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…)

Meditations on Hanson Boakai

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

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

Tony Lewis/FC Edmonton

I’ll give it to you straight, Hanson Boakai is not the first member of FC Edmonton I’d call up to Canada’s senior men’s national team. (That would be Eddie Edward, followed by John Smits). But if you’re reading this from outside NASL fandom he’s probably the first one you’d call up. He has a high profile. FC Edmonton played two nationally televised games this year, against the Montreal Impact, and Boakai whooped an MLS defense stupid in both of them. He was already well-known as an exciting factor on the Canadian U-17 team and as the youngest player in NASL history. Compared to that, getting an actual right back other than Nik Ledgerwood into camp for once just doesn’t signify.

While we’re being frank: Boakai is an NASL bench player. A regular off the bench, lately, but still. You know how mediocre Kyle Bekker is despite Benito Floro’s throbbing mancrush? Right now Hanson Boakai and Kyle Bekker are at about the same stage of their careers. (This is a compliment to Boakai, who is more skilled and much younger, but it’s still important perspective.) We all have a tendency to overrate a young prospect, especially one not many of you watch much. I was one of those at last year’s Gold Cup chanting “cap-tie Aleman!”; he’s now getting zero minutes in the Costa Rican league. Youth and flash doesn’t always add up to much in the short term.

Now, none of this means I’m not thrilled to see Boakai called up. Frankly it’s a pleasant surprise to see Benito Floro having the stones to go to the NASL at all. And even if Boakai isn’t ready to take on top-five teams in the world yet, as he will be asked to against Colombia, he’s a young man and there’s a lot to be said for getting him marquee experience sooner rather than later. Bringing Boakai up is the right call, even if he can’t hack it quite yet.

Over the past few months Colin Miller has gradually extended Boakai more trust. First he’d come into games that had already been decided one way or another, then he’d come into games when the Eddies needed a spark and a goal, and lately he’s even come into games which Edmonton was leading, wearing out the opposition by running at them and threatening on the break. He’s virtually an automatic substitute these days, the twelfth man of the first eleven. There are still turnovers, as there always will be from young players who make their money off the dribble, but mistakes have come down and the work rate’s gone up. Just last weekend I saw Boakai struggle through fouls that would once have left him sitting on the grass in disgust. I’ve been known to criticize Colin Miller, but to my eye he’s making a positive difference here.

When Boakai comes on he clearly belongs, and if he’s not always making a decisive impact you definitely notice when he’s on the ball. Many Edmonton fans call for him to start; I sort of admire Miller trying to work him into the team, though, especially since so much of what makes Boakai fun to watch is running full-tilt at every defender he sees rather than pacing himself for ninety minutes.

Looking at some of the other midfielders on this Canada roster I think Boakai has a decent chance of getting his first cap if he busts ass in training and makes Floro happy. Guys like Dylan Carreiro, Manuel Aparicio, there’s no reason Boakai can’t get ahead of them. I’d take Boakai over Kyle Bekker right now and grin. Who’s the veteran wide midfielder off the bench, Issey Nakajima-Farran? Yeah, I’ll say Boakai can hustle his way into that eighteen. And when it happens the fans will be excited, leaning forward in their chairs, and he’ll probably look overwhelmed because a guy who trains against Kareem Moses and Chris de Guise is now facing one of the best international defenses on the face of the Earth. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a great moment for FC Edmonton and for Canada.

You know what I’d really like to see? Russell Teibert playing an attacking mid and working things with Boakai. Boakai does the running, tries to beat guys, Teibert controls the ball, works the passing lanes, tries to spring Boakai and give him room to play. Except, oh, wait, Teibert is still nowhere near any of Floro’s national team caps. Maybe the Whitecaps asked the CSA to leave him in Vancouver for their playoff push. I hope that’s it. (That’s right, I’m hoping that the Whitecaps are pulling a “Whitecaps hate Canada”, because I don’t want yet another situation where Canadian coaches ditch talented players who work well elsewhere because of personal disagreements.)

Tips for Samuel Piette on Being Funny About Hitler

By Benjamin Massey · May 3rd, 2013 · 1 comment

Yesterday, Canadian international midfielder and 18-year-old boy Samuel Piette made the mistake of trying to be funny about the Nazis. A couple months after many of his friends were tarred and feathered in the press for Instagramming a gag about Earl Cochrane, Piette celebrated the all-German UEFA Champions League final by Instagramming a gag about Hitler[1]. One can see which reaction this would get from professional angry people.

Actually, and unusually, most of the reaction to Piette’s Instagram has been reasonably restrained, apart from Kurt Larson who stopped precisely one iota short of calling Piette a Nazi himself[2]. I was all set to make this into some big rant about the Lamestream Media but I’m not sure it’s there apart from the Toronto Sun, and bashing the Sun for being irresponsible outrage enthusiasts is as pointlessly redundant as bashing the Nazis for not promoting diversity. So bravo people. However, there are still concerned fans, and still just enough sanctimony, and still far too many people trying to paint this as a youthful transgression at best or a moral failing at worst.

There are also practical concerns being raised about Piette’s Instagram, ones worth addressing. In the above-linked article Duane Rollins raises Germany’s infamous laws against Nazi imagery as a reason Piette might get into trouble. I am not a German lawyer but I think he’ll be fine: German laws prohibits actions like belonging to a National Socialist party, flying swastikas, denying the Holocaust, fascist or racist rallies, greetings, and salutes, things that actual Nazis do rather than just shitty gags. There are famous grey areas but these are less grey than are sometimes portrayed. The first stanza of national anthem Das Lied der Deutschen (you know, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles…) is controversial because of its territorial reach (From the Meuse to the Memel, / From the Adige to the Little Belt.) and is not part of the official national anthem but, contrary to popular belief, is no longer actually banned. Most Internet denizens know German anti-Nazi laws through restrictions forcing video game makers to scrub out swastikas for German releases, but video games are in an awkward position which may or may not fall within the protection of artistic expression and which most game companies just go along with.

Stereotype has the Germans being dour and humourless, particularly about the Third Reich, but really the Nazis are a popular theme in German comedy (as they couldn’t help but be). To my knowledge nobody has been thrown in jail for these jokes. Just for the hell of it, here’s a German parody of The Office which aired on the German television network ProSieben. It is, of course, in German. You will understand what is happening.

This isn’t to say Piette might not have public relations problems in Germany, just that I see no grounds for legal trouble. I am open to correction on this point from experts.

Piette’s real offense was that he wasn’t funny. The photo of a smug-looking Hitler and the caption “We are back bitches” does not quite carry comedic weight; one recognizes the structure of the joke without feeling in the least compelled to laugh. His caption, “Hitler und seine Armee sind züruck. Deutsch Fußball” translates as “Hitler and his army are back. German soccer.” It’s obvious what Piette is trying to do comically but there’s no joke there besides “ha! Nazis!” Let’s face it, if you’re going to go Hitler you need to beat around the bush a little, make a really good joke, or go for broke in offensiveness so hard that people laugh as a defense mechanism. Piette does none of these things. It’s like he expects Hitler to make the joke for him, but Hitler famously had a shit sense of humour. Bad choice for an opening act.

People have been hammering the Germans-taking-over-Europe jokes the past few weeks with so much vigour it’s become a cliché. I see on April 30 that I tweeted “They have the best soccer teams, the best economy, soon Germany will have the best tanks rolling through Paris and nobody will even notice[3].” See? We sort of hit Hitler side-on. It’s not a brilliant joke, only a couple retweets, but as of this writing I have not been featured in the Toronto Sun for it and I have 70% more Twitter followers than Piette.

The usual reaction to Piette’s Instagram has been “oh, I’m sure glad we didn’t have social media when I was 18.” Nah, I was funnier than that at 18. Then again, being funny when I was 18 was the only way cute girls would talk to me, whereas Piette is a professional soccer player. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a genuinely funny professional athlete. I’ve met plenty of likable ones, a fair few intelligent ones, and just about all of them like to crack jokes, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met one who’s ever made me laugh out loud on purpose. They must be out there as a demographic certainty, but as a rule humour doesn’t seem to be part of the athlete makeup somehow.

Still, if Piette is willing to learn, I’m happy to help. Drop the picture, first of all. Yes, I know it’s Instagram and pictures are obligatory; the solution to that problem is to pick a less shit form of social media. Let your talking do the talking. It’s possible to make people laugh at pictures of Hitler of course, but that takes a willingness to go for seriously extreme offensiveness and is an advanced technique. Let’s start with the easy stuff.

Second, know your material. The more you know, the easier it is to slip it in by the back door where it can be most pleasing (that’s what she said). When I was discussing your ill-fated joke on Twitter, I Tweeted Tyler Dellow that I wasn’t worried about you glorifying Hitler because “A French guy glorifying the Germans when it looks like they’ll take over Europe? Seems pretty unlikely[4].” That joke only works because I know about Vichy France, collaborationism, and how a disappointingly large number of French men and women did join the German side in 1940 when it looked like the Nazis would win. It’s one more degree of separatism from the uninspired “lol nazis”-style humour which gets you in newspapers.

Third, the closer you get to implying that Hitler was good, the more trouble you’re in. You don’t have to actually imply that to get into shit, as you are in the process of discovering. Leave no room for doubt and you’ll be better off.

Fourth, the more you try to be funny the easier it becomes. There are a lot of humourless bastards in this world, and when they see you trying to crack a joke their first reaction might be “wait, is he a Nazi?” If you make a habit of slightly transgressive humour, people will know to expect it from you and therefore give it the benefit of the doubt. I see your Twitter feed is mostly fairly straight analysis of soccer games you’re watching, bullshitting with friends, and incidentally a tweet of support for gay basketball player Jason Collins which would have got you shot in Hitler’s Berlin[5]. It’s not very comic, so people do not expect jokes. Tell more and that will change. This will have the welcome benefit of letting you practice your humour before a critical audience, which will make you funnier so your next Hitler joke won’t start an anxious thread on the Voyageurs board.

You may well say that none of this matters, that Piette is a professional athlete and should stay clear of controversy at all times. Fuck that. The upper echelons of the soccer world is populated with overt fascists, complete madmen, and drunk-driving wife-beating sacks of shit who regardless rake in millions of pounds a year. If Piette’s only public relations problem winds up being that he has a sense of humour then he won’t actually have any problems at all.

You may also say that the Nazis are terrible and cannot be joked about at any time. This is a point about which reasonable men have disagreed, both while Hitler was contemporary and now that Hitler’s history. If Piette thinks Hitler was just some European who tried to take over the world like that Napoleon Dynamite dude then he could certainly use a few days with some really good books and that oft-mentioned tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. We can argue about whether the Nazis were the most odious regime that has ever existed but they certainly accomplished more in less time than anyone else who attempted to show just what miserable, mean, contemptible beasts human beings can be (I do not say “become”). I happen to think that humour in general is one way we can rise above the animalistic tribalism and superstition which, unchecked, helps lead to the horrors of the Third Reich. You may differ, and I respect that. This is a sensitive topic and the instinct is to approach it with a maximum of tact. But while I don’t doubt that Piette could use education on the atrocities that dominated the middle part of the last century, we ought to trust him to make his own conclusions rather than try to thrust our own upon him. Being holier-than-thou with an 18-year-old does not lead them to approach and respect your point of view, it leads them to resentment.

Maybe Samuel Piette had no idea of the seriousness of the Nazi regime and made what he thought was an innocent comparison to a long-forgotten dead guy. More likely he was trying to use the risqué and transgressive for comic effect and bombed. There’s little doubt that Piette is basically a good kid, no indication that he’s any sort of neo-Nazi, and certainly no room to be sanctimonious.

(notes and comments…)