Benjamin Massey

Best known as the most obscene man on Twitter, Benjamin Massey has been writing about Canadian soccer in one capacity or another since 2009 when he founded Maple Leaf Forever! He was from 2010 to 2012 manager and founding editor of SB Nation's Vancouver Whitecaps site, Eighty Six Forever. His work has appeared in Inside Soccer magazine, on the Score's Footy Blog, Canadian Soccer News, Copper & Blue, and Goal.com. He loves the Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Edmonton, and bigamy, and hates any Canadian team that wasn't just listed, decorum, and the big European clubs.

Hot Takes for Canada

By Benjamin Massey · May 17th, 2017 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

The Canadian Premier League, like Harry Potter, takes up a lot of intellectual bandwidth for something that’s mostly imagination.

It has now been formally announced, along with Canadian Football League-affiliated ownership groups in Hamilton and Winnipeg. The name, hereto a title of convenience, appears official. They have a website and a Twitter account. In addition to at least one full-time employee, Canadian soccer business guru Paul Beirne, they have contracted out for some public and media relations. Judging from the respectful tone of the international press coverage, that’s working well.

We remain a hundred miles from even imagining the first game, but six months ago we were a thousand. Forget the “interested parties,” Canadian soccer’s powers-that-be, and some serious businessmen who know sports, have stopped winking and nudging and stepped forward, on the record, to say “here we are and here is what we are doing.” It shows confidence. Confidence that may prove misplaced, but after years of an announcement being “imminent” nobody’s being rash.

This story has gone on for so long that it’s hard to remind ourselves it’s still early. Until ten lovely millionaires have ten lovely teams in ten lovely stadia, CanPL skeptics will have every chance to sneer. The three MLS franchises, whose existence indefinitely gives the lie to the CanPL’s “first division” marketing, will “certainly stay” in their American league[1]. NASL diehard FC Edmonton is known to be uninterested and the USL’s Ottawa Fury have, as always, been inscrutable to the point of banality[2].

MLS, NASL, USL, order them how you like. On launch day, Canada’s “first division” may be the fourth-best league in the country. This is not the end, this is not the beginning of the end, and with apologies to Sir Winston it’s not the end of the beginning either.

If you are sufficiently hardcore to read Maple Leaf Forever!, this doesn’t matter as such. Sure we want the CanPL to be the top league in the universe, but it would be our favourite if it was Marty Nash and Rick Titus playing futsal on a tennis court. The status quo, however, is not ideal, so we try to improve the outlook by pushing our own CanPL pet projects and agitating for our dreams. We need more Canadian players, or oppose MLS-style single entity, or want promotion and relegation. I still say it should be a women’s league, though I confess that looks unlikely to happen.

Yet, from announcements so far, even that mad pipe dream isn’t literally impossible. The sum total of what we know about the CanPL is Winnipeg and Hamilton. Halifax has on-the-record interest, Regina’s CFL stadium is hosting a New York Cosmos – Valencia friendly[3] this summer that looks inexplicable except as a test of the market, Ottawa is Ottawa, and rumours are everywhere, but that’s all we know.

No doubt Winnipeg and Hamilton ownerships have an idea how they want to operate, with certain assurances that they can stay in business. Equally certainly, they have areas in which they’d compromise to lure new ownership (or, let us hope, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto). But some elements of the league structure are clearly up for discussion.

Paul Beirne appeared on Soccer Today! with Duane Rollins and Kevin Laramee, and told us much the same thing[4]. As part of a friendly and wide-ranging conversation he riffed, off-the-cuff, about what he’d like to see from his league perhaps decades down the line. No doubt he’s put a lot of thought into his visions, but he left doors open, and equally undoubtedly nothing has been set in stone.

Now is the time for fans to be heard. The success of the CanPL will depend disproportionately on Canadian diehards who, above and beyond buying tickets and merch, will lend each team the passionate and marketing-friendly support that has driven MLS’s attendance explosion. We know that the league staff pays attention to fan scuttlebutt. Indeed, its very conception responds to the fandom’s urgent need.

Our ideas and dreams may not be listened to. Indeed, since many of us would support a CanPL almost unconditionally, we have a lousy bargaining position. But we can still encourage the powers that be to make the best league they can. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are not soccer people. Hamilton’s Bob Young knows the game, owned the Carolina Railhawks for half an hour, and has presumably had a reason to spend years laying the foundations of this league. Every other Canadian owner will be new to the game almost by definition. Are we ever going to have a better opportunity?

It is pretty damned millennial to say “we need more bloggers with opinions, more hot takes and drum-banging.” But we sort of do. Canadian soccer is an incestuous little family, with the feuds and fornications of the most obscure mountain compound. Our league deserves to be launched not just with message board posts arguing whether the Blizzard should be brought back, but well-thought-through debates on what world we want to live in. It might not make any difference. But then again, it might. This is the only chance we will ever get.

(notes and comments…)

99 Friendship Episode 41

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · May 15th, 2017 · No comments

  • Sorry for not having a 99 Friendship last week. My computer decided it was such a bad episode that it wasn’t going to record it.

  • Erin McLeod is not only back for FC Rosengard, but as of recording time she had played 180 minutes of soccer without suffering another torn knee ligament. We make jokes about how this will inevitably end badly to keep from crying about how this will inevitably end badly.

  • Truly horrible and unfortunate things happened to Shelina Zadorsky and Steph Labbé in the NWSL. I try to remember how math works. Carolyn comes up with a strategy for defending indirect free kicks.

  • The indirect free kick we talk about, by the way, is this one:

    Because this is not a video podcast, on account of “then I’d have to put a shirt on,” you can’t really see what we’re discussing. But it’s that. Look at that.

  • Your friends and mine, Ika Kelley and Britta Rooooostad, played for NSGSC against Surrey United in the BC Provincial Cup ladies final on Saturday. We actually watched it. No analysis comes out of that but we do talk about it!

  • The Canadian Olympic mixed doubles curling trials are being held in glamorous Portage la Prairie, Manitoba in the middle of January! I’m sorry for running wild with the italics but this might almost be too exotic for the proletarian culture of curling. Anyway we want to go. Carolyn especially wants to go because she’s a Toba type, and I especially want to go because I could take the train for like three days. For the sake of everyone’s sanity I did edit out the several minutes Carolyn and I spent discussing Portage hotel amenities (not a joke).

  • Jennifer Jones is going to curl in Siberia! That is also not a joke.

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter if you’re in the mood.

Red Rovers

By Benjamin Massey · May 14th, 2017 · 1 comment

Through three games, Vancouver-based expansion club TSS FC Rovers is last in the USL Premier Development League with minus two points. Daniel Davidson appeared for TSS in Calgary before the paperwork for his registration had been completed, saddling Rovers with a three-point penalty for fielding an ineligible player. Given that ill-starred debut saw the Rovers blow a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 to Calgary Foothills, this was an unusually direct addition of insult to injury.

TSS lost the second game of their Calgary doubleheader and returned to Vancouver 3 under par after two holes. Fairly frightful, though with many excuses; TSS (short for Total Soccer Solutions) has risen to become one of the top private soccer academies in western Canada but this is their first season of competitive, national-level play. Their squad, all-Canadian but drawn from all over the West, had only been training together briefly before the PDL season started. Though many are alumni of the Whitecaps Residency almost none are of an age to have played together. And the Calgary Foothills, defending PDL finalists recently reinforced with former Canadian youth international Ali Musse, are no joke at all.

Even so, there’s no good way to botch paperwork or blow a 3-0 lead this side of terrorism. So when the Rovers walked through the tunnel at Swangard Stadium on Friday evening for their home opener against Eugene-based Lane United it could have been a ghastly experience. Vancouver loves winners, the big leagues, and feeling world-class. Down the Expo Line a popular Irish beat combo was playing a show for a sold-out, though not physically full, BC Place. Vancouver’s had PDL soccer before through the Vancouver Whitecaps, and crowds for those games were typically family members, girlfriends, and a couple resolute diehards even when the Whitecaps challenged for titles and produced national teamers by the handful. TSS is a big outfit but has no history in the spectator game. It could have been bad.

It was not bad. It was magnificent.

The game was entertaining, as the Rovers learned more about each other for 90 minutes, pushing a strong Lane side harder and harder, coming from 1-0 down to a 2-1 lead and control of the game, and settling for a draw only due to a bad but atypical mistake from defender Eric de Graaf. There is talent on this team: De Graaf is better than that blunder and UBC’s Zach Verhoven, a young player who was new to me, demonstrated electrifying pace and trickery down the right flank. If this team gels it’ll be capable of even more highlights than their first goal of the night, a tricky run from Verhoven leading to an even trickier finish by North Vancouverite Kristian Yli-Hietanan.

That’s not the most important thing, though. The Lower Mainland has something back which it lost years ago: high-level soccer free of nonsense. Not a monolithic corporate experience, nor a near-empty park where one is reluctant to speak lest he distract the midfield. A real game, with high quality and a spectator focus, but still intimate and downright fun.

Hundreds of fans filled Swangard Stadium for, to my memory, the best PDL crowd greater Vancouver had ever seen. Many wore TSS scarves. Even five minutes after kickoff the line for tickets was larger than the entire attendance for some PDL games. The girls scanning tickets at the entrance to the stand were almost breathless with amazement. “I really thought it would be just TSS people,” one said.

The Lane United support helped, as six fans made the seven-hour drive with drum, banner, cowbell, and songbook. Away support makes everything better. Former MLS Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit was at the game flogging stereos, and that was neat, but it was pleasant how few fans were there to gush over a celebrity.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Fans sat peaceably in the grandstand, chatting, watching the game, enjoying themselves. Others leaned on the rails and talked tactics. Kids kicked the ball around Swangard’s open spaces while the game went on. It is still the best stadium to watch soccer in the country, mountains dramatically backlit by the setting sun through a passing storm, though there are a few more condos on the skyline than I remember. The Swanguardians, TSS’s nascent supporters group, appeared in strong numbers for their first day. Chris Corrigan, one of the ringleaders, had memorized a voluminous songbook based largely off old Tragically Hip singles, the sort of thing which never works. Except that, because these were a couple dozen people there to participate rather than be tourists, it did work, brilliantly, and many of those tunes could become staples.

Anybody who remembers Swangard in the Whitecaps USL days would have recognized the configuration: main grandstand on the west side, steel bleachers to the east and the south, with those on the south safely protected by temporary fences so that the rowdies would have to move slightly out of their way if they wanted to invade the pitch.

The supporters had great respect for these health and safety arrangements. When some decided to flee for the sunny north side they took part of the fence with them. Mamadi Camara stepped up to take TSS’s second-half penalty and supporters moved the fence nearer behind the goal, cheering Camara on to success. There’d been some social drinking but the real joy was in the freedom to enjoy a soccer game, to sing and move and cheer and heckle and have some fun rather than fit into the regimented world of a 20,000-seat stadium with in-house security, a supporters group with bureaucracy and politics, and a front office fretting over PR. There weren’t that many beers about, believe me: mostly we were drunk on liberty. We go where we want, we go where we want, we’re the Swanguardians, we go where we want.

What about the non-standing-and-chanting experience, the majority of the fans there for a good game? There were food trucks, cold beers (not that the evening needed cooling off). There was a constant, knowledgeable chatter in the air. And as mentioned the game, livestreamed on YouTube for the out-of-town crowd, was well worth the $10 for a ticket. Apart from the result, which was hard luck to an improving young team, the night was perfect. I walked away from Swangard feeling like a pain so old that I had forgotten about it had finally, blissfully gone. The arrival of TSS FC Rovers is the best thing to happen to Vancouver soccer in a long time.

99 Friendship Episode 40

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · May 1st, 2017 · No comments

I have a cold and was rambling even more unstoppably than usual. Carolyn was traumatized by having to watch the Blue Jays, not that she could get a word in edgewise. We were both broken by the mixed doubles. After about twelve minutes of soccer discussion, which doesn’t get you a hell of a lot of insight (Adriana Leon had a good week! Ashlyn Harris is funny!), we go into curling and it’s full-on Heart of Darkness.

You know how last week was a good episode? This week is just an episode.

99 Friendship Episode 39

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 25th, 2017 · No comments

I don’t say this every week, but I really liked this episode. It was also – and to be honest we should at least consider the possibility this isn’t a coincidence – one of the more soccer-focused episodes we’ve done in a while. With the NWSL season kicking off, and the world mixed doubles curling championship horrifying us, we sink about twenty of the thirty minutes into pure, uncut woso, shot straight into your eyeballs like a junkie who thinks fentanyl is the spice of life.

On this week’s 99 Friendship:

  • As alluded to, NWSL action! No Canadians troubled the scorers this past week but many of them still did things, from Christine Sinclair contemplating murder to Adriana Leon possibly contemplating a change of career.
  • The NWSL’s statkeeping causes me to have a massive nervous breakdown live on air.
  • Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence are odds-on to face in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final on May 1, which would be awesome if the Women’s Champions League had ever been broadcast in Canada, which it hasn’t. This exercises us.
  • Kaylyn Kyle, Canadian cap cententarian and longtime faithful servant to the national team, recently announced her retirement from international soccer on Twitter. I put on the sad music and we talk about one of the country’s most loyal soldiers, who got her start when most people had never even heard of soccer.
  • Okay, we do spend the last eight minutes talking about mixed doubles curling, but for once curling has made us very angry, so even that is fun. I also briefly mention another mixed doubles game, between Russia and Qatar in 2016, that almost literally made me throw up.

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter!

Supplementary listening, because we’re bros:

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99 Friendship Episode 38

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 19th, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s fabulous episode of 99 Friendship:

  • A new NWSL season would mean a new week of women’s-club-soccer-featuring-Canadians excitement, if we had watched much of the first week of the NWSL, which we didn’t.
  • The Grand Slam of Curling continued its slamminess. Val Sweeting won curling’s Rogers Cup, which there is no independent evidence of the existence of but was definitely mentioned by Rob Faulds. She also got Chelsea Carey, who was not at this event, into the Olympic trials. I was going to say “it makes sense in context” but I’m not sure it does?
  • Also Jennifer Jones won. We can go back to hating Rachel Homan now; it is therapeutic.
  • Apparently Colleen Jones (no relation) is representing Canada at the world senior curling championships in Lethbridge. My voice rises an octave when we talk about this.
  • Colin Hodgson’s hair happened.
  • Four of those five bullet points were curling. Deal with it.

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter.

99 Friendship Episode 37

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 10th, 2017 · No comments

Episode 37 of 99 Friendship. I don’t know how we got this far either, as Chelsea Carey said to Colin Hodgson before their mixed doubles semifinal.

Carolyn instructed me to say that she has been so sated by mixed dubz action that she no longer likes regular curling. Despite having tickets to the regular curling later this week. I’d make fun of her, but when the rubber met the road I cut almost everything we had to say about the men’s world curling championships from the podcast, in favour of more mixed doubles. (And soccer. Actually quite a bit of soccer this week. Given that we’re discussing two games of soccer and about seven hundred games of mixed doubles curling, the attention we give to soccer is really greater, when you think about it.)

You see, Canada’s women’s soccer team did something triply amazing: they played two friendlies (!) that were webstreamed (!!) and went excellently (!!!). About the only frost on the ice of their perfection was the fact that we played two goalkeepers and both of them made a mistake. Kailen Sheridan’s was heartbreaking because she literally cried after. Steph Labbe’s was infuriating because it was the same damned mistake she’s been making non-stop ever since Erin McLeod’s knee decided it didn’t want all its ligaments anymore. Is the moral of the story that I’ll sympathize with athletes more if they cry when they screw up? Well it’s worth trying isn’t it? (glances sidelong at the Edmonton Oilers)

Anyway, we do the soccer talk early, so if you’re repelled by curling you can wait until my awkward segue then turn off and listen to people masturbating over 12.5% of a World Cup. But trust me, the Team HoMo, Brennifer and Courruthers mixed dubz experiences are much more fun.

Waste of a World Cup

By Benjamin Massey · April 10th, 2017 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

On Monday the Canadian Soccer Association, along with Mexico and the United States, announced we are bidding to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. All three countries had expressed individual interest and collaboration had long been in the wind, especially when the 48-team format was announced. The expectation is that Canada will host ten of a total 80 games.

To the Canadian this is a mixed blessing. Should we get an automatic spot Canada’s players will probably be humiliated, because after thirty years getting worse at men’s soccer there’s no sign we’ll be any better in the next nine. Our men’s U-20s, who will be in their primes in 2026, just got the everloving hell beat out of them at the CONCACAF championships. On the other hand, to play is to have a chance. Eddy Berdusco scored against Brazil once. Richard Hastings scored the golden goal against Mexico. Anyway even in defeat it would be a hell of an experience.

There’s the overhyped development angle. Mythology says that, after the ill-fated NASL, the 1994 World Cup kickstarted professional soccer in the United States. Well, in 1993 the Americans had 43 professional soccer clubs between the fully-professional APSL and the weird-hybrid USISL. By an equally generous count Canada has five. 2026 is a long way away, but unless there’s a revolution comparing ourselves to the 1993 Americans is honestly embarrassing. The generation which grew up in the shadow of Canada’s success at the 1986 World Cup happens to be the current one; it is vile.

Hosting ten games worth of World Cup couldn’t hurt of course. If the Canadian Premier League is limping along, maybe it’ll even be the vital shot in the arm, but for the money surely to Christ we could do a lot more. Because that’s the only real objection to this plan: money.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Canada could host ten games tomorrow. Shove teams into BC Place, Olympic Stadium, Commonwealth Stadium, even SkyDome if Toronto isn’t busy with the North American synchronized diving championships. Buy new artificial turf maybe, but all those buildings meet structural requirements and are in cities that have trains, airports, and hotels. Sell ’em out for Belgium – Botswana, it’ll look respectable, total cost six bucks. This is more-or-less what we did for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and that was great!

But that’s bullshit, we both know it, it absolutely does have to be that way. Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux were wrong that artificial turf is a misogynist plot but right that it is impossible in any sense but the physical for a first world country to host the men’s World Cup so efficiently. For 2015 Canada’s only hosting competition was Zimbabwe and even they dropped out. In 2026 we’ll face a lot worse, including comparisons between us and the Americans with their trillion-dollar taxpayer-subsidized gold-plated NFL palaces. If Canada cheaps out we’ll look second-class before the world next to the Americans. It is inconceivable that FIFA would approve us hosting our games on artificial turf in CFL-calibre stadiums, but equally inconceivable that our governments would have the strength of character to let us.

Can you honestly imagine FIFA, or the Canadian government, letting a billion people watch a World Cup game at SkyDome? On artificial turf? Cathal Kelly’s head would burst like an balloon full of blood. We’re going to have to build, or rebuild, everything. None of our existing facilities, save Commonwealth Stadium, are even theoretically capable of taking real grass, which you can bet your life will be a requirement. Even a token role in this tournament is going to cost a fortune.

2026 is a long way off and even if the World Cup doesn’t happen we’ll have something new by then. No doubt paid for by irresponsible public servants capitulating to pro sports owners, like the already-crumbling new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium. But that is no reason to invite even more expensive mistakes for the sake of an eighth of a World Cup.

With 48 teams playing between three countries, disconnected bureaucracies, and participating regions not known for probity, the opportunities for graft will be colossal. Maybe no single event in the history of the First World will give as many opportunities to the crook. Huge “public works” not meant for much more than looking pretty for a month, spread out between ridings. The semi-legal embezzlement of environmental impact statements, First Nations consultations, economic benefit analyses, that already put insiders’ kids through university. The knowledge that, whatever happens, we daren’t look like the poor cousins, and that the chequebook always has one more page.

I am a great soccer fan. The Canadian men have never made the World Cup in my lifetime and to experience that, even on television, would be the sort of sports pleasure I can barely imagine. Moreover there ain’t nothing wrong with taking it through a host’s spot in an inflated tournament. They don’t ask how, just how many. But none of that justifies me asking that the 99.99% of this country that doesn’t care about Canadian soccer be compelled under threat of force to pay enormous sums for my hobby.

Even if you don’t think maybe Canadians should keep their own money, surely (to pick one of a thousand examples) a Toronto downtown relief subway line would be cheaper, generate more jobs, help more people, and have more benefits than 12.5% of a soccer tournament, and I don’t even live in Toronto. Compare it to what proponents will call the “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to host part of a World Cup, though at age 30 I’ve seen four World Cups we hosted by ourselves. It could be justified if all we needed was to repaint what we’ve already paid for, as in 2015, or if it was a self-confident country in a spirit of vigour and celebration splurging on a luxury, and here I can’t help but cite the Montréal Olympics though even they went pearshaped. Neither describes Canadians spending billions of dollars to play third fiddle to Mexico and the United States, as if we didn’t live that every day for nothing.

99 Friendship Episode 36

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · April 3rd, 2017 · No comments

As inevitable as David Murdoch disappointing his fans but at least 50% more entertaining, it’s 99 Friendship Episode 36! Sadly we recorded this on Sunday afternoon, before Brad Gushue had humiliated ol’ Davey Boy and let Carolyn dance triumphantly in the face of Scottish Carolyn. But happily, I edited this on Monday afternoon, when I was very tired and a little insane from working on MySQL for 48 of the past 72 hours. If you aren’t familiar with MySQL, just know that I’m simultaneously exhausted and crazy, like Emma Miskew.

On this week’s episode of 99 Friendship, we talk about women’s soccer for eight minutes, welcoming back Adriana Leon and crying out loud for some real fullbacks! I talk like a crappy tour guide for twenty seconds but don’t worry, it seems much longer! The Women’s World Hockey Championships are taking place in Plymouth, Michigan featuring what can only be called “an American team you’ve heard of,” and as sad as that is Canada losing to Finland for the first time ever in real play was even sadder. So we tell ourselves we’re not going to talk about it, then we talk about it.

And, as the lede alluded to, a lot of curling. World Men’s in Edmonton. Brad Gushue doing well (and doing even better after recording time). Not Thomas Ulsrud not exactly looking like the next Michelle Englot, but beating supposedly real curler David Murdoch, who is currently refunding his haggis all over the frost-scarred cool water that Northlands Coliseum insists on calling ice. Also some Russians played one of the worst games of curling in the history of humanity. Don’t worry about which Russians they are, it doesn’t matter, their coach has changed all their positions by now anyway. (That’s not a joke he actually has.)

Anyway, follow some 99 Friendship on Twitter.

99 Friendship Episode 35

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · March 28th, 2017 · No comments

I can’t be arsed to do an entertaining blurb for this week’s episode so here come the bullet points again.

  • Rachel Homan won the World Women’s Curling Championships. I insist on continuing to call it the World Women’s Curling Championships because that’s stupid phrasing. This in no way stops me from phrasing everything I say throughout the 30-minute episode stupidly.
  • Yes, we devote time to discussing whether Rachel Homan hugged Emma Miskew after winning. (I don’t want to spoil it.)
  • Given that his approach just achieved a considerable international success, I make fun of Adam Kingsbury a lot.
  • Various fashion Choices are discussed in detail.
  • There was not much women’s soccer. We do say the words “Adriana Leon” at one point. NWSL is going to start someday presumably, though you can never be sure.
  • We talk about a U-18 curling tournament in St. Albert, and a mixed doubles event in Brantford. Look it was one of those weeks? Yeah Rachel Homan won the world women’s but all her games were at Fuck Off o’clock! I accidentally fell asleep during the final! Twice!
  • Then right at the end of the episode we remember the men’s Worlds are happening this coming week so we talk about them for a short time.

And we don’t mention it at all in the podcast, because it hadn’t happened yet, but I’m going to embed this video of Sophie Schmidt’s scorching goal for 1. FFC Frankfurt anyway because both it and her Lawrence of Arabia-style motorcycle goggles are well worth seeing.

Anyway, follow 99 Friendship on Twitter.