The Vancouver Whitecaps Do Not Hate Canada

By Benjamin Massey · July 27th, 2017 · No comments

The Vancouver Whitecaps made news earlier in the week when they exiled two young Canadians to inhospitable Arctic climes. Don’t worry, for once I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Calgary-raised left back Sam Adekugbe is off to IFK Göteborg of the Swedish Allsvenskan. You know Adekugbe from persistently promising cameos. In MLS, in the most recent Gold Cup, last season in the English Championship with Brighton and Hove Albion. Then he gets hurt and has to try to break through again. Usually in a different country. Lots of players get hurt; Adekugbe’s most serious injury is always to the memory of the coach who used to rate him.

Second, local boy Ben McKendry has joined FC Edmonton. McKendry is not even the flashiest player named “Ben” on the Eddies from his Whitecaps Residency class. In those days he ways always respectable and rarely a future professional. He reeked of someone who’d play a PDL season or two, be okay, and eventually you’d see him running second in the VMSL in assists and go “oh yeah.”

But he stepped up for the Whitecaps U-18s; no star but someone you always wanted in the lineup. He went to the University of New Mexico, stepped up, was no star but someone you always wanted in the lineup. Trained with the Whitecaps, stepped up, was no star but etc., got his pro deal and settled in with the reserves, stepped up. In 55 career USL appearances with the Whitecaps reserves, he has 53 starts.

This is not a phrase you often hear on Maple Leaf Forever!, but the Whitecaps have done right by both Canadians. Adekugbe, born in England, has an undisguised desire to play in Europe. Since Jordan Harvey appears invulnerable in Vancouver’s affections and Carl Robinson hasn’t yet appreciated how washed-up fellow Canadian Marcel de Jong is, Adekugbe could either be a rotation player in Vancouver or go to Sweden and fight his way into the eleven with a clean slate. Sweden, like Canada, plays on a summer schedule, so Adekugbe is even positioned to recover and win a Whitecaps starting spot in 2018 if it comes to that. The Swedish league is nice and good players come out of it, but it flies under the radar and it took open minds to make this loan happen, whereas Brighton was an obvious target league-wise and has an old relationship for Vancouver through CEO Paul Barber. Well done Whitecaps.

The MLS Whitecaps have loaned players to Europe before, but it was all very second-rate. A prospect’s dad gets a team from the German third division on the hook, the Whitecaps say “why not?” Top-division Sweden is quite a bit better, and it probably took some doing.

McKendry is the opposite. He isn’t forgotten or anything: CONCACAF Champions League and Voyageurs Cup games for the Whitecaps, one MLS appearance, even a start earlier this year for the Canadian national team against Bermuda. He never embarrassed himself, but he also never gave the Whitecaps a reason to bench Matias Laba or Cristian Techera or other central midfielders that haven’t been superstars but possess some fascinating aspect in their games (Laba has been a stud before but you take my meaning). And he’s 24. He’s not a prospect anymore. Whatever he’s going to be he is; now he needs to go prove it’s good.

The Whitecaps have been a service to McKendry too. You’d be stupid to write him off when he’s stepped up so often before. He is, in fact, somebody Edmonton needs, a safe team-first right foot in the middle of the park who runs all day. The Eddies need that guy so badly they’ve tried to turn Allan Zebie into a left-footed version; with, it must immediately be declared, early success. He won’t help their desperate offensive problem directly, but if he frees Dustin Corea to go insane for attack that’ll be something.

Ben McKendry is not somebody who impresses you with his tools. He never has been, and that’s why I underestimated him with the Whitecaps Residency. The only way McKendry will have an MLS career is if he goes to a level just below MLS and proves that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; to put his coach into the position where he says “well, I know Ben can do it.” I do not say that McKendry has that additional rise in level, but he did it the same way from USSDA U-18 to PDL to NCAA to USL.

This space has put much effort into hating the Whitecaps for their handling of Canadians. Philippe Davies, Bryce Alderson, Russell Teibert (still!), Ben Fisk (McKendry’s new Eddies teammate), Daniel Stanese, you’d need a few hours for me to get through the Canadians who I think the Whitecaps didn’t give their due.

The Carl Robinson epoch has been an improvement. Recently I was in a Twitter argument about whether Alphonso Davies could be considered a “bench player” because he has made slightly more than half of his Whitecaps appearances off the bench, and whether that was justified. Then I realized that arguing in those terms was, itself, a sign of progress that shouldn’t be discounted. McKendry and Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese have at least seen the chances Bryce Alderson never did, and I won’t pretend they seized them. Among the veterans, Marcel de Jong plays and David Edgar did when he could. The Whitecaps plucked de Jong from the Ottawa Fury for God’s sake.

Now we have McKendry and Adekugbe away on loan. These are happy moves. Vancouver and Edmonton have been friendly for the entire Colin Miller era, but McKendry is actually the first Canadian Whitecap loanee to go to Edmonton. At least two other Canadians in an earlier era refused a move after the teams agreed, but that was a failure of Vancouver salesmanship as much as anything. The Whitecaps coach in question didn’t believe he was doing anything more than keeping a write-off occupied.

As for Adekugbe, much though I wish he was starting in Vancouver, I bet young Sam himself would prefer to start in Sweden. He is the closest thing to a bad old Vancouver story: the young Canadian who did great in limited action but never got past the mediocre American, the MLS-standard crappy veteran of whom Jordan Harvey is the anthropomorphic personification. But Sam’s injuries are very real; not “nagging knocks” that are half-excuse, necessitating three months to get over a cut little toe, but serious surgery-demanding problems. It’s a point of view even if it’s not one I agree with.

Steven Sandor has been tracking Canadian minutes every week in Canada’s three professional leagues. As of this moment Vancouver runs fourth in MLS at about an hour per game, behind not just the other two Canadian teams but Cyle Larin’s Orlando City. They are also behind four NASL teams, and the NASL has one Canadian side in it. This is very bad. No other country would tolerate this from a club that’s allegedly part of it. But oh my God it is so much better than what we used to have.

The Whitecaps should give young Canadians more minutes. Their first team prospects aren’t good enough to sacrifice the future for, and their U-18s and U-16s (minus Alphonso Davies of course) just had a nice run in the USSDA playoffs. However, progress and good intentions are important when they have been absent for so long. Sam Adekugbe and Ben McKendry are two players who, under Martin Rennie, would have languished until their contracts expired and everyone forgot about them. Now they have excellent first-team chances and, if they don’t make it, it won’t be for want of an opportunity. Give the Whitecaps credit for what they’ve worked hard to do.

Eight Years of Russell Teibert Hair Choices

By Benjamin Massey · January 30th, 2017 · No comments

Once-and-future Canadian national team standout, and eventual Vancouver Whitecaps captain, Russell Teibert has always had the distinctive fashion sense that has gone along with his outstanding play and gentlemanly demeanour. Even as the Whitecaps were mired in their worst Canada-hating spells there was Teibert, looking brilliant both off and on the field, promising better days without a word. (I am a Russell Teibert fan of the old school; perhaps you can tell.)

With MLS bringing in flashy foreigners every year no home-grown soccer player can stand still. Teibert certainly has not. In his professional career he has gone from a dazzling number 10 to a workmanlike defensive midfielder. He is not only the last Vancouver Whitecap remaining from their pre-MLS era but has almost a year’s seniority on the next-longest servant, Jordan Harvey. He has worn the armband for his club. He has quarreled, and made up, with national team coaches. He has played defense, central midfield, and wing. He has survived many players who supposedly were going to do him out of a job. He is still only 24 years old, barely aged out of NCAA and the MLS SuperDraft.

More importantly, his haircuts have moved with him, up and down, and I mean that literally. Like his own career they have been a roller-coaster of promise and nightmare, but they have always been interesting. Let us recap the most important thing we can talk about in the world today: Russell Teibert’s hairstyles.

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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.

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Waited Too Long for Our Freedom

By Benjamin Massey · August 27th, 2015 · No comments

The best part of the Vancouver Whitecaps winning the Voyageurs Cup was not the winning. It was seeing Russell Teibert, the only Canadian to start for either team, and his undisguised pleasure. First at the victory, second at the individual triumph of the George Gross Memorial Trophy for tournament MVP. Teibert’s gotten rather good at generic sportsman interviews over the past three years but when Sportsnet collared him after the game he couldn’t keep the emotion out entirely, babbling in joy during what is normally the most tedious, pro forma part of an athlete’s job. To a long-time fan it was a great moment, and while it would be presumptuous for me to say I was proud, I was.

Nobody reading this site on the regular will need reminding that the Whitecaps and I have drifted apart. It’s not really their fault – the moral turpitude of MLS is the main factor, and as for the team’s refusal to play Canadians, it’s what most of their fans want – but it’s no use denying it’s happened. I enjoyed Schadenfreude at the Impact, absolutely. (I may not love the Whitecaps but I will always hate the Impact.) There was the satisfaction that 2009 and 2013 had, to some degree, been avenged. Even as an FC Edmonton fan, there is a solemn pride in having brutally lost a semi-final to the eventual champions in second-leg stoppage time for the second year on the trot. And there was gratification for the supporters who embrace this tournament, particularly the Voyageur who brought out the Cup, Nazz Catania. Nazz is a much longer-time Vancouver soccer fan than me, and I am glad he is not a meme.

However, when the clock ticked down on Wednesday I found myself without real joy. I learned I was a Whitecaps fan when, during the 2009 Montreal Screwjob, I grew dementedly furious as the Impact more-or-less-deliberately allowed Toronto FC to beat them at home by five goals so the Whitecaps would be denied their first Voyageurs Cup. Six years later, a perfect bookend. This is what MLS has taken away from some of us: the Whitecaps finally took the one trophy we’d have sacrificed animals to get, did so utterly convincingly and without the least drama, and the taste of glory turns to ashes in our mouths, corrupted by allocation money and SuperDrafts and supporter crackdowns and Don Garber Sports Entertainment. Oh, for a fair and serious Canadian soccer league.

That is a reaction that can be taken too far, though. I was happy for Teibert, who has been slogging through shit for both club and country the past few seasons and deserves a moment in the sun. As many viewers saw yesterday there is nothing like the satisfaction of seeing a locally-developed Canadian lad on top of the world. Pa-Modou Kah cruising around the field on a robotic scooter was cool; Canadians winning the Canadian championship is imperishable. Let that provoke thought in fans who can’t be arsed whether the Whitecaps (or the Eddies, or the Impact, or…) play Canadians or not.

I was happy for Gershon Koffie, who is not just a gentleman but the all-time on-field leader in Voyageurs Cup Heartbreak. He arrived in Vancouver too late for the 2010 edition but has been slapped in the face by the soccer gods every summer since. I was happy for Bob Lenarduzzi, since whatever I think of his attitude on playing Canadians in the first team he does love Canada and he’s been chasing this trophy, quite seriously, since 2008. There are plenty of fans in Vancouver who have wanted the Voyageurs Cup even longer than that, going back to those A-League years when Montreal monopolized it, and for them a day like this justifies a lot of heartache. There is nothing I would say to take away that euphoria even if I could.

May I, someday, celebrate a Voyageurs Cup final without reservation. MLS delenda est.

Wes Knight Retires, Aged 28

By Benjamin Massey · July 31st, 2015 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

So farewell then, Wes Knight. Enjoying what seemed to be a renaissance with his hometown Carolina Railhawks, Knight has announced he will be hanging up his boots[1], aged only 28, and moving into coaching. In hindsight, this isn’t a total surprise: Knight’s struggled with injury for several years and already kicked off his coaching career, earning his USSF “A” license in May. But 2015 had been a long-overdue success for Knight, who had played every minute with the Railhawks and been an important part of a veteran back four. The fans’ loss is Carolina soccer’s gain: Knight is joining the Colorado Rapids program to coach at their Carolina youth academy.

Knight’s best years were his first, when was with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2009 until 2011. There he was a one-time USL First Division finalist, passed over for league honours by narrow margins, and one of the great cult favourites. Born, raised, and educated in South Carolina, Knight appeared at the USL Men’s Player Showcase at the end of 2008 and caught the eye of the Whitecaps staff, but passed through the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. So the southern man made the long trek north, signing with Teitur Thordarson and the Whitecaps on February 11[2]. It was the same day future Canadian international Marcus Haber joined the team; Haber would have an fine 2009 season, be purchased by West Bromwich Albion, and become a semi-regular on the senior Canadian national team, but in strictly local terms you have to say Knight was the better signing.

The odds were against Knight from the start. The 2008 Whitecaps had won the USL championship, and while several core players departed during the offseason a strong defensive crew remained. Steve Kindel, the popular local leftback, was gone, but ageless wonder Takashi Hirano was more than a replacement. In the middle was St. Vincentian colossus Wesley Charles, teaming up with talented American androstatriendione user Jeff Parke. Right back, where Knight would be expected to make his mark, could be occupied by Parke as well as incumbent Lyle Martin, a Whitecap since 2007 when he was team Newcomer of the Year, and a tough boulder to push aside.

In the event Charles and Parke were much less of a team than you’d like: they fought in training, Charles was released, and Parke left anyway to explore European options. The depth was called upon again and again, from veteran Marco Reda to youngster Luca Bellisomo in the second season of his underrated professional career. Most importantly, in preseason training Martin broke his foot. The door had opened a crack, and Knight barged through.

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Returning to Pain Like Moths to a Flame

By Benjamin Massey · May 21st, 2015 · No comments

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

The Voyageurs Cup is the worst tournament in the world. Every year I and thousands like me end it with spears through our hearts, mouths agape like male salmon, eyes shot red with gin and hate, staring up at the ceiling wondering where it’s all gone wrong and knowing that each fœtid whiff of miasma from our decomposing soul is our own responsibility, for being stupid enough to get caught up in this game.

For thirteen years this competition has been an unrelieved parade of misery. First you are dumped straight into a tunnel full of sewage. You climb, headlong, through the filth, grasping vainly towards the light, and when you finally flop out, reeking of damnation, you discover that light was the portal to Hell and the next eternity will be a perfect specimen of agony, suitable for the Canadian soccer fan who has endured everything the mortal world can throw at him. There is no joy, no respite, and any alleged bright spot is merely an apertif to make the torture go down less smoothly.

Take last night’s semi-final between FC Edmonton and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The superior Whitecaps played a solid B+ team and took the early lead on a (deserved) penalty. But Edmonton raged, raged. Chances were missed. Hanson Boakai squared off against Russell Teibert in the battle of Canadian soccer saviours. Frank Jonke, the über-goat, a man booed by his own supporters, came on in the last minutes and made himself a hero, hip-checking Darren Mattocks into the North Saskatchewan and drawing a penalty from Kendall Waston. Tomi Ameobi buried the spot kick and became the all-time leading scorer in Canadian Championship history, thrilling maybe the best crowd FC Edmonton had ever drawn to Clarke Field. Heroism! Glory! Extra time! Bonus soccer in a tie that completely deserved it! What could be finer?

Then, in the seventh minute of stoppage time, Matt Van Oekel, who has already cost FC Edmonton multiple games with his howlers, who had given away a penalty in the first ten minutes, conceded a goal five-hole to Matias Laba, a man who had scored once in six years of professional soccer. Hello darkness my old friend…

Whitecaps fans are happy. The better team won, though it was close. Both teams flopped all over the pitch and wasted time when it was to their advantage so there is no moral high ground. The refereeing was fair; Vancouver supporters were outraged at the seven minutes of stoppage time given in the second leg until it went in their favour, and while the decisive free kick was a dodgy call against Eddie Edward, it wasn’t as bad as all that and the real responsibility falls on the Eddies for conceding when they needn’t have.

You might think that Vancouver’s faithful will, therefore, be happy about the Voyageurs Cup, disproving my thesis that it is non-stop anguish, like watching a child die every single year for a decade and a half. Not so. In August the Vancouver Whitecaps will play the Montreal Impact in the final. The Impact are the Voyageurs Cup equivalent of that bad guy who just won’t die no matter how many times you frantically pump shotgun rounds into the spasming ruin that was once his body. There is nothing that is beyond them in this tournament. By August the Whitecaps will be the acme of MLS fixture congestion and the Impact will be eliminated from the playoff race: I predict that the Whitecaps will dominate Montreal to a greater degree than they did Edmonton, and lose, because welcome to the Voyageurs Cup sunshine.

Of course these endless nightmares made flesh do not reach Montreal or even Toronto. Kurt Larson was quite right to scoff at the Canadian Championship in the Sun a couple weeks ago, because he is a Torontonian so cannot understand its true purpose. For most of us it’s not about qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, or crowning a professional champion of Canada. It’s about us fans being kicked incredibly hard in sensitive areas, until we’re curled up and coughing blood and limping back to the pubs and stadiums next year for another thrashing, another chance to discover how low we can go, what fresh glaze of despair the soccer gods will put on the dry, crumbling cake that is Canadian soccer.

This year, for example, FC Edmonton fans will be thinking “if we put in this effort, and got this calibre of refereeing, we would have gone to the final in 2013 or 2014. Even this year, if we hadn’t inexplicably used some Chesapeake cretin as our starting goalkeeper and ran out Toronto’s John Smits instead, it at least would have gone to penalties. Instead Colin Miller made the worst possible choice and ran smack into the worst possible opposition, right when the stars seemed finally to have aligned.” That’s a very fæcal cupcake for a second division supporter to swallow, his team ignored by the national media for another twelve months and the thousands of part-time fans who showed up at that game thinking “fun, but the Eddies lost again!” Not much hope of positives from that valiant defeat, unless you count Van Oekel grabbing his false passport and fleeing to Argentina.

Readers of this site will be experts in torturing themselves. A surprising proportion supports the Edmonton Oilers, possibly the most consistently disappointing collection of athletes in world history. Most cheer on the Canadian men’s national team, whose last triumph came in the year 2000. Many are fans of Toronto FC, whose incompetence need not be described. Yet these teams are just terrible. Except for rare nadirs that remain in a fan like Thor’s hammer gouged out a piece of his heart, Toronto and Canada and the Oilers just lose, a lot, to everybody. There’s nothing like the feeling of someone punching you in the stomach, tearing out your heart, and openly relishing the sound of your screams as he squeezes the life out of you, every single damned year. That’s the Voyageurs Cup. Oh God, why will we all be back for 2016?

But we have one-goal leads to keep, / And miles to go before we sleep.

By Benjamin Massey · May 14th, 2015 · No comments

Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps via FC Edmonton

Once again, FC Edmonton has stunned an MLS club. We should be used to this by now.

Oh, not because they’re some elite NASL side capable of hanging with anybody. Edmonton just visited the league’s best team, the New York Cosmos, and got killed. Hanging around the bottom of the table is where they belong. But yesterday the Whitecaps trotted out the bench guys, scrubs, players who could do with some match practice. This was a blunder. Ritchie Jones harried Gershon Koffie into making the careless mistake typical of players who haven’t seen a midfielder sprinting at them with murder in his eyes for a while. Tomi Ameobi converted, since he always does. It was no fluke, for the Eddies spent the next twenty minutes giving the Whitecaps an R-rated beating. They could have been 2-0 up before goalkeeper Matt VanOekel had even touched the ball. How people still believe an MLS press box is automatically superior to NASL starters, I honestly have no idea.

After that twenty minutes of dominance Edmonton sat back, absorbed pressure, pounded clearances into False Creek, tried to score on the counter. Some Whitecaps fans flatter themselves that this was a response to their superior skill. But welcome to Colin Miller route-one soccer: Mallan Roberts or Kareem Moses or whomever slamming his foot through the ball and regrouping for the next attack, the enemy coming in waves like a Japanese division on the Solomon Islands, and somehow hardly conceding any shots from within eighteen yards. He does the same thing against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and it works, more-or-less. MLS fans haven’t yet compared Edmonton to Marc dos Santos’s Ottawa Fury, who play the ball out of the back, and attack down the flanks, and show individual skill, and lose.

Were I a dime-a-word shitposter for The Daily Beast I’d whine about negative tactics but that game was terrific fun. Say what you like about Erik Hurtado, preferably peppered with obscenities and anatomical impossibilities, but he does make a game interesting, running past guys and blazing shots wide of the mark like a sniper with Parkinson’s; between him and Johann Smith both teams had players who were caricatures of lower-division mediocrity. It is only a matter of time before Hurtado realizes his destiny playing wide right for the Carolina Railhawks. Sam Adekugbe looked good before his worrying injury, and in relief Jordan Harvey looked very good, which is hard for me to say. Tim Parker may already be the best MLS ginger since Richard Eckersley and he stunned Lance Laing, no slowpoke himself, with a second-half turn of pace and a lovely shoulder-check to force a goal kick. I like Tim Parker. NCAA Americans forever. But it wasn’t good enough. The Eddies had been run ragged by travel and the soccer gods, Daryl Fordyce looked bagged in the first half, several others were almost falling down in the second, and Vancouver couldn’t take the win.

The Whitecaps will never get a better opportunity against Edmonton than the one they just squandered. They are maybe the best team in Major League Soccer and even their weakened lineup held a thousand advantages. Home field, an energetic crowd, and an Eddies squad that had never gotten so much as a point off the Whitecaps in any match, friendly or Cup. Vancouver had just destroyed the Philadelphia Union, at home. The Eddies had just been destroyed by the Cosmos, away, then flown across the continent in economy class to bounce their ragged-ass knees off a chewed-up artificial surface that’s weeks away from replacement. Edmonton is a horrible road team. They were humiliated by the expansion Jacksonville Armada, should have lost to the Carolina Railhawks, beat the Ottawa Fury by the direct intervention of the soccer gods after being hopelessly outchanced, and that Cosmos match was nowhere near as close as a 4-2 scoreline made it look. Their defense, already the weakest part of the team, was missing its best player in skipper Albert Watson. How in God’s name did Edmonton not only hold on for a draw but earn it?

Colin Miller’s an old-school manager, higher on aerobics than ability, and people hate that. But another team would have folded in those conditions and today he looks very clever. So does VanOekel, the much-criticized goalkeeper who made easy saves look difficult but still had a good game. Johann Smith is the worst soccer player of all time, but with Watson and rookie fullback Allan Zebie both injured Miller didn’t have many options. Maybe a piece of wood with a frowny face drawn on it, and even that could have been an upgrade, for Smith was culpable not only on the goal against but many of Vancouver’s best looks.

Now, the Eddies have a home match against the San Antonio Scorpions, who are not very good. Watson will probably be ready to play for Edmonton Wednesday, which means no Smith. Miller might well rest a few of his troops against the Scorpions and they’re so mediocre he might get away with it. Players like Sadi Jalali, Hanson Boakai, and Tomas Granitto could use some minutes, allowing Tomi Ameobi, Lance Laing, and Cristian Raudales to kick back on the bench, sip mai-tais, and rest up. Vancouver’s best players must deal with a Cascadia Cup derby against Seattle filled with blood, sweat, and tears. They also have to look forward to a trip to Colorado, neither talented nor a rival but apparently still more important than the Voyageurs Cup. I can’t imagine Edmonton holding onto a 0-0 draw and making that away goal count, but if their best players are at their best next week they can outscore the half-strength Whitecaps.

Even now, even having watched their bench guys failing to overwhelm a depleted team that spent an hour looking like it might throw up, Whitecaps fans by and large want their club to focus on the league and send the second-stringers, maybe augmented by a Russell Teibert or two, to Clarke Stadium. It is hard to imagine Carl Robinson disagreeing. On the radio he says the Voyageurs Cup is important, but then he treats it like a practice for the U-12 West False Creek “B” Final. I don’t get the impression he’ll be really bothered if the Whitecaps lose: with the CONCACAF Champions League and a playoff push he’ll have enough games to play. The fact is that Whitecaps fans will judge Robinson on whether he wins in MLS, but Eddies fans will give Miller big points just for getting to the Voyageurs Cup final. That will explain a lot.

Lucky Results and Lucky Lineups for FC Edmonton

By Benjamin Massey · April 30th, 2015 · 1 comment

Trident Photography/FC Edmonton

Trident Photography/FC Edmonton

Okay, Ottawa Fury friends, let’s level with each other. That refereeing was a sin. Verily it is written that Drew Fischer giveth and Drew Fischer taketh away. Certainly one of those two first-half incidents on Wednesday should have been a penalty; neither was clear-cut but if you deny a team a 50-50 call you should probably give them the next one. Unfortunately I suspect that Fischer, who ruined last year’s Voyageurs Cup by handing the Montreal Impact an undeserved victory, was thinking too hard about his screwup and overcompensated in the Eddies’ favour, which is why you shouldn’t put lesser referees in that position. Your coach chilling in the press box giving Steven Sandor and Gareth Hampshire pronunciation tips didn’t help, not that Marc dos Santos has ever been much of a winner in this tournament.

The NASL scheduling gods had already screwed you, the Eddies enjoying a pleasant weekend at the spa or whatever the heck they do on off days while you got clawed in the eyes by Fort Lauderdale. Moreover, the Fury punished Edmonton for about 70 minutes of the first leg and weren’t far inferior in the second; a neutral commentator would say you guys deserved better than a record-tying 6-2 aggregate loss.

So by all means, Fury faithful, feel free to be angry and leave hateful, profanity-flecked comments. Make a huge banner showing Drew Fischer with a white stick and a bewildered impression. Write a half-drunken 1,000-word blog post saying the Canadian Soccer Association wanted the Eddies to go through because they love oil.

In exchange, grant me that the result, if not the score, was basically just. Edmonton won two penalties this series, deserved both, and missed one. The score in the second leg would have been far more one-sided but for Romuald Peiser, who went full 2009 Jay Nolly in a losing cause. Matt Van Oekel, on the other hand, was relatively unchallenged (though he had no chance when he was beaten). While Ottawa maybe got more chances than Edmonton, when Edmonton had a chance it was full-bore odd-man-rush-from-45-yards-out five-alarm stuff. In the second half, needing four goals for victory, the Fury barely gave themselves a prayer of one. The Eddies defense is not strong, we saw it again, but compared to Ottawa oh boy. The better team won, it did, it just did.

As a result the Eddies now face the Vancouver Whitecaps, again. When Edmonton and Vancouver play it feels like incest. The Whitecaps have loaned a whack of guys to Edmonton in the past, Colin Miller is a former Whitecaps assistant coach, up until this year the two pretty much always had a preseason match, and there are a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings between the two organizations when you consider that the Whitecaps hate Canada grr grr hate hate hate. Many of die-hard Whitecaps supporters consider the Eddies are their second-favourite team and while that isn’t always reciprocated there’s not a trace of hostility anywhere. There are even some bigamous, immoral, square-headed fans who sort of cheer for both teams and can only decide which to support by which league hates Canada least at the moment.

Now, I do not believe in the fake Canadian soccer pyramid. One club being in a titular first division and another club being in a titular second, in leagues with no promotion or relegation, has no inherent meaning. Because Canada’s MLS sides have larger player budgets than their NASL teams they will tend to be better but it’s far from law. MLS Toronto FC was the worst professional team in Canada between 2007 and 2009. Since 2011 MLS clubs have been ascendant in the Voyageurs Cup, but against an FC Edmonton that has never been top half in the NASL and has consistently been victimized by disastrous refereeing. Major League Soccer is not a meritocracy, and players who are good enough for MLS can and do find themselves in the NASL or USL for reasons unrelated to ability or attitude. Most of the gap in quality between MLS and the NASL comes in the handful of designated players but these are often pure marketing signings or, especially in Cup play, uninterested underachievers. I mention this not to start an argument, but so you understand my perspective when I pronounce the following sentence:

If the Whitecaps play their first eleven, FC Edmonton is going to have a big problem.

Don’t kid yourself. FC Edmonton is still not a contender in the NASL. Their early performances have flirted around the lower-mid-table, maybe lower. They got destroyed by a Jacksonville Armada team playing its first ever game. They deserved to lose at home to the incredibly mediocre Carolina Railhawks and drew. They pulled off a great comeback for a home win over Fort Lauderdale, but that was their only really nice performance of the season and even then the Strikers outchanced them. The offense is taking their opportunities but not generating enough, the defense misses Neil Hlavaty in midfield more than I think anyone expected. Their goals have come to a disconcerting degree through quick breaks and counter-attacks that often dry up when teams expect them. Edmonton’s not going to embarrass themselves or anything but nor are they going to be good.

The Vancouver Whitecaps, on the other hand, might be honestly solid for the first time since 2008. They’re the Supporters Shield leader, which doesn’t mean much when everyone has games-in-hand on them, but look at some of those results. 2-0 at home to Los Angeles, 1-0 away to Salt Lake, two opponents who have traditionally given Vancouver fits fairly ruthlessly dispatched. Carl Robinson’s crew has stumbled in front of some mediocre teams like Toronto and DC (yes, DC is still mediocre, I’m not buying their shit for a second) but this is MLS, that’s gonna happen. Even that home loss to DC was a good one, Vancouver dominating offensively, doubling up DC’s shots total despite spending 48 minutes with ten men, and falling only due to bad luck and a classic Gantarizing. No, I don’t think the Whitecaps are going to become the first Canadian team to win a Supporters Shield. But they have to be odds-on to host a playoff game.

Albert Watson’s a good defender, but he’s physical, and he grabs guys, and he tries to tackle from behind, and Octavio Rivero is strong and quick enough to deal with that while you know referees will be looking for a reason to call a penalty. They’ve also had trouble with speed, which the Whitecaps possess in Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh. In midfield, Vancouver has the advantage both man-for-man and as a unit. The sole edge Edmonton enjoys is that if they turn a couple quick counters, Pa Modou Kah and Kendall Waston are fairly cement-footed central defenders. Kah is also cement-headed, and while Waston has serious quality asking him to babysit both the size of Tomi Ameobi and the skill of Daryl Fordyce every time Matt Van Oekel pounds a sixty-yard dropkick up to Sainey Nyassi is asking too much. Even David Ousted has more match-stealing potential than any goalkeeper in this tournament. If we see the Whitecaps’ best, Edmonton needs a miracle.

But will we see the Whitecaps’ best? In last year’s Cup Carl Robinson trotted out a B- lineup of beardless youths and Nigel-Reo-Coker-as-a-right-back which still took Toronto FC’s billion-dollar studs to spot kicks. Vancouver’s in an important stretch of games, including two Cascadia Cup derbies, and unless Robinson’s rethought his attitude to the Voyageurs Cup we will probably see the kids again. The Whitecaps might well start more Canadians than Edmonton for the first time ever, which is strange given their undeniable, seething hatred of Canada. Some of those kids are very good, but their presence may still alter the balance of the tie. I like Marco “Please Don’t Play For Chile” Bustos as much as anybody, and Ritchie Jones will need to be on his game to keep Bustos contained, but it’s not quite the same thing as facing primo Pedro Morales. Can Caleb Clarke poach some goals? Absolutely. Is Ben McKendry tough and intelligent in central midfield. No doubt. The problem is that they lack experience and, in many cases, cohesion.

Even if Vancouver plays its reservists, Edmonton won’t have it too easy. The Eddies’ have the worse schedule: while the Whitecaps spend most of May in the Pacific time zone, Edmonton has the Whitecaps home game, then a tough road trip to New York, then straight to Vancouver. The Whitecaps’ young players will be highly motivated. Remember, they outplayed most of Toronto FC’s top lineup across two legs last year, not because they were more skilled but because TFC didn’t meet expectations and the Aldersons, Froeses, and Adekugbes of the Whitecaps were going for the throat. The 2014 Whitecaps benefited from departed professionals in the Carlyle Mitchell and Johnny Leveron mold, but on the other hand the surviving kids have another year’s experience and there’s no Nigel Reo-Coker at right back either.

The Whitecaps have the better chances in this tie. If FC Edmonton wants to win then they’d better hope that Carl Robinson trots out the youngsters again, and they better maintain their killer instinct and intensity for 180 minutes. There can be none of the five-minute switch-offs which the Eddies have loved, particularly early in games. None of the airheaded mistakes that have cost them goals. The defending must be as stifling as in 2014 while the attack must be even more dangerous than it’s been this year. A lot has to go right. It can happen, but the 2015 Whitecaps are not the 2014 Impact.

Fine, Buy That Scarf (With Reflections)

By Benjamin Massey · March 30th, 2015 · No comments

There’d be no need for this article at all if I hadn’t tossed off a Saturday morning quickie using the Whitecaps scarf scandal to promote southwestern British Columbia’s cup finals weekend. Funny ol’ world. A few hours after that post went up the Whitecaps announced they’d donate the proceeds from their controversial “Kings of Cascadia” scarf to the Vancouver Street Soccer charity[2]. A sensible compromise in time to save the Portland Timbers game (which the Whitecaps won), everyone was happy, good job.

However, I wish to raise three matters today.

First, how in God’s name were people calling this controversy “#ScarfGate”? I realize the “-gate” suffix has achieved a post-ironic cachet where it’s used simply because it annoys so many of us, but didn’t “scarf scandal” in that first paragraph look ten times better? If you must hashtag it in nine characters go with “#ScarfScam”. Bear that in mind if it ever becomes relevant again. Why didn’t I write this when it could have done some good? Because I’m shit, that’s why.

Second, consider a précis of what happened. The Cascadia Council – the group of Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver supporters who protect the Cascadia Cup after the 2013 trademark dispute – has a legal agreement with MLS wherein, if the Council fails to object to a proposed use of the trademark by MLS within a certain period of time, permission is automatically granted. Because the Cascadia Council e-mail listserv/spam filter/POP3 daemon/Christ knows what stopped working, the Whitecaps supporter representatives never heard about a proposal they would certainly have objected to and therefore, while the Whitecaps were (and are) legally clear to sell this scarf, many supporters were outraged.

We still haven’t heard the full story (what sort of e-mail breakdown? Are we sure… no, are we sure… that the e-mail didn’t go through but nobody read it?) And as I said on Saturday, this version of events leaves a neutral observer with a lot of sympathy for the Whitecaps. I’m not at all a neutral observer and I still calmed down a hell of a lot when I heard what “technicality” the Whitecaps had used to produce this scarf. It wasn’t a technicality; legally they did their duty and were absolutely in the right. The moral question is an open one and, honestly, there’s room for reasonable people to disagree.

That said, the Whitecaps knew very well that the trademark of the Cascadia Cup was the single most sensitive issue among their most passionate, influential supporters. They further knew this sensitivity was shared by the Timbers Army, who might well show solidarity over any exploitation. The Whitecaps front office is in constant communication with their supporters, and these channels (official and unofficial) were not used. If it was me, and I were genuinely interested in a respectful, cooperative relationship with my supporters, the supporters who make my entire marketing campaign possible, and I knew that I was about to try and profit off the one thing in the world they were most concerned about me profiting off of, I would have been very careful. I would have at least asked a representative “so, what do you guys think of the Cascadia scarf?” during one of our cold pizza meetings. To do otherwise would have been to risk the perception that I was sneaking it through, trying to crack the dam so the tide of commercialism could come rushing in. If I wanted my supporters onside and happy, this would have been absolutely the last perception I’d want to risk.

When the scarf dropped, the Vancouver Southsiders suggested a compromise similar to the one eventually adopted: the scarf would be sold but the proceeds would go to charity. This was not adopted until the supporters took the matter public, made their stand, and put pressure on the club hours before one of their marquee fixtures. This pressure produced the desired result. In short, the Whitecaps, having wounded their supporter relations for something like the billionth time, appeared content to let that wound fester until said supporters turned the wheel. The eventual outcome was highly creditable to all parties involved, maintaining both the supporters’ and the front office’s rights while boosting a charitable organization long supported by club and fans, but the way that outcome arrived was somewhat unsatisfactory.

Third, we should appreciate how close the near-revolt came to being a fiasco, for reasons entirely the supporters’ own. The averted sanction was almost preposterously mild. The Southsiders would not buy that scarf, encourage others to do the same, and sit down in silence for the first fifteen minutes of the Portland game. For the final seventy-five they’d be free to go nuts, as usual. I was worried this would be too soft and thank God I was wrong, but it was so short, so moderate, and so obviously aimed at the suits rather than the players that at least there was no room for anyone to object.

Naturally, many people objected. Among the most dedicated and hard-working supporters, support for this idea was not quite unanimous but probably as close as you’ll get in such a diverse group. Some dissenters made serious, cogent arguments against a protest on this particular issue, arguments that deserve respect. But among the less committed members of supporters sections, there was actual anger.

Let me quote from a popular post on the Vancouver Southsiders Facebook page. I promise I’m not cherrypicking: this post attracted huge comment and was “liked” as many times as the Southsiders’ founding president’s appeal in favour of action. All grammar and word choice as in the original:

I’m kind of embarrassed to be a Southsider at the moment. All I hear and read is how to protest a, albeit poor, business decision. Are you actually suggesting a silent protest?!?
I respect the Southsiders business practices and property. It has NOTHING to do with the players. Don’t buy the scarf, don’t buy beer, don’t buy food, don’t buy merchandise. All great protests. But, not cheering?!? Not making the atmosphere in our home stadium, in our first Cascadia match, ELECTRIC?!?
How preposterous!!!
Are we more worried about our relationship with the FO or how we look and act in the players eyes.
We will garner more respect with more proactive and respectful protests.

This was far from the only expression of this sentiment, right down to being “embarrassed” in a group standing up for its rights. Many said, while the issue was still in the balance, that they would break the sit-down strike on the same flimsy grounds: “it’s nothing to do with the players!”. Some were unaware even of how the Southsiders voted for their board members, but regardless felt their opinions on this subject were strong and informed. Had the Whitecaps called the supporters’ bet, we can’t be sure if their solidarity would have held. It would have been shattering if it hadn’t, a demonstration that we all roll over in the end.

It’s inexaggerably obvious this issue was nothing to do with the players. Likewise, when those same players came within an ace of going on strike a few weeks ago, it was obviously nothing to do with the fans. In both cases, an aggrieved party tried to get justice from a massive corporation by putting pressure on them in the strongest possible way. Only a dim-witted infant could have been confused by that, and in fact if you held your breath in the social media shitstorm for long enough you would have heard such infants saying “just get a deal done m8 ur business shouldnt hurt teh soccr”, as if there was no principle at stake whatsoever.

Anything which might impair these cretins’ ability to shout “BOOM!” on goal kicks for ninety minutes is “business” and therefore unacceptable. Questions of justice, of supporters’ culture, of being exploited are utterly irrelevant. Taking a meaningful stand is inherently a bad move because it shows disrespect for the players. The “players”, in this universe, are uninformed and incurious morons who live in cardboard boxes and take everything that ever happens as a personal affront. They hear silence around the cenotaph on November 11 and think “what did I do?” They are unaware that their supporters are humans and bewildered by the idea that they might have interests or desires. If the supporters section took fifteen minutes off, these mythical players would think “how dare they!” and not “hmm, I wonder what is going on.”

Such belief is a transparent facade for “hey, I’m just here for the party, don’t try to harsh my buzz.” We’re seeing this sort of thing around Major League Soccer. Even the most passionate and pressed-upon supporters groups are capable of only limited action, because as outraged and dedicated as their most important members may be there’s a mass of complacent selfishness behind them restricting their options. This has led to continuing encroachment on supporter privileges in many cities. Any “don’t buy merchandise or beer if you don’t like it” so-called sanction is unenforceable even by public pressure, ineffective, and ultimately still gives MLS what it wants.

Silencing the atmosphere at a major derby match is a public statement which reaches ears otherwise unengaged in club-supporter politics, and would-be scabs face the spotlight as they stand and shout while surrounded by seated silence. This is precisely what those “think of the players!” opponents dislike about it. But it is also, as we have just seen, a good way to get results.

I’m not promoting myself as a paragon of supporters’ culture here, and would be swiftly shot to ribbons if I did. We’re all ultimately dumb, selfish creatures who stand up and shout abuse at strangers because we like it. Making that good time bad to prove a point is a sacrifice, and not one that should be treated lightly. Standing up to a front office that’s exploiting you may, in fact, be the only valid time for a supporter to stop supporting. However, for such gestures to have any value they must be made in solidarity. Excuses to invalidate any serious protest show a selfishness that has no place in the collective culture of a soccer supporters group. If you’re that sort of self-absorbed fan then, by all means, attend all the soccer games you like, but don’t pretend you’re part of something larger than yourself.

(notes and comments…)

Whitecaps Rape, Pillage Vikes; Campus Protests Offensive Headline

By Benjamin Massey · February 16th, 2015 · No comments

I didn't take any photos of the match so here's some classic UVic literature. (Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!)

I didn’t take any photos of the match so here’s some classic UVic literature. (Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!)

When the Vancouver Whitecaps left the University of Victoria yesterday afternoon, it was with a bachelor’s in the inhumanities. Final score 6-0 to the Whitecaps over UVic, with Canadians (Teibert, Bustos, and Froese) accounting for three. It took three minutes for Pedro Morales to score the afternoon’s first goal from the Student Union Building parking lot and from then on it was easy. The Whitecaps lads had more trouble getting into the buffet on the ferry home, while Victoria was reduced to stumbling around like extras in Saving Private Ryan. I think Cam Stokes carried his own arm off the field.

With the Highlanders gone that was the highlight of the Victoria soccer season. Poor, poor fuckers.

The goat of the hour was UVic goalkeeper Noah Pawlowski. Not only did he suffer Whitecaps supporters heckling him about his haircut and his GPA, but two of the goals he conceded were certifiable stink-a-roos and two others didn’t smell much better. When you put your team down 1-0 early by forgetting the accuracy of a set piece specialist from La Liga, you frankly earn a bit of abuse.

However (as I was reminded on Twitter), Pawlowski played well against Vancouver last year and was brutalized by his defending. Russell Teibert made me a happy man by scoring against my alma mater but it couldn’t have been much easier: a header from the UVic midfielder straight down to his feet at point-blank range, even I would have buried it. Marco “PLEASE DON’T PLAY FOR CHILE” Bustos is becoming something of a wondergoal guru and his UVic effort was one of the best yet, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Sam Prette’s windmill impression. And the sixth goal was a sheer failure of effort: Caleb Clarke had nobody within five yards of him when he made the cross, and while Kianz Froese was being marked you could hardly tell.

I’ve been to all six of these games since 2009. Every year Vancouver looked better, as you’d expect from professionals against amateurs, but that was the first time I’ve felt UVic didn’t belong on the same field as the Whitecaps.

What does that mean? Probably nothing, let’s be honest. UVic was behind so far so early they obviously lost heart. Cam Hundal, who keeps playing well in these bloody games, generated opportunities and would have had an assist if forward Michael Baart hadn’t been too tired or dispirited to reach his cross. It’s a bit surprising this is the first time in the MLS era the Vikes have really been waxed: UVic generally loses but makes Vancouver work for it, as in last year’s game decided by a last-minute goal in miserable conditions. Back in the bad old days of Lilleyball the Whitecaps managed a 4-0 win in 2006 on a Sita-Taty Matondo brace, and that was a team that famously only attacked when supported by heavy artillery.

Moreover, for the most part it wasn’t the big names who were dominant. Morales and Rivero both scored but needed goalkeeper mistakes to do so, and the stars of the day were known quantities like Teibert, Bustos, and Waston. In short: draw grand conclusions, about the strength of MLS or the quality of the Whitecaps, at your own risk.

Which individuals showed well? If you missed the highlights, the Whitecaps have a package of more-or-less just the goals (then again, there were six of them).

You will see Bustos good in those highlights. Besides his terrific goal he launched several incisive passes and influenced the offense more than Morales. He also threw one of his patented Canadian hip-checks, though this time referee Alain Ruch called him on it (PLEASE DON’T PLAY FOR CHILE). Carl Robinson ran out eight of his possible starting eleven, with Tornaghi, Adekugbe, and Bustos in place of Ousted, Harvey, and Manneh. The keeper change didn’t signify and Adekugbe blew hot and cold, but Bustos made a hell of an argument for himself.

Kendall Waston was, as the stereotype goes, a beast. Hundal will be feeling one of his almost Bryan Marchment-like tackles for a while. As for the new lad beside him, Diego Rodriguez, he was never extraordinary and Pawlowski should have done better on his goal, but nor did he blunder. Victoria had more offense than a 6-0 scoreline might imply and under the circumstances the Whitecaps defenders can’t be blamed for switching off a little.

Many Vikes chances came after Carl Robinson’s 63rd-minute line change; it was weird seeing Tim Parker at centre back and Jackson Farmer at right back, and the results did not impress. The other Residency lad, midfielder Mitch Piraux, didn’t get many opportunities to make an impact and was maybe too unobtrusive. Ethen Sampson, who must be approaching “playing for his career” level, had a rough time: worrying, given that his predecessor Greg Klazura was the Dani Alves of the UVic friendly. Trialist Robbie Earnshaw nearly made the highlight reel with a bicycle kick, generated other offense, checked back defensively, and revved his motor to the max the whole afternoon: afterwards he was especially prominent in applauding Vancouver’s supporters and seemed to try everything to get into the fans’ good graces.

There was nothing too negative to say and the positives come with a grain of salt. It was a 6-0 win, with Canadians standing out. There isn’t much to do besides hope it’s the first of many.