Ottawa’s On Fire; TFC is Terrified

By Benjamin Massey · July 19th, 2018 · No comments

Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography for Canada Soccer

As it happens the Canadian Soccer Association’s streaming a brace of Voyageurs Cup semi-finals went none too badly. There were performance issues but, if you got off Google Chrome, nothing debilitating. The commentary worked, though the Montreal – Vancouver stream had Nick Sabetti miced way below play-by-play man Rick Moffat. Video quality was fine, they only cut away from the play to show random graphics a couple of times, the cameras were usually aimed at the ball, it was a significant improvement over the MyCujoo “due to high winds commentary of this game cannot be broadcast” experience. Three out of five.

Nor were we starved of viewers. Clearly the media followed along. In Ottawa a group of Toronto FC fans who were absolutely definitely positively not the Inebriatti were caught nearly burning down the Glebe and why yes there is video. Despite the obscure web stream this incident made Global News, the Toronto Sun, and was highlighted in the Canadian Press wire report. Even Canadian journalism inside-baseballist 12:36 threw some, er, love to the Toronto Sun‘s coverage, headlined “VIOLENCE MARS CANADIAN CONTEST.”

That wasn’t violence. Nobody tried to hurt anybody and no injuries were reported. But it was unquestionably dangerous. The ultras set off flares with no obvious way to support or extinguish them. Apparently unfamiliar with exothermic reactions, the ill-informed ultras found the flares growing too hot to hold and threw them onto the pitch, causing avoidable and pricey damage to Ottawa’s artificial turf. Meanwhile yahoos waved flags over the fire, ran around waving flares like morons, and displayed carelessness inappropriate in a six-year-old. Firework explosions were even reported. The ultras were in an isolated section so no “civilians” were in danger but it was still way over the line, enough for Toronto FC to issue a venomous press release. The vital part read “we are left with no choice but to suspend all recognized supporter group privileges indefinitely.” This is apparently a general ban to all groups, though time will tell on how it is enforced.

If you aren’t steeped in this culture you may need some background explained. First: in Major League Soccer “supporter group privileges” refer to exceptions to the usual stadium rules given to recognized, organized soccer supporters’ groups. The supporters agree to sing in marketing-friendly ways, keep everything clean and safe, police their own ranks for trouble, and generally provide an inoffensive facsimile of the European soccer experience. In exchange the MLS team permits these groups to bring in drums, megaphones, enormous flags, and banners which would otherwise be turned away at the gate by security. They can come in early to set up large displays (“tifo,” from the Italian “tifosi” meaning “fans”), may often designate supporters to come onto the field and lead chants, and get other privileges to make them look and sound impressive despite restrictions that ought to neuter them.

These privileges are serious business, and MLS teams usually sign formal contracts with their supporters’ groups representatives which include them. In practice there is quite a bit of leeway, as MLS teams now view supporters as vital marketing tools. For example, formally Vancouver supporters are forbidden from chanting obscenities, but modestly problematic shouts fill the air at BC Place with no trouble provided the capos with field access don’t lead them. That is custom, though, not law. These privileges are given at the MLS team’s discretion and may be unilaterally revoked.

This happens every year or so. Some supporters make fools of themselves or offend a bigwig, the MLS team pulls their privileges, there is a modest hullabaloo, it all blows over. After all, if you didn’t have a fairly high tolerance for being jerked around and treated like a commodity you would not be a supporter in MLS. But the Ottawa incident has led to punishment on an extreme scale. A game that wasn’t on TV, a patch of maybe twelve TFC ultras, an incident that had nothing to do with supporters’ group privileges (the Ottawa Fury ban fireworks and flares in any event and acknowledge that their security missed them until they were deployed), and a suspension that affects thousands of supporters from groups that definitely had nothing to do with the incident.

That leads to the second piece of background. Everyone, inside Toronto as well as out, is inclined to blame infamous Toronto FC ultras the Inebriatti for this incident. They have a reputation for exactly this kind of thing, and their name accurately reflects their approach to matches. They have been formally sanctioned before, as recently as June, and raised a banner that read “football without ultras is nothing” before taking the game off in protest. They favour pyro and have never been averse to skirting the rules. Toronto FC supporters of extremely long standing, true reds from way back, have been public in saying that this is all Inebriatti’s fault. Non-Toronto fans, and for that matter this very post, are therefore nonchalant in assuming this was probably them.

I myself have had my problems with these guys and I am the sunniest, most easy-going fellow it is possible to meet. But there is no proof. The Inebriatti’s statement, linked above, is unequivocal: “We had no part in the flare that was thrown into the field or the explosion at last night’s match in Ottawa.” The statement originally read “alleged explosion” (my emphasis), giving rise to much banter that was not good-natured in the least, but the Inebriatti edited the post later. The video of the evidence is low-resolution and nobody has yet definitively identified one of the masked men. In short, the case is not yet proven, at least not to Toronto FC who would assuredly be happy not to light up all their supporters for this incident if they could instead punish known problem children.

But how to define “problem” is one more typically Canadian complication. Pyro has a difficult place in soccer culture around the world but especially in Canada and the United States. On the continent it is, by and large, accepted, except when it isn’t for reasons opaque to an outsider. In England, the nation which has given the anglosphere most of its soccer traditions, it is more-or-less banned. In Canada, how much pyro you can get away with seems to depend entirely on which level the soccer game is at. USL PDL matches, featuring amateur or semi-professional players before a crowd that is lucky to top a thousand, can be washed out by waves of smoke blowing out of the supporters’ ends after a goal as the delirious ultras set off enough pyrotechnics to sink the Bismarck. At the NASL or USL level you can pretty much get away with it, though opinions vary, and in MLS you are taking your life in your hands. Not that MLS won’t cry out as they strike you, putting supposedly egregiously offenses in their advertising, but despite this hypocrisy punishing fans for pyrotechnics is one of the few things they do consistently.

Now, by any standard, the TFC ultras in Ottawa were way outside the norm. They were reckless with their flares to a degree that might well be criminal and nobody anywhere wants fireworks in the stands. Understandably some (non-Toronto) fans are calling for stricter penalties: forcing the return leg at BMO Field next Wednesday to be played behind closed doors or even expelling Toronto FC from the 2018 Voyageurs Cup entirely. Such punishment would be unprecedented in Canada or the United States. In Europe those are accepted responses to 10,000 ultras setting off flares while chanting “heil Hitler” at a UEFA Champions League match or the like, but Wednesday’s Toronto drunks would barely crack the “It’s a Funny Ol’ Game” column in the back of the Sarajevo Gazette. Elsewhere in Canada, where pyro is winked at if not formally permitted, responsibility for the smoke and the fire falls upon those most able to take it rather than those reckless fools who don’t give a damn, and results are correspondingly safe. We with first-hand experience have seen this in action, but the casual fan cannot be blamed if he sees one Voyageurs Cup semifinal where it isn’t, and lets that inform his view of whether pyro should be permitted.

So here we are. The great mass of Toronto FC supporters is being punished for the actions of an anonymous few who everybody, except the group being scapegoated, is convinced represent a scapegoated group. The actions in question could easily be met with civil penalties, but also feed into an unjustified North American skepticism of pyrotechnics that only encourages them to be deployed unsafely. And, because MLS’s attitude towards supporters is based on allowing a few elites to provide atmosphere rather than assuming atmosphere should be provided but banning hooligans, the reaction to almost any incident is collective punishment, and if you can’t identify specific culprits then just expand the collective.

Welcome to Canadian soccer, where problem fans with firesticks only create more problems. The Canadian Premier League is going to be busy.

The Top 10 Horrible Ways Teams Have Been Eliminated From the Canadian Championship

By Benjamin Massey · July 1st, 2016 · No comments

2016’s Voyageurs Cup final game was one for the books. By this, I mean it tore out the hearts of Vancouver Whitecaps fans and laughed at them as they died. This is what the Voyageurs Cup is for. Since its formation in 2002 the Whitecaps have, more often than not, enjoyed a long series of wide-awake nightmares. The same applies for fans of FC Edmonton, and to a lesser extent every team that isn’t the Montreal Impact. The Voyageurs Cup is wonderful and it is horrible, like eating a pound of bacon for breakfast.

In honour of this latest addition to the pantheon of misery, I thought I’d compile my list of the top ten most horrifying defeats since the beginning of the Canadian Championship in 2008. (Why not the beginning of the Voyageurs Cup in 2002? Partially because I don’t remember that far, partially because few teams cared, and mostly because I will be getting quite nerdy enough without dragging in Mesut Mert and the 2004 Calgary Mustangs.)

I am, of course, biased. As an ex-Whitecaps and now-FC Edmonton fan, you will notice these teams prominent on this list. All I can say is that I honestly believe they have had the bulk of the blackness. From another point of view these moments of agony will be moments of triumph. Soccer is a zero-sum game and one man’s collapse is another’s miracle. But let’s face it, happiness is not in the Voyageurs Cup spirit. Losing feels much worse than winning feels good, and it’s the bad beats that have always defined this tournament. Or maybe that’s the westerner in me.

Since this article is so image-heavy, it begins after the jump.

(more…)

A Brief Word on the TFC Travel Restrictions

By Benjamin Massey · October 28th, 2015 · 1 comment

Bookmark this page. I am defending Toronto soccer OOOOOOOLTRAs. It will not happen again.

Many serious supporters dislike “pyro” – flares and smoke bombs – at a match. This is more than their right. If you wish to stand and chant with your view unobscured and your lungs unblocked, you must be able to. It is a widely-held aesthetic, and in many cases medical, desire. It does not make you any less dedicated or intense. This is obvious.

Moreover, pyro can be annoying, and even unsafe, when wielded by unregulated imbeciles or inexperienced men. This goes for flags and even standing itself. The drunk yobbo smoking out his own keeper is a shame to himself and his group.

However, an also-large number of supporters love well-deployed pyro, both participating and watching from afar. It is common in matches around the world, almost invariably without ill effect. Set up with knowledge and preparation it is no more dangerous than waving a huge floppy flagpole for ninety minutes. In North America real mass supporters’ culture is still very young, and who can predict whether pyro will be a part of it in 2065?

The way to deal with it is to permit pyro, in an organized supporters’ section. This has two key advantages. First, those who dislike it may stand in another supporters’ section. Second, by giving responsibility for pyro to dedicated people, you contribute to a safe environment. Knowing that openness is good for a productive relationship, the supporters will have every incentive to self-police for those lone loons with a flare smuggled in their anus. The loons themselves will be less motivated, for the atmosphere they want already exists. Useful safety equipment like buckets of sand will be as easy to come by as a banner, and knowledge on safe support will be passed on openly from veteran to enthusiast.

The way not to deal with it is to insist on rigorous control by franchise and league front offices, then when repression inevitably leads to haphazard smuggling and crimes of opportunity, collectively punish a mass of supporters which was 99% incapable of stopping it even if they did know in advance, while fans who expected something else entirely choke and curse. And then to add insult to injury, using those very supporters (and very possibly that very pyro) in your marketing.

I would not smuggle pyro into an MLS game even if I were still a supporter in that league. I think you shouldn’t. But we have a mass supporters culture now, and the more you stomp on them for no good reason the more they’ll resent it. Wouldn’t we all? And with all that resentment pyro becomes something far worse than a display not everybody likes: it becomes a way for the disaffected and sometimes dumb to stick it to the Man who doesn’t give a shit about them as more than a cash machine.

You can have a proper supporters’ section. Or you can have franchise-funded cheerleaders. If you try to turn one into the other, for the sake of the twee faux-Britishness you imagine soccer moms want to clap along to, these things will happen. And if you then react by collectively punishing the innocent, you show even the rule-abiding what you really think of them.

Professional Soccer’s Responsibility to Canada

By Benjamin Massey · December 3rd, 2014 · 1 comment

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Very early indeed this morning, your friend and mine Michael McColl published over at AFTN Canada a post explaining his opinion that MLS has no obligations to Canadian soccer[1]. As someone whose opinion notoriously runs the other way, I have been called out to reply. I will oblige.

I do not mean to address McColl’s preference for club over country; that’s personal. (And he’s Scottish so, y’know, he’s responding to the incentives he’s got.) What I’m discussing is his argument that the Canadian MLS teams have no responsibility, and should have no responsibility, to develop Canadian talent.

These sorts of arguments always come down to two things: GIT DAT MONEY and WIN DOZE GAMEZ. Weird things for supporters to say. We all want our team to win, obviously, but that’s clearly not the most important thing: if it was we’d all cheer for Bayern Münich. We certainly wouldn’t be fans of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps, a team proud of barely finishing in the top half twice in four years. There’s got to be something beyond numbers on a spreadsheet that keeps us coming to the park week in, week out. This is, in fact, the point.

And then there’s the financial argument. “Did Canada put any money into the MLS teams?!” Well, as it happens, yeah[2]. These self-sacrificing MLS team owners who only want to turn a wee little profit have by no means paid their own way. In terms of dollars and cents the Canadian public has bought a right to demand something from our MLS clubs. But it doesn’t matter.

If professional clubs are meant to be just another company then there’s no reason for them to ever have a single fan. You don’t see people going around wearing Telus shirts saying “yeah, they’ve been my phone company since I was a kid.” Even I don’t do that, and my dad works for Telus. In Vancouver you more commonly get people protesting corporations they feel put profit ahead of community. The entire business model of professional sports requires that we devote ourselves to an idea higher than any corporate interest: as fans we are entitled to demand something in exchange.

Why should we, as fans, give a hoot about franchise fees? We’re not shareholders in the Montreal Impact or the Vancouver Whitecaps. (You might be an investor in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment I guess.) I have no objection to Canadian soccer teams making money; in fact, I hope they do. But I’m not going to ignore everything that should turn a mere franchise into my club so Joey Saputo can have more caviar in his luxury suite.

Of course, nobody wants Canada’s professional teams to go broke. Look at the Whitecaps of the mid-2000s: playing Canadians for 20,000 minutes a season they won league championships[3]. Pretty sure they went utterly bankrupt. Pretty sure that’s what happened. If they routinely sold out Swangard Stadium, had a captain from Vancouver Island, and a bevy of beloved, successful local players, somebody would have mentioned it.

Or the Montreal Impact of that era. Routinely in the top of the table, the “least Canadian team in domestic professional soccer” which would make them the most Canadian team in MLS by miles, a bunch of long-term players and the occasional native son on a star turn like Ali Gerba. I seem to recall that they wound up building a soccer-specific stadium, won a dozen Voyageurs Cups, and got deep in a CONCACAF Champions League while drawing formidable crowds… but that’s probably a pot-induced hallucination. Next you’ll tell me that even the Toronto Lynx, who were an advertisement for how not to run a professional soccer team, are still around in USL PDL. Everyone knows that playing Canadians makes you broke. That’s why, when a long-forgotten MLS franchise named Toronto FC was founded with a high Canadian quota in place and they lost most of their games, the team plunged into obscurity and team owner Mr. MLSE can now be found outside Union Station giving handies for pocket change.

But isn’t it true that the biggest soccer nations in the world don’t do this sort of navel-gazing? Look, as McColl urges us, at the foreigner-replete Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, and Italian Serie A! They don’t demand a proportion of Spanish or English or Italian players and they’re doing great! (This amounts to saying “these countries are in the European Union”; it is difficult legally to rule out European foreigners in these countries. La Liga restricts non-EU players but can’t restrict non-Spaniards.)

These are three of the strongest leagues in the world: not exactly comparable to a podunk salary-capped regional league. Besides, as McColl ought to have known, England is plagued by just this problem, despite domestic representation that would make a Canadian jump for joy: the Football Association’s tightening work permit rules are one attempt at a solution[4]. And what of Germany? The world’s top soccer league requires a high proportion of homegrown players on a team’s roster, and their football association sets strict standards and demands heavy investment in youth academies[5]. The Germans, I shouldn’t need to tell you, have enjoyed some success with this approach.

In Australia, a country comparable to Canada in many ways, the A-League restricts teams to a maximum of five imports, a number that’s actually going down[6]. The result? The A-League has ten teams, nine in Australia proper (population 24 million), international television coverage, and a fast-rising salary cap. Their national team has moved to the tougher Asian region for more of a challenge and A-League-developed players like Mitchell Langerak, Joshua Brillante, and Robbie Kruse have joined some of the world’s top teams. If only we had Australia’s problems. Nor is their approach unusual: leagues in Russia, Japan, South Korea, and other strong countries have adopted increasingly strict pro-domestic rules.

Yeah, the men’s national team only plays a few times a year (and never in Vancouver). Yeah, it’s incompetent. Yeah, over the years the Canadian Soccer Association hasn’t been able to find its ass with a 15-page PDF titled “Roadmap to Canada’s Ass 2025”. That’s not the point. The Canadian national teams don’t represent the CSA, they represent us, the people of Canada. They are eleven men or women who unify us from Victoria to St. John’s. They are the apex of what we can hope to achieve: five MLS Cups in Vancouver wouldn’t add up to the world-wide attention and the domestic hope from a single Canadian World Cup appearance.

Telling us our MLS teams should ignore that so they can make more money is an offense to the entire concept of supporting a club.

(notes and comments…)

Voyageurs Cup: Can They Do It?

By Benjamin Massey · May 14th, 2014 · No comments

tlfoto.ca/FC Edmonton

tlfoto.ca/FC Edmonton

The question of the day is: “can they really do it?”

Can Vancouver really overturn a 2-1 series deficit against Toronto FC despite running out a Children’s Crusade lineup and getting slapped around pretty good at BMO Field? Even the positive moral value of playing all those Canadians is diminished today: Marco Bustos, Kianz Froese, Mitch Piraux, and Jackson Farmer are down in Florida with the U-20 national team[1]. Can Edmonton really get a result in Montreal against the Impact? It seems like everybody outside Montreal is cheering for the Eddies, because everybody loves an underdog and hates the Impact. (Everybody inside Montreal is ignoring this game because the Canadiens and Bruins are playing.)

Last week I pointed out Montreal was on a run for the MLS Wooden Spoon (non-Chivas USA category); in the seven days since they’ve given even the Goats a run for their money. The Impact are coming off an more-than-usually-embarrassing 3-0 home loss to the Kansas City Wizards in which Montreal was out-shots-directeded 12-4 and had a FIFA 14-style 21.8% of the possession (I know possession isn’t much of an indicator but twenty-one point fucking eight). Then again, Montreal was playing with 10 men for 73 minutes after Collen Warner got sent off. Then again again, the man they were playing without was Collen Warner. And that was just the latest in a long string of games in which Frank Klopas’s charges got the shit kicked out of them. And with the Habs selling out Bell Centre to watch TV it looks like the Impact will be playing in front of their moms and six Ultras.

The Impact are a bad team and getting worse. When FC Edmonton only needs a draw, and we’re talking about the most draw-ish team in the country here, that’s a good sign. But there’s one thing which, even when they’re flipping coaches like Pogs and scouring Serie A for 45-year-old Italians, you can always say about the Montreal Impact: they have a living, beating heart. That heart’s name is Joey Saputo, their greatest weakness and their greatest strength. You saw his tweet, I’m sure, after the Kansas City game, where he stated in cereal-box-approved style that “Our fans deserve better. Changes will be coming, guaranteed.”[2] It’s an old tune but, short-term, in the past it’s worked. Talk all you want about the players tuning Klopas out or the team being pensioners and Jack McInerney; we’ve heard that narrative and seen Impact teams we so casually wrote off coming out with all the fires of Hell lit under their asses in seasons past. Sure, eight times a season Joey does something eccentric, but thanks to him the Impact, alone out of every professional team in Canada, get pissed off.

You don’t want the Impact pissed off. Not when you’re FC Edmonton. Not when you’re anybody this side of Atlético Madrid. There’s still some punch in that old team, a fistful of skill, some diabolical finish, and they don’t need much tonight.

On balance, I think Montreal’s going to win this one and take the tie on the basis of “modest margin and superior team”, but it’s a near-run thing and the Eddies have some advantages. First, the Impact are bad. That’s the easy part. The Eddies are also bad, which is why I remain pessimistic, and Montreal has the Saputo Factor, but a bad team can always find a new way to disappoint you.

Second, Montreal gave its “A” team a good run in that Kansas City game. Brovsky, Ouimette, Mapp, and Bernadello all went 90. Felipe went 70, McInerney went 69. This points to another eleven of mild schmucks along the Blake Smith and Decomposing Patrice Bernier line, which is all to the good for Edmonton. Meanwhile, Colin Miller went with an A- lineup at the seriously-that’s-their-name Indy Eleven. Captain Albert Watson sat out entirely (through suspension). Tomi Ameobi also missed the eighteen. Hanson Boakai was an unused substitute. Neil Hlavaty (45 minutes) got a shorter run. This advantage is tempered by Montreal playing at home while Edmonton was in Indianapolis, but it’s an advantage all the same. The most important of that rested lot may not be Boakai but Watson, who is an excellent centre back for the level in almost every field, but is also physical. If history is any guide, he will need to be very careful to avoid conceding a penalty on some shabby excuse.

Third, Edmonton won that Indy game! 2-1, on a dandy quickfire double by Daryl Fordyce and Kareem Moses (trying to deny Erik Hurtado the title of “Most Implausible Scorer on a Canadian Team That Weekend”). That’s not a thing Edmonton does! FC Edmonton learning how to win on the road is like Happy Gilmore learning to putt. Indy Eleven is winless, with only two draws to their name, but they’re not quite a team of schmucks: everybody will know Brazilian ex-international Kléberson and more people should know dandy Honduran mid Walter Ramirez, who along with Lance Parker and Zurab Tsiskaridze was one of the three good things to come out of Miami FC. Ol’ Mike Ambersley has trundled in goals for more teams than I can count. And the Eddies beat ’em! Away! That, frankly, is a far more improbable feat than that mere “home win over Montreal” ever was.

The street thinks FC Edmonton will park the bus, lump the ball down the field to Jonke and/or Ameobi, and that if any chances come the Eddies way it’ll be through Boakai or Fordyce countering. They’re right. Colin Miller is one of God’s own bus-parkers. Nature imbued him with the power to take any combination of players and have them lumping the ball down to the opposite touchline within ten minutes of kickoff, and that’s in games he’s trying to win, not draw. It’s not even, necessarily, bad tactics. When you’re facing a modest skill deficit but holding onto a lead, the key is to keep the chances down. And, mentally, Montreal is a team that can get frustrated easily. The catch will be making sure the Impact expend energy as quickly as the Eddies do, and that means smart counters and the occasional aggressive sortie to make sure Montreal works for it. It can be done. I’m not betting on it, but it can be done. The trouble is that if Montreal snatches that goal, and Edmonton needs to open up the offense, they run right back into last week’s Hack-a-Jonke without the guarantee of more Boakai brilliance against a defense that now knows what to expect, and without much hope Karl Ouimette will forget how to do a header again.

Then there are the Whitecaps, who are looking to overturn exactly the same deficit as Montreal. But Vancouver is trying to do it against Toronto FC, probably the most talented team in the country this year who is taking this competition sort of seriously.

Here’s the thing. Obviously Carl Robinson doesn’t give a flying fuck about the Voyageurs Cup semifinal. Obviously. All his spin about “oh the kids have deserved it” is just that: if he really thought his young players totally deserved minutes against top opposition then he’d be playing them in the league, not exclusively in elimination Cup scenarios. In the grand story of the 2014 Vancouver Whitecaps, which is the more meaningful game: the home leg of a semifinal or away to the Columbus Crew? And in which game did Robinson run out the best he had? In which game did Robinson give interviews in which he, again, openly discussed which players he’d start? Quite. We’ll see if Robinson sends out the big guns in the final, should the Whitecaps get that far, but for now he’s treating the Voyageurs Cup like friendlies.

Which I would hate a lot more if it wasn’t getting Canadians some much-needed playing time, and if it wasn’t still leaving the Whitecaps with just a shot at victory. Sure, Toronto FC outplayed the Whitecaps Residency pretty hard at BMO Field, but that wasn’t primarily the Canadians’ faults and even that game was fully respectable. Now Toronto is in BC Place with a by-no-means comfortable advantage, and with Bustos, Froese, Piraux, and Farmer away the Whitecaps will be obliged to start an older player or two through sheer attrition. We’ll still see a young crew: Marco Carducci is confirmed to start again in goal, Christian Dean at left back (if he counts as a kid, which he shouldn’t; fuck off, NCAA), and my money says we’ll see Jordan Haynes at BC Place. But there’ll be a few more reservists rather than outright Residency kids.

The FCs have two road wins this year, in Seattle (uh-oh) and Columbus, but neither was exactly a day of glory. In both games Toronto was comfortably outshot, had less than 40% of the possession, and were outpassed by at least a 25% margin. In short, fairly lucky wins. They also got annihilated away by Salt Lake and lost ignominiously in Dallas. Their most recent game was a 2-1 loss at home to New England in which Toronto did not exactly play badly but certainly did little to earn a point.

The Whitecaps even have fatigue problems: Carducci and Haynes both played 90 minutes in a USSDA game in Seattle on Saturday[3], then Haynes saw 17 minutes for the U-23s in Kitsap on Sunday[4]. Teibert of course got garbage time in Columbus, as did starter-presumptive Nigel Reo-Coker, and I’m sure we’ll see at least one of Kekuta Manneh or Erik Hurtado start up high. Normally the side playing its “B” team has the advantage in fatigue; not so much today, and the use of Carducci and Haynes on the U-18 team when there was really no need is another data point for “the Voyageurs Cup is an afterthought to the coaching staff”.

You gotta like Toronto FC’s chances. (Let me rephrase, Whitecaps fans: you have to think that Toronto FC has better odds of winning the tie.) There remains the Joe Bendik factor. I don’t buy him for a second, I still don’t, and between him and the sketchy Toronto defense they could let Vancouver back into it with a breakdown like the one which gave Vancouver that hopefully-useful away goal last week. They do that sort of thing. With the Whitecaps liable to send out a second-rate offense (no, scoring a beauty against Columbus does not mean Erik Hurtado has suddenly learned how to be a forward), it might be necessary.

Right now I have Toronto and Montreal both going through, which coincidentally would be the result I want least, because I’ve learned by now how the soccer gods like to squeeze my balls.

(EDIT, May 14 10:07 PDT: this article originally asserted that the Toronto – New England game was this past weekend and made assertions about potential TFC fatigue based on that. Toronto in fact had a bye; the NE game was the weekend previous. I knew that, too. Thanks, Duncan Fletcher, for the correction.)

(notes and comments…)

The Greatest Day in FC Edmonton History

By Benjamin Massey · May 8th, 2014 · No comments

tlfoto.ca/FC Edmonton

tlfoto.ca/FC Edmonton

FC Edmonton has beaten an MLS team for the first time in competitive play. I defy you not to be happy.

Normally I like to play the master of historical context. “You say this is the greatest Whitecaps midfielder of all time, but Martin Nash blah blah blah, you MLS-worshipping schmuck.” To hell with that. This has been called the greatest victory in the five-year, four-season history of FC Edmonton. These people are correct. What a day. What a day!

After my shot at hype-calming on Tuesday, Hanson Boakai put on a show. His aggressiveness and confidence put the wind up a Montreal midfield more used to soi-disant Eastern Conference attacking midfielders of the Daigo Kobayashi type. A guy actually trying to shove the ball down their gullets is a rare thing. Meanwhile, the Impact defense was having kittens over Frank Jonke, going full Hack-a-Shaq on the big forward who, as if by compensation, had his most effective game of the year just pulling off little touches and making space for his comrades, as shown to perfection on the equalizing goal when Montreal had their mitts so full of Jonke they didn’t consider the possibility that Handsome Bowtie might make a La Liga-quality throughball to Tomi Ameobi, who’d have nothing to do but finish…

Holy crow, what a ball that was. Holy crow. Sated with your diet of EPL magnificence and looking forward to the World Cup you might not be as pumped as I but Canadians, as a rule, don’t make passes like that. I don’t know what they’ve been teaching Boakai over there in Edmonton but it must be working. (Also, he created two half-scoring chances with sheer legs and guts and even when his youthful exuberance led to Montreal getting the best of him on a possession he’d be taking another crack at it next time around. His teammates didn’t seem frustrated. Hlavaty and Fordyce, two guys who don’t mind running themselves, were happy to pass the ball off to Boakai and let him create the opportunity. Small wonder, with his passing and crossing being so dangerous.)

And then the winner. John Smits pounds it long, Karl Ouimette goes to head the ball back to (the excellent) Evan Bush, only he forgets the part where he heads the ball, Michael Nonni was lurking in case of precisely that sort of mistake, 2-1 Eddies. Another Canadian. One who, as Steve Sandor has pointed out at almost unseemly length[1], was a batted eyelash away from being cut before this season. Silviu Petrescu missed a clear penalty shout for Daryl Fordyce in the last Planck time of the match, the kind of thing that could could back to haunt Edmonton in the second leg, but no matter, not for now.

Victory long-delayed, after all, is the very sweetest. Edmonton went into the 2011 Voyageurs Cup full of young optimism. We didn’t get to see how justified it was, as star player Shaun Saiko was unjustly sent off after only 23 minutes and Toronto cruised to a 3-0 win. The next week, away, a Toronto “B” team easily slapped Edmonton around. In 2012 the Eddies played Vancouver in their first game and got thumped; the only no-bullshit home beating the Eddies have taken in this competition. The next week, away, a Vancouver “B” team easily slapped Edmonton around (though Yashir Pinto made things briefly interesting). And in 2013 Edmonton once again faced Vancouver and would have won but for Silviu Petrescu giving Vancouver no fewer than two goals that never should have happened, one offside, the other a flagrant dive for a penalty. It was a great injustice in a competition that’s seen its share. The next week, away, a Vancouver “B” team easily slapped Edmonton around.

So now Edmonton has their first leg victory, and long fucking overdue it has been. But you see that the second leg is the catch. Apart from 21 minutes at BC Place on May 9, 2012, Edmonton has looked outmatched away against MLS teams playing schmucks like Greg Klazura, Floyd Franks, Michael Nanchoff, you get the drift.

Will Montreal take the Eddies lightly? Remember that last year Toronto FC won 2-0 at BMO Field off a weakened Montreal in the first leg, back when we all thought the Impact would be pretty good[2]. The Montreal Ultras responded to this with a now-famous banner reading “nous on l’a pris au sérieux” — “we took it seriously.”[3] The Impact invited Toronto FC back to Stade Saputo and beat the FCs 6-0[4], tied for the biggest ass-kicking in the twelve-year history of the Voyageurs Cup[5]. A fair bit has changed with Montreal in the past year, but the Impact have form rousing themselves to vengeance.

This has been the obligatory pessimistic part of the post; those things had to be said, but this is still a magnificent day. You sometimes see upset games where the goalkeeper had the game of his life, the underdog had ten men behind the ball and snatched one on the counter, the goalposts rang with the sound of missed opportunities. Nah. Edmonton decided to trade punches with Montreal and won on every scorecard. There was nothing negative in their tactics. Somewhat unreliable official statistics had the two teams even on shots directed, 7-7, and Edmonton ahead on shots on target, 4-2[6]. Edmonton outcornered Montreal handily and led in possession until Montreal’s superior rest began to tell in the second half, and the pace changed to more straight vertical attack. Luck wasn’t conspicuous in either direction. Jack McInerney nearly made himself famous with an appalling header off the crossbar, but since he scored a few minutes later I think we can call that even, while as I mentioned Daryl Fordyce really should have had a penalty on 90’+4.

Oh, and man of the match was Hanson Boakai. Of course it was. Putting the “Canadian champion” into “Canadian championship” at 17 years old. Some eyebrows were raised when he was substituted out for Mike Banner, but the world is better off with Boakai running himself stupid for 70 minutes rather than trying to pace himself for 90. Banner is not the most popular player in Edmonton right now, his first two games have not been inspiring, but I swear he has talent. I will have to make a point of writing hopeful but somewhat skeptical article on Boakai before big games in the future. You know, people are already asking which big European club he’ll go to? It’s a little early, surely, it takes more than two man of the match awards to start buying plane tickets to Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but it’s been a long time since I saw a player that young look so bright professionally in this country. Maybe I never have.

The evening’s first game was less exciting but probably showed more of Canada’s soccer future, so let’s conclude with two paragraphs on the young Vancouver Whitecaps in their 2-1 loss to Toronto FC. Toronto took the “eleven barrels of hell” approach we discussed on Tuesday, as I feared. So with Toronto’s A- against Vancouver’s B- or C+ the result for the Whitecaps was about as good as we could have hoped for: out-played, certainly, but not Vancouver’s worst road game even of this season, with the critical first goal against caused by a lapse from veteran Nigel Reo-Coker rather than any of the youth. A key away goal, a survivable margin, and plenty to be proud of. It’s significant that the weakest links in the team were Reo-Coker, Erik Hurtado, and Johnny Leveron, not the raw rookies. (Hurtado had one nice touch that made a half-chance, then was immediately substituted off. “That’s not what we pay you for, Erik!”) The official man of the match was Issey Nakajima-Farran, who was playing on Rookie while his teammates played on Pro thanks to his matchup with Reo-Coker, but still asserted himself. The Whitecaps man of the match was Russell Teibert. Two more Canadian champions.

Let’s not sugarcoat it. The MLS debutantes, Froese and Bustos especially, weren’t used to the match speed. But of course they weren’t! How could they have been, this was their first exposure to it. Both showed skill, had nice moments, and weren’t overawed by the calibre of their debut: that’s what counts. Bustos looked like he was already ready to play once in a while in MLS, with only a slight trepidation in steering the attack standing out, and of course he cleared a ball off the line, which is always the right play. (Who would have guessed that Marco would be the first to a professional save?) Froese has been criticized for failing to read the patchy BMO Field turf, and fair enough, a professional needs to do better, but he also made the give-and-go with Russell Teibert that was Vancouver’s most skillful attack of the game. Marco Carducci was at fault for neither goal against, has been reviewed too harshly for his aggressive but ultimately effective early charge at Gilberto that Carlyle Mitchell cleaned up, made some tidy saves, and wanted only a bit of confidence. And, at last, a national audience saw some of the Bryce Alderson I’ve always been such a fan of. Hopefully this leads to additional appearances; no Whitecap deserves them more.

(notes and comments…)

Voyageurs Cup Second Round or Something: Wow Such Canada

By Benjamin Massey · May 6th, 2014 · 3 comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

There are a few reasons why I’m even more excited than usual for the second round of the Voyageurs Cup this year. (Is it the second round, or the “first round proper”? Was the Edmonton – Ottawa leg the start of the competition, or qualification for the final rounds FA Cup-style? We need a ruling on this. For reasons too heartbreaking to get into the Canadian Soccer Style Guide is mostly about mixed drinks.)

Firstly, congratulations to FC Edmonton on their first ever Voyageurs Cup victory against the Ottawa Fury. Did you see the two games? You lucky dog. Sportsnet didn’t show them and the the stream was less reliable than Tony Donatelli: the Ottawa games had fleeting moments of watchability for us ordinary schmucks, but was apparently excellent for subscribers watching through Rogers’ website without a care in the world. The Edmonton stream was quite good when BT Edmonton finally flipped the switch on their end from Modern Family re-runs with maybe five minutes left in the first half. Given that both Ottawa and Edmonton are accustomed to putting out decent-quality web streams for NASL games on a weekly basis, one wonders what the fuck happened when suddenly the job was on the Canadian Soccer Association’s watch. Of course the root cause of all this is Sportsnet deciding to put darts, generic highlight packages, and Prime Time Sports re-runs on each of their six stations instead of Canada’s national soccer championship, but the ball was dropped rather heavily on what should, by now, be a routine job.

As the more watchable, not to mention the more interesting, of the games was the Edmonton leg that’s where most of the analysis has come from. Here are the highlights if you missed them[1]; you’ll observe that it is ninety seconds of young Canadian midfielder Hanson Boakai violating Omar Jarun so egregiously the police were called. The list of shifty midfielders who’ve slapped Omar Jarun around in this country is a pretty long one, and Boakai’s goal and two assists in that game, while remarkable and deserving of all the plaudits, were the first points of his professional career. So while observers naturally heap praise on Boakai for his game they have been a little conservative looking forward, especially with the coming of a Montreal Impact defense which, whatever its many flaws, hasn’t got Omar Jarun on it.

Ha of course not. Here is the Edmonton Journal‘s Norm Cowley with an article titled “FC Edmonton phenom could become a ‘Canadian Messi’.”[2] The headline quotes Colin Miller, who says the fateful words in a bit more of a pie-in-the-sky sense than the headline would seem to imply. Nick Sabetti of Goal.com referred to Boakai as a “star midfielder” who is “already making a name for himself.”[3]. And fans have been beating the Boakai drum continuously for the past week. It’s heady stuff for a player who, last season, saw 34 minutes of action with no statistics of note plus 67 minutes so far this regular season (again, without achieving much). He’d be part of the second eleven full-time if the team was healthier, and the return of Mike Banner looks bad for his starting chances going forward. I like Boakai, though his game needs rounding out, but good God almighty it’s getting insane over here, all because, in the proud tradition of teams that don’t get media attention most of the year, people watched one game and couldn’t take it in context.

If the Eddies are going to beat Montreal they’re going to need a lot more than a game’s worth of teenager hype, and that’s only just possible. I haven’t watched much MLS this year but even I know the Montreal Impact have been… problematic. They have the lowest goal differential in the league among teams that aren’t Chivas USA. They have one point from four road games, and that point was an evenly-fought game against fellow Eastern Conference dumpster fire Philadelphia. Their defense allows enough shots that they’re almost 2013 Vancouver Whitecaps bad. With a few talented players but a highly sketchy defense and not enough midfielders you can rely on, they remind me a lot of the 2008 Toronto FCs, and we all know how they did against second division sorts.

On the other hand, Montreal has the talent to cause problems to the Eddies patchwork defense than I’d like: Marco di Vaio is the sort of clever, technical player just born to give Kareem Moses a nightmare. Jack McInerney is also a player. They’re well-rested, with no games since April 26 (a game they won, albeit while being outshot 17-7 at home by those same woeful Union), which partially ameliorates the travel issue and might well mean starts for their best eleven, though Saturday’s league game against the Kansas City Wizards will presumably weigh on Klopas’s shoulders. Finally, FC Edmonton is… well, I’d call them the Montreal Impact of the NASL, but part of me fears they’re the Chivas USA. Unless the Impact come in way off their best, and we can’t rule that out, it looks like Montreal’s tie.

There was one hopeful sign for the Eddies. Last week Impact coach Frank Klopas gave an interview with the team’s website where you could almost hear the boredom dripping off him.

It’s a team, I think, that’s very good in transition. They have pace out wide. They have some good, quality players. They’re very organized defensively[4].

No they fucking aren’t! “Pace out wide”? Lance Laing is almost fast, as is bench scrub Horace James. The rest of the guys are either bull-in-a-china-shop sorts like Eddie Edward or players who may be useful but are hardly known for pace like Michael Nonni, Neil Hlavaty, Mike Banner, or Boakai himself (shifty, yes, fast, not really). And as for organized defense, this came before the Eddies’ home thumping to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers so excuse Klopas that but they’ve still had a revolving door at centre back and left John Smits more exposed than a flasher at a preschool.

So yes, I’m predicting a fairly handy Montreal victory over the two legs. That doesn’t mean Edmonton doesn’t have upset potential, because they do. Neil Hlavaty is still trying to find 2011-2013 Neil Hlavaty within his heart somewhere, and if he does that’ll be a major link between the defense and attack which has been missing. Mike Banner didn’t look like anything against Fort Lauderdale but he’s a good player who had a dandy preseason. And Ritchie Jones hasn’t quite got his sights in yet: maybe MLS opposition will motivate him. Three midfielders letting the Eddies get away from their so-often-fatal route one soccer, combined with the idiosyncratic pitch at Clarke Stadium and Montreal’s possible presumption of victory. Victory has a recipe, but don’t show it to Gordon Ramsay, he would not be pleased.

I’m not just excited for Edmonton, though. Yes, it’s that rarest of things: Vancouver Whitecaps first team analysis on Maple Leaf Forever!

Well, I say “analysis” but I really mean “banalysis”. And I say “first team” but I really mean “whatever you call that thing Carl Robinson is going to throw out on the field.” First, Robinson named his Voyageurs Cup roster. This doesn’t mean too much since you can modify it until very late in the day, but it was still an eye-catcher: no Kenny Miller (well, we know why now), no Pedro Morales, no Jay DeMerit, Jordan Harvey, Andy O’Brien, or Nigel Reo-Coker, no David Ousted. But a load of Canadians, including recently-recalled Charleston loanee Jackson Farmer and Residency boys Jordan Haynes, Marco Bustos, Mitch Piraux, and Kianz Froese[5]. That’s a pretty aggressive declaration of youth. Then Robinson announced that he would be giving Carducci and Alderson their first professional starts against Toronto FC in the Voyageurs Cup[6]. Alongside Russell Teibert, and with possibly one or two kids coming off the bench, that means the Whitecaps could well use more Canadian minutes in one championship game than they did the entire 2012 season under Martin Rennie, and that’s without Sam Adekugbe, who’s injured.

I should be unambiguously delighted. I like Alderson a lot. This opportunity was long overdue for him, especially consider the oft-uninspiring midfielders he’s been competing with for minutes. Carducci hasn’t waited so long, but I wanted him to see a bit of time against the Chivas USAs of the world if practical: this is early for him, but he’s an undeniable talent, and if you’re going to rest Ousted much better Carducci gets the minutes then dolloping them to Paolo Tornaghi like it’s a reserve game.

Yet it does show a distinct disinclination to take the Voyageurs Cup as seriously as Vancouver should. Starting Canadians is good sense, but leaving important first-teamers off the roster apparently for sheer devilry and showing Ryan Nelsen your hand days in advance is a little bit much. In that sense Robinson’s treating an important cup match against a rival with a superior side like a preseason friendly.

Personally, I incline more towards pleasure than worry. Partially this is because I think the Aldersons and Teiberts can handle it, the Bustoses and Hayneses won’t embarrass themselves coming off the bench, and that even if the team as a whole winds up being a little weak it might be worth it if one or two of these boys can shine and force their way into the regular lineup. Even if there are disappointing players — and with this many kids getting this many vital minutes somebody will disappoint — the experience will help. Developing our best young talent, even if it costs games in the short run, is a winning strategy long-term. I wish we were developing it against the New England Revolution rather than in our Cup, but still so much better than nothing.

Besides, we don’t know what Ryan Nelsen is going to do. Just from scanning the fan world, the possibilities run from “Defoe, Bradley, and the full force of Toronto FC’s eleven barrels of hell raining down on the inexperienced Whitecaps to score a big lead and restore some confidence” to “I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s going 180 minutes.” I think Defoe is a little overrated and Bradley is a lot overrated, but I also don’t think Jackson Farmer and his 200-odd lifetime minutes against grown men is the man to defend either one. And I haven’t even said Gilberto yet, or Jonathan Osorio (though he may be injured), or Dwayne De Rosario, who is about 60% washed-up but still amounts to a useful player at this level.

On the other hand, if the “B” team comes out, who have we got? A goalkeeper, according to Nelsen’s press chatter Joe Bendik, who is below replacement level. A defense with an awful lot of nothing (Mark Bloom plays regularly for them! Mark Bloom!). Midfield? Well, yes, MeRo, but also Issey Nakajima-Farran and I mean come on, for God’s sake, Bryce, if you can’t handle Issey Nakajima-Fucking-Farran you’re not the player I think you are. In short, if Nelsen’s attitude is fairly similar to Robinson’s, there’s hope there. Depth on depth, the Whitecaps can slug it out with Toronto, though it’ll be a near-run thing.

Oh God I hope the Whitecaps win. I know that’s a pretty obvious statement coming from an alleged Whitecaps fan, but even more than usual. Oh God, give us this one.

(notes and comments…)

Canadian Domestic Content Before and In the MLS Era

By Benjamin Massey · February 14th, 2014 · 9 comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Last week, Don Garber broke from his usual policy of pretending Canada doesn’t exist to talk up Major League Soccer’s impact on the country at his press conference to announce David Beckham’s new franchise in Miami. He hoped Canada would qualify for its first World Cup since 1986 (so do I!) and that he thought MLS would get us there. Which is optimistic, given that the MLS era has coincided with the all-time nadir of Canada’s men’s national team, but of course that’s not all MLS’s fault.

Still, it’s worth evaluating the big picture, and if Garber is right that Canada is getting something out of its association with his league hopefully we can rustle up some evidence besides all those goals we haven’t scored. So let’s see what the Major League Soccer era has done in one area clubs can control on their own: the number of Canadians getting minutes every season on Canadian clubs.

Many of you will be familiar with Out of Touch‘s traditional Canadian content report, where Jono looks at what proportion of its minutes each Canadian professional team gives domestic players[1]. It’s a great way to see how the Canadian teams are doing relative to each other. But Jono’s tables are set up to show the percentage of minutes, rather than the mass of them, which is fair when you’re trying to ask which team is doing better (since some teams play more games), but unfair when you’re trying to figure out the bulk benefit to Canadian players as a whole. More importantly, his archives only go back to 2008 while the Canadian MLS era began in 2007. So, to get a clearer look at where we’ve gone in the MLS era, I decided to re-invent the wheel.

I have compiled the Canadian content numbers in domestic professional soccer (defined as USL A-League, USL First Division, USSF Pro D-2, NASL, and MLS) since 2004. This was the last year, prior to the upcoming 2014 season, where five professional teams operated in Canada (Calgary Mustangs, Edmonton Aviators, Montreal Impact, Toronto Lynx, and Vancouver Whitecaps, all of the USL A-League) and may be taken as a high-water mark since the demise of the Canadian Soccer League. It was also the earliest season for which player-by-player numbers were easily available. My figures do not agree with Jono’s at many points: I suspect his are the more accurate because many of mine are taken from season totals rather than game-by-game summaries, but it’s small change either way[2]. I also list players who appeared to have been in match-day eighteens but gotten no minutes, but who then later appeared in a senior international training camp, for the sake of completeness.

If you like, my spreadsheet listing each of the players is available online, so you can use the numbers for your own purposes. I’ll also give the full figures for a few major seasons in-line with the article, and a summary at the end.

2004 USL A-League
Calgary Mustangs Edmonton Aviators Montreal Impact Toronto Lynx Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Auvigne, Jaime 2264 Akok, Freddy 1354 Biello, Mauro 1723 Arango, Andres 1131 Clarke, Jeff 2017
Castrillon, John Jr. 462 Bosch, Kurt 1833 Braz, Adam 1510 Ashton, Brian 38 Corazzin, Carlo 1211
Chala, Conrad 306 Chin, Gordon 2379 Budalic, Niki 304 Bartolomeu, Edgar 1528 Craveiro, Nico 1040
Frazao, Steven 237 Da Silva, Liam 2054 Cann, Adrian 256 Connor, Matthew 45 Cucca, Tino 33
Gillespie, Jordan 1650 Devlin, Chris 1296 DiTullio, Jason 844 Diplacido, David 1805 Dasovic, Nick 2143
Holdt, Steffen 1969 Dhaliwal, Paul 1417 Fronimadis, David 217 Dodds, Jamie 1940 Franks, Chris 984
Jesic, Damir 1580 Drummond, Daniel 470 Gervais, Gabriel 2386 Faria, Shawn 1231 Franks, Mike 895
Kooy, Chris 1048 Fraser, Sean 2401 Grande, Sandro 1902 Gbeke, Charles 657 Gomes, Mark 250
Mert, Mesut 2202 Handsor, Chris 950 Hainault, Andre 17 Gerba, Ali 2083 Harmse, Kevin 510
Pavicic, Mike 1353 Kassaye, Simon 604 Leduc, Pat 2074 Handsor, Chris 202 Heald, Ollie 1427
Peszneker, Charles 1773 Kaushal, Vikram 506 Lemire, Chris 383 Hughes, Tyler 1703 Jordan, Jason 1359
Reyes, Nic 744 Lemire, Chris 1049 Olivieri, Andrew 281 Mattacchione, Joe 2546 Kindel, Steve 2307
Richer, Aaron 754 Molina, Cesar 32 Pizzolitto, Nevio 1653 Munthali, Rumbani 1353 Lyall, Geordie 1090
Sestito, Angelo 1667 Munoz, Eric 668 Ribeiro, Antonio 1737 O’Connor, Matthew 329 Morris, David 1800
Slade, Mark 99 Sibiya, Sipho 1248 Selaidopoulos, Kyriakos 148 Prostran, Igor 519 Nash, Martin 1752
Zuniga, Nicolas 1051 Stankov, Nick 1208 Sutton, Greg 2366 Rowland, Brian 90 Sulentic, Johnny 1676
Stankov, Robert 2 Williams, Chris 976 Serioux, Adrian 1184 Thompson, Justin 1301
Stephens, Wesley 21 Valente, Alfredo 1633
Tachie, Desmond 654 Xausa, Davide 1796
Vignjevic, Nikki 1989
Subtotal 19159 22135 18777 18384 25224
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 103707

Naturally the five-team 2004 season had the most Canadian minutes I have recorded, but not always with the best results. Edmonton and Calgary were legendary disasters, the two worst teams in the league, and their Canadian content was mostly picked for price rather than quality. The large majority of those Canadian players were out of professional soccer when their teams folded; a lucky few got a season or two elsewhere, but very few did much. Edmonton’s Chris Lemire and Calgary’s Mesut Mert became the answers to trivia questions when they were the only players in their teams’ history to be called up for a senior Canadian men’s national team training camp under Frank Yallop for non-official friendlies in July 2004[3] (Mert got another camp in 2007 after his final year with the Montreal Impact[4] but never received a full cap). A few other Aviators and Mustangs surfaced for odds-and-ends seasons here and there; Edmonton’s Gordon Chin had runs with Toronto Lynx and Vancouver, Calgary’s Chris Kooy and Edmonton’s Lemire returned for the first season of FC Edmonton in 2011, and for reasons best known to themselves the Toronto Lynx scooped a handful of ex-Aviators for 2005, but by and by large it was a sorry group.

But the Vancouver Whitecaps, who recorded more Canadian minutes in 2004 than any professional team since, were second in the Western Conference and made the conference semi-finals. Montreal, whose 18,777 Canadian minutes would have been considered very good in any other season, won the whole thing. Even Toronto was less bad than usual[5]. Giving big minutes to Canadians was no guarantee of success but nor was it any impediment. Counting Mert and Lemire, twenty-five Canadians on a Canadian A-League team in 2004 would at least be called up to a senior men’s national team camp over their careers. Twenty-five! And those weren’t bad teams by today’s standards; they put up a credible fight for 2006 World Cup qualification and made a strong run in the 2007 Gold Cup.

2004 was the high water mark for Canadian domestic professionals in more ways than one. In 2005, with fewer Canadian teams naturally total minutes declined, but so did the domestic minutes in (very good) Vancouver and (regular season champion) Montreal. The Toronto Lynx increased to 20,257 minutes but were a nightmare on the field; with a bunch of old Aviators so I don’t know what they thought was going to happen. Long-retired legend Lyndon Hooper hit the pitch on August 21 and September 5. But it wasn’t all 38-year-olds, scrubs, and Robbie Aristodemo: Charles Gbeke, Ali Gerba, Dave Simpson, and Chris Williams were all on that team and had their best years ahead of them. Toronto FC today would consider that a decent haul.

2006 USL First Division
Montreal Impact Toronto Lynx Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Biello, Mauro 2192 Antsey, Ryan 42 Cann, Adrian 1902
Braz, Adam 1914 Arango, Andres 2430 Clarke, Jeff 2316
Di Ioia, Massimo 516 Aristodemo, Robbie 2051 Djekanovic, Srdjan 0
DiTullio, Jason 262 Bartolomeu, Edgar 496 Harmse, Kevin 0
Fronimadis, David 210 Bedenikovic, Marco 1761 Jordan, Jason 373
Gatti, Simon 157 Chin, Gordon 1283 Kambere, Diaz 146
Gervais, Gabriel 1988 Dekker, Niels 834 Kindel, Steve 2053
Leduc, Pat 1570 Diplacido, David 1719 Lyall, Geordie 1628
Mert, Mesut 919 Dodds, Jamie 2154 Matondo, Sita-Taty 510
Pizzolitto, Nevio 1980 Eja-Tabe, Huffman 84 Morris, David 1438
Ribeiro, Antonio 994 Faria, Shawn 151 Nash, Martin 2220
Sutton, Greg 1260 Mattacchione, Joe 1184 Valente, Alfredo 664
Medwin, Cameron 546
Menezes, Tony 339
Palleschi, Matthew 1326
Pottinger, Damien 1016
Shepherd, Jeremy 340
Williams, Chris 2114
Zagar, Theo 1834
Subtotal 13962 21704 13250
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 48944

In 2006 the decline in Canadian content continued, again apart from Toronto, but three Canadian teams still totaled 48,944 domestic minutes. The Whitecaps were hurt by several key Canadian departures: Kevin Harmse went overseas to Slovakia, Mike Franks got a cameo in England, Carlo Corazzin, Nick Dasovic, Mark Watson, Davide Xausa, Chris Franks, and Liam Da Silva left professional soccer. Most of the remaining players were older, although Adrian Cann was a young bright spot. It was a tough season in terms of Canadian content, if in no other sense: Vancouver won the championship and recorded 13,250 domestic minutes in spite of the serious losses; a poor number by the standards of the day, but 3,000 minutes better than any of our (unsuccessful) MLS teams have ever recorded and in fewer games.

The regular season champion Impact also had good Canadian content led by the eternal Biello, Braz, and Gervais, and got a first-rate season out of their 13,962 Canadian minutes (this would also be a Canadian MLS record by about 33%). The Toronto Lynx were also present and as focused on mediocre Canadian players everybody’s already forgotten as always. Hey, it’s Tony Menezes! He would have been well into his thriving beach soccer career by 2006. What a random lot that was. It was hard not to love the Toronto Lynx, they were so earnestly mediocre. Only the Impact came off as villains, and that was because they ran out a lineup with Braz, Biello, and Nevio Pizzolitto and more often than not finished with eleven men rather than eleven years in prison. The mid-2000s Montreal Impact were the soccer version of the Charleston Chiefs, right now to the Canadian lads and championship appearances. I didn’t love them so much.

Man, the little things we thought were problems back in the mid-2000s, with Vancouver barely getting 13,000 minutes out of its Canadians, and Montreal not winning the right way, and Toronto being dedicated and low-budget but steadfastly incompetent like a college film. In fact things were about to get worse, much worse, beginning with the very next season when Toronto FC came into Major League Soccer, the Lynx went down to USL PDL, and the age of the Canadian playing at home began to end.

2007 USL First Division/Major League Soccer
Montreal Impact Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Arango, Andres 1725 Attakora, Nana 0 Cann, Adrian 2430
Biello, Mauro 992 Braz, Adam 771 Clarke, Jeff 2069
Fronimadis, David 923 Brennan, Jim 2430 Jordan, Jason 350
Gatti, Simon 2046 Chencinski, Tomer 0 Kambere, Diaz 905
Gbeke, Charles 1884 Djekanovic, Srdjan 635 Kindel, Steve 1855
Gervais, Gabriel 1505 Gala, Gabe 222 Leslie, Stefan 106
Leduc, Pat 2328 Hemming, Tyler 239 Lyall, Geordie 907
Marcina, Alen 411 Lombardo, Andrea 726 Marcina, Alen 343
Matondo, Sita-Taty 349 Melo, Joey 110 Marples, Nigel 74
Pizzolitto, Nevio 102 Monsalve, David 90 Morris, David 654
Ribeiro, Antonio 856 Pozniak, Chris 1497 Nash, Martin 1999
Reda, Marco 573 Smith, Graham 85
Stamatopoulos, Kenny 1080 Valente, Alfredo 1170
Sutton, Greg 720
Subtotal 13121 9093 12748
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 35020

Toronto FC brought many good things (three previously-little-known goalkeepers in David Monsalve, Kenny Stamatopoulos, and Tomer Chencinski; didn’t keep any of them, of course, didn’t even play Tomer) and some bad (the careers of Andrea Lombardo, Joey Melo, Gabe Gala, and Tyler Hemming). They won many fans, which is of course a good thing, but not many games, in a plain but charming stadium for which I still have a soft spot. They hired Jim Brennan back from England for a few years of replacement-level left back before he knifed Dale Mitchell in the spine and became irrelevant to the national picture. What they didn’t bring was Canadian content. The 9,093 Canadian minutes from Toronto that year, though very good by later MLS standards thanks to a then-higher Canadian quota, represented a fall of over 12,000 from the now-departed Lynx. To absolutely no effect, as first-year TFC finished dead last. Small wonder the jump from 2006 to 2007 represents the largest recorded plunge in Canadian domestic minutes per game.

The two USL First Division teams did fine. Montreal lost minutes due to Mauro Biello and Nevio Pizzolitto missing significant time (so what; they were third in the league). Vancouver lost a few hundred minutes because of niggling injuries knocking time off the likes of Morris, Lyall, and Nash (more significant; the Whitecaps had a mediocre year). The changes in Montreal and Vancouver amounted to a rounding error; the damage was done in Toronto.

Yet even as I rag on TFC let’s set the historical record straight in their favour. There was a time when second-division fans like me hammered Toronto FC for their policy of giving minutes to imports over Canadians. Little did we suspect the problem had little to do with the team and everything to do with the league and the era: TFC never got as good as the USL teams we were used to but they were, and remain, far more Canadian than the MLS Whitecaps and Impact. I say “and” for a reason: in both years of three-team MLS play Toronto has out-Canadianed Montreal and Vancouver combined.

Looking back Toronto FC almost look like national heroes. Sure, their 9,000+ minute seasons (when the quota was high) and 5,800+ minute seasons (when the quota was lowered) are despicable compared to the second-division teams but among the Canadian MLS teams Toronto has each of the seven best seasons for domestic Canadian content, with Montreal and Vancouver never coming close. Montreal and Vancouver have given Canadians a combined 9,162 minutes in their MLS histories, which is below two individual Toronto FC seasons. See if I say a bad word about the FCs dedication to Canada for a while; even if Michael Bradley eats Kyle Bekker for lunch Toronto’s first team will have done better by Canada than either of their rivals.

But during the second division Vancouver, especially, continued to do well. A healthier Whitecaps team had a more Canadian 2008 and helped themselves to another championship for their patriotism. 2009 was less good, caught in transition as Jason Jordan, Jeff Clarke, and Steve Kindel retired with a title while the likes of Luca Bellisomo, Philippe Davies, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, and Ethan Gage began to make their names, but still an improvement over 2007 and good enough for a USL-1 finals appearance. Montreal lost domestic minutes as Biello and Leduc got old and hopefuls like Felix Brillant and Alex Surprenant didn’t work out. They were 2009 league champions and had a famous CONCACAF Champions League run, so it’s not like they were struggling, but they suffered the indignity of becoming the first second-division team ever to have fewer Canadian minutes than an MLS side (Montreal, in its worst year to date, had 10,244; Toronto, in its best year ever, 10,736).

In spite of the Impact’s decline, which was temporarily halted in 2010, Montreal and Vancouver exceeded 10,000 Canadian domestic minutes every year until they began preparing for MLS. They won games with those Canadians: Vancouver took the 2008 championship, the two teams met in the 2009 final with Montreal prevailing, and in 2010 neither team was elite but the Impact were unlucky to lose as early as they did. The 2010 Montreal Impact did something that would almost be unthinkable today: stuck in a surprising slump when they’d expected to be contenders, Montreal loaded up mid-season… with domestic players, adding among others Ali Gerba and Antonio Ribeiro. It worked, too: I forget how many goals Gerba scored down the stretch in 2010 but it was around a million while Ribeiro looked very lively. The Canadian-reinforced Impact went on to thump probably the league’s best overall team, Austin, 5-2 in the first playoff round before losing a highly unlucky two-legger to Carolina.

The Whitecaps also had a mediocre 2010. Like Montreal, they tried to reinforce midseason, and like Montreal they brought in a few Canadians to do it: Kyle Porter, Alex Elliott, and Terry Dunfield. But that season also saw the team “preparing for MLS”, and they did it by giving minutes that would normally have gone to Canadians over to almost-invariably-disappointing imports. Porter’s playing time amounted to half an hour. Edwini-Bonsu was benched in favour of the likes of Cody Arnoux and Jonathan McDonald, which would be funny if it hadn’t cost us games then and today. Journeyman defender Chris Williams sat with his thumb up his butt while Willis Forko bungled every ball that came towards him. Ethan Gage, once promising, got only a few hundred minutes, including a playoff run where he showed what had gotten people so excited, and was promptly shipped out. The one import worth a scintilla of a damn was Davide Chiumiento, who was useless in his few competitive minutes because he was a perfect sphere and seemed to think USSF D2 was a beer league. For all that there were still Canadian regulars: Bellisomo, Davies, and Martin Nash. But 9,603 Canadian minutes was an all-time low, and 877 of those came from an on-loan Marcus Haber. And none of those three regulars I named would ever play MLS minute one.

The disease had spread to Vancouver.

2011 North American Soccer League/Major League Soccer
FC Edmonton Montreal Impact Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Cox, Michael 743 Agourram, Reda 379 Attakora, Nana 373 Davies, Philippe 0
Craig, Paul 544 Gatti, Simon 1953 Cann, Adrian 988 Dunfield, Terry 928
Duberry, Andre 151 Gerba, Ali 833 Cordon, Oscar 144 Harmse, Kevin 126
Hamilton, Paul 2414 Ilcu, Mircea 317 de Guzman, Julian 1325 Teibert, Russell 503
Jonke, John 1478 Mayard, Pierre-Rudolph 305 De Rosario, Dwayne 180
Kooy, Chris 2430 Pizzolitto, Nevio 1261 Dunfield, Terry 263
Lam, Sam 376 Ribeiro, Antonio 758 Henry, Doneil 503
Lemire, Chris 825 Terminesi, Marco 64 Makubuya, Keith 45
Monsalve, David 90 Morgan, Ashtone 903
Oppong, Dominic 1723 Stinson, Matt 675
Porter, Kyle 1699 Zavarise, Gianluca 569
Rago, Antonio 2318
Saiko, Shaun 2168
Saler, Niko 450
Semenets, Alex 377
Sidra, Eddy 515
Suprenant, Alex 1603
Yamada, Kyle 1417
Subtotal 21321 5870 5968 1557
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 34778

In 2011 FC Edmonton joined the competition and as a result we saw the number of Canadian domestic minutes rise to 34,778, the best since 2007. Since Edmonton accounted for 21,321, or 61.3%, of those minutes, I don’t think the other teams get any credit for that. Vancouver, in its first MLS season, gave Canadians a total of 1,557 minutes. 1,557?! From a team that took almost ten times as many to championships in 2006 and 2008? What the hell is this? But of course the 2011 Whitecaps were probably the worst team in the league so at least it was worth it. Sure, Edwini-Bonsu got cut without a serious opportunity (Joe Cannon tweeted his surprise that the Whitecaps had cut a player he’d never heard of before hastily deleting it[6]), Kyle Porter was nickel-and-dimed out of town, Terry Dunfield was traded mid-season for nothing, no Residency guys apart from Russell Teibert got a chance, and Philippe Davies got zero minutes, even in the nothing games at the end of the year, but at least the Whitecaps gave valuable development to Peter Vagenas, John Thorrington, I can’t even keep talking about this it still makes me so furious. Teibert was unlucky, starting off gangbusters then showing everybody why you shouldn’t bike in flip-flops, but for the rest there was no excuse Tom Soehn could have offered that would be sufficient.

Edmonton also stank, but they made the playoffs (briefly) because pretty much everyone in the NASL did that year. They loaded up on Canadians to a degree unheard of these days and reminiscent of the old Toronto Lynx, and for pretty much the same reason: they were cheap. Look at all those AMSL guys! Actually, many of them were okay, which is why the Eddies managed respectability (and Edmonton Scottish today terrifies the amateur ranks). I still have fond memories of Chris Kooy, John Jonke had his uses at centre back, and Dominic Oppong was a decent tough-as-nails motherfucker of a central player as long as you didn’t ask him to do too much. In the old days, with a few other second division teams kicking around, those players would have landed somewhere. Instead, when Edmonton moved them on they had nowhere to go.

As for Toronto, they get some credit for a poor Canadian season: Dwayne De Rosario set fires in lockers until the FCs finally traded him, Julian de Guzman was hurt much of the time and lousy for the rest of it, Nicholas Lindsay was allowed access to a snowmobile, and Adrian Cann was physically falling apart like a counterfeit Chinese Frankenstein’s monster. Still, they did so little with the decent Oscar Cordon and the never-even-got-a-chance-to-find-out-if-he-was-decent Keith Makubuya, preferring to drag in Americans because this is MLS and this is what you do dammit.

But oh, Montreal. Wave the carrot of MLS and they’re throwing out Canadians left, right, and centre. Placentino retired. Gerba, only partially for health reasons, played fewer than 900 minutes. Young players like Mircea Ilcu, Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, and Reda Agourram got short stints but nothing more than that. All told Montreal lost almost 5,000 Canadian minutes, the biggest drop for a Canadian team in half a decade. The Impact loaded up with every foreigner on whom they could physically lay hands, and the pre-season title favourites were rewarded for this sell-out by missing the NASL playoffs altogether, an astonishing achievement in a league where six of eight teams qualified and one of the others was the 2011 Atlanta Silverbacks. But it’s a good thing Montreal dumped half their Canadians from 2010 to 2011, and then dumped every single one of the rest from 2011 to 2012, because they didn’t make the playoffs either of those seasons. Imports win you games? Really? After the examples of Vancouver and Toronto FC that’s what the Impact were going with? Of course it was, they were heading into MLS, and if you haven’t figured out the pattern by now you’re not going to.

2012 North American Soccer League/Major League Soccer
FC Edmonton Montreal Impact Toronto FC Vancouver Whitecaps
Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins Name Mins
Caceros, Kenny 1422 Bernier, Patrice 2194 Cann, Adrian 735 Clarke, Caleb 15
Cox, Michael 919 Ouimette, Karl 66 de Guzman, Julian 1028 Teibert, Russell 117
Craig, Paul 668 Sutton, Greg 24 Dunfield, Terry 2493
Gardner, Dino 10 Henry, Doneil 1139
Gigolaj, Elvir 172 Makubuya, Keith 10
Hamilton, Paul 2024 Morgan, Ashtone 2528
Kooy, Chris 1816 Stinson, Matt 89
Lam, Matt 1215
Lassonde, Fabrice 555
Misiewicz, Michel 360
Monsalve, David 90
Porter, Kyle 1772
Rago, Antonio 1942
Saiko, Shaun 1816
Sememets, Alex 17
Smits, John 630
Subtotal 16276 2284 8022 132
Total Canadian domestic minutes: 26776

In 2012 the Whitecaps wrote their names in the pages of infamy forever by giving Canadians one hundred and thirty-two regular season minutes, a record I pray on bended knee will never, ever be bested. For that sell-out of their entire country they managed to sneak into the playoffs by a fluke and go out to the Los Angeles Galaxy with a bit of dignity while losing yet another Voyageurs Cup final, coming up short in the Cascadia Cup, and generally gassing a season without even player development to show for it. I don’t even have anything to say about that anymore; it is beyond comment, it is the nadir of everything this alleged “promotion” to Major League Soccer has meant for the Canadian game.

Edmonton had dumped a bunch of the metro-league players and gone down to 16,276 domestic minutes, still over 60% better (on a per game basis) than any Canadian MLS team has ever done. They missed the playoffs, of course, because they were harder to get into, but that had little to do with their Canadians, most of whom were excellent (Saiko, Hamilton), quite good (Porter, Rago, Smits, Kooy), or not around long enough to make a difference. Matt Lam was a disappointment, but he also got a lot of shots off and his fate was probably determined more by contract problems than actual incompetence. And Toronto actually had a good Canadian year, by MLS standards, thanks to full-timers Dunfield and Morgan and semi-regulars de Guzman and Henry.

No, it’s the Montreal Impact who were charming the nation in 2011, signing Patrice Bernier out of Norway and giving a total of 90 minutes to any other Canadian, 24 of which were a farewell to Greg Sutton. Better than Vancouver, obviously, at least Montreal had a local lad they were willing to show some loyalty to, but still a shocking disappointment, even considering that Montreal had long been the least domestically-focused of the second division Canadian teams. I say “disappointment”; in fact I think we all saw it coming.

Most recently, in 2013, the Whitecaps disgraced themselves a bit less than usual with 1,865 minutes (all but 90 to Teibert, and those 90 forced by a suspension to Jordan Harvey). Montreal did better with 3,324 minutes (2,474 to Bernier). And Toronto, of course, ran out six Canadians, with three breaking 1,500 minutes, and ruled the Canadian roost once again. Sure, the FCs weren’t very good, but neither were the Whitecaps and the Impact were plunging so fast when the playoffs started NASA counted it as a re-entry. So at least this near-abandonment of Canadian players is all worthwhile because now our MLS teams are so competitive.

Even FC Edmonton lost momentum, with only 9,011 minutes going to Canadians. Not all of it was their fault (an injury to Michael Cox and intermittent hurts and suspensions for Eddie Edward) but a lot of it was (the summary execution of the excellent Paul Hamilton and Shaun Saiko). They did at least try to load up on Canadians in the second half of the season, though Gagandeep Dosanjh got injured and Anthony Adur remained Anthony Adur, but this did not stop the team, and its Canadian coaching team led by Colin Miller, from facing criticism from fans for overly favouring foreign players. That said, as they played fewer games than any other team in our spreadsheet Edmonton’s 346.6 Canadian minutes per game, while extremely poor for the second division, is not far behind the best season ever in MLS (2009 Toronto FC, 357.9 Canadian minutes per game). The hope is that, with Ottawa Fury moving up to the NASL for 2014, Edmonton and Ottawa can bounce Canadian reclamation projects off each other in the way that the Impact, Lynx, and Whitecaps once did to some success.

The following table will summarize the decade in Canadian domestic players better than my thousands of grief-stricken words ever could.

USL A-League/First Division/USSF D2/NASL Major League Soccer
Games Calgary Edmonton Montreal Toronto Vancouver Games Montreal Toronto Vancouver Total
2004 28 19159 22135 18777 18384 25224 103707
2005 28 17182 20257 21591 59058
2006 28 13962 21704 13250 48944
2007 28 13121 12748 30 9093 35020
2008 30 11984 14195 30 6606 32845
2009 30 10244 12996 30 10736 34036
2010 30 10614 9603 30 9236 29513
2011 28 21321 5870 34 5968 1557 34778
2012 28 16276 34 2284 8022 132 26776
2013 26 9011 34 3324 5804 1865 20064

To illustrate the decline in a different way, here is a graph showing the number of Canadian domestic minutes per game. This is just the total number of Canadian minutes from each team in a given season, divided by the total number of games played by the teams that season. The straight line is a linear illustration of the horrific fall.

canadianminutespergame

The number of Canadian domestic minutes per game has been declining, almost without exception, since 2004. This is fair enough, as the silver generation which brought us the 2000 Gold Cup retired and the quality of Canadian players at home deteriorated. But the biggest drops correlated with MLS. When Toronto FC entered MLS and sent the Lynx to PDL in 2007, almost 180 Canadian domestic minutes per game (two full-time players!) was lost. If you count Vancouver’s 2010, where they were signing the likes of Cody Arnoux and Willis Forko thinking that would in some way help, or 2011 when Montreal was pulling the same tricks to an even greater degree, you can see what a debacle the self-appointed “first” division has made of Canadian content. In fact, so calamitous was the impending arrival of Montreal and the continued deterioration of Vancouver in MLS that in spite of adding over 21,000 Canadian domestic minutes with the arrival of FC Edmonton 2011 still saw a decline in Canadian domestic minutes per game (from 327.9 to 280.5). Only in 2009, buoyed by Toronto FC’s best season ever for Canadian content combined with a still-strong Montreal and Vancouver, did the number of Canadian domestic minutes per game slightly, and temporarily, rise from the season before.

In conclusion: if Don Garber thinks that Major League Soccer is going to steer Canada into a World Cup I’m at a loss to think how. It might not be the league’s fault, but Canadians simply don’t play in this country compared to before MLS came along.

Of course MLS cannot take all the blame. Canadian minutes had been declining, a few thousand at a time, since I was able to begin tracking this. But from 2007 to 2009 Vancouver had found a pretty stable level of about 13,000 Canadian minutes per year, many in young players, until 2010 when they were loading up for MLS and the number plunged. Montreal was averaging almost 11,000 Canadian minutes from 2008 to 2010, generally veterans but with a few kids, until 2011 when they were loading up for MLS and the number plunged. And not to belabour the point but those were good teams, with each side beating Toronto FC head-to-head. Neither has shown any sign of improving, with the Impact getting the large bulk of their Canadian minutes these days through Patrice Bernier and the Whitecaps through Russell Teibert. Squad players are, as a rule, imports: this was not the case in the second division, when you could count on Sita-Taty Matondos, Davey Morrises, and Pat Leducs getting utility minutes.

We’re told that the biggest impact of MLS will be in youth development but there’s nothing stopping a Canadian second division team from running a professional academy of their own (Edmonton does and the Whitecaps did). Indeed, it was the Whitecaps Residency which promised the beginnings of a fine team in the early 2010s, until its elite players were scattered to the five winds for the sake of mediocre, foreign journeymen. The Whitecaps U-18s reached the USL PDL semi-final in 2008, and of the starting eleven in the final match six (Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Ethan Gage, Gagandeep Dosanjh, Philippe Davies, Antonio Rago, Simon Thomas)[7] remain active professionally. These players have a combined zero MLS minutes.

So what’s the solution? Raise the Canadian quota in Major League Soccer? As the example of Toronto FC shows, this would inevitably lead to an increase in Canadian minutes. But setting rules that teams will begrudging follow with a host of Gabe Galas and Tyler Hemmings is no long-term solution: the dud players are signed half-heartedly, they turn out to be duds, they are released equally half-heartedly and replaced with others, it is an old story. This may get more minutes but the minutes wouldn’t be very good.

A good step would be to limit the existing Canadian quota so it applies only to those players who can actually play for the Canadian men’s national team. In this way Canadian-eligible talent would regain their advantage over the likes of Alain Rochat and Gershon Koffie with the right paperwork but no prospect of ever playing for Canada. Both Rochat and Koffie are fine players, that’s not the point; the point is that their excellence will never be relevant to the national team we are hopefully trying to develop.

The only meaningful change can be one of attitude. I hope we are beginning to see this in the Carl Robinson-run Vancouver Whitecaps: Residency players hopefully getting a sincere chance in the first team. Augment them with a few U-23s in the Brett Levis mold and we might be getting somewhere, if only in a few years time. Canada’s MLS teams need to resist the inclination to prioritize the draftee over the homegrown player: the drafted guy is 21 and comes with a big article from south of the border, the homegrown guy is 18 and only the nerds have ever heard of him, the drafted guy gets all the minutes, the homegrown guy is released when he’s 20 years old. It’s an old story, but one resulting from short-sightedness. And when teams are splashing millions upon millions of dollars for designated players whose profile outweighs their ability, why not make them Canadian? There are only a few out there, of course, but I hope Toronto at least called Atiba Hutchinson before ringing Michael Bradley, that Simeon Jackson’s agent heard about the open vault before Jermaine Defoe’s. That sort of thing can make a real difference.

There’s no reason why Canada’s MLS teams couldn’t build Canadian rosters like the old days. They might have to butt heads with the American-oriented MLS front office to do it, but at minimum the effort must be made if we want to return to even the then-seemingly-lowly, now almost idyllic days of 2004.

(notes and comments…)

Homegrown Players of Canadian MLS Teams

By Benjamin Massey · September 10th, 2013 · No comments

oscarcordonconradsmithfcedmontoncsa_crop

FC Edmonton/Canadian Soccer Association

A rare digression, if you like, from how annoyed I am with Major League Soccer to how its Canadian teams are doing with their homegrown players. It’s very early days yet, it’ll take years before we can expect concrete results from any MLS homegrown player, but with the Canadian men’s national team in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after going winless in two tries against Mauritania I thought it interesting to have an early look at what the three Canadian teams have done to date.

As the Canadian club with the longest history in Major League Soccer Toronto FC is unsurprisingly the Canadian leader in homegrown player signings. They have signed eight players to MLS homegrown contracts: Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Nicholas Lindsay, Oscar Cordon, Keith Makubuya, Matt Stinson, Quillan Roberts, and Manuel Aparicio[1]. As the homegrown player rule was introduced only in 2009 Toronto can claim other “spiritual” homegrowns, most notably Nana Attakora, who will not be counted here but should not be forgotten. Jonathan Osorio, who is not a Toronto FC Academy graduate, is not counted but is as close to a homegrown player as you can get without being one.

Seven (Henry, Morgan, Lindsay, Cordon, Makubuya, Stinson, and Roberts) are Canadian, for 87.50%. All seven are Ontarian.

Four (Henry, Morgan, Roberts, and Aparicio) remain with Toronto, for 50.00%. This is the same proportion that remains in MLS.

Three (Henry, Morgan, and Stinson) have made a senior international appearance for Canada, for 37.50%.

In their Major League Soccer history the Vancouver Whitecaps have signed seven homegrown players to MLS contracts: Philippe Davies, Nizar Khalfan, Russell Teibert, Bryan Sylvestre, Bryce Alderson, Caleb Clarke, and Sam Adekugbe.

Five (Davies, Teibert, Alderson, Clarke, and Adekugbe) are Canadian, for 71.43%*.

Four (Teibert, Alderson, Clarke, and Adekugbe) remain with the Whitecaps, for 57.14%. This is the same proportion that remains in MLS.

One (Clarke) is British Columbian, for 14.23%.

One (Teibert) has made a senior international appearance for Canada, for 14.23%.

For purpose of comparison, the final second division Whitecaps team in 2010 included nine Canadian players (Davies, Teibert, Kyle Porter, Luca Bellisomo, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Alex Elliott, Ethan Gage, Alex Semenets, and Simon Thomas) who were alumni of the Whitecaps Residency. Of these, seven (Davies, Teibert, Porter, Bellisomo, Edwini-Bonsu, Gage, Semenets, and Thomas) could have counted as homegrown players were it MLS, and of those seven three (Bellisomo, Gage, and Thomas) were British Columbian. Five (Davies, Teibert, Porter, Edwini-Bonsu, and Thomas) have made senior international appearances; only Teibert did so without leaving the Whitecaps (Thomas capped after rejoining the Whitecaps from a stint in England). Former international Martin Nash would arguably also be considered homegrown, as he came up through the Vancouver 86ers. That 2010 Whitecaps team was not very strong but still reached the USSF D2 league semi-finals and drew Toronto FC in both their Voyageurs Cup meetings.

The Montreal Impact are only in their second Major League Soccer season and have the youngest academy of the three MLS teams, so their homegrown list is proportionately light. The Impact have signed five players to MLS homegrown contracts: Karl Ouimette, Wandrille Lefevre, Maxim Tissot, Maxime Crepeau, and Zakaria Messoudi.

Four (Ouimette, Tissot, Crepeau, and Messoudi) are Canadian, for 80.00%. Each of these four is also from Quebec.

All five remain in MLS, and all five remain with the Montreal Impact, for 100.00%.

None have yet made a senior international appearance.

Now, I mean to draw no conclusions. But it’s worth noting that, first of all, the Whitecaps are the only Canadian MLS team to sign multiple non-Canadians as homegrown players. If you count Montreal’s Lefevre as Canadian, which you very well could, the Whitecaps are the only team to sign a homegrown foreigner at all.

Secondly, the Whitecaps distantly trail their in signing players from their home province. The Whitecaps Residency has produced a number of interesting British Columbian players in recent years including Ben Fisk, Callum Irving, Brody Huitema, and Daniel Stanese, but as yet only Caleb Clarke has joined the MLS roster. Both marks compare very badly to Vancouver’s second-division history, of which we Whitecaps supporters have for so long been proud. This is partially because of MLS territory restrictions which limit how teams may recruit for their academies, but it’s funny that Vancouver has signed two Ontarians (Teibert and Alderson) and a Quebecker (Davies) versus one British Columbian.

Thirdly, nobody can claim a clear lead in internationals generated so far. Toronto benefits from having two more seasons of homegrown player rules under their belt, and of their three homegrown internationals one (Stinson) made only a single cap and seems likely to stay there. Vancouver probably would have gotten a second international were Adekugbe’s passport sorted out, and Montreal has the youngest batch of players. But look at the internationals Vancouver could have had merely by standing pat on their 2010 roster and feel your head spin. Toronto’s record would improve if we could count Attakora and Osorio, and neither Vancouver nor Montreal have equivalents.

As a Whitecaps fan I am concerned with a lack of patience, a lack of Canadianness, and particularly a lack of British Columbians coming up through our ranks. It’s not as though this policy has been met with a tonne of first team success, after all, and we recently did quite well with more homegrown Canadians, more locals, and fewer resources in a league not so much worse than MLS that it justifies throwing away a successful strategy. It’s very early so I am by no means panicking, but it’s nice to know our current position.

(notes and comments…)

Quick Thoughts on That Joao Plata Trade

By Benjamin Massey · January 30th, 2013 · 5 comments

Paul Giamou/Canadian Soccer Association

Paul Giamou/Canadian Soccer Association

Help me out, Toronto FC fans. Your team traded Joao Plata for a 2015 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick and some of you seem basically okay with it. I must be missing something, because this trade just doesn’t make sense.

A second-round SuperDraft pick, especially one in the middle or at the end of the round as Real Salt Lake’s is likely to be, is not much. Maybe 10% of the players drafted in the second half of the second round will amount to anything more than replacement-level depth over the medium term, says my extremely quick and unscientific look at the five SuperDrafts between 2007 and 2011.

If you have an asset worth nothing, like a player who you’d otherwise be releasing or allocation money you won’t use, a draft pick is a sensible acquisition: a 10% of a winner is higher than 0%. If you have a player of some quality, getting this sort of draft pick in exchange for him is generally a bad idea.

(One of you will surely point out Toronto got Plata in the third round. Miracles do happen and quality players do come in the later rounds… sometimes. This is like winning $1,000 in the lottery and saying that, logically, you should spend that $1,000 on lottery tickets.)

Last year, Plata was disappointing after a brilliant-for-his-age 2011. In 638 minutes he managed only two shots on target, no goals, and no assists[1]; that’s 0.282 SoG/90, which for a winger is terrible. But Plata recorded 20 shots directed, meaning that for every ten shots he took one got on target (the resulting 2.821 SD/90 isn’t brilliant but it’s better than Ryan Johnson, Luis Silva, basically every Toronto FC attacker except Danny Koevermans). That’s a massively low number. It’s out of whack with everyone else on Toronto FC, it’s out of whack with Plata’s 2011 numbers (36.96% of shots directed were on target), it’s out of whack with reason and common sense.

In 2012, Joao Plata was damned unlucky. He was playing alongside total incompetents. Now, there’s a chance that MLS defenders just “figured him out”, that this kid can’t learn or adjust, or that Joao got fucked up with Nick Soolsma and Luis Aceval until he forgot how to play soccer. But do you really think Plata has lower odds of being a useful player than 10 – 15% for a mid-to-late second-round pick? Do you realllllly think so? I would be very interested to see you justify that.

This isn’t a trade for the future either. Remember, Joao Plata is 20 years old. He turns 21 in March. He will probably be a couple months older than whichever NCAA mediocrity Toronto drafts with that 2015 second-round draft pick. So this is the rare trade that make Toronto worse now (depriving them of a useful offensive player on the strength of 638 unlucky minutes) and in the future (depriving them of a good young gun)! Looks like the Kevin Payne era means business as usual at BMO Field!

Plata famously was in trouble last summer when Toronto FC’s left hand didn’t know what its right was doing, loaning Plata out to LDU de Quita, then not loaning him out, then loaning him out, with LDU de Quita and Plata doing press releases while Paul Mariner and Earl Cochrane bumbled in aimless denial[2] until it was confirmed[3]. It’s been suggested by fans that Toronto was effectively forced by Plata and LDU de Quita into agreeing on a loan to save face: if so, it was ill-calculated, as standing up to Plata would have been a lot more impressive than looking like duffers. By the way, Mariner is out of a job now*.

Maybe Plata didn’t want to return to Toronto; if not, he’s a wise man. But he seems willing to play in Major League Soccer, as this trade would demonstrate. His loan was over. People, including Waking the Red, were penciling him into preseason depth charts[4]. Kevin Payne was saying that he had plans for Plata and expected to loan him out again[5] though, as we know, Payne is not always honest with the press. Toronto FC had his rights and a contract; it’s not like Plata could have just Bosmanned off. In short, Toronto FC had all the cards, if Plata wanted to hold out it was up to Toronto to get the best deal they could, and what they got was garbage.

I just don’t understand.

*Correction, 11:45 AM: I originally wrote that both Cochrane and Mariner were out of a job. Cochrane in fact remains with Toronto FC as Director of Team and Player Operations. I regret the error.

(notes and comments…)