Carolyn’s College Corner Week 3

By Carolyn Duthie · August 30th, 2018 · No comments

University of South Florida

Canada U23?

The Nordic U23 tournament is happening over the course of this FIFA break, involving the US, England, Sweden and Norway (this is a… loose definition of ‘Nordic’ but is still a better name than SheBelieves). There are other iterations of little tournaments like this every so often, involving different countries, in which Canada participates precisely never.

I’m not here to complain about that per se—there are a ton of reasons why this doesn’t happen. It wouldn’t be free, and while I think there would be benefits to assembling a group of U23 players not on the national team every so often, I am not anyone to be telling the CSA how to spend their budget. The CSA did sort of do this for the last Pan American Games team, and even that short tournament proved important in vaulting several players further onto the national team—Shelina Zadorsky and Janine Beckie were standouts for Canada in that tournament and then at the 2016 Olympics. There was also a U23 camp at the end of 2015, but that is the last one I can find record of.

It feels to many that if a player is not involved with the Canadian National Team setup by U17 (or U20, at the latest), they won’t ever be involved at all. The national team pool at times feels precisely as large as the national team. A lot of this stems from the lack of professional opportunities in Canada, but it also feels as though players that do continue to play after college rarely get looked at later for the national team unless they are extreme standouts or there is enough injury/retirement that Canada is suddenly in dire need of outside backs. Again, scouting costs money, but so does having a successful national team. With the exception of spots 20-23 (likely to go to teenagers) and the third goalkeeper, I could have named you Canada’s roster for the 2019 CONCACAF WWC qualifiers the day after the 2016 Olympics ended, and so could most of you, and perhaps with the exception of Shannon Woeller, we all would have been correct.

Assembling a group of U23 players every so often does not fix this problem, but it at least would cast a slightly wider net than we have now. (The men’s side is almost lucky in this respect, because the Olympics are a U23 tournament (sort of), so they have to assemble a U23 team for the qualification tournament). So I thought it would be fun to pick a roster for an imaginary U23 camp myself.

This relates to NCAA mostly because that is where I will draw these players from. I tried to limit it to players that have graduated from the U20 level, because the kids younger than that have other camps to attend. It also excludes everyone presently with the national team that is under 23 (Buchanan, Lawrence, Quinn, Prince, Agnew, Fleming, Rose, Huitema, Riviere, Antoine), because they are not who this is for. Players who were recently invoveld in camps but were not invited to this one are included, because in my imagingary game this is happening now. Many of these players have seen some time with Canada Soccer in the past, but hey, sometimes they actually do scout good players. It’s also a gigantic roster, because this is imaginary so I make the rules. Have a camp, evaluate them, invite twice as many people as this (I am certain there are many valuable candidates I have forgotten), this isn’t a real roster anyways.

Goalkeepers

Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue FC)
Rylee Foster (West Virginia University)
Natalie Grossi (Princeton)
Marissa Zuchetto (Texas Tech University)
Devon Kerr (Ohio State Univeristy, if she is looking to play for Canada)

Defenders

Paige Culver (Kent State University)
Olivia Gauthier (University of Memphis)
Vanessa Gilles (Girondins de Bordeaux, D1 France)
Ally Haran (UMF Selfoss, Iceland)
Easther Mayi Kith (West Virginia University)
Kiki Lowell (Cincinatti)
Amandine Pierre-Louis (Sky Blue FC)
Emma Regan (University of Texas)
Olivia Sheppard (Princeton)
Bianca St. Georges (West Virginia Univeristy)
Hannah Taylor (University of Oregon)

Midfielders

Gabrielle Carle (Florida State University, can play other positions)
Kennedy Faulknor (UCLA, you might remember her as a defender too but it’s cool)
Nadya Gill (West Virginia University)
Marika Guay (Santa Clara University)
Vital Kats (Kent State University)
Nadege L’Esperance (Louisville)
Jessica Lisi (University of Memphis)
Sarah Stratigakis (University of Michigan)
Fanny Pelletier-Laroche (Univeristy of South Florida)
Victoria Pickett (University of Wisconsin)
Carla Portillo (ASPTT Albi, D2 France)

Forwards

Isabella Habuda (Umea IK, Sweden)
Jenna Hellstrom (Växjö DFF, Sweden)
Alexandria Lamontagne (FC Fleury 91, D1 France)
Marie Levasseur (University of Memphis)
Mylene Roy-Ouellet (Louisiana Tech)
Valerie Sanderson (FC Metz, D1 France)
Evelyne Viens (University of South Florida)
Simone Ward (University of South Carolina)

Also, a couple players who are not U-23 but probably deserve a look:

Kayla Adamek (recently completed her senior season at UCF, was at Orlando Pride training camp, I do not know what she is up to now but if it is soccer she deserves a chance)
Jade Kovacevic (FC London, League 1 Ontario, is just so much better than everyone I have ever seen her play against across multiple L1O seasons that she deserves one invite to something out of it)
Gabrielle Lambert (ASPTT Albi, D2 France)
Genevieve Richard (Olympique de Marseille, D2 France)
Melissa Roy (FC Fleury 91, D1 France)
Arielle Roy-Peticlerc (ASPTT Albi, D2 France)

Week Two Standouts

Statistics, updated through August 29th games.

Evelyne Viens, USF (my #1 candidate for a WNT call-up right this instant) scored a goal and added two assists in the Bulls’ lone game this week. She scored sixteen goals as a freshman and twelve last year as a sophomore, was rather hilariously scouted and recruited to USF by accident (for the non-francophones, the USF coach sent her assistant up to Quebec on a recruiting trip to scout other players she had in mind and he came back like “forget all of them you need this one”), was the 2015 CCAA player of the year while in CEGEP, and quite frankly it is ridiculous at this point that she has never gotten a look in a Canada Soccer camp at any age.

Her coach at USF at one point asked Danny Worthington if he was at least aware of Viens and his response (translated from the French it was transated into for this article) was something to the tune of “she is too old for U20 now so her only option with Canada would be the senior team and she’s a forward, so… that’s all I’ll say” and frankly no quote has better demonstrated the need for an aforementioned U23 camp once in awhile.

Sarah Owusu scored three goals across two games for Eastern Kentucky this past week, already passing her goal (1) and points (3) total from all of last season.

Mylene Roy-Ouellet registered a brace in two consecutive games for a four-goal total across three games for Louisiana Tech, also adding two assists for a ten point week. This vaulted her into the position of top scorer among Canadians in NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer.

Gabby Carle registered an assist in the Seminoles’ win against Wisconsin, and has played nearly every minute at outside back for an FSU defense that has yet to surrender a goal this season. (I’m interested to see the formation Canada uses in their game against Brazil this weekend, because if it is something akin to the 3-5-2 that was used against Germany, Carle would likely do extremely well in one of the wide spots in that lineup.)

Week 3 Games to Watch

Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati

August 30th, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast ACC Network Extra (ESPN login required)
Live stats Statbroadcast.com
Former Canadian U20 international Alexis Martel-Lamothe is a regular starter for Notre Dame, and Cincinatti features a host of Canadians, including sophomore defender Kiki Lowell and senior midfielder Cassie Wheldon.

West Virginia vs. Xavier

August 30th, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast WVUSports.com
Live stats Statbroadcast.com
WVU is still looking for their first win this season, but strong defensive perfomances from Canadians Bianca St. Georges, Easther Mayi-Kith and goalkeeper Rylee Foster have kept them in three straight draws in OT. Xavier features two Canadians on their roster, Emma Westwater and Jenna Leslie.

Nebraska vs. Washington State

August 31st, 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific
Broadcast BTN2Go (subscription required)
Live stats Huskers.com
A trio of Canadians play at Nebraska, including Natalie Cooke, who last week registered her first collegiate goal against Oregon. Washington State’s roster features two Canadians, Shayna Dhindsa and Ebony Clarke, younger sister of Caleb (now at UBC), Summer (graduated from LSU in 2016) and Jade (currently at LSU).

Florida State vs. UCLA

September 2nd, 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific
Broadcast ACC Network Extra (ESPN login required)
Live stats Statbroadcast.com
The Bruins will be without Jessie Fleming, but Canadians Kennedy Faulknor and Shana Flynn will be looking to contribute for UCLA against a strong Florida State side, featuring Canadian defender Gabby Carle.

Goderich Is Canada

By Benjamin Massey · August 28th, 2018 · 1 comment

Steven Vacher via Flickr, Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Canadian Premier League’s corporate interests are literally represented by a company named “Canadian Soccer Business.” This sounds like the invention of a “PRO/REL NOW”-style Twitter lunatic. Team revelation are cut from a template with dramatic fast-cut footage and weirdly-named colours like “starfish purple,” and their logos somehow all look very samey. It is being marketed to an almost parodic degree. CanPL has done a lot right but apart from the team names1 they aren’t exactly trying to distinguish themselves from MLS, are they?

Well, if CanPL is a crappier northern MLS it will fail and die. Don Garber has a firm grip on supporters for soulless soccer corporations like the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Toronto FCs, which makes even less sense than cheering for Etihad Airways or Verizon. Is there anything more tiresome than people acting like the moral aspect of soccer fandom is irrelevant or? If you’re going to cheer for shareholders you may as well cheer for the big ones; the Canadian Premier League does not want to wrap itself up in a numbers game it cannot win.

Our league will almost certainly always be smaller than American one even if we don’t concede Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal to Major League Soccer, which we have. The United States is big and we are little, and trained by decades of practice to attach ourselves to the Americans and hope for the best. An all-Canadian organization needs a lot more than “it’s like the American one but over here!” to succeed.

So we fans try to shape the league while the clay is still soft, turning it into something that suits our Dominion. Already, there are good signs. Many of the league’s brain-men are bona fide Canadian soccer people who have proven that they are interested in the domestic game as more than a temporary source of a paycheque. But fans have been burned before and improvement must be continuous if it is to last.

Example. Earlier in August an anonymous Twitterer shot for the moon by starting an account named “GoderichCPL” dedicated, as their bio puts it, to “bring[ing] the Canadian Premier League to Goderich, Ontario!”

That’s their exclamation mark but they’re entitled to it. Goderich is an obscure little town on the shores of Lake Huron. They won TSN’s “Project Play” this year, which put their name in TV ads. Her Majesty the Queen, who has never visited, is unverifiably said to have admired it. Hockey immortal Father David Bauer is from there. It’s small-town southern Ontario.

This prospective CanPL expansion, alas, is no success story. Momentum has waned in the Goderich camp and they have not tweeted for a couple weeks. A promised website has not materialized, and big-name support is limited to Paul Beirne being one of fifty Twitter followers. Practical concerns may play a role. Their suggestion of a 15,000-seat stadium, for example, seems a bit ambitious given a 2016 census population of 7,628. Cynical though it sounds, there’s just the possibility that their campaign is a bit of a joke.

But why should it be? No, really, why? Goderich is an extreme example but towns that size are not inherently incapable of supporting professional soccer. Look to the mother country. Nailsworth, home of Forest Green Rovers, is the smallest town in the Football League with a population of about 5,800, and though they are newcomers to League Two they had been in national semi- and professional soccer for twenty years before. The second-smallest, Fleetwood, boasts a still-modest 26,000. League Two and League One aren’t even MLS-level but will probably outgun at least the early CanPL. That is a level of play, and a level of success, we should be thrilled to see in 2019.

Okay, maybe Goderich, or Gaspé or Cold Lake or Port Hardy or Dildo or any other city with a thousand locals and shit-all else to watch in the summer, shouldn’t be number one on David Clanachan and Paul Beirne’s hit list. Fans in Saskatoon, Regina, Quebec City, London, Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, and probably Sudbury-Thunder Bay are organizing to get their teams. These are big markets; the list of Canadian markets bigger than Goderich is actually fairly long.

But thinking in terms of markets is the original sin of Major League Soccer, shared by every other professional sports league on the continent. Who cares about Goderich’s potential MyCujoo market share? Do they even have broadband in Goderich? It doesn’t matter. Can they build a field with the correct proportions made of a reasonable material and send out at least eleven men every week? Then we should work them in. Let the locals roll the pitch themselves and sit on lawn chairs, let the players be recruited at the library and coached by the guy who’s watched the most EPL, that is detail.

Why should they get a crack at the Canadian Premier League? Because they are Canadian, and that’s the end of it. Because spectator soccer is not about fat bloggers devouring press box donuts and 4K coverage of every match, nor about beancounters asking “but will they mock us on Bay Street?”, nor even thousands of raucous supporters bouncing up and down on lavish terraces for a full 90. It is about plain local people going out to watch their plain local team, and if anything dazzling emerges from that plainness, even if it is so-to-speak by accident, then that dazzle being automatically whisked to the big stage for the nation’s admiration and the locals’ deserved pride.

Could CanPL work in Goderich? I have no idea, I don’t know the first thing about the place, we established that paragraphs ago. I don’t even know if they could make it in League1 Ontario. But if Twitter interest is worth anything they could make it in League2 Ontario, or the Huron County Amateur Conference, or any of the other levels of the Canadian soccer pyramid that don’t exist yet but which, if we’re ever going to be a meaningful soccer country in any sense beyond watching foreign players in foreign leagues, we will need. And if they do make it work, and come into a golden generation or get finance from an eccentric vegan businessman who turns them into Canada’s first wind-powered soccer club, then they deserve a chance to promote into the CanPL, if that is where their powers can take them. And if their powers are not so great, which let’s face it is way more likely, then no hard feelings. Play the amateur with your neighbours and look longingly on the steep trail to greener pastures.

Most importantly, this pyramid should not be the pipe dream for ten years down the line. You cannot build the top of a pyramid before you even design the bottom. Sure, promotion and relegation in 2020 is probably impossible, and CanPL’s pioneering investors expect and deserve a chance to succeed without getting replaced by Surrey United. Fair enough! Build the pyramid and worry about the escalators for 2028. But build it. For if you do not have that wide base, why would a local fan care about a lousy Canadian-based soccer franchise when there are so many excellent foreign soccer franchises already on offer? What would a monolithic, purely commercial franchise named “York” have to distinguish itself from a monolithic, purely commercial franchise named “Toronto”? Appeals to patriotism only work if you have something to feel patriotic about, beyond a team’s mailing address.

CanPL for Goderich? We should all hope so. Not because that town is something special, but because it isn’t.

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.)

99 Friendship Episode 69: It’s #Nice to Be Back

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · August 22nd, 2018 · 2 comments

It feels wrong to phrase it this way but it’s tradition, so, on this week’s fabulous episode of 99 Friendship:

  • Um, we’re sorry that we took so long?

  • Many things have happened in the past eight months and it would be reckless to try and touch on them all. It would, let’s be honest, make for an almost entirely-unlistenable episode of a podcast that has perilously little listenability to lose.

    So we try anyway.

  • Ben plays “Carolyn Can You Guess Which Episode Number This Is?” It does not provide much entertainment. You can actually hear us remembering “oh yeah that’s why we haven’t done one of these for a bit.”

  • You probably expect us to recap the Olympic curling. We do not, we recap the World Championships instead.

  • The first half of the show is still curling-centric, as we dissect pretty much every one of the new curling teams that has any relevance. If you have been waiting seven months for me to react to Val Sweeting suddenly becoming Manitoban, this is your episode.

  • (FYI, the curling team Ben is obsessed with now is Chelsea Carey, Sarah Wilkes, Dana Ferguson, and Rachelle Brown. They are the best.)

  • Our attempts to catch up on the women’s soccer season are perfunctory, with Foreign Desk whipping through some player moves, but we give some attention to Calgary Foothills WFC and the TSS FC Rovers mustering good seasons in the UWS and WPSL, respectively. It’s brief but how many podcasts even say these things? We are cutting edge.

  • (FYI, the NCAA division two woso player Ben is obsessed with now is Emma Pringle, the tall, accurately-finishing forward who came to Ben’s attention with the WPSL TSS FC Rovers. She is the best.)

  • The real reason this podcast is back is that NCAA women’s soccer is starting again and Carolyn needs to talk about it, so we spend a while remembering Jessie Fleming, Kennedy Faulknor, and Technically Shana Flynn’s UCLA narrowly beating The Beach in a game that was an advertisement for nothing, but was on DAZN.

  • Finally, a discussion of Texas Longhorns woso, which features my second-favourite cansoc Emma and another player, recently called up to the senior women’s national team once again, about whom I have less nice things to say. Just to be clear, no matter what Carolyn says I don’t hate her.

Side note about sound quality: Carolyn and I record these in the same room these days, which has historically led to our worst-quality shows, audio-wise. Since this might become a habit in the future we’ve taken steps to try and improve the situation and I think that we, to a great extent, succeeded. This show now sounds not much worse than our average Skype-based show.

But there’s still ever-so-far to go and the limiting factor is now our equipment, so it may take some time to remedy.

Follow 99 Friendship on Twitter, if you remember how and haven’t been banned yet.

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.

CanPL’s Historic Duty

By Benjamin Massey · August 9th, 2018 · 1 comment

Lake Side Buoys via Facebook, used with permission.

In the autumn of 1990 the Victoria Vistas were riding high in the Canadian Soccer League. They had rallied from an atrocious debut in 1989 to finish high-mid-table in the regular season, then knocked off the Winnipeg Fury on penalties in the first round of the playoffs. The mid-dynasty Vancouver 86ers beat Victoria on away goals in the semi-final but, especially in hindsight, there was nothing shameful about that. Victoria boasted local talent, led by veteran Canadian international Ian Bridge, and a few foreign stars like former Aston Villa skipper Allan Evans. Head coach Bruce Wilson, already a national legend from the 1986 World Cup and a Canada West champion coach with the University of Victoria, led a steady improvement throughout his first full season as a professional boss. It was a very good year.

Fans walked away from 1990 expecting more in 1991. But by March the Vistas were dead. Their players went in a dispersal draft, Wilson went back to UVic full-time, most of the locals dropped to the amateur ranks. The long story of Victoria soccer would go on, from the return of Victoria United to the Pacific Coast Soccer League, through the storied Vancouver Island Soccer League, all the way to USL PDL’s Victoria Highlanders, but this was all strictly local stuff. Victoria, one of Canada’s most soccer-mad cities, was deprived of the professional game for a generation.

On July 20, 2018, that finally changed when former Canadian internationals Josh Simpson and Rob Friend unveiled the Victoria area’s new Canadian Premier League team, Pacific FC. The new team is a backup plan after Friend’s attempted “Port City” greater Vancouver team couldn’t find a stadium, they’re is playing in the suburb of Langford rather than Victoria soccer’s spiritual home at Royal Athletic Park, and the city is delighted anyway. The Victoria Highlanders’ supporters group, the Lake Side Buoys, are getting behind Pacific FC with hardly a flicker of doubt. Some diehard Highlanders supporters have waited for this moment longer than their future players have been alive.

It’s a beautiful story. It is also far from unique.

The Nova Scotia Clippers played one CSL season in Dartmouth, didn’t win a thing, and went away, but like Victoria, Halifax soccer has always punched above its weight. In the years since Nova Scotia has produced several professionals two national amateur championship teams. Now the CanPL Halifax Wanderers have an exciting “pop-up” stadium on historic ground and the most amazing grassroots supporters group that actually anticipated their team’s name. Winnipeg has been without professional soccer since 1992 and their PDL team has been bad, but fans there will turn out in the hundreds just to look at Desiree Scott and their CanPL team has already registered over 1,200 would-be season ticket holders.

Hamilton, the CanPL’s cradle if anywhere is, has waited as long without being able to enjoy PDL, but has “enjoyed” years of Bob Young almost bringing in an NASL team. It would be a surprise if Forge FC was not the best-supported first-year team of the bunch. Next to them Calgary looks like paradise; they had an A-League team as late as 2004 and today’s championship PDL team is the likely spine of their CanPL entry. York, the butt of jokes, had two at-least-semi-professional soccer teams in the 1990s and zero for the past half-decade. FC Edmonton‘s problems, spending 2018 without a league, are trivial by comparison.

As individuals we feel our excitement for the Canadian Premier League burning within us, a blazing beacon for soccer communities that have seen so much darkness. But taking a step back to look at the rest of the Dominion reveals that the same stories can be told all across the nation. Each of us, with our prayers, our desperation, and our patience, is repeated ten thousand times across four time zones. It’s inspirational. It is also an enormous emotional, historical, and cultural burden, which this new league will have to bear.

We fans—the ones who already exist, not the ones the league will have to attract—are bringing so many years of barely-sustained hope to these little stadiums. Such undying loyalty should be a point of pride, but it is also a lot of baggage. Do the league’s pioneers realize the weight they are responsible for? When the Canadian Soccer League started in the ’80s it was an ambitious but logical peak for our developing soccer pyramid. Our men’s soccer programs were at their very best and there was no serious American competition. It proved a noble failure, noble enough that we are proud of its legacy, but a failure all the same and one that left scars. And the thing about scars is that time does not make them go away.

Without signing a player or playing a game, these teams have become the targets for a generation of hope from the soccer supporters in seven different towns, all of which have been burned before. Such hopes cannot easily be recreated if dashed. Ask fans of FC Edmonton, a team which has had decent performances and all-time legendary ownership but can only slowly attract mass interest because the Brickmen and the Aviators and the Drillers have poisoned the well so thoroughly. What the Canadian Premier League has is one precious, potentially golden, building block, but it is oh-so-fragile.

The Canadian Premier League is not Canada’s last chance for a national soccer league, but it might be our last chance for anything good.

Even a qualified CanPL success, with Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal permanently lost to MLS and no hope in CONCACAF, one vast Wales, would be a very good thing. We do not need to aim too high. But if it fails entirely, if it turns into MLS-style corporate trash or goes broke, then those lost hopes will maim everything that comes later. The future will look like the new “Canadian” cricket league, where meaningless squads of foreign mercenaries named Vancouver, Montreal, and so on all play in Toronto, and at the end people nobody cared about lifted a trophy with no emotional attachment to it. Great if you want to sit outside for two hours but hopeless if you care about any of what makes sports compelling beyond the literal physical activity.

It’s a hard job. The diehards cannot simply be pandered to; there are too few. To survive any team must attract the common soccer family, this is mathematically unavoidable. Yet experience shows that without those diehards curating an organic soccer culture and bringing an atmosphere to the ground you become Chivas USA. Let supporters support, don’t abandon your community in the name of monolithic corporate genericity, and don’t screw up the business. Most of all, respect your local soccer history. With a league front office full of soccer men and team names like Jim Brennan, Stephen Hart, Josh Simpson, Tommy Wheeldon, and so on involved, that ought not to be too difficult. But you need to be aware of that responsibility.

Ottawa’s On Fire; TFC is Terrified

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

Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography for Canada Soccer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any Weather for the All-Stars

By Benjamin Massey · July 1st, 2018 · No comments

When Ontario and Quebec have an All-Star double-header on Dominion Day weekend the temptation is to call it the future of Canadian soccer. In fact, League1 Ontario and the Première ligue de soccer du Québec are the present. PLSQ is the senior men’s circuit, its first games coming in 2012. League1 Ontario kicked off its men’s division in 2014 but was first into the women’s game in 2015, while the PLSQ’s women’s division is playing its first season right now. These are two mature organizations with talented players, good facilities, and credible business models. For the first time at an all-star game L1O and PLSQ met on equal terms for both men and women, and all four teams put on a show. Even nature added to the drama.

We will not be happy with everything about the present. Tickets were free but attendance on a Saturday afternoon was in the dozens. The game took place at Laval’s Stade Desjardins, which though way out in the Montreal suburbs was recently packed, and damaged, by AS Blainville supporters for the Voyageurs Cup. It’s not even Blainville’s home ground! All-star games, well, they are not a real grassroots local soccer experience. They’re fun. And there was beer and soccer, boy was there soccer, and just enough of that lower-division amateurishness that you never forgot where you were.

Stade Desjardins, normally the home ground of CS Monteuil, is built in the middle of some kids’ fields out of chainlink fence and shipping containers. It looked nice. Most communities do not have old characterful 500-seat grounds and Desjardins is the perfect cheap and cheerful solution. It has everything you need, in fact rather more than FC Edmonton had for the NASL for two seasons. Had it not been 35 degrees Celsius with 90% humidity I’d have enjoyed watching a game there.

The women kicked off first and anyone who thought the PLSQ ladies would be at a disadvantage was disillusioned. Ontario had a slight edge in play for the first quarter, but when Evelyne Viens made it 1-0 PLSQ with a cheeky finish that kissed off the far post and in, it was the signal for the Quebeçois to grow into the game. Not that Ontario lacked resources but an awful lot of them were named “Jade Kovacevic,” who looked like a 20-year-old among U-17s. Gabby Carle for Quebec was not so physical but just as impressive, setting up almost every chance for the PLSQ including one by accident on a high-speed deflection off her face. (She bounced right up and was fine.)

PLSQ finished the first half up 1-0 but Kovacevic struck in the second; Ashley Campbell shouted “Jade!”, hit a long ball nowhere near her, it bounded out of the resulting maelstrom and onto Kovacevic’s boot with no defenders in sight. To give the League1 superstriker credit, Kovacevic then dangled PLSQ keeper Sophie Guilmette out of her shinguards before slotting the shot home to tie the game. The rest of the game lacked clear-cut chances, and the two teams of All-Stars failed to sync (who would have guessed?) as naturally-occurring long balls sapped the energy of both teams in broiling conditions on artificial turf (also shocking!). There was an unpleasant moment when the excellent Kovacevic went down late, got back up, struggled on for a few seconds, went back down, and left the stadium on a golf cart. It was a grim coda to a fun game, and a 1-1 after-regular-time result was fair to both teams

The play wasn’t casual, there were gritty challenges and a couple heat-aggravated knocks besides Kovacevic’s. The referee was picky on where free kicks should be taken and a bit loose on physicality, leading to an odd but aggressive tempo that rewarded guts. Quebec – Ontario can never be truly “friendly.”

But the overall feeling was goodwill. Quebec provided a concession, Ontario provided game commentary by Oakville guru Pierce Lang. There were 40-minute halves, hydration breaks every 20, a relaxed approach to substitutions (Carle re-entered, permitted in WPSL but not normally in PLSQ or L1O), and after the draw we went directly to a shootout.

PLSQ shot first, and after five attempts straight into the corners Jen Wolever missed Ontario’s third kick. She was not too cut-up, dropping a casual “sorry” to keeper Sara Petrucci, who acknowledged it with equal sang-froid. There was more accurate shooting, including a bardownski by Ontario’s Julia Benati. The PLSQ’s fifth shooter, Marika Guay, could score to win but Petrucci got Wolever off the hook with a kick save. Then those darned referees, who probably wanted to get out of the heat, ruled that Petrucci moved early. Lacking VAR, though Petrucci was nowhere near as bad as anything Kasper Schmeichel got away with in Russia, Guay buried her second chance top corner and that was it, Quebec won 1-1 (5-3 apk).

The men’s game afterward was men’s league soccer. Physical, frustrating, loud, the only thing unfamiliar to me was that the cursing was bilingual. Ontario’s Jarek Whiteman made himself felt, and heard, up top in the first quarter, striking the best half-chance and offering hot takes to all like a Canadian soccer blogger. Dom Samuel, the compact Ontario centre back, blocked a shot with his face. Marko Maletic got a yellow card for beaking the ref. Anthony Novak scored Ontario’s opener with muscle, guts, and skill, and if it wasn’t an Edinson Cavani special it was still the sort of side-net turn and strike that reminds frustrated ex-players that yeah, these guys are a lot better. Almost immediately afterward Joey Melo tried to kill a guy. It was an apotheosis of the semi-pro men’s game, the thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing, which I do.

The PLSQ had one quality chance when Bastien Aussems one-touched a cross from Stefan Karajovanovic and was robbed blind by Ontario goalkeeper Tristan Henry. It was great skill, but you don’t win semi-pro men’s soccer that way. Ontario had the more traditional idea. Whiteman dribbled into the area, flopped, and won a penalty (again, no VAR). Taking his own kick he tucked it past former Haiti senior international Gabard Fénélon as the last kick of the first half to give League1 Ontario a surely-insurmountable 2-0 lead.

Then the soccer gods chose to add some drama. The halftime interval was unusually long, such that the sun had nearly set by the time Ontario and Quebec returned to the field. In the second half the clock refused to count properly so after only eight extremely long seconds Quebec’s Kevin Le Nour cracked one over new Ontario keeper Roberto Stillo and off the crossbar from a scramble. Guys were fouled, insults thrown, then it started to rain, turning instantly into a torrent. And then they took a hydration break, pouring slightly more water into their mouths than landed on their faces.

The rain passed after ten minutes, but ominous booms in the distance augured no good. It was 10 PM local time, it was wet, it was still hot enough that soaked soccer patrons were almost steaming dry despite lingering drizzle. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted a postponement. Frankly had I been Ontario and lightning flashed I would have gotten on the bus and gone home.

Maybe they should have gone home regardless. The artificial turf was slippery enough to make for some audacious tackling even if both teams hadn’t already demonstrated a very loose interest in the FIFA Fair Play standings. Kevin Cossette got Quebec on the board, and with time running out the PLSQ’s Simon Spénard-Lapierre skipped onto a through ball, ran through a jersey pull, shot past Stillo, and tied the game at two with little more than stoppage time to play. Even in the few minutes left Ontario’s Jose de Sousa was robbed by Fénélon and Spénard-Lapierre had two chances to win it: the first mis-hit in the damp and cleared off the line, the second low from a corner and smothered by Stillo.

Stillo, who came to League1 Ontario via Serie A (yes that one), was on the hook for two vital goals against through no fault of his own. In the shootout he made instant amends, stopping Le Nours brilliantly on a leftward dive and Emad Houache on a highly-stoppable central shot. The first three Ontario shooters kept their nerve while the stormclouds broiled. The third Quebec shooter, Spénard-Lapierre, stared down Stillo as the thunder boomed ever-closer. He scored. Lightning flashed through the sky, igniting the air above Stade Desjardins. Everyone tacitly agreed to ignore it, and Jose de Sousa walked to the mark for Ontario. He scored. And the crowd, or at least the League1 Ontario All-Stars, went wild.

It was a fascinating end to a fun day. An interprovincial All-Star doubleheader should be a day-long festival of football, fun, free (or cheap), family-friendly, utterly unpretentious. This game in the suburbs did not achieve Nirvana. But so what? A fun evening and two good games.

12.5% of a World Cup

By Benjamin Massey · June 13th, 2018 · No comments

Canadian Soccer Association

Congratulations are due, I suppose, to the Canadian Soccer Association for their part in winning the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. I’m honestly not sure how much they had to do with it. The Canadian contribution is expected to be three cities and ten games, including maybe a round-of-16 match or two, in an 18-city, 80-match tournament. Applying to “co-host” 12.5% of the largest World Cup in history probably amounted to not defecating in the hallways while the Americans provided the everything.

If Edmonton, Toronto, and Montreal disappeared from the tournament nobody north of the 49th parallel would miss them. Commonwealth Stadium and Olympic Stadium are, all things considered, the worst facilities in the bid. Toronto’s BMO Field is a handsome ground but, even in its temporarily-expanded World Cup configuration, will be the smallest venue involved. And while the World Cup is still eight years away and things can happen, if you think Canada won’t be the weakest team among the hosts I love your optimism. Assuming all three hosts automatically qualify, which they might not.

At least hosting shouldn’t be expensive; the stadia are built. Then again, imagine hosting a World Cup game at today’s Commonwealth Stadium while the Americans are filling gorgeous ultra-modern NFL palaces. A men’s World Cup, that is. Back in 2015 Abby Wambach said that FIFA and the CSA would never dare put a men’s World Cup on artificial turf, we all went “pooh-pooh,” and now we’re tearing artificial turf out of 2015 host stadiums in Edmonton and Montreal so the men can get grass. Whoops. This is embarrassing but I’m sure the Canadian Soccer Association will apologize with appropriate humility.

No, renovations will be expensive and pricey. Then there are endlessly-escalating costs for security, hospitality, “legacy” projects, and simple corruption. Apparently Olympic Stadium is getting a retractable roof; how could that possibly go over budget?

And yet we get to see a World Cup, live and in person. For a certain definition of “we.” Soccer in Canada is an incredibly bourgeoise sport, none other compares, but even so, ticket prices will drive away many patrons. According to the bid guide, while 7% of tickets fall into the lowest US$21 price bracket, the other 93% start at US$174. Some diehards with good incomes will have to decide between an Argentina – North Korea match or rent.

I am cynical but not resentful. I want it to be a tremendous success, really. The 2015 Women’s World Cup was one of the great experiences of my life even though Canada disappointed. Heck, the Canadian team at the 2007 U-20 World Cup was an actual embarrassment but what a time it was all the same. If the Canadian men’s national team plays three games and loses them all in front of 45,000 screaming maple-leaf-waving partisans, that would still be a lifelong highlight for any of us. And much though taxing waitressing single moms to pay for our hobby should make us sick this bid, explicitly, was based on saving money. The bid book, the document put in front of FIFA for them to vote on, promises “no major public expenditures.” Sure the tickets are expensive, but it’s still cheaper than flying to Marrakech and watching games there.

But this 12.5% of a World Cup exposes all that is most awful about Canada. The public cost, to taxpayers who mostly won’t get anything out of it, is probably going to be ludicrous, and the only people arguing otherwise have an interest in us getting those ten games1. We’re asking for a huge subsidy for our hobby. Not a full World Cup, with the attendant prestige and international attention, but just some soccer games. Prestige is worth paying for; in 2026 we will be America’s hat. Remember, the Americans host 75% of the total games and every single fixture in the quarterfinals or later. Given how diluted a 48-team World Cup will be, Canada’s participation will be truly ancillary.

Our role in this bid was to get the Americans a tournament, and we are expected to be grateful for it. And we have been! This isn’t a shot at the United States; the Canadian soccer community has been debasing itself for this chance to pick up the Americans’ garbage, why should they refuse? The contrary idea that we should build something on our own and decline to be a branch plant is unthinkable. We’re only now getting to the point where a few of us timidly accept that a vast Dominion of 35 million can probably have a soccer league outside the American aegis. A World Cup? Say “yes, sir, Mr. Gulati, sir” and accept what we are given. It’s better than nothing, right?2 Even the name of the bid, “United,” practically begs the observer to mouth the suffix “States.”

And what do we get for it, this expenditure of scarce public money and scarcer civic pride? The Canadian government has produced a lot of probably-computer-generated crap about how Canada is so diverse and how wonderful it is that people move here and cheer for their homelands in the World Cup, so if you like that you got it. The soccer fans boast of all the infrastructure we’ll build, notwithstanding that we’re also told this World Cup will be cheap because we hardly have to build any infrastructure, and also notwithstanding that while some practice fields are great they don’t solve Canada’s shortage of 10,000-seat stadia and don’t achieve anything that couldn’t be done at a fraction of the cost. I suppose we’ll “inspire the youth.” My own cansoc awakening was at the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s Championships. But when you look at a World Cup where Canada is trotted out as a token, while the national team does poorly if it participates at all and the meaningful games take place across the border, what do we think we will be inspiring the youth to do?

Telling young Canadians that we are North America’s third fiddle and mean nothing except in relation to other nations is in tune with the past sixty years of our history, yes. But you will forgive those of us left unenthusiastic.

A Voyageurs Cup for the Rest

By Benjamin Massey · June 7th, 2018 · No comments

Martin Bazyl/Canada Soccer

The Voyageurs Cup is broadcast poison. Early rounds are no longer even televised; the semi-final and final make TSN on weird Wednesday evenings packed with Canadian Soccer Association house ads. Yesterday, when the 2018 edition kicked off, you could watch only on an obscure streaming service. I know a few serious Canadian soccer fans who had forgotten it was starting at all.

That match was a historic one, too, between AS Blainville of the Première ligue de soccer du Québec and League1 Ontario’s Oakville Blue Devils. It was the first time teams from a domestic Canadian league had ever played in our national soccer championship, which for its first ten tournaments belonged to MLS, USL, and the NASL.

A big occasion, featuring little teams with few names. I consider myself well-informed and could remember precisely two players from Blainville: futsal star Nazim Belguendouz and former Impact and Fury journeyman Pierre-Rudolph Mayard1. For Oakville I can get to one, veteran Stephen Ademolu. And I could not fault you for picking out three totally different names, or not recognizing any at all. I have seen L1O and PLSQ games, and liked them, but USL they ain’t.

However, I live in British Columbia so these two teams should not care what I think. Nor should they care about those TV or web-stream viewing numbers. Even MLS doesn’t make serious money from television, and no team at the local level will rely on broadcasts to survive. Mocking ratings for these games is like criticizing Vic Rauter for his political commentary, it misses the point completely.

If you did watch the stream you’ll understand. Nominally a Blainville home game, it was played a half-hour drive away at the Bois-de-Boulogne Complex in Laval. Yet the touchline was crowded with fans. The Blainville supporters were passionate enough to be criticized, setting off pyrotechnics mid-play, barracking any Ontarian in sight, allegedly even prodding players with flags. In MLS, or any North American major league, those guys would not have gotten past security and been swiftly tazed if they had. In the first leg of the Voyageurs Cup’s first round it provided an electric atmosphere. When Mayard scored a stoppage-time winner and the smoke went off and the supporters destroyed ad hoardings as they rushed the pitch, it was pure, communicable happiness.

Now some of this was undoubtedly General Quebec Solidarity. Quebec’s grassroots supporters culture is not like the Rest of Canada, and sticking it to the anglos will always draw some support regardless of context2. I would bet, with no inside information at all, that a significantg part of that pitch invasion was carried out by people at their first AS Blainville match. But to the Montreal Impact that game would have been virtually pointless, hardly worth a train ride to Pie-IX even if the ticket was free. To Blainville it was enormous, and some of those supporters will be back. Us few distant viewers loved the spectacle, but next to the 1,000-odd fans who paid to get in we are as ants compared to the biggest day in AS Blainville history.

This is not a Quebec soccer slobberfest, much though I admire them. After all, next Wednesday we have the return leg at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan. Tickets are $15, which for amateur soccer is quite a lot. But the game is regardless expected to sell out, and while Oakville has fans who go every week this match has captured many more imaginations than that. This competition, which by Internet standards is trivial, is to the teams involved a sensation.

Let’s hope the Canadian Soccer Association recognizes that. We are talking these days about the Canadian Premier League, hoping for attendances of seven, eight thousand, while Toronto FC fills BMO Field and the Vancouver Whitecaps are derided for only spending a handful of millions on their roster. It is easy to focus on the big time. But that Blainville home game was, by its lights, a huge success. The Oakville leg looks set to be as good. We cannot help but be overjoyed for Ontario and Quebec, but we can still regret how many fine teams in the country could do as well given the opportunity.

There are plenty of communities in Canada that show more interest in very local soccer than outsiders would guess. Hundreds of fans already come out to support Cowichan Valley for a Jackson Cup final in the Vancouver Island Soccer League. Imagine if Cowichan Valley was facing TSS Rovers of the USL PDL in the second leg of the Voyageurs Cup. It would be a riot. Grown men would cry, win or lose. And then the winner of that game plays CanPL Langford, the winner facing the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place, and it all kicks off twice more. Then, multiply that by all the regions of this vast country. You think Edmonton Scottish – Calgary Foothills wouldn’t be a success? You just saw 3,000 people watch Foothills play the FC Edmonton academy, come on.

Of course there are obstacles to a truly open Voyageurs Cup. The Americans manage it, but the Americans also get three rounds before they risk boarding an airplane. If WSA Winnipeg wins their first-round match then all of a sudden Eduardo Badescu is selling poinsettas fundraising for a trip to Hamilton. Moreover, while a USL PDL team could theoretically win the US Open Cup, there are enough professional teams in their way that everyone knows one never will. If Calgary Foothills was in the Voyageurs Cup they would only need two upsets for a team of part-timers and university students to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, and that might get awkward. And Foothills could do it, on their day. To you and me that is a thrill; to the Canadian Soccer Association nervousness is reasonable.

But surely the rewards outweigh the risks. When we talk about how Canada can make the men’s World Cup, we don’t talk about how TFC Academy needs more foreign ex-pat kids who’ve gotten elite coaching since they were four. We talk about how we need the enormous breadth of this dominion to be involved, and recognized, in the common effort. MLS clubs can never do that. Nor, even, can USL or CanPL or any professional league: the population density just isn’t there for some of us to ever make that work. We need ordinary local teams with a chance to display somebody’s excellence. More than that, we need a chance for some community to step forward and say “we have earned a share of the spotlight.” The Voyageurs Cup is the best vehicle we have or will ever get to make that happen.

The reward? One player who would otherwise have slipped through the cracks makes Canada’s senior men’s national team. Let’s be generous and say two. But more than that, somewhere out there, a kid who would have said “I want to play for Paris Saint-Germain” instead says “I want to play for CS Mont-Royal Outremont,” because the first memory he has of truly heart-lifting soccer is CSRMO putting paid to Toronto FC against all odds in the 2022 Voyageurs Cup. And once young Canadians are, more than anything, dreaming of Canadian soccer, then our job is more than half done.