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    CSA under heavy fire

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Two significant shots were fired in the CSA war yesterday.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The Voyageurs, Canada’s national soccer supporters’ group, sent out a letter demanding Dale Mitchell’s dismissal of head coach of the national team, on the simple grounds that it ain’t woikin’.
    Dino Rossi, lead signatory on the petition and main organizer of 2007 Black T-Shirt protest, will be our special guest on “It’s Called Football” on ThatChannel.com, tomorrow at noon. We will have much to discuss.
    The other blast was a follow-up lob, fired from Spain, from disgusted Canada midfielder Julian DeGuzman. The soon-to-be ex-Deportivo La Coruna ball wizard ruffled some feathers a couple of weeks back when he called the CSA “a cancer.” The CSA fired back that the reference was taken out-of-context. It wasn’t.
    Yesterday, DeGuzman went blast all over again, in an Associated Press story with Canadian Press additions.
    “It feels like we’re taking a step backwards,” he said. “That’s the feeling in the whole association. They lack knowledge about the present game.”
    Imagine that, Metcalfe Street! Here you are, arranging to give this nice young man a working holiday in Cyprus (Canada’s next international friendly), and he doesn’t seem to appreciate it.
    "The players we have were good enough to make the World Cup, I don't care what anyone says," DeGuzman added. "I heard statements from the coach where he said the team wasn't good enough ... but this team for me was the best team, but it was just the way he went about it, we went about it like a bunch of amateurs."
    Then comes the telling line – the high white note of truth in this entire sorry debate:
    "You're not going to make everyone happy if you don't have a proper plan about going about it."
    There’s a great old moment in the comic strip Doonesbury from long, long ago. Uncle Duke, the drug-addled, out-of-control gun freak, is cornered in a restaurant by his young assistant, who’s trying to talk him out of whatever mad scheme is about to go haywire this time.
    “A plan,” Duke muses, trying to remember. “I must have had a plan.”
    “Please try to remember, sir,” the kid urges. “I’ve got to try to stop you.”
    Point being – yeah, there’s a plan. A “strategic initiative,” even. But it’s all on hold because it relies on a fee increase on amateur players that was filed too late for any clubs or provincial associations to be able to adopt it.
    But from way out here – and I have no doubt Dino Rossi will agree with this – it doesn’t matter WHAT the plan is. These people have to be stopped.
    The biggest reasons we’re playing Cyprus are we don’t count internationally, and we don’t have any money. And since we would count internationally if we could pony up the dough, this is all about not having any money.
    The bigger, deeper problem is the people who run the game in this country have no idea how to raise money, other than increasing fees. This means they expect us to support professional national teams on the backs of amateur players. The rest of the world has been there, done that, and long-since moved on.
    DeGuzman did add that he would never refuse to play for Canada. He still considers it a great honour, even if he’s baffled and frustrated by the CSA’s chronic, self-perpetuating inefficiency. I respect that – even though I’m starting to wonder what would happen if the players unanimously refused to play in this summer’s Gold Cup?
    This isn’t really about Dale Mitchell, who has been a fine servant of Canadian soccer throughout a long, once-great, now unfortunately fading career. It’s about the system that put him there – the same names, faces, rivalries, infighting, naivety and general inability to even understand the problem, let alone solve it.
    I want to tell you that I have great hopes for general secretary Peter Montopoli and technical director Stephen Hart, two men who have broad respect and support from knowledgeable soccer people coast-to-coast. But I have no faith – none – in the management and board of the Canadian Soccer Association.
    We need a CEO who can raise money, and the CSA board will have to stand down and let him work.
    And let’s get more of those players speaking out. Dwayne DeRosario, Iain Hume, Jim Brennan, Tomasz Radzinski, Pat Onstad – I’ve always got a sympathetic ear if anybody wants to talk.
    That door is open to Stephen Hart and Peter Montopoli as well, especially if you gents know a way out of the wilderness that could actually come true – soon.
    Onward!

    Guest
    An optimistic story in today’s Vancouver Sun says the Whitecaps’ chance of winning a 2011 MLS expansion franchise have been boosted after MLS commissioner Don Garber said the Ottawa bid’s biggest obstacle is the lack of a soccer-specific stadium. This because any MLS team in Canada’s capital would be sharing turf with a revived CFL team.
    Vancouver, of course, doesn’t have one either – even though billionaire owner Greg Kerfoot has both the land and the financial means to build one, but cannot get local-government approval to do so.
    But hold the phone. If Garber is ousting Ottawa on stadium grounds – who’s actually left in the running?
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    - Miami doesn’t have an SSS. No plan to build one, either.
    - Portland is playing in a baseball park. Renovations are planned, but the ball team is still in the picture.
    - St. Louis has a suburban stadium plan – if such a facility can be built in this economy – but MLS doesn’t like their lack of a big-name go-to money man.
    Against that backdrop, Vancouver looks good – especially since they seem ready and willing to actually spend $40-million (U.S.) to land a franchise.
    As for an actually expansion announcement … who knows? Apparently, commissioner Don Garber has hinted he wants to have it nailed down before the new season kicks off in March. But then again … who knows?
    We’re left with a ongoing pattern where Garber rolls from town to aspiring town, heaping out compliments wherever a local press corps corners him, and then darkly hints that pretty much every city in the line has problems. Except Miami. I don’t think he’s yet dissed Miami, where Spanish giants Barcelona are murmured to have already picked out a coaching staff.
    So … if the Vancouver Sun is right, and the Whitecaps benefit because Ottawa didn’t get over the bar, then neither did Miami, who appear to be the favourites. Nor did the reborn Seattle Sounders, set to kickoff their inaugural MLS campaign sharing fake grass and gargantuan grandstands with the NFL Seahawks. 2010 debutantes Philadelphia are meeting Garber’s guidelines, but 14 short months from kickoff it’s still not 100 per-cent sure their new park in Chester will ever actually be completed.
    Does that mean Portland and St. Louis get into MLS by default, with a ball park and some pretty blueprints, respectively? Of course not. Miami.
    If I’m MLS, taking a gamble on Vancouver is looking really good right now. The worst that happens is the team ends up in a renovated B.C. Place stadium for a while. Not great, but a $40-million cheque that actually clears Kerfoot’s bank has to be worth something, right?
    It is no longer logically possible that any one standard – soccer park, name money man – will decide this race on its own. If you toss Ottawa and let in Miami, aren’t you telling Ottawa’s Eugene Melnyk you’d rather share old stadiums than new ones?
    And since the stadium requirement can’t really be made to fit with any certainty, does that mean no-one actually has the money, and the league is scrambling to make the best two deals it can, and is prepared to wait indefinitely to get the bids up?
    A huge amount of guessing, I concede. But that’s obviously what the league wants.
    If everyone’s guessing – up to and including the actual bidders – the league can pull whatever stunt it thinks will bring home an $80-million windfall in a time of great financial turmoil.
    And whatever Garber says about the need for soccer-specific stadiums, it’s pretty clear now that soccer is not driving this bus. And that is not good news for Vancouver.
    Onward!

    Guest

    By the banks of the Rideau

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    If you stand on the Bank Street bridge over the Rideau Canal in the south end of downtown Ottawa, you get a clear view onto the playing field at Frank Clair Stadium.
    To your right, the now-dilapidated and partially demolished south grandstand, with its dramatic poured-concrete angles and buttresses, looks every bit as tired and shabby as its reputation. Across the field, to the north, stands one of the strangest pieces of sporting architecture anywhere.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    From the bridge, it’s a big old sloping grandstand, with section upon section of different-coloured seat blocks – not particularly inspiring, but it’s easy to imagine the whole place packed and pumping with the rhythms, emotions and agonies of a big game. Underneath, though, is a whole different world.
    Ottawa’s famous old hockey barn, the Civic Centre, takes a lot of getting used to. It’s big – but its entire south side has been mercilessly rammed into the tiny space left under the football stand. Huge diagonal support beams shoot clean through the building, pinching the seating area to just a tiny number of rows of near-claustrophobic confinement. It’s a great, loud barn when the CHL’s 67s are home, but a monumentally strange place to watch a hockey game.
    Why are we talking about this?
    Because yet another group of Ottawa businessmen want to take yet another run at bringing the Canadian Football League back to the lower Glebe. That means renovation – nay, redevelopment – of the entire site. And that will require huge amounts … of public money.
    Now, let’s get in the car, find that strange, pinched Glebe on-ramp to the 417, and rocket blandly into the far western suburbs of our nation’s capital. You see that huge rounded block of a building, standing all alone in the middle of still-nowhere-after-all-these-years? That there is the home of your NHL Ottawa Senators.
    The former Palladium (I try to avoid second- or third-generation corporate names) was all by itself when it opened in the mid-nineties. And even though Kanata (the regional municipal entity) is a growing, thriving techno-town, all the growth and the development is over the horizon, an exit or two further west, and closer to the widening semi-majesty of the Ottawa River.
    And it is here, of course, that Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk wants to build a soccer-specific stadium, to host the MLS 2011 expansion franchise he hopes to be awarded pretty much any old day now. And though Melnyk sought to play it down at first, it is now clear this project will require huge amounts … of public money.
    This would have been a loser-leaves-town brawl for it all even before the global economy started impersonating the Senators’ initial season – or the CFL Renegades’ last.
    Certainly, soccer in this part of the world is a heavily suburban phenomenon. Kanata reflects that reality far better that the quaint, leafy setting of the Glebe. But Ottawa’s suburbs stretch for vast distances, and Kanata is way, way out on the western fringe.
    Standing on that bridge, taking in the entire historic Lansdowne Park stadium complex, I felt the same kind of link to sporting history and tradition I get from Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, or Taylor Field in Regina. World-class? Heck, no! Fine place to watch a game? Certainly.
    The Palladium might as well be a Home Depot for all that it’s going to pull on your heartstrings.
    This is a very roundabout way of saying I deeply hope Melnyk’s odd, unexpected bid to bring MLS to Canada’s capital does not prove to be the death knell of Frank Clair Stadium. Let all the soccer suburbs converge in the middle of town, on the canal, in a rebuilt and lovely multi-use outdoor park.
    For the past 20 years, the continent-wide trend has been to build stadiums and arenas next to each other – as close to downtown as possible. I understand Melnyk would like to have all his eggs served by the same extensive sea of parking lots, but where’s the town? Where’s the atmosphere?
    The fans of Ottawa MSL FC are going to want pubs – lots of them. And while I’ve been told reliably that the watering holes of the Glebe haven’t been all that friendly to soccer support over the years, that’s still a ridiculously small sample, because there just haven’t been that many games. All the bars near Toronto’s BMO Field know the neighbourhood and clientele have changed. The good ones have adjusted.
    Asking Ottawa’s city council to fund another building in Kanata with the only money that will ever make a Frank Clair rebuild possible would, I think, be a mistake. Kanata is a convenient way for the money man to make money, but atmospherically it’s – a parking lot.
    If Eugene Melnyk wants soccer in Kanata, let him find a way to pay for it. But if Ottawa is going to pay to be part of MLS, let’s put the stadium right smack dab in the middle of everything – a lovely spot that needs a brand new lease on life.
    Onward!

    Guest

    An old, unanswered question

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    As CONCACAF prepares for its final round of World Cup qualifying, Canada is setting up to play Cyprus. To address this, I offer up a column I wrote way back in 2002, in the run-in to the Korea-Japan World Cup. It’s sadly unamazing how little has changed.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    ---
    Whither Canada?
    In a week when the world was brimming with intriguing, unusual soccer match-ups, Canada was nowhere to be seen.
    If you had never heard of the World Cup or if you had no idea of the scope and importance of the giant global soccer tournament set to begin in Japan and Korea in just over a month, a quick perusal of the past week's international scores would certainly have tipped you that something big is going on.
    National teams flew all over the world for midweek fixtures. Unusual flags were flying in the darndest places. And in a week when anyone could play anyone else, when African and South American teams swarmed Europe, when Costa Rica toured the Orient, when both Luxembourg and Liechtenstein actually played and got out undefeated, the red maple leaf was… nowhere.
    Of course, there are daunting problems that must be overcome before Canada can play an international friendly. Players are scarce, and they are scattered all over the football world. As bizarre as it sounds, it is probably better for Canada in the long run that red-hot goaltending prospect Lars Hirschfeld turned out this week for Tottenham Hotspur reserves. Yanking him out of a Premier League set-up to play a friendly could have harmed the lad's prospects, and the country's, by extension, down the road.
    But what kind of ludicrous mindset is that?
    Did you ever want to go to a dance, but you didn't get invited? Worse still, did you ever find out later that you could have gone, but your date didn't bother to get tickets? Canadian soccer fans know the feeling well. It's hard to look at some of the games that were played this week and still believe Canada couldn't have been out there if they actually wanted to go.
    Cameroon was in Austria. Nigeria journied way up to Scotland. England hosted Paraguay, while Brazil visited Portugal, and Uruguay turned up in Italy. The Tunisians were taking the air in Slovenia! The Costa Rican CONCACAF glory wagon rolled into Japan! And, as I hinted above, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, tired of getting whaled by any opponent with a gross national product and a pulse, took the field against each other, and slugged out a soaring, thrilling 3-3 tie.
    It's not like there's any shortage of an appetite for these games. It's not like club teams around the world aren't having to cough up players in record numbers. But Canada continues to sit out, settling for an upcoming visit to Switzerland on the same day as the Champions Cup final.
    Is this all we can do? Is this the best training we can give the Paul Stalteris and Lars Hirchfelds, who will form the nucleus of whatever footballing future our nation has?
    Denmark welcomed Israel. Hungary got thrashed by Belarus. Canada… didn't play.
    Canada, by the way, is significantly on the rise in the latest round of FIFA world rankings. Being named the 74th-best soccer nation on the planet may not seem that much of a compliment, but it's an improvement of 18 full spots – and that’s just since Christmas. Only three nations, Cameroon, Senegal and African Nation's Cup hosts Mali, have shown greater improvement. Okay, the ranking system is ludicrously flawed, but teams are really going out of their way to play anyone they can right now. Why isn't an apparently hot, up-and-coming squad like Canada taking advantage?
    Ecuador and South Africa played a goalless draw in Spain.
    I find it absurd and unbelievable that there was no dance partner out there for Canada. If Finland was running around in Macedonia, why not us? If the Slovakians were campaigning in Belgium, why not us?
    Canada coach Holger Osieck has told me in person that he'd love to be playing an average of one international game a month. How can that be done if Canada hugs the sidelines during a week like this?
    Yes, geography's against us, but it didn't stop the United States from having a kickaround in Ireland.
    Canada's approach to its chronic, meddling, nettlesome soccer problems seems way too passive. At the risk of re-repeating myself, when reality runs against you, you have a choice. You can accept reality, or you can change it. I see little or no evidence of a will to change emanating from Canada's soccer braintrust these days.
    This pre-World Cup feast of international football might not produce any glorious Canadian victories, but sitting thousands of miles away on the sidelines during a week when yawning geographical chasms were being effortlessly straddled -- Malta 1, Azerbaijan 0 -- seems a dreadful waste, and the worst kind of stalling.
    The major thing that all these teams, that travelled all this distance, have in common is that they all found a way to get it done.
    Andorra 2, Albania 0.
    Is the problem here that nobody wants to play Canada, or that the current minds in charge of booking this nation's international soccer dance card either can't or won't get the job done?
    Germany 0, Argentina 1.
    It's a question Canadian soccer fans need to start asking.
    Turkey 2, Chile 0.
    Now.
    ---
    (Originally published April 18, 2002, on Sportsnet.ca.)
    (Onward!)

    Guest

    A game that wasn’t

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    A groggy Sunday morning finds an exhausted soccer scribe squinting at the fixture list, seeking inspiration. Nothing much is cutting through the fog, though that Liverpool-Everton FA Cup tie-up might well be worth a visit to the Football Factory later this afternoon.
    The game I’m really thinking about … isn’t going to happen.
    February 11, 2009, CONCACAF World Cup qualifying final round – Canada at Costa Rica.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    This deduction is based on the intricate, cutting-edge scientific method of crossing Honduras off the Hex sked, and scribbling in Canada instead. It works out pretty well, too. Honduras doesn’t play a home match until they host Mexico on April 1. Shouldn’t be too much snow in Canada’s soccer palaces by then.
    Had Our Lads managed to finish ahead of the tough, artistic Tegucigalpans in last year’s group stage, they might indeed be setting up to play Costa Rica, a side Canada against whom Canada has had reasonable recent success. There’d likely be a training camp coming up in Florida, and the fan boards would be bristling with roster debates.
    The Dale Mitchell coaching debate would still be simmering, but on a back burner. Would TFC captain Jim Brennan be invited to camp? Would Rob Friend, goal-poaching strikeman for Borussia Moenchengladbach? Both have said they will never play for Mitchell again – but had Canada won some games and qualified, would those words have ever been mentioned?
    How much of midfield drive-train Dwayne DeRosario’s “welcome to Toronto FC” press conference last week would have been devoted to World Cup qualifying?
    And where would the April 1 home game against Mexico be played? Did Toronto earn the honours with the singing, stomping passionate crowd that turned out to see things go oddly wrong against Jamaica? Or is Montreal still the players’ preference, despite its patchy grass and hugely pro-Honduran crowd last September?
    These are all things I’d love to be writing about – debates I’d adore to see us all have.
    Instead, we’re getting ready to play … Cyprus.
    With all due respect to an ancient beautiful land, and to Cypriot squad Anorthosis Famagusta’s giddy, unexpected run in the UEFA Champions League, how is visiting yet another Mediterranean minnow (remember the 1-0 loss in Malta?) going to help a divided, disheartened Canada prepare for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup?
    Come on, CSA! Ask one of the Cool Girls to dance! Portugal! Uruguay! Senegal!
    Just a good, technical team that can put out an advanced-level 90 minutes to get our guys ready to at least put out an honest effort in the regional shin-dig.
    But then again, given all the vocal discontent that is finally flowing forth from player after frustrated player, why should any of them bother to put out a better effort than the Canadian game’s sad, silly masters at the CSA?
    … Where Dale Mitchell is still coach, and they got us a game with Cyprus.
    Is it time to start writing the player/fan boycott story?
    Onward!

    Guest

    The Rohan Ricketts thing

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    In any other top-flight soccer league, anywhere else on the planet, we would not be having this conversation. But in MLS, with its 20-man roster limit and suffocating $2.4-million (U.S.) salary cap, someone has to be the odd man out.
    And while there are hugely compelling arguments to keep midfielder Rohan Ricketts on board (speed, skill on the ball, strong finishing, huge popularity with the fans), it’s more than merely possible his days with Toronto FC are done.
    The argument runs like this:
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Right now, with the draft done and Dwayne DeRosario finally signed, TFC has a senior playing squad of 24 players. That’s actually not that tight, given that newly drafted goalie Stefan Frei is one of those special “Generation Adidas” players who don’t actually take up a roster spot. Young Mike Grella, also inked to Toronto, just scored a hat trick in his first match for Leeds United’s reserves. That could keep him busy over in Blighty for … a while.
    On merit, central defenders Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez should not return, which would bring you down to a nice, even 20.
    But – players are still going to be coming in. A central defender at minimum, and GM Mo Johnston has publically admitted his love and devotion for 23-year-old Independiente net-buster Pablo Vitti. And even if both those men materialize, Johnston will never stop beating the bushes for new and promising models for TFC’s snazzy new shirts.
    All of which means – and Johnston confirmed this with a quick burst of words right at the end of yesterday’s press conference – that some present players will be heading out the door.
    Now – money:
    The unannounced terms of the DeRo deal make this a game of speculation, but I think we’ve got enough to at least do some useful thinking.
    Start with $2.4 million, and subtract almost a million of it for DeRo, Amado Guevara and Carl Robinson. Striker Chad Barrett made along about $60,000 last year, but just signed a brand new four-year deal. There had to be a significant pay hike in there somewhere.
    All cap issues, of course, are blurred by this odd MLS invention – allocation money. This can be used to exceed the salary cap, and Mo had along about $1-million of it heading into December. What we don’t know – yet – is how much DeRosario got. A chunk, one assumes, given how long it took to land him after the deal with Houston about six weeks ago. Allocation money was also dealt to Houston in that deal.
    Back to young Vitti, for a moment. If he’s Mo’s man, it will certainly be a loan deal. That puts the Designated Player debate in the parking lot, and saves an automatic $400,000 hit on the cap. But Vitti would still have to be paid, as would the new central defender(s).
    Which brings us back to Rohan Ricketts.
    He arrived from Barnsley to great fanfare, and certainly scored a couple of blinders in the home match against Colorado. There are concerns, though. Too many times – and too many people noticed this, coach John Carver notable among them – the ball went in to Ricketts, and never came out. He’s quite good at dribbling past defenders, but then he either runs out of room, or tries to dribble past more of them. This wins corner kicks and throw-ins, but it’s not producing telling crosses.
    Last season, he earned over $200,000.
    When Johnston made the surprising move to draft acclaimed Wake Forest midfielder Sam Cronin with the second pick in last week’s MLS Super Draft, he bought himself some cheap and promising midfield depth – defensive-minded, too, which might ultimately help if he needs to shift Robinson to the back four.
    Whether Ricketts, at this stage of his development, is now worth that roster spot and all that money suddenly becomes a very real and valid question.
    And it’s a pity, because as I said at the top, in most other leagues, we wouldn’t even be thinking about this. Ricketts would be an occasional starter, and deadly second-half attacking midfield sub.
    MLS, ultimately, is a league where four or five guys on each team “get paid,” and everyone else takes the bus. Ricketts, right now, doesn’t contribute enough to “get paid.” And there are others around (Tyler Rosenlud, Cronin, maybe Gabe Gala finally gets a shot) who might contribute, and won’t “get paid.”
    Ricketts could ultimately be better than all three of those guys put together, but it doesn’t change the spreadsheet, and MLS soccer is a spreadsheet game. His ability does give him some trade value, however. Even just getting allocation money in return could help an otherwise-doomed back four.
    I’d love to be wrong about this, people. But that’s where things appear to stand this morning.
    Onward!

    Guest

    The DeRo has landed

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    In a half-lit main corridor of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, with a ceiling full of wooden beer kegs on one side and a line of washrooms to the other, a patient line of 200 Toronto FC fans lined up to greet the dawning of their favourite team’s new day.
    Dwayne DeRosario, hair in handsome cornrows, wearing a natty tweet suitcoat, took to a makeshift stage, thanked the fans for their passion and support, and settled in to the happy task of signing autographs for everyone.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The 30-year-old star midfielder, owner of four MLS championship rings, one of the highest scorers in the history of Canada’s national men’s soccer team, has just publicly inked a four-year deal to push the Reds forward – all the way to the playoffs, and beyond.
    Terms weren’t released, but in a salary-cap league, it won’t be hard to figure out what he’s making. If you take the top salary available to a non-designated player, and pile on a tasty scoop of salary cap-free allocation money, a guesstimate of half a million U.S. greenbacks a year should put you right in the ballpark.
    The long delay – the trade that landed him from Houston was announced over a month ago – was put down to hard-line negotiating from DeRo’s agent, and the general out-of-townness of all concerned over the Holiday season.
    In the pre-autograph press conference, I asked DeRosario what message he has for Toronto FC’s fans – most of whom have wanted him on the team since the day the league granted the franchise in the first place.
    “I want to thank them for their continued support, for myself and for soccer in Canada” he said. “Because they’re the ones that make this possible. They’re the reason why we have a professional team in MLS. It’s because of the fans, and it’s because of the huge, diverse soccer community we have in Toronto. It’s a great atmosphere. I spoke to many players, and they don’t have anything but positive things to say the fans here in Toronto. So I’m definitely looking forward to the home-opening game, and the support that Toronto shows me day-in and day-out, and especially on the weekends when we have a game.”
    After that, GM Mo Johnston acknowleged that – as rumoured by just about everyone with a pen, a computer and an ounce of interest – 23-year-old Independiente striker Pablo Vitti is the South American striker he has been trying to lure north. Asked how the deal is progressing, Mo said only that things are being held up by the Argentine club. He did not elaborate.
    As for the smouldering asteroid crater of doom in the middle of TFC’s defence, Johnston said he is “looking at a lad in England,” and there are bureaucratic hold-ups in the U.K.
    By the time I got in with the fans, they were all well aware of all of this, bless them. General consensus was emerging that a central defender was needed more than a striker, but then the ACC doors opened and everyone went in to get a ‘graf from their new hero.
    TFC ’09 remains a work in progress tonight, but a huge and wonderful step has been taken. Dwayne DeRosario adds speed, cunning and finish to the midfield, and heaps of public credibility for the entire operation.
    … Oh, and Johnston also reminded us – right at the end of the press conference – that roster cuts will be urgently needed to get down to the league’s ridiculous 20-player limit. No specifics, but I again find myself doubting there is room on a shrinking team with a rising payroll for attacking middie Rohan Ricketts, his $200,000-play pay packet, and the sheer number of passes that go to him, and never come back.
    But that’s tomorrow’s debate. Tonight – well, what the heck? DeRo party!!!!
    Onward!

    Guest

    Manchester Who-nited?

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    So troubled financial mega-giants AIG have informed galactic soccer gods Manchester United they will no longer pay mega-millions to splash their initials across the front of the team’s famous red jerseys.
    Some piddly little detail about being a front-and-centre flashpoint in the global bank crisis somehow makes the four-year, 55.6-million quid sponsorship team a titch bit of an unaffordable luxury.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    United are apparently unconcerned, citing great and friendly corporate connections all over Malaysia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
    Let’s see – Arabian peninsula, infinite cash, strong interest in soccer, clear and present connections to Manchester ….
    Well, maybe I’m just feeling impish this morning, but what about – Manchester City?
    If I’m trillionaire and City owner Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (from Adu Dhabi) and I’ve just bought my way into the English Premier League, and my team is still struggling in the table despite my awesome and almost incalculable wealth, I’d be looking to raise my profile and make a statement that would ring in every single corner of the footballing world.
    And what better way to do it, than be the man who put the words “Manchester City” on the front of Manchester United’s shirts?
    Who cares if there’s rules against it? A trillion dollars can smooth over any number of petty, technical, bureaucratic obstacles. Sure, there would be complaints that City were helping United financially, but this would never be a deal about money. This would be a profound and powerful statement that money does – in fact – conquer all … something United believes deeply anyway.
    Just the name. No sky blue on the United shirts. And if Fulham owner Mohammad al-Fayed then tries to knock Samsung off the blue jerseys of near-neighbours Chelsea? Hey, it’s tough financial times, and we just created an entirely new stream of income.
    Sounds like a good day’s work to me.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Draftermath

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Okay. I’ve already admitted I’m not a draft expert, and on this bright morning in history I do not know what deals and sub-plots are still available to Toronto FC GM Mo Johnston.
    But I’m more than merely concerned with TFC’s draft performance in St. Louis yesterday.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Yes, they got three acclaimed young prospects – midfielder Sam Cronin (22), goalie Stefan Frei (21) and Toronto high school grad and frequent rent payer O’Brian White (23). No question these are three of the more acclaimed players in the pool, even though there are still questions and concerns about White’s reconstructed knee.
    But let’s step back and view this talent pool from a slightly more global perspective.
    The NCAA – from which all yesterday’s draftees hail – is notoriously weak as a producer of global soccer talent. In the rest of the world, if you can play elite soccer, you’re in somebody’s professional first team in your late teens. These guys – who all have in common that they are not playing elite pro soccer – are arriving at the party noticeably late.
    But that’s okay. MLS is hardly one of the world’s elite footy loops. It evens out, right? Wrong. Your average first-round MLS Super Draft pick does not start for his new team. And if he does, he’s unlikely to be a front-line contributor.
    There is also – and this is being utterly forgotten out there – a universal rule of young prospects that covers pretty much any sport you can think of. Gifted kids don’t always make it. If you draft three acclaimed picks, as Johnston apparently has done, the odds are you will get one – and ONLY one – three-year starting player.
    Which means – if you’re on the outside of the MLS playoff picture and you have three of the first 13 picks and a gaping, smouldering asteroid crater where the centre of your defence used to be – you make deals!
    Okay, I’m not privy to what offers came Mo’s way. We knew Toronto wanted White and Frei. But we also knew FC Dallas was hugely covetous of defensive whiz-bang Omar Gonzalez, and was reportedly ready to send Canadian international centre back Adrian Serious north to get him.
    So when Johnston drafted Wake Forest holding midfielder Cronin with the deuce pick, a lot of coffee went through a lot of nostrils on both sides of the border.
    See, if you factor in the weakness of the pool and the overall historic slow development of these prospects, a glaring truth emerges. If you have three first-round picks, two of them are vastly more valuable as trade chits. And if you don’t deal them, you’re down on the day.
    This is a league where roster spots are scarce. Bringing in three prospects, none of whom can even pretend to be centre backs? The risks are rising rapidly.
    Like many, I am assuming Cronin is trade bait, and we don’t yet have the full picture. I refuse – utterly – to board the burgeoning bandwagon that says this kid can replace TFC middie Carl Robinson a year from now. Nor is he going to be able to cover for Robinson, if the Welsh international is now forced back into central defence.
    In short, having three picks was great, and Mo is winning a lot of praise for the caliber of players he was able to select.
    But three prospects – however promising – is a big step down from having three picks. At least one of these kids has to be dealt for something immediately useful. The statistical hope that all three of them will be able to start effectively for Toronto a year from now is close enough to zero to scare the heck out of me.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Drafts: a dissenting view

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Amidst all the conjecture and speculation kicked up in front of Thursday’s MLS super draft, I wish to register … a complaint.
    One of the many wonderful things about soccer writing is, normally, you don’t have to deal with drafts.
    This bizarre concept – where a group of teams conspire together to deeply and artificially limit the employment rights of incoming talent – is something North American sports fans all grew up with, and rarely question.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    In the rest of the world, drafts are … illegal, unconstitutional, immoral, unconscionable, unforgiveable, inconceivable, idiotic, laughable, bizarre, wrong, stupid, pathetic – I could fill the page if I didn’t have a children’s music show to play in just over an hour.
    Throughout the soccer world (except MLS) players are free agents until they sign a contract with the best team that’s interested in them. Yes, their rights can be sold once they’re under contract, but no one can come to their door and say “you can only play for Irkutsk Ironmonger FC because they drafted you.”
    I have often been called on to explain this bizarre suspension of human rights to my colleague and friend Nigel Reed over at CBC, who summed up his own confusion on the subject very neatly in his most recent blog. I always end up stressing that while I do not defend this mockery, it has a deep and shameful place in the sporting realities of this part of the globe.
    The worst, by far, are junior hockey drafts. Boys in their early to mid-teens get yanked away from their families and friends, forced to start over hundreds of miles from home because the Swift Current Broncos or Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds need depth on the blue line.
    I ask any fan who wants to defend drafting how you would feel if you were only allowed to work – even negotiate! – with only one company in your chosen field, and they’ve set up shop five provinces over.
    Collectively, we don’t stand for this. That’s a big part of what labour unions are for. Ironically, the only reason sports drafts stand up in court is that some union agreed to them in collective bargaining.
    The thing I would most like to see on draft day – aside from Adrian Serioux pulling on a Toronto FC jersey – is the entire drafted class calling a mass press conference on the steps of the United States supreme court, declaring themselves free agents.
    The ironic thing? They are. Regardless of who drafts whom, the players are still completely free to make deals with any team in any other soccer league. But if a kid from central Ohio is good enough to play for the defending MLS-champion Columbus Crew and hopeless Colorado drafts him? Might as well go to Europe. What the heck?
    Anyhow, I know I’m in the profound minority here. Drafts are real and entrenched, and aren’t going away just because they are totalitarian communism. I just thought I’d get a quick little rant in before the human rights of a whole bunch of pretty decent NCAA soccer players get shredded tomorrow in St. Louis.
    Enjoy – and call me when it’s over.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Deal the picks!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    I freely admit that incoming, up-and-coming soccer prospects are not my particular area of expertise.
    We’ll have a true expert – pal, colleague and utter madman Sean Keay, currently roaming the Lower 48 for MLSDraft.net – as a special guest on “It’s Called Football” this coming Saturday. Sean’s been in Florida for the combines, and he’s off to St. Louis for Thursday’s draft. He’s the man who “knows.”
    But lack of knowledge can, at times, be a useful thing.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Knowing the intimate ins and outs of hundreds of promising NCAA prospects can, occasionally, blind one to blunt reality: players coming directly out of U.S. colleges rarely make a significant, immediate impact in Major League Soccer.
    So here stands Toronto FC, holding the second, fourth and thirteenth picks in what the experts broadly agree is a packed opening draft round. There’s even a rumour that Trader Mo (G.M. and noted draft optimist Mo Johnston) is looking to trade up to claim the opening pick.
    I’ve never been to Florida, and I only passed through St. Louis once, some twenty-odd years ago. My voice does not ring particularly loud in either locale. So let me just scramble up here on my electronic virtual Internet soapbox, and optimistically try to bellow truth across the ever-strengthening hurricane of pre-draft hype.
    Mo! Trade the picks!!!
    Okay, maybe not all of them. Hang on to number 13, and try to scoop up injured Canadian mega-prospect O’Brian White, who was all that and the second coming before his knee ligaments got shredded.
    But picks two and four have got to go. TFC can’t wait for help in the centre of defence. We already know FC Dallas wants the deuce pick, and could be convinced to send Canadian international brick wall Adrian Serioux back north where he belongs.
    Dallas covets unanimous back-four top prospect Omar Gonzalez, from Maryland. But as Mo and all the rest of us found out with last year’s Julius James flirtation, young defenders need time to season and mature before they can significantly wail in MLS.
    Gonzalez has oceans of future value, but Toronto FC needs solid, proven professional help a year ago. The vaunted acquisition of Dwayne DeRosario to drive the team forward could be utterly nullified without a stern and murderous upgrade at the back. Serioux would do that job … nicely.
    So what about the rest of the draft? Well, even two first-rounders can go south on you, although Johnston does have a pretty decent drafting record (Maurice Edu, Marvell Wynne). But high picks don’t automatically translate into contributing pros. You need two, even three prospects to have a reasonable chance of getting one player who can start for you effectively for three years or more.
    Even TFC’s current million-dollar stash of allocation money (A little MLS rule-fudger that lets you exceed the salary cap in certain limited situations) could run dry quickly. Dealing for depth and cash could help the Reds more – and more quickly – than gambling heavily on the speed of a young player’s development.
    In general, I want to see Mo dealing like a madman the next few days. Veteran defence, cash and one good prospect sounds like a good week’s work to me.
    Thoughts and comments?
    Onward!

    Guest

    Montreal musings

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    This past weekend on “It’s Called Football,” we got jaw-boning on about the Montreal Impact and their gallant, improbable pursuit of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
    A few thoughts:
    Good news, I suppose, that the team was granted permission last week to play their February 25 quarterfinal against Santos Laguna of Mexico at the decrepit, crumbling disaster known as the Olympic Stadium.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] The Big Owe has been ordered closed in the winter months for the past decade, ever since its hugely expensive fabric roof collapsed, dumping hundreds of tons of snow and ice on the set-up crew for the Montreal car show. Five people were injured that day. There is absolutely no way to outrun an avalanche that hits you point-blank from above.
    The City of Montreal has placed three key conditions on the match:


    That there is no snow or ice accumulated on the roof at the beginning of the game.
    That there is no snow or ice on the stadium's tower or the cables leading from the tower to the roof.
    That there be no snowfall or freezing rain in the 24 hours before the match.


    Now, prospective ticket buyers should know that fans will be safe should the roof collapse again. I remember watching the Alouettes and B.C. Lions play in a roofless Olympic Stadium in the early eighties. A rampaging thunderstorm drenched its way across town shortly after kickoff. The view from the dry, unaffected seats was astounding. This incredible curtain wall of pounding water – some 30 stories high, I’m guessing – all but obscured the playing field. Not fun for the players, but the fans were dry.
    But not even the fastest footballer (either sport) could hope to outrun a roofload of plummeting snow.
    So … a provisional back-up plan might be in order. Apparently, the game could be played the following day, or maybe get moved down to Florida. But before we add Impact ticket money to the sunshine state’s annual orange-juice-and-Disney-hype haul, let’s consider two alternatives.
    1) The dreaded SkyDome in Toronto. I know, I know, the Impact have been here and done that as far as T.O. is concerned. I can’t stand the ‘Dome, but it’s fifty times better than the Big Owe. This would also give Toronto fans who want to support the Impact’s global aspirations an easy way to show up and cheer.
    2) The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Unknown to much of the world, the largest domed stadium in the northeastern United States sits on the campus of Syracuse University. It’s closer than Toronto – only about a four-hour drive from Montreal – and also reachable from all of Southern Ontario (four hours on the beak from Toronto, regardless of side of the lake you take).
    Both these options should be explored – and the Impact should lay on a fleet of buses for any fans that want to travel. Yeah, it’s an expense, but you’ll earn it back in renewed fan loyalty before the coming season is out.
    The other question – should fans of Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps be cheering the Impact on?
    Not that I’d particularly want to visit Olympic Stadium ever again in my lifetime (I’m booked to play four children’s music concerts that day, anyway), the marvelous heart shown by this tiny, perfect little soccer team was, I believe, the top-drawer feel-good story in what was, admittedly, a tough year at the Canadian soccer office.
    With all due respect to burgeoning rivalries – and fully acknowledging how many Torontonians are already sick of the churlish incompetence of Stade Saputo’s useless, dangerous security goons – the Impact are striking a huge blow for Canadian soccer, and deserve everybody’s full-on support.
    … And a major break from the weatherman wouldn’t hurt, either.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Tap water and prunes

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Somewhere in all our world of footballing fun, a mother is tucking her young soccer player into bed.
    “Tell me a story, mom,” the little boy says.
    “For sure, sweetheart,” mom smiles. “Cristiano Ronaldo’s Big Book of Dives, or The Fuzzy Happy Bunnies Win the World Cup?”
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    “No, no,” the child responds, sticking his tongue out and shaking his head. “I want … a scary story!”
    “Are you sure, sweetheart? I don’t want you having bad dreams.”
    “Yes! I want the scariest story ever. Ever!”
    Mom sees the fire in her little superstar’s eyes. She decides he is ready to know … the truth.
    “The scariest story … ever?” she asks.
    “Ever!” he says, crossing his arms and thumping them to his chest.
    “All right,” she responds. “I’m going to tell you about – the Designated Player!”
    (Creepy organ music filters in from somewhere. The full moon casts long, crazy shadows across the room.)
    “Aw, mom! The DP is a good thing! It’s what Our Team needs to make the playoffs in the MLS East!”
    “No, son. That’s what it’s meant to be. But it isn’t really like that. The DP is supposed to make our team better, yes. But. You know how coach gives you oranges and Gatorade at halftime of your games?”
    “Yes …?”
    She takes a deep breath, and looks him right in his deep, disbelieving eyes.
    “The Designated Player eats all the oranges, and drinks all the Gatorade.”
    The little boy’s eyes widen in horror.
    “A-all the oranges?” he gasps. “No Gatorade? What do all the other players get?”
    Mom is silent. This is harder than she thought. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and tells him the dark and secret way things really are.
    “Tap water – and prunes.”
    The little boy shrieks, and pulls his covers way up over his head.
    “That’s horrible! It can’t be true!”
    “It is, darling. I’m very sorry, but it is. The league just doesn’t have enough Gatorade and oranges for everyone.”
    “But what about the owners, mom?” the boy whimpers. “They have lots of money. Can’t they give the DP their own Gatorade and oranges?”
    “That’s very clever, son. In a perfect world, you would be right. The owners give DPs a lot, but they still take a huge amount from the other players.”
    “David Beckham is a DP, mom! Is he … bad?”
    “Well, if he is, son, it’s not for that reason. He just made the best deal he could – same as all the other players.”
    The little boys looks out from under his covers. He’s pale and puzzled. A tear rolls down his cheek
    “Mom, what about Coach Carver? Didn’t he say he would leave if Our Team didn’t get a DP?”
    “Now son, remember that the coach hasn’t been here very long. He’s new to our world, and its strange ways. I’m sure, once they explain everything to him, he’ll understand and will decide to stay.”
    She gives her boy a big hug, and whispers to him that everything – somehow – is going to be all right.
    “Mom,” the child says, “I’m going to have a nightmare that Coach Carver gives me a prune.”
    “Coach Carver doesn’t want to do that, son,” his loving mother whispers. “You’ll see.”
    (Onward!)

    Guest

    Googling Landon Donovan

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    With news yesterday that the Los Angeles Galaxy’s other high-priced superstar is off to Europe for a winter loan spell with a big-name club, we get a chance to go in-depth on one of the more pressing, ongoing questions in MLS:
    Just why is Landon Donovan so annoying?
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Okay, he’s arrogant. A certain amount of that goes with the territory. After all, he makes his living cutting in front of people and trying to defeat them. A Google search of “Landon Donovan” and arrogance turns up a modest but noticeable 4,510 hits.
    (Donovan + jerk = 4,530.)
    It really doesn’t help that he gloats, though. Trash-talk is never appealing, particularly with this clean-cut Captain America thing he’s got going.
    (Donovan + a**hole = 3,010.)
    He’s also dangerous on a soccer pitch – an A-major damage-dealer for Canada’s hated soccer rivals to the immediate south. But his fondness for his own ability still seems out of step for a man who’s been a big fish in the tiny pond of MLS, but has yet to prove he can bring it on the world stage.
    (Donovan + hate = 21,000.)
    But now, Lad Landon is getting another chance. Just as Boy Beckham bounced off to AC Milan, Donovan has signed a short-term scrimmaging deal with Bavarian boot boys Bayern Munich. His total previous first-team European experience – also in the Bundesliga – consisted of seven games and no goals for Bayer Leverkusen in 2004-05.
    (Donovan + gerbil = 605. I don’t have a joke here. I just like googling gerbils.)
    He is a man whose attitude invites attack. Some harder-core fans rip Donovan over his alleged sexuality. You won’t get that from me. It’s petty and completely irrelevant to what happens on the pitch. I don’t give a flying fig if Landon is aroused by trees, Volkswagens or sugar-coated breakfast cereals.
    (Donovan + love = 83,000. It ain’t all bad!)
    These same fans bought up every pink streamer in every dollar store in the Golden Horseshoe prior to the Galaxy’s visit to BMO Field last May. The idea was to visually taunt Donovan on this same irrelevant point. It backfired on them, though. Landon didn’t play, and the Toronto pink streamer market collapsed. Demand is so ludicrously over-supplied right now, you can’t give the things away on street corners to this day.
    (Donovan + pink = 22,600.)
    Yes, he was the leading scorer in MLS with 25 goals – but how much of that came from gorgeous passes and crosses from Beckham? And now he seems to be following Beckham’s lead across the pond.
    (Donovan + overrated = 7,580.)
    Landon Donovan is a good player – very, very good in MLS – but his global superstar status has more to do with hype and self-confidence than with anything that has ever happened on a soccer field.
    (Donovan + underrated = 2,610.)
    I wish him well at Bayern, but I believe we will see him back in Our Little League – to paraphrase the great Humphrey Bogart in the last act of Casablanca – “soon, and for the rest of his life.”
    (Donovan + sweetheart = 4,590.)
    Onward!

    Guest

    TFC tremors

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Okay. After a holiday season drenched in ominous silence, clues are now pouring forth from the good ship Toronto FC.
    Two main plot lines:
    1) With three first-round draft picks and a roster that needs experience more than youth, TFC is working behind the scenes to deal a draft pick to FC Dallas for Canadian international midfielder Adrian Serioux.
    2) Don’t be the least bit surprised to see another draft pick get dealt to any team that can serve up allocation money in return.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    As to part one – Serioux is big, tough, relentless, the possessor of the lowest, fastest, most dangerous throw-ins anywhere in MLS. He could superbly anchor TFC’s chronically undermanned back four, as long as his temper doesn’t get him thrown out of games – a danger that could easily be doubled should he be paired in the middle with fellow international hard man and hothead Kevin Harmse.
    For part two – allocation cash magically allows MLS teams to temporarily exceed the league’s ridiculously low salary cap. Toronto GM Mo Johnston has amassed a metric whackload of the stuff, between $800,000 and a million, depending on who’s talking on which day.
    As suspected, the club’s contract talks with incoming midfield saviour and local hero Dwayne DeRosario have not been all sweetness and light. DeRo wants designated-player megabucks, and the allocation stash could be the only way to get him there. But there’s also the rest of the roster to pay, and if $400,000 of the cap is about to go to our still-anonymous DP, allocation bucks will be the only way of competently filling out the 2009 Redcoat roster.
    Remember that having three first-round picks doesn’t mean you’ll get three useful players. Statistically, you’re far more likely to get one and only one guy who’ll be able to start for you for at least three years. Given last year’s Julius James defensive woes, the picks seem far more valuable as trading chits.
    Okay, maybe not all three. By all means, draft a hot prospect, Mo. Maybe even two, if you get a lower pick back from Dallas in the Serioux deal.
    As for the DP, the January 6 announcement rumour is now obviously toast. The best word I can dig up at the moment suggests the deal will go down a couple of weeks from now. I suppose that still means there’s time for the team to come to their senses, and realize the current DP deal is a pretty raw deal. Allocations can help – hugely – but they’re not necessarily renewable from year to year, so what happens if you give DeRo what he wants, bring in a DP, land Serioux, keep the best of the rest of the roster together – and suddenly it’s 2010?
    We’ll know a lot more when we see how the draft picks land. If they start flying out in all directions, in deal after deal after deal, we’ll know for sure a DP is coming, and Mo is putting all his eggs in the Right Now basket.
    I’m excited – and worried. How’s by you guys?
    Onward!

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