Saying Bad Things About Good Times

By Benjamin Massey · March 23rd, 2019 · No comments

Canada Soccer

You’ve probably noticed all the positivity in Canadian soccer lately. Daniel Squizzato: “It’s different this time, this CanMNT — just hear me out.” (He means it’s better.) Steven Sandor: “Where does current CanMNT roster stand all-time?” (Got the potential to be the best; suck on that, losing to Jamaica two years ago!) Michael McColl, “Canadian national team marvel at ‘complete change of culture’ under Herdman.”

There is nothing more Canadian than unwarranted optimism about the men’s national team. With luscious attacking talents like Hanson Boakai and Kevan Aleman showing their excellence, Simeon Jackson plowing in goals in a good European league, veteran Dwayne De Rosario still performing at a high level with a club that considers him an icon, and the commitment of star dual national Tesho Akindele, Benito Floro will… wait, how do you delete a paragraph?

Not trying to be holier than thou. We’ve all done it. I once nicknamed a player “Canadian Soccer Jesus,” and if you don’t know which one don’t look it up. A Canadian soccer fan who is not temperamentally optimistic won’t last, he’ll wind up in a Manchester City kit before you can say “Janine Beckie.”

And we shouldn’t lose to French Guiana. Bookies make Canada 1-to-5 to win. French Guianan starting goalkeeper Donovan Leon, a professional in France, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation so the job will fall to either Soleymann Auguste or Jean-Beaunel Petit-Homme, both young men from the local league1. They had to fly from Cayenne, French Guiana to Vancouver through Paris. French Guiana is no Saint Lucia-esque minnow but under the circumstances if Canada doesn’t win it’ll be because in sports shit happens.

Still, as people who dislike John Herdman keep reminding us, this version of the national team has proven absolutely nothing. If we look at our achievements after the last Gold Cup, Canada defeated New Zealand 1-0 in a friendly, which as these things go beats one point from six against Mauritania but isn’t exactly a ticket to Qatar. We also won several Nations League qualifiers we had no excuse to lose. Sure, there’s an optimistic outlook in the Canadian dressing room. You’d feel good too if you spent months beating the hell out of construction workers and soldiers in an official CONCACAF tournament. Turns out taking candy from babies is both easy and deliciously rewarding.

So, in the spirit of contrarianism, here are some black pills.

Alphonso Davies was removed from the Canadian squad because of “injury.” Supposedly he hurt himself celebrating his first ever Bundesliga goal last weekend; the first goal for Bayern by a Canadian since 2005. Bayern left him on for twenty more minutes in a game they were winning 6-0 over Mainz and their press release says Davies will rest for a few days when the club is taking three days off anyway. They are barely pretending this is real.

Herdman says Davies is heartbroken. Bayern obviously isn’t bothered, which could be a problem. For decades, Canadian players have been persecuted for answering their national team’s call. It hurt the career of Paul Stalteri and cost Canada the services of Davies-like talent Tomasz Radzinski in many a tournament. If Bayern is doing wink-nudge injury withdrawals for Davies when he’s a bench player, what’ll happen if he locks down a starting spot? And if he never becomes a starter does that mean he’s falling short of the expectations Canadians place upon him? There’s a lot of “whatever happens, we have got / Alphonso Davies, and they have not” from fans, and the performances it takes for him to meet those hopes may mean that we hardly get to see him.

Jonathan David is sometimes mentioned in the same sentence as Davies. Admittedly, not the same part of the sentence, but as of this writing David is averaging 1.929 goals per 90 minutes for the senior Canadian national team. This is a solid figure, surpassed over a CanMNT career only by Gavin McCallum’s 10.000. What we mean is that David, in 150 minutes of senior national team action, has got two goals against the US Virgin Islands and one against Dominica. Nothing wrong with that, you can only score against the teams you’re playing against2. We know those gaudy numbers are a joke, but it’s not a joke at David’s expense. What’s worrying is that his club statistics, based on a scarcely larger sample size, actually are cranking expectations up.

David (who was born in the United States and was also eligible for Haiti) is currently co-top-scorer at Gent of the Belgian top division; a decent team, a good league, and a damned good result for a 19-year-old rookie professional. But, in shades of his obviously-silly MNT scoring rates, four of those goals came in his first four games (and 167 minutes). In his most recent 917 minutes David also has four goals, which is still pretty good but not circus stuff. Marcus Haber has had years like that at equivalent levels.

Gent scores by committee. Only one goal behind David stands centreback Dylan Bronn, who has scored a few goals every month since September despite a knee injury and suspensions. Prior to this David had been a part of the Canadian youth pool and the national training centres. A prospect, but nothing indicated an obvious blue-chipper. Obviously some players bloom late, and we shouldn’t hesitate to call him up while he’s hot, but it is way too early to say David is our goalscorer of the future rather than an athletic kid doing well in a system where lots of goalscorers can.

We have seen this movie before. Simeon Jackson scored 13 goals in the Championship one year. It happens, to good players and to indifferent ones on a hot streak. Maybe Jonathan David can prove it but don’t pretend he’s written in pen. David’s automatic vault ahead of Tosaint Ricketts, the best Canadian striker of the century, on everyone’s depth chart means that our optimism may do us positive harm.

Our defensive situation is lamentable. Herdman called up veteran David Edgar, currently with Hartlepool of English non-League soccer, and fans were upset we didn’t call Manjrekar James from his comfy bench in Norway. This bodes ill. At left back Marcel de Jong may have a career-ending injury and Sam Adekugbe happens not to be injured now but usually is. Right back? Marcus Godinho is enjoying a good run in Scotland but is hurt so often his club doesn’t let him play on artificial turf, while Zachary Brault-Guillard has proven nothing. Eddie Edward, the standby of the “call up a no-nonsense right back” set, has now retired, Nik Ledgerwood is aging and banged up, and you get into Juan Cordova territory awfully fast. Canada’s top fullbacks are, indisputably, Davies and Atiba Hutchinson. Which sort of says it all.

This site praised the Whitecaps’ signing of Derek Cornelius, but under admittedly tough circumstances his MLS career has started horrendously. Adam Straith seems to be the forgotten, underappreciated man, as usual. Steven Vitoria is falling off the face of the Earth, which is only a good thing because he should never be allowed near a self-respecting national team… there’s Doneil Henry, the human highlight reel both for and against us, and Dejan Jakovic, who happily is sort of hanging around at age 33 but can’t be counted on forever, and then we’re crossing our fingers with the Edgar/Cornelius/James class. Costa Rican attacks will be a problem.

Add on a bunch of little things. Atiba Hutchinson is on his way to retirement with no foreseeable heir. Cyle Larin’s career is tottering in Turkey, and while you aren’t going to close the door on the kid, combined with his indifferent performances for Canada it’s not looking good. We still can’t seem to play enough games, especially not against anybody even reasonably good. And, last but not least, while most everyone is pretending to love John Herdman now, there’s still a hater brigade out for him and if Canada totters he will be devoured like a limping antelope among the hyenas.

So don’t worry, fans. There’s still plenty of opportunity for a Typical CanSoc Disappointment. (Probably not against French Guiana though.)

Edmonton Bargain Hunt Renovation

By Benjamin Massey · September 28th, 2018 · No comments

Paul Giamou/Canada Soccer

Randy Edwini-Bonsu, born in Kumasi, Ghana and raised for several years in Edmonton, has been named to FC Edmonton’s “prospects” roster for two Al Classico friendlies against Cavalry. There are several fine professional and former professional players on the list: Jackson Farmer, Allan and Bruno Zebie, Edem Mortotsi. As Steven Sandor pointed out, both goalkeepers most recently played in Europe. With nobody under CanPL contract or committed in any way this is analogous to a training stint, perhaps. But it is more than nothing: at minimum, mild mutual interest.

Edwini-Bonsu is only 28 years old but—and as an extremely early REB fan I say this affectionately—he is last year’s man. His stint as a teenager with the Vancouver Whitecaps, while ferociously promising, was only moderately productive and he was not retained for Major League Soccer. Probably just as well: Tom Soehn would have ruined him anyway, and a stint in the Finnish second division saw him score in bunches. That led to the German second division, a better level by far, one which sent players to the Canadian senior national team in droves. Edwini-Bonsu was one of them, and he boasts fifteen caps with one goal for his adopted country.

By all accounts, many of his performances in the 2.Bundesliga were not bad, and there was hope among his fans that he’d establish himself. But he never quite held down a lineup spot, and his next contract dropped him down a division. In the 3.Liga he was, again, sometimes good but not good enough. His Stuttgarter Kickers side was relegated, Edwini-Bonsu was one of many players released, and he signed on a division down anyway with FC 08 Homburg in the German Regionalliga Südwest for a season. His last action was with fifth-division Tennis Borussia Berlin in 2017–18, and he is currently unattached.

Needless to say, Canadian soccer supporters have not seen him in some time. German semi-professional games are not regularly televised and Edwini-Bonsu was last called to the national team in June 2015. When last seen he was a pacey striker with decent finish, a bite-sized Tosaint Ricketts; these days he apparently plays more wide right. I thought he was very good almost a decade ago, but I do not guarantee it today. I understand they know something about soccer in Germany, where his career has not been a success, and even those with very modest expectations for CanPL’s initial calibre will certainly expect it to outgun the NOFV-Oberliga Nord.

Besides, Edwini-Bonsu’s one of those players who seems interested in European play on principle. He has spent far more of his life outside Canada than in it, immigrating in 2002 and beginning his foreign adventures nine years later. There’s every possibility that Randy Edwini-Bonsu’s time in Edmonton will end at a couple friendlies.

But he’s still the sort of player Edmonton, and the rest of the Canadian Premier League, should be looking at.

As I said I don’t know if Edwini-Bonsu still has anything left. But I am certain he used to have something. To the assorted German clubs who brought him in and threw him out, he was a tool to be used and replaced like any other. To a Canadian team, he would be a potential investment in the future of our game. He is, very specifically, the sort of player you want to give second chances to.

Jackson Farmer, to pick another Edmonton player I’ve liked for a while, is still a young man on the way up. He needs an opportunity to show what he can do and CanPL can provide that. But there are older players in the same boat. A Canadian player in his late 20s struggling to draw a European paycheque drops out of the game or puts out his shingle for some Lithuanian or Serbian or seventh-division French team would promise, however unreliably, to pay him for six months. Recently some of them have joined the PLSQ or League1 Ontario, but that’s what you do while making an honest living somewhere else. Real second chances have been hard to come by.

Around the world, many useful players have revived their careers from the real depths of obscurity because they landed on a decent team willing to invest in them. Jamie Vardy was playing non-League soccer until he was 25. On the Canadian end, Richard Hastings might well have dropped off the face of the Earth by 2004 had Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who already knew and liked him, not brought him back for a second successful spell and another half-decade of national team service. We need more stories like Hastings’s, and not just because of the golden goal.

Fans sometimes seem to think CanPL is almost a development league: given that they won’t be able to bring in more than a handful of famous players, roster spots should go to promising youth and as many random foreigners as it takes to make it watchable. But think also about the Randy Edwini-Bonsus of the world, or Derek Gaudet, who went from MLS to USL to surviving the Halifax open trials at age 29. Not everybody does anything useful with a second chance; heck, most players won’t. But some will, and the rest will give the kids something to push against. FC Edmonton’s Al Classico roster is heavy on the prospects, heavy on the early-20-somethings, and has a couple guys looking to redeem themselves… and that’s about right.

Hyping Handsome Bowties

By Benjamin Massey · August 31st, 2017 · No comments

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

In a century of international futility Canadian men’s soccer has had more cautionary tales than fairy tales. Hanson Boakai, the 20-year-old former FC Edmonton homegrown phenom, should have been the latter and is now the former.

Having become the youngest player in NASL history and dazzled most prominently against Montreal in the 2014 Voyageurs Cup, Boakai left Edmonton at the end of autumn 2015. For all his talents he had not become a regular starter, but the Eddies made an unsuccessful offer to keep him. He trained with notable European clubs, and in November of that year Duane Rollins called a move to Toronto FC “close to done.” It never got there. Despite many rumours he didn’t land for another eight months and when he did it was after a fall.

Joining Swedish third-division side Landskrona in July 2016, Boakai played less than two hours over four appearances and left in November. Since then he has been the Littlest Hobo. In January he trialed with Albanian champions Skenderbeu but no contract resulted. He trained with Lebanese club Nejmeh and got a kit number and again did not sign. Caronnese, of Italy’s Serie D, announced his signing but didn’t deign to spell his name correctly. Thanks to trouble with his residence paperwork, Boakai allegedly was close to joining CS U Craiova’s second team, which would put him in the Romanian third division. This deal has not closed; until tomorrow he’ll just keep moving on.

It’s not often you say this about a soccer player but he should have stayed in Edmonton, which while not La Liga is surely to Christ not Lebanon. Even under supposedly anti-creative coach Colin Miller, on artificial turf, before indifferent crowds, and burdened by youthful weakness, Boakai won a rep at Clarke Stadium. We clamoured for him to star on the youth teams, where he hardly played but looked good when he did. We insisted Benito Floro give him a look on the senior squad which, technically, happened, Boakai participating in a camp in October 2014. The Edmonton Journal called him a potential “Canadian Messi,” and that is still quoted abroad. After leaving FC Edmonton everyone expected Boakai to ascend the soccer pyramid. The idea that he would go down was unthinkable, yet here we are.

Never write off a kid with talent, but he has more mileage than the US Air Force. If his career winds up a success it’ll be the greatest comeback since the Resurrection. This is a player who has been viewed by dozens of coaches from a multitude of cultures on three continents, and many of them saw something, but not enough to be worth the bother.

What happened? Obviously it isn’t his natural talent that keeps him from sticking in semi-pro Scandinavia. No, I mean that: obviously it isn’t. Did you see this kid, back when he used to play? A world in which, on skill alone, Erik Hurtado prospers and Hanson Boakai can’t get a contract does not exist.

Paperwork hurts him. Boakai was born in the Republic of Guinea and his parents are Liberian. He has played official youth competitions for Canada so presumably his passport is settled, but when trying to get a work permit (not always easy for a Canadian without EU residency), bothersome bureaucratic bologna brought by small-African-village-migrant upbringings can make life even worse. Stars and big clubs can batter through such obstacles with cash and prestige; Serie D teams, and the players they attract, less so.

Then again, Boakai actually did get his contract in semi-pro Sweden, and actually did play, and actually couldn’t get much action. Reportedly, the company which sponsored Boakai’s contract at Landskrona backed out. That sounds bad. FC Edmonton, community-minded but not a soup kitchen, claimed FIFA-mandated compensation for a player they developed, invested in, made the reputation of, and lost. But that’s not unique and not that expensive. So what happened? Well it’s 2017 and this is a thinkpiece so here’s the boilerplate: it was we, the people. We did this to Hanson Boakai. We hyped him up too far. Remember that “Canadian Messi” remark? Boakai himself has referenced it with what can only be called an insufficient level of self-aware irony. What seems like it should be a personal responsibility in fact rests on all our shoulders, for making him what he is.

Of course, upon examination, the theory is ridiculous. First off, what you’d expect from a kid who has been convinced he is God’s gift to cansoc is that he is so secure in his superiority that he dogs it in training, and that is one thing I have not heard about Boakai. He has his foibles but work rate is not one. Indeed, as a little kid who faces frequent abuse from larger veteran pros, his ability to take and avoid a licking was a prominent asset. He was no theoretician, he had put in the work and could handle clumsier adversaries.

Other Canadians have become aware of hyper-flattering nicknames and if they haven’t met our hopes (because Canadian soccer players never do unless they are Christine Sinclair) they also haven’t flamed out. Prospects do become tubby and useless in their early 20s and retire young or go to League1 Ontario, but generally the attitude that allows that to happen is incompatible, in today’s competitive fitness-focused world, with becoming a professional in the first place.

Second off, what hype?! Have you walked around Canadian soccer lately? Alphonso Davies, a wunderkind in a bigger media market and at a higher level than Boakai, with a more impressive physique, superior statistics for club and country, and a life story that appeals even more directly to cansoc’s sensitivities, is enormously well-known by diehards from Halifax to Port Hardy. The Canadian Soccer Association ranks him beside Atiba Hutchinson and behind only Christine Sinclair in their advertising.

But among casual fans in Vancouver, people who go to a couple games a year and consider themselves Whitecaps fans but “not like those Southsiders, whoa, my buddy got a couple tickets in their section and we had to stand all game,” it’s not the same. They know him, remember him, but struggle for detail. He is not Connor McDavid. He is a blur on a field whose precocious powers are recognized but not obsessed over. He can walk down the streets here, which a hockey player as average as a Ryan Kesler finds difficult.

Boakai’s hype was below Davies’s. Among civilians he is behind even Jessie Fleming and Deanne Rose in name value. If that much praise ruined him, he was doomed regardless. The sort of love Boakai got would not overwhelm a strong junior hockey player. Soccer is catching on in Canada but it doesn’t come close to attracting the obsessive attention that hockey… Jesus, that curling enjoys in large parts of the country.

Yet we soccer fans possess a strange self-consciousness about openly praising our young men, and for that matter our young women. We can’t get too enthusiastic, because it might all be a dream. Not only in the sense of “Jessie might blow out her knee while playing for UCLA because when has that ever happened HAW HAW,” but there’s an idea that our promotion is part of the problem. We few fanatics convince our kids that they are stars, and the rest is doom.

I do not say that it is impossible for our praise to go to a player’s head. On the contrary, I know that it has happened. But our community’s praise doesn’t get you a good table at a crowded restaurant, let alone freighters of cocaine and women. We hardly exist in the real world. There are people philosophically incapable of sustaining the pressures of professional sport, and if the Voyageurs forum is swelling your head you’re one.

However, there’s a curious flip side. The Internet age has made a commonplace of seemingly-informed profiles provided by nothing more than thorough Googling; hey, this site hosts a couple. But these analyses can be influential. As a former Vancouver Whitecaps fan I remember well the excitement when we found that midfielder Davide Chiumiento was supposedly known—by whom we never discovered—as “the Swiss Ronaldinho.” This was not only fan buzz but got mainstream traction. When Chiumiento arrived in time for the 2010 USSF D2 playoffs he was fat and bored, and his short MLS career was more potential than realization. But we knew that former fans of his had thought he was something special, and were ever-so-slightly but importantly biased in his favour. What’s more, we weren’t wrong: Chiumiento may or may not have been worth it, but he possessed an undeniable spark that made him beautiful in a way that transcended how many points he helped the Whitecaps win. Take them in broad strokes and such fan assessments contain a lot of truth.

Boakai’s “Canadian Messi” title has followed him to Romania. Obviously such plaudits won’t carry a career on but they can make a difference, elevate someone above other unknown trialists. Though Boakai himself may not pan out, if he does it’ll be because some serious club is willing to take a chance on him despite the complications, and Boakai does enough to exploit that chance. We fans are almost impotent in that process. But if our hype convinces some otherwise-indifferent manager to view Hanson’s highlight tape, we could actually do something positive. Just yesterday FC Edmonton announced the signing of midfielder Abraham Dukuly who, they tell us unabashedly, is “a special 1-on-1 player with great instincts that draws comparisons to former Academy graduate and FC Edmonton player Hanson Boakai.” Quite right.

Sometimes good prospects bust. It’s lousy if your team needs them, and ours does. But in Canadian soccer the deficiencies are inborn. The 300 of us who care do not have the power to create them. On the other hand, we can do a minuscule but non-zero amount of good. Do not forfeit the pleasure of promoting a young player you love. If it ruins the kid, he was never going to make it anyway. And it is our positive duty to promote those who we think are worth it, even when we fear we may be wrong.

Doing It to Ourselves

By Benjamin Massey · July 20th, 2017 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Let me take you back, to the heady days of last Friday evening. After a 0-0 draw with Honduras that was more than respectable as these things go, Canada has emerged from the group stage at the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time since 2009.

The 2009 crew was a rag-tag bunch of misfits plus Atiba Hutchinson, and while they outplayed Honduras in the quarter-final they were always an average team overachieving. This year, by contrast, we have the future of the Canadian national team minus Atiba Hutchinson. Hoilett, Arfield, Vitoria, Cavallini (!), hardly a dodgy dual-national is missing. The sole blot on the copybook is Cyle Larin, who, returning from Canada’s June friendly against Curaçao, had far too much to drink, got in his car, drove down the wrong side of the road, and tried to excuse himself to the arresting officer by saying he was a professional soccer player from Canada. We learned that there was video footage of Larin inexcusably, disgracefully drunk at the wheel of his vehicle and that this was as open and shut an incident as you will ever find. Even fans who disdain soccer teams playing judiciary felt a distinct uneasiness.

It’s interesting, how the Canadian Soccer Association handled the Larin case. There clearly was discipline, since he was left off a Gold Cup roster he obviously would otherwise have made. They can’t claim it’s none of their business since they intruded into it. But there was no announcement saying Larin had been suspended for x games, and he was on the “taxi squad” of players to be recalled in contingencies. One is inevitably left with the impression that Octavio Zambrano would sooner have not punished Larin at all, and the Canadian Soccer Association was most concerned with public relations. Had Canada been eliminated in the group stage, as in the previous three Gold Cups, they could have said “we suspended Cyle for the tournament” and nobody could have contradicted them. In the event Canada was not only alive, it was well, and for the umpteenth time principle was discarded for expediency.

You see where this is heading. CONCACAF rules permit a coach to replace six players from his team with guys from the taxi squad, and Zambrano replaced one. The successful Canadian team was broken up only so far as Cyle Larin, who missed Canada’s earlier achievements on account of his literally criminal selfishness, replaced the blameless Raheem Edwards. On top of that, come Thursday evening, Larin was immediately put into the starting lineup. Team? What team?

It’s hardly necessary to say Larin was terrible, because for Canada he usually is. Larin has scored two goals in fourteen games, including ten starts, against remotely serious soccer countries and one was by accident. His howling misses outnumber his tidy finishes. He scores in Major League Soccer, but MLS is too poor a league to predict quality. Bradley Wright-Phillips, a bad English Championship striker with only one aspect to his game and never anywhere near international honours, may be the best striker in MLS history. Add in Larin’s incapacity in other aspects of his game and there’s no reason, beyond a superstitious admiration of the Americans, to give him the benefit of the doubt in the tougher CONCACAF arena.

Larin was just trash. Breaking up a winning setup he had no part in making, he missed an open header, failed to make challenging runs, went wide left a couple times and did nothing, failed to harass his defenders into mistakes, failed to execute a single defensive or midfield play. The man is garbage when he can’t finish chances, so for Canada he is almost always garbage.

But a team can survive a selfish, one-dimensional, mercurial player. In fact Canada did: infinitely-ballyhooed mercenary Junior Hoilett played almost every minute of the Gold Cup like he thought England would notice him if he just dangled one more guy, but in this quarter-final his selfishness also yielded a stunning goal from a mile out. When Hoilett is on the ball his teammates almost slump in despair, they know they’ll have to run sixty yards back when he almost-inevitably turns it over, but the point is they do know and they account for it.

The real damage was not in having a bad striker. The damage was that the team collapsed around him. By the time Larin was finally removed we were down 2-0 to Jamaica. Jamaica! A team Canada, even in its present decadence, consistently outplays. A team whose idea of a star is Darren Mattocks. Jamaica.

Lucas Cavallini, who replaced Larin, is no holy terror. I would have preferred Anthony Jackson-Hamel or Tosaint Ricketts, the maligned man, the guy who doesn’t create drama or try to get on SportsCentre so doesn’t get his minutes, he just delivers. But Cavallini has a defender-annoying hip-checking level of pissy effort that Larin hasn’t. Canada tried countless long shots with Larin on: Jamaica smothered them like unplanned babies. With Cavallini agitating the Reggae Boyz, not only could Hoilett score an unchallenged thirty-yarder but he could damned near do it twice. In the last half-hour, especially when Jackson-Hamel entered, Canada looked like they could play heroes and overturn a two-goal deficit for the first time since, according to the Carolyn Duthie Research Bureau, October 1988. They didn’t, but what a reasonable effort it was all the same.

We are cynical men, we soccer fans. We sneer at the idea of intangibles, of friendship and connectedness and team cohesion and other woo-woo nouns. Any Canadian men’s head coach of the last twenty years would have done what Zambrano did and give liquored-up Larin his starting spot based on pedigree and club form. But John Herdman, coach of Canada’s women’s team, definitely wouldn’t. And ask yourself, out of the men and the women which team consistently outperforms the theoretical sum of its parts, and which team consistently underperforms it?

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.

(more…)

Hoilett Hell

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

I have the hardest time convincing people that just because international soccer is corrupt and insane, it does not necessarily follow that the Canadian national soccer program should be corrupt and insane. We can, and should, hold ourselves to a higher standard. The United States may run out a team full of Germans, fine, the Qataris may massacre platoons of slave labourers to build stadiums for tournaments gained under false pretenses, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. However, this has nothing to do with how Canada needs conduct itself. Just as bad, when fans (and “fans”) urge us to sell our souls, usually we don’t get anything for it. Our morals are compromised, our dignity cracked, and we’re exactly where we were before, and nobody sincerely thinks it’ll be any different. It’s just naked cynicism, a total lack of ideals in an area where we can actually afford to be idealistic, all so that the commentator can look jaded and therefore knowledgeable.

Today, the Canadian Soccer Association released a teaser video where… well, I say “teaser” video, actually it’s quite obviously Junior Hoilett in a Canada kit talking about how fans should support the team. It is a miracle Hoilett did not explode from hypocrisy. Hoilett is 25 years old, was born and mostly raised in Ontario, and has never chosen to represent Canada internationally. There were long rumours that Hoilett would play for Jamaica, the land of his father, and as recently as April, Hoilett was, according to Canadian head coach Benito Floro, “fighting a lot with the decision to play for Jamaica or to play with us.”[1]. Years ago when his career was going well he publicly expressed interest in playing for England, even though under current rules that would be impossible.

Finally, Hoilett has decided to come home, at a moment where his stock at his club has never been lower and it’s doubtful he’d crack Jamaica’s starting eleven. He is a reserve player in the English Championship, and Queen’s Park Rangers are so dismayed by his wages and his inconsistent play that they are quite literally willing to give him away for free[2]. Players who have answered Canada whenever and whereever she has called are being bumped for a guy in hid mid-twenties who can’t crack the first team in the English second division. Is this the man for whom you are willing to sell out your principles? Is he really?

Curiously, in spite of his new-found dedication Hoilett chose not to appear for the recent World Cup qualifiers against Dominica or Belize. He probably had a dentist’s appointment. However, he has found the time for a more glamorous friendly in the United States against Ghana that will put him in the shop window. This does not particularly indicate a sincere embrace of Canadian soccer. I’ll be interested to see how many craphole Central American stadiums we ever see Junior suit up in.

I’m not saying Hoilett is a terrible human being. He left Canada at an early age and made us no promises. In a free country he is entitled to look out for his own interests. Nor am I saying that I would never take Hoilett back. If I were king of Canada and he was interested in returning, I would say “that’s terrific, Junior. Start playing some first team soccer and we’ll bring you in for a camp.” This would leave the door open and he could enter our picture or exit it, at his leisure. It would hinder the perception that Hoilett is being gifted a roster spot at the expense of loyal Canadians, an impression all the stronger when Hoilett is a reserve player and Floro has long complained that his players aren’t getting enough first-team minutes[3]. Finally, it would not hurt us competitively in any meaningful sense. A Championship reserve player is not the difference between Canada qualifying for the World Cup and not doing so. At best he’s the difference between 8-1 and 8-2.

But what we’re getting is a widely-promoted celebration of a player who’s coming back for a relatively noteworthy neutral-site friendly in the United States when he needs to give his career a boost. We’re rewarding somebody who ignored us for years when we needed him, and who quite publicly sought alternatives to us for as long as they lasted. Someone like Tosaint Ricketts, who has been incredibly loyal and worked incredibly hard, or Cyle Larin, who despite his prominence has accepted every single call the nation has made on him, is going to sit on the bench while Hoilett exults in the limelight. Meanwhile, other potential Canadians will look on and say “it does not matter what I do, the Canadian soccer program will be there for me as a last resort, welcoming me with fanfare and a fucking parade. Why shouldn’t I flirt with Chile? I could not possibly be hurt.”

If you reward bad behaviour, you’ll get more of it.

And what about basic pride? We’ve been chasing this kid for years and years, and he is finally so out of options that he’ll toss us a pity fuck. Is this something to be happy about? Canadian men’s soccer is debased, pathetic, but that’s no excuse to glory in it, to rub our faces against the concrete and kiss the boots of anyone who stops kicking us. People say we need to get top players to commit to Canada and I agree. How will we do that by showing that Canada is always there as your fallback option, and that we have so little dignity that we will thank you for ignoring us, and put you on a pedestal above those who have shown us loyalty?

In soccer as in life, nobody is attracted to somebody with no backbone. Making our program the bitch of our least deserving players, from the Frank Yallop era onward, has been a complete failure. The Hoilett party is the apotheosis of this attitude. He spits on us and spits on us and spits on us, but it doesn’t matter, because he will condescend to pull on a red jersey, and the years of scorn only makes him more worthy of praise from the Canadian soccer establishment. Despicable. Hoilett has proven nothing to me. The mere act of showing up, eight years late, hasn’t earned him a single fucking clap. Canada means too much for that.

(notes and comments…)

A Prediction

By Benjamin Massey · February 25th, 2015 · No comments

EDIT, June 2, 2015: I was wrong.

After a trial with the New York Cosmos, Canadian central defender Nana Attakora has signed with the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. Congratulations to him. San Antonio is a good organization and a great opportunity, and Attakora will play under one of the league’s three Canadian coaches, Alen Marcina. With the Scorpions’ defense threadbare now that Greg Janicki has moved closer to home and Adrian Cann’s career seems over, I tip young Nana to start (probably alongside former Toronto FC teammate Julius James).

Attakora, as you probably know, is an active member of the Canadian men’s national team pool and has been a regular for head coach Benito Floro. He started both friendlies earlier this year against Iceland and was in camp, without playing, for a 2014 match against Panama. At the time Attakora was without a contract, having failed to stick at MLS DC United. 25 years old, Attakora already has nine caps should have many more years of professional soccer ahead of him.

I predict Attakora will not receive another cap while at San Antonio.

There will be many excuses not to call him. Even at his best Attakora comes in behind David Edgar, Andre Hainault, and Dejan Jakovic on the centre back depth chart; most will add Doneil Henry. Attakora is a depth player but one who has answered Canada’s call with enthusiasm and not looked out-of-place on the pitch. We have always been forced to use our depth more than countries with domestic leagues and kinder schedules, and with friendlies, the Gold Cup, youngsters hosting the Pan-American Games, and World Cup qualifiers, the national pool will be under pressure this year. We will certainly see players of less significance and experience than Attakora called in.

Maybe Attakora will visit a camp or two under similar circumstances to Frank Jonke, who attended one of Floro’s camps in January 2014 after signing but before playing with FC Edmonton. However, no NASL player has yet made a cap for Floro, despite Canadians like Edson Edward and John Smits performing well at positions of need. Unattached players may certainly play, as Attakora did. So may players from the amateur ranks. But NASLers? Not yet.

Is it so implausible that Attakora, who Floro thought useful when he had no club, will be looked down upon now that he has one? He’s no prospect and won’t force his way into our best eighteen. Perhaps prospects like Hanson Boakai have a chance, but NASL players could hardly ask less from Floro than he’s given.

I hope that I am wrong; I often am. Attakora’s arrival in the NASL may motivate our coaches to learn more about that difficult but useful league. Edwards, the useful depth right back Canada has wanted for five years, may finally get his chance. Mallan Roberts may yet be dissuaded from playing for Sierra Leone, who would already have cap-tied him if not for ebola and a coaching change. But I don’t think so. High up in the Canadian Soccer Association there is respect for the NASL, but it has not yet been inherited by the technical staff.

So Farewell Then, Bryce Alderson

By Benjamin Massey · November 14th, 2014 · 1 comment

Les Meszaros/Canadian Soccer Association

Les Meszaros/Canadian Soccer Association

While not yet official, John Molinaro at Sportsnet has reported that the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to release midfielder Bryce Alderson[1]. Alderson did not play a single league game with the senior Whitecaps and only two in the Voyageurs Cup despite success in USL PDL, USL Pro, and, recently, a Canadian senior national team call-up[2].

I think Bryce Alderson is an excellent young player, but he’s a defensive midfielder and even I won’t say he’s a better one than Matías Laba. Nor is he necessarily better than Gershon Koffie or Russell Teibert right now, though Alderson is only twenty years old. The Canadian Vancouver has given up on might be younger than the American Vancouver gets in the first round of the next SuperDuperDraft.

You know where I’m going with this but there’s something to consider first: to an extent the Whitecaps and Alderson are being screwed by MLS contract rules. As soon as a player like Alderson signs a Generation Adidas contract the clock is ticking: the youngster is getting a lot of money, off the salary cap, but someday soon the team is going to have to pay for him and work him into their cap structure.

In the latest MLS Players Union list Alderson has a guaranteed compensation of $115,000[3]. Alderson signed young, 17 years old in November 2011[4], and from the instant his pen hit the paper he had to make a very quick impact indeed to prove he was worth all that money when his option came up. Julian de Guzman, to pick a name, spent most of his 20-year-old season as a reserve player on a mediocre 2. Bundesliga team. It’s hard to think he would have stuck around if he’d been an MLS player suddenly representing a six-figure cap hit, and how much poorer would the Canadian national team have been as a result?

If a young player hasn’t become a first team regular by the time that $115,000 hits the salary cap the team has a problem: even if they like him, how are they supposed to keep him? In short, not everything is Vancouver’s fault, and the ideal solution is for homegrown Generation Adidas contracts to hit the salary cap starting at a certain age, rather than after a certain number of seasons. Under the current system, Alderson being a quality player for his age is completely irrelevant.

You might have to take my word for this. I’ve seen a lot of USL PDL matches, I saw Alderson captain the Whitecaps USSDA U-18 team, I even watched webstreams of some of his Charleston Battery games before he got hurt. He was getting the job done, typically against players bigger and older than him. He captained the Whitecaps U-18s and the Canadian U-17s. Sure, he’s one-footed, he isn’t a dazzling offensive player, but he’s hard to knock off the ball, he’s calm and confident winning it, he’s a good passer, he is, in short, a good young defensive midfielder. In his two (two!!!!!) games for the Whitecaps first team over three seasons, he held a certain Michael Bradley down very well in the Voyageurs Cup. I’m not sure what else he was supposed to do. Wax Martin Rennie’s car? Hit Laba and Koffie in the knee with a tire iron?

Isn’t it funny how there’s always an excuse, always some foreign player to bump Canadians out of the lineup? We couldn’t play Alderson in 2012 because John Thorrington was too valuable to lose in the playoff race. We couldn’t play Alderson in 2013 because what would the Whitecaps have done without Jun Marques Davidson or Matt Watson? Just like how Jordan Harvey and Ethan Sampson keep Sam Adekugbe out of the eleven, and Russell Teibert gets kicked to the bench as soon as Gershon Koffie is healthy. Etc. etc. ad nauseum, we’ve seen the same thing every year since Teitur Thordarson got fired. It’s gotten beyond “coincidence”.

No, of course this isn’t some “Whitecaps hate Canada!” conspiracy, but if the Whitecaps wanted to give Canadian kids a chance they had plenty of opportunities to do so. It wasn’t a priority. Promising players lost prime development years because the Whitecaps thought it was more important to bring in some fractionally better foreigner than to play the kid and invest in the future. And look at the rewards that policy has brought: two blink-and-you’ll-miss-them playoff appearances and no Voyageurs Cups. This isn’t the old “Whitecaps hate Canada” gag, and I suspect a healthy proportion of since-2011 Whitecaps fans support this. But it’s clearly happening. You look at those team sheets and you tell me.

Even the Laba signing, which was maybe the best single piece of business the Whitecaps have done as an MLS franchise, shows this attitude. To compete immediately the Whitecaps needed high-end reinforcements to several positions at the start of 2014: a forward, an attacking midfielder, a couple defenders. Knowing that Kenny Miller would leave, and that Caleb Clarke has European aspirations, Vancouver could wisely have chased a DP forward without blocking any Canadians. A top DP centre back would also have been a bold, but justifiable, move, with the star helping apprentice young Jackson Farmer until he’s ready for MLS minutes. Instead Vancouver spent heavily on Laba, an obstacle to both Alderson and Russell Teibert. Teibert also lost potential attacking midfield minutes, still where I think he’s best, to Pedro Morales and Nico Mezquida. Look at where Vancouver is allocating their resources. Look at their priorities.

Possibly the Whitecaps get these great 18-year-old players who do well against the world’s best in their age group but suddenly turn to crap when they sign MLS contracts. In this case the technical staff should not merely be sacked but set on fire. From my viewing, though, the only things Alderson was missing was his health and a chance. FC Edmonton and especially the Ottawa Fury would be well-advised to call him.

Also on his way out is Omar Salgado, another youngster coming off his Generation Adidas contract. You might remember Salgado: big, tall, trouble at practice. Though he was almost continuously injured and seldom delivered when healthy, Salgado played 1,100 MLS minutes over four seasons in Vancouver[5]. It’s strange, isn’t it, that Salgado got several opportunities despite being older and having less success than Alderson against adults? But, of course, Salgado was a high-profile United States U-20 international and a first overall draft pick. Alderson was just some guy from Kitchener the team signed. As a Whitecap Salgado did nothing to deserve more of a shot than Alderson, yet the American played and the Canadian didn’t. Isn’t that weird?!

EDIT, 14:50 PST: Alderson has officially been released[6].

(notes and comments…)

How Did Russell Teibert Get Back on CanMNT, Anyway?

By Benjamin Massey · November 7th, 2014 · No comments

In Russell Teibert’s case, he knows what he needs to do to come back to the national team. I have already told him and I’m waiting. Once he does what he needs to do, he will be considered again.
Benito Floro as quoted by Red Nation Online, October 21, 2014[1]

(5:45 PM, outside the home of the Floro family. The smell of a home-cooked dinner wafts through the open window. Two earnest young men in carefully-ironed white dress shirts stand outside the door with Cheshire smiles. The first rings the bell.)

Benito (answering the door with the air of a man irritated): Hello?

Man 1 (cheerily): Good evening, sir!

Man 2: Have you heard the Good News about Canadian Soccer Jesus?

Benito: Oh, Christ.

Man 1: The Soccer Gods love you, and want you to know and love Them. They offer you peace and joy and a Gold Cup semi-final appearance.

Man 2: “The Soccer Gods so loved the world, that They gave Their only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have an eternally high PDO.” (John Limniatis 3:16)

Man 1: It doesn’t matter how good you are compared to Colin Miller or Stephen Hart or Dale Mitchell or Stephen Hart again or Frank Yallop or Holger Osieck. All coaches are sinners, and you cannot measure to the perfection of the Soccer Gods, and so you will burn in the Eternal Fire of Honduras.

Man 2: “For the wages of sin is defeat…” (Tino Lettieri 6:23)

Benito: I don’t know what you’ve heard but I don’t hate Russell. As head coach I have a responsibility to…

haveyouheardthegoodnews

Man 1: You’re probably wondering “if the wages of sin is defeat, and all coaches sin, then how does any coach ever reach the World Cup?”

Man 2: “For the wages of sin is defeat, but the gift of the Soccer Gods is eternal victory through Russell Teibert our Lord.” (Tino Lettieri 6:23)

Benito: I don’t know what message board rumours you’ve heard that made you do all this, and by the way how do you know where I live?

Man 1: Yes, eternal victory is a gift of the Soccer Gods, not something earned by our own work on Earth, or something that can be held up as a trophy of our own greatness. And the only way to accept that gift is to accept Canadian Soccer Jesus into your heart.

Man 2: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the marking of a tenacious midfield, and renewing of the Holy Goals.” (Rick Titus 3:5)

Man 1: For the Soccer Gods sent Canadian Soccer Jesus to Earth to atone for our footballing sins, and play for the team that hates Canada, and while we ourselves are sinners, his playoffs died for us.

Man 2: “For Teibert also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to the Soccer Gods, being put to defensive midfield obscurity in the flesh, but quickened by the Soccer.” (I Mont Pete 3:18)

Benito: And I thought Real Madrid fans were ridiculous. Listen…

Man 1: We have some wonderful literature that we would love to discuss.

Benito: Just…

Man 2: Canadian Soccer Jesus does not want to judge you. He just wants to love you.

Benito: Look, if I call Teibert to the Panama camp will you fuck off?

(Man 1 and Man 2 exchange glances)

Man 1: Have a nice dinner, coach. (Exeunt)

(notes and comments…)

Akin-maybe

By Benjamin Massey · November 5th, 2014 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Canadian Soccer Association

Luke Wileman has reported that Tesho Akindele has turned down an invitation to Canada’s friendly this month in Panama, because he’s interested in the Americans[1]. I can’t be arsed.

Like Owen Hargreaves, Akindele was born in Calgary. Unlike Owen Hargreaves, Akindele was raised outside Canada, growing up in Thornton, Colorado[2]. He played high school soccer in Colorado, went to college in Colorado, and now plays professionally in the United States. Since his college days Akindele has been billed with Thornton rather than Calgary as his hometown and the papers treat him like a local. He appeared in an obscure camp with the Canadian U-17 team in 2009 (with two other non-Canadian internationals, Caolan Lavery and Russell Teibert)[3] but that was his only involvement in any Canadian program.

Akindele is, in short, American, and morally is perfectly entitled to hold out for the United States. I hope he has a nice time. Let me rephrase: I wish him no more misery than any other American player.

But what about Canada losing a promising forward? We only have guys like Simeon Jackson, a former Premier League player now in League One, and Tosaint Ricketts, our most accomplished international forward of the twenty-first century, and Iain Hume, currently playing against Nicolas Anelka in India, and Marcus Haber, and Kyle Porter, and Michael Petrasso! Who there can compare to a first-year professional with an inconsequential amateur career?

Yeah, probably too glib by half. But let’s be serious. Akindele is 22 years old: older than Petrasso, Caleb Clarke, Lucas Cavallini, and other senior Canadian international forwards of superior experience (and, I suspect, skill). At his age he hardly counts as a prospect.

Akindele’s seven goals in MLS this year is pretty good, though not first class. But those seven goals come on 16 shots on target and 30 shots directed. A 43.75% shooting percentage is absolutely not sustainable; getting 53.33% of your shots directed on target is pretty unlikely as well. With 0.824 shots on target/90 minutes and 1.545 shots directed/90 minutes[4], Akindele’s shooting rates this year are well behind Erik Hurtado and Luke Moore, and a shade behind Dilly Duka. All on a strong attacking team, all in his first season that would attract interest at the senior level.

Would I turn Akindele down? Of course not. Will I get upset about Canada not having him? Not in this lifetime. He’s having a journeyman’s season with star luck.

There’s another angle that’s been mentioned. Whatever you think of Akindele’s individual merits, the Canadian Soccer Association has let another one get away. What’s the CSA doing wrong? Why can’t Canada retain an American-raised player who plays in the United States and has drawn interest from the much higher-ranked American team?

Put like that it’s a really stupid question, isn’t it?

(notes and comments…)