One of the founding members of Maple Leaf Forever, Roke has written literally multiple posts over a prolific career in Canadian soccer authorship. He lives in Winnipeg with his imperishable sense of mystery.

Scatterbrained Canada 2015 Thoughts

By Roke · July 8th, 2015 · No comments

So that was a World Cup, held in Canada no less. I guess these are some late (especially with the Gold Cup having kicked off) and scattered thoughts.

It certainly did not end the way I had hoped with the Americans winning and more than once during the final I thought, “at least that isn’t Canada getting blitzed.” Carli Lloyd’s performance made it a good spectacle though, topping it off with that wonderful goal from halfway. The Americans were worthy winners, turning things up when the knockout stages came about. Most of the followers of the US Women’s National Team I follow didn’t think Jill Ellis had it in her to make the player and tactical changes necessary to get the Americans to play well but she did, and they did. Kadeisha Buchanan picking up the Young Player Award at the end made it all the more worthwhile

Canada played pretty well, if nothing else this team makes it easy to be incredibly proud when cheering for them. It would have been nice for them to reach the semi-finals but losing in a very even match of a single-game knockout can hardly be disappointing. That sort of thing happens all the time in sport. At least the quarterfinal featured another wonderful Christine Sinclair performance, there cannot be many more of those left. Ashley Lawrence’s marauding play in midfield and Kadeisha Buchanan’s stellar play at the back were particular highlights. With Jessie Fleming continuing to show promise the future is reasonably bright, in some areas.

The attack was the most underwhelming part of the Canadian performance. The setup and talk was all about a fluid front three but it seemed to me to lack structure and had difficulty carving out chances short of moments of individual brilliance. Herdman not having much in the way of attacking options may have compounded that. I thought the team also struggled more than most teams playing out from the back and they never seemed to having the passing options the other teams had but I am not observant enough to figure out why that is (or whether I am in fact completely wrong). While there were some poor individual performances in matches, the thought that quickly followed was often, “Jesus, I didn’t realize player –x- was in already in their 30s.” With the peak performance age in soccer being in the 23-28 range it is not very surprising for players on the wrong side of that to not be at their best.

The tournament in general was wonderful. Goal-line technology kept working (I still hold out hope that we’ll have offside technology one day to free up the assistant referees to help spot fouls . The expanded field was rarely exposed, the officiating was largely solid, and there was a nice variety of playing styles. China’s nearly successful bus parking against Canada contrasted nicely with France’s flowing attacking play. There were magnificent team goals, brilliant strikes, and as heartbreaking (and spectacular) an own goal as you will ever see.) It had pretty much everything that makes soccer great.

Shockingly the artificial surfaces did not lead to MASH units having to set up tents pitch side, nor cause cricket scores, nor make headed goals impossible, nor lead to soccer matches spontaneously combusting into Canadian football games. The one tangible thing to come about was that sports reporters and media know that infrared thermometers are on sale (congratulations on catching up to home cooking). You would think that any surface temperature issue would be obvious with artificial surfaces used throughout North America for soccer and football but in the buildup to the tournament the only mention I saw was in a few of Duane Rollins’ tweets.

To be honest I am still not sure of the effects of artificial surfaces have on how soccer is played. The surfaces seem to merely be a Rorschach test for any number of grievances. On social media I saw turf blamed for the ball rolling too quickly on the surface and too slowly, the ball bouncing away from players on long passes and the ball held up by the surface when it bounces. With my eyes I still cannot pick out the differences between the turf and grass. I may well be terrible at watching soccer the lack of tangible evidence or consensus on turf effects make it seem like complaints are nothing more than appeals to tradition or some naturalistic fallacy.

If there was one thing that bothered me throughout the tournament it was the completely patronizing, “there’s no diving, antics, of faking in women’s soccer” that seemed pervasive throughout the tournament. I can only assume these people do not watch women’s or men’s soccer because they sure as hell did not watch the London Olympics if we are talking about antics. For one, the diving and playacting were not up to CONCACAF levels but CONCACAF men’s antics are in a league of their own. This tournament did not seem any different from your average English or European fixture. For another I am not sure why a dive is worse than any other foul and it is certainly not as bad as harming your opponent with say, dangerous tackles (of which there seems to be much less moralizing). Yes, I would like to see more yellow cards handed out for diving but I would like to see more handed out for iffy tackles and tactical fouling.

At the end of the day, the World Cup was a tournament and I quite enjoyed. If hosting FIFA events did not mean supporting and dealing with FIFA I would like for it to happen again sometime.

FIFA Intervention a Boon for the QSF

By Roke · June 17th, 2013 · 4 comments

FIFA’s intervention into the Québec Soccer Federation turban debate on June 13th[1] was a welcome reprieve, allowing Québec Sikhs to return from their backyard exile and back to the soccer pitch. I had cynically expected FIFA to do nothing and see the matter resolved until it went to the courts, whether through the parties aggrieved the QSF or the Canadian Soccer Association. Thankfully, that did not happen.

It was striking how favourable FIFA’s release was to the QSF; they could have hardly had a more favourable release if they wrote themselves.

The one issue FIFA’s release did not address was the QSF’s concerns about the safety of turbans on the soccer pitch. Of course, this turgid kerfuffle was never about safety in the first place. The QSF failed to present any evidence corroborating their safety concerns. Furthermore, the Québec Soccer Federation hasn’t exactly been quick to act when other safety concerns are raised, even in the case when there has been a death[2].

What is in FIFA’s release is as interesting as what is missing. Notice that the release makes no reference to the Canadian Soccer Association’s directive in March extending the approval of the wearing of headscarves to the wearing of turbans[3]. Rather than explicitly (and retroactively) affirming the CSA’s decision, FIFA’s release reads like a new, development only reached after the QSF acted out.

That is why the ruling is great for the QSF. Not only did they manage to perform an end-run around the Canadian Soccer Association and get away with it, the end-run and the turban ban can be justified because they caused change. With the QSF reinstated in what appears to be a return to the status quo ante[4]. I believe we will see the QSF emboldened by the outcome and their insubordination.

When he wrote about the turban ban, Duane Rollins pointed out that the ban in the realm of soccer was as much about a reaction to recent CSA reform as anything else[5]. FIFA’s intervention makes the CSA look weak.

This probably will not be the last time the Québec Soccer Federation tries to assert itself in an attempt at independence and given that they faced few consequences (other than outrage outside of Québec), I do not see them being reluctant to do so in the future. I hope that the next time they do so their actions won’t be seeded with bigotry.

(notes and comments…)

Our lord swears fealty to the Kings

By Roke · June 2nd, 2013 · No comments


FIFA’s rule change and the Men’s National Team

By Roke · June 4th, 2009 · 5 comments

In the past year, speculation about FIFA attempting to push through a “6+5” rule to limit foreign players playing for club sides.  Less attention has been paid to other potential amendments from the governing body, including one which could affect the Canadian Men’s National Team.

 The current FIFA congress recently passed an amendment which will remove the age limit which governs whether or not players, with dual nationalities, can switch national teams.Under the previous wording, players became tied to a nation if they had played with at the youth level of that team and reached the age of 21; the amendment has removed the age provision, so now players can change so long as they have not been capped at the senior level.

 Modifying the rule could turn out to be a positive or a negative for the Men’s National Team.The optimist in me believes that this can open up the doors to those lost sons with dual citizenships, who went overseas and played at the youth level for another national team but, for whatever reason, cannot break into that nation’s senior team.Those players could (and should) be welcomed with open arms, given an opportunity to make our side, and make a positive contribution.

 On the other hand, there is a chance of players capped at the youth level for Canada, but not at the senior level, could end up playing abroad.Asmir Begović, for example, could decide to play for Bosnia and Herzegovina instead of Canada.

 Regardless of whether we see an influx or exodus of youth-capped players, one thing is for certain.The Men’s National Team, and the Canadian Soccer Association, needs a clear and organized direction to entice players to play for the country; or we start capping 12 year-olds at the senior level.

Soccer on Television: It’s no Basketball

By Roke · May 7th, 2009 · 1 comment

If I may, I would like to step away for a moment and address coverage of the sport in the country, rather than clubs or national teams.

The Broadcasting of matches on television likewise is touch-and-go.  At the high-end of the spectrum are the dulcet tones of Derek Rae calling Champions League, at least when there’s not curling or a second-rate hockey tournament to be shown.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is GolTV’s coverage of Spanish soccer, with commentators who seem to be falling all over themselves when it comes to Barcelona and Real Madrid; saying too much; providing descriptions which could be coming from a fan, rather than a professional analyst.  Canadian broadcasts lie somewhere in the middle of those respective broadcasts.

Nonetheless, it appears as though soccer is gaining a foothold on the airwaves.  Toronto Star’s Chris Zelkovich reports that Toronto FC has been receiving positive viewership, including 261,000 viewers of the Columbus-Toronto match on CBC last weekend; a number comparable to what the Toronto Blue Jays are drawing.  Further good news for fans of soccer, with broadcasting being a zero-sum game with regard to time slots, are the abject Canadian ratings of the NBA.  17,000 viewers on the Score for a 2nd round matchup cannot be anything but abysmal.  I would like to see the statistics for the UEFA Champions League coverage to compare with the NBA; yes, the Champions League does not have to go up against hockey, but on the other hand, it is in the afternoon.  If basketball continues to have nobody watching it, and soccer viewership is stronger, would it not be beyond the realms of possibilities to see networks try to show more soccer matches and more highlights in their sports news shows?  I don’t think it is, and I would be delighted to see it.

Less Curling, More Football?

It may have gone unnoticed a month ago, but TSN will no longer be airing the Champions League, starting next season.  With Rogers picking up the rights, and splitting the matches between Sportsnet and Setanta, perhaps we will be able to see the entire knockout stages live, rather than have them tape-delayed due to curling.  Mr. Zelkovich mentioned that Sportsnet would show about half of the matches and I would presume Setanta would pick up the other half.  In an ideal world, I would see Sportsnet using their digital platform to show multiple matches live during the group stage, allowing those of us with all four Sportsnet channels to choose from a number of matches rather than the one they choose to air.

Sportsnet has done a great job with their soccer coverage; airing a number of the Men’s National Team World Cup Qualifiers (and providing a stream when they had other commitments), as well as coverage of the Premier League Saturday mornings.  It appears as though soccer is something which they believe can be a winner for their networks, and since they don’t show curling (yes, this is the third time I’ve brought it up; I’m a bitter, bitter person) live coverage is something we could expect.  With Fox Soccer Channel owning the US television rights, I assume they will either pick up an overseas commentary feed or provide their own, with Sportsnet/Setanta using that.  The prospect of someone other than Derek Rae commentating on Champions League matches is disappointing; I love his voice and the manner in which he calls matches, and when watching a match on TV, there is no other person I would want to have calling a match.

Uncapped Naiveté

By Roke · April 5th, 2009 · No comments

It is well for the heart to be naive and the mind not to be. -Anatole France

I have a confession to make, I only recently began following Canadian soccer, and only shortly before that soccer in general.In fact, I have never been to an actual soccer match (youth soccer doesn’t count).Sure, for years I would watch the World Cup or the European Championship on television because it was a big event, and there is an intrinsic flow to soccer which no other sport has.

My first, memorable, non-World Cup or European Championship match was Newcastle’s Premier League home tie against Arsenal in the 2005-06 season, as it was the reason I began watching football matches on a regular basis.The only thing I remember from the match (everything else I looked up) was Scott Parker running around like a madman after he had his teeth knocked out (or chipped), gauze with some numbing agent in his mouth, diving head-first all over the place. It was a remarkable performance and I (foolishly) decided to take up Newcastle as my favourite side.I began to pour hours into playing Football Manager (the best learning tool for a new football fan), seek out websites, and find matches on television to watch.

So, as of 2005 I had found my club, but what about following my Country?As we all know, following the national team is a logistical nightmare.Nonetheless, in 2006 Sportsnet decided to show a couple U-20 matches against Brazil, and so I saw my first national team match.Besides David Edgar, I knew nothing of the Canadians.In fact, Edgar ended up scoring in that match, Canada winning, and my support of the national side started off on unusual footing, although Dale Mitchell was the coach of that U-20 side.The next year I watched as Benito Archundia made one of the worst calls I have ever seen in sport, and my sugar-coated view of soccer came crashing down.If there was a silver lining, that horrible offside call galvanized my support.

That all being said, when it comes to our National teams, I am still fairly naive.I don’t know much NT history and, more importantly, I haven’t experienced the anguish most seasoned fans have.The Gold Cup officiating was harsh, but I wasn’t completely invested at the time and didn’t know who most of the players were.I didn’t realize that following the national team would mean getting all my news from the internet, following the Voyageurs’ forum, or listening to World Cup Qualifying matches thanks to the radio broadcasts of the other team (Phillip’s Bakery: A step above the rest!).Hostile “home” crowds, poor officiating, the CSA, and CONCACAF officiating are obstacles which, as far as I was concerned, may as well have not existed few years ago;I am still in the learning and conditioning stage of my fandom.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there is so much I did not know going into this odyssey that is supporting the national teams.However, now that I am involved, ingrained, in this voyage, there is a sense of pride in being one of the few.Any idiot can cheer for Canada’s hockey team at the Olympics (and possess an unbelievable amount of arrogance even though they cannot name half the players), but being a Canadian soccer fan, there’s something special there, or at least I think so.Then again, I don’t have the cynicism that comes from experiencing heartbreak after heartbreak.

Toronto, Vancouver, … Ottawa???

By Roke · March 13th, 2009 · No comments

With the Team 1040 in Vancouver reporting that the Whitecaps will be granted an expansion franchise, things are beginning to look up for club soccer in Canada.  With a healthy MLS franchise in Toronto, the Whitecaps moving up to MLS in 2011, the Montreal Impact continuing to grow, and Eugene Melnyk pining for an MLS franchise in Ottawa, it appears as if the Canadian public, or at least rich guys with a lot of money, are interested in soccer in Canada at the club level.

Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the Ottawa Senators, no doubt gazes at the money-printing success of Toronto FC andnd wants to have a similar cash-cow in Ottawa.  It is my belief that Melnyk’s interest in MLS is not soley based upon the potential dollars, as the sports fan in him would probably love to add a soccer club to his NHL, OHL, and Thoroughbred horse racing properties.  If an MLS franchise was successful in Ottawa, the citizens might benefit from having the franchise and the soccer-specific stadium, while Melnyk would benefit (as a sports fan and as an owner) as well; everyone’s a winner.

Despite the strong ownership Melnyk would bring to MLS, I have to say that I am concerned at the possibility of Ottawa acquiring an MLS expansion team in the near-future.  There are a number of reasons: My own impression that Ottawa is a poor sports town, the success of the Montreal Impact in Montreal, and the absence of a major soccer franchise (and thus, a soccer following) in Ottawa for nearly two decades.  To put it succinctly, it is my belief that Montreal is clearly the best candidate for future Canadian MLS expansion, and Ottawa does not match up.

The poor-sports-town conjecture, it must be said, is based almost mainly upon Ottawa’s lack of support of their two previous Canadian Football League franchise.  That may be unfair, as the Rough Riders had terrible ownership at the end of their history, and the Renegades were an expansion franchise who then ended up with the same terrible ownership at the end of their history (I sense a pattern…).  My pre-concieved notions, if true, can easily be overcome if they are not already.  The Senators have had a fair bit of success at the turnstiles and the OHL’s 67s are well-supported.  Melnyk as an owner would lend credibility to an MLS franchise, something the Gliebermans never had with the CFL, and overcome my nagging doubts.

My opinion is that  the The Montreal Impact are indubitably the obvious choice for future expansion, significantly ahead of Ottawa.  The Impact, like the Vancouver Whitecaps, have been around in the United Soccer League for about a decade and have built a following and brand in their respective cities.  Montreal in particular has gained momentum with their new stadium and CONCACAF Champions League run.  50,000 people filled the white elephant that is Olympic Stadium to watch Montreal play Santos Laguna.  An MLS franchise in Montreal would mean simply a matter of building upon the professional soccer foundation that already exists, and with strong ownership from Saputo and Gillett (assuming Gillett doesn’t go under because of his massive leveraging), would be an unbridled success.

Ottawa does not have any of the built-in following that Montreal has; The last major professional soccer franchise in Ottawa disapeared after the 1990 season, and there has not been one in the city since.  Unlike Montreal and Vancouver, the infrastructure, a following,and a brand would have to be built from scratch, which means that Ottawa would be a higher risk proposition.  The preferred, safer route, for Ottawa would be for Melnyk to get a USL-1 franchise, build a following and the brand among the hardcore soccer fans in the Ottawa area, and, once you have that following, then attempt to obtain an MLS franchise.  It certainly isn’t the sexy route, and the main problem for Melnyk would be convincing the three levels of government that spending money on a stadium for a USL franchise is worthwhile, but it is the safer, long-term route.

When it comes to future MLS expansion in Canada, my biggest fear is that Ottawa will secure a franchise before Montreal does, that franchise will struggle or fail, and MLS will never look to Canada again despite Montreal being a first-rate city in terms of what it could bring to MLS.  Montreal not being in the MLS would be a significant blow to the potential of Canadian soccer at the club and international level, and hopefully Gillett and Saputo obtain a franchise in the next round of expansion.  As for Ottawa, it could work, but I am not as convinced as I am with Montreal.

The Addictive Powers of Football (Worldwide Soccer) Manager

CanadaKicks found a gem of an article from CNN; apparently Football Manager is addictive.  My initial reaction was “of course it is, how else would I have managed Canada in the 2032 World Cup:”, and then I realized the article was serious and thought, “That’s preposterous, sure, I put days into the games, lost track of time, kept clicking continue even though I had other things to do, obsessively thought about my ongoing files while not playing the game, did play-by-play commentary while playing, and did analytical commentary of my games when in the shower, but it’s not like I couldn’t stop; I haven’t played in over a month”.  Is it really addictive?

Ahh, my 2034 World Cup team, now that brings back some memories, and heartbreak, much like Canadian soccer in general.