When the news was finally confirmed it was no longer news. More than two years after CSN first reported that Canada was working towards its own league, current CSA president Victor Montagliani out right confirmed it on Red Card Radio last week.
"The league is a go," was how he simply put it.
Two days ago, the Halifax regional council released a document that detailed plans for the creation of said new Canadian league.
August 2018 was listed as the start date, with a May 2017 announcement suggested.
As someone who was accused of making all this up two years ago allow me this single indulgence:
I TOLD YOU SO
Alright, now that that's out of the way let's instead focus on just how important this confirmation is. Simply put, it is the single most important accomplishment of the CSA in 31 years -- bigger than bringing WWC 2015 here, bigger than the 2007 U20 World Cup and much bigger than helping get MLS established in the nation. Make no mistake, all of those things mattered. There is no CanPL without them. They laid the groundwork that created an environment that allowed the CSA to even dare to dream of something so outlandish as starting our own league.
When Canada landed the 2007 U20s -- around the time Christine Sinclair was introducing herself to the nation at the also important 2002 women's U19 event -- the idea of a national league was dead in the water. The CSL had failed and with it any chance of ever having top flight soccer in this country was seemingly buried with it. Even the idea of having a single MLS team seemed far-fetched (partly because no one was betting on MLS lasting long-term either).
But, a new generation of Canadians was starting to enter their peak spending years and the older generation -- the generation that thinks soccer is a commie sport, mostly -- was starting to lose its grip on power. Suddenly, the Gen Xers and the generation that we now call millennials were to be paid attention to and that generation didn't have the same hang ups about soccer that their parents and grandparents did. They grew up playing the sport in the boom years of the 1980s and '90s and then later in their living rooms in video game form (make no mistake. EA Sports has played a vital role in popularizing soccer in North America).
Those young(er) fans packed bars, pubs and cafes every two years to watch the World Cup and Euros. Still, the older generation said that they would never watch the game outside of those big tournaments. It's just a party, something to do while waiting for the NHL season to start again, the grumpy boomers said.
Except those same fans were starting to buy Juve, Manchester United and Real Madrid strips and show up at all hours of the day to watch European games.
Yeah, but they won't support teams from here, grunted the talk radio shock jock.
Then BMO Field opened and fans made Toronto FC the hottest ticket in town. Vancouver then Montreal followed and years later nearly 100,000 watched the Impact and TFC play for the Eastern Conference championship over a wild two legged tie that will probably be referenced by an 18 year old rookie in 2022 as being the reason he or she decided to become a professional soccer player.
Yet, the old voices remain and are now telling us that the CanPL can never succeed. This is despite soccer proving the doubters wrong at every step of the way over the past 25 years.
It's time to shout them down. The burden of proof no longer lies on the side of the soccer-lover. No, it's the soccer-doubter that needs to show their work. I suspect their work would include references to the NASL, New York Cosmos and Pele before it drifted off into a 40 minute rant about how music was better when Meat Loaf was on top of the charts.
The sport has fans -- huge fans -- in every corner of the country. Sure, many of those fans support one of the three MLS teams (or another level team), but more than enough either don't live near a MLS/NASL/USL team or are open to supporting both their current team and a CanPL side.
This isn't 1992 and it sure as hell isn't 1984. There are people in Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax and more than have seen the Southsiders, UM02, Red Patch Boys or (insert your supporters group here) and want the same thing for themselves. The new CanPL teams will find their fans and the teams have enough money behind them to allow the initial fan base to grow to a point that no one will ever fear for the long-term health of the league again.
One of the underappreciated goals of the CanPL is to bring the game to more fan's back-yards. We focus on player, coach and referee development -- and clearly that is very important -- but the reality is that spreading the sport to every part of the country is probably the single most important thing the CanPL will do. Putting pro soccer in smaller markets is a goal in of itself, but it's not like having those pockets of passion isn't without a player development angle too. Just look at the amount of young American players that currently talk about how important going to MLS games was to developing their love of the game. That will hapen with the CanPL too (and already is happening with the three MLS teams).
The CanPL is going to happen.
And, It's going to succeed. It's time to embrace what is possible and stop looking for what might go wrong.
Most of all it's time to embrace the undeniable -- soccer in Canada doesn't need the approval of the mainstream to be relevant. It is the mainstream now and has been for at least a decade.
Happy with the Point on the Road
Against one of the best offense in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Impact defense was able to keep their discipline and shutout David Villa for the first time at home this season. Even though his play was instrumental to Wallace's goal, David Villa was kept off the score sheet for NYCFC. It could have been better, of course, but a 1-1 draw at Yankees Stadium versus an offense who had put 4 goals past DC United's goalkeeper last week is an accomplishment unto itself. It wasn't pretty, but Montreal was able to keep the score close. Montreal was dominated in the first half but with a mix of blocked attempts on goal and bad accuracy by the trio of Villa-Moralez-Wallace, the Impact kept the result in striking distance. Even though they conceded a late goal in the first half, the Montreal defense was more disciplined and focused than in the previous two games. No early yellows (no yellow card period for IMFC's backline), no dangerous or questionable tackles in the box, so basically, a very well rounded performance by the defense. Their best of the season.
What really caught my attention once again was the performance of the defensive midfield and Patrice Bernier. The assist of Bernier on Montreal's equalizer scored by Dom Oduro at the 68' is a sight to be seen! A great read of the play, followed by a pinpoint accurate lob pass to Oduro, bypassing the entire midfield of NYCFC (Pirlo included) to create the scoring chance that would become Montreal's first away goal in 2017. Montreal's control of the midfield late in the game Saturday gave them a few chances to score the game winner, but a post by Piatti and a few great saves by Sean Johnson kept it at 1-1. Going back to the captain, Patrice Bernier's play has been outstanding in the last 2 games; from ball possession control to controlling the pace of the game, to creating time, space and looks on goal for his teammates, Patrice has been the spark of the offense in 2017. Since the snafus of the first game, the ball movement in the midfield has been excellent. High 80s and 90s of passing accuracy, controlling the tempo of the game, finding the open men on the flanks and using them to move the block forward, all adjustments and directives by Mauro Biello that have been well executed by the Montreal Impact midfield. Even with the late switch on the starting 11 of Marco Donadel for Callum Mallace, Marco "felt something" during the warm up, the midfield accomplished its mission of giving opportunities to the offense to be, no pun intended, impactful.
All in all, 1 point at Yankees Stadium, 1 goal conceded and good game adjustments and substitutions by the manager made for an appreciated trip to the Big Apple by the players. A win was possible, even probable with the pressure Montreal was putting in late, but a draw is manageable and hopeful for the next few difficult games ahead.
Every Friday, I will give my keys to victory for the Montreal Impact, in 3 points!
Point 1 Backline Discipline
The Montreal Impact defense have already racked up 4 yellow cards in the first 2 games, particularly early in the first halves ( Camara, Duvall and Ciman). On top of exposing your team to the risk of having a player sent off, those early yellows affect the way the player on notice approaches his tackle opportunities. On a very small pitch like the one at Yankees Stadium, the fraction of a second loss to hesitation from the defender on notice can prove quite costly and before you know it, you find yourself defending David Villa in the box . You add the Laurent Ciman 76' foul in the box against Seattle and you have a situation where after 2 games, 3 precious points were lost due to the lack of discipline by the Montreal Impact defense. For a positive result this Saturday in the Big Apple, patience and discipline are the directives for Montreal's backline.
Point 2 Possession and Transition in the Midfield
Last week, the midfield executed very well the game plan of having the ball and transitioning it successfully higher up the pitch, creating breakthroughs in Seattle's defense. The passing accuracy of the three defensive midfielders (Bernier 84.6% Donadel 91.1% Bernardello 93.6%) was quite impressive and quite an improvement from week 1. This is even more important in an environment like Yankees Stadium, where the edge of the box and the midfield line are not that far apart. If the defensive midfield trio of Montreal is able to replicate the passing accuracy performances of last week you will see a Montreal ball possession transition more efficiently from midfield to the last third of the field, thus creating more theoretical goal scoring chances for Piatti, Mancosu and Co.
Point 3 Beware of Villa-Moralez-Wallace
If it's not one of them, it's all three. The prolific trio that led to four goals versus DC United last week, is the main goal scoring threat for NYCFC. If you can eliminate the threat on New York's left side of the attack by suffocating the service to it, you give yourself a better path to victory. Which brings us again to the battle in the midfield. If Montreal is able to stop NYCFC's transition at the Mattarita and Pirlo level, they might have a shot at suffocating the service to their favored offensive threat. Easier said then done.
You can follow Kevin Laramee on Twitter @KevLaramee
Off the Woodworkx, a podcast about the Montreal Impact available on ITunes
Former LA Galaxy and MetroStars manager Octavio Zambrano will be named Canadian men's national team head coach on Friday.
The news was first reported in the Italian source, GazzoMercato. Anthony Totera reported this morning that the new hire would be Ecuadorian.
It's thought that Javier Livia will be Zambrano's chief assistant.
Zambrano has a .587 career MLS winning percentage as a manager, second to Bruce Arena all-time. He most recently managed El Nacional in Ecuador.
Pictured above is likely the first manager of LAFC
The CSA has a St. Patrick's Day surprise for us.
Today, Canadian Soccer announced that it was holding a press conference at Toronto's Westin Harbour Castle at 10 am on Amateur Day. The posh hotel is where the CSA usually holds its really important announcements. I met Sepp Blatter there once.
Initially this press release got the heart fluttering a little, as it was thought that maybe, just maybe, the Premier League announcement was finally upon us. However, a closer look relieved that it was labeled as a men's national team announcement, rather than an IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING THE FUTURE OF CANADIAN SOCCER!!1!1!
A little asking around allowed me to safely conclude that Friday's surprise is very likely confirmation on who the manager of the national team will be for the Gold Cup. One source suggested to me that the announcement could be a short term band-aid for just the Gold Cup, rather than a long-term contract. However, most people seem to think the CSA has found their man.
As for who that is...?
Hats off to the CSA on this one. For once they've kept a pretty tight lid on things. We knew about Benito Floro's appointment about a week out, but so far there is pretty consistent silence on this. One person told me that it was likely that we've not heard of the appointee. They said that he probably won't be Canadian and he might be younger than typical. That would represent the CSA looking for a "Herdman-type" to take over the men's team with a long-term vision and a desire to move to Canada and settle here long-term.
One well known Canadian soccer observer, Anthony Totera, reported today that the manager would be coming from Ecuador.
The reality of the CSA's financial situation is that hiring someone that is a bit unknown, but hungry, is likely the smart thing to do. We simply can't afford a name, and a name is unlikely to come to a country that is five years away, at minimum, to a World Cup.
Someone like, say, Bob Bradley.
It's been suggested to me that the CSA did, at least, reach out to Bradley and there is an obvious connection to Toronto in that his adorable grandkids (and intense son) live here. That connection has allowed this long shot of a rumour to live despite very strong evidence that he's likely to end up in LA, if he decides to give up on Europe at all, that is.
As much as Bradley might make sense for Canada, Canada doesn't really make sense for him. And, by the time it might his grandkids probably won't live here anymore.
If any specific names emerge we will update with a new story.
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Close, but no cigar.
We saw a better performance by the Montreal Impact tonight, especially in the midfield, but an old foe has come back to sink the Home-Opener's ship; extra time. With already over 3 minutes played after the first 90, the Seattle Sounders and their new veteran acquisition, Will Bruin made Montreal pay for their lack of killer instinct earlier in the game.
It all started beautifully though for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir, better possession and passing accuracy in the midfield, early looks on goal, great use of the flanks by Oyongo, Piatti and Oduro. Montreal even took a two goal lead, but it proved insufficient for the 1642ers. A beautiful through ball to Mancosu by Piatti, setup perfectly by the captain Patrice Bernier to open up the 2017 goal tally and a great finish by Piatti for the second. What was really impressive on Piatti's goal was his dismantling of Torres' coverage. Being caught ball watching and not focusing on Piatti's hips, Torres was left flat footed and couldn't cover Piatti's strong foot; 2-nil the Impact.
But, has it has been the case far too often over the last few years, the defense could not hold on. A questionable penalty call on a Ciman tackle and a moment of panic in the box late in extra time were enough for the Sounders to leave Montreal in a hurry with a stolen point. Like Mauro Biello mentioned in his post-game press conference, there were several questionable decisions on both sides by the referee Jair Marrufo. Early yellow cards, misplaced free kicks, questionable no-calls and a controversial tying goal scored after the initial 3 minutes of extra time are all issues that should be looked at carefully by PRO (Professional Referee Organization) and its general manager, Peter Walton.
On the positive side for Montreal, big improvements were made when we compare to last week's performance in Northern California. The passing accuracy went from a mediocre below 70% last week, to a very respectable 79.3% tonight and especially accurate in the defensive midfield (Bernier 84.6% Donadel 91.1% Bernardello 93.6%) . The confusion in the midfield has been addressed, Bernier-Bernardello-Donadel knew exactly where to be and how to execute the game plan this time around. The captain had a great home opener, 2 assists and a multitude of chances created by using the flank players to move up on the pitch. Oyongo and Oduro were instrumental in Montreal's attack, being able to use the space left open in front of them to generate space and time for Piatti to be effective offensively.
According to Evan Bush, the fitness aspect of the game, especially late in the game was the difference between a win and a draw. On top of the fitness, the substitution of Patrice Bernier for a debuting Adrian Arregui at the 59 minute mark spelled the end of domination for Montreal and especially the end of ball possession on the night. Coincidence? I think not.
Overall, 2 goal scored, a good performance by the core and star players and a more stable and reliable midfield are good improvements from game 1.
Some doubts concerning the backline still remains, unfortunately, and more discipline is needed by the Montreal defense if they want to have success in 2017.
Until next time, have a great soccer!
You can follow Kevin Laramee on Twitter @KevLaramee
You can listen to all of Kevin's thoughts on the game, player interviews and coaches post-game comments on the latest Off the Woodworkx every Sunday morning!
As most know, the Vancouver Whitecaps became the third Canadian team to reach the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals after their two leg win over the Red Bulls last month. In doing so they added to Canada's argument to be seeded in the new format, which starts later this year. With 16 teams in the knock-out phase it's hard to argue against Canada being placed in the top eight, actually. Gaining more spots is another story. Let's wait until the Canadian Premier League is involved before opening that can of worms.
At any rate, if the Whitecaps are to become the second hoser squad to make a final they have their work cut out for them. They have drawn Liga MX power Tigres -- they of three Mexica titles since 2011 and fresh off a CCL finals appearance. In the requisite YouTube hype video released today the Caps have called the match-up David v Goliath. That might be doing a disservice to Goliath.
Speaking of the hype video:
I'll leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide whether a team that claims it plays in #SoccerCityCanada (which by virtue of that claim means that they think the city you live in isn't) is deserving of #Canada4Caps. No one should feel an obligation to cheer for a club team just because they play in the same country as you, even if there are only five fully professional teams in your country. I doubt many Caps fans were cheering for TF...actually they might have been because, well. Seattle. That was a bad day for them, wasn't it?.
If you do watch that video you'll note that it appears that the Caps are now fully boarding the Alphonso Davies hype train. Not gonna lie, the idea of seeing Davies line up against a top Mexican side is very appealing.
Unless he decides to represent Liberia.
I'm sure it will be fine.
Every Friday, I will give my keys to victory for the Montreal Impact, in 3 points!
Point 1 The Cohesion in the Midfield
Montreal had all sorts of trouble in the midfield last week. Congestion, led to confusion that led to loss of possession, this really was noticeable when Montreal was trying to transition the ball forward. Smaller, higher pourcentages passes are key for the Impact to generate quality opportunity to feed their best attacking options, Piatti and Mancosu, which were left on an island last week.
Point 2 Oyongo and Piatti
The combination of Ambroise Oyongo and Nacho Piatti on the left side of the field for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir can be deadly. When Oyongo is able to use the space in front of him with the ball at his feet, he creates time and space for Piatti to be an offensive threat or even a goal scoring chance for himself. This is imperative for Montreal to get by the defending MLS Cup Champions.
Point 3 Beware of Clint Dempsey
Clint is back, healthy and HUNGRY! Even though they lost their season opener, Clint has found the back of the net already this season and in his favorite fashion, poacher style. For the Montreal Impact to emerge victorious Saturday night at the Stade Olympique, they will have to be mindful of Dempsey's presence close to goal AT ALL TIMES AND FOR 90 MINUTES!
You can follow Kevin Laramee on twitter @KevLaramee
Off the Woodworkx, a podcast about the Montreal Impact available here https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/off-woodworkx-sports-podcasting/id1067439813?mt=2