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Whitecaps 2 highlights

By Duane Rollins, 03/30/2017
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    • It’s a bad day to be a soccer fan in Winnipeg or Hamilton. Ironically, the first two cities to commit to being part of the Canadian Premier League were the two notable cities not included on the list of cities Canada has approached to apply to be a host city in the 2026 World Cup. Obviously, this will be a moot point if Morocco somehow takes the bid away from the hugely favourite United North America bid, but few think that will happen. So, it’s basically the end of any dream that either city will ever host a World Cup. It’s a double blow for Hamilton in that they were also left off the Women’s World Cup rotation in 2015. It’s a shame because the city was a wonderful host to the Pan Am tournament and a women’s pre-tournament friendly between England and Canada. It’s a bit baffling, actually. Tim Horton’s Field is only 24,000, sure, but it can be expanded to 40,000 (and possibly even more for a major event like a World Cup). Since it seems unlikely that the CSA is springing this on these cities blindly, it could be that the City of Hamilton turned down the chance to bid. In fact, that's the noise that many are suggesting -- that Hamilton turned down the chance to bid. That seems short-sighted, but I’m not a Hamilton rate payer. Much of what was written about Hamilton can be extended to Winnipeg. Two new stadiums in cities that don’t traditionally get looked at to host major events….surprising, to say the least. And, once again, it appears that Winnipeg came to the conclusion on their own.  There weren’t a lot of shocks among the cities included. Both Toronto and Montreal were invited to apply with two stadiums – BMO Field/Stade Saputo and The Stadium Formally Known as SkyDome/Olympic Stadium – and the rest of the cities – Ottawa, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are basically the default cities that pop up in these conversations. The two biggest questions among the included cities might be Montreal and Calgary. The Big O is an old 43 years now. It’s hard to imagine it not being held together by duct tape and empty bottles of Old Vienna by 2026. Saputo is the smallest of the stadiums included. It would take a major renovation to get up to the required size (although with the Habs having never hosted an outdoor NHL game that might be of interest to the city). Calgary has no legitimate option other than to build something new. McMahon Stadium is already 57 years old and it’s never been called anything other than functional, even by its fans. It seems likely that Calgary has been included to add further support to an ongoing effort to completely overhaul the city’s sports infrastructure. Calgary wants to build a new hockey rink, multipurpose stadium and host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Hosting a couple extra World Cup games a few months after the big party would be the icing on that very expensive cake. Mexico only put three cities forward, so you’d imagine they plan an even split of games. That’s not in Canada’s nature – the games here will be split equally between the east and the west. 
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    • Julian de Guzman is getting a head coaching position a little earlier than most people would have thought. Also, earlier than the Ottawa Fury probably wanted, as it comes with the announcement today that Paul Dalglish has resigned from the position, effectively immediately. He had informed the club of his intention to leave the Fury at the end of 2017, but both sides agreed that it was best to leave immediately. Dalglish had a 14W-16D-22L record in his season and a half in charge of the Fury. His was never a comfortable fit, taking charge after the hugely popular and successful Marc dos Santos. Making things even more difficult was that the Fury dumped a great deal of salary just before Dalglish took over, effectively stripping a Championship team to its bare bones. Still, Fury fans never warmed to Dalglish. Stylistically, he preferred a direct brand of the game, trying to utilize longer balls directed towards tall target men. The tactics were considered boring by many Fury fans, and statistically provided mediocre results. The Fury scored just 59 goals in the 52 games Dalglish was in charge. For his part Dalglish had positive words on his exit: "I will always be grateful to OSEG, the Fury, my staff and players for the experience my family and I have enjoyed here in Ottawa," said Dalglish. "I also want to thank the fans for their continued support of this great club. I wish nothing but the best for Fury FC and hope fans get to enjoy playoff soccer in Ottawa this fall," he said. It’s been speculated by many that he will take the head coaching position at the new Austin club, which will begin USL play in 2018. Dalglish played professionally in Texas and maintains roots in the region. It’s a quick turnaround from player to coach for de Guzman, who retired just last year. In fact, he played a testimonial with the Fury last month. However, he’s been working on his coaching qualifications over the past couple years and has experience working with younger players at the national team level. During the last few years of his career, de Guzman effectively was a player-coach and was widely seen as having a future patrolling the sidelines. Julian has proven that he will be a strong coach in this game," said Fury President John Pugh. "He has the attention and respect of the players and he has our full support." De Guman will make his managerial debut Aug 16 against Orlando B.
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    • Look at the photo above. That’s Estadio Merkatondoa, home of Club Deportivo Izarra of the Segunda División B. That’s the third tier of Spanish football. Located in the Basque region of Spain you can never accuse it of not being beautiful. It’s incredibly charming, actually. I’d love to play in that stadium. It would be appropriate for me to play in that stadium, as there are only 3,500 seats. It’s in every way a small, community-like stadium, like you find everywhere. In this particular case it also plays host to a third tier professional team. The third tier professional team that Samuel Piette most recently played for. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course. The third tier of Spanish professional soccer is about 60 times better than the level than likely everyone reading this played at. Well, unless someone from the Montreal Impact is reading. The Impact, of course, represent Piette’s new team, having inked him to a deal earlier this week. It was the worst kept secret in MLS for a couple days as Piette’s 6,000 relatives in the Montreal area were telling anyone that wanted to listen. Montreal fans badly wanted this signing to happen. The link started just after Piette played for the national team in Montreal in early June and intensified as the summer grew as long as the Impact playoff hopes. Let’s take a step back for a moment. What I’m about to write in no way should be interpreted as me wishing Piette failure. Nor, is it meant to suggest that I don’t think Piette has talent. I, like many, am impressed with the player’s improvement over the last year or so and think a move to MLS is very good for his career. However, I do have concerns. As suggested off the top, Piette was not playing at MLS level before the move. The third tier of Spanish soccer is, despite the screaming of MLS haters, not at the same level of the Montreal Impact. Thus, why I’m happy for Piette. He’s making a move up. Awesome for him and awesome for the Canadian national team. But…this is not a normal signing in that if Piette wasn’t a Montreal native it would have either flown under the radar or actually been criticised. If I was being cynical, I’d suggest that the Impact are caving to fan pressure to sign the local kid to distract from what is turning out to be a terrible season. Kind of like when TFC signed Julian de Guzman all those years ago. Now, JDG was playing at a higher level than MLS at the time, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but the element of local kid comes home to play for struggling team is the same. As is the fact that Piette isn’t a goal scorer. Many, many Impact fans are sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtleness of a destroyer’s game – comparing him to Donadel, as the Impact have, will help that. But, fans will always fan and some are going to want offensive production from a signing that got as much attention as Piette did. It’s worth a reminder that Piette is just 22.  He’s improved, but he’s still going to need to earn his time at MLS. Hopefully, the Impact made this signing with his best interests in mind and they have a plan to bring him up to speed. Even more hopefully, he is already ready to make an immediate (sorry) impact for the Impact.          
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    • Stephen Appiah was 14 years and 322 days old when he made his senior debut for Ghana. He is the 8th youngest player to play a full international and the youngest to have played for a country that has qualified for a senior World Cup. Although Appiah was never really a global superstar, his was a career that nearly any player would have been proud of. He had 67 senior caps for Ghana, scoring 14 goals. He won a FIFA u17 World Cup, was an Olympian and played in several AFCON tournaments. On the club side, he managed to find the field for one of the biggest clubs in the world, Juventus, where he made 10 Champions League appearances. I can’t say that I remember what kind of hype Appiah had back on Nov 11, 1995 when he made his debut, but I suspect there was a lot of excitement about him. You don’t play a kid who isn’t even 15 yet unless you think he has immense talent and potential. However, I know this: If that debut had taken place even 10 years later we all would remember the hype. In November ’95 only geeks and the truly obsessive were using the Internet beyond checking their email and patiently waiting three hours for the pixels to reveal what that photo was going to show. In 2005, everyone was on the Internet and we had started to move into the hype first, substance last world that we currently live in. I do remember talking about the soccer poster boy for lost potential, Freddy Adu, in 2005. Let’s not pile on Freddy’s soccer grave here, but we can all agree that the hype of the mid 2000s never really panned out for him. In fact, Adu’s biggest contribution to modern North American soccer has been to become a lesson to point to when hyping up young players. “Pump the breaks, we don’t want to see ____ become another Freddy Adu,” is something you consistently hear whenever a young player breaks through. It’s something we’ve heard in relation to the 2017 Gold Cup Golden Boot and Young Player of the tournament winner, Alphonso Davies. At just 16, he continues to be protected at every turn by both the Whitecaps and the CSA. The shadow of Adu looms large, despite the fact that Adu wasn’t a product of this country, nor of the MLS academy era. There’s some good in that. You do want to manage a young player to a certain extent. At the Gold Cup, Davies’ play did fade as the tournament wore on. The quarterfinal was probably his least effective game. But, here’s the thing. For every Adu there’s an Appiah. There is no direct correlation between debuting young and failing. There’s not even a direct connection between hype and failing. So, we need to treat Davies like his own man (boy?) and let his story tell itself. As fans, we can also allow ourselves to be excited by not just Davies but by all the young players that are stepping up for Canada on both the men’s and women’s teams. Jordyn Huitema, Raheem Edwards, Deanna Rose and Davies are the future and the future, for once, looks pretty good. Be excited. Celebrate their accomplishments thus far and dream of a future with even more glory. Davies story isn’t just one that’s being noticed in Canada. You don’t win a Golden Boot at a Confederation Championship event without ears perking up around the football world. When he becomes eligible to be transferred the names that are going to be attached to him are going to make long-term Canadian fans dizzy. That’s in the near future. But, in the meantime Vancouver and Canadian fans should enjoy the remaining time we have with this kid and stop worrying about whether we’re putting too much pressure on him. Talent finds its way. In short, pump the breaks less and spread the wings more.   
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    • Back in the glory days of the 24thMinute.com (no one blogs anymore. It’s kind of sad, he says ironically) I used to publish a monthly projection of the MLS standings that was designed to take into consideration the massive swing in fortune between teams playing at home and on the road. Many TFC fans got irrationally angry at such a suggestion because, at the time, they had seen no evidence of teams excelling at home. Man, weren’t those early days fun! However, the simply projections proved to be remarkably accurate throughout the years that I published them. After a Twitter exchange with Kurt Larson and Doug Roberson of AJC.com earlier this week I was compelled to revisit my old tracking system. The impetus to the discussion and my curiosity was the fact that Atlanta has an absurd six game home stand in September.  As with TFC’s absurd road trips to start 2015 and 2016 the reason for the long stretch at home is stadium related. The Falcons are building the latest shrine to the NFL (No, Tom Brady has not been invited to the grand opening) and Atlanta United is sharing in the spoils. By all accounts it’s going to be one hell of a stadium. It must be because it’s not exactly one of those Soccer Specific Stadiums Don Garber talks about when it fits his agenda. At any rate, Larson felt that this long home stand, combined with a current solid run of form, meant that Atlanta was in the Supporters Shield race. Roberson, who covers the team for AJC.com, agreed, with the caveat that Atlanta was a difficult team to project in 2017. I, the contrarian I tend to be, disagreed and I threw a whole bunch of those fancy stats at them to back up my opinion. Specifically they have the worst PDO in MLS, were 12th in xGoals, 19th in xGoals against and 12th in TSR. For those who read the above paragraph as Greek – the PDO number means they are, statistically speaking, the luckiest team in the league, score way more goals than their possession and shot placement would suggest, let in fewer goals than the same against them would suggest and they typically give up more shots than they get themselves (which has proven to be a very effective measure of success in global football, albeit less so in MLS). Now, part of the reason Atlanta’s numbers are lower might be because they’ve played more road games than home games (12 to 8), but it’s still dangerous to ignore them completely. There’s little to no guarantee that a home heavy schedule will automatically mean that you can just automatically say 6 x 3 = 18 GO! Just ask 2015 TFC about that… But, anyway. I decided to break it down into the simplest projection I could think of to try and factor in the home schedule of Atlanta’s to see how much of a penitential threat the upstarts are to TFC’s Shield run. Before I present the table please remember that I fully understand that a projection based on past performance in no way guarantees that the same form will continue. It simply means that IF teams continue to play the way that they have this season thus far we can reasonably project that they will finish with X amount of points. This isn’t a complicated formula (H pts / H GP x 17) + (R pts / R GP x17) = Projected final points. Here are the results:   East 1.       Toronto FC 66 2.       Chicago 62 3.       NYCFC 59 4.       Atlanta 59 5.       NYRB 54 6.       Columbus 49 7.       Orlando 45 8.       Montreal 44 9.       Philly 39 10.   New England 39 11.   DCU 30 West 1.       Dallas 61 2.       SKC 54 3.       Houston 53 4.       Seattle 50 5.       Vancouver 48 6.       Portland 46 7.       San Jose 43 8.       RSL 38 9.       Galaxy 37 10.   Colorado 31 11.   Minnesota 27 Plan. The. Parade. Ok, maybe not, but the projection backs up the eyeball test that TFC remains the clear favourite to capture the Shield and it also suggests, as most eyeball tests have also suggested, that Dallas is the class of the West. Another thing that it suggests is that if you’re under the red line in July, it’s going to be a fight to pull above it by October. It’s happened, but far, far less likely than the hype-masters at league headquarters would have you believe. The standings at the 2/3 point are usually pretty close to how things will shake out at the end. In terms of Atlanta, it does show a very healthy return on points, but ultimately they are probably too far back already in MLS, where 6 points might as well be 20. Of course it all resets to 0 once the final 12 are decided. As for TFC…maybe don’t plan the parade, but start sketching out the Shield winning tifo design. Quietly. You wouldn’t want to jinx it, after all.     
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