The second round of the Voyageurs Cup, or whatever we’re calling the round that teams are going to start playing on Wednesday, promises that rarest of things from a competition with three MLS teams in it: real Canadian interest.
Firstly, congratulations to FC Edmonton on their first ever Voyageurs Cup victory against the Ottawa Fury. Did you see the two games? You lucky dog. Sportsnet didn’t show them and the the stream was less reliable than Tony Donatelli: the Ottawa games had fleeting moments of watchability for us ordinary schmucks, but was apparently excellent for subscribers watching through Rogers’ website without a care in the world. The Edmonton stream was quite good when BT Edmonton finally flipped the switch on their end from Modern Family re-runs with maybe five minutes left in the first half. Given that both Ottawa and Edmonton are accustomed to putting out decent-quality web streams for NASL games on a weekly basis, one wonders what the fuck happened when suddenly the job was on the Canadian Soccer Association’s watch. Of course the root cause of all this is Sportsnet deciding to put darts, generic highlight packages, and Prime Time Sports re-runs on each of their six stations instead of Canada’s national soccer championship, but the ball was dropped rather heavily on what should, by now, be a routine job.
As the more watchable, not to mention the more interesting, of the games was the Edmonton leg that’s where most of the analysis has come from. Here are the highlights if you missed them; you’ll observe that it is ninety seconds of young Canadian midfielder Hanson Boakai violating Omar Jarun so egregiously the police were called. The list of shifty midfielders who’ve slapped Omar Jarun around in this country is a pretty long one, and Boakai’s goal and two assists in that game, while remarkable and deserving of all the plaudits, were the first points of his professional career. So while observers naturally heap praise on Boakai for his game they have been a little conservative looking forward, especially with the coming of a Montreal Impact defense which, whatever its many flaws, hasn’t got Omar Jarun on it.
Ha of course not. Here is the Edmonton Journal‘s Norm Cowley with an article titled “FC Edmonton phenom could become a ‘Canadian Messi’.” The headline quotes Colin Miller, who says the fateful words in a bit more of a pie-in-the-sky sense than the headline would seem to imply. Nick Sabetti of Goal.com referred to Boakai as a “star midfielder” who is “already making a name for himself.”. And fans have been beating the Boakai drum continuously for the past week. It’s heady stuff for a player who, last season, saw 34 minutes of action with no statistics of note plus 67 minutes so far this regular season (again, without achieving much). He’d be part of the second eleven full-time if the team was healthier, and the return of Mike Banner looks bad for his starting chances going forward. I like Boakai, though his game needs rounding out, but good God almighty it’s getting insane over here, all because, in the proud tradition of teams that don’t get media attention most of the year, people watched one game and couldn’t take it in context.
If the Eddies are going to beat Montreal they’re going to need a lot more than a game’s worth of teenager hype, and that’s only just possible. I haven’t watched much MLS this year but even I know the Montreal Impact have been… problematic. They have the lowest goal differential in the league among teams that aren’t Chivas USA. They have one point from four road games, and that point was an evenly-fought game against fellow Eastern Conference dumpster fire Philadelphia. Their defense allows enough shots that they’re almost 2013 Vancouver Whitecaps bad. With a few talented players but a highly sketchy defense and not enough midfielders you can rely on, they remind me a lot of the 2008 Toronto FCs, and we all know how they did against second division sorts.
On the other hand, Montreal has the talent to cause problems to the Eddies patchwork defense than I’d like: Marco di Vaio is the sort of clever, technical player just born to give Kareem Moses a nightmare. Jack McInerney is also a player. They’re well-rested, with no games since April 26 (a game they won, albeit while being outshot 17-7 at home by those same woeful Union), which partially ameliorates the travel issue and might well mean starts for their best eleven, though Saturday’s league game against the Kansas City Wizards will presumably weigh on Klopas’s shoulders. Finally, FC Edmonton is… well, I’d call them the Montreal Impact of the NASL, but part of me fears they’re the Chivas USA. Unless the Impact come in way off their best, and we can’t rule that out, it looks like Montreal’s tie.
There was one hopeful sign for the Eddies. Last week Impact coach Frank Klopas gave an interview with the team’s website where you could almost hear the boredom dripping off him.
It’s a team, I think, that’s very good in transition. They have pace out wide. They have some good, quality players. They’re very organized defensively.
No they fucking aren’t! “Pace out wide”? Lance Laing is almost fast, as is bench scrub Horace James. The rest of the guys are either bull-in-a-china-shop sorts like Eddie Edward or players who may be useful but are hardly known for pace like Michael Nonni, Neil Hlavaty, Mike Banner, or Boakai himself (shifty, yes, fast, not really). And as for organized defense, this came before the Eddies’ home thumping to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers so excuse Klopas that but they’ve still had a revolving door at centre back and left John Smits more exposed than a flasher at a preschool.
So yes, I’m predicting a fairly handy Montreal victory over the two legs. That doesn’t mean Edmonton doesn’t have upset potential, because they do. Neil Hlavaty is still trying to find 2011-2013 Neil Hlavaty within his heart somewhere, and if he does that’ll be a major link between the defense and attack which has been missing. Mike Banner didn’t look like anything against Fort Lauderdale but he’s a good player who had a dandy preseason. And Ritchie Jones hasn’t quite got his sights in yet: maybe MLS opposition will motivate him. Three midfielders letting the Eddies get away from their so-often-fatal route one soccer, combined with the idiosyncratic pitch at Clarke Stadium and Montreal’s possible presumption of victory. Victory has a recipe, but don’t show it to Gordon Ramsay, he would not be pleased.
I’m not just excited for Edmonton, though. Yes, it’s that rarest of things: Vancouver Whitecaps first team analysis on Maple Leaf Forever!
Well, I say “analysis” but I really mean “banalysis”. And I say “first team” but I really mean “whatever you call that thing Carl Robinson is going to throw out on the field.” First, Robinson named his Voyageurs Cup roster. This doesn’t mean too much since you can modify it until very late in the day, but it was still an eye-catcher: no Kenny Miller (well, we know why now), no Pedro Morales, no Jay DeMerit, Jordan Harvey, Andy O’Brien, or Nigel Reo-Coker, no David Ousted. But a load of Canadians, including recently-recalled Charleston loanee Jackson Farmer and Residency boys Jordan Haynes, Marco Bustos, Mitch Piraux, and Kianz Froese. That’s a pretty aggressive declaration of youth. Then Robinson announced that he would be giving Carducci and Alderson their first professional starts against Toronto FC in the Voyageurs Cup. Alongside Russell Teibert, and with possibly one or two kids coming off the bench, that means the Whitecaps could well use more Canadian minutes in one championship game than they did the entire 2012 season under Martin Rennie, and that’s without Sam Adekugbe, who’s injured.
I should be unambiguously delighted. I like Alderson a lot. This opportunity was long overdue for him, especially consider the oft-uninspiring midfielders he’s been competing with for minutes. Carducci hasn’t waited so long, but I wanted him to see a bit of time against the Chivas USAs of the world if practical: this is early for him, but he’s an undeniable talent, and if you’re going to rest Ousted much better Carducci gets the minutes then dolloping them to Paolo Tornaghi like it’s a reserve game.
Yet it does show a distinct disinclination to take the Voyageurs Cup as seriously as Vancouver should. Starting Canadians is good sense, but leaving important first-teamers off the roster apparently for sheer devilry and showing Ryan Nelsen your hand days in advance is a little bit much. In that sense Robinson’s treating an important cup match against a rival with a superior side like a preseason friendly.
Personally, I incline more towards pleasure than worry. Partially this is because I think the Aldersons and Teiberts can handle it, the Bustoses and Hayneses won’t embarrass themselves coming off the bench, and that even if the team as a whole winds up being a little weak it might be worth it if one or two of these boys can shine and force their way into the regular lineup. Even if there are disappointing players — and with this many kids getting this many vital minutes somebody will disappoint — the experience will help. Developing our best young talent, even if it costs games in the short run, is a winning strategy long-term. I wish we were developing it against the New England Revolution rather than in our Cup, but still so much better than nothing.
Besides, we don’t know what Ryan Nelsen is going to do. Just from scanning the fan world, the possibilities run from “Defoe, Bradley, and the full force of Toronto FC’s eleven barrels of hell raining down on the inexperienced Whitecaps to score a big lead and restore some confidence” to “I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s going 180 minutes.” I think Defoe is a little overrated and Bradley is a lot overrated, but I also don’t think Jackson Farmer and his 200-odd lifetime minutes against grown men is the man to defend either one. And I haven’t even said Gilberto yet, or Jonathan Osorio (though he may be injured), or Dwayne De Rosario, who is about 60% washed-up but still amounts to a useful player at this level.
On the other hand, if the “B” team comes out, who have we got? A goalkeeper, according to Nelsen’s press chatter Joe Bendik, who is below replacement level. A defense with an awful lot of nothing (Mark Bloom plays regularly for them! Mark Bloom!). Midfield? Well, yes, MeRo, but also Issey Nakajima-Farran and I mean come on, for God’s sake, Bryce, if you can’t handle Issey Nakajima-Fucking-Farran you’re not the player I think you are. In short, if Nelsen’s attitude is fairly similar to Robinson’s, there’s hope there. Depth on depth, the Whitecaps can slug it out with Toronto, though it’ll be a near-run thing.
Oh God I hope the Whitecaps win. I know that’s a pretty obvious statement coming from an alleged Whitecaps fan, but even more than usual. Oh God, give us this one.
 — Cowley, Norm. “FC Edmonton phenom could become a ‘Canadian Messi’.” Edmonton Journal, May 3, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2014. http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Edmonton+phenom+could+become+Canadian+Messi/9802089/story.html.
 — Sabetti, Nick. “Rising star Hanson Boakai trying to take it one step at a time.” Goal.com, May 6, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2014. http://www.goal.com/en-ca/news/4173/canadian-national-team/2014/05/06/4798537/nick-sabetti-rising-star-hanson-boakai-trying-to-take-it-one.
 — Tremblay, Olivier. ” .” ImpactMontreal.com, May 1, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2014. http://www.impactmontreal.com/en/news/2014/05/impact-approaching-fc-edmonton-focused-and-serious-state-mind.
 — Kingston, Gary. “Whitecaps’ youth will be served against Toronto FC in Canadian championship test.” Vancouver Sun, May 5, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2014. http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Whitecaps+youth+will+served+against+Toronto+Canadian+championship+test/9809009/story.html.