Carolyn’s College Corner Weeks 5 and 6

By Carolyn Duthie · September 21st, 2018 · No comments

Bowling Green University

Apologies for the lack of article last week—I just started a new job and had to shift some focus away from the college game.

News and notes from the past bit of time:

Canada dropped their CONCACAF-mandated 35 player provisional roster ahead of qualifying, featuring a selection of college players (alphabetically by first name because that’s how the CONCACAF list was released, for some chaotic reason): Deanne Rose (Florida), Emma Regan (Texas), Gabby Carle (Florida State), Jessie Fleming (UCLA), Julia Grosso (Texas), Kennedy Faulknor (UCLA), Rylee Foster (West Virginia) and Sarah Stratigakis (Michigan). The roster also includes several pre-college aged players: Jade Rose, Jayde Riviere (verbally committed to Michigan for 2019), Jordyn Huitema, Kalia Novak, and Maya Antoine (verbally committed to Vanderbilt for 2019). Evelyne Viens did not make even a 35-player roster for Canada, which is upsetting.

Later the camp roster was released. Of the college players Carle, Grosso, Fleming, Regan, and Rose were called into camp, and only Huitema among those younger. There are still three cuts, one a goalkeeper, to be made from this camp before the final roster of 20 is named. Hilariously, Jenna Hellstrom is listed as a fullback despite playing as a forward for her club and Gabrielle Carle is listed as a forward despite playing as a fullback or wide midfielder for FSU since arriving there. I am not here to tell anyone how to coach but perhaps a switch is in order there.

Canada faces Jamaica, Cuba, and Costa Rica in group play, beginning October 5th in Edinburg, Texas. Group winners and runners-up move on to the semi-finals, played in Frisco. CONCACAF has 3.5 qualifying spots, so the winners of both semi-finals as well as the winner of the third place game qualify directly, while the fourth place finisher will play for the final spot against Argentina in a two-legged qualification playoff.

This has nothing to do with college, but Sophie Schmidt has been training with the Whitecaps REX kids ahead of qualifiers.


Conference play has begun for NCAA woso teams. The Big 10 is likely your best bet for decent play and good number of Canadians, though the Big 10 network does require you to pay money (and possibly tell it you’re in the United States) to be able to watch it.

Recent Standouts (trading quality for quantity this week, I’ve been busy)

Claire Larose, Austin Peay State: Scored a goal in each of Austin Peay’s last two games.

Erica Hubert, Bowling Green: Three goals and one assist for Bowling Green in last week, including a five point night against Youngstown State.

Connie Awuku-Darkoh, Central Arkansas: Two goals last week vs. Sam Houston State, and two assist the previous week against Arkansas State

Kelly Chiavaro, Colgate: Two consecutive clean sheets vs. Loyola Maryland and Fairfield, making 9 saves.

Kelsey Smith, Grand Canyon: The defender tallied three assists in Grand Canyon’s win over Portland State.

Chandra Davidson, Indiana: Scored a goal for Indiana against Michigan and added an assist vs. Michigan State, helping Indiana to two straight wins to start Big 10 play.

Isabelle Mihail, Kent State: Scored both goals in Kent State’s 2-1 win over Syracuse, including this shot for the golden goal in overtime.


Serena Dolan, Memphis: Scored a goal in each of Memphis’ wins over Arkansas State and Ole Miss.

Annie Ibey, Niagara: Has scored a goal in three straight games for the Purple Eagles.

Kennedy Faulknor, UCLA: Scored her first collegiate goal in UCLA’s win over LMU while helping the Bruins keep three straight clean sheets.

Rylee Foster, WVU: Kept two consecutive clean sheets in goal for the Mountaineers, while also tallying an assist in their September 7th win over Clemson.

Saje Brar, Yale: The former Whitecap is off to a strong start for the Bulldogs, colleting three assists in her last two games.

Week 6 Games to Watch

Eastern Michigan vs. Kent State

September 21st, 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific
No stream
Live stats EMUEagles.com
These two teams have 19 Canadians rostered between them, so look out for high Canadian content in this matchup. Vital Kats and Isabelle Mihail have both been strong offensive performers for the Golden Flashes, while for Eastern Michigan, Sabrina MacNeill and Kristin Nason have both been significant contributors.

Oregon vs. Utah

September 21st, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast Pac-12 Oregon or KWVA Radio
Live stats None
Hannah Taylor has been a regular starter for the Ducks and will look to continue her strong play as the PAC-12 season begins. Canadians Natalie Kump and Kristin Fairbairn have both made several appearances for Utah, with Fairbairn winning three starts and collecting two assists.

Yale vs. Princeton

September 22nd, 4 PM Eastern/1 PM Pacific
Broadcast ESPN (American subscription required)
Live stats YaleBulldogs.com
Natalie Grossi and Olivia Sheppard are both significant contributors for the Tigers, while Saje Brar has had a strong start to her freshman season at Yale, tallying one goal and four assists so far.

Nebraska vs. Purdue

September 23rd, 3 PM Eastern/12:00 PM Pacific
Broadcast BTN2Go ($)
Live stats Huskers.com
Nebraska’s Natalie Cooke and Dakota Chan, who both played with TSS Rovers over the summer, have contributed for the Huskers. Purdue’s Hannah Melchiorre, from Thunder Bay, has two assists this season.

Carolyn’s College Corner Week 2

By Carolyn Duthie · August 23rd, 2018 · 1 comment

University of Memphis

I’d like to start this article with some important insight or analysis every week, but it has been one week, not a ton has happened, and I didn’t really have any ideas. So instead we’re going to start with The Multitude of Ways in Which College Soccer Was Kind Of A Mess This Week:

  1. Animal invasions of the pitch.

    This is an old favourite in all sports, but I must admit this is the first time I’ve heard of a soccer game being stopped because of a serpent. Regrettably the creature was not photographed.

  2. The stadium just breaking.

    During the game between Texas and Rice University, taking place at Rice, a entire half of the stadium went dark somewhere around the 69th minute. As Texas Soccer was quick to point out, the game is not official until the 70th minute has been played, so I can imagine they were… keen to get out and play just a little bit more and get this counted as an official game (given that they were ahead 2-0 at the time), but I was watching this game and it was Very Difficult To See. Did Rice turn the lights off on purpose to try and get the game nullified? We will never know (they did not). They did play out the rest of the game, with Texas attacking into The Dark End, and the prevailing strategy on corner kicks became “chuck the ball anywhere at all into the box nobody can see it anyways.”

  3. UNC Seems To Think That They Are Playing Hockey.

    This is not a college soccer thing, per se, it’s an Anson Dorrance/UNC thing that is permitted by the college rules, but I hate it. For those not familiar, NCAA rules permit re-entry at halftime and then once in the second half—so a player can start the game, come off at some point in the first half, go back in at halftime to start the second half, come off at some point in the second half, and then go back in the game again. If she comes off again, that’s it. Many people have many opinions about this substitution format, but UNC seems to be making an intentional mockery of it by going for wholesale line changes multiple times per game. UNC has played three games so far this season, and their substitutions in those games look like:

    There is nothing wrong with this except that I hate it, but Anson Dorrance has now coached UNC (men + women) to 1000 NCAA wins and THIS IS DUMB.

  4. The University of Louisville scored to win their game with eight seconds left in overtime and did not set their highlight video to “Over My Head (Cable Car)” by the Fray. Admittedly this is not on the same level as the others.

Canada – Brazil Roster

A trio of NCAA players—Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, and Julia Grosso—are on the roster for the upcoming CanWNT game against Brazil on September 2nd in Ottawa. If it were up to me, players in college would be left alone for the short amount of time that they are in the college season, especially for friendlies, but Canada’s senior player pool is dramatically too thin for this to be a realistic option. This is the last (of frankly too few) warmup games before CONCACAF qualifying, where Jessie Fleming and Deanne Rose at the least will be expected to make significant contributions, and the NCAA does not break for the FIFA calendar. There is an extra sense of disappointment with this particular callup because it means both Fleming and Rose will miss the game their teams are playing against each other on August 31st.

Three players who have not yet reached college age were also called in—Jayde Riviere, Maya Antoine, and Jordyn Huitema. Riviere is verbally committed to Michigan for next fall, and Antoine to Vanderbilt (though it should be noted that verbal commitments are not binding). Huitema has not yet committed, and while she would be a massive addition to any college program, her training with PSG while they were in the US this summer could also indicate that she is considering forgoing college to pursue a professional contract.

Week 1 Standouts

First, some caveats: this will be biased towards attacking players who score a lot because their stats are easy to observe. Sorry defenders. It will also tend towards games I actually managed to watch, because it is easier to observe a good performance when you can actually see it. With that said, some Canadian standouts from week 1 of NCAA play:

Clarissa Larisey, Memphis:

The Memphis forward scored three goals over Memphis’ first two games, matching her goal total from all of last season, and if we use the NCAA points system where a goal is good for 2 points while an assist is worth one, Larisey is currently the Canadian NCAA points leader. Her goal against Omaha was a highlight reel-worthy bicycle kick, but Memphis did not actually include it in their highlight reel.

Sarah Stratigakis, Michigan:

Stratigakis scored a goal for the Wolverines this weekend in their win over Western Michicgan, which can been seen at 1:44 of this highlight video. Her real standout performance came in Michigan’s first game against Boston U, where she completed 94% of her passes, was successful in all eleven of her dribble attempts, and was the top rated player for the game in inStat.

Emma Regan, Texas:

Regan did not appear on the stat sheet for Texas in their first two games, but was part of a backline that kept a clean sheet against Rice and held #4 UNC to one goal. In the game I was able to watch, against Rice, she also made several dangerous runs going forward, including one highlight-worthy dribble through at least 5 Rice players. She made several dangerous crosses, so look for Regan to pick up some assists over the course of the season.

Quinn Josiah, Prairie View A&M:

Josiah, a freshman at Prairie View A&M in Texas, made twenty (20!) saves in her collegiate debut vs. McNeese State, while conceding just one goal. Twenty saves in one game is a lot. Twenty saves in two games would be a lot. I didn’t see the game, so I cannot offer much more context, but definitely keep an eye out for Josiah because this was quite the start to her college career.

Week 2 Games to Watch

University of Wisconsin vs. Florida State

August 23rd, 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific
Broadcast BTN2Go, subscription required
Live stats UWBadgers.com
This game features three veterans of Canadian youth teams with Gabby Carle at Florida State, and Victoria Pickett and Emily Borgmann at Wisconsin. Carle has already seen some time with the senior national team, having been an alternate for the 2016 Olympics, and I think both her and Pickett definitely have the chance to break into the senior team more regularly in the future.

Memphis vs Mississippi State

August 23rd, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast GoTigersGo.com
Live stats GoTigersGo.com
Memphis is well known at this point in Canadian Soccer circles for always featuring a plethora of Canadians on the roster, and this year is no different. The Tigers count fourteen Canadians from six different provinces on the roster this year, including the Levasseur twins, Marie and Catherine, and Tanya Boychuk, a member of Canada’s most recent U20 team. Mississippi State features two Canadians of their own, Tianna Harris and Andrea Tyrrell.

Pittsburgh vs. Kent State

August 24th, 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific
Broadcast ESPN Player (cable subscription required, and basically impossible to get in Canada).
Live stats SidearmStats.com
Two Canadians, Taylor Pryce and Ashley Moreira, play for Pittsburgh, who are under their first year under new coach Randy Waldrum, formerly of the Houston Dash and of twice-national-champion-under-his-coaching Notre Dame. After a number of poor seasons, Pittsburgh is off to a 2-0 start this year. Pryce and Moreira both participated in U20 qualifying for Canada in 2015 and are key players for Pittsburgh. Kent State features a number of Canadians, including youth national team veteran Vital Kats, defender Paige Culver, and starting goalkeeper Faith O’Neill. Striker Isabelle Mihail is from Kitchener, Ontario, and now competes for the Romanian national team.

Florida vs. Ohio State

August 24th, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast ESPN again or Gatorvision radio (free!)
Live stats FloridaGators.com
Deanne Rose, at this point a senior national team regular, is looking for her first goal for the Gators this season after leading the team in scoring last year, playing alongside Courtney Douglas, the redshirt senior at Florida from Brampton, ON. Ohio State has two Canadians of their own, Marike Mousset of Montreal, a veteran of the 2016 U20 WWC, and Devon Kerr, of Barrie, who was a member of Canada’s 2014 U17 WWC team, though has since attended various US U19 and U23 national team caps. (Kerr has not, as far as I can tell, competed in any official capacity for the US, and thus remains eligible to compete for Canada if she should choose to.)

Carolyn’s College Corner Week One

By Carolyn Duthie · August 16th, 2018 · No comments

Matthew DiMaria/UCLA

The NCAA women’s college soccer season opens today, so it is time to unleash upon the world my ridiculous project tracking all of the Canadians currently playing Division I soccer in the college system in another country.

This data tracking originated mostly out of personal curiosity. Like it or not, nearly every Canadian women’s soccer prospect spends the years after high school in the NCAA system, and I was interested to know exactly how many there are. There are a host of problems with NCAA soccer (an article for another day), but when the season is on it is my favourite time of year, even when the soccer is not the best. Also, I was supposed to be writing my master’s thesis and the 2017 spreadsheet proved an excellent distraction.

It’s not perfect, and I hope to improve it with time, to include notes such as whether the player has competed internationally for another nation, or if they have been invited to CSA camps, or if the player redshirted the season in question. Currently players are only included if they have a Canadian hometown listed on their school roster or if they have recently been invited to a Canada camp (Hannah Taylor is currently my lone member of this category). There are undoubtedly many players eligible to represent Canada, but until the CSA pays me to I am not investigating the family history of every player in NCAA Division I women’s soccer. (Dear Canada Soccer, Carly Wickenheiser, daughter of the late Doug Wickenheiser, who you might remember as the #1 overall draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1980 or as “Hayley Wickenheiser’s cousin”, currently starts at Texas Tech. For more tidbits like this, contact me through the site.) If there are any Canadian players I forgot (very likely) or that have non-Canadian hometowns but you think it would be valuable to include, let me know, I’ll add them to the list.

I’ve included the 2017 RPI ranking in both the 2017 and 2018 data for now, and will update with 2018 RPI data when it becomes available. RPI (Rating Percentage Index) is not perfect, but it is readily available and will help to add some context to the data by giving some indication of how well a team performed. The top NCAA teams and conferences are a lot better than the lower ones, so consider this when looking at data. I’d like to at some point also add strength of schedule data, but it’s not quite so easy to find.

I will try to keep the current season’s data as up-to-date as I can, though there are a lot of college soccer games and some teams are pretty slow at updating box scores. The spreadsheets are available on Google Drive for 2018 and 2017.

Pre-season Honours

To begin this section, I think pre-season honours are dumb. We are meant to celebrate these players because they have looked good in the past? One of these things is a watch list for an award based on this year’s performance. This is dumb. We should watch all of the players to see who is good. But they include a bunch of Canadians this year, so I will report on them.

The MAC Hermann watch list was released this past week, featuring 8 Canadian women: Paige Culver (Kent State), Jessie Fleming (UCLA), Rylee Foster (WVU), Victoria Pickett (Wisconsin), Deanne Rose (Florida), Bianca St. Georges (WVU), and Evelyne Viens (South Florida). Special shoutout to Evelyne Viens, who has been so criminally ignored by Canada Soccer in all of her time playing soccer that they even failed to include her in their first publishing of an article about this list.

I do not know who selects this list; it includes Casey Murphy, who chose to forgo her senior year of college at Rutgers to play professional soccer in France (and was drafted by the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC) and I imagine is ineligible to win. I would not trust the creators of this list with deciding who is the best player in college soccer, but it is nice to see these Canadians get recognition. Fleming was a finalist for the award in 2017; Kadeisha Buchanan won it in 2016 while at WVU, and Christine Sinclair won in 2004 and 2005 while at the Univeristy of Portland.

Top Drawer Soccer, a website that does a lot of valuable reporting and and is thus ascribed a lot of power in ranking teams and players, also released their pre-season best eleven teams. The top XIs feature Canadians Fleming (UCLA; first team), Viens (South Florida; second team), Foster (West Virginia; second team), Pickett (Wisconsin; third team) and Emma Regan (Texas; freshman team).

Most of those same players are included in the top 100 players to watch, with Fleming at #2, Viens at #19, Pickett at #23, Foster at #25, Culver at #42, and St. Georges at #59 (the list intentionally does not include freshmen, who are ranked independently once the season begins, so Regan was not in consideration). Other Canadians included are Marie Levasseur (Memphis; #41), Olivia Gauthier (Memphis; #57), and Devon Kerr (Ohio State; #66). I do not know where Deanne Rose is, she absolutely belongs on this list.

Week 1 Games to Watch

I will do my best to highlight some games each week that will be of some interest to Canadian viewers. Hopefully some of them are watchable to Canadian viewers. My apologies in advance if I link to a stream that either asks you for a ridiculous sum of money to watch, is geoblocked, or convinces you to pay a ridiculous sum of money to watch only then to inform you that it is geoblocked. Also I promise not to list UCLA every week. Maybe.

University of Wisconsin vs. North Dakota State

August 16th, 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific
Broadcast https://www.btn2go.com/game/n-dakota-st-at-wisconsin-on-08162018
Live stats http://uwbadgers.com/sidearmstats/wsoc/summary
I totally lied in my previous paragraph, you absolutely have to pay for BTN2Go and I’m pretty sure it’s also geoblocked, but if you’re into that, Wisconsin is led by midfielder Victoria Pickett (in addition to Canadian forward Emily Borgmann) and North Dakota State features six Canadians on their roster.

Rice vs. Texas

August 17th, 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific
No stream indicated
Live stats https://riceowls.com/sidearmstats/wsoc/summary
Two names likely familiar to CanWNT fans, Julia Grosso and Emma Regan, are both entering their freshman year at Texas, where they are coached by former Canadian WNT midfielder and Canada Soccer Hall of Fame member Angela Kelly. Rice has six Canadians on the roster, including Caleigh Boeckx, who has participated in several U20 CanWNT camps.

UCLA vs. Long Beach State

August 17th, 10 PM Eastern/7 PM Pacific
Broadcast Pac-12 Network and DAZN in Canada, so I no longer have to promote pirated webstreams.
Live stats http://www.statbroadcast.com/events/statbroadcast.php?t=1&gid=ucla
There aren’t any Canadians at Long Beach State but you should absolutely take any chance to watch and enjoy Jessie Fleming dominating the college game. UCLA also features Kennedy Faulknor and Shana Flynn, of Canadian youth national teams, but you’re here for Jessie Fleming.

Canadian Soccer: Seldom as Bad as It Looks

By Benjamin Massey · January 31st, 2018 · No comments

Mexsport/Canada Soccer

There is a meme among Canadian soccer die-hards—and if you’re reading a post with Jordyn Huitema at the top you’re at least die-hard-adjacent—that our country takes success in women’s soccer for granted. We have been good because we have a built-in social advantage in women’s sport compared to traditional soccer powers. However, as the waves of sexual equity wash across the globe that will disappear and countries that are actually good at teaching soccer will catch us up. Meanwhile most Canadians with an interest in ladysoccer are sitting around with their thumbs up their butts, counting bronze medals and assuming the good times will last forever.

Personally, I don’t know any serious follower of Canadian soccer who does anything but worry about the future of our WNT, even as it has two Olympic medals in two tries and enough under-23 stars to crew a destroyer. Panic is our default mood. The most optimistic fan I know might be me, and I’ve spent years saying the CanPL should be a women’s league partly to address a weakness in our game that might someday cripple the women but is far less important for the men. But the real pessimists have spent this week running riot.

On Sunday, Canada’s girls lost 1-0 to Haiti in the CONCACAF third-place match, thereby failing to qualify for a U-20 Women’s World Cup some thought we had a shot at winning. The reason we were in the third-place match to begin with is that we lost on penalties to Mexico in the semi-final, a pretty grim sign on its own1. The Canadian team, though sans Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, and the late Kennedy Faulknor, had a number of recognizable faces: Huitema, occasional senior national teamers Gabby Carle, Julia Grosso, Sarah Stratigakis, and Ariel Young, young uncapped talents like Emma Regan and Rylee Foster. Down the other end, Haitian players are never household names but 19-year-old captain Nerilia Mondesir has already made a couple Ligue 1 Féminine appearances with Montpellier and might get there. That was it.

Half of this Haitian team, including Mondesir2, beat 11 of these Canadians 2-1 in the 2016 CONCACAF U-17 tournament with Canada that time winning a very scrappy bronze medal rematch. This year Canada dominated a meaningless group stage game where Haiti played nine second-choice players but when it counted, chance for chance, Haiti was better. Sherly Jeudy’s goal was a cracker while at best Canada generated moments that should have been scoring chances and weren’t. Watch the game on YouTube if you want, though you don’t want to because it was terrible, and feel the despair for yourself. I may not be making the best “watch the games, nerd” pitch here.

This loss was no fluke. Haiti played dirty, dove, and feigned injury so constantly that they spent more than the five minutes of second-half stoppage time with perfectly healthy players on stretchers, to the disapproval but not the discouragement of American referee Ekaterina Koroleva. It was the most embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship I have ever seen in almost twenty years of CONCACAFing, but Haiti did the same thing in the U-17s and Canada had no excuse not to be prepared. A more skilled team in that position ought to at least generate something, and Canada didn’t. We were not screwed by the referee, with maybe one borderline penalty for Carle not called and Jessica De Filippo earning her late red card; criticizing the disgraceful opposition is not the same as excusing the disappointing Canadians.

So the past few days in cansoc have been one long freak out. Social media and message boards are on fire looking for human sacrifices. A long list of nominees was available, from CSA supremo Steve Reed, through double-national-team-destroyer John Herdman, down to the coaches at your kids’ club. Our structural failures were biting us hard. The question was not whether we’d improve on our bronze medals in 2020, but whether we’d qualify. Anyway Christine Sinclair and Ashley Lawrence might keep us ticking along for a few more months but we’re ultimately doomed. RIP in peace Canadian soccer’s only decent team, 2012 to 2018, mourned by those who have always said that if we cheer for this we’re part of the problem.

Fair enough, to a degree. There’s no way to sugarcoat looking inferior to Haiti. But we’re not talking about one bad tournament, we’re talking about the future of a program. And the future’s not bad.

Players born in…
Median Mean ’98 ’99 ’00 ’01 ’02 ’03
Canada 17y 9m 10d 17y 9m 28d 3 5 5 7 0 0
Costa Rica 19y 2m 15d 18y 6m 13d 11 3 2 3 1 0
Haiti 18y 4m 9d 17y 7m 14d 3 10 0 2 0 5
Jamaica 18y 6m 30d 18y 2m 3d 4 8 3 2 2 0
Mexico 18y 6m 23d 18y 9m 22d 8 9 3 0 0 0
Nicaragua 17y 11m 17d 17y 10m 24d 5 5 5 4 1 0
Trinidad and Tobago 18y 2m 22d 18y 3m 13d 4 9 4 1 0 0
United States 18y 9m 21d 18y 9m 6d 7 10 3 0 0 0
All player dates of birth from CONCACAF.com. Ages as of January 18, 2018. Rosters of 20 players each, except for Trinidad and Tobago who were listed with 22. One Jamaican and four Trinidad and Tobagan players were missing dates of birth and are not counted.

Those who paid attention to the tournament know that Canada had sent an inordinately young team. We had the lowest median age of any of the eight teams, two months younger than sadsacks Nicaragua and six months younger than Haiti. The Haitians had a lower mean age because their roster included every one of the five 2003-born players in attendance. Three of those 2003s3 started against Canada, but that still give their starting eleven a median age of 18 years, one month, and 24 days. Canada’s was 17 years, six months, and 30 days. Eight of our starters4 are eligible for the next one of these things. The gulf in maturity showed to some extent against Haiti, where their older players were imposing, and 19-year-old Jeudy’s fine goal came because she was able to bust between 16-year-old centrebacks Ariel Young and Maya Antoine. But it was more notable against Mexico, who were able to shove around some of the smaller Canadians, lean off them easily, and physically dominate us for 90 solid minutes. Mexico also played well, full marks to the champions, but they drew that game like Canada used to.

There are those who will say that, rather than sending its most talented prospects who should have been good enough to get out of CONCACAF anyway, coach Bev Priestman should have called the oldest prospects for the best chance to win games in the short term. This seems like a fairly mental use of finite development minutes. The likes of Emma Regan, who with even ordinary luck will play for our senior WNT within five years, needed these hard lessons more than bigger, more physically mature players would have benefited from winning some shoving matches. In fact, I’m so old that I remember fans criticizing the Canadian programs for worrying too much about physical maturity and not enough about skill; Owen Hargreaves was totally justified shopping around his international career because he was cut from a Canadian youth team when he was 15 years old, you know.

Huitema won the Golden Boot, assisted by a generous schedule but punished by a tournament that viewed “foul the tall girl” as legitimate strategy. Carle was Canada’s heroine against Mexico and our most dangerous element against Haiti. Foster made mistakes, as a teenage goalkeeper always will, but was a big, big net positive and kept us in the bronze-medal match, including a penalty save. Among the role players, my co-podcaster hated her against Haiti but Tanya Boychuk has “future Adriana Leon type” written all over her. Stratigakis was not always at her best but could not conceive of the word “quit” and earned more time. Some players who we expected more from didn’t show much, and while politeness forbids my naming them that’s valuable feedback too.

And that is the only thing that matters. Carolina Morace’s failure to qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2010 was not notable because we lost to Mexico and Costa Rica, but because hardly any of the young women she spent months trying to win with developed into anything. Neither Mexico nor Costa Rica, incidentally, has been close to passing us at the senior level in the eight years since, so anyone shouting about a changing of the CONCACAF guard was way premature. Of course it would have been much better to qualify for the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup and for our best young players to test themselves against the world, but our failure to do so is not proof of anything structural. If the many kids we took to Trinidad and Tobago learn from this experience, there’ll be a lot of red faces as we redeem ourselves in 2020. And if they don’t, well, then we can worry.

John Herdman.

By Benjamin Massey · January 8th, 2018 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canada Soccer

I believe it was John Molinaro who broke it, but as soon as it was broken the news rushed through Canadian soccer like water through a breached dam. John Herdman, the most accomplished coach any Canadian team has ever had in any sport other than hockey, is out of the Canadian women’s senior national soccer team… and in for the Canadian men’s senior national soccer team. Octavio Zambrano, after nine months as men’s coach, a Gold Cup quarterfinal that was relatively a success and objectively a failure, and enough enemies in Canadian soccer that every dialed-in media person in the country was saying “well that part wasn’t a surprise” before the ink on the tweets was dry, is out.

This is the most surprising thing that has ever happened. Not just to us fans, though we’ve spent several hours of our Monday evening trying to get our heads around the news. Our players seem just as taken aback. Stephanie Labbé, the starting goalkeeper for the women’s team for almost a year now, kicked things off with:

Diana Matheson, one of our best ever players and possibly still a member of the national pool if she ever recovers from her latest knee injury, had this to say:

And, while all teammates are equal, we know in our hearts that some teammates are more equal than others, so take a moment to realize that Christine Sinclair, the best player in women’s soccer history, used her first Tweet since November to give every indication of having found out about this through the press release:

This was handled abysmally. A good rule for the Canadian women’s national team is the “is this going to make Christine Sinclair speechless” test, and this failed1. The new women’s coach, Kenneth Heiner-Møller, was already a first team assistant as well as the former boss of Denmark. He is a familiar face and, professionally, no joke. From the perspective of keeping the women onside he’s probably the safest appointment this side of telling Sinclair “sorry, this happened suddenly and we had to get it out before Sportsnet did, we didn’t have time to ask if you wanted to player/coach.” But my God this is going to be a hard one to swallow for a team that, as of January 7, 2018, was one of the five favourites for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

In the interests of equity I looked through some Canadian men’s national teamers’ Twitter accounts for their reactions. Scott Arfield, Milan Borjan, Junior Hoilett, Nik Ledgerwood, Atiba Hutchinson, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Samuel Piette, none of them seemed to be bothered. They surely have thoughts and reactions, but aren’t exactly rushing to their cellphones2. Which makes sense. The men’s national team is only a very small part of a player’s life. Julian de Guzman recently retired as the Canadian men’s national team’s all-time appearance leader with 89 senior caps. This would not be anywhere near the women’s leaders: Christine Sinclair has 262 and counting. Women’s players, by various means, almost always get most of their income and exposure through the national team. For men’s players the national team has, if anything, been an impediment except at the best of times.

Which is bad news for John Herdman. Herdman has done some very good things in the conventional coaching arena. His players are consistently fit, which was not always the case under Carolina Morace or Even Pellerud. He is responsible for a couple brilliant innovations, such as the Ashley Lawrence Fullback Experiment, and a bevy of young players who stepped right into the first team and looked like established parts of his tactics. But his greatest strength has always been forging a team that would run through brick walls for each other. That is not a skill that translates to the international men’s game. Training camps are short and infrequent, and you never have the same team for two in a row: player A prefers his club commitments, player B is unattached and trying to find work, player C would love to come but it’s not a FIFA window and he’d have a 19-hour flight with seven connections between Oslo and Fort Lauderdale and his coach told him that if he tries he’ll be training with the junior handball team. And it’s hard to become devoted to your soccer family when half the times you play somebody ranked north of El Salvador you get your ass kicked. It’s also hard for a male Ashley Lawrence to become a world-class fullback when he’s trying to learn with 360 minutes of MNT soccer every year, 180 of which are against countries you forgot were countries. And while Herdman’s tactical history is good, he can get stuck in his ways and has never looked like a Football Manager-style genius who is going to turn an awful team into a great one.

Herdman’s team-building will be an asset for, even if he can’t get the full 99 friendship, he can at least avoid some of Octavio Zambrano’s more flagrant pratfalls—provided he can connect with young men who are only with him because they couldn’t make Portugal and earn $500,000 a year in the same way he can communicate with young women committed to their country doing it for an ordinary middle-class salary. His history with youth players is also positive in the MNT context, and of course he knows how to deal with Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer knows how to deal with them. He and youth development supremo Jason de Vos have a mutual admiration society that can only be beneficial. I would go so far as to say that Herdman will not be any worse than Zambrano, or Benito Floro, or Stephen Hart, or Dale Mitchell, or any of the other coaches who underachieved and did things wrong and left in disgrace. But probably not any better.

Molinaro’s Sportsnet article implies, and Duane Rollins outright says, that he would otherwise have taken the vacant England women’s job; he was certainly being pursued by the FA. While my preference would have been for the Canadian Soccer Association to write Herdman the biggest cheque the bank would cash for him to stay at the WNT, if Herdman was out of the women’s team regardless this may have been the least bad option. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, the transition was handled incompetently: if they couldn’t give Herdman a signed contract promising him the MNT in 2020 if he guided the WNT through the World Cup and the Olympics, they could have at least sacked Zambrano today and pushed the Herdman announcement back long enough for all the women to be informed3. This is 1990s CSA stuff, and if it pushes Sinclair twelve months closer to retiring in disgust it’ll hurt us as badly as the actual coaching change did.

Yet even in the best-case scenario, Herdman being “promoted” from the excellent WNT to the abysmal MNT will quite fairly feel like an insult. Many Canadian soccer fans, including me, like the WNT either as much as the MNT or a bit more, because they’re nicer and win a lot. The women get higher attendances (against, admittedly, superior opposition) and have a stronger national fanbase. Objectively, on a national level in 2018, the Canadian women are a bigger deal than the Canadian men. However, John Herdman is not Canadian, he is English. The English women, though quite good, are not a bigger deal than the English men. Herdman’s gaze is not consumed by the maple leaf. World-wide being a good men’s coach is a much bigger deal, with much more fame and enormously more pay, than being the best women’s to ever live. Like any of us he wants to rise to the top of his profession, which is “soccer manager.” Not “women’s soccer manager.” And that would mean coaching men.

I quite understand Herdman’s logic. If he wants fame and fortune outside this humble dominion this is the greatest opportunity he will ever have. There’s been talk that Herdman wanted to coach men going back to after the London Olympics, but I don’t think he imagined he would be thrown straight into the shark-infested waters of a reasonably serious, if lousy, senior men’s national team like it was an entry-level job. Yet he is also forfeiting the best chance he will ever have, barring miracles at CanMNT that lead him to Real Madrid or something, to win silverware: the 2019 Women’s World Cup and 2020 Olympics with the best team in Canadian women’s soccer history.

Soccer coaches have flipped genders at the professional club level, with mixed success. Harry Sinkgraven will be the name best-known to Canadians: the former SC Heerenveen women’s boss went on to briefly coach the FC Emmen men, disastrously, before joining FC Edmonton and accumulating a legacy of failure. Prior to her Canada days Morace coached A.S. Viterbese Castrense, then of the Italian men’s Serie C1, and French legend Corinne Diacre had a respectable spell with Clermont Foot of the French Ligue 2. Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting led powerhouse Eastern Sports Club to the first division title in 2015–16. But all three were all-time great players in their own countries. Morace and Diacre went back to women’s soccer in the end, and anyway none were coaching men at a level anywhere as high as even the Canadian men4. To my knowledge Herdman’s path, from no playing career to speak of to elite women’s coaching to elite men’s coaching, is absolutely unique.

You can’t blame him for trying. You can’t blame the Canadian Soccer Association for resorting to this if it keeps him. The players are shocked but if it works out they’ll be fine, and this is not the fragile group of 2011. The great thing about a team of friends is that they don’t actually need a coach to keep them together; perhaps they will discover the magic was in them all along. And yet this whole affair feels distinctly shabby, in the way only Canadian soccer can.

Chasing Abby or Catching Abby

By Benjamin Massey · December 1st, 2017 · No comments

Kyle Thomas/Canadian Soccer Association

For Canada’s women’s national team, 2017 was an intermission. No Olympics, no World Cup, no qualifying, 365 days of the calendar you got out of way to prepare for the next thousand. 2018, 2019, and 2020 are what count: Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, Rebecca Quinn, Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, and hopefully players we didn’t expect developing into the most competitive lineup Canada has ever had. If we’re ever going to win some gold these are the women who’ll do it.

However, there’s another piece of history Canada is chasing for which 2017 mattered a great deal. In our last game against Norway Christine Sinclair scored the 169th goal of her international career and fourth of the year. She needs 16 more international goals to pass Abby Wambach for the most in the history of soccer.

16. Not that many, not with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying bringing games against Haiti and Puerto Rico and that lot next year. But Sinclair is 34, old for her position and her sport. It’s not certain she has enough time left.

The good news is we don’t need to put the old lady on the ice floe yet. Sinclair’s scoring rate over the past two seasons is better than Adriana Leon’s career rate and basically tied with Deanne Rose. Behind Nichelle Prince, but Prince has 1,013 senior minutes and hasn’t scored in the last 655. More importantly Sinclair’s been piling up the assists: seven in 2017, four in 2016, four in 2015, our leading playmaker each of the last two years. On a roster that despite Herdman’s improvements can get very direct, Sinclair and Janine Beckie are the only forwards moderately capable of holding up the ball and Beckie has better things to do. Sinclair would be in the eleven on merit if her name was Jane Smith and her idea of leadership was telling Sophie Schmidt “your she-man-bun looks very nice.”

You couldn’t say that about Abby Wambach at this stage of her career. When she retired at age 35 nobody, American or otherwise, argued it was too early. But then her team was a lot deeper. The American attack her last year included world player of the year Carli Lloyd, a not-very-broken-yet Alex Morgan, and Christen Press, with Crystal Dunn the coming woman. Running the attack through Wambach made no sense, using her off the bench rather than Dunn or the Amy Rodriguez/Sydney Leroux depth players of the future set seemed unwise and out of her character. If anything most of us seemed to think she’d gone a year or two late. But selfish old Abby was a much better goal-scorer than kind old Christine.

This graph compares Sinclair and Wambach’s goalscoring records in the seasons in which they turned a given age. For example, Christine Sinclair turned 34 this year, so 2017 was her age 34 season. Abby Wambach turned 34 in 2014, so 2014 was her age 34 season.

Sinclair and Wambach were both early June babies so we are truly comparing their performances at the same age. That’s only the first coincidence; it’s weird how closely they trend together. Right down to both slumping at 31 and bumping back in their age 32 seasons. Of course, when Wambach “slumped” in her age 31 season she started the year ice cold and ended it with four goals in six matches at a FIFA World Cup. Sinclair, with nothing much to play for in 2014, scored once.

My co-podcaster Carolyn reminded me that, as recently as 2009, Wambach and Sinclair were within a few goals of each other. Wambach made her century on July 19, 2009 at age 29 against, coincidentally, Canada. Sinclair scored her hundredth five months later, on February 20, 2010 against Poland despite being three years younger. Sinclair had 130 caps, Wambach had 129. It was only in old age that Wambach pulled away.

All through their thirties, Wambach outproduced Sinclair very heavily. Wambach’s worst 30+ season (2011 at age 31, 0.566 G/90) was essentially identical to Sinclair’s best 30+ season (2015 at age 32, 0.570 G/90). Wambach’s advantages included more home games, more easy qualifiers that Canada skipped for 2015, and teammates who deferred to her on scoring chances. Big goalscorers past their primes can make a lot of hay against CONCACAF minnows. Wambach’s age 30-34 seasons included an Olympic qualifying and a World Cup qualifying campaign, running wild both times. Sinclair only had 2016 Olympic qualifying, where she was mostly injured. But for the moment we aren’t asking who was the better player, but who put the ball in the net more. The good news is that Wambach’s production did not decline much from age 30 to age 35, and if Sinclair can do the same she might win on endurance.

In her last two years, Sinclair has scored 0.439 goals/90 minutes clip. That would put her 3,278 minutes away from goal #185 and immortality, or just about three years. Assuming she isn’t injured any more often, and scores at the same rate, and gets just as much playing time every game. As she goes from her mid to her late thirties none of those assumptions are safe. Healthy and productive 2018 Olympic and 2019 World Cup qualifying runs will help Sinclair; age, wear, and tear will hurt.

History’s best female strikers tend to retire around Sinclair’s age. Wambach was 35, Birgit Prinz, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Carolina Morace all 33, Mia Hamm only 32. The exceptions have either been multi-position stars like Kristine Lilly or Michelle Akers or, encouragingly, super-annuated veterans for second-rate countries who still had roles into old age. Scotland’s Julie Fleeting is 36 and still active. Italian Patrizia Panico hung on until age 39. The late 30s are not quite unexplored territory.

Canada’s second-best all-time goalscorer, Charmaine Hooper, not only kept going up until age 38 but provided value. Playing second and sometimes third fiddle behind Sinclair and Kara Lang, Hooper played 1,683 minutes over 24 games from age 36 and up, scoring 11 times, which for Sinclair would do nicely.

Alas, Hooper’s old age flatters to deceive. In her last eight caps Hooper hit one final vein of form, scoring eight times including a hat trick against Sweden to wind up with 71 senior goals in her career. But that was another age. When she last played in July 2006 (it would be inaccurate to say she “retired”) women’s soccer was still young. Today, give-or-take the inevitable blunders, decent teams can basically defend a savvy but unathletic striker. In 2006 players with sometimes questionable fitness could play 90 minutes every night and chip in multi-goal games. Melissa Tancredi got a miracle brace against Germany at the Olympics, but 2016 Melissa Tancredi was Alex Morgan in her prime compared to some of the forwards you saw ten years earlier.

On the other hand, Sinclair’s a lot better than Hooper was.

The odds may still, just, favour Sinclair. Barring injury or the unforeseen, the natural arc of Christine Sinclair’s career will close after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when Sinclair will be 37. It’s hardly likely she’ll hang on for another cycle into her forties, but it would also be surprising for her to retire after an Algarve Cup or something unless life makes her. Moreover, and I’m touching wood just typing this, Canada’s 2019–20 team might be highly competitive: the best Sinclair’s ever had, and worth hanging on for at the end of an endlessly frustrating international career. If Sinclair does play through 2020, and has a couple productive qualifying campaigns, that’s just enough time. She’ll never come close to Wambach on goal rate but she might show the fortitude to hang around and catch Abby with sheer guts and longevity, to say nothing of being popular enough that her teammates won’t freeze her out when they don’t need her anymore.

Which, come to think, would be pretty appropriate for a Canadian heroine.

Blooding the Pups

By Benjamin Massey · November 21st, 2017 · No comments

Prior to the Canada – US friendly in San Jose, California on Sunday, November 12 I had never attended a United States women’s national soccer team match in person. The experience was instructive.

In every way the show played to national stereotypes. The northern Dominion has insurance companies moving adorable families to sweet seats, Karina LeBlanc pumping us up on the video board, and Big Shiny Stadium Tunes 1867 on the PA. Modern enough for me, in my “kids these days” fashion. The Americans are exactly what someone who knows the United States only from television would expect: brasher, brassier, and louder.

Pregame and halftime were the private property of a just unbelievably incompetent video host who, in between condescending to teenagers and mispronouncing difficult names like “Rapinoe” and “Abby,” tried like Henry Ford to sell us US Soccer merchandise, memberships, and “upgrades.” It was so loud that in an empty section I had to yell to be heard. Seldom do I get to use this phrase correctly: it was literally unspeakable.

Anyway it got worse. A DJ, with pink hair, whose name I have no excuse not to remember since she displayed it on the Jumbotron a lot, “energized” the “crowd” with dance remixes of crappy teen songs including proud American Justin Bieber1. This lasted something like half an hour, with frequent exhortations to get on up and make some noise which every man jack in my section, at least, ignored pitilessly. The Band-Aid company made teenagers smile awkwardly for a really long time to support the USO, then asked all current or former military to stand up and be applauded at. Carli Lloyd appeared in public service announcements. Whoever sang the anthems massacred the Canadian one so badly that Maegan Kelly, who isn’t even from here, grinned with as much bewilderment as long-time Canadian Christine Sinclair. But don’t be offended: “The Star-Spangled Banner” got it in the neck as bad. It was awkward. And noisy.

I was blown out by sensory overload and ready for a nap. This was all before kick-off which, by the way, was twenty minutes late. And I didn’t even have to play.

Imagine being a young Canadian player in that situation. Not just Ariel Young, Julia Grosso, or Jayde Riviere, the 16-year-old debutantes. Imagine Jordan Huitema, who had only ever played in Canada before 20,000 friends or in Portugal before 20 strangers. Or Kelly, making her second Canadian cap against people she must have hoped would be teammates only months ago. Or Lindsay Agnew, fresh off a 291-minute rookie professional season, marking a scorching-hot Megan Rapinoe at the unfamiliar position of right back before an amped-up and hostile crowd. Even Olympic bronze medalist Janine Beckie had never played in the United States against the USWNT before, and as an American-born former member of the US youth pool this was probably an Occasion.

The crowd, though disorganized and smaller than BC Place (from our section we heard one American Outlaw and heard her a lot), was enthusiastic and admirable. The field, on the other hand, was among the worst I had ever seen for an international. Patchy, frequently divoted, with rugby lines highly visible, US Soccer kindly provided their Canadian guests with a first-rate advertisement for artificial turf even before players started slipping on it and Christine Sinclair nearly suffered a serious non-contact injury.

So the new players were in trouble from the start. Kelly, not a native fullback, was torn to shreds by Rapinoe, and was redeemed only in hindsight by even-less-of-a-native-fullback Agnew looking even worse (but with a darned good excuse). Young, who had probably never before tried to mark anybody tougher than Jade Kovacevic, was awkward against Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, though a couple lovely balls forward showed that she definitely has something. Julia Grosso actually looked good but that was in garbage time down two goals. Deanne Rose, for her half-hour, couldn’t accomplish anything including “get out of her teammates’ way.” Beckie did one very good thing indeed but otherwise was hard to notice for the second game in a row. Even Jessie Fleming, who has done it all if any teenager has, put in probably the worst game I’ve ever seen her play, turning the ball over with the generosity of the stereotypical Canadian on tour, although with the caveat that by the end of the game she was trying to play three positions at once.

Even the veterans could let us down. Shelina Zadorsky made mistakes. Christine Sinclair, who once put in the single best day’s work for Canada against the United States since Sir Isaac Brock, was up high to hold the ball up but aerially against defenders of the Sauerbrunn standard is now sound and fury signifying nothing. You can see her winding up to go for a jump from space, and she doesn’t get a hell of a long way anymore. Ashley Lawrence hurt us worst by jetting back to Paris and not being around to help Canadian woman of the match Allysha Chapman hold things down at fullback.

On the bright side, Adriana Leon, though clumsy in her usual way, was trouble. Chapman was up for both punishing runs from left back and some murder. Stephanie Labbé, after getting kicked in the head by Megan Rapinoe, had the crayon in her brain that made her treat the ball like quantum physics knocked loose and was positively brilliant both distributing her kicks and coming out. And Nichelle Prince, who I could have sworn would be the answer to a trivia question someday, has begun compiling an undeniably substantial highlight reel.

Never get carried away praising any match in which Canada was dominated as thoroughly as the Americans dominated us. Looking on the bright side is Canada Soccer’s job but their so-called “signal to the world” has been rightly mocked. I wouldn’t care to take this team to the 2019 Women’s World Cup if I could help it. But there were, in context, more good things than bad on display. Now John Herdman has a year and a half to test options like Jenna Hellstrom or Amy Pietrangelo, and fire his squad in the crucible of an occasional intense friendly. We play the Americans in the United States too seldom. There are lots of good national teams, but the United States are unique in providing talented opposition plus a crowd that sort of wants to kill us. Even for a fan, that atmosphere takes some getting used to. Let’s give the players as many chances as we can.

Raising the Middle

By Benjamin Massey · November 12th, 2017 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Canada’s women’s national soccer team drew a close-to-full-strength United States 1-1 at a very well-attended, if atmospherically indifferent, friendly in Vancouver last Thursday. This we’ve done before, twice in the John Herdman era. What’s unique is that we really, really deserved it!

The Americans were, as they have been for the past two years, mediocre. Shelina Zadorsky probably committed a penalty that went uncalled in the second half. And we would have lost anyway had Steph Labbé not made a miraculous kick save on a deflection. That said, Jordyn Huitema had a foul called against her late in the game for getting her head busted open in the penalty area, the American goal only happened because of a Labbé punching mistake, and we made a veteran-laden American team featuring Rapinoe, Lloyd, Morgan, and Press look incapable of retaining possession for, and I am being absolutely literal here, the first time in Canadian history.

Therefore, that game was automatically a Very Good Time. ESPN named tireless Jessie Fleming the woman of the match. Deanne Rose mauled Megan Rapinoe so severely that after Rose came off Pinoe broke up with her girlfriend by text. Huitema looked plainly inexperienced at this level but was a net contributor all the same and played great off Christine Sinclair. She survived her head wound, which contrary to what condescending writers would clickbait you into believing, is exactly what an elite athlete like her should do. Then she celebrated with a post-game ginger ale because she’s nine. Our wünderkinds were, by any fair standard, wunderful.

But everyone talks enough about them. We’re so enthusiastic that Huitema wearing a bandage becomes Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. That’s good, really; Fleming, Huitema, and Rose deserve support. The trouble is that we risk forgetting our solid but not headlining prospects. In a way, they should excite us more, because that indicates that something we once did wrong, we now do right. But I am damned if I can figure out what.

Even our worst youth teams, coached by mad Italians losing to Mexico and Costa Rica, have provided interesting players, but the leap from U-20 to senior soccer has been a long way. Even players who came into the senior team as useful pieces at a young age have tended to remain only useful. I am thinking particularly of Brittany Baxter (née Timko), Jonelle Filigno, even Sophie Schmidt. We would have been poorer without them, but they never seemed to make the leap they should have made. Their games did not evolve.

In the past few years, this has begun to change, a long, slow process whose fruits are only beginning to appear. If we exclude the obvious deities the best mortal on the pitch Thursday was Rebecca Quinn. Never as preternaturally gifted as her confrere Kadeisha Buchanan, Quinn has always gotten good reviews after coming into the national team at a young age. She recalled a young Emily Zurrer, the very archetype of the useful young player with a long way to go to become a star.

The difference is that Quinn keeps getting better. Born a centre back, she is now a safe starting option in defensive midfield and has an Olympic qualifying hat trick in her scrapbook. Boasting a new, 2015-Sophie Schmidt-like haircut, Rebecca looked like a new woman on Thursday… but in fact it was the same Quinny, only improved, facing threats as varied as Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Andi Sullivan with equanimity. She was better than her defensive partner, Shelina Zadorsky, who has a few seasons’ NWSL experience and has herself improved a bit the past couple years. And Quinn’s best position may be in defensive midfield, where she has, implausibly, surpassed Desiree Scott on many fans’ depth charts.

And Quinn’s not even the most impressive mid-lister. The gold medal for development goes to Adriana Leon, who at age 25 should surely not be classed as a prospect at all. In two years when most players’ destinies are fixed Leon has gone from an on-field liability and one-time Twitter malcontent to a magnificent opposition-bothering impact sub and scorer of two fine senior goals this year. I cannot explain how this possibly happened. After an indifferent NWSL career, not much for the senior WNT, and being changed for a better thing, she went to FC Zürich in 2016. With that underrated little club she showed well in Switzerland, had a three-goal-and-two-assists game in the Champions League, returned to both Canada and the NWSL, and was suddenly pretty good. Thursday’s goal-scoring turn against the Americans was only the most entertaining moment in seven months of good form.

A lot has changed since Adriana’s early days: she was the star striker on that U-20 team Carolina Morace got eliminated very early indeed. But John Herdman and company can’t take credit from a technical perspective: they didn’t see her for over a year. The person most responsible for Leon’s mid-career development spurt must be Adriana Leon. But the country did something right, insomuch as it remembered her and let her stay in the game, and brought her back when she was ready.

These things never used to go so well. For decades the classic Canadian role player was a physical specimen rather than a technically developed, versatile contributor. Changing this was a conscious goal of many coaches and administrators throughout the country. Now that it is happening, and the results are before our eyes, we are so blinded by Roses and Huitemae that we can’t see it. Leon, a hard-charging bull in a china shop, and Quinn, who is tall, would both in a different era relied upon their obvious physical powers too heavily. In November 2017 they look like soccer players.

We are not World Cup champions yet. Quinn has learned much of her trade at Duke, Leon picked up her magic boots in Europe; the path to long-term success requires a road through Canada. Nor has everybody been equally successful, because that never happens. But we’re going the right way. Leon scoring against the US because Quinn hit the crossbar bodes just as well for our program as Jessie Fleming descending from heaven.

Soccer as Extended Warranties

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

Canada Soccer/Mexsport

The other half of 99 Friendship and I are visiting San Jose in a couple of weeks to watch the Canadian women’s national team lose to the United States. Canada’s senior team has not beaten the United States since a 3-0 win at the 2001 Algarve Cup. In our last ten attempts we have eight losses and two draws with a goal difference of -15. Canada Soccer has been promoting the Vancouver leg of this two-friendly series with a “#Top5 #CanWNT v #USWNT moments” featuring two meaningless draws and three heart-shattering losses.

Will we succeed where the best Canadian teams ever have failed? Diana Matheson is still injured. Due to European or NCAA commitments an enormous list of players is doubtful: Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Sophie Schmidt, Deanne Rose, Rebecca Quinn, Shannon Woeller, plus potential dark horses like Amy Pietrangelo, Jenna Hellstrom, Gabrielle Lambert, Genevieve Richard, and Emma Fletcher. We might get Erin McLeod back after a long injury layoff, partially because she no longer starts for her club in Sweden. The Americans are without the injured Mallory Pugh, but except for Crystal Dunn every man jack of their team plays in the NWSL and should have nothing better to do.

What I’m saying is,a we know what’s going to happen, we are spending a reasonably substantial amount of money for a virtual guarantee of unhappiness, and the only reason I can imagine is that Carolyn and I are degenerates. (Also that the game is in San Jose which is basically San Francisco and neither of us have been to San Francisco before.)

But by US Soccer standards we are apparently emblems of sanity. Earlier today US Soccer sent me an e-mail offering a chance to buy “upgrades” and “make [our] matchday even more memorable.” For $141.91, for example, I could own the 1’x8′ photoboard used in the pregame photos of the starting eleven that nobody ever looks at except the players who were in them. Should that seem too dear, $37.16 would win me “a photo of yourself in the goal after the match, taken by your own phone.” But for a more exclusive memento, an astonishingly reasonable $380.01 (why one cent?) buys an official match ball, with the combating teams emblazoned on it and everything, from this nothing November friendly. It goes without saying that no upgrades “include any interaction with the USWNT or Canada players,” so if I want Alex Morgan to autograph that ball I have to go to Epcot.

In the few hours since I got this e-mail, multiple upgrades have sold out. A chance to take two post-game penalty kicks, no goalkeeper, has gone for $46.68 a piece. I was too late to even price out “Pregame Field-Level Access,” where you can “watch from field-level as the USWNT warms up.” This once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Lindsey Horan passing the ball in a circle was lost to me in ten-odd minutes between my receiving the e-mail and opening the link. As of this writing the photoboard is still available but act fast.

US Soccer has mastered gouging their supporters. Every first world soccer association will sell you a t-shirt or a kit; the Americans will sell you a $2,850 US Soccer watch. Don’t worry, you can save money by buying a “US Soccer Federation membership.” Only $55, not only do you get 10% off swag but you earn elite status by buying more match tickets. It’s just like everybody’s favourite experience, commercial air travel. Spend the surplus on a US Soccer fantasy camp, for only a $3,995 “donation” (half tax-deductible, so your fantasy is subsidized by single moms working at 7-11s).

The commercial principles here are highly sound. American fans are second to very few in overall spending power. Soccer associations, especially in CONCACAF, go to even more than the usual efforts to accommodate visiting American fans. The American Outlaws, the major US supporters group, have even poached the Voyageurs’ (and the Vancouver Southsiders’) usual pre-game pub. When our city was overrun by US Soccer fans during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, their official fan party was at the Commodore, a club downtown. This “#FanHQ” featured separate queues for walk-up admission, people with tickets to the party, and “VIPs” on the guest list. The place, needless to say, was absolutely packed.

Some of the point of this post is to laugh at the vulgar, cash-obsessed Americans and their comical penny-ante greed. I am Canadian and as vulnerable to our sins as anybody. More important, however, is the cautionary tale. Canada echoes the United States in many trends, and like all echoes we are late and inferior.

Our soccer association is not a natural at profiteering. Until more recently than you think it was actually very difficult to buy a Canadian soccer kit in most of the country. Despite holding the pursestrings of the most popular participant sport in the country the Canadian Soccer Association was habitually short of money and endearingly awkward trying to make a commercial proposition out of just about anything. Even the famously successful 2002 Women’s U-19 World Championship was fueled by free tournament passes to the youth soccer players of the Edmonton area, though in the case of one attendee, at least, the CSA has more than recouped that investment.

But times are changing. A Canadian soccer friendly is no longer automatically a money-losing proposition; over 22,500 tickets have been sold for this Canada – US affair, guaranteeing us one of the ten best-attended home friendlies in Canadian history a week and a half before kickoff. Nearly every equally-successful friendly has been in the past six years. The Canadian Premier League is said to be coming, and for many fans and businessmen part of that should be a soccer marketing organization akin to the United States’ SUM, who have proven so adept at taking advantage of patriotism and partisanship. We aren’t where the Americans are today, but we are thoughtfully eying the same roads.

Saying “this is what happens when the games get big” is lazy excuse-making. I have been to sold-out Gold Cup and Women’s World Cup games, games much larger than any November friendly, where my pregame was drinks in the pub with like-minded supporters and “upgrades” meant splurging on merchandise at the stadium. Nobody would call FIFA or CONCACAF altruistic, but while there were opportunities for fans to spend those events stayed on the right side of “crass.” For their many sins they never fell into the trap of trying to upsell status symbols to supporters like some soccer version of Best Buy.

Canadian soccer will grow. This will—already has—cost those of us who have followed it for a long time some of the intimacy we have enjoyed. Too bad, but the advantages are worth it. What’s not worthwhile is turning supporters into columns in a SQL database, to be statistically analyzed for profit potential down to the penny, like any old business nobody could ever get on an airplane to cheer for. As an old fan this is not what I signed up for. If you’re a new fan I bet one photoboard this is not what you signed up for either.

May Canadian soccer resist the lures that have ensnared our American brothers and sisters.

Josée Bélanger, the Most Improbable Heroine of All

By Benjamin Massey · May 29th, 2017 · No comments

Kyle Thomas/Canadian Soccer Association

So farewell then, Josée Bélanger. At a small press conference Monday, Bélanger announced that she is retiring from professional soccer two weeks after her 31st birthday. She will reportedly open a soccer school, and has already done youth coaching around her native Quebec[1].

This announcement, while sad, has surprised nobody. Bélanger took the year off from the NWSL[2] and has publicly contemplated her post-soccer future. She told the Orlando Sentinel last September that she wanted to be a mother and alluded to the wear and tear soccer’s put on her body which might not make that easy[3]. It is a dilemma male players never have to deal with, and guarantees respect for the early departure of a rare Canadian who can make an honest living playing soccer.

It turns out Bélanger’s last ride was, appropriately, February’s bronze medal celebration match in Vancouver, where she provided 57 minutes of effective right-back work before giving way to Rhian Wilkinson. Wilkinson, along with Marie-Eve Nault and Melissa Tancredi, were being honoured for their many contributions in one last pre-retirement bash. Bélanger was not. When she left the Canadian national program for good it was to a chorus of applause, but the applause was aimed at Wilkinson because all thought, or at least hoped, Josée would be back. Bélanger had earned an individual tribute, but flew under the radar again.

Bélanger hangs them up with a modest 57 senior international appearances, seven goals, one Olympic bronze medal (she missed London 2012), and a forgettable club career. She was twice Quebec professional of the year, ranks with Nault and Isabelle Morneau as the best female French-Canadian players of all time, and has a devoted following in her home province, but to the rest of the country she was never a first-tier star. But when the time comes to write the history of the great Canadian WNT of 2012 to the present, the best national team Canada has ever produced, Bélanger will deserve a chapter.

First off, she scored one of the great Canadian goals, when at the 2015 Women’s World Cup she gave Canada a 1-0 win over Switzerland in the round of 16. Vancouver would have cheered her out of that celebration friendly for the sake of this moment alone.

In more ways than one she was not supposed to be there. She had never been one of the golden girls, playing CIAU soccer at Sherbrooke, USL W-League in Laval, getting a few appearances in the youth programs, and being rated promising but not brilliant. Her debut in 2004 proved premature, and at the end of 2010 she had a run as a regular on the senior team under Carolina Morace. She played regularly in World Cup qualifying, scored a few goals, badly injured her ankle, came to camp for the Cyprus Cup and the Yongchuan Invitational without getting on the field and, like many a young striker of that era, went straight to obscurity.

Though she’d left the highest level Bélanger hung around, playing more W-League in Laval and Quebec City. She did some youth coaching in Sherbrooke. She met her boyfriend and got into Crossfit. She even had the hidden blessing of missing the 2011 Women’s World Cup, one of the worst things ever to happen to Canadian soccer. By all accounts she was content. John Herdman was interested in her when he took over after the 2011 debacle but Bélanger stayed in Quebec, trained kids, Crossfitted, and got on with her life. Until, in November 2013, she returned to the national fold for a first-team training camp. Even then she was the forgotten woman, because the other returning player that camp happened to be Kara Lang.

Lang’s comeback, enormously hyped-up, amounted to not much. Bélanger’s, hardly noticed except by the hardcore, was for real. She made her twelfth cap, and her first in over three years, on January 31, 2014 against the United States. As Canada began its run up to 2015 Bélanger became a regular; she went 90 minutes only twice but routinely started and came on as an early substitute when she didn’t. Her performances, when she appeared on TV, were admirable. Eyes turned in her direction.

But here is the other way in which Bélanger was not supposed to be there. To that point she had been an attacking player for both club and country. With Lang’s injury ending her career for good and Janine Beckie not yet in the senior picture Canada was shallow up top. But when Bélanger returned to senior Canadian soccer she was our right fullback. We’ve since grown used to John Herdman turning forwards into fullbacks through the success of Ashley Lawrence, but in 2014 it was an innovation. Bélanger was not only competent defensively, but her attacking brio and dynamic crossing down the right flank gave Canada a totally different look than that long-provided by veteran Rhian Wilkinson.

Wilkinson entered the 2015 World Cup injured so Bélanger made her long-belated World Cup debut, aged 29, on a backline with Allysha Chapman, Kadeisha Buchanan, and Lauren Sesselmann at Commonwealth Stadium against China. Next to Buchanan Bélanger was the defensive standout, as the Chinese refused to say die until nearly the last kick of the game. Not only was Bélanger’s defending effective but she nearly won the match herself in the first half, hitting the crossbar after a muffed Chinese clearance. She chipped in to the clean sheet against New Zealand and, in Montreal, started at right back before moving up top for the last ten minutes, a virtual offensive substitute as Wilkinson returned from injury and Canada tried unsuccessfully to win a 1-1 draw against the Dutch.

Had it ended there, Bélanger would have been a pleasant on-field surprise and an excellent feel-good story. But as we know there was more to come, and the forgotten woman of 2011 became the hero of 2015 by returning to forward and defeating the Swiss. If she did not get the full sports-movie ending with that 2-1 quarterfinal loss to England, she had still done enough to make sure she would never be forgotten again.

That was the high point of Bélanger’s career, but she had many other contributions to make. She had a brief but fruitful run with European powerhouse FC Rosengard and was a highly-popular member of the Orlando Pride alongside fellow Canadian Kaylyn Kyle. At the 2016 Olympics she was less vital than in 2015; Chapman and Lawrence were the first-choice fullbacks, Beckie, Sinclair, and Deanne Rose had locked down the front three, and when Bélanger did draw in she got herself suspended for the semifinal. That semifinal was, not coincidentally, the only game Canada lost, and when we won she mattered. She had a strong supporting role in The Melissa Tancredi Game against the Germans, played super-sub for the injured Chapman in the quarterfinal against France with a vital clearance, and in the bronze medal match, against Brazil, killed the game off excellently as a substitute. It did not capture the national imagination to the same degree, but the Rio 2016 bronze medal was a greater achievement than London. It is typical of Bélanger that she missed immortality, then helped win something less fêted but more difficult.

The most recent Canadian camp in Europe saw the remarkable return of Shannon Woeller, a 27-year-old defender whose last appearance came before the 2012 Olympics. Woeller had been all-but-forgotten, scraping out a decent career in Germany, and was not even named to the national team roster before showing up more-or-less because she was in the neighbourhood. Then she got on the field against the Germans, and now she’s one of two veterans at our Vancouver pre-training camp. If Woeller fights her way back into the national picture it will be one of the most unexpected comebacks of all time. But, she can think to herself as Bélanger leaves with such respect, not an unprecedented one.

(notes and comments…)