Maple Leaf Forever! is not a widely-read blog. I would be surprised if it breaks the top twenty of Canadian soccer columns by hits. I’m just one jackass in his apartment reeling off opinions on subjects he cannot fully understand and the community knows that. However, even in my obscurity I put pride in accuracy and honest information, and therefore I owe my readers an apology.
I apologize for implying, in my posts over the past several weeks, that the 2014 Voyageurs Cup is an honest competition well worth the attention of the casual fan. This was grievously in error.
I apologize for railing against Major League Soccer’s fundamental dishonesty in this space, while ignoring the Canadian Soccer Association’s sins. I have no excuse. The 2009 Voyageurs Cup, in which Toronto FC, coincidentally the highest-profile team, hoisted a Voyageurs Cup they did not earn. The 2012 Cup, in which the same thing happened. The 2014 Cup, now. And I remember, even if many don’t, how in 2011 MLS Vancouver got every call against then-NASL Montreal to take a semi-final the Impact probably deserved to win. This is without considering other games; I have literally been writing about the perfidy of Canadian Soccer Association referees here for five years. I wrote about all these things at the time, but failed to put them together. I am sorry.
I apologize to FC Edmonton for suggesting that, if the Montreal Impact got the advantage in the second leg, you guys were screwed. In fact you guys played great once you were 3-0 down. This is faint praise, and you know it as well as I do, but “never saying die” is a valuable quality, particularly when you have every excuse to give up. In the end you fought hard and fully earned a trip to the Voyageurs Cup finals. The nation will not forget that.
Finally, I apologize again to FC Edmonton for suggesting that it would matter.
Part of me feels bad for the Montreal Impact. They showed balls. Once again, they proved that they’re the only professional Canadian soccer team that gets mad: which not only claims to have a sense of pride but goes out and proves it in situations where most teams would be written off. They’re a bad team, there’s no hiding that, but they care, and as much as I wanted Colin Miller to punch Joey Saputo in the mug there’s no denying the attitude Saputo has given them.
They were second-best on the tie, but what of it? We Whitecaps fans know, more than anyone else in Canada, the pride you can take in a glorious defeat. The Impact won the right to walk out with their heads held high. They came out gangbusters before a lacklustre crowd with a nation scoffing at them, and they lost all the same, but that happens sometimes. They deserved to, in the words of an American admiral of years past, dip their flag to no earthly king. But referee Drew Fischer has taken that away from them.
If you missed the game, I will give you a short précis. Montreal took a 3-0 lead in their home leg, and a 4-2 lead on aggregate, based entirely on the quality of their play. They were markedly in the ascendancy. But Edmonton’s Frank Jonke bagged a quick brace to put the Eddies ahead on away goals. Nobody likes losing on away goals but the Impact were staring it in the face, trying to batter Edmonton’s door down and not managing it. Then, suddenly, in an impossible six minutes of stoppage time, Montreal was given a penalty kick on a bogus handball. And that was the end. The controversial shot was ball to hand. That’s not in the Laws of the Game, but the afflicted player had his arms in hard against his body, and that is. It was never a penalty by the ruling of any competent official, but Drew Fischer thought he could decide a national semi-final based on it.
Of course every referee blunders. If this were the first time a CSA referee had come down mysteriously in favour of the higher-profile club I would give them the benefit of the doubt. But it was far from that. In fact, it’s a running theme ever since the CSA adopted a national championship format. From the 6-1 Toronto victory over Montreal to deny the USL-1 Whitecaps, to a rainout at BMO Field where Aron Winter took his team off the field and the CSA said “okay then,” to a semi-final last year where Vancouver got two goals over Edmonton that should never have counted from Silviu Petrescu, to Daryl Fordyce winning a dead-certain penalty last week in stoppage time at Clarke Stadium, the most clearcut foul you ever will see, that was completely ignored, to this. All without considering re season or playoff games between Canadian teams where the same things seemed to happen. If it were mere chance you’d expect the little guys to fluke out a referee-aided victory as often as the big teams, and yet that’s never, ever how it goes. Always the decision goes in favour of the team you’d think the CSA would want to win. Too long, and too many incidents, to say “coincidence”, as I once did.
I spent $30 to go to the Vancouver – Toronto game at BC Place, because I love the Voyageurs Cup and even my hatred of MLS didn’t override that. Instead, after this latest incident, I stuffed the ticket in my pants pocket and went home. Why should I go cheer on my team in a game where the result was pre-determined?
Okay, okay, I hear you protesting. Let’s say that this is all coincidence. That the Canadian Soccer Association genuinely wants the best team to win the Voyageurs Cup, and if that’s an NASL side so be it. You know, I can believe it… yet referees keep deciding the games in favour of the biggest cities with the most fans. The best-case scenario is that the Canadian Soccer Association is guilty of negligence and complacency in the first degree in a country where its former “national” league, the current Canadian Soccer League, has already been busted in a match-fixing scandal. This isn’t just me talking, the video’s out there if you want to re-watch the games yourself.
The people who led Canada’s men’s national team to an 8-1 World Cup qualifying loss in Honduras are still in charge. They have let us down every day since the 2000 Gold Cup, and they’re letting us down now. Once, when the incompetence got too much, we put on black t-shirts and chanted “sack the CSA” at Canadian national team games. “Can’t do their jobs, don’t take no blame.” Canadian legend Tomasz Radzinski even wore a “Sack the CSA” shirt off the pitch in his last home game (I was there). Somehow they’ve squirmed out from under that charge, and yet the horror continues.
Thanks for putting on a show, FC Edmonton. I know which team deserved to go to the final. So do all neutral fans, who have been flooding Twitter with protests, who were patting the one Edmonton fan in Vancouver on the shoulder when the latest screwjob hit. I underestimated you, as did the Impact for a while. Hopefully someday you’ll get a competition worthy of you.