bob Young is one of the motive forces behind the entire Canadian Premier League, it is just possible that Plugx’s firey demeanour will motivate a youngster to stick his hand into the furnace after a particularly delightful win, leading to a massive series of lawsuits that wind up crippling Forge and the league as a whole, which would be untoward.

Conclusions: You’ll always have a place on our team, Krunx!

A Clearly Canadian Premier League

By Benjamin Massey · April 16th, 2019 · No comments

Kick Magazine via Canada Soccer

The Canadian Premier League kicks off in eleven days. For many of us, that Saturday in Hamilton will be the finish line of a generation-long race, for Canada to once again have its own domestic, national soccer league. The Voyageurs will have their own here-to-cheer-on-the-game section at Forge FC’s stadium, which must be close to unprecedented in club soccer. Halifax, whose success will be the most accurate sign for the Canadian soccer pyramid’s prosperity, has sold out single-match tickets for their home opener.

We didn’t ask much. Some of us didn’t even insist it be professional. But we’re getting a lot. Good players are coming home, exciting prospects and second-chancers are getting paycheques. Halifax and Cavalry have thrilling bespoke stadiums, while Edmonton, Pacific, and York are getting much-needed soccer-friendly renovations. The kits look nice, the games will be streamed. In the future there might be promotion and relegation. By God, this is looking like real soccer.

But is it looking really Canadian?

Yes and no. We have the most important things, Canadian players in Canadian cities. But the players are dressed in Italian shirts and the team names are inspired by the European rather than the North American tradition. The split-season schedule makes sense but is a bit foreign, and the fact that our national professional soccer championship will end before our league does is a bit… well, at least nobody can say the Voyageurs Cup is stealing someone else’s format. The point is that Canada still has not really made its mark on this league as a whole except geographically. What about its soul speaks to us?

Obviously one doesn’t want to do old-NASL crap with changing the game rules to appeal to the low-agency North American stereotype, but there is a middle ground between “pretending we’re Italy” and “breaking ties with a shootout where the guy can dribble.” As with the league this post is a starting point, not a finale. There will be cogent traditionalist, and practical, objections to them all. But, that wimpy waffling out of the way, here goes.

  • Canadian commentary, please. We’re all familiar with the old lazy way of a British voice, usually English but occasionally Scottish (Luke Wileman, Nigel Reed, Gareth Hampshire, Dick Howard, Kristian Jack, James Sharman, Alan Errington, etc.) with, in descending order of preference: another native Briton, the Canadian sidekick who has an English accent anyway à la Terry Dunfield, or in a pinch the Canadian-accented Canadian.. Even USL PDL’s TSS Rovers follow this formula, with Canadian-accented Gideon Hill in the commentary alongside most-Scottish-man-alive Michael McColl, though in this case a lack of volunteers probably plays a part.

    Commentary teams are part of modern marketing. Women’s hockey coverage on TSN is anchored by elite female players plus Rod Black, who was grandfathered in and few would miss if he left. In women’s soccer it is perfectly acceptable to put Clare Rustad or Kaylyn Kyle beside Vic Rauter, because in women’s soccer a Canadian accent has credibility1. Everyone understands perfectly well what’s going on here: the commentators reflect the expectations of the audience. Just as everyone understood what was meant when CBC Edmonton journalist and English accent Gareth Hampshire was doing FC Edmonton play-by-play. I mean it’s soccer and he’s English! The star of the broadcast was soccer veteran Steven Sandor, who has a western Canadian accent you could record as an example for future generations, but you can’t have two guys who sound like that even on CityTV Edmonton.

    Gavin Day, who would know, tells us that CBC is going to broadcast around 20 CanPL games this year. It’s “across multiple platforms,” which means a bunch of games buried on CBCSports.ca with the World Cup skiing, but it also means a lot of Nigel Reed. Reed helped call Major League Soccer’s arrival in Canada, turns out to be an exceptional voice of Olympic biathlon, and became another successful voice for Toronto Wolfpack rugby. I like him. But we are, consciously, building something distinctly Canadian and I’m afraid Reed’s dulcet tones won’t do. An English accent isn’t the difference between a Eurosnob tuning in and tuning out, but it makes our domestic league sound foreign. As every sport, and indeed every other field of life except for ours has figured out, such things matter.

  • Hockey-style captain and alternate captain letters on the kits is an idea that the league adopted by accident, when their kit-customization page launched with the hockey lettering feature still on. It was a mistake, just like how as of this writing they still show NHL sweaters at the top. If it wasn’t an accident Nik Ledgerwood would have been strutting through the kit launch with a “C” on his breast and the takes would have been hot indeed.

    Having come up with the idea by mistake, there is no reason for CanPL not to adopt it. According to the FIFA Laws of the Game the captain has one job: to be present for the opening coin toss. Beyond that the duties, and the symbolism, of the captain are a matter of custom, and therefore open for meddling by those whose customs are different.

    You don’t need to lose the armband if you don’t want to. There’s honour in Christine Sinclair handing the armband to Diana Matheson as she’s subbed off. But the “C” and the “A” are something else: a permanent, and clearly Canadian, acknowledgement of the team’s top dogs. Sinclair can give an armband to Matheson but she’s still the captain. Matheson can be a part-time player but she’s still a team leader and, in hockey, would certainly have the “A” on her chest saying so. Some clubs try to get around it by saying their “club captain” is the legend who no longer starts every day while the “captain” is the leader of the regular eleven but, with its gradient of letters, hockey has a better idea. It’s beautiful, and Canadian, and it doesn’t quite duplicate the old armband. CanPL should do it.

  • The Page playoff system is another great Canadian concept, notwithstanding that it’s Australian. In the previous century it was used all over the British Empire, and on the Indian subcontinent it is still used in two colossally popular Twenty20 cricket championships. But to a Canadian today the Page playoff is inextricably associated with curling, and indeed with curling in Canada. The two major Canadian curling championships, the Brier and the Tournament of Hearts, use the Page playoff. The big international tournaments do not.

    Saying the Canadian Premier League needs to emulate cricket and curling is almost too on-brand for Maple Leaf Forever! but hear it out. The Page system is simple: four teams make the playoffs. The first- and second-placed teams play each other: the winner goes straight to the final, the loser faces the winner of the other quarter-final between the third- and fourth-placed teams. The winner of that game is the other finalist.

    This system is ideal if you want to give teams a bonus for finishing first or second… but not too much of one. The best team gets a reward for its excellence but still has a game to play. Winning the Page 1-2 playoff game can be a formidable advantage thanks to the round off but you have to go out and do it, while the loser might as well have finished fourth. Compared to having 1 play 4 and 2 play 3, it’s one more big game to sell tickets for. As a minor bonus, it also gives you a clear bronze medalist without the hassle of playing a dull third-place game2.

    The Canadian Premier League is adopting a split-season regular season schedule, with separate spring and fall campaigns. The spring season is only twelve games long; it is, in short, a little fake. But as modern NASL hands know it can also be entertaining as hell. A Page playoff would give one top spot to the spring winner, one top spot to the fall winner, and make those titles matter without giving a spring champion a disproportionate advantage for a twelve-game hot streak. Teams 3 and 4 could be the top finishers on the combined table not otherwise in the playoffs, so consistency will also get its due.

    For now it’s the perfect format, but it doesn’t scale. The Page playoff breaks down if you let more than four teams in so a sixteen-team CanPL will need to adopt a different system. Oh shucks.

  • Hang a picture of the Queen in a stadium. The Winnipeg Jets gave it up; the field is open for a soccer team to assume the mantle of monarchy. Will Pacific FC be brave enough? They play in a city named aft… okay, it’s Langford, not Victoria, but they’re close! How about York 9? “Duke of York” is a royal title! Fine, I might have to wait until Regina gets a team for it to be really appropriate, but I will!

  • It may seem like I’m going back to curling when I say CanPL should also promote interprovincial teams, but I’m not really. The Brier and the Tournament of Hearts are the biggest occasions when you might see Team Alberta play Team Ontario, but though provincially-branded with all the rivalry that implies, those are established teams that won their provincial playoff. With the Challenge and Jubilee Trophies, Canadian soccer already has that3. The Canada Games are nearer the mark: operate like the provinces were countries and it was the World Cup. You call up the best players from your province, fight it out, and may the best province win.

    Alas, the Canada Games are explicitly a developmental program for young athletes. Most competitions are age-limited (in soccer it’s U-18) and so the bloodlust in each clash suffers; you and the guy you’re tackling are both only here to catch the eye of a national team scout. Even so they’re more popular, among both athletes and spectators, than an EPL-raised fan of big time soccer might guess. It is very, very easy for two Canadians from two different provinces to work up a rivalry; just ask politics Twitter.

    Canadian club nationals involve provincial champions billed by their provinces of origin, but that’s not the same thing4: nationals are independent teams wearing their own club colours, not provincial representative teams. Why couldn’t CanPL, in the one year out of every four not reserved for a men’s World Cup or the Gold Cup, take a summer “intra-Dominion” break for an open-age Canadian soccer competition run under their auspices? Only a few provinces could field a fully professional eleven but given funding for travel, enough notice to book vacation, and the expectation of CanPL scouts and CanPL competition, amateurs would come as they do for club nationals. Take two weeks in June and July, gather the provinces in one place, and fight it out for a big trophy awarded on July 1. For teams in trilliums playing teams in fleurs-des-lis, or teams in trilliums playing teams in wild roses, or actually teams in trilliums playing anybody, both fans and players would come out, I can promise you that.

    We can negotiate on the format. Have the territories, or even the lesser non-host provinces, play to qualify if you like, as the NHL does with their World Cup of Hockey. Certainly you must invite, and try to attract, non-CanPL professionals. The Europeans will be in offseason, they may be obtainable, but the ideal is for an Ontario player on Toronto FC to convince his coach to let him leave MLS for two weeks so he can play for his province. You won’t get there in year one but you might in year nine. Given the naturally-occurring rivalries and the probability of most of Canada’s professional strength winding up in our league, we could make this very prestigious indeed.

  • Finally, and most generically, don’t lose sight of your community’s history. I fear Pacific FC is falling short here. The ancestral home of soccer in Victoria is Royal Athletic Park, a gloriously aging, shabby venue not quite downtown; think Swangard or Lamport but on whatever the opposite of steroids are. In the old days of Victoria United the field was aligned the wrong way, meaning the setting sun completely blinded one goalkeeper a half. It has few amenities and those are controlled by its owner, the City of Victoria, who are ill-inclined to share any resulting revenues. The stadium is also claimed by an annual beer festival and baseball’s Victoria HarbourCats, who play in a collegiate summer league. Parking is awkward; partying is worse, what with RAP being smack dab in a fairly tony residential neighbourhood. The one pub in the immediate area, in my day, was not worth the entering, then you walk into the ground and everything is just a bit awkward.

    I love watching soccer there. You can hear the ghosts in the 110-year-old walls, and when the sun is setting in your eyes you can see the shades of soccer games past, both domestic and foreign, blending together across the ages; “Chopper” Harris charging in on George Pakos, Paul Dolan with the lunging fingertip save off Ron Flowers. We associate these great historic grounds with Europe but, at an admittedly less internationally-renowned level, we have them too. I don’t care what Pacific FC would have had to do to play there, they should have done it. Let Langford develop history beyond “a younger Maple Leaf Forever! writer first learns to admire Shaun Saiko” and then we can talk.

    There are still a few of these itty-bitty shitty old grounds around Canada from coast to coast. Even if they don’t date from 1908 like Royal Athletic Park they have stories of their own. And where it’s not the stadium, it’s old players or colours or traditions. Say what you like about the Vancouver Whitecaps but keeping Carl Valentine and Bob Lenarduzzi as part of their community, remembering Dom Mobilio and trotting out the surviving alumni of the ’70s every year, is more than most professional soccer franchises do.

    We are used to another line of thought, where the Columbus Crew are in jeopardy because their 20-year-old soccer-specific stadium is considered hopelessly obsolete5. The same thing happens in the NHL, to our shame. So Pacific FC plays in Langford, at the original ground of the Victoria Highlanders, a stadium shared part-time with the community and Canadian rugby. It’s not glamorous but it has every amenity you need, plenty of availability, and solid, modern artificial turf for all your needs.

    But nobody likes giving up the Montreal Forum for the Molson Centre. Our very hearts rebel, tell us what a hateful fucking thing we’re doing for the sake of wider seats and luxury suites. No actual human needs to be convinced here. We need that connection to our heritage as surely as we need oxygen.

    CanPL is very new. Its oldest club made its competitive debut in 2011 and everyone else will start in a week and a half. That can’t be helped until the Ottawa Fury and the MLS franchises get with the program. But our communities have history. When FC Edmonton proudly announces Lars Hirschfeld is their goalie coach it’s not because Hirschfeld, who has never coached professionally in his life, is obviously going to be brilliant; it’s because he’s Edmonton, and he deserves to get a shot with his hometown club. Hirschfeld never played for FC Edmonton but this is the right idea and every CanPL team could emulate it. We all have our histories and the Canadian Premier League is a crowning addition, not a new building.

A Good Day for the CanPL

By Benjamin Massey · April 5th, 2019 · 1 comment

Canadian Premier League

When the Canadian Premier League told us that they would be unveiling the entire league’s 2019 kits simultaneously from Toronto we knew it would be a bit weird. Pacific FC fans headed to the pub at 3 PM on a Thursday, HFX Wanderers fans were probably worried about making it to bed, and those of us from our homes or offices watched the league logo spin for fifteen minutes before seeing an interview; apparently CanPL will kick off on MLS time. When it started the fashion show, hosted by a former Methodist church in downtown Toronto, was a bit weird. Some of the Premier League’s marquee players self-consciously strutted their stuff in front of the apse, surrounded by faux-vandalism advertisements, in front of the most ridiculous computer noises; it felt a bit like someone was going to Hell for this.

CanPL Kit Speed Rankings
1. Cavalry home
2. Edmonton away
3. Valour home
4. Valour away
5. Pacific home
6. Cavalry away
7. Forge home
8. Wanderers home
t-9. Wanderers away
and Pacific away
11. York away
12. Edmonton home
13. York home
14. Forge away

Whoever’s damned, it probably isn’t the designers. All fourteen kits have been well-received. The Canadian soccer hivemind can’t agree on which one is our favourite, always a good sign, nor on which ones to hate, which is even better. This correspondent is the biggest fan of the Cavalry home kit, the Edmonton away kit, and the Valour home kit, but with no negative feelings about any of them. (Okay, Forge away is a weird combination of boring and trying too hard.) We can quibble. The weird duplication of league partners as kit sponsors, for example, is unacceptable: when did we become so addicted to advertising that we’d insist on having token advertisers on our club’s colours because that’s the only way we think we look real?

Still, this league will look sweet. There was more to come. Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Allan Zebie walked out in FC Edmonton’s kit, and their particular fake kit sponsor was something called “One Soccer” which nobody had heard of. This led to a race down the latter pages of Google which Kassim Khimji won. Figuring out what Edmonton and Valour were wearing is how we found out that the Canadian Premier League will have a bespoke webstream partner in 2019.

That’s a strange way to launch. But One Soccer had a website ready and the next morning put out a press release. One Soccer, it turns out, is a MediaPro/Canadian Soccer Business joint that in the future will have almost all Canadian soccer rights not otherwise spoken for: national team home games, the Canadian Premier League, the Voyageurs Cup, League1 Ontario. They were obviously well-prepared. If we’re feeling conspiratorial, Kassim Khimji is a Canadian soccer media insider who’s worked for the Whitecaps and has connections with FC Edmonton; I can promise you that it was not easy to find One Soccer on the Internet in the moment, and Khimji’d be the right guy to “soft-launch” something like this…

From outside the conspiracy factory, Canada’s women’s national team played England earlier today (and won 1-0 with #ChasingAbby down to five) and the match was broadcast on the BBC; it was announced less than 24 hours before kickoff that Canada Soccer and TSN would simulcast the BBC’s feed online. The theory is that One Soccer would have been showing that feed, had it been ready in time, though a simpler explanation is that short notice and obscure venues is how Canadian soccer broadcasting deals outside MLS and the World Cup usually work.

One Soccer’s press release promises “a wide range of complementary programming, from pre- and postmatch highlights, daily news programs, mid-week magazine shows, interviews, features and other formats, expanding the channel’s offering to cable and satellite television platforms in the near future.” This naturally brings to mind not-wholly-displeasing memories of cheaply-produced off-hours Canadian soccer magazine shows from long-forgotten networks like GolTV and The Score. These were never popular, but they were beloved by a handful of devotees. Names we now know better, like James Sharman and Lee Godfrey, got their start on those things. Viewership of such programs can be lucky to break four digits but that’s not the point; it costs nothing, it fills broadcast time, and it delights devotees. As a website dedicated to devotees, anyone reading this should be excited. Most of us expected to see CanPL on the Internet, hoped to see it on TV, but professional-grade original programming and analysis beyond a highlight of the night on SportsCentre? Not bad, for a first-year league.

Such cable-access stuff is very Canadian and there was more promising maple leaf content. In a pre-show interview with Kurt Larson, league commissioner David Clanachan spoke about how, while as a good Canadian boy he admires gritty and hard-nosed play, he considers diving a plague to be stamped out. This was well-calculated to appeal to many old-school Canadian soccer fans, who flooded Twitter with approval. Clanachan has made a lot of good noises on either side of the traditionalism versus innovation line: promotion and relegation yes, diving no, split season yes, breaking ties with shootouts where you dribble from the halfway line no, franchises yes, restrictions on the number of teams in a city (allegedly) no.

Maybe they’ll go even further. You can still go to the CanPL shop and, allegedly, buy your custom kit with hockey-style “captain” or “alternate captain” lettering. This is unquestionably a configuration mistake on their web platform, the same reason that as of this writing there are a bunch of NHL sweaters advertised under the title banner. But now that we’re thinking about it isn’t that a great idea? As is well-known, a captain has no duties in the Laws of the Game beyond the opening coin toss. Some clubs have started distinguishing between a “club captain” who is the traditional off-field leader and team representative and an on-field captain who wears the armband and shouts at people. The “C” and “A” letters on the chest are almost a Canadian trademark; football players and the very occasional baseball team will slap “C”s on chests but the “A” belongs to hockey1. It would be the best cultural appropriation.

Saying Bad Things About Good Times

By Benjamin Massey · March 23rd, 2019 · No comments

Canada Soccer

You’ve probably noticed all the positivity in Canadian soccer lately. Daniel Squizzato: “It’s different this time, this CanMNT — just hear me out.” (He means it’s better.) Steven Sandor: “Where does current CanMNT roster stand all-time?” (Got the potential to be the best; suck on that, losing to Jamaica two years ago!) Michael McColl, “Canadian national team marvel at ‘complete change of culture’ under Herdman.”

There is nothing more Canadian than unwarranted optimism about the men’s national team. With luscious attacking talents like Hanson Boakai and Kevan Aleman showing their excellence, Simeon Jackson plowing in goals in a good European league, veteran Dwayne De Rosario still performing at a high level with a club that considers him an icon, and the commitment of star dual national Tesho Akindele, Benito Floro will… wait, how do you delete a paragraph?

Not trying to be holier than thou. We’ve all done it. I once nicknamed a player “Canadian Soccer Jesus,” and if you don’t know which one don’t look it up. A Canadian soccer fan who is not temperamentally optimistic won’t last, he’ll wind up in a Manchester City kit before you can say “Janine Beckie.”

And we shouldn’t lose to French Guiana. Bookies make Canada 1-to-5 to win. French Guianan starting goalkeeper Donovan Leon, a professional in France, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation so the job will fall to either Soleymann Auguste or Jean-Beaunel Petit-Homme, both young men from the local league1. They had to fly from Cayenne, French Guiana to Vancouver through Paris. French Guiana is no Saint Lucia-esque minnow but under the circumstances if Canada doesn’t win it’ll be because in sports shit happens.

Still, as people who dislike John Herdman keep reminding us, this version of the national team has proven absolutely nothing. If we look at our achievements after the last Gold Cup, Canada defeated New Zealand 1-0 in a friendly, which as these things go beats one point from six against Mauritania but isn’t exactly a ticket to Qatar. We also won several Nations League qualifiers we had no excuse to lose. Sure, there’s an optimistic outlook in the Canadian dressing room. You’d feel good too if you spent months beating the hell out of construction workers and soldiers in an official CONCACAF tournament. Turns out taking candy from babies is both easy and deliciously rewarding.

So, in the spirit of contrarianism, here are some black pills.

Alphonso Davies was removed from the Canadian squad because of “injury.” Supposedly he hurt himself celebrating his first ever Bundesliga goal last weekend; the first goal for Bayern by a Canadian since 2005. Bayern left him on for twenty more minutes in a game they were winning 6-0 over Mainz and their press release says Davies will rest for a few days when the club is taking three days off anyway. They are barely pretending this is real.

Herdman says Davies is heartbroken. Bayern obviously isn’t bothered, which could be a problem. For decades, Canadian players have been persecuted for answering their national team’s call. It hurt the career of Paul Stalteri and cost Canada the services of Davies-like talent Tomasz Radzinski in many a tournament. If Bayern is doing wink-nudge injury withdrawals for Davies when he’s a bench player, what’ll happen if he locks down a starting spot? And if he never becomes a starter does that mean he’s falling short of the expectations Canadians place upon him? There’s a lot of “whatever happens, we have got / Alphonso Davies, and they have not” from fans, and the performances it takes for him to meet those hopes may mean that we hardly get to see him.

Jonathan David is sometimes mentioned in the same sentence as Davies. Admittedly, not the same part of the sentence, but as of this writing David is averaging 1.929 goals per 90 minutes for the senior Canadian national team. This is a solid figure, surpassed over a CanMNT career only by Gavin McCallum’s 10.000. What we mean is that David, in 150 minutes of senior national team action, has got two goals against the US Virgin Islands and one against Dominica. Nothing wrong with that, you can only score against the teams you’re playing against2. We know those gaudy numbers are a joke, but it’s not a joke at David’s expense. What’s worrying is that his club statistics, based on a scarcely larger sample size, actually are cranking expectations up.

David (who was born in the United States and was also eligible for Haiti) is currently co-top-scorer at Gent of the Belgian top division; a decent team, a good league, and a damned good result for a 19-year-old rookie professional. But, in shades of his obviously-silly MNT scoring rates, four of those goals came in his first four games (and 167 minutes). In his most recent 917 minutes David also has four goals, which is still pretty good but not circus stuff. Marcus Haber has had years like that at equivalent levels.

Gent scores by committee. Only one goal behind David stands centreback Dylan Bronn, who has scored a few goals every month since September despite a knee injury and suspensions. Prior to this David had been a part of the Canadian youth pool and the national training centres. A prospect, but nothing indicated an obvious blue-chipper. Obviously some players bloom late, and we shouldn’t hesitate to call him up while he’s hot, but it is way too early to say David is our goalscorer of the future rather than an athletic kid doing well in a system where lots of goalscorers can.

We have seen this movie before. Simeon Jackson scored 13 goals in the Championship one year. It happens, to good players and to indifferent ones on a hot streak. Maybe Jonathan David can prove it but don’t pretend he’s written in pen. David’s automatic vault ahead of Tosaint Ricketts, the best Canadian striker of the century, on everyone’s depth chart means that our optimism may do us positive harm.

Our defensive situation is lamentable. Herdman called up veteran David Edgar, currently with Hartlepool of English non-League soccer, and fans were upset we didn’t call Manjrekar James from his comfy bench in Norway. This bodes ill. At left back Marcel de Jong may have a career-ending injury and Sam Adekugbe happens not to be injured now but usually is. Right back? Marcus Godinho is enjoying a good run in Scotland but is hurt so often his club doesn’t let him play on artificial turf, while Zachary Brault-Guillard has proven nothing. Eddie Edward, the standby of the “call up a no-nonsense right back” set, has now retired, Nik Ledgerwood is aging and banged up, and you get into Juan Cordova territory awfully fast. Canada’s top fullbacks are, indisputably, Davies and Atiba Hutchinson. Which sort of says it all.

This site praised the Whitecaps’ signing of Derek Cornelius, but under admittedly tough circumstances his MLS career has started horrendously. Adam Straith seems to be the forgotten, underappreciated man, as usual. Steven Vitoria is falling off the face of the Earth, which is only a good thing because he should never be allowed near a self-respecting national team… there’s Doneil Henry, the human highlight reel both for and against us, and Dejan Jakovic, who happily is sort of hanging around at age 33 but can’t be counted on forever, and then we’re crossing our fingers with the Edgar/Cornelius/James class. Costa Rican attacks will be a problem.

Add on a bunch of little things. Atiba Hutchinson is on his way to retirement with no foreseeable heir. Cyle Larin’s career is tottering in Turkey, and while you aren’t going to close the door on the kid, combined with his indifferent performances for Canada it’s not looking good. We still can’t seem to play enough games, especially not against anybody even reasonably good. And, last but not least, while most everyone is pretending to love John Herdman now, there’s still a hater brigade out for him and if Canada totters he will be devoured like a limping antelope among the hyenas.

So don’t worry, fans. There’s still plenty of opportunity for a Typical CanSoc Disappointment. (Probably not against French Guiana though.)

MaloudaBowl 2k19

By Benjamin Massey · March 15th, 2019 · No comments

Mexsport/Canada Soccer

CONCACAF Nations League qualifying is the stupidest thing Canada’s men’s national soccer team has ever done, including that Merlion Cup we fixed.

Let’s see if I can explain it in a paragraph. Lesser teams, such as Canada, are trying to qualify for the 2019 Gold Cup and the top divisions of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League. The six teams from the last World Cup qualifying hex got automatic spots; the top ten of 34 teams in this tournament will join them at the Gold Cup and the top six will also play in the Nations League first division starting this fall. Nations were seeded into four pots based on their ranking, to play one nation from each pot including their own. For example, Canada is in the top pot, Pot A, and play a game each against a team from each of pots A, B, C, and D. To date Canada has whipped the US Virgin Islands and Dominica without shipping a goal, and beat St. Kitts and Nevis by a handier-than-the-scoreline-looked 1-0. Our final game is against pot A rival French Guiana, Sunday, March 24 at BC Place (good seats most emphatically still available).

This is all very stupid, but just wait. (Dammit, two paragraphs.) The teams are not drawn into groups. So pot A Canada plays French Guiana, Dominica, and the US Virgin Islands; also-pot-A French Guiana plays Canada, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Anguilla. The schedule isn’t home-and-away, either. So French Guiana, a relatively weak pot A team, has to travel from South America to Vancouver and doesn’t even get a home rematch out of it. If I was a French Guiana fan I’d think I’d pissed CONCACAF off a couple years ago or a Canadian ran the confederation or something.

Teams play schedules of unequal strength and are measured against teams they don’t play at all. Goal difference, creating an urgent need to hammer as many goals past pot D minnows as they can. Canada, with its 3-0-0 record and no goals conceded, is currently tied for third with Cuba. A draw on the final match day will assure Canada both qualifying spots, but a loss would introduce more permutations that can easily be calculated; it would probably be fine, but we could theoretically fall as low as thirteenth1. Basically it’s American college football.

This is bad sport, and fans are not interested. Toronto hosted 10,523 fans for our previous home game against Dominica on a Tuesday in October, and Vancouver will be around that on a Sunday afternoon. CanMNT boss John Herdman called up four hometown Vancouver Whitecaps and four more popular alumni, including Bayern Munich depth player Alphonso Davies for his first match back since being sold a few months ago. Davies’s face has been all over the advertising to an almost pitiful degree. “It is impossible to care about this game,” they plead, “but wouldn’t you like to see Alphonso again?”

We can try to gin up some rage from the 2017 Gold Cup. French Guiana’s squad that year included one of their better locals, 37-year-old former Chelsea man and 80-time French international Florent Malouda. In the past, CONCACAF had allowed former French internationals born in the overseas départements like Guadeloupe’s Jocelyn Angloma and Martinique’s Frédéric Piquionne to spent five years outside of international soccer and then play in the Gold Cup. Malouda had been out of the French setup since 2012 and played in the Caribbean Cup but, come the actual Gold Cup, CONCACAF informed French Guiana that he was cap-tied to France and considered ineligible. Reeling from this change of policy, Malouda was left out of their first match, a 4-2 loss to Canada. In their next game against Honduras French Guiana defied CONCACAF, started Malouda to the delight of their supporters, and got a 0-0 draw on the field that became a 3-0 default loss in the standings for fielding an ineligible player. Canada’s goal difference in their win was +2, Honduras’s in their default was +3; los Catrachos were one up.

The French Guianans, who knew what would happen, gave Honduras an unfair advantage over Canada. It would have been a scandal if it had mattered: Canada finished ahead of Honduras in the group anyway. Frankly, if it was my team suffering an abrupt rule change to strip away a core player when the president of CONCACAF was from a nation that profited, I would have been defiant too. We were mad at the time, being partisans, but it’s hard to muster much of a grudge now.

Unfortunately for Vancouver-area Chelsea fans, the French Guianans have learned their lesson and have left Malouda off their squads ever since. Their roster includes a number of players from the French Ligue 2, but these guys already lost to St. Vincent and the Grenadines at home and now faces maybe the longest road trip in confederational soccer outside Australia2. They barely beat Regular Guyana at home. Their current lofty position with the rest of the CONCACAF second-raters is exaggerated, based largely off good luck and a 3-0 win over Cuba in 2017.

Fans are calling for us to run out the big guns and light up French Guiana like a malfunctioning Ariane 5. After all, we have a fast guy who had a hot streak in Belgium, a fast guy who Bayern Munich paid a fortune for, and a centreback from English non-League soccer, so no collection of Ligue 2 scrubs can possibly oppose our excellence. Canadian men’s national team fans are, somehow, always overconfident, always sure that this batch of foreign mercenaries and alluring prospects will definitely turn it around this time. You can’t spell “cognitive dissonance” without “cansoc.”

Mathematically, the idea of us failing to make the top Nations League group is close to unimaginable and that of failing to make the Gold Cup very unlikely, but that doesn’t mean we’re certain to overwhelm the distant visitors. At the Gold Cup we went up 3-0 then let them peg us back to 3-2 in about 90 seconds; it wound up a comfortable 4-2 win but between that result and others Canada has not earned the right to sneer at French overseas départements. We should win, we really should, and with goals in hand, but this isn’t Dominica or Saint Lucia. It’s a team just good enough to be a tripping hazard, but bad enough that if we do get a 4-0 victory and a brace from Junior Hoilett there’ll be no honour in it.

This may be the least appealing competitive home game in Canadian men’s national team history. Thanks, CONCACAF.

Friendship in Competition

By Benjamin Massey · March 1st, 2019 · 1 comment

Nolan Wirth (Mexsport/Canada Soccer)

Technically, Pacific FC and the Victoria Highlanders are in competition. Pacific FC plays in the Canadian Premier League, and has in fact taken over the Highlanders’ original home ground in Langford, British Columbia. They are hot new things and have the more famous players1. The Highlanders’ are the more established team in the more established league, though the name “USL League Two” sounds strange and foreign compared to “Premier Development League.” But a lot of their thunder has gone. Even their old supporters group, while it carries a torch for them, now decorates their website in lagoon blue and starfish purple.

Today the Highlanders play at Centennial Stadium at the University of Victoria, a decent drive from Langford, and USL League Two is quite a different vibe from whatever CanPL is going to be. Greater Victoria has a population approaching 400,000, always supports local soccer well, and gets great tourism traffic. With season tickets starting at $75 and handy availability to bored summer students, the Highlanders can hit markets Pacific might miss. In principle there is room enough on Vancouver Island for both. In practice the Highlanders have never been so flush with fans that they’ll happily give many away and, with a relatively small suburban ground, some fairly expensive players, and Victoria’s perpetual shortage of corporate support, Pacific FC is going to want every dollar they can get. We fans, who want both teams to try their hardest and have a good time, should realize they may not necessarily feel that way about each other.

The other argument, that a rising tide lifts all boats, is made more from hope than experience. In Victoria it hasn’t worked that way, though this is the first time the city has had two serious franchises simultaneously offering at least a semi-professional product. The Pacific Coast Soccer League’s Victoria United, a high-amateur team which charged for tickets, and the Highlanders had a good relationship, played near-annual friendlies, but the Highlanders ate too much of United’s pie and a club dating back to 1904 died in 2014. A lot was going on there but even mutual best intentions couldn’t beat economics. In the United States we have the examples of then-NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. USL VSI Tampa Bay, or FC New York versus the Cosmos, or OKC Energy versus Rayo OKC: in each case two lower-level franchises were at loggerheads and one won and one lost.

But none of those American entries really tried cooperation (USL and NASL being friends? Don’t make me laugh). The Highlanders and Pacific FC could. There’s no bad blood, unless you count Pacific hiring the former boss of summertime rivals the Victoria HarbourCats. When Pacific FC signed ex-Highlander Nolan Wirth the Highlanders proudly slapped it on their front page. Nobody would mind if the Highlanders brought a few underappreciated Callum Montgomery or Josh Heard types to Pacific’s attention. Loaning a player the length of the #51 bus has its attractions too, if the Highlanders are willing. The growth of League1 Ontario in Ontario, and particularly in Toronto, has done nothing but good to Toronto FC: they benefit from player development opportunities, lose no fans to speak of, and any increase in the amount of local soccer occupying Toronto’s consciousness can only benefit the biggest manifestation of local soccer there is.

Look at Pacific FC’s home schedule. Sunday, June 23 at 2 PM, the Highlanders play Foothills at the University of Victoria. At 3 PM, Pacific hosts Edmonton in Langford. Obviously you have to pick one, which is a shame for fans. It would have been nice if both clubs could have made the one day they both have games a true double-header. The Lake Side Buoys could have laid on a bus. As a traveling fan I would have appreciated it very much.

Or get non-traditional. Why couldn’t Pacific and Victoria play their games that day at the same ground? Make it Westhills Stadium or Centennial, or go crazy and play it at Royal Athletic Park, the ancestral home of Victoria soccer2. Alternate every year if you can. Leave it at Westhills because it’s the only one that meets CanPL’s standards if you have to; whatever. The details are just that; what matters is the one big summer weekend that’s a paean to Victoria soccer. Get to the stadium at 11 AM, have beers, watch Highlanders play Foothills, have more beers, watch Pacific play Edmonton. Pacific FC’s season ticket holders plus the Highlanders’ season ticket holders won’t add up to more than a sellout. The organizations get along well enough, nobody needs lose out financially. It would be a day that offers something a bit different, gets a few more people through the turnstiles, and that should delight every local fan, running out to his car at intermission to trade his old colours for the new ones.

These are the terms we should be thinking in. Of course the Highlanders and Pacific FC are in competition. So are Valour and WSA Winnipeg3. Hopefully some day they’ll clash in the Voyageurs Cup and partisans of each team will abuse each other. But there’s still a lot of good they can do for each other. They are parts of one larger whole, that of local soccer: they can cooperate to advance that without giving up their individualism. If the Victoria, or Winnipeg, soccer scene is healthy and vibrant, it’ll make it all the better when it competes with itself.

Enigma, Prospect, Four Vets and a Legend: CanPL Signing Review 1

By Benjamin Massey · February 22nd, 2019 · 2 comments

Uwe Welz/Canada Soccer

The thing about starting a seven-team league up from scratch is that you get a lot of new players.

Praise be to Edmonton and Cavalry; they’re signing alumni, academy products, and old Foothillers to go with the obscure guys. But we still have dozens of players piling into the league who the casual fan, if he has heard of them at all, hasn’t followed for years. Early imports have, typically for this level, been nobody you’d have heard of in your deepest Football Manager dives. A few of the Canadians are bigger names but even they need to be put in the context of this new league.

If the fansites and forums are any indication, we are mostly using interviews and press kits to convince ourselves that our team’s players are all the best. This is a lot of fun. Duane Rollins is doing one-sentence capsule reviews of each signing and that’s useful. But when we decide how we think our teams will do, we should probably know a bit more about the players on them.

This article is one small attempt to achieve this. In the spirit of my USports draft deep dive, I picked one player from each Canadian Premier League team and looked at his career in depth. This brings me less than 5% of the way to figuring out the whole league, but it’s a start. And if this format is a success, I might do it again (so please like and subscribe).

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