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.

The Greatest Al Classico Ever

By Benjamin Massey · May 1st, 2018 · No comments

Tobi Oliva

Although FC Edmonton has wrapped up their professional soccer program, the Canadian Premier League might still bring it back. The organization is selling $40 memberships towards future professional season tickets, and have been before Edmonton city council trying to secure Clarke Field as a permanent home. Their Academy still plays and practices, investing in what they hope is the future of the team.

It’s a good academy which has produced professionals and prospects, but today the top team in Alberta is Calgary Foothills. A team that was good enough to contend for the USL PDL title before they added Nik Ledgerwood and Marco Carducci. Their first team outguns any PDL-standard combination of college journeymen, to say nothing of Edmonton’s high schoolers.

PDL can be good soccer but only occasionally draws fans. U-18 academy games are even less spectator-friendly. The natural rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary makes things spicy, but spice is irrelevant when there’s no food. A few supporters have gone to previous meetings, been rowdy, and gotten kicked out of pubs, but academy soccer is for coaches, scouts, family, and degens, not the ordinary fan. And rightly so.

But that was before, when Edmonton had a first team. Times are leaner now and an Edmonton – Calgary match, any Edmonton – Calgary match, looks awfully tasty. The nickname “Al Classico” has kicked around for a year or so, half-joke, half-goal for the upcoming CanPL derby, and though neither Edmonton nor Calgary are in that league yet, in that Canadian soccer way the fans memed it into reality1. (The second leg is Saturday, May 5, 2 PM at the Calgary Soccer Centre.)

The two teams were planning on April 3. On April 19, FC Edmonton began giving away tickets for a game ten days later at Clarke Field, admission free but RSVP required. It was a Sunday afternoon, usually Eddies poison. The next day, 1,000 tickets were spoken for. Three days later they cracked 2,500. Beer tents and concessions were arranged, volunteers found, mothballs blown off the Big Blue stand. The final announced attendance of 3,205 was better than FC Edmonton’s average NASL Sunday gate last year.

Foothills has a solid academy but sent the first team, like the Alberta soccer colossus they are. Two senior Canadian men’s internationals got the start: former Eddies skipper Ledgerwood (50 caps) and Edmonton native Jackson Farmer (1 cap), plus uncapped pool member Marco Carducci and several youth stars. This is without counting Spruce Grove’s Stephanie Labbe, PDL trialist and starting goalkeeper for the Canadian women’s team, who came off the bench.

But the local underdogs had their secret weapons as the alumni came out in impressive force. Paul Hamilton, the original supporters’ player of the year. Edem Mortotsi, one of the original Academy signings. Shaun Saiko, vying with Lance Laing as the all-time provider of goalscoring excellence. Allan Zebie, one of the best of the last generation and a new-minted CanPL poster boy. And Sam Lam, short of superlatives but a quality player in his day. Saiko and Hamilton in particular left the club under such unfair circumstances that just seeing them in blue and white again was worth a night of your life.

The stage was set for a “meaningless” friendly that would live forever.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

If you know your Eddies history you’ll know the punchline. After a week of fabulous weather Sunday dawned cold, cloudy, crap. The Eddies advised fans that parking would be limited so they should come by LRT: bad advice, since half the Capital Line was shut down for maintenance. Kickoff was delayed so fans could get in which is a lot riskier when you’re not an MLS team and only have the field for two hours.

Despite great interest and at least one camera operator in the house, there was no chance of streaming the game. TITAN, the hallowed portable video board, was out of town. Playing the first half in training tops, FC Edmonton came out for the second in their 2015-vintage striped Adidas kits, with different numbers (Hamilton, for example, switched from #9 to #25). Of course there were no programs or names on the kits, so most of the young players were anonymous anyway. A cold afternoon saw the beer tent sell out of hot chocolate. The field had initially been booked for a mere practice and on their way out fans ran into the kids of Edmonton Scottish, who had it next.

The kids looked like kids. The veterans have real jobs and families now; class is permanent and some of these guys could make CanPL if they trained for it, but rust made it hard to see. Foothills looked like a team which is probably going to win quite a fine PDL Northwest Division. Some of the play was… I mean, I am a Jackson Farmer fan going way back but I had never associated him with dirty dangles until he slaughtered the entire Eddies defense for goal number three.

The Eddies had one terrific chance when Carducci punched a rebound straight onto a forward’s foot, who shot wide. With the B team on to close out the game Edmonton also made Steph Labbe work a bit; she twice showed exceptional timing to sweep the ball off David Doe and Prince Amanda’s feet2 and made the best save of the game off Decklin Mahmi in the 90th minute. But Calgary could have had a few more themselves before they took off the pros. None of this reflects poorly on Edmonton, any more than Foothills would feel bad losing 4-0 to Chivas de Guadalajara. The Eddies Academy’s 16-year-olds are not yet as good as Nik Ledgerwood. Oh darn. But if you showed up expecting a rock-’em-sock-’em soccer classic, you would not have enjoyed the game.

People seemed to enjoy the game.

The crowd was large, fun, there for a good time. Though transit was a mess, the weather was crap, and the game was out of reach seven minutes in, most of the crowd stuck out the full 90. There was banter in the stands, banter in the beer line. The Foothills got their four goals in two savage flurries, and the Edmonton crowd sagged in the aftermath, but joie de vivre came back in a hurry. We were happy to be there.

The Vancouver Whitecaps recently lost a game 6-0, provoking the Vancouver Southsiders to hold a protest against their management. At the end of this 4-0 loss to the auld enemy, the Edmonton supporters chanted warmly and set off smoke until we had to give up the field, coaches, general managers, and owners, who responded by running over and applauding. It was not your usual blowout.

After all, it wasn’t your usual game. The chant went “you can’t beat us, ’cause we don’t exist.” This was true more metaphysically than literally. The Eddies could be humbled on the pitch, that sucked but it didn’t matter. What mattered was getting the band back together, from legends down to the 15-year-old future stars, and from the lunatics who traveled to watch an academy friendly to families who wanted a free night out. We could not be beaten, not really, because the only thing that mattered was reuniting, celebrating the past, and, with the help of the Canadian Premier League, moving into a sunny future. We needed this game to happen, but the game itself was the least important part of the experience. Celebrating the kids, the city, and the Eddies did not need a close match, it needed a match of any sort.

Someday we will lose 4-0 again, and we will exist, and we will scream obscenities on Twitter and call for scalps. And it will be beautiful.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Canadian Soccer: Seldom as Bad as It Looks

By Benjamin Massey · January 31st, 2018 · No comments

Mexsport/Canada Soccer

There is a meme among Canadian soccer die-hards—and if you’re reading a post with Jordyn Huitema at the top you’re at least die-hard-adjacent—that our country takes success in women’s soccer for granted. We have been good because we have a built-in social advantage in women’s sport compared to traditional soccer powers. However, as the waves of sexual equity wash across the globe that will disappear and countries that are actually good at teaching soccer will catch us up. Meanwhile most Canadians with an interest in ladysoccer are sitting around with their thumbs up their butts, counting bronze medals and assuming the good times will last forever.

Personally, I don’t know any serious follower of Canadian soccer who does anything but worry about the future of our WNT, even as it has two Olympic medals in two tries and enough under-23 stars to crew a destroyer. Panic is our default mood. The most optimistic fan I know might be me, and I’ve spent years saying the CanPL should be a women’s league partly to address a weakness in our game that might someday cripple the women but is far less important for the men. But the real pessimists have spent this week running riot.

On Sunday, Canada’s girls lost 1-0 to Haiti in the CONCACAF third-place match, thereby failing to qualify for a U-20 Women’s World Cup some thought we had a shot at winning. The reason we were in the third-place match to begin with is that we lost on penalties to Mexico in the semi-final, a pretty grim sign on its own1. The Canadian team, though sans Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, and the late Kennedy Faulknor, had a number of recognizable faces: Huitema, occasional senior national teamers Gabby Carle, Julia Grosso, Sarah Stratigakis, and Ariel Young, young uncapped talents like Emma Regan and Rylee Foster. Down the other end, Haitian players are never household names but 19-year-old captain Nerilia Mondesir has already made a couple Ligue 1 Féminine appearances with Montpellier and might get there. That was it.

Half of this Haitian team, including Mondesir2, beat 11 of these Canadians 2-1 in the 2016 CONCACAF U-17 tournament with Canada that time winning a very scrappy bronze medal rematch. This year Canada dominated a meaningless group stage game where Haiti played nine second-choice players but when it counted, chance for chance, Haiti was better. Sherly Jeudy’s goal was a cracker while at best Canada generated moments that should have been scoring chances and weren’t. Watch the game on YouTube if you want, though you don’t want to because it was terrible, and feel the despair for yourself. I may not be making the best “watch the games, nerd” pitch here.

This loss was no fluke. Haiti played dirty, dove, and feigned injury so constantly that they spent more than the five minutes of second-half stoppage time with perfectly healthy players on stretchers, to the disapproval but not the discouragement of American referee Ekaterina Koroleva. It was the most embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship I have ever seen in almost twenty years of CONCACAFing, but Haiti did the same thing in the U-17s and Canada had no excuse not to be prepared. A more skilled team in that position ought to at least generate something, and Canada didn’t. We were not screwed by the referee, with maybe one borderline penalty for Carle not called and Jessica De Filippo earning her late red card; criticizing the disgraceful opposition is not the same as excusing the disappointing Canadians.

So the past few days in cansoc have been one long freak out. Social media and message boards are on fire looking for human sacrifices. A long list of nominees was available, from CSA supremo Steve Reed, through double-national-team-destroyer John Herdman, down to the coaches at your kids’ club. Our structural failures were biting us hard. The question was not whether we’d improve on our bronze medals in 2020, but whether we’d qualify. Anyway Christine Sinclair and Ashley Lawrence might keep us ticking along for a few more months but we’re ultimately doomed. RIP in peace Canadian soccer’s only decent team, 2012 to 2018, mourned by those who have always said that if we cheer for this we’re part of the problem.

Fair enough, to a degree. There’s no way to sugarcoat looking inferior to Haiti. But we’re not talking about one bad tournament, we’re talking about the future of a program. And the future’s not bad.

Players born in…
Median Mean ’98 ’99 ’00 ’01 ’02 ’03
Canada 17y 9m 10d 17y 9m 28d 3 5 5 7 0 0
Costa Rica 19y 2m 15d 18y 6m 13d 11 3 2 3 1 0
Haiti 18y 4m 9d 17y 7m 14d 3 10 0 2 0 5
Jamaica 18y 6m 30d 18y 2m 3d 4 8 3 2 2 0
Mexico 18y 6m 23d 18y 9m 22d 8 9 3 0 0 0
Nicaragua 17y 11m 17d 17y 10m 24d 5 5 5 4 1 0
Trinidad and Tobago 18y 2m 22d 18y 3m 13d 4 9 4 1 0 0
United States 18y 9m 21d 18y 9m 6d 7 10 3 0 0 0
All player dates of birth from CONCACAF.com. Ages as of January 18, 2018. Rosters of 20 players each, except for Trinidad and Tobago who were listed with 22. One Jamaican and four Trinidad and Tobagan players were missing dates of birth and are not counted.

Those who paid attention to the tournament know that Canada had sent an inordinately young team. We had the lowest median age of any of the eight teams, two months younger than sadsacks Nicaragua and six months younger than Haiti. The Haitians had a lower mean age because their roster included every one of the five 2003-born players in attendance. Three of those 2003s3 started against Canada, but that still give their starting eleven a median age of 18 years, one month, and 24 days. Canada’s was 17 years, six months, and 30 days. Eight of our starters4 are eligible for the next one of these things. The gulf in maturity showed to some extent against Haiti, where their older players were imposing, and 19-year-old Jeudy’s fine goal came because she was able to bust between 16-year-old centrebacks Ariel Young and Maya Antoine. But it was more notable against Mexico, who were able to shove around some of the smaller Canadians, lean off them easily, and physically dominate us for 90 solid minutes. Mexico also played well, full marks to the champions, but they drew that game like Canada used to.

There are those who will say that, rather than sending its most talented prospects who should have been good enough to get out of CONCACAF anyway, coach Bev Priestman should have called the oldest prospects for the best chance to win games in the short term. This seems like a fairly mental use of finite development minutes. The likes of Emma Regan, who with even ordinary luck will play for our senior WNT within five years, needed these hard lessons more than bigger, more physically mature players would have benefited from winning some shoving matches. In fact, I’m so old that I remember fans criticizing the Canadian programs for worrying too much about physical maturity and not enough about skill; Owen Hargreaves was totally justified shopping around his international career because he was cut from a Canadian youth team when he was 15 years old, you know.

Huitema won the Golden Boot, assisted by a generous schedule but punished by a tournament that viewed “foul the tall girl” as legitimate strategy. Carle was Canada’s heroine against Mexico and our most dangerous element against Haiti. Foster made mistakes, as a teenage goalkeeper always will, but was a big, big net positive and kept us in the bronze-medal match, including a penalty save. Among the role players, my co-podcaster hated her against Haiti but Tanya Boychuk has “future Adriana Leon type” written all over her. Stratigakis was not always at her best but could not conceive of the word “quit” and earned more time. Some players who we expected more from didn’t show much, and while politeness forbids my naming them that’s valuable feedback too.

And that is the only thing that matters. Carolina Morace’s failure to qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2010 was not notable because we lost to Mexico and Costa Rica, but because hardly any of the young women she spent months trying to win with developed into anything. Neither Mexico nor Costa Rica, incidentally, has been close to passing us at the senior level in the eight years since, so anyone shouting about a changing of the CONCACAF guard was way premature. Of course it would have been much better to qualify for the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup and for our best young players to test themselves against the world, but our failure to do so is not proof of anything structural. If the many kids we took to Trinidad and Tobago learn from this experience, there’ll be a lot of red faces as we redeem ourselves in 2020. And if they don’t, well, then we can worry.

99 Friendship Episode 68: The Roar of the Dubz

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · January 12th, 2018 · No comments

Our excellently-structured all-cansoc episode 67, earlier this week, may have set expectations a little high. Because here in episode 68, which was actually recorded before episode 67 and is therefore temporally a bit of a mess, normal service is resumed.

On this show we go over a week in curling. Mostly this consists of remembering the Canadian mixed doubles curling trials, or as I prefer to call them the Tim Horton’s Double-Double, where MoLaw LawnMo KaMo the team of John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes, who were unable to meaningfully communicate, defeated Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting, who were unable to meaningfully sweep. As a result Morris and Lawes will go to the Olympics and try to win an Olympic gold medal. Meanwhile Brett Gallant and Jocelyn Peterman (pictured), who in addition to being Canada curling’s cutest couple are an all-round useful mixed doubles team, were entirely dominant until they somehow forgot how to curl, like, a day early. This is going to lead to a great deal of stress in the Ben Massey household come Olympic time. Meanwhile we’re checking out provincial regular curling and generally reeling off memories from the games we watched which, since this tournament was mostly mid-day on weekdays and CBC’s website showed whatever insignificant draw was only the only sheet they had cameras pointing at, is an inconsistent selection.

And, I’ll be honest, it gets a little unstructured.

So, in 29 minutes of podcast, we discuss:

  • As alluded to, Ben was hoping Brett Gallant and Jocelyn Peterman, or as we not-at-all-awkwardly call them “Meat and Peterato,” would win, because they appear to be good. Carolyn did not hope that they won, because they appeared to be bad. Mixed doubles are stupid. (This is a motif.)

  • That said, Ben’s heart was with Swushue. Of course it was, Val Sweeting is Canada’s princess. And Brad Gushue was surely going to take this seriously, since he said curling with Sweeting is “like a first date.”

    Probably fifteen minutes of this episode are me ranting about how Gushue actually took this.

  • In the middle, we briefly discuss some provincial and territorial results. Because Lawes and Morris won, Jennifer Jones will have to rustle up a new third at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts when she almost inevitably qualifies. So we scan the results as of when we recorded this to find entertaining options, and then we give up and start talking about how much fun the Northwest Territories Scotties must be for everyone who isn’t Kerry Galusha.

  • Then Ben rants about Brad Gushue some more.

The soccer show was better, no way around it.

99 Friendship Episode 67: John Herdman (and Kenneth Heiner-Møller) Special

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · January 10th, 2018 · No comments

Earlier this week we recorded a fabulous all-mixed-doubles-curling episode of 99 Friendship. Truly we were on rousing form. But alas, before we could get the thing edited, Canada Soccer went and did the John Herdman thing.

Almost all the commentary so far, including my own, has focused on what this means for the Canadian men’s national team. As a podcast which, in between obscure curling rants, does find the time to analyze the Canadian WNT, it felt appropriate for us to give the distaff element its fair share. So Carolyn and I sat down and did notes and had a chat and got one of our 30-minute shows edited in record time, just for you!

On episode 67 of 99 Friendship:

  • We go over the coaching history of new WNT boss Kenneth Heiner-Møller. He’s had an interesting career: spy dramas, sports psychology, coaching development, and replacing women’s national team managers who went over to coach the men. (Yes, he has experience at that too.) He’s been to a World Cup and two European Championships and, most of the time, something positive came out of them despite coaching a decidedly middle power.

  • What does Herdman’s departure, in of itself, mean for the national team? Will relationships be broken? Will players leave? What unbelievably heretical thing does Carolyn actually dare to say on a podcast that she knew was going on the Internet?

  • And what was the deal with some of the players apparently only having just heard Herdman was leaving when the news became public? We decide that it seems, spoiler alert, fairly amateurish.

It’s a good, informative, thoughtful half-hour on a neglected element of some massive Canadian soccer news. Is it worth a quick listen on the train? Oh, probably. Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter!

John Herdman.

By Benjamin Massey · January 8th, 2018 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canada Soccer

I believe it was John Molinaro who broke it, but as soon as it was broken the news rushed through Canadian soccer like water through a breached dam. John Herdman, the most accomplished coach any Canadian team has ever had in any sport other than hockey, is out of the Canadian women’s senior national soccer team… and in for the Canadian men’s senior national soccer team. Octavio Zambrano, after nine months as men’s coach, a Gold Cup quarterfinal that was relatively a success and objectively a failure, and enough enemies in Canadian soccer that every dialed-in media person in the country was saying “well that part wasn’t a surprise” before the ink on the tweets was dry, is out.

This is the most surprising thing that has ever happened. Not just to us fans, though we’ve spent several hours of our Monday evening trying to get our heads around the news. Our players seem just as taken aback. Stephanie Labbé, the starting goalkeeper for the women’s team for almost a year now, kicked things off with:

Diana Matheson, one of our best ever players and possibly still a member of the national pool if she ever recovers from her latest knee injury, had this to say:

And, while all teammates are equal, we know in our hearts that some teammates are more equal than others, so take a moment to realize that Christine Sinclair, the best player in women’s soccer history, used her first Tweet since November to give every indication of having found out about this through the press release:

This was handled abysmally. A good rule for the Canadian women’s national team is the “is this going to make Christine Sinclair speechless” test, and this failed1. The new women’s coach, Kenneth Heiner-Møller, was already a first team assistant as well as the former boss of Denmark. He is a familiar face and, professionally, no joke. From the perspective of keeping the women onside he’s probably the safest appointment this side of telling Sinclair “sorry, this happened suddenly and we had to get it out before Sportsnet did, we didn’t have time to ask if you wanted to player/coach.” But my God this is going to be a hard one to swallow for a team that, as of January 7, 2018, was one of the five favourites for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

In the interests of equity I looked through some Canadian men’s national teamers’ Twitter accounts for their reactions. Scott Arfield, Milan Borjan, Junior Hoilett, Nik Ledgerwood, Atiba Hutchinson, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Samuel Piette, none of them seemed to be bothered. They surely have thoughts and reactions, but aren’t exactly rushing to their cellphones2. Which makes sense. The men’s national team is only a very small part of a player’s life. Julian de Guzman recently retired as the Canadian men’s national team’s all-time appearance leader with 89 senior caps. This would not be anywhere near the women’s leaders: Christine Sinclair has 262 and counting. Women’s players, by various means, almost always get most of their income and exposure through the national team. For men’s players the national team has, if anything, been an impediment except at the best of times.

Which is bad news for John Herdman. Herdman has done some very good things in the conventional coaching arena. His players are consistently fit, which was not always the case under Carolina Morace or Even Pellerud. He is responsible for a couple brilliant innovations, such as the Ashley Lawrence Fullback Experiment, and a bevy of young players who stepped right into the first team and looked like established parts of his tactics. But his greatest strength has always been forging a team that would run through brick walls for each other. That is not a skill that translates to the international men’s game. Training camps are short and infrequent, and you never have the same team for two in a row: player A prefers his club commitments, player B is unattached and trying to find work, player C would love to come but it’s not a FIFA window and he’d have a 19-hour flight with seven connections between Oslo and Fort Lauderdale and his coach told him that if he tries he’ll be training with the junior handball team. And it’s hard to become devoted to your soccer family when half the times you play somebody ranked north of El Salvador you get your ass kicked. It’s also hard for a male Ashley Lawrence to become a world-class fullback when he’s trying to learn with 360 minutes of MNT soccer every year, 180 of which are against countries you forgot were countries. And while Herdman’s tactical history is good, he can get stuck in his ways and has never looked like a Football Manager-style genius who is going to turn an awful team into a great one.

Herdman’s team-building will be an asset for, even if he can’t get the full 99 friendship, he can at least avoid some of Octavio Zambrano’s more flagrant pratfalls—provided he can connect with young men who are only with him because they couldn’t make Portugal and earn $500,000 a year in the same way he can communicate with young women committed to their country doing it for an ordinary middle-class salary. His history with youth players is also positive in the MNT context, and of course he knows how to deal with Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer knows how to deal with them. He and youth development supremo Jason de Vos have a mutual admiration society that can only be beneficial. I would go so far as to say that Herdman will not be any worse than Zambrano, or Benito Floro, or Stephen Hart, or Dale Mitchell, or any of the other coaches who underachieved and did things wrong and left in disgrace. But probably not any better.

Molinaro’s Sportsnet article implies, and Duane Rollins outright says, that he would otherwise have taken the vacant England women’s job; he was certainly being pursued by the FA. While my preference would have been for the Canadian Soccer Association to write Herdman the biggest cheque the bank would cash for him to stay at the WNT, if Herdman was out of the women’s team regardless this may have been the least bad option. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, the transition was handled incompetently: if they couldn’t give Herdman a signed contract promising him the MNT in 2020 if he guided the WNT through the World Cup and the Olympics, they could have at least sacked Zambrano today and pushed the Herdman announcement back long enough for all the women to be informed3. This is 1990s CSA stuff, and if it pushes Sinclair twelve months closer to retiring in disgust it’ll hurt us as badly as the actual coaching change did.

Yet even in the best-case scenario, Herdman being “promoted” from the excellent WNT to the abysmal MNT will quite fairly feel like an insult. Many Canadian soccer fans, including me, like the WNT either as much as the MNT or a bit more, because they’re nicer and win a lot. The women get higher attendances (against, admittedly, superior opposition) and have a stronger national fanbase. Objectively, on a national level in 2018, the Canadian women are a bigger deal than the Canadian men. However, John Herdman is not Canadian, he is English. The English women, though quite good, are not a bigger deal than the English men. Herdman’s gaze is not consumed by the maple leaf. World-wide being a good men’s coach is a much bigger deal, with much more fame and enormously more pay, than being the best women’s to ever live. Like any of us he wants to rise to the top of his profession, which is “soccer manager.” Not “women’s soccer manager.” And that would mean coaching men.

I quite understand Herdman’s logic. If he wants fame and fortune outside this humble dominion this is the greatest opportunity he will ever have. There’s been talk that Herdman wanted to coach men going back to after the London Olympics, but I don’t think he imagined he would be thrown straight into the shark-infested waters of a reasonably serious, if lousy, senior men’s national team like it was an entry-level job. Yet he is also forfeiting the best chance he will ever have, barring miracles at CanMNT that lead him to Real Madrid or something, to win silverware: the 2019 Women’s World Cup and 2020 Olympics with the best team in Canadian women’s soccer history.

Soccer coaches have flipped genders at the professional club level, with mixed success. Harry Sinkgraven will be the name best-known to Canadians: the former SC Heerenveen women’s boss went on to briefly coach the FC Emmen men, disastrously, before joining FC Edmonton and accumulating a legacy of failure. Prior to her Canada days Morace coached A.S. Viterbese Castrense, then of the Italian men’s Serie C1, and French legend Corinne Diacre had a respectable spell with Clermont Foot of the French Ligue 2. Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting led powerhouse Eastern Sports Club to the first division title in 2015–16. But all three were all-time great players in their own countries. Morace and Diacre went back to women’s soccer in the end, and anyway none were coaching men at a level anywhere as high as even the Canadian men4. To my knowledge Herdman’s path, from no playing career to speak of to elite women’s coaching to elite men’s coaching, is absolutely unique.

You can’t blame him for trying. You can’t blame the Canadian Soccer Association for resorting to this if it keeps him. The players are shocked but if it works out they’ll be fine, and this is not the fragile group of 2011. The great thing about a team of friends is that they don’t actually need a coach to keep them together; perhaps they will discover the magic was in them all along. And yet this whole affair feels distinctly shabby, in the way only Canadian soccer can.

99 Friendship Episode 66: An Oral History of the Roar of the Rings

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · December 22nd, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s stupendous, 100%-curling-there-is-no-point-in-even-listening-if-you-aren’t-interested-in-it episode of 99 Friendship, Carolyn and I spend the full half hour recapping the Roar of the Rings, the curling tournament in Ottawa where Canada’s curling gods decided that Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe would represent our nation at the upcoming winter Olympics in South Korea.

Okay, not quite the full half-hour. We briefly chat about Michelle Englot representing Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Continental Cup. But that happened as a result of the Roar of the Rings and, come to think of it, this week’s episode wound up being 33 minutes long…

Other than that, topics of curling conversation include:

  • Our pleasant surprises and our unpleasant surprises. Good Rachel Homan and Good Jennifer Jones were very pleasant. Good Julie Tippin and Good Brandon Bottcher, less so, especially since Tippin took my predicting her to be humiliated personally and nearly managed to pants every Alberta team in the lady bracket.

  • RIP Caleb Flaxey.

  • As mentioned, Rachel Homan was the women’s winner. It was Good Rachel Homan. But she really really thought about being Bad Rachel Homan and did not exactly tear a swathe through the opposition, until the final when she definitely did. This gives us some fodder.

  • My proud Alberta sisters, Chelsea Carey and Cathy Overton-Clapham, were unstoppable. Until the final. When they were very stopped. There is also more conversation in that.

  • In man curling, Kevin Koe actually killed me. I am dead now. It took a while to get this podcast uploaded for that reason.

I daren’t try too hard to summarize this week’s episode in my usual bullet point format. It is top #bantz. It is our Christmas present to you. 99 Friendship episode yy!

99 Friendship Episode 65

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · December 17th, 2017 · No comments

I’d say I was sorry for missing you guys last week. But, well, if you’d heard what Carolyn and I actually recorded, you wouldn’t believe me.

Anyway, just to kill the suspense for you, this is not the episode where we ramble at length about the Olympic curling trials. That’ll be episode 66, which will be released in the next few days. This week’s show has some soccer in it! An episode which discussed the trials properly would have made that impossible.

Don’t worry, there’s not too much.

On episode 65 of 99 Friendship:

  • The College Cup ended, like, two weeks ago. We are professionals.

    Anyway, after all this long there can’t possibly be all that much to say about it. But we try our best. Carolyn goes all the way back to the Duke – Stanford semi-final to discuss an interesting piece of strategy tactics tactrategy that both teams employed to amusing results.

  • Having shut down the College Desk for another year, we roll over to the College Desk for award season. The grotesquely-named NCAA All-American teams, and the probably even-more-grotesquely-named Scholar All-Americans, were announced by various authorities, so we talk about that. Cynics will suggest that I mention the Scholar All-Americans, who have some thoroughly token Canadian content, as an excuse to make fun of the incredibly soft majors that apparently qualify athletes as “scholars” these days. This is a ridiculous thing to say.

    Maybe most importantly, the Canadian Soccer Association named its U-17 and U-20 lady players of the year. The winners were truly shocking. We discuss them at the ten minute mark and I advise that you be seated and have a stiff drink to hand.

  • As indicated in the little picture we put on the podcast, Kadeisha Buchanan is Canadian soccer player of the year. Both Carolyn and I are broadly fine with this.

  • This came out too late for recording, but as you might have predicted Jessie Fleming was named UCLA women’s soccer most valuable player. The UCLA Twitter shows us various award recipients coming out in various states of dress-wearing for the occasion, except Jessie, who is apparently off to maintain a database server. I think she might be over winning awards.

  • At the fifteen minute mark we start talking about curling. (But not the Olympic trials, because that’s next week.) Apparently Glenn Howard is Canada now? You see, every year-ish a bunch of Brazilians from Quebec try to qualify for the World Men’s Curling Championships, and they’re in the same zone as the United States so they play the Americans for the qualifying spot and the Americans kill them. But this year the Americans are hosting the tournament in Las Vegas, so Canada is the team that has to beat Brazil to qualify, and we sent something like our twelfth-best men’s team, Glenn Howard, to London, Ontario to do it. I want to make it clear that not a single word in that sentence is made up.

  • Also, Michelle Englot is now Canada, at least at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. If you remember Michelle Englot from doing a Rocky Balboa-versus-Apollo-Creed with Rachel Homan at last year’s Scotties, you should know that she has really really really not been playing that well at all.

  • Last, but not at all least, Jeff Stoughton named the teams that will compete for Canada in the Canadian mixed doubles trials, or as I prefer to call it in spite of the fact that it’s not sponsor, the Tim Horton’s Double-Double. Because not all the top mixed dubz players are available on account of winning real trials (omg spoiler), some of these teams get pretty funny. But not enough of them.

Stay tuned for the upcoming all-Olympic-Trials-retrospective episode that’s entirely me screaming at that Kevin Koe draw attempt.

Chasing Abby or Catching Abby

By Benjamin Massey · December 1st, 2017 · No comments

Kyle Thomas/Canadian Soccer Association

For Canada’s women’s national team, 2017 was an intermission. No Olympics, no World Cup, no qualifying, 365 days of the calendar you got out of way to prepare for the next thousand. 2018, 2019, and 2020 are what count: Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, Rebecca Quinn, Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, and hopefully players we didn’t expect developing into the most competitive lineup Canada has ever had. If we’re ever going to win some gold these are the women who’ll do it.

However, there’s another piece of history Canada is chasing for which 2017 mattered a great deal. In our last game against Norway Christine Sinclair scored the 169th goal of her international career and fourth of the year. She needs 16 more international goals to pass Abby Wambach for the most in the history of soccer.

16. Not that many, not with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying bringing games against Haiti and Puerto Rico and that lot next year. But Sinclair is 34, old for her position and her sport. It’s not certain she has enough time left.

The good news is we don’t need to put the old lady on the ice floe yet. Sinclair’s scoring rate over the past two seasons is better than Adriana Leon’s career rate and basically tied with Deanne Rose. Behind Nichelle Prince, but Prince has 1,013 senior minutes and hasn’t scored in the last 655. More importantly Sinclair’s been piling up the assists: seven in 2017, four in 2016, four in 2015, our leading playmaker each of the last two years. On a roster that despite Herdman’s improvements can get very direct, Sinclair and Janine Beckie are the only forwards moderately capable of holding up the ball and Beckie has better things to do. Sinclair would be in the eleven on merit if her name was Jane Smith and her idea of leadership was telling Sophie Schmidt “your she-man-bun looks very nice.”

You couldn’t say that about Abby Wambach at this stage of her career. When she retired at age 35 nobody, American or otherwise, argued it was too early. But then her team was a lot deeper. The American attack her last year included world player of the year Carli Lloyd, a not-very-broken-yet Alex Morgan, and Christen Press, with Crystal Dunn the coming woman. Running the attack through Wambach made no sense, using her off the bench rather than Dunn or the Amy Rodriguez/Sydney Leroux depth players of the future set seemed unwise and out of her character. If anything most of us seemed to think she’d gone a year or two late. But selfish old Abby was a much better goal-scorer than kind old Christine.

This graph compares Sinclair and Wambach’s goalscoring records in the seasons in which they turned a given age. For example, Christine Sinclair turned 34 this year, so 2017 was her age 34 season. Abby Wambach turned 34 in 2014, so 2014 was her age 34 season.

Sinclair and Wambach were both early June babies so we are truly comparing their performances at the same age. That’s only the first coincidence; it’s weird how closely they trend together. Right down to both slumping at 31 and bumping back in their age 32 seasons. Of course, when Wambach “slumped” in her age 31 season she started the year ice cold and ended it with four goals in six matches at a FIFA World Cup. Sinclair, with nothing much to play for in 2014, scored once.

My co-podcaster Carolyn reminded me that, as recently as 2009, Wambach and Sinclair were within a few goals of each other. Wambach made her century on July 19, 2009 at age 29 against, coincidentally, Canada. Sinclair scored her hundredth five months later, on February 20, 2010 against Poland despite being three years younger. Sinclair had 130 caps, Wambach had 129. It was only in old age that Wambach pulled away.

All through their thirties, Wambach outproduced Sinclair very heavily. Wambach’s worst 30+ season (2011 at age 31, 0.566 G/90) was essentially identical to Sinclair’s best 30+ season (2015 at age 32, 0.570 G/90). Wambach’s advantages included more home games, more easy qualifiers that Canada skipped for 2015, and teammates who deferred to her on scoring chances. Big goalscorers past their primes can make a lot of hay against CONCACAF minnows. Wambach’s age 30-34 seasons included an Olympic qualifying and a World Cup qualifying campaign, running wild both times. Sinclair only had 2016 Olympic qualifying, where she was mostly injured. But for the moment we aren’t asking who was the better player, but who put the ball in the net more. The good news is that Wambach’s production did not decline much from age 30 to age 35, and if Sinclair can do the same she might win on endurance.

In her last two years, Sinclair has scored 0.439 goals/90 minutes clip. That would put her 3,278 minutes away from goal #185 and immortality, or just about three years. Assuming she isn’t injured any more often, and scores at the same rate, and gets just as much playing time every game. As she goes from her mid to her late thirties none of those assumptions are safe. Healthy and productive 2018 Olympic and 2019 World Cup qualifying runs will help Sinclair; age, wear, and tear will hurt.

History’s best female strikers tend to retire around Sinclair’s age. Wambach was 35, Birgit Prinz, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Carolina Morace all 33, Mia Hamm only 32. The exceptions have either been multi-position stars like Kristine Lilly or Michelle Akers or, encouragingly, super-annuated veterans for second-rate countries who still had roles into old age. Scotland’s Julie Fleeting is 36 and still active. Italian Patrizia Panico hung on until age 39. The late 30s are not quite unexplored territory.

Canada’s second-best all-time goalscorer, Charmaine Hooper, not only kept going up until age 38 but provided value. Playing second and sometimes third fiddle behind Sinclair and Kara Lang, Hooper played 1,683 minutes over 24 games from age 36 and up, scoring 11 times, which for Sinclair would do nicely.

Alas, Hooper’s old age flatters to deceive. In her last eight caps Hooper hit one final vein of form, scoring eight times including a hat trick against Sweden to wind up with 71 senior goals in her career. But that was another age. When she last played in July 2006 (it would be inaccurate to say she “retired”) women’s soccer was still young. Today, give-or-take the inevitable blunders, decent teams can basically defend a savvy but unathletic striker. In 2006 players with sometimes questionable fitness could play 90 minutes every night and chip in multi-goal games. Melissa Tancredi got a miracle brace against Germany at the Olympics, but 2016 Melissa Tancredi was Alex Morgan in her prime compared to some of the forwards you saw ten years earlier.

On the other hand, Sinclair’s a lot better than Hooper was.

The odds may still, just, favour Sinclair. Barring injury or the unforeseen, the natural arc of Christine Sinclair’s career will close after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when Sinclair will be 37. It’s hardly likely she’ll hang on for another cycle into her forties, but it would also be surprising for her to retire after an Algarve Cup or something unless life makes her. Moreover, and I’m touching wood just typing this, Canada’s 2019–20 team might be highly competitive: the best Sinclair’s ever had, and worth hanging on for at the end of an endlessly frustrating international career. If Sinclair does play through 2020, and has a couple productive qualifying campaigns, that’s just enough time. She’ll never come close to Wambach on goal rate but she might show the fortitude to hang around and catch Abby with sheer guts and longevity, to say nothing of being popular enough that her teammates won’t freeze her out when they don’t need her anymore.

Which, come to think, would be pretty appropriate for a Canadian heroine.

99 Friendship Episode 64A Special Bonus Curling #Content!

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · November 30th, 2017 · No comments

As promised, here is the special 20-minute curling bonus episode of 99 Friendship, in which Carolyn and Ben preview, as best they can given that Brad Gushue and one of Jennifer Jones/Good Rachel Homan look very likely to win, the upcoming Roar of the Rings.

Since we are discussing Olympic curling we trigger each other a little. Viewer discretion is advised.

99 Friendship Episode 64: All CanWoSo, All the Time

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · November 29th, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s… first episode of 99 Friendship?

Carolyn and I had a problem. We had too much #content. As we sat down to record on Tuesday evening, the Canadian women’s national team had just beaten Norway for the first time ever in stirring come-from-behind fashion. There were many things to talk about with regards to this game, and it had just happened so it was very fresh in our mind. There was also the Elite Eight, in the NCAA world, which had been distilled down to the Semi-Final Four (to hell with your misleading branding, Americans) and probably deserved a mention. Also Erin McLeod’s wife wants to play soccer for Canada now, and has apparently also tried curling, meaning she and Erin are the first people I’ve ever thought might make good guests on a 99 Friendship.

We fill half an hour with Canadian soccer, very easily. But the Roar of the Rings also start on Saturday! We couldn’t just ignore the Roar, could we? Unthinkable.

So what we did was we recorded our cansoc, I edited it together, and I uploaded it, and here you are. Later this week, though, I will post a separate MP3 of our curling talk, which will be a bit shorter but full of Roar. That way those of you who love us generally can listen to them both, and those of you who are only interested in the soccer analysis can have lots and lots of soccer analysis, and those of you who are only interested in the curling analysis don’t exist.

So, as I was saying, on this week’s first episode of 99 Friendship:

  • We review CanWNT’s stirring 3-2 victory over the perfidious Nords, and by “stirring” we of course mean “sloppy” and by “perfidious” we of course mean “mistake-prone.” It was a match with five goals of which four were shambolic.

  • I have some statistics and some trivia. Carolyn knows the answers to all the trivia, because of course she does. Co-hosting a women’s soccer podcast with Carolyn is like co-hosting an arrogance podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re just overwhelmed.

  • Also the College Desk reviews the NCAA Elite Eight. Deanne Rose lost, Rebecca Quinn and Jessie Fleming are still alive, it’s chilling how many core players we didn’t have because they were busy in school actually. Also three Canadians are up for the MAC Hermann, two of whom you will easily guess, and that’s not counting the American who plays for us sometimes.

  • The Foreign Desk somehow finds some content during an international break!

  • It’s not really the Foreign Desk, but I guess Ella Masar wants to play for us now? Is it the Foreign Desk? We should get a FIFA ruling on this.