Jump to content
  • Articles

    Manage articles

    Guest

    Shuffle up and deal, Joey

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    As much as televised poker fascinated me for about five minutes, I now find it dull, plodding and pointless. To me, if you’re not a gambler or some kind of psychological sadist, poker just isn’t all that interesting as a game.
    Before I lose my audience, let me link this to someone who’s played a good poker hand badly, and must now urgently consider going all-in:
    Joey Saputo.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The Montreal Impact owner pancaked out of the 2011 MLS expansion race, then had to watch his USL-1 counterparts in Vancouver and Portland play their cards masterfully, winning a whopping $5-million cut in the $40-million expansion fee Saputo didn’t want to pay.
    They’re in, and Montreal is out. And if Montreal doesn’t seriously reconsider its strategy, the Impact will be staying out indefinitely – perhaps forever.
    So let’s fire up our spycam, and see what cards "Riverboat Slim" Saputo is holding.
    It’s not all aces, soccer fans. Saputo Stadium is a solid Queen. Could be a King, but MLS has proven it isn’t hard-and-fast on its soccer specific stadium requirement – Seattle, Vancouver – so that downgrades a pretty little park that still needs major expansion to qualify for MLS.
    Impact attendance is worth a Queen as well, I think. About double what Vancouver draws, but that’s partly down to the petiteness of the Whitecaps’ home park at Swangard. The Impact have a reputation for house-papering, as well – but there’s no doubt they really did get 55,000 folks out to their CONCACAF CC QF with Santos Laguna.
    When I was in Montreal for the Canada-Honduras game, I kept hearing that the city’s soccer fans live in the west island, and the stadium’s in the east island, and it isn’t easy to get there, so they don’t go. This despite the fact Stade Saputo was built flush to a Metro line, and they’ve been building Metro stations all over the west island for the better part of 35 years. (And, as I’ve mentioned, there were Honduras fans there that night who had driven up from Phoenix , Arizona .)
    Of course, it’s been ringingly proven in both Toronto and Seattle that low USL attendance numbers do not, in any way, predict season ticket sales in MLS.
    As small north American soccer clubs go, I’d rate the Impact at King. They went ahead and build their own park, without waiting for an MLS franchise. They packed/papered it with fans, won the Voyaguers Cup and had a great run in CONCACAF.
    The city’s worth a King, and the transportation links are Queen, minimum.
    So, with a full house of Kings and Queens , Joey Saputo tried to bluff the dealer. Saputo told MLS commissioner Don Garber he’d pay $40-million, but in Canadian dollars. The money was at par at the time, but the beaver buck quickly lost 20 per cent of its poutine-buying power when the global economy was moved from the business to the fiction section.
    Also, Saputo wanted to use a solid whack of that money to refurbish the stadium.
    The dealer (Garber) not only rejected the bet, he reached across the table and folded Joey’s hand. Meanwhile, Vancouver and Portland stayed patiently in the game. When Miami folded and it was clear St. Louis was poor and Ottawa wouldn’t be ready in time, the Whitecaps and Timbers had Garber exactly where they wanted him. The admission price was quietly dropped to $35-million.
    Speaking on “It’s Called Football” this past Saturday, Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi clearly said that if the price hadn’t come down, MLS would have lost two wonderful markets.
    And that, dear children, is how you play poker.
    Riverboat Slim has some decisions to make. Does he re-enter the game, knowing he holds far fewer chips than Eugene “The Biovail Hustler” Melnyk up in Ottawa ? Does he start rounding up new backers to raise his bid to a competitive level? Does he walk away, staying in USL-1 despite the imminent loss of Vancouver from his league, and the extreme difficulty his side faces ever winning the Voyageurs Cup again – let alone advancing to the CONCACAF knock-out stages?
    He doesn’t have long to decide.
    Garber is talking about expanding again for 2012. It’s likely a bluff – a way of telling anyone who’s still interested that they need to get seriously ready right now. But anyone who’s been watching this game unfold would likely pick Garber as a better bluffer than Saputo, even though the MLS commish was ultimately stared down by the two best card-players at the table.
    Montreal still has a good hand. What it needs now is a good card-player.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Off to beat the Wizards

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Right off the top, things were so different.
    Toronto FC urgently wanted the ball last night – and served notice early that this is a very different team from the one that abjectly surrendered from last year’s Major League Soccer playoff hunt during four dry, grinding months of mid-season uselessness.
    They were fast; they were daring; they hunted with their heads up all night, downing your basic assortment of Kansas City Wizards 3-2 to open the new campaign with a resounding road win.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    This new team runs. They work the ball from player to player, and last night Dwayne DeRosario led by example, creating chance after chance while Toronto gobbled up the lion’s share of possession time.
    In an interesting move, coach John Carver chose to start rookie Sam Cronin in the midfield, pushing DeRo up into a forward pairing with striker Chad Barrett. That left young Argentine Pablo Vitti on the bench, but don’t expect him to stay there long, because Barrett had a couple of dreadful misses.
    Miss one was a sloppy volley over the bar on the run. Miss two, I’ve never seen before in soccer. Barrett was sprung down the left by Dero, ran deep and unmarked into the Wizard box, found no one to pass to, saw the goalie ten feet in front of him – and passed the ball to the goalie! A touch pass, at that! A soft, custom-made roller you, me or an advertising sign couldn’t have misplayed. As opposed to, say, burning one at the near corner on the simple theory that the net is 24 feet wide, and the goalie isn’t.
    Happily, it was TFC’s only huge, gaping howler of the night.
    DeRo soon sprung captain Jim Brennan for a screamer goal off the KC crossbar. Amado Guevara – showing no ill effects from having to share the midfield spotlight – caught fire and buried two emphatic goals, one on his own out of nothing, the other off a fat, sassy rebound.
    The other eye-catching roster move was Carver’s choice of starting goalie. Young Stefan Frei got the call over veteran Greg Sutton, who had reportedly pranged a finger in practice. Frei looked steady. The two goals that beat him were both top-corner scream volleys from KC’s Davy Arnaud. No mortal man could have been reasonably expected to make either save.
    And then there was – The Thump!
    I remember watching defender Adrian Serioux practicing with the Canadian national team at BMO Field last summer. He doesn’t just clear the ball, he kills it. Serioux headers were smashing into the south grandstand seats with impressive force.
    Serioux tells the ball what to do, and the ball gets the blue heck out of there. This as opposed to departed defender Tyrone Marshall’s more polite approach, asking the uncooperative sphere if please it would mind relocating to the midfield?
    Challenge to the fans – any time Serioux kills a ball, I want to hear the entire stadium scream “Thump!”
    Yeah, it got tense at the end. KC cut the lead to 3-2, and DeRo hoofed a penalty into the railyards. But TFC maintained control – in all parts of the field – weathered a mild storm, and bagged the points.
    Next week in Columbus, we’ll see if these revved-up Reds can do the deal against the defending champs, a deep, deep squad who can – and do – play some serious defence. This should be Vitti’s MLS debut, and I hope to see him drive Columbus batty, and light a searing fire under one Chad Barrett.
    Comments, fans! What did you see? What did you love?
    Onward!

    Guest

    Paint it Red!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Toronto FC kicks off its all-out, head-on campaign to earn an MLS playoff spot tonight in a baseball park in Kansas City, Kansas.
    On the railyard/cattleyard side of the Mississippi River, our Reborn Redcoats face a tough initial challenge, in a venue where they utterly embarrassed themselves last fall.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    That soggy 0-2 loss to a half-speed coven of KC Wizards was viewed, by many, as the swamp-slurping low-water mark of Toronto’s lost 2008 campaign. For that reason alone, there couldn’t be a better place for Dwayne DeRosario’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to play their first real gig.
    TFC ’09 are an impressively rebuilt side. DeRo is the best and highest-profile Canadian soccer star ever to suit up for Canada’s only (check that – first!) MLS outfit. He drives what should be one of the top midfields in the loop, with Amado Guevara, Carl Robinson, Rohan Ricketts and good-looking rookie Sam Cronin. That’s a group that should give lots of service to Chad Barrett, Pablo Vitti, Danny Dichio and Fuad Ibrahim in the strike force.
    Adrian Serioux’s arrival in the back line will either stabilize or aggravate a huge problem back there. I’m very optimistic, because I love the way the huge, physical Canuck can take charge. Also, we’re in a league where leaky defence might not kill you, as the significant majority of MLS sides are desperately dying for help at centre back.
    The best thing about today, though, is it’s the point where speculation begins to give way to results.
    TFC ’09 could, as all concerned up here hope, romp into the MLS playoffs. But in a packed East Division, they could also miss out. In a funny way, a fifth-place finish might actually be a gift. With the East hugely stronger than the West, finishing fifth on the Atlantic side could easily get you a softer playoff schedule as a wild-card crossover team.
    A hugely front-loaded schedule will see the Torontos play nine times in front of their frenzied, faithful fans in April and May – including hotly anticipated Voyaguers Cup tiffs against Vancouver and Montreal. This, to me, is a fine recipe for a hot, soaring start. As loyal as Redcoat Nation has always been, there is zero support amongst the singing, stomping scarf wavers for another lengthy spring and summer of not getting it done.
    The most fascinating subplot may be the Toronto bench. They’re young. In Ibrahim’s case (just 17!), incredibly so. It’s by far the least-experienced set up backups in the league – and they’re all going to get a chance to play. Pretty much the only veteran on the sidelines will be whichever defender (Kevin Harmse or Marco Velez) doesn’t start. Goalie Greg Sutton will get some pine time as well, as rookie Stefan Frei continues to impress.
    This is a league where you have to have a couple of glaring weak spots. Central defence, as noted, might not hurt because almost everyone’s hurting there. The bench will, eventually, produce some solid pros. But not all of them – and probably not this year. Overall, it’s a very cunning play by GM Mo Johnston to build depth and hide weakness. We’ll know soon whether any of this will work.
    So it’s time – between now and late tonight – to stop guessing, quit analyzing, take a deep breath, sing, cheer and hope. It’s opening day, and everything is still possible.
    We’ll know a whole lot more – and have SO much to talk about – by midnight.
    Go amaze us, lads!
    Onward!

    Guest

    The curse of green and blue

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    What a wonderful performance from the Seattle Sounders last night!
    Cheered on by 33,000 scarf-waving pale green maniacs, the world’s only division-one soccer team that plays its home games on an isthmus (a thin connecting strip of land with bodies of water on both sides) ripped and roared to an ecstatic 3-0 first-game-ever triumph over a flat and lukewarm New York Energy Drink.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    In doing so, they pretty much proved the Designated Player is a needless luxury in MLS, which is a pity since they’ve already splashed out a sixth of their salary cap on an injured Freddie Ljungberg. Yeah, I’m sure the guy will have his moments, but there was nothing wrong with Seattle’s supposedly undermanned attack last night.
    The Jersey Juicers were horrible, and certainly that helped. But there was such heart, joy and commitment in the way the Sounders played. Their third goal, an unassisted midfield steal, scoot and score from Colombian ace Fredy Montero, perfectly summed up the difference between the two sides on the night. Seattle, simply put, were ready and willing to do whatever it took. New York – defending defeated MLS finalists – were not.
    But these slick, soaring Sounders will still have to overcome a lot in their first season back in the top flight. The roster is thin, and Ljungberg – even healthy – may struggle to play in a league where world-class distributors aren’t putting the ball right on his boots as he bursts through to net.
    And they also have to overcome – their uniforms.
    Hey, I like the look! Light green, medium-dark blue – in a league where almost every team wears all white all or part of the time, these candy-coloured nor’westers look great. But …
    In the long and varied history of North American pro sports, no team wearing green and blue (or blue and green) has ever won a title.
    In the National Hockey League, it’s been attempted three times:
    - The Oakland Seals were, by far, the least successful of the six 1967 expansion teams. For their first three seasons, they wore green and blue jerseys, with a logo of a seal that looked more like a fish, holding a hockey stick and leaping through an “O” for Oakland (or a “C” for California, because they could never decide what the team should actually be called). They are one of the most obscure and pointless teams ever, and their 1968 jersey hangs on my living room wall.
    - The Vancouver Canucks were born in blue and green, and were terrible for most of their first decade. The very year they changed their colours to black, orange and yellow, they went straight to the Stanley Cup finals. They made a full-time return to blue and green this season.
    - The Hartford Whalers wore Green and yellow in the old WHA, but switched that yellow to blue when they joined the NHL in 1978. They fluttered and sputtered for years, before finally winning the Stanley Cup – as the red, white, black and gray Carolina Hurricanes.
    National Basketball Association:
    - The Dallas Mavericks were the worst team ever when they joined the NBA as a green and blue expansion team. They’re damn decent now – in blue and black.
    - The Minnesota Timberwolves have never been good news, unless you’re playing them and need a win. Lately, their colours are Black, teal and who knows? They’ve still never won anything.
    National Football League:
    - On the rare occasions I care about the NFL, I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan. The blue and green looked gorgeous, I always thought, but they didn’t get to the Super Bowl until they were wearing all gray.
    Major League Baseball:
    - Has never had a team wearing both green and blue.
    North American Soccer League:
    - The old Seattle Sounders made it to a couple of Soccer Bowls, but never won. The California Surf did less than nothing in four long-forgotten seasons.
    Teal (an awkward combine of green and blue – kind of turquoise with teeth) started popping up in pro sports in the late 80s, and was all the rage for a long and ugly time. Baseball’s Florida Marlins are the only teal team to reach the top, but it was just a trim colour.
    The only exceptions to the rule I’ve ever been able to find are both Jr. A teams:
    - The Swift Current Broncos of the WHL hoisted a Memorial Cup in their blue-and-green era. They also had to endure a fatal bus crash and a pedophile coach.
    - The Peterborough Lakers Jr. A lacrosse team won the Minto Cup in 2006. Nothing bad happened to them … before, during or since.
    It’s one of the most enduring, longest-lasting uniform stories out there. Green and blue uniforms win the hearts of fans like me, who cheer loudly for obscure and largely pointless teams. But forget about winning titles.
    The only story that tops it is the direct correlation between wearing orange as a new NHL franchise, and winning the Stanley Cup. That one’s amazing – but will have to wait for another day.
    Well done, Sounders!
    Onward!

    Guest

    W-H-I-T-E-C-A-P-S

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    All right, it has now been made very clear to me I completely missed the fact the name “Whitecaps” was completely excluded from Vancouver’s gala welcome-to-MLS press conference yesterday.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Seems old NASL nicknames aren’t quite so automatically welcome as tonight’s gala kick-off of the new Seattle Sounders might suggest.
    A few ways I could go with this. Here’s name-the-team ballot #1:
    - Whitecaps
    - Whitecaps
    - Whitecaps
    - Whitecaps
    - Whitecaps
    Here’s name-the-team ballot #2 – local references:
    - Gastown Glory
    - Stanley Park United
    - Burrard Albion
    - Hey, Look At The Mountains! City
    - Whitecaps
    Of course, back in the old Canadian Soccer League days, Vancouver’s dynasty team was called the 86ers. That’s an outdated reference to Expo 86 – but has the delicious double-meaning that “86ing” something is military slang for utterly destroying it. Either way, it’s a non-starter now.
    A whitecap is a wave, of course. Howzabout an aquatic ballot?
    - Drizzle
    - Drench
    - Downpour
    - Drain
    - Whitecaps
    Maybe MLS would be more comfortable with something more MLSish?
    - Real Vancouver
    - Vancouver Dynamo
    - FC Vancouver FC
    - Real FC Vancouver FC Dynamo
    - Whitecaps
    Animals! Kids love animals!
    - Pigeons
    - Seagulls
    - Manta Rays
    - Mangy Strays
    - Whitecaps
    (I think you know where I’m leaning by now.)
    Soccer – hugely – is about tradition. Anytime a team goes bust in Europe, lawyers descend, assets are seized, creditors get screwed – and the team re-emerges a week later with the same colours and essentially the same name. Any slight legal modifications to the moniker are quickly forgotten, and Fiorentina sails on.
    The Vancouver Whitecaps were NASL champions in 1979, and are USL-1 title-holders now. Yeah, the 86ers won a stunning number of CSL cups, but then re-adopted Whitecaps as soon as that odd little league expired.
    Soccer in Vancouver – male and female – is Whitecaps soccer. I’m disappointed that MLS has not chosen to automatically acknowledge this. I’m quietly confident we fans will be more than merely able to set things straight, whenever the actual name-the-team contest is unfurled.
    It would be such a giggle to see MLS commish Don Garber have to step up to a podium, and announce “One vote for Sasquatch City, eight-million votes for Whitecaps.”
    Make it so.
    Onward!

    Guest

    The way we were

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Not even seven years ago, in July of 2002, Brazil defeated Germany for the World Cup, and big ugly demolition machines started knocking down Varsity Stadium in Toronto.

    The next day, I wrote that Canadian pro soccer was at its all-time low-water mark. There were four teams then – Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, Toronto Lynx and Calgary Storm – all playing in the A-League, as the second-tier USL-1 was then known.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The Canadian United Soccer League proposal had just asphyxiated itself, the Calgary Storm soon dissipated and blew away, and there was only one grass-turf stadium in the entire nation that could hold 15,000 people – Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

    There was no BMO Field, no Toronto FC, not even a hope of MLS coming north to Canada.

    In sadness and desperation, I penned a little personal ad and ran it in my Sportsnet.ca soccer column:

    ---

    Wanted: Owner.
    You are a wealthy, charismatic, ambitious soccer fan. You are prepared to bankroll the construction of a 25,000 seat stadium, buy out a struggling MLS team and move it north of the border. They won't make it easy for you, so you'll have to be prepared to fight. On the field, you are not content with mediocre performance. You are committed, not just to winning one MLS championship, but three, preferably in a row. You want a team filled with bright young prospects, guided by international stars and at least three key members of Canada's national team. You are going to grow the game, in both Canada and the United States, by creating such a huge buzz of excitement that Blizzard tickets become the coolest darn ducats any time, anywhere, ever.
    (Serious inquiries only. No freaks.)
    ---

    Yeah. Blizzard. I was calling a return to the NASL days. I was roundly mocked, and generally called disloyal to Canada.

    Today, the Vancouver Whitecaps – an old NASL name! – were welcomed with open arms as the 17th member of Major League Soccer. They join two-year-old Toronto FC, who are not called Blizzard, but are creating new continental dreams for fans far more fevered, frenzied and fanatical than the old Hoggtown NASLers ever knew.

    The journey from 2002 to today began in Edmonton, with 50,000-plus fans packing in to see Canada almost beat the United States in the women’s Under-19 World Cup final of 2002. That led directly to FIFA bankrolling the BMO Field blueprints, and awarding the 2007 World Youth Cup to Canada.

    All that opened the door for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to answer my want ad, and become owners of that all-but-otherwise-impossible first Canadian MLS team.

    It will be two more full years before Vancouver plays its first top-flight match. I’d love to see them host TFC that day, although there may be more home sentiment for a clash with the Seattle Sounders – on old NASL name! – or the still-rumoured Portland Timbers – another old NASL name!

    Regardless, the amount of terrain covered since that dark night outside Varsity Stadium in 2002 defies belief. If I’d told myself that night what was going to happen the rest of this decade, even I would have thought I was crazy.

    Vancouver’s admission cements MLS as a trans-border league – the very top flight of North American pro soccer … north of the Rio Grande.

    Crucially, this will force MLS to seriously reconsider the harsh limits it places on teams developing their own talent. Vancouver has a thriving academy system. Toronto’s is well on the way. And with two MLS teams flying the Maple Leaf, the need for competent young Canadian soccer players just became critical.

    Ottawa could be next – as soon as 2012. Montreal bluffed its way out of the expansion race, but would still make a lovely landing place if a struggling MLS franchise ever needed a new home.

    The new MLS season kicks off tomorrow night in Seattle, and Toronto FC is expected to be a serious player in the 2009 playoff hunt. That should jack the excitement up nicely, and there will be a lot to prove when the USL-1 champion Whitecaps wander into BMO Field for a crucial Voyageurs Cup match on May 6.

    Even though it has seemed inevitable lately, it’s still hard to take the Vancouver announcement in. We are so very, very far from where we were. The future lies before us, and there are two important feats that must still be equaled:

    - Toronto Metros-Croatia’s NASL championship of 1976.

    - The Vancouver Whitecaps’ NASL championship of 1979.

    Any bets on who’ll get there first?

    Onward!

    Guest

    Defensive defensiveness

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    It was a joke, all right? It was a joke!!
    One little wisecrack about how maybe a Toronto FC central defensive pairing of Adrian Serioux and Kevin Harmse would produce an over/under number of six red-card expulsions in the coming MLS season, and … bang!
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    - Serioux gets lobbed late in the first half of the Carolina Cup opener against Charleston.
    - Harmse gets the rest of the day off just 20 minutes into the Carolina Cup final against Seagull City SC.
    Both gentlemen put their team in a dreadful hole. Interestingly, TFC played very well short-handed, beating Charleston and hanging in there gamely and grimly versus Salt Lake.
    I sincerely hope everyone got it out of their system. Rampaging red-carded Redcoats aren’t going to help much in the all-out playoff push that commences this Saturday night in Kansas City.
    The much-maligned Marco Velez was forced into action in the final, and looked adequate. But there’s a short limit on the number of times most TFC fans want to be left counting on him.
    In a funny way, though, Toronto’s dodgy defence may not end up hurting them that much after all. The biggest thing learned from last weekend’s sprawling “It’s Called Football” pre-season set-up show was that defensive weakness stalks MLS like pigeons on a popcorn spill.
    Maybe 11 teams out of 15 are saying they urgently need a central defender. And if almost everyone is getting hurt the same way, maybe it mostly cancels out. Maybe a gaping, groveling last line of D doesn’t drag you to doomsday if the other guys have the exact same shortfall, and DeRo and company are burning them for three goals a game.
    I’m getting the ringing sense that goals are going to be up sharply across MLS this season. But let’s all hope Serioux and Harmse got it out of their systems in Carolina, and are up for a full 90-minute workout against the Wizards.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Midnight on the Mitchell watch

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    All Sunday evening, reliable rumours walked the night that Dale Mitchell is being nudged out of his job as head coach of the Canadian men’s national soccer squad. The central issue was not whether it was happening, but whether anyone from the Canadian Soccer Association would go on the record to confirm it.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] As of this morning, so far as I know, nobody has. Private e-mails from CSA media reps blandly said Mitchell is “our coach,” and will remain so at least through this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
    Who’s coach? Not the fans’, and certainly not the players’. In the ongoing stage drama that is Canada’s global soccer frustration, Mitchell has long-since lost the actors, and the audience.
    So I’m going to step away from whether these dismissal rumours are true, and focus on whether they should be.
    They should.
    Dale Mitchell was a superb player for Canada’s national team. A gritty, gifted and determined striker, he was a key member of the 1986 national squad – the only time Canada has ever qualified for the FIFA World Cup. There will be no question – from this writer – of Mitchell’s loyalty and commitment to the dream, or the program.
    Through no real fault of his own, Mitchell remains a lasting, lingering symptom of the bureaucratic dysfunction that has paralyzed the CSA in recent years. Allow me, please, to run through the greatest hits – the dance card of disaster that put us where we are: on the outside, looking … out.
    ---
    1) On his arrival as incoming CSA president in 2006, Colin Linford wants change. He rolls into Metcalfe Street seeking to make two key appointments: Brazil’s Rene Simoes as new Canadian coach, and Basketball Canada bureaucratic el-supremo Fred Nykamp as CSA CEO.
    2) The multi-headed monster that is the CSA board feels Simoes is too expensive – and perhaps too eccentric.
    3) Said multi-headed board initially approves Nykamp, then pulls the plug.
    4) Dale Mitchell, winning great acclaim as Canada’s U-20 coach, is promoted to the national team, effective as soon as his U-20s are done hosting the world in the 2007 FIFA World Youth Cup.
    5) Linford resigns in fury.
    6) Nykamp sues, and wins. Large unspecified amount of small CSA budget evaporates.
    7) Mitchell’s U-20s file one of the worst performances in the history of the tournament.
    8) Mitchell gets his promotion anyway.
    9) Simoes coaches Jamaica to dreadfully painful 1-1 draw with Mitchell’s Canada in the opening match of World Cup qualifying. (To be fair, he is subsequently dismissed after Jamaica consistently disappoints.)
    10) Canada is rudely excused from the global party, claiming just 2 of a possible 18 points. Key players – Jim Brennan, Greg Sutton, Julian DeGuzman – serve up harsh public criticism of Mitchell before the games are even done.
    11) The CSA, perhaps hampered by Mitchell’s contract – and both poorer and gun-shy after the Nykamp fiasco – publicly back their coach, saying there will be no change at the top.
    12) Informed, trustworthy sources light up the evening of March 15, 2009, saying Mitchell is out.
    13) Monday morning dawns, and still we wait.
    ---
    To be fair to the CSA – and yes, that is occasionally possible – things appear to have stabilized since Peter Montopoli was named their new general secretary. The recent hiring of acclaimed Italian coach Carolina Morace to run the women’s national team seems – sensible. Generous, even.
    But as long as Mitchell uncomfortably holds a prominent role that clearly exceeds his ability, the long dark shadow of the bungled Linford era still lies between this nation and a place in any senior men’s World Cup ever.
    This “reassignment” is crucial, and long, long overdue. The players need a clear signal that they count, and that – cash-strapped or not – the CSA is working to put them on a better, less-obstructed path.
    It’s unlikely, given how little is left of the budget, that a name international coach will get the gig. In the short-to-medium term, look for Canada to promote from within. There’s a lot of support for technical director Stephen Hart, for whom the lads performed magnificently in the 2007 Gold Cup.
    This could also be a promotion possibility for someone like Nick Dasovic, who certainly lacks experience, but might just be the perfect combination of passion, fire, ambition and one-of-the-boys to at least get Canada playing with passion in the Gold Cup this summer.
    Either of these moves could blow up, backfire, or get otherwise wrecked by reality. It could certainly be – as many qualified experts have already concluded – that the biggest reason Canada didn’t advance in the World Cup hunt was that the players just weren’t good enough.
    (I’d love to ask Mitchell that one. We’ve been trying to land him for an “It’s Called Football” interview. I’ll keep you posted.)
    For the greatest good of all concerned – players, a rebuilding CSA, Mitchell himself and anyone who loves the team – it is well past time for the Dale Mitchell experiment to be written off. The man is a loyal soldier who did the best he could, but the burden of command is too great, and should now be passed to someone else.
    We’ll see what the rest of this day brings. Kudos to my friend and colleague Duane Rollins at The 24th Minute for doing everything possible to land the truth. He, too, is a great servant of the game.
    … And I stand by his story.
    Onward!

    Guest
    FIFA president Sepp Blatter got too close to yet another seductive open microphone the other day, and said he wants Major League Soccer to quickly adopt a traditional August-to-May soccer season.
    I don’t want to waste a “Blatter Blats” on this one, because there are a lot of prominent people out there who feel the same way. So let’s talk geo-meteorology instead.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Toyota Park, Chicago, on a sunny January 16. It’s a cold, clear -12, and the prevailing wind off Lake Michigan is making it feel like -20. The Chicago Fire (don’cha jus’ love ironic nicknames?) are home in a crucial MLS East tussle with Kansas City.
    It’s a regional rivalry (well, sort of), and KC’s visiting fans (53 of them in a drafty bus and a VW minivan – let’s give them a warm, Chicago welcome, Fire fans!) have swelled today’s actual game-day attendance to … 308?
    And don’t forget to get your c-o-l-d beer!
    The world of soccer, dear souls, really doesn’t get it about snow.
    Soccer was born in England, which sits under a prevailing jet stream of warmer air, which reliably sees to it that Ol’ Blighty – while soaked with teeming rains – never gets too cold, or hot, for soccer.
    Knock-on effects from this same jet stream see to it that northern France and Germany really don’t suffer much in the ice and snow department. Oh, the mountains get clobbered, but once you’re clear of the Alps, deep and prevailing winter is … a rarity.
    Further east, in Poland and the endless aching arch of Mother Russia, winter is deeply entrenched, and seemingly endless. Soccer does well, regardless. But as we shall soon see, such places are the exception.
    Down in Spain and Italy, you’re so far south that snow just isn’t an option. Again, the great mountainous seam of the Italian boot goes white quite regularly. But most Italian soccer balls get hoofed closer to the warming seas.
    South America, you say? The vast majority of it – Brazil included – is, at worst, sub-tropical. Great swathes of Argentina delve deep to the south, but are warmed by the Atlantic, and give up the quest far clear of the polar Antarctic wastes.
    The great soccer centres of Asia tend to be Japan and Korea, where for certain it can bluster, but massive country-enveloping blizzards are significantly rare. And Africa? I spent a year in Africa as a small child. Rain? Oh, my mercy, did it rain! Snow? Most folks down that way don’t even know what it is.
    Now let’s talk Canada, and the northern United States.
    Sports fans of my generation – pre-domed stadiums, for the most part – grew up with the NFC Central Division. Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit and the Green Bay Packers. Much past November, these were ice-bowls. The games were fascinating, and not for their intricate, high-level technical precision. This was trench warfare on the Russian steppes, and it made for incredible television.
    And now, Sepp wants to play soccer in the Midwest in February. Or – in Canada?
    Because Canada and the U.S. are late arrivals to the global soccer party, the FIFA-verse can, perhaps, be forgiven for not realizing that a cold December rain in a place like Newcastle, England, translates into a foot or more of snow in Foxboro, New England.
    Toronto FC fans are true and fanatic in their devotion, but how many February 5 home dates with Salt Lake and Chivas would it take to ice that joy significantly?
    Certainly, joining the rest of the soccer world’s schedule would simplify things like player transfers. But I’ll take some bureaucratic obstacles, thanks, if it means I can watch TFC hit the season’s dog days in August rather than in the teeth of a Great Lakes February.
    To make the point, I invite Sepp Blatter to move the World Club championship tournament to Chicago. Manchester United vs. Boca Juniors, with a significant trophy at stake, at Soldier Field in February.
    This wouldn’t be a permanent move. Just one year ought to get it done.
    Let the best of the best see what winter in the rustbelt does to the beautiful game of soccer. I’m thinking the entire subject of schedule synchronization would quietly drift away forever, without another word being said.
    And soccer in the summer will go on – forever.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Meanwhile, back in Bytown

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Ottawa’s Major League Soccer ambitions got a significant boost yesterday.
    But the chances of the new team playing home games on grass fell into the Ottawa River, and are riding the long flush out to sea.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Just to catch up, our nation’s capital is considering two very different stadium proposals. On the one hand, you have Ottawa 67’s owner Jeff Hunt, who has been granted a CFL franchise, conditional on finding a place to play. (Frank Clair Stadium has been partially demolished, and the parts that still stand need a huge lot of work.) On the other side stands Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk, who has been assured by MLS commissioner Don Garber he will get a team if he builds his lovely proposed soccer-specific park.
    The main issue – aside from whether building ANY stadium makes sense for public governments in this deeply declining economy – is that the two plans have been incompatible.
    Until, perhaps, yesterday.
    Melnyk told city councilors what they most needed to hear – that his park could, in fact, accommodate the CFL as a tenant.
    I’ve always felt this tussle was going to go to the first owner who could find a way to build for the other’s sport. If Melnyk is ready to sic architects on his cozy park’s presently proposed sidelines to make room for CFL end zones, we may have ourselves a winner, kids.
    But there will be one not-insignificant cost for soccer fans.
    As I’ve noted before, it is certainly possible to play CFL football on grass. What’s next-to-impossible, though, is playing competent pro soccer on grass that has played host to the CFL.
    It’s like playing billiards on a shag rug; like bowling in a gravel pit; like putting in a pig farm.
    The ball just won’t run right after all those huge guys with all those brutal cleats grind like opposing glaciers in tight, constrained scrums a couple of hundred times a game.
    That means Ottawa’s hopes are brighter, but Melnyk FC will be playing on artificial turf. They may not tell you that right away, for PR purposes, but you can bank it.
    Still, that’s certainly no reason to want the Ottawa bid to fail – unless you’re out in Vancouver, given that Portland is getting its act back together, to the point where Garber won’t snub Oregon to hand both 2011 expansion chits to Canada.
    So this ever-shifting game of musical soccer parks appears, this morning, to line up as Portland/Canada in 2011, with Canada 2 having an inside track for 2013.
    Just at the moment, all three Canadian MLS sides (Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa) would be playing on plastic. Montreal has grass, of course, but has bargained its way clean out of the picture, and seems content.
    Of course, we haven’t heard the last of Jeff Hunt’s CFLers, who I expect will now draw up a proposal that embraces soccer. Keep in mind, though, MLS would want soccer to control the stadium, playing landlord to the CFL. Melnyk remains the only horse in that particular race.
    Thoughts?
    Onward!

    Guest

    Red tide in Carolina

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Wonderful unexpected treat last night, as Toronto FC staff sorted out a raft of technical problems, and managed to put up a decent webcast of their pre-season match with USL-1’s Charleston Battery.
    Hard to tell much from a single friendly, of course, but a couple of things seem clear.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] 1) TFC ’09 sure has a lot of ways of going forward.
    It took just two minutes for an alert Amado Guevara to pounce on a Charleston misplay, and slot a perfect forward ball to Dwayne DeRosario, who tore home to score. That’s a particularly good sign given the ongoing concern over whether two established creative midfielders who always want the ball will be able to play effectively together.
    And even though the Reds were a man down for more than half the game, the eternal downfield push continued. Marvell Wynne consistently overlapped of the right, effectively playing wing from the fullback position. He did that a lot last year, of course, but it is hoped some combination of Guevara and rookie Sam Cronin will take over. Cronin played – and had some nice touches – but it was still mostly Wynne rocking and rolling on the right.
    Left winger Rohan Ricketts, as usual, blew hot and cold. No question, the man can advance the ball, but still he struggles to effectively create with it. Mind you, he also bagged the winning goal with a late outside curve job. Hey. That’s Rohan.
    2) It ain’t gonna be dull in the centre of defence.
    Adrian Serioux roamed with the ball, created runs for the midfield, and served up a terrifying centre-line to penalty-area throw-in that sounded alarms in U.S. defence radar stations up and down the eastern seaboard. He also conceded a penalty and got tossed for his second yellow card well before halftime.
    Back when the Serioux-to-Toronto rumours first began – ages before the trade – I joked that if Serioux and Kevin Harmse teamed up at centre back (as they did last night, and apparently will all season), the over-under number for red-card expulsions is going to be six. Exhibition games don’t count, of course, but I stand by my story.
    And even though the opponents were an undermanned USL-1 squad, the Torontos played with energy, flair, determination, grit and creativity. The newcomers looked good, and the returning players played like they don’t want to return to the MLS East basement.
    Lots of fun – and kudos to the support staff for getting this game on the air.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Lost Impact

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    The funny thing is, I thought about going home at halftime.
    The Montreal Impact were up 2-1 at Santos Laguna, 4-1 aggregate, with two sweetly finished away goals ensuring that as long as they didn’t get outscored by four in the second half, they were on to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals home-free.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    My corner of the bar was turning into a pitched verbal battle over the many and brain-defying ways the Canadian soccer bureaucracy artificially limits development of the depressingly scarce trickle of players who might actually help our national teams someday. It was batteringly loud, and I’ve spent way too much time stranded on the side of that road.
    But I stayed. This night was going to be about clean, soaring victory.
    Tiny USL-1 Montreal was three opponents away from a game with the winner of either the Copa Libertadores or the UEFA Champions Cup. The only way they could grilch it was a four-goal fold-up, and with an inspired Matt Jordan tending the Impact goal, that just wasn’t ever going to happen.
    Except, of course, it did.
    After a thrillingly improbable romp through the CONCACAF Champions League, the plucky, unkillable Impact were finally – and brutally – exposed. Santos Laguna did, in fact, batter home four second half goals – the last two in stoppage time, for maximum pain and drama.
    Throughout the first half, the Impact defended bravely, efficiently and well. They got their chances, too, with Roberto Brown and Eduardo Sebrango scoring to all-but-eliminate the fleet-footed home-standing Mexicans.
    It was right about midnight, back in Montreal, when the Impact’s golden Cinderella carriage crashed and burned in the pumpkin patch.
    Throughout the last half hour, the seven-time defending Voyageurs Cup champs could scarcely get the ball out of their own six-yard box. Santos scored, then scored again.
    By rights, the Impact could easily have been killed off even before the fatal final four minutes of stoppage time. One Santos player had the ball, all alone, six yards out, and opted to pass. Another had his smoking, goalie-proof slot bomb smack a startled teammate on the butt. Somewhere in there, as well, a fatal curving outside slicer walloped the Montreal goalpost.
    The Impact had nothing left. No running – and above all, no clearance. This team, throughout this amazing campaign, had consistently been able to get the ball over centre and do dangerous things with it. Now they were flailing just to find each other with hit-and-hope pop jobs deep in their own territory.
    I haven’t seen a finish like that since Manchester United stole the Champions Cup from Bayern Munich with two stoppage-time markers in 1999. And they were never four goals down.
    Such is the sport we love, people. The Impact couldn’t seal the deal, and Santos Laguna hung in there long enough to punish them for it. Survival of the footballing fittest – but wasn’t it a soaring run?
    For Montreal, it could be pumpkin time for a long, lousy while.
    That comprehensive collapse cost them another huge home date at the Olympic Stadium, and their grip on the Canadian crown will soon be severely tested by a rebuilt, revved-up Toronto FC, not even to begin to mention the worthy USL-1 champion Vancouver Whitecaps.
    The Impact’s low-balling MLS expansion bluff has been called. Unless owner Joey Saputo realizes the game just changed unalterably, Montreal could remain a minor-league soccer city forever.
    So much, turning on one rancid half of football. It was wrenching in real-time – and the long-term consequences are circling like hawks over a highway.
    Too much to take in, really. This story will be unfolding – and unravelling – for years.
    For now, a simple thank you.
    Merci, Montreal, for doing all of Canadian soccer proud. You made a lot of friends, and ticked off a lot of people in Toronto. It was thrilling, unprecedented – and fun.
    I double-dog dare you to do that again!
    Onward!

    Guest

    Come off it, Cathal

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    I don’t usually call out my fellow soccer scribes. This can be a tricky job, and lord knows we’ve all parked poor pieces from time to time.
    But Cathal Kelly’s Toronto Star column on Tuesday defied rational belief. Kelly – who I’ve never met and don’t believe I’ve even actually laid eyes on, even though we’ve both been covering Toronto FC from the beginning – bluntly argued that David Beckham’s desire to remain in Milan will be a slow and certain death sentence for Major League Soccer.
    How someone who has witnessed the birth and rise of the TFC phenomenon could even think such a ridiculous thought defies my brain. For what it’s worth:
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    - Toronto FC’s success has nothing to do with David Beckham.
    - The Columbus Crew’s 2008 rise from non-playoff side to MLS champions had nothing to do with David Beckham.
    - Seattle’s sale of 20,000 season tickets for the first MLS season of the reborn Sounders had little or nothing to do with David Beckham.
    - No one in Vancouver or Portland is going to turn down an MLS expansion team because of the imminent lack of David Beckham.
    - The construction of new and gorgeous soccer specific stadiums in Salt Lake City, Kansas City and New Jersey has little or nothing to do with David Beckham.
    - Beckham’s Hollywood flirtation did nothing at all to undermine MLS financial checks and balances which, though often frustrating to soccer fans, have ensured the league’s growth and survival for the last decade and a half.
    - Beckham was never more than hype and subplot over here. MLS is about other things, and all its fans and players know it.
    Sure, the Becks story is becoming a fiasco, and yes, it’s a black eye for the league. But black eyes don’t kill you, Cathal. Everyone I’ve talked to who cares about this league agrees right now that MLS is better off without Beckham, and the sooner the divorce is final, the better for all concerned.
    I’ll be blunt, sir – and please know this next point isn’t about me. (After nine years in at Sportsnet and the Globe, I’m actually very happy and optimistic to be out here on my own right now.)
    Cathal, there are good soccer writers in this country who are struggling every month to pay the bills, and are unlikely – given this economy – to ever get the chances you and I have both enjoyed.
    I hope you understand how fortunate you are to have that job – and I sincerely hope you intend on doing it better.
    Onward!
    Addendum: I just listened to Kelly’s appearance on FAN590 radio, discussing his column with Norm Rumack. Kelly argues the league is doomed, largely because it abandoned its carefully structured financial checks and balances to sign David Beckham.
    This is utterly and completely false.
    Yes, the league created the “Designated Player” rule, so big-name signings could hugely exceed the MLS salary cap. Beckham’s cap hit — the part actually paid by MLS — was $400,000 per season. But that didn’t cost the league an extra penny, because it still paid the L.A. Galaxy roster exactly the same $2.4-million it paid out to every other team in the league. The rest of Beckham’s huge contract was paid directly by Galaxy ownership, a shirt deal and Beckham’s wide and varied array of corporate sponsors.
    MLS paid more to Beckham, but less to his teammates — which is why the Galaxy has been a soccer basket case the past two seasons.
    The financial checks and balances never changed, and are still very much intact. That a big-media journalist covering the league would not know this — to me — is frankly incredible.

    Guest

    Viva, viva Vancouver!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    In the end, I suppose it didn’t matter which Canadian city landed a Major League Soccer expansion franchise for 2011. The most important thing – for all of us – was not to get shut out.
    But with the demise of Barcelona’s Miami flirtations – too much money in too-uncertain times – the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia, is an all-but-mortal lock to land a team.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    And there’s deep justice in this, I think, because of the three Canadian cities that entered this hunt, billionaire owner Greg Kerfoot’s Vancouver Whitecaps are – by far – the most deserving.
    What’s that? After praising the Montreal Impact up and down for months, the Knight kid is crossing over to the west side? Hey, I think it was a bold and nervy move for Impact owner Joey Saputo to try to haggle the price tag. $40 million (U.S.) is four times what Toronto FC paid to get in just three short little years ago.
    Saputo gambled – but he lost.
    Meanwhile, Kerfoot continued his dogged efforts to build – and pay for – his own soccer stadium on the Vancouver waterfront, hooked a crucial deal with the soon-to-be-renovated B.C. Place stadium as a backup, and landed much-loved NBA superstar Steve Nash as a public face and co-investor. Oh, and the Whitecaps bagged the USL-1 championship on the way by, just for kicks and giggles.
    And Ottawa? Eugene Melnyk sprang up unexpectedly, with a cheque that might never get cashed, and gorgeous paintings of a stadium that will likely never be built. Hey, it’s the same route Toronto FC took, but who knows if it could work again for so much more money in a much smaller town?
    And while the Impact continue to romp gloriously through the CONCACAF Champions League, having wowed 55,000 happy souls at the Big Owe last Wednesday, Saputo only increased the distance between his team and MLS when he told a battery of open microphones he might be willing to pay $20-million, with another $20-mil going to stadium improvements.
    Melnyk must have smiled hugely when he heard that. Ottawa is squarely in the eastern Canadian driver’s seat for 2013. Saputo’s going to have to rethink his strategy, or hope to catch a bankrupt, falling MLS franchise that needs to relocate – and there’s no sign of those right now.
    So it looks almost certain the Vancouver Whitecaps – NASL champions in 1979 – are returning to the big time. The Portland Timbers will most likely join them, creating a three-team northwestern knot with the Seattle Sounders. And that’s three great old NASL nicknames back, as well, which has got me thinking of calling Toronto FC the Blizzard on third or fourth reference.
    (Okay, maybe I won’t.) (But maybe I will.)
    With two teams in MLS, and Montreal tearing up USL-1 and CONCACAF, Canadian pro soccer is at its healthiest point in a generation. Now we need some other cities – I’m looking at you, Hamilton and Victoria – to bag USL-1 franchises and keep this momentum going, and growing.
    Vancouver has done absolutely everything right, and stands ready to be rewarded.
    What a great day this is going to be – for us all!
    Onward!

    Guest

    6+5 still illegal

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Despite news stories to the contrary, FIFA’s controversial proposed rule that would require at least six home-grown domestic players in the starting lineups of every club side everywhere is still reekingly illegal in Europe.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    A report last week by the grandly named Institute for European Affairs (INEA) grandly claimed that FIFA president Sepp Blatter can tell French sides to play six Frenchmen, German sides to play six Germans, Andorran sides to genetically engineer (and hatch in the lab) six Andorrans – and there is nothing the European parliament can do or say to the contrary.
    I expect that will come as news to the EU, which has iron-clad, steel-belted laws that say any holder of any European passport is free and welcome to work in any EU-member nation.
    It’s exactly the same as someone from Ontario being able to work in Alberta, or a native son of Arkansas flipping burgers in New Hampshire. We don’t tend to think of European nations as provinces or states, because they’re all writ huge in history, and we grew up knowing them as independent lands.
    T’ain’t so no mo’.
    The report – of course – was commissioned by FIFA, and says exactly what FIFA wants it to.
    Check out this dazzling piece of bureaucratic bafflegab from INEA’s website, just in case you were wondering who these guys are, and what they mean to do. INEA calls itself (deep breath) … “an ideational organization, existing as of 1995 and active in a multitude of ways (to a large extent also unofficially).”
    I’m glad we cleared that up!
    Folks, if I wanted to, I could commission a report today that would tell you the entire global economic catastrophe was caused by Celine Dion’s decision to shut down her Las Vegas show, and the plummeting price of wood shavings for hamster cages across the American midwest.
    Not only is 6+5 patently illegal, it would cripple soccer clubs around the world – Toronto FC among them – and further limit whatever far-and-few foreign employment offers open to talented Canadian players.
    Perhaps a system of incentives can be devised to open more doors for domestics. Not six in a starting lineup, which waters down the game appallingly, but a reason for big clubs to spend more time and resources on local player development. But heavy-handed, sport-shattering rules like 6+5 are designed only to favour weaker players based on their birthplace, which would be terrible for the sport.
    Fortunately, Europe has stood up to FIFA before. The EU is clear on its laws, and is not shy about enforcing them. A fwibby consultant’s report might get some headlines, but it won’t get Sepp what he wants.
    The president of the game is championing the game’s defacement. However you feel about the domestic player issue, the future – in this case – is better served by the guardians of the law.
    Let’s have a vigourous debate, wot?
    Onward!

×
×
  • Create New...