The Canada Games at Their Most Canadian

By Benjamin Massey · August 3rd, 2017 · No comments

Lee Kormish/Canadian Soccer Association

I’ve been watching an unusual amount of Canada Games women’s soccer for the past week. This is to say, I have been watching any Canada Games women’s soccer. The tournament is taking place in Winnipeg and the soccer crowds have, while decent, been largely family members. When runs a webstream you hear parents deriding referees, mumbling about poor tactics, and shouting “let’s go red!” It’s like being back in U-14 except for the camera guy telling the parents they’re on the Internet.

I am a hopelessly absimilated British Columbia resident of thirteen years’ standing, so as always I am cheering for my native Alberta. This has been a better time than you’d think. Alberta beat British Columbia, who feature multiple players 99 Friendship devotees have heard of, 3-0 thanks to clever breaks and two terrific free kicks. Alberta went on to drop its semifinal to Ontario 1-0, which is more than fair enough, and will play Nova Scotia for bronze.

Some players I’ve seen have looked interesting but, with all respect, not worth a blog post. The Canada Games are weird. The soccer tournament is restricted to under-18s and obviously doesn’t lure overseas talent. Their website tantalizes you with top players who have participated, some of whom are very heavy metal, but only the cognoscenti would have known their names at the time. Kara Lang, who played as a 14-year-old in 2001, was as close as you’d get and she was more than a year from her senior international debut.

That’s by design. In fact even youngsters who might lend the Canada Games some star power, a Jordyn Huitema or a Deanne Rose, are deliberately excluded. Canada Games rules forbid not only professional athletes but all senior soccer internationals. Even if Rose and Huitema wanted to go to Winnipeg again they weren’t given the choice. Cara Lang actually is playing for Alberta alongside her twin sister Brooke, but that joke works much better verbally than written down.

The Canada Games are not a glamour tournament. Never have been. It is only natural to make your rules on the “well I didn’t want to go out with that smoking hot woman anyway” principle. Once you’ve accepted your mediocrity there’s even a competitive argument to keep out the occasional slumming elite. Andre De Grasse randomly blitzing the field in athletics wouldn’t help anybody; Jordyn Huitema getting on the end of Julia Grosso and Emma Regan’s excellence would probably have guaranteed British Columbia woso gold but that somehow isn’t a priority of the organizers.

But maybe it should be.

Canadians love inter-provincial competition. The Canada Games themselves seem like they ought to be a joke but never really are; better crowds show up in Sherbrooke or Prince George or Whitehorse to cheer on a bunch of unknown teenagers than you would ever get in any other context.

Soccer provinces are represented by amateur champion clubs fighting for national honours, which is not quite the same thing. Provincial rivalry has never really been a serious part of ice hockey, that greatest Canadian sport, and in Canadian football only the Saskatchewan Roughriders exemplify it. But the other great Canadian winter game knows what’s what.

What is the most respected championship in the world of curling? The Olympic Games, probably, but that’s glory reflecting off five Olympic rings rather than anything intrinsic. If we exclude that as a special case, who’s next? Not the World Championships, tightly contested though they are. Certainly not the European Championships, nor the Pacific-Asia Championships, nor any crown where hundreds of millions of people are represented by the gallant sliding warriors vying to wear it. The answer is the Brier, the Canadian men’s curling championship, and the Tournament of Hearts, the women’s championship. (Curling, not incidentally, joins soccer as the only team sports in Canada where affection for the women rivals that for the men.)

Is it because the best rinks in the world are all Canadian so the worlds are just a coronation for Canucks? Definitely not; prior to this past year Canada had lost eight World Women’s Curling Championships in a row, four times to the Swiss. The best men’s curling team in the world is probably Swedish, that of Niklas Edin. The Worlds have a higher all-round standard than the Brier or the Tournament of Hearts, where 40% of the entrants are always thorough sadsacks. Even if we give Canada special merit for all-round excellence our Olympic trials, where only the best teams compete, are played at a noticeably higher level. Yet the Brier and the Tournament of Hearts are much, much more prestigious.

Though I somehow doubt it was deliberately done, we have the perfect Dominion for sports rivalry. A couple big bad provinces to play the ubiquitous heels, a wide second-tier of provinces with people and resources enough to dominate a particular sport or win on their day, and utterly lovable underdogs in the three Territories. The United States, with fifty states and a bevy of variously-categorized colonies, cannot help but turn interstate competition into dull knockout affairs where you don’t care three-quarters of the time. Australia may have too few states, and those they have are too unbalanced, but Sheffield Shield interstate cricket remains alive. The English do rather well on the county scale with rugby and cricket, though in recent decades the complaint has been that these competitions have become second-class adjutants to big-money tournaments. Then again, in Canadian soccer, that’s all we’re asking for.

Canada is the perfect size. Not only can every province play every other regularly, but any citizen has very specific reasons for hating the other nine. Except maybe New Brunswick. Then again I’m not a Newfoundlander dealing with Saint John versus St. John’s. That’s another happy element: it’s everyone versus Ontario, always, but we also have our own particular rivalries.

Other sub-national entries compete in soccer. In CONCACAF we are used to French insular regions, integral parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and whatever Puerto Rico is showing up at the Gold Cup and sometimes even World Cup qualifying. Something similar happens in Oceania. In Spain, both the Basque and Catalan “national” teams occasionally play and beat independent countries, but they are expressions of nationalism rather than competing subdivisions of the Spanish kingdom. Should Canada launch a first-rate inter-provincial soccer competition along the lines of curling it would be unique in the world.

In its current format the Canada Games can never give us what curling already has. To deeply care about U-18 teams with the famous players taken out, you have to be much more personally invested than I am. What’s more, especially on the men’s side, it’s hard to imagine an elite player returning from Europe to spend a week at the Canada Games under any circumstances.

We could still move forward. The Canada Games organizers are no fools and work closely with governing bodies in their respective sports. What would we do if the Canadian Premier League took a ten-day break midseason and sent domestic players to the Canada Games? It would be a hell of a lot more interesting than an All-Star game. This year in particular, while NCAA is out of season and the NWSL has spun down for the European Championships, the women’s Canada Games could have been astonishing, even if McLeod and Sinclair stayed away. Not just the current professionals, but those hoping to kick their way back into the game. Imagine if it was Kara Lang, as well as Cara, suiting up for Alberta.

When looking to grow soccer in Canada, we talk about marketing and elite players and everything everyone in every other country talks about. What we don’t spend enough time on are characteristically Canadian elements. We have our own history, something like our own culture and values still bobbing to the surface through a flood of global sewage. Say “make soccer Canadian” and people imagine MLS and old NASL-style rule changes to attract yokel-fans allegedly too unsophisticated to handle the world’s most popular sport. What we should actually be doing is fitting the game we all love into the right holes in the country we hopefully love even more.

The Vancouver Whitecaps Do Not Hate Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

99 Friendship Episode 49

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 24th, 2017 · No comments

On this week’s episode of 99 Friendship:

  • It’s a crappy buffet of women’s soccer content! There’s nothing delicious enough to really grab a plateful of it, you’re just helping yourself to a multitude of sides and sweets and hoping that makes the hunger stop long enough for you to get home. I may have lost track of my metaphor here.

  • The week in NWSL action was… a week. Nichelle Prince scored a beauty, Kailen Sheridan was involved in an epic slugfest I mean no she wasn’t Kailen Sheridan had nothing to do with any of it everyone respect and admire her unconditionally.

  • Stories about coaches, and their inability to leave when referees tell them to.

  • News from France! There will be a couple more Canadians in les Divisions 1 et 2 for the 2017–18 season! Pretty cool stuff!

  • News from curling, as the teams for the first Grand Slam of next season, the Tour Challenge Tier One, were announced. Some of them have changed, and we talk about that.

  • And finally some olds from curling. We were wondering, how would Curling Canada determine the sixteenth team at the Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this coming year? Turns out Curling Canada answered that for us on June 28. So we get you, and ourselves, caught up.

Doing It to Ourselves

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

Canadian Soccer Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

99 Friendship Episode 48

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 17th, 2017 · No comments

First a housekeeping note. Please do let us know if this episode sounds better, or worse, than usual. We’ve put this week’s, and future, episodes together in a different way, and hopefully the only effect is that both of us (but especially Carolyn) sound better. Still, keep us informed.

Anyway. On this week’s 99 Friendship:

  • The women’s European Championships are on right now in the Netherlands. Carolyn likes lady Euro very much, and we talk about how much fun they’re going to be and the Canadians who should play. We don’t just mean that Canada’s WNT should play the women’s Euro, although we do. We also mean the actual Canadian-born players for other countries. There are two. Did you know that? 99 Friendship busting out the actual information.

  • UEFA put out a guide on how to pronounce some player names at the Euro. You would think that I, of all people, could really use such a thing. But actually it’s more funny than it is informative. Yes, we go through it phoneme by phoneme.

  • In actual Canadian news, our women’s U-17 team wrapped up a tournament in China with a draw and two losses. But that probably isn’t bad! We discuss, as best we can based off Tweets, cell phone footage, and basically rumours.

  • The WPSL season wrapped up as far as Canadians go, and Adriana Leon scored a very nice goal in the NWSL. Things are going well for Adriana lately. Get cautious, limited hype.

  • There is no curling. And we try!

Canada’s Women’s Championship Challenge

By Benjamin Massey · July 11th, 2017 · No comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

At this moment, Canada is #4 in the world in women’s soccer. On merit we must be in the top eight, in an international pool that’s never been deeper. Our national team is stronger than ever and for once we’ve accomplished as much as, on paper, we should. Yet on the club side, we can’t even decide a national champion.

Every year Canada’s men’s professional clubs play for the Voyageurs Cup. The high amateurs of League1 Ontario and the Première ligue de soccer du Québec were excluded, hurting the title’s credibility, but from now on their champions are in, leaving only regional amateurs and USL PDL outside the tent. And they think they have problems! Women’s soccer, miles ahead of the men in many ways here, is behind here.

There are ten reasons for this, but the original sin is that the Voyageurs Cup was financed by, well, the Voyageurs, and for historic and cultural reasons they’ve tended to be more interested in the men’s game than the women’s. A “women’s Voyageurs Cup” has been mentioned on message boards and Wikipedia pages but was basically fictional, even when a heavily-Canadian USL W-League made it easy. The 2014 W-League Central Conference was exclusively made up of every Canadian team in the league, and the Ottawa Fury would have been lady Voyageurs Cup champions had it existed. It didn’t.

Even the name is unsatisfactory. “Women’s Voyageurs Cup?” Nobody really wants to call it that, it’s a concept. “V-Cup” would be a fun double-entendre but it’s not worth it.

For years Canadian club woso roamed the wilderness as teams and leagues collapsed like Alex Morgan being brushed against, but today we’re back to the point where a national championship would be fun. Calgary Foothills currently runs a team in United Women’s Soccer, anchored by former Canadian youth international star Sarah Kinzner. The North Shore Girls Soccer Club plays in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, with a few former senior and youth internationals, and has a fair shot at winning the Northwest Division. Next year NSGSC will be joined by TSS, currently operating a team in USL PDL and soon to bring British Columbia its first ever local lady’s derby. Both circuits claim to be successors of the old USL W-League, once indisputably the top level of women’s club soccer in Canada.

Three teams in two leagues make life complicated enough, but then there’s League1 Ontario. Any so-called national championship which didn’t include L1O’s eleven women’s teams would be incomplete. Familiar Canadian soccer names from both the past and the future are scattered all over their rosters. It would take a gargantuan inferiority complex to assume that the likes of Vaughan Azzurri and Unionville Milliken couldn’t play with North Shore and Calgary just because some of them are in an Ontario league and some of them are in an American one. Remember, we’re good at this game.

Each league is, obviously, amateur. Travel costs are kept low (or, if you’re Calgary flying to Los Angeles and Houston, low-ish) by playing within your region. WPSL and UWS especially serve as summer leagues for NCAA players, which limits how much spare time they have on their schedules. League1 Ontario plays into fall, but every September a lot of students need to be replaced in a hurry. To summarize three paragraphs into two sentences: while L1O, WPSL, and UWS share a niche, it’s hard for them to share an ecosystem. You could not get the teams to play each other, and therefore a lady Voyageurs Cup cannot happen.

There’s just one problem with this conclusion: a lady Voyageurs Cup has to happen. Women’s soccer in this country is too popular. Women’s club soccer in this country is too fragmented. The Canadian Soccer Association is too worried about starting Canada’s third-best men’s league to get us a women’s soccer championship. They didn’t help us start a men’s championship in 2002, either, so we made our own. Sometimes history ought to repeat itself.

Our past has other lessons too. In its early days the Stanley Cup, of which you may have heard, was in a similar boat. Multiple leagues played at a standard sufficient to produce “the champion hockey team in the Dominion.” Most teams were amateur and competitors were spread across Canada in an age when travel was far more difficult than it is now. The challenges to establishing a national hockey championship were daunting… so Lord Stanley, the Cup’s benefactor, embraced challenge. Like a boxing championship, the trophy’s holder would face a challenge for the Cup, the winner would get it, and the process would repeat itself.

Such contests could be farcical, like when the Ottawa Silver Seven beat a Dawson City team 32-4 on aggregate in 1905. The Cup’s champions, like the country as a whole, were centred in the Laurentian corridor. But in general fixtures were competitive. Western teams gave a good account of themselves, and on a few occasions Winnipeg won. After twenty years the challenge format was superseded by a battle between league champions which in turn evolved into today’s NHL championship. But it was the challenge format which got the Stanley Cup started and established, and that is what we’re looking for today in women’s soccer. If our new cup is something else in twenty years that’s amazing: it lasted twenty years. The men’s Voyageurs Cup has already moved on from its humble beginnings, and that’s part of what we love about it.

Anoint the first champion by some fair-ish method: the L1O champion, round-robin, pick two interested teams and have them play off, it doesn’t matter. The point is, that team then fields challenges. The challenger flies out to the North Shore (say) and plays NSGSC. If the challenger wins, they bring the trophy back for future challenges of their own. If NSGSC wins, they keep it.

The challenger pays its own way out, which for the sake of one or two games in a short period would not be brutal. A team without the interest or the financial wherewithal to make a challenge doesn’t have to. The schedule is only congested voluntarily, though there’d have to be some trusteeship to keep a champion from ducking challenges on feeble excuses. Ambitious clubs thirsting to prove their Dominion-championship bona fides can do so. Exotic out-of-town clubs playing for silverware, many of them meeting only with this trophy on the line, would give us a national championship unmatched by anyone else in the soccer world. Distinctive and, in fact, form, and heritage, distinctively Canadian.

Not that this is a panacea. The Voyageurs Cup, and its brothers like the Cascadia Cup and the Juan de Fuca Plate, succeeded by asking nothing of the teams involved. They played each other as they normally would except at the end some fans ran out with a trophy. This tournament, however we try to ease the burden, would unavoidably impose one. More than buying a trophy, we would need to prove that enough fans and sponsors would come out for these games to make it worthwhile.

But couldn’t we prove that?

99 Friendship Episode 47

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 10th, 2017 · No comments

After a bit of a flabby episode last week we are back on champagne-swilling form! Apart from the traffic noises! This week on 99 Friendship:

  • Canada’s U-20 national women’s soccer team beat the United States 4-1! To try and salve their shame the US is calling this a “U-18” team even though it has seven players older than eighteen. We are not fooled. (On the other hand, the primary United States lady U-20s are definitely in England now, so we aren’t fooled that way either.)

  • We then lost to Australia, but it was almost literally a completely different Canadian team so that’s okay. Also there was no video evidence to speak of.

  • In a week of NWSL action, Janine Beckie scored and that picture up there happened. It was fun.

  • Canadian curling drama! (Yes, it’s July!) Manitoba lady provincials are the week after mixed doubles trials, and since we’re essentially cheering for Team Brennifer by default, the idea of Jennifer Jones being distracted trying to avenge herself in Toba provincials is worrying. Then we talk about how the hell the Scotties/Brier format could possibly work this Olympic year, which is fun since Curling Canada doesn’t appear to know either.

  • Scottish curling drama! (Yes, it’s July!) David Murdoch, the Scottish Team, is outraged at not going to the Olympics and retiring! The Other Other Scottish Team has shockingly surpassed both Murdoch and the Other Scottish Team to earn Great Britain’s Olympic berth! With a team packed with Muirheads! Does this mean Tom Brewster is still the Other Scottish Team and Kyle Smith is now just the Scottish Team? Is “he plays lots of events and loses them all” a format Olympic selectors should encourage? Hibernia all over the place at the end of this show.

You are specially invited to follow 99 Friendship on Twitter.

99 Friendship Episode 46

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · July 2nd, 2017 · No comments

Not a very special episode of 99 Friendship this week, but one that’s no doubt full of surprise and delight for the dedicated fan. (For one thing, it’s out a day early! Because Ben is going to spend the middle of the week doing a Chris McCandless so we had to get this out of the way. You didn’t want to talk to friends and/or family anyway, did you?)

Do not make this your first episode. Why not try the AmWoSoLit Special instead? But there’s probably a fun thing in it if you’re used to our special brand of fun.

  • It was so fucking hot in Ben’s temporarily airless recording studio. If I was in a union there’d have been a complaint. My computer is in the union and refused to record it, but Carolyn’s did, which is why everything sounds different.

  • One of Canada’s (indeed, the Vancouver area’s) greatest soccer heroines received a prominent national honour this #Canada150 week. Which player are we referring to? I guess you’ll have to listen to find out.

  • Tier-one Canada has booked a pair of friendly against the United States, in Vancouver on November 9 and uh somewhere in the States the next Sunday. It is so early that there isn’t much to say about that yet, though we try.

  • Since it’s a surprisingly quiet week woso-wise (because Carolyn missed the NWSL action), we catch you up on UWS and WPSL. On the UWS end Calgary played Lauren Sesselmann! If you’re interested in the Santa Clarita Blue Heat scoop, we got you covered!

    Lauren Sesselmann is the mom.

  • Then we make fun of random WPSL teams for a bit.

  • Then we talk about curling, because otherwise the podcast would have been 20 minutes long and there are rules. This includes a repeat of the 2017 Lady World Championships final I watched earlier in the week.

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99 Friendship Episode 45

By Carolyn Duthie and Benjamin Massey · June 26th, 2017 · No comments

Sorry for missing you last week; we recorded, my computer ate it, we didn’t have anything to say anyway, we weren’t too upset. But making up for lost time here’s episode 45 of 99 Friendship. On this week’s spectacular show:

  • The Canadian Soccer Association put out a grammatically-awkward roster for a pair of youth woso camps in Australia and China. You’re damned right we can get nine minutes of material out of discussing that.

  • A couple weeks of NWSL action! Adriana Leon scored totally on purpose!

  • Carli Lloyd scored a belter of a goal for the Houston Dash and we spend a few minutes discussing her, mostly because it gives me a chance to use our Carli Lloyd intro theme again, and I’m not gonna lie that still cracks me up every single time.

  • Carolyn goes and gets a program for the 2013 Western New York Flash. Because this is a podcast and it has no visual element, you might think there’s not a lot of interest in Carolyn showing me her program from the 2013 Western New York Flash. But there is.

  • We wrap the podcast by discussing obscure Canadian woso. In a different way than usual. Basically that 2013 Western New York Flash program segues us into talking about old WNT tournaments and players and we just ramble and it’s fun! You should listen!

  • CanWNT should have a friendly at McGill, because it would be convenient for drinking.

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The Return of the Juan de Fuca Plate

By Benjamin Massey · June 23rd, 2017 · No comments

Benjamin Massey for the Juan de Fuca Plate (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In January 2012 fans on the Vancouver Southsiders message board and the Lake Side Buoys Facebook group decided that they would like to emulate, on a smaller scale, the storied Cascadia Cup. The previous year and scarf manufacturer Ruffneck had put up a trophy for the USL Premier Development League clubs in their native Washington, and anything they could do, we could do better. Both the Whitecaps and the Victoria Highlanders had PDL teams and their fans, who don’t agree on much, concurred that a supporter-driven British Columbia trophy for the lower-division sides was essential. The Fraser Valley Mariners, also in the league, had no supporters to contribute but were not forgotten by those who did.

By that summer funds were in place, all donations by individual supporters and families. The trophy was commissioned. Drew Shaw, the Lake Side Buoy who’d come up with the original idea, also carved a handsome trophy base out of Western Maple in the shape of the province of British Columbia. A banner was ordered. The trophy got the best name in semi-professional sports, the Juan de Fuca Plate, and one of the worst websites. There were ribbons and brass plates for the winner. It was all done with, by the standards of the supporters involved, immense professionalism, patience, and expertise. When the trophy was first unveiled it was genuinely gorgeous, even if the Plate itself is so light you can use it as a frisbee. (Note to winning players: please do not use it as a frisbee.) The fact that the Plate itself is the perfect size to fit as a lid on the Cascadia Cup is a coincidence, but not an inappropriate one.

Benjamin Massey for the Juan de Fuca Plate (CC BY-SA 2.0)

There’s no point denying that, to players, these things can be a joke. A trophy you get for playing between two and six games, depending on the season. Unbalanced schedules, no prizes or further competitions, not much history, lower-division eccentricity everywhere you look, and a dozen guys screaming like that few hundred dollars worth of wood and silver plate is the biggest prize in soccer. Players, coaches, and supporters have different perspectives, and this goes double in a developmental league like USL PDL when every player’s dream is, ultimately, to leave.

But the Juan de Fuca Plate was never quite risible. The Whitecaps PR staff, to their eternal credit, loved it immediately and went to some lengths promoting it. The Highlanders soon followed. Every game a few more fans came out to cheer a bit louder for this thing, and every year whichever team won it… well, they laughed and they shot the breeze, but they posed for photos, celebrated a little, passed the Plate around with honest interest, and seemed genuinely pleased to triumph. This was important to their fans and, when you’re playing on such a small scale, that importance can’t help but be felt on the field.

Indeed, we built better than we knew. Highlanders and Whitecaps supporters built and piloted the project. Yet everyone was instinctively cautious about perpetually committing it. The engravings on the Plate declare that it was donated “by supporters of football in the province of British Columbia.” The ribbons were procured in the colours of Vancouver, Victoria, and (rolls eyes) Fraser Valley1, but a set of generic BC ribbons were also ordered. Conceived with USL PDL in mind, the trophy is really for “lower-division soccer;” it’s about a BC derby in some form rather than specific clubs or leagues.

This was wise. The Fraser Valley Mariners folded after the first Plate. The Whitecaps PDL team seemed to be in jeopardy every spring and, after the summer of 2014, it was formally shut down. That same year Alex Campbell pulled the plug on the Highlanders and, with nobody left to play for it, the Plate went into abeyance. Two seasons passed. The Highlanders returned under new ownership, alone. As the 2014 defending champion and the sole representative of British Columbia their fans held the Plate by incontestable right, but they could only serve whisky off it in solitude until, late in 2016, it was announced that Richmond’s Total Soccer Systems had bought the Washington Crossfire and would bring them to BC.

It is June 23, 2017. After three years, one month, and one day, the Juan de Fuca Plate will again see the light of day at Swangard Stadium.

In USL PDL, that’s a century. Since the last Juan de Fuca Plate match the newco Highlanders have assembled an almost-entirely-new roster missing, among many others, their formerly totemic brothers Jordie and Tyler Hughes. Cam Hundal, the only three-time Plate champion, is out of the league this year. The Rovers boast several Whitecaps Residency alums but nobody who happened to get into a Plate game. The only player on either team with a second of Juan de Fuca Plate experience is 35-year-old Highlanders forward Blair Sturrock, a veteran of the Scottish and English Football Leagues as well as, much more importantly, the 2013 and 2014 Plates. Indeed Sturrock contributed to the greatest moment in Plate history, when Marco Carducci robbed him blind in the 86th minute of 2013’s final game to get the Whitecaps the trophy.

Yet the Plate remains, its fans loyal as ever. The banner has apparently been lost but the trophy was pulled out of storage and shined up before the Rovers move was even official. It helps that many Rovers supporters are current or former Whitecaps south-end standees, who either feel alienated from the franchise or want local flavour to go along with their full-time MLS fun. A few of the Vancouver donors to the Plate already go to Rovers games. Michael McColl, who took care of the Plate’s on-field history at AFTN Canada, donated to the Plate in 2012 and does Rovers colour commentary in 2017. The Highlanders have been through very tough times, but the Lake Side Buoys are with us still and God willing always shall be.

2017 Juan de Fuca Plate Schedule
Date Time Home Away Venue Stream?
06-23 19:00 TSS FC Rovers Victoria Highlanders Swangard Stadium, Burnaby YouTube
06-25 18:00 TSS FC Rovers Victoria Highlanders Swangard Stadium, Burnaby YouTube
07-09 14:00 Victoria Highlanders TSS FC Rovers Centennial Stadium, Saanich YouTube

We’re a small community, British Columbia soccer supporters, but we’re good at what we do. The Ruffneck Cup, which partially inspired the Juan de Fuca Plate, has been defunct since 2015 even with two Washington teams remaining in PDL. The Cascadia Cup is stronger than ever but politics, both of the soccer and the non-soccer varieties, have taken away some of the old joy. Nothing could be more oblivious than to praise the purity of an semi-professional soccer competition that hardly anybody knows about and which took the past two seasons off as some moral success. But though the Plate’s grassroots, intimate character is as much a product of circumstance as design, it’s still terrific. Every fan who shows up at tonight’s Plate match is going to get close enough to hold the trophy and get a photo with it, if he so chooses. That can only happen because there are so few, which is a mixed blessing, but it sure is fun.

Not that we shouldn’t want the Juan de Fuca Plate to grow. This very article, in its minute way, will hopefully push a few more fans towards it. Sometimes I fantasize about that very trophy being presented to the professional champion of British Columbia before 25,000 screaming Canadian Premier League supporters. Growth does not have to sever our connection to the trophy we made. The Canadian Soccer Association has handed out the Voyageurs Cup for the past ten years and the main complaints from long-time Vs is that the name of the corporate sponsor was too prominent and the presenting Voyageur only sets the trophy on a plinth rather than passing it to the winning team. If you laughed at how penny-ante those problems are, you understand why I’d love to see the Plate become as big a deal in our league as the Cascadia Cup is in the American one.

Such dreams are years in the future, and not just because a CanPL with multiple British Columbia teams is so far away. The Juan de Fuca Plate has to rise to that dignity. TSS Rovers play the Victoria Highlanders at Swangard Stadium on both Friday and Sunday evenings (tickets $10, online or at the door). The return engagement is in Victoria on Sunday, July 9 at the University of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium (tickets $12). You should come, if you are at all able, or watch on YouTube if you are not. Do it to support the local game. Do it so you can say you were there when this was all green fields. Do it because it’s a sunny day and Swangard Stadium in the sun is the best place in the world. Most of all, do it because dozens of supporters, players, coaches, and front office people have somehow combined to create a perfectly beautiful gem that you can enjoy on the most intimate terms, in a soccer culture where we’re usually competing to be the most cynical.