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).

Cavalry: Nik Ledgerwood Edmonton: Son Yong-chan
Forge: Kyle Bekker Halifax: Scott Firth
Pacific: Marcus Haber Valour: Tyson Farago
York: Kyle Porter

Cavalry FC

DF/MF Nik Ledgerwood

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton
Nikolas Ledgerwood Born January 16, 1985 (age 34) Lethbridge, Alberta
5’9″ 157 lbs Eligibility: Canada (50 caps, 1 goal)
Season Team League GP Starts Min G A Sh SoG Yl Red
2002 Calgary Storm A-League 26 2163 0 4 7
2003–04 1860 Munich II Ger-5 6 2 257 0 0 0 0
2004–05 1860 Munich II Ger-4 27 22 2032 1 0 2 0
2005–06 1860 Munich II Ger-4 16 16 1304 0 2 2 1
2005–06 1860 Munich Ger-2 3 2 159 0 1 0 0
2006–07 Wacker Burghausen Ger-2 15 14 1250 0 1 3 0
2007–08 1860 Munich Ger-2 6 4 417 0 0 0 0
2008–09 1860 Munich Ger-2 23 16 1508 1 1 4 1
2009–10 FSV Frankfurt Ger-2 22 13 1400 1 0 4 0
2010–11 Wehen Wiesbaden Ger-3 25 20 1847 0 2 4 1
2010–11 Wehen Wiesbaden II Ger-4 2 2 148 0 0 1 0
2011–12 Wehen Wiesbaden Ger-3 25 22 1789 1 7 1
2012 Hammarby IF Swe-2 12 11 1010 2 4 0
2013 Hammarby IF Swe-2 24 24 2090 2 12 0
2013–14 MSV Duisburg Ger-3 17 15 1199 0 4 0
2014–15 Energie Cottbus Ger-3 25 22 1940 1 8 0
2014–15 Energie Cottbus DFB-Pokal 1 1 77 0 0 0
2015–16 Energie Cottbus Ger-3 6 3 310 0 2 0
2016 Edmonton NASL 29 29 2473 2 0 25 7 8 0
2016 Edmonton Voy Cup 2 2 180 0 0 0 0 1 0
2017 Edmonton NASL 21 20 1616 0 1 12 2 6 1
2017 Edmonton Voy Cup 2 2 180 0 1 0 0 0 0
2018 Calgary USL PDL 7 6 481 0 0 2 0 1 0

Seventeen years ago, the defending USL PDL finalist Calgary Storm moved to the A-League, bringing with them a Lethbridge teenager by the name of Nikolas Ledgerwood. Making his pro debut aged only 17, Ledgerwood was a regular for the Storm, who as you’d expect were extremely bad. The Storm lasted four A-League seasons before folding; Ledgerwood left for Germany after one and didn’t look back for more than a decade.

Things have changed since 2002. The USL PDL champion Calgary Foothills are not making the move to the Canadian Premier League but most of of their players and staff are and Ledgerwood is among them. The child of 2002 is now a 34-year-old midfielder/fullback, currently the second-oldest player in the league behind Wanderers goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams1. He is behind only Pacific’s Marcel de Jong in high-end experience: 50 senior international caps, 69 matches in the German second division and hundreds in the third, plus two years in the NASL (one as a captain) and two in the Swedish second tier. One of Ledgerwood’s Calgary Storm teammates, Lars Hirschfeld, is now FC Edmonton’s goalie coach. Another, Tommy Wheeldon Jr., is his boss. As a player Ledgerwood is the elder statesman of almost any locker room.

He is all a Canadian soccer player should be: loyal, true, scrappy, and successful. Unlike so many journeymen he’s good for two or three years with his teams. Coaches like him, fans support him, whatever his limitations you can always use Nik Ledgerwood. He is quick to answer every call of the Canadian national team, going to the hellholes of CONCACAF and seeming honoured by it. Indeed, the knock on Ledgerwood from Canadian fans has been “he’s limited, he can’t score, he can’t create chances, I cannot believe we need him as badly as we do” and then we run him out in 40-degree heat to shut down Amado Guevara again.

He’s class professionally and in his community, though on the field he sometimes seems to be chasing records for yellow cards. He should be a poster boy for Canadian soccer, and actually in a recent series of advertisements he has been2.

Most importantly for Cavalry fans, at 34 years old he should still have some game left. Of course his German second division days are over but for the past three years, for Edmonton and Foothills, Ledgerwood has been an automatic starter when healthy. He has never been any kind of attacking force but his reliability and intensity still stand out. He only played PDL last year to stay close to his family including an infant son, get some coaching experience, and keep warm until CanPL started: he had options in Europe and like many of his Foothills teammates was hilariously above PDL level.

That said, Ledgerwood has a lot of mileage and the past two years have had nagging injury issues. In 2017 he missed most of June and July, and quite a lot of August, with a pesky calf problem, leading to his shortest full professional campaign since 2009–10. Last season he missed most of the Foothills regular season and all of the playoffs with a series of knocks, shutting down after June 15 against TSS FC Rovers. PDL’s short summer seasons mean that even minor injuries can rule a player out for a huge proportion of his team’s games. Still, that’s two truncated years in a row at an age when the body no longer heals so readily.

Ledgerwood spent the offseason in and around Calgary so even more than most of the ex-Foothills players, Tommy Wheeldon will know very well how he’s doing. But he’s not a young man anymore. Foothills have signed a versatile, influential, never-say-die veteran who can play defensive mid, right back, or right midfield with no-nonsense effectiveness. Whether against Lane United or Mexico, he does nothing spectacular and makes few mistakes. You can count on him in any situation, if he can still get on the field. And after two injury-struck years, he unfortunately has to prove that all over again.

FC Edmonton

DF/MF Son Yong-chan

All-India Football Federation
Son Yong-chan Born April 15, 1991 (age 28) Jinju, South Korea
5’10” 165 lbs Eligibility: South Korea
Season Team League GP Starts Min G A Sh SoG Yl Red
2014 Ceres-Negros FC UFL-2
2014 Ceres-Negros FC AFC Pres Cup 3 3 270 0 1 0
2015 Ceres-Negros FC UFL
2015 Ceres-Negros FC AFC Cup 1 1 90 0 0 0
2016 Ceres-Negros FC UFL
2016 Ceres-Negros FC AFC Cup 7 7 660 0 1 0
2017 Tampines Rovers S.League 21 20 1798 1 8 0
2017 Tampines Rovers AFC Champions Lg 1 1 90 0 0 0
2017 Tampines Rovers AFC Cup 6 6 503 1 2 0
2018 Ozone FC I-League 2 8 8 688 2 1 0

Son Yong-chan has already achieved double firsts in Canadian Premier League history: the first international player to be signed, and the first open trialist to win a CanPL contract. At the open trials, Son finished third out of 1,400 trialists in the fitness rankings, second overall in agility, and 19th in shot velocity. For whatever it’s worth, Son was the third-best performer anywhere in the country by their metrics. Neither of the players ranked ahead of Son (top Saskatoon club midfielder Dallas Stern and former Mount Royal University forward Matteo Valdes) has a professional contract yet, but there was something about Son that caught the eye.

It wasn’t his history. Son is from South Korea and has only played in the little-known leagues of the Philippines, Singapore, and lower-division India. Can you imagine finding an FC Edmonton supporter who knows anything about Filipino soccer? The man is a black box, one of the mysteries of CanPL.

We do know that by every account Son is a fun guy. He’s smiling in his open trials mugshot, he’s smiling in his brief appearances in the York region video where Alex Bunbury tries to pump the crowd up, he’s smiling in the Instagram post where he announces his signing (perhaps the most understandable of the lot), when FC Edmonton tries to get him to cross his arms and be stern it looks unnatural. In the Philippines his nickname was “Victorino,” which means what you think, but we all prefer the Wikipedia-approved “the Smiling Assassin.” At Ceres-Negros FC in the Philippines, Son raised money for the community. In 2017 Son played for Singapore’s Tampines Rovers, who wound up visiting Ceres in the AFC Cup3: his former supporters literally came to his hotel to give him presents. Judging by the supporters in question he appears to have a certain amount of female appeal. I’ve looked pretty hard and can’t find a bad word said about him anywhere.

As a soccer player? He came to the game late in life, first kicking a ball at eleven years old and has said that his earliest soccer memory was crying to his father about not taking up the game earlier. In Korea, as in Canada, you can apparently slip through the development cracks, so without any elite experience to speak of Son went to Korea University. Korean schools produce serious players: current South Korean international Kim Bo-kyung was at Hongik University at this time. Son could have stood out, but apparently did not.

In 2014, at age 22, he signed his first professional terms with Ceres-Negros FC of Bacolod, then in the second division of the mostly-Manila-based United Football League. The situation in the Philippines at the time might be familiar to Canadians: soccer was booming but geography meant that their leagues were almost entirely local and the one around their largest city was the best of the bunch. Though Bacolod is fairly far from Manila, the semi-professional UFL was the best competition going and Ceres joined their second division in 2014, bringing in a number of new players of whom Son was one. They won the division in a stroll, taking 57 points from 22 matches, losing only once, running a goal differential of +75, and winning the UFL FA League Cup 2-1 over first-division champions Global Cebu. In 2015, debuting in the first division, Ceres won that by eight points, with Son being named a league All-Star for the “Rest of the World” team alongside former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Martin Steuble. In 2016, the last year of the UFL, Ceres was runner-up to Global and Son was omnipresent in the lineup.

In 2017 the Philippines were revolutionized by the new, national Philippines Football League, but Son would not be a part of history. The PFL rules restricted teams to four registered imports each, and Son lost out. Instead he joined financially-troubled Tampines Rovers of Singapore, who he had previously faced in the AFC Cup. In Singapore only three foreign players are allowed and Son made up a troika with former Japanese university player Ryutaro Megumi and seven-time Croatian youth international Ivan Jakov Džoni. One of the foreigners Son replaced, incidentally, was Canadian (and Singapore league veteran) Jordan Webb.

Son set a target of ten goals in the S.League and didn’t come close but was otherwise a success. Playing as a box-to-box midfielder, Son scored on his debut and was named fans’ player of the month for March 2017, while Tampines finished the top Singaporean team in the table4. The fans seemed to rate him. FourFourTwo’s surprisingly comprehensive Singaporean league coverage gave him solid marks and consistently praised his enormous workrate. Alas, Singapore’s tight rules on foreign players and financial troubles across the circuit mean players tend to bounce around. Though he played regularly Son was already out of Tampines’s plans by December. He had another foreign adventure lined up for 2018 but visa problems kept him in Korea. Instead, and this is a rare sentence, he dominated a beep test on Korean television, which led to a two-month contract with Ozone of the I-League second division. India has two “first divisions”: the old I-League and the newer, flashier Indian Super League, also known as “the one Iain Hume plays in.” The I-League has promotion and relegation, the ISL does not. So the Canadian soccer pyramid will not throw anything at Son Yong-chan that he can’t figure out.

Joining a successful team in the middle of a 13-game season Son pulled on the #24 kit, walked straight into the starting eleven, got subbed off in the 89th minute of his debut and otherwise played every second until he was subbed off again in the second-to-last game of the year. Ozone finished second in their group, behind the Kerala Blasters reserves, with Son contributing a couple goals before ravenous crowds of 300. In the three-game final to determine the league championship5 Ozone struggled and Son missed the final fixture; he would up playing eight of Ozone’s thirteen league games. After the Indian campaign Son went home, heard the good news about CanPL, ran around for seven coaches plus Alex Bunbury, and made just a little bit of history.

Where Son signs, he plays. He’s versatile enough to have been listed as a fullback, a defensive or a box-to-box midfielder, and good for a goal or two a year. Not many CanPL players will be fitter than him and a couple of the coaches who didn’t sign him anonymously lusted after him. He throws off Korean Nikolas Ledgerwood vibes, which in this space is a compliment.

But at every stop his international slot has eventually been used for someone else. We’re familiar with the international flavour-of-the-month who may not be any better than, but is different from, the previous international flavour-of-the-month. Despite being a regular and a fan favourite, Son was never so good that his club felt it had to keep him.

Most importantly, though we don’t know what level CanPL will be, it has to be a step up from Singapore or the third-best league in India. The three-time Singaporean league champions are a reserve team for a Japanese second division club. Jordan Webb, the Sebastien Le Toux of the Singaporean league, was an average USL PDL player. A young Issey Nakajima-Farran spent two years in Singapore and scored at a rate he never approached elsewhere. Another S.League alumnus, Wataru Murofushi, has signed for York 9, but was more of a star than Son. As for India, not only has Ozone FC never produced any players of note, the entire I-League hasn’t: Sunil Chhetri played a US Open Cup for Kansas City once, and five-time first-division Golden Boot winner Ranti Martins moved on to lower-level American semi-professional soccer. There are people reading this who would make Ozone FC.

There’s usually room for a fit, hard-working, likable professional on what’s basically an expansion team. Son could do anything in CanPL and we wouldn’t be surprised. 32 games in central midfield, two goals, and a banner with his name on it? Two appearances off the bench and exile to Oskar Orn Hauksson Island? Heck if I know, but there’s not much more appropriate for the Canadian Premier League than an late-blooming underdog with a weird story.

Forge FC

MF Kyle Bekker

North American Soccer League
Bekker, Kyle Born September 2, 1990 (age 28) Oakville, Ontario
5’9″ 165 lbs Eligibility: Canada (18 caps)
Season Team League GP Starts Min G A Sh SoG Yl Red
2009 Boston College NCAA ACC 18 18 1510 2 4 29 10 2 0
2010 Boston College NCAA ACC 17 17 1617 3 4 45 16 2 0
2011 Boston College NCAA ACC 16 15 1330 7 6 49 19 3 0
2012 Boston College NCAA ACC 16 16 1490 1 4 44 15 3 0
2013 Toronto MLS 9 3 335 0 0 11 1 0 0
2013 Toronto Voy Cup 2 2 117 0 0 3 1 0 0
2014 Toronto MLS 20 13 1117 0 0 18 4 1 0
2014 Toronto Voy Cup 4 3 258 0 0 6 1 0 0
2015 Dallas MLS 8 2 313 0 1 7 3 1 0
2015 Dallas USOC 1 1 90 0 0 0 0 0 0
2015 Montreal MLS 3 2 165 1 0 3 2 0 0
2015 Montreal USL 1 1 90 0 0 0 0 0 0
2015 Playoffs Montreal MLS 1 0 13 0 0 1 0 0 0
2016 Montreal MLS 18 13 1139 1 0 10 4 3 0
2017 San Francisco NASL 28 22 1998 3 4 39 19 3 2
2017 San Francisco USOC 3 3 270 1 1 11 7 0 0
2017 Playoffs San Francisco NASL 2 2 180 0 2 4 1 1 0
2018 North Carolina USL 33 30 2719 7 13 48 19 7 0
2018 North Carolina USOC 3 3 289 0 2 4 2 0 0

You know Kyle Bekker. He blew the doors off the 2013 MLS combine and went third overall to Toronto FC in the SuperDraft: even at the time, people were muttering “we might have gotten carried away there.”6 For a couple years Bekker had played the majority of his professional soccer on the Canadian senior men’s national team, where he was a great favourite of former coach Benito Floro. His second season saw him break in part-time with Toronto but they traded him soon enough, bouncing him between Dallas and Montreal. A very offensive midfielder indeed took almost three full seasons to register his first MLS goal or assist. After five MLS seasons, of which two were as a semi-regular player and three were “also on roster,” Bekker washed out of the Impact and signed with Marc dos Santos and the San Francisco Deltas of the North American Soccer League.

Being distinctive has not always been to Bekker’s advantage: those first years were, generally, awful, and everyone could see it. He was thrown into the MNT far too early and was not forgiven for his nascent MLS mistakes. Since those are the games on TV those were most fans’ memories of Bekker, and with Floro gone he’s long forgotten by the MNT pool. Which is a pity because, post-MLS, Bekker has blossomed with two first-class second-division seasons. Even anti-CanPL Ottawa Fury coach Nikola Popovic admits Bekker is the one Premier League player he wants. If you’re not a top MLS team and you don’t want Kyle Bekker, you haven’t been paying attention.

We remember the 2017 San Francisco Deltas for coming in as an expansion team, signing a load of Canadians, finishing second in the table and winning the Soccer Bowl, then folding immediately as ownership prioritized virtue signalling over attracting customers and having money. That team was a bit smoke-and-mirrors: Tommy Heinemann had his career year, honest-to-God South American scrubs like Pablo Dyego and Dagoberto generated serious offense, they chopped-and-changed the lineup all season long and kept sneaking out those 2-1 wins. But Bekker was an automatic part of the lineup for the first time as a professional and made good. He scored four goals, including the first in team history, played every minute of both the playoffs and the US Open Cup, and on July 15 got sent off against Miami FC while on the bench for arguing too hard about a penalty against Pablo Dyego7. He was probably the MVP of the NASL champion.

At the end of that year Bekker’s club and league both died, so he joined North Carolina FC of the USL. North Carolina’s longtime coach Colin Clarke (now somehow sacked) has always loved gritty players who get in faces of referees and opponents alike, but sometimes struggles with creativity. Unsurprisingly, Bekker set a career high in yellow cards; more surprisingly, he set career highs everywhere else. He missed both penalties he attempted (one in the US Open Cup) but still scored seven times and added fifteen assists across all competitions. His goal on April 28 against Penn, a cheeky first-touch finish over former Deltas teammate Romuald Peiser, was a particular highlight8. A tragically viral clip from July 7 against Charleston less so, but all the same Bekker had now played two seasons as an everyday man. In the second he was, again, perhaps team MVP, and though North Carolina struggled he tied for third in the USL in assists and was an all-league second-team midfielder. This is a lot better than a combine for evidence that Kyle Bekker belongs in MLS, but instead he’s off to Hamilton. Don Garber’s loss, Forge’s gain.

Like Sam Piette before him, Kyle Bekker has gone from overwhelmed Benito Floro protege to midfield force. Unlike Piette, Bekker hasn’t been able to do it before the big MLS crowds, and obviously they’re completely different types of player, but their career arcs are going the same way. Don’t pencil him ahead of Scott Arfield on the national team but at this moment Bekker should be the favourite for the first Canadian Premier League MVP.

Halifax Wanderers

MF Scott Firth

Paul Reimer/Canada Games
Firth, Scott Born March 2001 (age 17) Windsor Junction, NS
6’1″ 155 lbs Eligibility: Canada

Scott Firth is obscure, young, and widely written about. Is he good? Heaven knows, but he is a local player for the Halifax Wanderers, the team everyone thought would have the hardest time finding local talent. He must rank with Nik Ledgerwood on the “neutral fans will cheer for him” scale; one because of what his career has represented, the other because of what it might represent for the future. Ledgerwood came up with his local club in a time of dearth for Alberta soccer and became a great success. Firth will be hoping to do the same trick. They even play similar positions as teenagers, though I doubt Ledgerwood was so avid a Fortnite player.

Unknown though he is to the general population, Stephen Hart has signed Firth for a good reason. The reigning Nova Scotia men’s youth player of the year, Firth participated in the most recent national U-17 championships in Surrey with Suburban FC, scoring twice. In 2017 Firth was one of six Maritimers identified as a “high-potential prospect” for a Whitecaps Residency camp, though he never joined the program full-time. In 2018 he apparently also had an impressive trial with the Toronto FC academy, and got trials in Portugal. He was part of the “Atlantic Selects” team that beat Fortuna Dusseldorf on penalties in Halifax last year, and was the first player from that CanPL preview game to sign a contract. Promising cameos, but this will be Firth’s first sustained taste of professional-track soccer.

Atlantic Canadian soccer players get screwed. For his entire childhood, Firth has had a regional profile, getting plaudits with the well-known Suburban FC program since he was twelve. He’s gone to nationals and consistently done everything asked of him. But he hasn’t gotten to a youth national team camp, hasn’t been offered a full ride with any of Canada’s professional academies, hasn’t gotten more than a look from anyone who could get him a career. The Whitecaps have a partnership with Soccer Nova Scotia but no players in their Residency program from east of Ontario. The Montreal Impact are the closest option and have one academy player from Halifax, U-17 defender Brandon Phelps. Port Williams forward Jacob Shaffelburg will play USL League 1 with Toronto FC’s reserves after graduating from their academy, but he roamed Canada and the United States chasing an elite soccer education for his whole childhood. That’s what you have to do, if you want to be noticed from the right coast.

Nova Scotia, and the rest of Atlantic Canada, is locked in the vicious cycle: they haven’t got the star players to win national championships, so they don’t win championships, so they aren’t brought into elite programs, so they don’t get the development they need to turn into stars, so they don’t win championships…. They’ve had some fine players, and in an interview with Danae Iatrou Firth named old favourites: former A-League star and CanMNT cup-of-coffee-haver Mesut Mert, ex-Toronto FC and Portland Timber Derek Gaudet, and former FC Edmonton forward Paul Craig all deserve more recognition outside the Atlantic than they got. Probably the only soccer player to come from Atlantic Canada to Canadian prominence in recent generations was Ante Jazic. The odds are against these guys… or were, until the Wanderers came along.

Firth is one of the youngest players in the Canadian Premier League and probably the least-developed. FC Edmonton has signed two 17-year-olds out of their own academy, Valour’s Tyler Attardo has played in a Serie A academy, but Firth has nothing like that. His highest-profile soccer so far came at the 2017 Canada Summer Games, where 16-year-old Firth was one of the four youngest Nova Scotia players in a U-18 tournament. That tournament was live-streamed, some games were on television, and Firth would have been distinctive: a lanky six-footer wearing the #11 kit and playing regularly in central midfield. Nova Scotia wound up a creditable seventh with knockout-stage draws against eventual gold medalists Ontario and favoured British Columbia; they lost the former, with Firth missing a kick in the shootout, and won the latter. While scouts and insiders may have noticed, there was no kind of hype for an underage player carrying heavy responsibility for a surprisingly successful young team. A British Columbian would have landed in the USSDA quick as you please. Firth gets to prove he can perform in the Canadian Premier League. Good luck to him.

Pacific FC

FW Marcus Haber

Bob Frid/Canada Soccer
Haber, Marcus Born January 11, 1989 (age 30) Vancouver, BC
6’3″ 187 lbs Eligibility: Canada (27 caps, 3 goals)
Season Team League GP Starts Min G A Sh SoG Yl Red
2009 Vancouver USL-1 30 24 1981 8 3 37 2 0
2009 Vancouver Voy Cup 3 3 259 1 0 0 0
2009 Playoffs Vancouver USL-1 6 6 432 3 0 5 1 0
2009–10 West Brom Eng-2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2009–10 Exeter Eng-3 5 3 240 0 1 0 0
2010 Vancouver USSF D2 11 10 877 1 2 16 1 0
2010 Vancouver Voy Cup 4 4 301 1 0 1 0
2010–11 St. Johnstone Sco-1 11 5 467 1 0 0 0
2011–12 St. Johnstone Sco-1 31 14 1549 2 4 0 0
2012–13 Stevenage Eng-3 42 36 3019 7 5 1 0
2013–14 Stevenage Eng-3 1 1 61 0 0 0 0
2013–14 Notts County Eng-3 13 5 613 2 0 0 1
2014–15 Crewe Alexandria Eng-3 35 25 2272 7 2 0 0
2015–16 Crewe Alexandria Eng-3 40 36 3110 9 5 3 0
2016–17 Dundee Sco-1 27 21 2350 8 2 2 0
2017–18 Dundee Sco-1 11 9 748 2 0 2 0
2018–19 Falkirk Sco-2 15 6 614 0 0 1 0

Pacific FC is pursuing a British Columbia-centric approach; not quite a cantera, but so far every man on the roster is either from or has recently played in British Columbia. Unfortunately for their aspirations, British Columbia has produced relatively few pros lately and most of their roster is young. There are three fine Victorians in Europe today: Dario Zanatta, Simon Thomas, and Adam Straith, but Pacific doesn’t look like they’ll sign any of them. The inability of a soccer-mad province with an MLS and two USL League 2 teams to convert prospects into national teamers has been a problem for years, I’m not telling anyone anything he doesn’t already know. But there are casual fans who will come out to watch Pacific FC win games and be disappointed when these local heroes don’t storm out of the gate.

Happily their recent signings have been men who can teach boys how to win. Marcel de Jong is old and broken but can kick a ball and will hit the first-year highlight reel, guaranteed. Ben Fisk is an old favourite and one of the league’s best talents so far. Goalkeeper Mark Village, not a household name, has been an underrated shot-stopper for a long time. So far the only forward is Marcus Haber. Haber has scored in Canada before, and was 2009 USL Rookie of the Year as a Whitecap. That persuaded West Bromwich Albion to risk in the region of $100,000 for Haber’s services. They spent the winter watching him train, nursed him through an ACL tear, gave him his first English experience on loan to Exeter City, and in the spring immediately loaned him back to Vancouver, where he spent the first half of the year in the artfully-named USSF Division 2 Pro League.

He was so bad.

The 2010 Whitecaps couldn’t score on Tinder and Haber was a big part of the problem. He was probably better than Jonathan McDonald, way better than Doudou Toure, about equivalent to Cody Arnoux, and miles worse than a healthy Marlon James9. He scored twice, one a penalty in the Voyageurs Cup, despite a generous helping of minutes from Teitur Thordarson. Haber was part of a great attack in 2009 but the lynchpins turned out to be James and departed cheeseburger enthusiast Charles Gbeke10. That loan spell did not get him into West Brom’s first team, and indeed he never played a minute for them.

But the kid didn’t go away or flop into the lower Swedish divisions like others. West Brom next loaned Haber to St. Johnstone in Scotland. He still didn’t score and got hurt again, but St. Johnstone liked him enough to sign him permanently. He played regularly, was never a favourite at McDiarmid Park, found another ride in Britain, and the pattern repeated for years with plenty of work but no consistency or popularity. Falkirk, his latest loan stop, is a lowly team in the relatively low Scottish Championship (their second division), and when they announced Haber was finished there supporters ripped his laziness and ineffectiveness. Still, teams not only sign him, they play him. He keeps turning up and enjoying moderate success. He has never won a championship and the only time he was relegated, with Crewe in 2015–16, Haber was actually one of the bright spots. Is Haber really an underrated, useful striker who’ll rip up CanPL like a lankier Bradley Wright-Phillips?

He is not.

The numbers don’t lie. Every two years Marcus Haber scores enough to look like a professional striker, and the odd years are so bad that you understand why Dale Mitchell used him as a centreback. Over 127 games and 9,315 minutes in League One Haber scored 0.242 goals per 90 minutes; he was the Quincy Amerikwa of League One11. He rallied slightly in Dundee, but with Falkirk didn’t score at all.

He is a marginal goalscorer and doesn’t get assists. Haber’s boss, Rob Friend, could be frustrating for Canada but created some chances for others and carved out a hell of a career in Germany; Haber was a lesser version of the same player in Scotland. Uh-oh.

Nothing is ever all bad so here’s the good news. Pacific FC may be the lowest level Marcus Haber has played at since 2010. The Scottish Championship, where Haber spent his last, appalling loan, is no great shakes but Falkirk had more problems than Marcus. He is tall, strong, and is willing to get into tough areas to fight for headers. But big men who don’t rely on speed can get washed-up fast when they lose one step too many.

Playing in Britain has accustomed Haber to defenders that will be as physical as CanPL’s, but more skilled. That should guarantee Haber a few CanPL goals. His greatest hope is turning into Charles Gbeke: Gbeke had some really rough years in his twenties, washed out of Europe a couple times, wasn’t even consistent in the A-League, and as he got older he only got slower. But he also got savvier, and coupled with some decent service, his strength and heading ability meant that he generated so many chances that he was a deadlier striker at age 30 than at 25. It happens at these levels.

But most guys don’t do that. People are treating Haber as Pacific’s trump card and he is far from that. I fear he will be worth neither the hype nor the money. If he’s Pacific’s leading scorer they’re going nowhere fast.

Valour FC

GK Tyson Farago

Uwe Welz/FC Edmonton
Farago, Tyson Born May 1, 1991 (age 28) Winnipeg, MB
6’2″ 200 lbs Eligibility: Canada
Season Team League GP Starts Min SA Sv GA Sv% GA/90 SO
2012 Winnipeg CIS CW
2013 Winnipeg CIS CW
2013 Winnipeg USL PDL 14 14 1224 133 106 27 0.797 1.99 0
2014 Edmonton NASL 1 1 90 8 7 1 0.875 1.00 0
2015 Edmonton NASL 2 2 180 10 7 3 0.700 1.50 0
2016 Edmonton NASL 3 3 270 12 7 5 0.583 1.67 0
2017 Edmonton NASL 16 15 1395 70 50 20 0.714 1.29 2
2017 Edmonton Voy Cup 2 2 180 5 1 4 0.200 2.00 0
2018 St. Patrick’s Ire-1 3 2 225 13 7 6 0.538 2.40 0
2018 Winnipeg USL PDL 0 0 0 0 0 0 nan nan 0

John Smits was a great NASL goalkeeper who was the best in the league in 2016 and should be in MLS; now he coaches at the University of Toronto. Michal Misiewicz was up and down as a young goalie but more often up: today he’s 28 years old and has been out of the game for half a decade. Lance Parker is FC Edmonton’s all-time leader in fantastic saves but after a series of injuries has returned to male modeling. For a team born with Rein Baart the Eddies have had some fine shot-stoppers who had to retire in their primes12.

Thank God, Tyson Farago is not one. CanPL has saved him. A long NASL apprenticeship led to him becoming Edmonton’s starter but his team went on hiatus, he never had a prayer on an ill-fated foreign stint… and now he’s on his hometown team. How CanPL changes these stories.

While playing university soccer with the Winnipeg Wesmen13 Farago’s first serious club experience was with WSA Winnipeg in 2013. They went 3-2-9 but had some future professionals, with Farago and forward Moses Danto being named conference all-stars. Winnipeg’s PDL team is reliably terrible: twice they have failed to win a single game in a season and have never been .500 or above second-last place in their division. But they’ve developed some talented players, with Farago merely the most notable so far.

His first professional contract was with FC Edmonton in 2014, not that he was much-noticed at the time: Parker and Smits had the net locked down and Academy prospect Christian Kaiswatum joined the first team in October. But Parker was injured almost from the start of the season. Smits took up the mantle and became the best goalie in the NASL, Farago made the bench regularly, got a contract extension mid-season, and as a reward for good service made his pro debut in the season finale, November 2, 2014 against Atlanta. It could hardly have been better, conceding one goal but making seven saves and earning an NASL Team of the Week nod.

Former Edmonton coach Colin Miller had virtues and flaws. He gave the unheralded Smits a chance, risked the former third-string Farago in a game when most coaches would have fretted over their records, and was twice rewarded. But in 2015 he preferred veteran Matt van Oekel and his powerful kicks, almost as good as Farago’s. Smits was the real hard-luck story, by season’s end dressing as an outfield substitute more often than a goalkeeper, but Farago deserved better too. In the winter he got his first, and to date only, call to the Canadian national team, as an unused substitute for a friendly against the United States.

The next two years showed Farago both the frustrations and rewards of Eddies life. He played three times in 2016 and in 2017 soon surpassed van Oekel’s replacement Chris Konopka, platooning with fellow Canadian Nathan Ingham. Farago played the 2017 Voyageurs Cup and struggled. But Miller kept the faith. By the end of the year Farago had showed his powers as both ball-stopper and ball-distributor; a rare unambiguous good in that stressful season. Then the Eddies suspended operations so Farago joined fellow refugees Ben Fisk and Jake Keegan in the Irish republic, signing with St. Patrick’s as backup for veteran Barry Murphy.

Alas, there were no Colin Millers in Ireland. Farago won the Pats backup job at once, played half of a won game against nine-man Waterford, and started two more while Murphy was unavailable. It wasn’t enough. Farago shipped six goals in those two starts: he faced plenty of shots and one of the goals was while he was up the field against Cork City looking for a stoppage-time equalizer, while match recaps make it clear that he showcased his distribution very well. But the Pats were mired in a seven-game losing streak, former star Brendan Clarke was on his way back from Limerick, and Farago was made scapegoat. He was let go by mutual consent in July and hasn’t played since14.

Steven Sandor, the OG Tyson Farago fan outside of Manitoba, says Farago probably had the best leg he’d ever seen in seven years as FC Edmonton’s colour commentator. It really is that good, but the first job of a goalkeeper is stopping shots and for half a season in the NASL Farago could do that too. The 2017 Eddies were not easy to play behind. Lineups changed every day, Eddie Edward had left, Pape Diakite had been figured out, Nik Ledgerwood was hurt, and Albert Watson, though worth every penny, could not do it on his own. Farago nicely passed a test that’ll be as stern as whatever he faces in CanPL.

We are still waiting to see Farago start a full season on a decent team: he hasn’t got the resume of Cavalry’s Marco Carducci, let alone Halifax’s Jan-Michael Williams. But so far he has been reliable, and his mighty boot gives Valour a weapon other teams will envy. He won’t be the best player in the league, but he’s the best native son Winnipeg could ask for.

York 9

DF/MF/FW Kyle Porter

Matt Schlotzhauer/Indy Eleven
Porter, Kyle Born January 19, 1990 (age 29) Toronto, ON
6’0″ 160 lbs Eligibility: Canada (7 caps)
Season Team League GP Starts Min G A Sh SoG Yl Red
2008 Vancouver USL PDL 10 829 5 1 23
2008–09 Energie Cottbus II Ger-4 5 4 305 1
2009–10 Energie Cottbus II Ger-5 12 1 272 1 1
2010 Vancouver USSF D2 1 0 32 0 1 3 0 0
2010 Playoffs Vancouver USSF D2 4 1 145 0 0 3 1 0
2011 Edmonton NASL 23 18 1595 7 2 28 0 0
2011 Edmonton Voy Cup 2 2 180 0 0 0 0
2011 Playoffs Edmonton NASL 1 0 12 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 Edmonton NASL 23 19 1772 5 0 41 23 0 0
2012 Edmonton Voy Cup 2 1 112 0 0 0 0
2013 DC United MLS 27 18 1594 3 1 41 13 3 0
2013 DC United USOC 3 3 234 0 0 0 0
2014 DC United MLS 5 0 65 0 0 3 1 0 0
2014 DC United USOC 1 1 90 0 0 0 0
2014 Richmond USL Pro 7 7 609 4 0 0 0
2015 Atlanta NASL 15 11 966 0 0 7 1 2 0
2015 Atlanta USOC 2 1 183 0 0 0 0 0 0
2016 Ottawa NASL 11 10 863 0 1 7 1 1 0
2016 Ottawa Voy Cup 3 1 125 0 0 2 0 0 0
2017 Tampa Bay USL 11 10 863 0 1 3 0 0 0
2017 Tampa Bay USOC 1 1 90 1 0 1 1 0 0
2018 Ottawa USL 3 2 200 0 0 0 0 0 0
2018 Tampa Bay USL 5 4 360 0 0 0 0 0 0

Though a Toronto boy of Jamaican heritage, Kyle Porter is one of the original Vancouver Whitecaps Residency kids from 2007. In 2008 he was a regular on the new USL PDL team and in its first year that batch of teenagers got to the league semi-final, losing to the veteran Thunder Bay Chill. “This is easy!” said Vancouver soccer fans, little suspecting this was actually a historic collection of talent: of the eleven PDL starters, ten would play professionally while five, including Porter, would make appearances for the senior Canadian national team.

2008 Vancouver Whitecaps Residency Starting XI
# Pos Name Mins
1 GK Simon Thomas 1170 Pro in Canada, England, and Scandinavia; 8 caps
3 DF Navid Mashinchi 1237 Vancouver Whitecaps, 2008–2009
4 DF Adam Straith 1080 Pro in Edmonton, Germany, and Norway; 43 caps
5 DF Anthony DiNicolo 1117 Active in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League
15 DF Antonio Rago 1055 FC Edmonton, 2011–2013
6 MF Ethan Gage 1399 Whitecaps 2009–2010, Reading system, then Sweden and Australia
14 MF Gagandeep Dosanjh 1041 FC Edmonton 2013, much other PDL and local success
17 MF Alex Semenets 1023 Whitecaps 2010, FC Edmonton 2011–2012
8 MF Philippe Davies 894 Whitecaps 2009–2011, Richmond and Ottawa in USL, still active in PLSQ; one MNT cap
9 FW Randy Edwini-Bonsu 1105 Whitecaps 2008–2010, long German career, now FC Edmonton; ten caps with one goal
7 FW Kyle Porter 829 DC United in MLS, five second-division clubs, now York 9 in CanPL; seven caps

Founding Residency boss Thomas Neindorf’s German connections led to the loan of several young Whitecaps, including Porter, to 1. Energie Cottbus on very open-ended agreements. Goalkeeper Julien Latendresse, for example, was “on loan” for something like four years. Neither he nor Adam Straith ever came back to Vancouver. Porter played 17 matches for Cottbus’s reserves over two seasons, scoring twice, but though Cottbus II was relegated for 2009–10 Porter’s minutes declined and at the end of the European season he returned to Vancouver.

The 2010 Vancouver Whitecaps were a lousy offensive team that was also rejigging its roster every two weeks as they half-tried to win soccer games and half-auditioned mostly terrible players trying for MLS. As a result, while Porter arrived too late to do more than sub into one regular season game (assisting a Cody Arnoux goal), he played all four of the Whitecaps’ playoff matches including one start. In those 200 minutes he looked pretty good, and the Whitecaps were interested in keeping him. Unfortunately, though the Whitecaps held Porter’s MLS rights, he was in all other terms a free agent. Vancouver’s contract offer was supposedly risible. The Montreal Impact, then of the NASL, offered Porter more money, but when it became clear that the Whitecaps would own Porter when the Impact joined MLS in 2012, their interest vanished like smoke. Kyle Porter was coveted by two clubs about to walk into Major League Soccer and signed with neither.

So Porter sat on the shelf until April when he joined NASL expansion team FC Edmonton. Fortunately, he quickly found form: the Eddies, too, were desperate for attacking options. Usually playing the flanks, Porter was Edmonton’s most dangerous threat in the final third for two years, and despite making only 51 appearances across all competitions is still the club’s fifth-leading all-time goalscorer.

Porter thrived under the tumultuous Harry Sinkgraven, but after 2012 Sinkgraven was out and Colin Miller was different. The two would have known each other a bit from Vancouver already, and early in his Eddies tenure Miller coached Porter in a couple Canadian national team friendlies. Afterwards the coach said Porter “has a ways to go” to be a regular international. Miller offered the out-of-contract Porter a new deal with Edmonton, but put a strict deadline on it despite Porter trialing with MLS’s DC United. Once the deadline passed the offer was withdrawn.

Given what happened to Saiko, Antonio Rago, Paul Hamilton, and others not long after, Porter may have been the lucky one. DC United acquired Porter’s MLS rights from the Whitecaps, Porter signed a contract15, and his belated first year in MLS saw him play many more minutes than Tom Soehn’s 2011 Whitecaps would ever have given him. He also played all but one game in DC’s victorious US Open Cup run, lifting the trophy alongside fellow Ontarian (and competition leading scorer) Dwayne De Rosario. It was good to be Kyle Porter.

So what the hell happened? 2013 DC United was, by some mathematical measurements, the worst team in Major League Soccer history: fewest wins, fewest points per game. Unlucky, to be sure: they wound up ten points behind Chivas USA despite an identical goal difference. But also really terrible. They lost to everybody. They lost to teams from Indonesia. They lost at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps and nobody in the Eastern Conference lost at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps. They had De Rosario on good form, some talented young players, and won three games. They pried the brilliant Alain Rochat out of Vancouver for absolutely nothing and he was so pissed off about being traded without his consent while his wife was pregnant that they had to sell him to Switzerland almost immediately. In summary, despite that trophy, there were going to be some changes in 2014.

By the first day of the 2014 season DC had retained only four of its 2013 starters in the regular lineup (and one of them, Chris Pontius, promptly blew his knee out). Porter was not one, his handful of minutes tending to come at fullback. In a July friendly against Fulham Porter hurt his ankle and finished the year with about an hour in MLS and six games on loan to Richmond. His spell at the Kickers showed he could still put the ball in the net but he was a nowhere man with DC, and when he was dropped at the end of 2014 it felt inevitable. The next spring he signed with the Atlanta Silverbacks.

The man can sure pick ’em. In 2015 the Silverbacks’s ownership had collapsed for the second time, the team operated by the NASL on a tight budget while the league tried to find new investment. Their kits were generic white and MLS hadn’t made that cool yet. Their roster was recycled. They were not good. But they were not nearly as bad as they could have been. Big, awkward striker Jaime Chavez had his career year, ex-Toronto FC scrub Junior Burgos came off the side of a milk carton to hit the NASL Goal of the Year and make the El Salvadoran national team, they somehow got seven goals out of Pedro Mendes, and they wound up eighth out of eleven teams. At the time this was extremely impressive and in hindsight, with almost the entire roster selling real estate or playing in beer leagues, it looks even better16. Head coach Gary Smith just took expansion Nashville SC to a very good USL debut, which should surprise nobody.

To begin the year Porter lined up in right midfield, alongside former Eddies teammate Dominic Oppong, and scored in his second game against Ottawa. But by the end of July Smith used Porter more as a left wingback in a five-man backline with Paul Black, Simon Mensing, Rauwshan McKenzie, and Kosuke Kimura. This got Porter career highs in minutes and games played, with only one missed start once he started defending full-time. In 2016 the Silverbacks went amateur but Porter earned what looked like a move up to the defending Soccer Bowl finalists Ottawa Fury. In fact his struggles had only begun.

Under new Fury boss Paul Dalglish Porter was a utility player, mostly at left or right back, failing to score in any competition and generating no offense. The Fury went from contenders to also-rans almost instantly. A groin injury in July ruled Porter out for two months and by the time he returned in the fall their season was effectively over; he played out the string and was one of many players dropped as the team slashed its budget on the way from the NASL to USL. Signing on with the Tampa Bay Rowdies Porter was the lesser man in a right-back rotation with Darnell King, though he got a run of games in July and August and scored against Jacksonville’s U-23s in the US Open Cup. The Rowdies played two playoff games, Porter was selected for neither, and at the end of the year he returned to Ottawa.

On his debut, a 4-1 loss in Charlotte, Porter scored an own goal. It did not get much better. After a few token appearances the Fury cut him for a second time early in July, leading to a return to Tampa Bay. At first new Rowdies head coach Neill Collins gave Porter four starts in five games, spelling regular right-siders Hunter Gorskie and Afrim Taku, but soon Gorskie and Taku were 90-minute men again and Porter made only one appearance after August 8: an eight-minute cameo on September 18. It was even odds whether Porter would even make the bench and at the end of the year he was set free again.

One cannot object to York signing Porter. He’s local, he’s still in his physical prime, and he needs to be reclaimed if anybody does. He’s shown he can do it in the past, though it’s been a long time. He can do a bit of everything, but lately he hasn’t done it well.

  1. Though if these Diego Forlan rumours have legs Ledgerwood will drop to a very distant third.
  2. Never mind that Ledgerwood says playing multiple sports “made [him] a better striker,” he didn’t write the script.
  3. The second-tier Asian club competition; I guess “Europa League” doesn’t really work for them.
  4. The S.League, as it was called then, incorporated three teams from other countries, and the overall champion was the development team of Japanese second-division side Albirex Niigata, who were not eligible to qualify for continental competition through that route.
  5. For which the Blasters reserves were not eligible.
  6. I’m not the kind of person to say atodaso, but you know what? Atodaso. I fucking atodaso.
  7. I miss the NASL.
  8. Bekker added two assists that game and was USL Player of the Week.
  9. Not that you could find a healthy Marlon James.
  10. For some vintage Charles Gbeke give this 2009 highlight video a watch; it’s seven minutes of Charles Gbeke brutally fucking eleven Floridians. Bonus vintage assist by a young Randy Edwini-Bonsu.
  11. Amerikwa’s MLS career to date: 200 games, 9,765 minutes, 25 goals: 0.230 goals per 90 minutes. Amerikwa’s numbers were brought down by spending more post-prime seasons in the league.
  12. Matt Van Oekel and Chris Konopka can still find work of course.
  13. Beginning what would become a trend, the University of Winnipeg men’s soccer program no longer exists.
  14. Farago was advertised as re-joining WSA Winnipeg for the end of the 2018 USL PDL season, but never got in a game.
  15. DC sent Vancouver an MLS SuperDraft pick that became the immortal MacKenzie Pridham.
  16. At the end of the year with no NASL-ready ownership the Silverbacks dropped out of the professional game, though they remain active in the NPSL. Atlanta’s soccer fans later showed up in the tens of thousands to support an MLS franchise with no history because marketers told them to.

2 responses to “Enigma, Prospect, Four Vets and a Legend: CanPL Signing Review 1”

  1. Dylan says:

    This is a wonderful look, Ben. Thanks for doing all this work.

    I wish I could provide more info on Firth. I think I’ve seen him play once or twice, kind of walking by rather than actually attending a game. NSSL has rejigged its website again, so I can’t even pull out their stats (which are pretty good, usually). If he’s the guy I’m thinking he is, he’s kind of that versatile midfielder you never quite notice, which might explain why he tends… not to get noticed.

    One of the upshots of Hart is that he’s been in and around Halifax for years, and has seen a lot of these kids play growing up. It’s not a replacement for seeing them in high-level competition, but there are locals who have competed with PDL guys in USPORTs and such, so it’s not necessarily a huge gap.

    The Whitecaps arrangement is interesting. I know players/teams here semi-regularly travel out to Vancouver, though at least some of them have to pay their own way, which is tough given the distance. There are always teams fundraising for trips whenever I’m at the main soccer centre. There are “Whitecaps” prospect teams, too, though they have to travel for competitive games. It’s a great opportunity for the kids and I’m glad they have access to it, but the sheer distance mean it’s kind of a band-aid on the development pathway. Hopefully as Wanderers get established, that can add another route.

    • Jim says:

      Disagree about the efficacy of the Whitecaps program. To my knowledge everyone pays their own freight. Considering user pay is one of the biggest obstacles to Canadian soccer in general, affiliating with the furthest, most expensive academy from your base makes it even more restrictive. You could fly west to BC and attend an academy, or you could fly the same distance east and have about a hundred European pro academies to trial with. If I were of Firth’s vintage and sincere about the pro game, there’s no question which direction I’d fly.

      As for what VWFC actually gives Soccer Nova Scotia in return for the publicity, I’m not sure. A few puffy coats for peacocks to preen around in? An expensive summer camp with WHITECAPS on the paperwork? I do not believe the details of the agreement were ever made public. It definitely hasn’t made elite pathways more affordable. As long as soccer in Canada is about dollars as much as skills, it’ll never match potential. Atlantic Canada suffers this vicious cycle more than the rest.

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