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    Please don’t read this story

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    The ongoing saga of What’s-His-Name and That-Really-Bad-MLS-Team-On-The-West-Coast has taken another baffling, hype-infested turn.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The-Famous-Italian-Team-Wot-Really-Ought-To-Know-Better-Mate has apparently agreed to extend What’s-His-Name’s loan arrangement, offering more money for the rental than they were to buy the player outright.
    This is the kind of doomed, soggy story daily soccer writers only bore you with when they’re tired, hungry and want to knock off work early.

    As such, there is no reason for you to read this story – unless you find the ongoing destruction of That-Really-Bad-MLS-Team-On-The-West-Coast so utterly irresistible you just can’t look away.
    That-Really-Bad-MLS-Team-On-The-West-Coast may actually benefit from this, if the league allows them to claim What’s-His-Name as a half-season Designated Player, which could free up $200,000 under the salary cap – plus whatever reeking wad of cash The-Famous-Italian-Team-Wot-Really-Ought-To-Know-Better-Mate sends their way.
    This could bolster the urgently needed upgrade of That-Really-Bad-MLS-Team-On-The-West-Coast, and coming back to America mid-season might not be so much of a terminal bummer for What’s-His-Name if they accidentally stumble back into contention in the weakening MLS West Division.
    Why The-Famous-Italian-Team-Wot-Really-Ought-To-Know-Better-Mate would even bother eludes me, particularly since a set-piece specialist like What’s-His-Name would do them more good in the UEFA Cup than in Serie A, and they just got hoofed off the continent by Werder Bremen.
    Enough. I’m tired, hungry and ever so sorry you actually read this far. Let’s have something posh and spicy for dinner, and never speak of this again.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Blatter Blats VIII

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    March 1, 2009
    Blatter Blats VIII
    By Ben Knight
    The eighth installment of an ongoing series, chronicling the verbal misadventures of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man (and mercifully one of the least effective) in all soccerdom.
    This one’s more of a brain cramp than a verbal gaffe. Blatter is asking FIFA’s rules mucky-mucks to consider adding a “sin bin” – rugby idea, similar to hockey – where players could be briefly banished following yellow-card offences.
    The problems are many – and obvious.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]- Yellow cards are not created equal. There are referees who consistently call one card a game, and others who dish out ten. Pulling players off the field for something so chronically subjective seems needlessly disruptive to the flow of the game.
    - Unlike hockey, being a man up does not lead to more goals. The shorthanded soccer side simply puts everyone behind the ball, and scoring actually drops.
    - Card fouls often anger fans. So what happens when you put players the fans are mad at on the sidelines – directly next to the fans? Even one extra disturbance incident is too many, yes?
    - There is already a suspension system in place for accumulated yellows – and it’s already subject to the global inconsistencies of what exactly constitutes a card offence.
    - Yellow cards are also known as “cautions,” and are meant to be exactly that. Expulsion and suspension come only with repetition. That ought to be enough.
    In other words, the man in charge of the world’s most simple, nearly perfect sport wants to arbitrarily run offenders on and off the field all game, with no regard to soccer’s primal, basic essence – our eleven guys trying to solve, baffle and best your eleven guys.
    With any luck, this strange and needless interference will die a quiet, bureaucratic back-room death. But it might be a good idea to light up the message boards in protest … just in case.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Forza, Montreal!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Way back on September 2, 1981, the Montreal Manic of the old North American Soccer League scored a 3-2 playoff win over the always-tough Chicago Sting – in front of 58,542 noisy, happy fans at the Olympic Stadium.
    It wasn’t the first time Le Manic drew over 50,000 fans — but it was the last. There are very knowledgeable young Canadian soccer fans who aren’t even aware it ever happened.
    And then, this past Wednesday evening, it actually happened again.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The Montreal Impact, the second-division little soccer team that could, did. First, they got city permission to play in the snow vulnerable Big Owe. Then rounded up 55,000-plus supporters by pricing tens of thousands of tickets at $6, and sending them out to every youth soccer club and high school in sight.
    Then, most importantly, they not only battered Mexican side Santos Laguna 2-0 on a good goal early and a cheap one late. All those young fans – gleefully adding their voices to fervent singing from the Impact’s Ultras – were treated to a huge and happy victory. And the most amazing thing of all?
    Everyone concerned made this look … easy.
    It’s not just that the Impact clinched the Voyageurs Cup with a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto last summer. They’ve won that mug seven years on the trot. But never before did it gain them entry to the CONCACAF Champions League.
    Given that chance, that golden opportunity, the Impact have run wild. And if they can hold on in the return match in Mexico next week, they will be in the final four of a tournament whose winner is one of only six on the entire planet that will be invited to the next World Club Championship.
    And it’s not just that Santos Laguna never adapted to the tough, bouncy artificial turf in La Chasm Concrete. They never had a chance to. The Impact worked hard to win and push the ball all night. The visitors had one decent sustained spell before halftime, but it was never going to be enough.
    If you just dialed in, and watched the game with no idea of the context, you’d see a huge crowd and a solid effort from a fast and feisty home side. The facts that the Impact play in a second-tier loop and no Montreal team had seen a home crowd that big in over a quarter century? Impossible to tell on both counts.
    I watched the match in a hip new soccer bar on the west edge of downtown Toronto, surrounded by TFC fans I have come to know well over the past two seasons. In the pre-TFC days, a run like this by a Montreal team would have won some serious support down the 401 in Hoggtown. But to expect that now is to forget how wrenching – and shockingly painful – TFC’s exit from the festivities really was.
    In the dying moments last July, needing a goal to survive, those fans stood helpless in traumatized disbelief as now-former Toronto striker Jeff Cunningham whiffed on an empty Impact net from five yards out. And of course that’s not the only reason Toronto didn’t advance. The Reds got only one of a possible six points from the Whitecaps in that tournament, and that’s what really did in the dream.
    But to lose like that, and then see 50,000 fans and such a big, easy, fat, sassy, impressive Impact victory? Well, of such things are great and bitter rivalries made. I’d wager 90 per cent of Reds fans are anticipating their next shot at Montreal more than the visit of any MLS opponent.
    And none of that mattered a fig in Montreal as the final whistle blew. The Impact won the game, backed up their title of Canadian champions, and introduced pretty much an entire generation of future Montreal soccer fans to pro soccer at its most exciting.
    Great game? No. Great story? The best!
    Yet another in a rising tide of Canadian pro soccer miracles.
    Anyone outside of MLS league office still think $40-million U.S. is the true measure of a soccer club? Your loss, if so.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Your rebuilt Reds

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    So the old jalopy sat up on blocks in your driveway, needing an engine, paint, doors – you name it. All your friends said “cool car, that’s a great hobby,” but went away knowing that car was never going anywhere ever again.
    Wouldn’t it be great to rocket past them, in happy command of the hottest ride on the road?
    *** Straining metaphor alert!! Abandon lead!! ***
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Well, thanks to the multiple miracles of allocation money that lets MLS teams exceed the salary cap, “Generation Adidas” player who don’t count against the cap or take up roster spaces, some shrewd dealing and what must have been some pretty nervy contract negotiations, Toronto FC is suddenly all souped up, with nowhere to go but blazing down the playoff road.
    How did we get here? Is this the same general manager Mo Johnston so many have given up on, given two consecutive last-place finishes and the fact it’s all but impossible to get a clean read on the man?
    Folks, I don’t know how far TFC ’09 is going to go, but in a league where talent is thin and roster depth all but unattainable, these rebuilt Reds are looking quite deliciously dangerous with the new season on the rapid approach.
    Whatever was good about last year’s team is still pretty much intact. The new parts – in every segment of the lineup – look more than equal to the task.
    Strikers: Chad Barrett is back, with a new four-year deal. Veteran Danny Dichio, injury-prone but still a wonderful passer quite adept at holding up the ball, is ready for whatever role awaits him. Newcomer Pablo Vitti, the on-loan kid from Independiente, is showing brilliant pre-season flashes, looking like an all-out mover who can unlock opposing offside traps – if the MLS linesmen are up to getting razor-tight calls right.
    Midfield: Dwayne DeRosario, still one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the league, is home and happy. His dangerous presence should pull that pesky extra defender off of wingman Rohan Ricketts, who has – finally! – been crossing the ball effectively in exhibition games. Amado Guevara is just the man to spring Vitti on those darting runs, and veteran holding middie Carl Robinson loves Toronto and its ravenous fans so much he actually took a pay cut to stay here.
    Defence: Adrian Serioux’s arrival doesn’t necessarily seal the radioactive crater of doom that destroyed TFC’s playoff hopes a year ago. But he is a strong and seasoned pro – still only 29 – who will also bolster the attack with his dangerous brand of long, strong throw-ins. Apparently Mo is still hustling after another centre back, which would allow the overmatched Marco Velez to try his luck with another MLS side, or return to the relative safety of USL-1, where he has proven he can play effectively. On the wings, Jim Brennan (left) and Marvell Wynne (right) have pace, dribbling and a real desire to push the ball forward. This is going to be an attacking team – including the defenders. Kevin Harmse could also get a look in the middle, if a second centre back isn’t signed.
    Goalies: Greg Sutton is still the man, but rookie Stefan Frei is getting rave reviews. That opens the possibility of dealing back-up Brian Edwards, who to my eye has proven he should have a long and useful MLS career.
    Bench: My goodness, this is a young bunch! Mo dealt a draft pick for Serioux because he’s got all the prospects his limited roster can handle. Abdus Ibrahim has changed his first name to Fuad (who didn’t have an identity crisis at 17?) and remains ridiculously talented for one so young. Acclaimed draft pick O’Brian White may yet prove great, if he comes all the way back from serious knee surgery. Then there’s Sam Cronin, a young middie thought by many to be the best overall young talent in the NCAA. He’s already getting occasional looks in the defense, and will need to be patient off the top. His time will come, though, as the long, long season takes its toll. Then there’s Johann Smith and top Canadian prospects Nana Attakora-Gyan and Gabe Gala, who have all showed considerable promise.
    Okay, I ripped Mo when he couldn’t turn three first-round draft picks into Adrian Serioux. But I’m starting to believe that the rest of the league just wouldn’t give him the deal he wanted. So he turned around and drafted three great kids, knowing that would leave him free to deal a future draft pick for – well – Adrian Serioux.
    On paper, this team … makes sense. Better, stronger – and significantly more Canadian. Mo appears to have played MLS’s strange roster and money rules like a master – and it’s all a straight-line continuation of the job he started when the team was born two seasons ago.
    The field is not paper, of course. But if all this potential translates into points, this is going to be a very exciting season at BMO Field.
    Just more the moment, I’m biting on the hype – and it certainly is tasty.
    Onward!

    Guest

    On schedule

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Oh, it’s getting real now!
    Adrian Serioux is now a member of Toronto FC, and the Voyageurs Cup schedule is out.
    Many, many stories – but today I want to talk about the schedule.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    With an international friendly still to be announced, Toronto FC is now committed to 18 home games – with fully half of them in April and May. TFC’s roaring red fanatics will be seeing lots of their rebuilt team, and that’s going to be good for everyone.
    The USL-1 defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps roll into BMO Field for the V-Cup opener on Wednesday, May 6. The arch-rival Montreal Impact breeze in a week later. TFC visits Vancouver on June 2, and the whole shooting match comes down to a Stade Saputo grudge match between the Reds and the seven-time champions in Montreal on June 17.
    If Honduras can get 7,000 fans to Montreal, what will the TFC support be able to pull off? Expect tight ticket restrictions favouring the Impact. Expect them to be – overcome.
    The downside of this front-loaded Toronto schedule is some big gaps later. TFC plays only one home match in July, two in August and just one in September. There will be more, however, if the Reds finally win the Voyageurs Cup.
    But if ever a team needed a quick start, with whomploads of passionate fan support, it’s this Toronto roster, right now. Assuming it all fits under the salary cap – and no one’s saying it doesn’t – TFC GM Mo Johnston has bolstered every part of his side.
    Pablo Vitti up front. Dwayne DeRosario in the midfield, Serioux at the back and increased goaltending depth with the arrival of hot prospect Stephan Frei. A huge commitment to youth through the drafting of Frei, striker O’Brian White and midfielder Sam Cronin.
    No Designated Player, but thank the stars for that one, Reds fans, because there’s no way this level of roster depth is possible with a DP gobbling back a full fifth of the cap room.
    With Canada eliminated from World Cup qualifying, there won’t be as many international call-ups. When the Gold Cup is unfolding in July, TFC plays only three games. The days of half the roster gone and Rick Titus being called out of the bus leagues to start against Chivas USA seem, for now, to be behind us.
    Those nine early home games are going to be so crucial. This is pretty much THE roster, and they have to click early. Spending that much time in front of the home support – who will ecstatically cheer all progress, and won’t settle for half effort – should give the lads the launch they are going to need.
    A third year out of the playoffs will not be acceptable. And while the more open-minded among the Red Army are likely wishing the Impact well in this week’s CONCACAF quarterfinal match with Santos Laguna of Mexico, they all want to be playing a similar match at SkyDome a year from now.
    If Toronto’s fans truly are the twelfth man, these nine games in April and May are when they are really going to prove it. They need to be a big, loud, hammering, intimidating, cheering, uplifting, over-the-top force – and the players need to know they’re in for a long, long summer if they don’t translate all that support into wins.
    Tomorrow: the roster.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Feel the noise

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    There’s light snow out my East York windows this afternoon. My computer keeps firing MLS set-up stories at me, and on this day in history, none of them is registering on my exhausted, adrenalized brain.
    It’s a gray, tired day, in other words. And just at the moment, I have no new insights into Toronto FC’s roster development, whether the new attack is going to work, or how that smouldering kill crater in the middle of the TFC defence is going to be filled.
    Instead, I’m day dreaming.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    My mind is wiping away the snow, painting the sky blue, happily imagining the deep, dark green of the BMO Field turf, surrounded by thousands and thousands of delighted, excited red-clad soccer fans.
    We’re not just going to hear the roar of the crowd when Dwayne DeRosario is announced on opening day against the reborn Seattle Sounders. We’re going to feel it.
    Maybe it’s how close the grandstands are to each other. Maybe there’s something in the way the wind sweeps down from above. Toronto’s little gem of a soccer stadium holds noise like a lively, pounding indoor arena. The noise doesn’t dissipate. It swirls, whirls and builds. The excitement escalates. Once a big roar ignites, it seems to inspire the noisy to make still more noise.
    And when it happens under a gleaming sky, with the lake right there and the skyline over there, BMO Field can be an utterly wonderful place to watch a game. Its bare-bones simplicity neatly underscores the overall no-hype approach, making the noise all that much more pure.
    If Toronto FC slides into legitimate playoff contention this season, healing the hole at the back and morphing into an inspired, dangerous side, there is going to be a tidal wave of noise from the west end of the downtown lakeshore.
    I find myself yearning for a pint on King Street, a great procession of red through the main roads of Parkdale, and that wonderful feeling of seeing the green field for the new season’s very first time.
    Look at that! It’s already stopped snowing! Sky still very gray – but at least it’s a light gray and not one of those brooding doom roofs we’ve seen all too many of this winter.
    Are you feeling it, fans? How many times did you look out the window today, wishing it were time to head for the park? On this most primal of sports-fan levels, it doesn’t even matter today which 11 men will fill those TFC shirts come kickoff. This is about missing the experience, the friends, the passion – the noise!
    Can you close your eyes, and see DeRo’s number 14 shirt darting dangerously through a confused Seattle defence, as he works a deft give-and-go with fan hero Danny Dichio, and races in to roof his first Toronto FC goal – maybe not even five minutes into the match?
    That’s gonna be a noise. That thing will show up on radar. Airplanes will be diverted. Windows will rattle downtown. Seagulls will concede the Exhibition grounds to the sparrows.
    Okay, nothing’s going to budge the seagulls. But you can feel it, can’t you?
    Now we just need to get there – tough out February and March, and hope this renovated roster is every bit as improved as we are all daring to dream. It will be opening day, after all – the greatest day of dreams in any sport that anybody loves.
    Regularly scheduled roster scrutiny will resume soon enough. I just wanted to pause for a moment, and remember why we all came here.
    T-O-R! O-N-T!
    O-O-O-O-O-O …
    Onward!

    Guest

    The defence rests

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Ah!
    Took the weekend off to recharge the batteries, and now it’s time to rev up for the MLS regular season.
    Toronto FC training camp is well under way, and we’re getting good – and bad – glimpses of what we’re going to see when The Big Show opens in Kansas City on March 21.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    That’s still five weeks out, so maybe it’s not quite panic time in the centre of defence. On the other hand though….
    Last year, the TFC back four was anchored by Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez, with regular cameo appearances by top draft pick Julius James. It didn’t go well.
    Yes, you can argue that four other MLS teams conceded more goals than Toronto’s 43. Heck, the New England Revolution gave up the exact same number, and finished third in the East Division.
    That hugely misses the point, I think. Far too many of Toronto’s goals-against were sloppy, unprofessional and embarrassing. Cut those out, and this team could easily have been in the playoffs last fall.
    Since the season ended, Marshall and James have been dealt – and no one exciting or significant has been signed. That leaves Velez, who proved fairly conclusively last season – I thought – that he is not equal to the job. A good USL defender and captain of Puerto Rico, but he was consistently wrong-footed and out of position throughout the 2008 campaign.
    The nightmare scenario? TFC starting the season with a three-man D, with Velez minding the shop in the middle.
    While I am nowhere near the tactical equal of TFC coach John Carver, I wince at the idea of three at the back. It’s far too open and exposed. This is a team that lack defending options with four back there. Even the mention of a short-staffed line of three makes me wince.
    Okay, there are options. Just off of last year’s roster, you could slide Kevin Harmse into Marshall’s vacancy. The oft-criticized Canadian international did some time at the back in ’08, and usually seemed to settle things down. I remain concerned about his proven ability to get red-carded, however.
    There’s also the possibility of Carl Robinson moving back from holding midfield to centre back. Coach Carver has acknowledged this is a legitimate approach, but he quickly added (The Soccer Show, last Thursday) that he felt the Welsh veteran was TFC’s most valuable player last season, and he wants to keep him right where he is.
    No defenders drafted, the odd lower-division veteran scuffing around camp – and Marco Velez at the top of the depth chart, with a hole beside him, and speedy outlet options Jim Brennan and Marvell Wynne on the wings.
    So, the happy act of monitoring TFC in training has also become a horizon-watch for competent defenders who can shovel in some skill to fill this worrying hole.
    But that’s me. How are you feeling, Reds fans? Do you like three at the back? Would you go with what we’ve got? Or is this team so powerful in attack, it doesn’t even matter how many goals they concede?
    The comments section awaits.
    Onward!

    Guest

    More Ottawa stuff

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Two levels of reality check for those who believe Ottawa should immediately build a soccer-only stadium, slamming the door on the CFL in the nation’s capital.
    (ASIDE from the fact that it makes zero economic sense to publically finance a stadium – in a bad and worsening economy – and even less to build one that cannot accommodate what could be a major, contributing pro sports franchise if the right owners were ever found.)
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    1) This idiotic idea walks the night – now that MLS commission Don Garber has said Ottawa would get a team if it built a park – that the city must now choose between CFL and MLS. Never mind that there was already a CFL move afoot – and a conditional franchise already issued! – backed by Ottawa 67s owner Jeff Hunt, before Senators’ cheque-writer Eugene Melnyk came riding out of nowhere preaching the economic supremacy of MLS soccer.
    I want to take you back into recent Toronto history. As Hoggtown edged into the mid-1990s, Maple Leaf Gardens was dying a slow, wracking death, and everybody knew it. The Maple Leafs came thundering down the hillsides, proclaiming they would build a new and immortal Palais d’Sport – at Union Station. Union Station!!
    Along about this time, Toronto was in line for an NBA expansion franchise, which soon became the Raptors. Rather than waiting around for the Leafs – or even be accepted by them, which wasn’t looking likely – the uppity NBAers broke ground for an arena of their own at the old central post office – directly behind Union Station!
    For a few ridiculous months, it looked like Toronto was going to get two gleaming new arenas – side by side. Eventually, sanity prevailed. The station told the Leafs to narf off, the NHL team bought into the NBA building, blueprints were fiddled with, and soon we had – and still have – the Air Canada Centre.
    If that can happen in Toronto, a way can – and must – be found to accommodate both the reborn Rough Riders and FC Melnyk Happy-Pants.
    2) Location. Melnyk wants to build his soccer stadium/20,000-seat concert facility in Kanata, right next door to his hockey arena/20,000-seat concert facility in Kanata. Hunt wants to renovate and redevelop the lovely and historic Lansdowne Park site on the leafy banks of the Rideau Canal. The two visions couldn’t be more different.
    In the spirit of compromise, now there’s a third. Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien (thanks to reader ChrisB for flagging this) told today’s edition of the Ottawa Business Journal he wants to build “a major league stadium” in a barren, begging-for-it west Ottawa wasteland called LeBreton Flats.
    If you’re not familiar with it (I certainly wasn’t until I played three music tours of Ottawa in the past year and a half), it sits on the south shore of the Ottawa River on the way from downtown to Kanata. There is nothing whatsoever at all there – except a major transit interchange. Good so far, right?
    This is where Ottawa’s high-speed busway crosses what passes locally for urban heavy rail, the grand and glorious O-Train. Now, I’m somewhat of an amateur expert on urban mass transit. (I’ll spare you my qualifications, unless you really want me to bang out a multi-page e-mail and inflict it on you privately.)
    The O-Train is the stupidest, most pointless bit of big-money rail these disbelieving eyes have ever seen. It runs just five stations, linking two arms of the city’s extensive bus network. It uses an old railway right-of-way that is so narrow, there is only room for one track. A second track exists – only briefly – to allow trains to pass each other at Carleton University, the midpoint of the line. It then reverts to single-track, down to its southern terminus.
    That means – may I have a drumroll of the doomed, please? – the total capacity of the entire O-Train system is two trains. Two very glitzy, expensive trains, it must be fairly said. But as a way of feeding or draining a stadium? They’d have been far better to rip up the tracks and build a twin-deck bus lane. The track cannot be widened, by the way, without gigantic new digging and property expropriation.
    Oh, and Mayor O’Brien is also spouting the myth that the city will have to choose between Canadian football and world football, which no doubt is adding to the confusion of otherwise clever, sensible people who suddenly believe this bilge-piffle, and are passing it on like it’s the Only Way Forward.
    (Deep breath.)
    Okay, LeBreton Flats is a political compromise, and will likely die the death. That still leaves us with one stadium and two sports. And given that neither MLS or the CFL has made a real, binding commitment to Bytown, we might all be getting way, way out ahead of ourselves anyhow.
    To me there’s a simple, smart solution:
    Put a stadium plan in motion – and don’t choose one sport over the other. Heck, BMO Field in Toronto was originally going to be a CFL/MLS park, until the Argonauts got snaky and slithered back to SkyDome. Do NOT give in to hype, do NOT get distracted by warring potential owners, (do NOT build a stadium on the O-Train).
    Above all, do NOT let a whispered kiss from MLS commissioner Don Garber slam the CFL out of whatever park you build, wherever in Ottawa-Carleton-Gatineau it may end up.
    This story’s already quite crazy enough, without taking an irreversible plunge into utter selfish corporate madness – exactly the kind of madness currently being refuted and punished by an ever-worsening global economic meltdown.
    The only other solution is for Melnyk or Hunt to build with their own money. At that point, two stadiums are possible, if still very silly.
    Feel free to refute ANY of that, folks.
    Onward!

    Guest
    The Ottawa Sun is doing cartwheel this morning over a message MLS commissioner Don Garber sent to Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk.
    “It’s highly unlikely and almost inconceivable that with a stadium deal in place we would not grant an expansion team to Ottawa,” Garber said yesterday.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The Sun and Melnyk clearly think these are encouraging words. But any new stadium in Ottawa – whether out in Kananta or down at Lansdowne Park – would have to be multi-purpose enough to include a gigantic CFL playing field if it wants one red cent of public funding.
    Given Garber’s vampiric hunger for soccer specific stadiums, the top man of Major League Soccer may as well have said “build it under a red sun so we can all be Superman, ‘cos who wouldn’t love to be Superman?”
    With these words, now, Garber has just told Ottawa it won’t be getting a $40-million expansion team in 2011. The deal is there to be made in the future, apparently, for a soccer-only park in the suburbs – which Melnyk would have to pay for because public cash will not be there.
    That’s good to know – and don’t think Vancouver didn’t just sit up and took notice, because maybe the border isn’t such a big issue after all, and maybe this could be the last extra bit little bit of leverage needed to get the Vancouver soccer stadium deal done?
    But as a clear understanding of the present Ottawa situation … well, who wouldn’t love to be Superman?
    There’s a part of me that can’t help chuckling when local newspapers turn “It’s not working. I’m dating someone else” into “I love you! When can I move in?”
    Sorry, Ottawa. Garber’s … just not that into you.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Throw wide the floodgates!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Back on the night of Toronto FC’s very first regular-season match – away to Chivas USA on April 7, 2007 – I first encountered TFC fandom in the form of a roaring, stomping, chanting horde of U-Sector at the Madison bar on the northern edge of the University of Toronto campus.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    On TVs all over the vast drinking establishment, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in locked a playoff-qualification death match with Montreal down at the Air Canada Centre. When the Habs scored that pesky fifth goal, U-Sector’s response was instantaneous.
    “6-5! We’re gonna win 6-5!” they sang, making the entire upper floor lurch like a boat in rough seas with their rhythmic stomping.
    With yesterday’s signing of on-loan Argentine youngster Pablo Vitti, fans of Toronto’s MLS squad might want to practice up that song.
    I’ve got a feeling we are going to need it.
    Not that the acclaimed young netbuster from Independiente is going to be an automatic scorch scorer in the Upper Americas. Vitti, in fact, has been struggling for quite some time, and is joining TFC after a somewhat indifferent loan spell in the Ukraine. His potential is clear, but he’s not an automatic choice to start for Our Reds.
    There might be an expectation problem here, fans. I think it all started because the Vitti rumours broke at the height of the Designated Player talk. TFC was said to be digging for a DP, and here came word about Vitti. The two things crossed, and a lot number of fans are waking up this morning thinking Vitti is the DP, and a playoff spot is assured.
    No, and no.
    But clearly, there’s potential. Toronto FC is now certainly a team that can push the ball upfield, and attack opposing nets with impressive frequency. Vitti’s youth and promise up front, in the mix Chad Barrett, Danny Dichio and Abdus Ibrahim, with a fleet, daring midfield fired up by Dwayne DeRosario, Amado Guevara and a side order of Rohan Ricketts? With Marvell Wynne and Jim Brennan constantly pushing forward from the fullback spots?
    This team is going to score.
    But … !!
    Any team that pushes forward that much is going to get burned on the counterbreak. There’s a fair bit of speed across this league, and TFC goalies are going to have to stand in for more of their share of multi-pronged opposition avalanches. That throws monumental pressure on – the centre backs.
    Marco Velez and Tyrone Marshall continue to hold those critical spots, despite being spotted and criticized all last year for poor positioning, bad turns and positioning that was – how to put it nicely? – original. Maybe they get a boost from future Canuck star Nana Attokora-Gyan. Maybe Kevin Harmse steps back, swallows his temper, and closes some of the chasm. Maybe an unemployed journeyman from the third tier of English football ….
    Heck, just find some guys who can move their feet and get their bodies in the right place occasionally!
    This is a team that is going to get scored on.
    I only hope TFC coach John Carver can resist the temptation to go with three defenders at the back. The few times that was tried last season were nightmarish. Also, starting goalie Greg Sutton has a history of concussions, and any netkeep doing serious time behind three defenders is eventually going to get kicked in the head.
    MLS, of course, is a league where every team will always have a hole. But when your entire roster is built for going forward, and you have nothing you can count on at centre back – well, opponents are going to score some long, painful and hideously optional goals.
    There is still time to fill the hole, I suppose. Perhaps even money, since Vitti is in town on a loan deal and certainly not getting DP bucks.
    Don’t expect a whole lot of nil-nil soccer this season, TFC fans. And keep that 6-5 chant song handy.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Lenarduzzi speaks

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    “It’s Called Football” hosted a fine, long-form interview with Vancouver Whitecaps’ president Bob Lenarduzzi this past weekend, and the man had a lot to say.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The full interview – conducted by Ben Rycroft, Chantelle Junker and myself – ran for over half an hour. It touched on everything from MLS expansion and the Voyageurs Cup to youth development and the overall governance of Canadian soccer.
    Here are a couple of moments that really caught my ear:
    Lenarduzzi is deeply immersed in the ‘Caps MLS expansion bid, but he also had a lot of good things to say about their current league, USL-1. It led me to ask him if the team might be better staying put – a decision already famously made by Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo.
    “That one of that things that we have certainly internally discussed,” he acknowledged. “There does seem to be merit {to moving up], and certainly the brand of MLS, when you consider what happened in Toronto. I don’t think there’s a person in Toronto – [even] the most optimistic of soccer people – would have ever said you go from what was happening in USL to having a waiting list for 16,000 season tickets? And it’s wonderful that it happened. … But ultimately it’s long-term. You’d have an issue in the short term convincing people, okay, you can build this thing. Whether we go MLS or not, I think there’s a place for [the USL-1] level of soccer, but you won’t have the immediate impact that an MLS expansion would bring.”
    Ben Rycroft makes a point of asking all our guests what one thing they would change about the ways the Canadian Soccer Association runs the sport. Lenarduzzi shot straight for the top.
    “You’re not going to make me popular,” he sighed, “I actually think the governance of the game needs to change. The way we’re governed right now, the board is far too hands-on in the decision-making process. Their job should be to make decisions, and beyond that point they should provide the parameters, and then the people that they hire should be allowed to go out and do the job. And then if they don’t do well, then it’s on the employee’s head. But right now, I think there’s too much interference.”
    Lenarduzzi cited the much-praised hiring of Italian coach Carolina Morace to run the women’s national program as a good test case.
    “I’m still holding back on my excitement until I know that they’re actually going to provide the program with money … so she can put her coaching skills to work, and not sit idle between competitions.”
    Overall, it’s a good, relaxed conversation with a man – after all – who actually played for Canada way back in the 1986 World Cup. You don’t have to like or agree with Bob Lenarduzzi to benefit from knowing where he stands.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Our women: Canada’s team

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of grandstands, bars and chalk-filled utility rooms, talking a lot of soccer with a lot of experts.
    Often I hear – and still it amazes me – “spending money on women’s soccer is a waste.”
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The argument is always the same. The men’s World Cup pays a bomb-load o’bucks, and if Canada ever gets there, all our money problems will be solved. Pushed a little further – and I always push these guys – they look away, or stare into their beer, and say that women don’t play good soccer.
    That argument is ludicrous in Canada – and was long before the Canadian Soccer Association made a big commitment to the women’s program this past week, hiring acclaimed Italian coach Carolina Morace to take over the program.
    As much as I am a huge supporter of the Canadian men, let’s call time and break this thing down.
    - Canada’s men are ranked 86th in world – in a three-way tie with Qatar and the Congo. The Canadian women rank 11th.
    - The cost of running the women’s team is vastly lower, because the players are based in North America.
    - Significantly more than half of Canada’s 800,000 registered soccer players are female. Players aren’t necessarily fans, but I’ll guarantee you the Canadian international player our amateurs knows best is Christine Sinclair.
    - The women’s team plays all over Canada – Victoria, the Maritimes – while our men don’t even want to play at BMO Field in Toronto because the turf’s too tough on their tender tootsies. Hey, I want real grass too, but newsflash, gentlemen: You’re not good enough to be that picky.
    - The men haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986. The women are there consistently. With the hiring of Morace, they are going all out for a top-three finish.
    - Female players idolize the national team. That’s good for the game at every level.
    (And now, the kicker:)
    - Money spent on the women’s team makes money. Expenses are lower, and there are more home games. The TV numbers may not be what the men get, but advertisers reach a more unique and distinct audience when the women play.
    In other words, the women are a sound investment right now. They’re more successful, and their fans idolize them. They play an energetic style of football, and any team that has Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi and Kara Lang pushing the ball are going to be lots of fun to watch.
    Oh, and they haven’t been eliminated from the next World Cup.
    The tragic truth is, no member of the men’s team is going to become any young Canadian’s hero playing that upcoming tune-up match in Cyprus. And that, I fully understand, is more about the CSA than it is the team. Coaching and funding are huge issues here, and none of that has been adequately addressed.
    But as much as I sympathize – nay, grieve! – for the huge, debilitating obstacles faced by our men, I’m delighted to see the CSA giving the women a significant boost. Might as well send our best team out there with as much support as we can possibly muster.
    They are, after all – Canada’s team.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Montopoli 1, “It” 0

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Hallelujah, y’all!
    The word has rumbled down from the muddled mountain on Metcalfe Street, and it is …
    Good.
    The Canadian Soccer Association threw a little press party down at Toronto’s BMO Field yesterday (apparently it’s only the National Soccer Stadium when FIFA is in town), and introduced the world to the new boss of our national women’s soccer team – accomplished Italian player, coach and tactician Carolina Morace.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    And while I did not see this with my own eyes (a ripped-up throat and sub-Winnipeg weather conditions took care of that), there is some clear and present good news here – encouraging signs that CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli may be able to make significant positive changes to an old and obsolete organization.
    This is a real hire. Morace is a wise and worldly soccer mind, who can lead by example as she takes a more-than-respectably talented Canadian women’s roster forward. This team can already flat-out play on the world stage. With a top international coach, they might even – who knows? – win.
    But for me, the star of this show may turn out to be Montopoli himself.
    You know the story. He’s brought in to implement the CSA Strategic Plan, but not given a contract in the wake of the Fred Nykamp hire-fire-pay-up disaster. That gives him position, but any actual power has to be wrested away from the CSA’s notorious multi-headed nightmare of a bureaucratic board, lovingly referred to in these columns as “It.”
    To do the right thing and land Morace, Montopoli had to steer the idea of a big foreign hire past board members who would have been stubbornly backing Canadian-born candidates like Ian Bridge or Andrea Neil. Nothing wrong with them doing that, except the CSA needs to prove it can take expert advice from the man it has hired – effectively – to lead it home.
    Not only did Montopoli land Morace, he got “It” to agree to let her bring in her own trusted, proven support staff, as well – and there are parts of the country where that was not a popular plan.
    So, in his first real chance to step up and make a mark, the score reads Montopoli 1, “It” 0.
    Don’t count “It” out, though, bureaucracy fans. “It” has proven many times in the past that “It” can come from behind. But for now, let’s give full credit where it’s due.
    Montopoli and the have board combined to make a serious, significant hire. And if such a thing is actually possible under Peter Montopoli, then I think we all have cause to be a bit more hopeful this morning.
    But we’re now left with a fascinating split.
    The women have gone the direction the men want to go. Our gals were already competitive. Now they’re getting some world-class direction, as the central core of the side rounds nicely into the primes of their careers.
    Meanwhile, our battered, dispirited men’s side is set to go touristing off to Cyprus for a Gold Cup warm-up match, under the ineffective thumb of a coach several key players have vocally and publically rejected.
    If the Morace hire represents the way Montopoli wants Canadian soccer to be, the men’s team is still the mired, soggy evidence of everything that’s been done wrong, compromised or botched for the last 23 years.
    The biggest issue right now has to be money. Fair or no, the global market for female soccer coaches is filled with good bargains. Hiring the male equivalent of Carolina Morace would be prohibitively expensive for a CSA still struggling with a $13-million (Cdn.) annual budget.
    Montopoli’s next challenge is clear – find new, reliable ways of earning money that aren’t based on raising annual fees on Canada’s 800,000-plus amateur soccer players. To do this, he will have to sidestep huge chunks of the strategic plan he was brought in to babysit. That won’t sit well with “It.”
    Morace’s hiring is hugely and obviously right. It opens the door to great possibilities ahead.
    Well done everybody. We await the next moves with interest.
    Onward!

    Guest
    An interesting debate broke out on the Voyageurs’ message board after my “It’s Called Football” co-host and producer Ben Rycroft put out a request for questions for Canada star Julian DeGuzman, whom we hope to interview this week.
    My esteemed critic and fellow Canada fan Grizzly – one of the most active and prominent soccer fans in Montreal and la belle province – wants us to ask DeGuzman why he was (allegedly) out partying after Canada was dusted by Honduras at Stade Saputo back in September.
    I chipped in that I don’t intend to ask that question, and the fur flew.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    So I’d like to invite you to check out the thread, as I bring this debate to a larger audience.
    I’m speaking only for myself here. If either of my ICF co-hosts want to bring partying up with DeGuzman, that’s fine with me.
    The criticism, as I read it, essentially boils down to De Guzman should have been too angry after that game to party, and the fact that he (allegedly) was means he didn’t really care about the game.
    (Those (allegedlies) are there because I, personally, did not see the man in party mode.)
    As far as I’m concerned, it was every man for himself after that match. By the time the Hondurans were finished, and Stade Saputo’s shockingly shabby security force got done with us fans, I think everyone was entitled deal with their feelings whatever the heck way they wanted to.
    I ended up doing fire-Dale-Mitchell research over Strawberry cheesecake at one in the morning. But if someone had pointed me to a really good party, I believe I could have been talked into it – just to let off some steam and think about something else. I would have been every bit as steamed about the Honduras/Montreal fiasco on the train the next day.
    Player accountability is important, but I’m all for keeping it on the field – especially if the party in question happened after the game.
    My current point of study is the CSA board, and the chronically destructive ways it affects the on-field product. Julian De Guzman has raised the stakes considerably in that debate. Ironically, the CSA offered him to our show for an interview as part of their attempt to prove JDG didn’t say the organization was “a cancer.”
    I invite Grizzly to make his case and have his say in the Onward! comments section. And I want to hear from anyone with an opinion on where post-game partying stands on the list of fatal soccer problems facing Canada’s national men’s soccer team.
    For me, though, the main focus stays on the CSA board. And I look forward to discussing it with DeGuzman.
    Onward!

    Guest

    All a-loan

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    This blog has devoted quite a bit of space to the strange rules of Major League Soccer, and the ways they have directly harmed Toronto FC. Tight salary cap, limited rosters, games on international days, ridiculous limitations on signing home-grown academy prospects … you pretty much know the dance card by now.
    So, in the interest of fairness, let us raise a glass and a giggle to a moment last year when MLS oddities gifted the team with a huge shot of something – for absolutely nada.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Happened, of course, when Fulham striker Brian McBride – a legitimate front-line contributor in the always-tough English Premier League – voiced his wish to return home and finish his playing days with the Chicago Fire.
    “Not so fast,” the MLS rulebook proclaimed. Because the league, and not the teams, own players over here, McBride had some hoop-jumping-through to do before he could fetch up on the wind-swept Lake Michigan shore. When an established player enters the league from elsewhere, there is a claiming order based on the previous year’s final standings, modified by whatever other deals have been done in the meantime.
    All of a sudden, Toronto FC general manager Mo Johnston was gifted with the playing rights to a legit goal-poacher he’d never scouted, drafted, signed or had even the tiniest little carbon atom’s chance of ever having in his lineup.
    Chicago said “gimme,” and Mo dug in. Days and weeks went by, until the Fire finally coughed up youthful striker Chad Barrett, cash and the draft pick that turned into acclaimed goaltending prospect Stefan Frei.
    And now, as Barrett and Frei report for training camp under the BMO Bubble, Brain McBride – is off back to Fulham. Seems the Cottagers suddenly rediscovered that the EPL uses goals-for as the only method of determining who wins the game. The loss of McBride, therefore, compromised their competitiveness.
    Fulham, by the way, didn’t have to jump through any other hoops, or trade any prospects to Stoke City to seal the deal. Chicago is left with the possibility of having dealt Barrett and Frei for a late-season rent-a-player.
    In fairness, this is a loan deal. Chicago still holds McBride’s MLS rights, and expect to get him back.
    But will they? David Beckham has made it pretty clear he does not wish to end a productive run at AC Milan for another thrilling season of making Edson Buddle look good for the L.A. Galaxy. Fellow L.A. loan-out Landon Donovan may return from his loan spell with Bayern Munich – but not because he wants to. If McBride goes on a goal tear in West London, I’m sure the Cottagers have the wherewithal and whatwithwhich to make the deal permanent.
    Were I a Fire fan, I’d be ticked. As a TFC supporter – well, I still don’t like the rules, but it’s hard not to giggle.
    Onward!

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