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Grant

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  1. One gets the sense, listening to the social media chatter or the more hardcore fan-tilted fan podcasts, that the possibility Canada fans will be outnumbered in their own stadium on Friday reflects a massive failure for the nation’s soccer culture. The worry flitting just below the surface of these tweets and posts seems to be that we’re not patriotic enough. That somehow we’re not doing something right as a country when Canadians flock to a stadium to cheer for the other team. Why does it always happen to us, and only to us? My friend and former podcast co-host Daniel Squizzato, appearing on the Two Solitudes podcast this week, referenced an oft-repeated line from Canadian soccer hero Jason de Vos lamenting how Canada is the only country that never gets a true home game. The thing is, in terms of Friday's game, legitimate concern about tepid Canadian fan support and attendance for the men’s team is being conflated with a different phenomenon: the massive support the Mexican national team enjoys across the U.S. Vice Sports called El Tri the ‘most popular team in America.’ Every major Canadian city is a few hours’ shot from the U.S. border, so when we play Mexico at home thousands of Mexican-Americans are going to buy tickets and show up -- there’s no getting around that. But beyond that, the fretting about away fans at Canada games fails to take into account the globalized world we live in. Contrary to what de Vos said, Canada is decidedly not the only country that sees divided support in its own stadia when playing at home. We already know what happens when the U.S. men’s team plays Mexico anywhere but rustbelt cities where ticket sales are strictly controlled. But how about the home of football. You don’t have to spend much time on Google to learn Wembley isn’t the impenetrable fortress of English support of popular imagination. How about Poland at home? Or maybe Ghana? Current World Cup champions Germany certainly can’t always count on 85,000 pro-German souls screaming on their home team in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, at least not when the play Turkey. And to peek at an even darker place, read a little bit about Algerian fans in Paris. And this phenomenon isn't exclusive to world soccer. Let's imagine a stereotypical setting for trumped up displays of Australian pride. Personally, I picture Paul Hogan on a kangaroo guzzling Fosters Lager and yelling ‘What’s the good word mate?’ while Land Down Under plays in the background. Less ridiculous people, however, might imagine Australia playing in a World Cup of Cricket semifinal in Sydney. No chance Australia fans would be outnumbered in that stadium, right? Well, when it happened last year and they were -- yup, more Indian blue in the stands than Australian yellow.Yet Australian cricket, and, wait for it, Australia itself, continue to thrive. Essentially, in 2016, if you’re hosting a big match in a globalized sport and you don’t have a significant number of fans present rooting for the away team, as a country, you’re probably doing something wrong. Canadian soccer fans should feel fortunate enough to live in a prosperous, (relatively) tolerant country that hundreds of thousands of people choose to move to on a permanent basis each year. Yes, some people might be annoyed at seeing Canadians go to a Canadian stadium and actively cheer against Canada in favour of their birth country, or the birth country of their parents. Upset even. That’s understandable and a fascinating discussion about the human condition, but only in the abstract. In the real world, this is something that happens in every single multicultural, modern Western nation. And it would happen in countries like Japan and South Korea too if the populations weren’t homogeneous. Just because we see strong away support at Canada home games, it doesn’t mean Canadian soccer fans have somehow failed in rallying support to their cause. And it certainly doesn’t mean Canada as a country has failed to ‘integrate’ people who move here, whatever that even means. However the crowd looks when the game kicks off on Friday, Canada fans should concentrate on being loud, on being organized and on making sure the Canadian players are acutely aware that thousands of fanatics are living and dying by their success. Short of all that, we can also be stereotypically helpful in directing as many Mexican fans as possible to the stadium, in Vancouver, Washington.
  2. 1. So the Canada roster is now out. Any names on there that Mexico fans will recognize, nevermind actually be concerned about facing? If Mexico fans follow MLS, then they will know the name Cyle Larin. The Orlando City striker should be the one who gets the lion’s share of the publicity this week. Folks will also remember Julian de Guzman because he played with Andres Guardado at Deportivo la Coruña. Personally, I just saw Tesho Akindele provide a spark for FC Dallas against Les Québecois, so he should be on the radar as well, at least for the people that matter. 2. I understand Benito Floro had a well-regarded spell with Monterrey in the late 90's. Does the fact he currently manages Canada mean there is additional interest or curiosity around this Canada team among Mexico fans or media? If he would have won a title at Monterrey, then people might hold him in higher regard (or, as a God in Monterrey) than they already do. [Lasting] four seasons with one club is a decent record for any coach who has worked in Mexico. Honestly, the fact he coached Real Madrid carries a lot more weight among the Mexican media snobs. 3. In terms of the Mexico roster, what are the biggest surprises in terms of additions or players being left out? The focus this week was on the omissions of Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and Guillermo Ochoa. Dos Santos was left out because he is injured, Real Sociedad asked the [Mexican federation] not to call up Vela, and Memo Ochoa saw his first league action in two years at Malaga just two weeks ago. The lesson here, do your homework when you are looking for a team as a free agent. Ochoa could have gone anywhere after his performance at the World Cup, then zeroed in at Malaga without realizing that the current keeper, Carlos Kameni, is coached by his Cameroonian countryman. But, none of these three are a bigger omission than Oribe Peralta – Olympic hero, consistent goal scorer for club and country, and the only Mexican striker of note who is on any kind of a hot streak. As far as unexpected additions, people tend to focus their wrath on the dudes that will never see the field. In this case, third-string keeper Pikolin Palacios and the defender Yasser Corona, who just came back from injury in January. The player who could force the issue and will likely come in as a substitute is Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, fresh off a hat trick over the weekend. 4. Benito Floro will likely line Canada up in some variation of a 10-1-0 and 11-0-0 for these two matches, hoping to steal a draw. What can we expect from Mexico in terms of starting eleven, tactics and/or formation knowing that a large part of the job will involve waiting patiently to break down the bus and not getting busted on the counter or on set-pieces? Juan Carlos Osorio has different tactical philosophies for road and home games. He will be much more cautious and defensive on the road, so he will line up in a 4-4-2 with defensive minded wingbacks. As he did against Honduras, he will stress organization to avoid getting caught out on numbers on a Canadian counter. I suspect he will use his subs in the second half to bring in a fast, technical player who can tip the balance in Mexico’s favor. Jesus Corona and the aforementioned Chucky are the likely candidates. The Azteca will be a different story. Osorio will play a 4-4-2 that will turn into a 4-2-4 for most of the match. He understands that the Azteca has to once again become that intimidating fortress with an armada of trebuchets at the ready to devastate their opponents. Mexico lost that in 2013. They need to get it back. 5. There's been a lot of talk among Canada fans about the crowd at BC Place. Almost 50K tickets have been sold, a huge crowd by Canadian soccer standards, but the worry is that the majority of those seats will be occupied by Mexico supporters. The Canadian Soccer Association has tried to mitigate this by limiting sales to people with a Canadian mailing address. We know El Tri is a big business in the U.S., do you think those fans will find a way to make it up to Canada and fill the stadium? Mexico has fans all over the U.S., and that includes the Northwest. I expect there will be those who make the drive, just as I will (I am flying to Seattle and driving across). Mexican fans also have the tendency to buy tickets day of, so any unsold seats may be filled by fans wearing green. 6. Let's talk feelings. Mexico obviously has a huge rivalry with the U.S. men's team, and there's certainly no love lost when it comes to certain countries in Central America either, but what about Canada? Do Mexico fans have any special feelings or memories when it comes to playing Canada? Are we an afterthought? Not at all. You have to remember that the U.S. is a relative newcomer to the upper echelon of CONCACAF. It has only been 20 years that the U.S. has staked their claim. Before that, Mexico’s biggest rivals in the region were Canada and Costa Rica. I still remember the nerve racking qualifier in 1993 in Toronto where Mexico had to come from behind, and the 2008 game [in Edmonton] where Mexico struggled to draw 2-2, a point that they needed just to get out of the semi-final round. 7. Alright, brass tacks time. Is there a chance Canada steals a point over the course of these two games? (And we're not talking a Dumb and Dumber 'So you're saying I have a chance?' type of chance.) Of course there is. The stench of Mexico’s 2013 hex still hangs in the air. The longer the game goes scoreless, especially at the Azteca, the stifling pressure that nearly drowned Mexico last cycle will begin to weigh heavily on the players again. This is not the 1990’s, where Mexico dominated their regional rivals. That was due to the fact that Mexico had better players, but also because Mexico was almost entirely a 'local league' national team who was used to playing at altitude. As talented as this side is – and make no mistake they are VERY talented - up to nine starters will be European based. That's nine players who do not play at altitude on a regular basis. Now, if Mexico scores an early one, then things change. And then it could get ugly for Les Rouges. 8. I would probably pass out and then repeatedly douse myself with cold water for several hours afterward to make sure I wasn't dreaming, but I'd like you to describe how you'd react at the final whistle of a Canada victory at Azteca Stadium on Mar. 29? I would not be happy, of course. But I learned long ago to hedge my emotional investment in sports teams. That said, Mexico’s inevitable elimination at any World Cup still causes me to go into a major funk that lasts a few weeks.
  3. On Monday, several of the Salvadoran players involved in last October's "work action" apologized publicly for leaving the national team in a protest over pay and training conditions. The temporary strike resulted in El Salvador fielding a considerably weaker team against Canada in the November World Cup qualifier played at Estadio Cuscatlán. Canada was unfortunately not able to fully capitalize on their seeming advantage and had to settle for a 0-0 draw and a solitary point. But yesterday's apology from the El Salvador players looks to have settled the dispute with the governing body. That means the Central American nation's finest should be available to take on Honduras in two crucial March qualifiers. Games in which nothing would suit Canada better than those two teams nicking points off each other. According to La Prensa Grafica, the players who took part in the walkout have been fined "10% of their salaries" although the report is unclear whether the financial penalties will ever actually be enforced. It seems more like a stayed sentence from my reading. The post below originally appeared on October 28, 2015. Concacaf, the happy-fun-scandal ball that never stops bouncing. We're still over two weeks away from the next round of World Cup qualifying, and already a minor controversy around comments made in the media has resulted in a refereeing switch for Canada's opening round match against Honduras. Now, another one of Canada's group rivals have pitched into chaos. There are many moving parts involved, but the gist is that the El Salvador squad has basically refused to train because of a dispute over money. This week, El Salvador had planned what is referred to in Central America as a 'micro-cycle,' or a sort of mini, mid-week national team camp featuring domestically based players between league matches. But on Monday, the players called in to the training camp simply refused to go out onto the pitch. All of them. And as of Wednesday they are holding firm. Local paper La Prensa has outlined the basics of the players' demands: bonuses for being called to the national team; prize money for World Cup qualifiers won, per diems for travel with the national team, better travel arrangements generally, and better training facilities. Foreign-based squad members not at this specific camp have also voiced their support for the quasi-strike via social media It's important to remember we're not talking about pampered multi-millionaires. Most of the El Salvador regulars play in the domestic league, with a few others in the NASL or lower level European leagues like Iceland or Azerbaijan. The 'prize money' demands quoted in media reports amount to between $1,000 and $4,500 per player. This feud has been simmering for over a month. The players voiced similar complaints about their situation after a friendly against Guatemala in Los Angeles on Oct. 13 via a sort of manifesto that was signed by all players. In the absence of any concrete actions around those demands, the situation escalated. The situation reached a nadir on Tuesday evening when El Salvador captain and Orlando City midfielder Darwin Cerén went on one of the most popular drive-home shows on U.S. Spanish sports radio and called his federation's vice-president a 'ridiculous man' who wouldn't even know how to put on a football shirt. The past few days have seen players and officials trading accusations in the media. The national federation (FESFUT) has described the job action as 'manipulation' led by certain players. The organization previously assured the players they would be put up in a four-star hotel during their national team stints next month, but that the cash amounts being asked for aren't realistic. So what does this all mean for Canada? For starters, FESFUT apparently has a Plan B that involves calling in new players to replace those who refuse to train. While that could theoretically mean Canada faces a bunch of second-stringers in San Salvador next month, many of the players involved in this dispute have said they still plan to suit up for the qualifiers. There's a lot of rhetoric around how the beef is with the federation, not the national team shirt. FESFUT has also talked about sanctions and other penalties for players refusing to train, but given the sport's popularity it seems implausible they'd kneecap the national team ahead of such important games. What's not in question is that El Salvadoran soccer has had a rough time of it. Honduran Ramón Maradiaga was recently brought in to replace ex-manager Alberto Roca following the team's dismal showing at the Gold Cup. And the program has never really recovered from a massive match-fixing scandal in 2013 that saw several players banned for life from participating with the national team. Whether all this off-pitch controversy spurs El Salvador forward depends on whether you subscribe to the 'adversity as motivation' school of thought. Or it could of course have the exact opposite effect. That's the stuff for armchair sports psychologists. Either way, having the entirety of your squad at war with the national federation is not how most fans would prefer to see their team preparing for World Cup qualification.
  4. First off, how do fans in El Salvador feel about this recent 'strike' (can I call it that?) by members of the national team? Which side has the popular support - the players or the governing body? The El Salvador Football Federation (FESFUT) has never had popular support. The fans have the unanimous verdict that our football executives are the ones to blame for our perennial misfortunes, but in this particular case, the fans are very disappointed with the players. Some radical fans resented that the players demanded more money, but the action that really hurt the players name was, first, that they called off the training sessions (just days ahead of key matches against Mexico and Canada), and second, the way they (tried to) justify themselves with a childish attitude during media interviews. The players who directed the "strike" are now called "divas" and they have been ridiculed on social media. The squad named for the matches against Canada and Mexico has far less experience than the one at the Gold Cup, for example. How do fans and journalists in El Salvador feel about the team's chances in the next two games, with this current list of call-ups? It's difficult to be optimistic about it. Most fans and journalists predict a heavy loss in Mexico and pray that our squad could get better for Tuesday. The new players are young and have no experience, mostly on defense. No one would blame them for a big loss, but if it happens, the fans' reactions won't be pretty. There's a big organized fan club who are advising the fans to "boycott" the stadium for the match against Canada. The organization is called "La Barra Azul" (you can find their statements on their Facebook page), and they ask the fans not to give more money to FESFUT. Which players left off the squad will El Salvador miss most? To me, El Salvador's best player is Alexander Larin. He's currently used as a left fullback, but he's also a great attacking midfielder with a accurate left shot. He'll be missed, as well as our 2 central defenders, Milton Molina and Alex Mendoza. On popular perception, Arturo Alvarez, Richard Menjivar and Darwin Ceren could be more important. Not to me. I think Alvarez is in the twighlight of his career and he's not in good shape. Menjivar and Ceren are good, but not irreplaceable. How do you expect this dispute between the players and the governing body to play out? Will the full squad be back for the next round of matches? Yes, the problems are not solved. The executives don't accept the blame and they are trying to punish the players as hard as possible. The future is uncertain and it could get worse. Finally, there's the obvious regional and cultural rivalries with Mexico and Honduras, but does playing Canada hold any special connotation for fans in El Salvador? Or are we generally an afterthought? There's no rivalry, but El Salvador fans remember some great matches against Canada. There's our loss in 1981, but the Youtube generation has no footage of that game, and it's only remembered as a bad start for a glorious tournament. Our two great victories in the 90's (the 2-3 in Vancouver 1992 and the 4-1 in San Salvador in 1997) are still very popular, as are the heroes of those games (Oscar Ulloa and William Renderos Iraheta). Of course, we also remember with pain our key losses in the 1993 final round. Most the fans from those years still remember names as Bob Lenarduzzi, Alex Bunbury and Paul Peschisolido. But, history aside, people really don't have an idea about the Canada team that will play next Tuesday in the Estadio Cuscatlán. Most journalists still have the perception that Canadian players are stronger and quicker, and that El Salvador are not favorites, but it's won't be impossible to get a draw or a win. Right now there's too much uncertainty about Canada, and the media only talks about Mexico.
  5. Henry Bejarano offered up more than one potentially controversial opinion in the course of a very short article on the Honduran web portal Deiz.hn. The headliner? He believes Honduran manager Jorge Luis Pinto is "a bit of a hothead." (The full article is available here in Spanish.) More of interest to Canada fans: he hopes that Pinto can get Honduras to the World Cup. Yes, that's right. Why would a referee grant an interview to media from one of the countries involved in an upcoming match he's officiating? At least he was careful to offer opinions that could expose him to accusations of bias from both sides equally. The full context of his Pinto 'hothead' quote is that he considers the Colombian a solid professional, but one whose anger can get the better of him. He describes himself as "very strict" on the pitch and full of happiness off of it. He's never reffed a match involving Honduras at the senior level, but he was in charge during the Whitecaps 1-0 victory over Honduran club side Olimpia at BC Place in September. According to this interview, he also mistakenly believes the BC Place roof will be closed during the match. He spoke about how Costa Ricans and Hondurans are "brothers" and that he's pulling for his native country to qualify for Russia too. He ends with a quote that should haunt every Canadian supporter who's ever watched a match involving Concacaf refereeing. "Although I'm a referee, I wish [Honduras and Costa Rica] the best of luck."
  6. A few points before we get to the money shots. At no point in the article does Cavallini actually say he won't play for Canada again. As pointed out to me today on Twitter, the writer goes lengths to paint Cavallini as Canadian. His comment about being embarrassed by the 8-1 loss to Honduras doesn't mean anything. Every player in a Canadian shirt was humiliated that day. Ultimately this is not terribly surprising. As Daniel Squizzato and others have reported straight from Benito Floro's mouth more than once, Cavallini has repeatedly turned down Canada callups for no good reason. Here's the bit on Canada: Language can be funny. Upon reading the passage carefully and doing the translating it's no longer clear to me whether he actually regrets pinning his international future to Canada, or more sort of regrets the fact his Uruguayan-born daughter won't ever be able to see her dad play for her country's national team. Yes, I'm splitting hairs. What is clear is that this is far from a gushing endorsement of the Canadian national team or his potential future involvement with it. One other part of the interview struck me as odd. It was in response to a question about how Cavallini is enjoying life in his adopted country. Toronto is big and cold, both literally and metaphorically, whereas Uruguay is laid-back and warm. I've made a few feeble attempts to track Cavallini down over the years, through the CSA, his club and the Uruguayan community in Toronto. All those calls fizzled. Until someone tracks him down and gets him on the record we won't know whether he'll ever play for Canada again. Until that time, Canadian soccer supporters should focus their attention elsewhere. Lucas Cavallini is a promising talent in a unique club situation. He could help the Canadian men's team immediately in an area it desperately requires help in: scoring goals. That said, he is not, nor was he ever, a saviour.
  7. ESPN Deportes - America suffers more than necessary in a first-leg draw with Impact America's Saviour appeared when they needed him most. Oribe Peralta woke a sleeping and dazed America to give hope to the Eagles, who suffered against the Impact in the final round of the CONCACAF Champions League at the Azteca. Oribe appeared and Matosas could breathe. At the end it was drawn at one goal apiece and left all be decided in Montreal. America didn’t encounter a Herediano in the Azteca as happened a few weeks ago. The Eagles faced a more prepared, experienced and focused Impact. Montreal knew what they wanted and what they needed to do to get that. Their clear ideas were reflected throughout the game. Secure in defense, strong in midfield with the indomitable Nigel Reo-Coker and shrewd front with Ignacio Piatti and Dominic Oduro, the Canadian group settled in the Azteca, played with intelligence, always very patient and tidy. They had a well prepared plan and followed it step by step. Azteca Deportes (Mexico) - Oribe Peralta rescues America from ridicule The controversial play of the first half came when the Honduran referee, Hector Rodriguez, decided to annul a goal by Michael Arroyo due to an offside call. It was a close play and disputed by the Americanistas who filled the grandstands. Amid an ineffective attack, Gustavo Matosas subbed in Oribe Peralta during the second half, who in the end became the hero for the azulcremas. Another incident that deserves noting occurred when Benedetto came off the field to a chorus of boos to make room for Martín Zúñiga. In a clear sign of disapproval, America's number nine made a hand gesture that seemed to indicate the fans were crazy. Medio Tiempo (Mexico) - America left with life against Impact He had to come off the bench to give new life to America. When it seemed that the doubts would become that much larger, Oribe Peralta appeared in the agony of the match to make it 1-1 against the Montreal Impact, and Matosas’ Eagles remain with aspirations to reach the final of the CONCACAF Champions League. After missing on a number of occasions, the Mexican striker appeared to head the ball home just as despair was starting to grip the team and the fans that filled the Azteca. And it was in those final minutes when the colossus really woke up and appeared ready for a memorable comeback, because for most of the game the Canadian squad knew how to keep the game quiet and take advantage of America’s offensive blunders. La Nacion (Costa Rica) - The Montreal Impact take a grand step toward the Concacaf title The Canadians were not intimidated during their visit to Azteca Stadium and rather were two minutes away from the win against America. Meanwhile, the America squad suffered yet again and battled against the scoreline until the 88th minute due to an early goal on 16 minutes from the Argentine midfielder Ignacio Piatti. The visitors were better team in the first half; they handcuffed America in midfield and took advantage of the the speed of their attackers to do damage on the counterattack. Diez (Honduras) - America rescues a tie against the Impact In the first half the Montreal Impact had two chances to grow the lead: the first was wasted by Piatti who tried to float the ball over keeper Moises Munoz; the second was interrupted by a pulldown by Paraguayan Osvaldo Martinez on Dominic Oduro, who had started to break away one-on-one with the Mexican goalkeeper. In the second half, urged on by the sound of 100,000 followers, America tired of generating dangerous opportunities and failing to capitalize. Quintero, the Argentine Dario Benedetto and Oribe Peralta let Bush off the hook in front of goal. Then the crossbar denied America the tying goal at 67 minutes as Argentine Rubens Sambueza bounced a powerful left-footed shot that hit the bar from the middle distance.
  8. Thirty-three years later and both those quotes sound absurd. For starters, Italy’s first World Cup in over four decades did not ‘do wonders’ for soccer in Canada. There was the 1986 tournament debut, and the short-lived Canadian Soccer League that died in 1992, but almost nothing but abject failure and disappointment since. It’s also apparent the majority of the children and grandchildren of those revellers have not taken up the cause of Canadian soccer in the meantime. At least not based on attendance figures for Canada’s national men’s team matches in Toronto. (To be clear, neither did the offspring of any other nation’s boosters.) And even more surprising is a Toronto sports fan who's genuinely passionate about the Canadian Football League. Today, the suggestion the Grey Cup could cause street celebrations sits somewhere between quaint and bizarre. But it’s true, at one point in the late 70’s and early 80’s the CFL was a big deal in Toronto. One of the biggest deals in fact. Of course that was before cable television, the internet, the Raptors and the rise of the NFL into the most successful sporting behemoth in global history. But yeah, just a generation ago Torontonians would regularly pack Exhibition stadium with crowds of 50,000-plus to watch the Argos. Those two quotes sound even weirder now that fans of the number four and five teams in the Toronto pro sports hierarchy are fighting bitterly about whether the Argonauts should be allowed into TFC’s BMO Field. The debate leaves me torn, because while I don’t spend much time thinking about the CFL these days I would feel profoundly sad to see the league disappear. And by all accounts that's what would eventually happen if the Argos don’t secure a permanent home in Canada’s 'national soccer stadium.’ It’s not just idle speculation. I worked for a time at an advertising industry trade publication and wrote about the Argos struggles in Canada’s largest city. People I spoke to for that story assured me that the concentration of corporate head offices, media buyers and ad agencies in Toronto mean the league would lose credibility without a presence in the nation’s largest media market. On the other hand, it’s also hard to see the shared stadium idea as anything but a step backwards for soccer in Canada. It’s simple. There are currently two medium-sized, natural turf, soccer-specific stadiums in the country (including State Saputo) – and soon there might be only one. A switch back to a plastic turf in one Toronto stadium wouldn’t sound the death knell for soccer in this country, and arguing it would is ridiculous. But the symbolism involved in it being ‘the national soccer stadium’ sends a message – to administrators, fans, players, coaches, basically to almost everyone involved in trying to grow soccer in this country – that we aren’t ready to take soccer seriously. I wonder what Benito Floro thinks privately about tearing up the BMO pitch so it can be used for gridiron football? Not to mention the wonderful fodder for those who only seem to have time for Canadian soccer when it comes to tearing it down. TFC sharing a stadium with the Argos would be just another reason to dismiss domestic soccer as bush league. Unworthy of attention and something you wouldn't deign to patronize with eyeballs or pocketbooks. It's similar to how many sports fans in southern Ontario think about the CFL. I’ve heard the excuses, ranging from television blackouts in the 80’s to a lack of video games featuring CFL players, but seven years of interacting with Toronto sports fans leaves me with a singular explanation: the CFL is seen as minor league. If Torontonians watch North American football it’s going to have four downs and billions of television and sponsorship dollars behind it. It’s sad the plebs of Toronto sports fandom are at each other's throats over this, but perhaps somehow appropriate. I’ve not encountered any other two sports that inspire the same kind of contempt and hostile indifference than Canadian soccer and Canadian football do. This isn’t a sermon from a Toronto-hating provincial expat. It’s a lament at a sad situation whose only outcomes involves everybody losing marginally. The CFL was, and still is, something of a rare cultural artifact in a country that's always struggled to find them. Plenty of things pull us south but very few bond from east to west. I hate appeals to tradition because mostly they're stupid - Washington Redskins anyone? - but this particular case involves something I cared a lot about as a child versus something I grew to love as an adult. A reinvigorated Argos team sharing an only relatively compromised grass pitch is the outcome I'm hoping for. But that's likely impossible and certainly won't be popular with TFC supporters. Here's one last way to look at all this, at least from the soccer side of the equation: if sports fans in the country’s largest city remain indifferent while its oldest sports team fails, taking down the only exclusively Canadian professional sports league with it, it probably doesn't bode well for reviving a professional soccer league of our own. Corrected on March 16, 2015: This article originally stated that crowds of "60,000-plus" watched the Argos at Exhibition Stadium. According to Wikipedia, the largest-ever crowd to watch the Argos at Exhibition Stadium was 54,741 at the 1982 Grey Cup.
  9. The 2016 100th anniversary Copa America and whether Canada can qualify for it have raised the stakes for our nation’s soccer fandom. (The men's side is what we're focused on here.) Not to mention the oft-rumoured changes to Concacaf WC qualifying that could offer more difficult matches at an earlier stage. Sure, losing by seven goals in Honduras was shattering. But how about gassing July’s Gold Cup and thus missing the hemisphere's biggest soccer party ever. And then come September, suffering early elimination from Russia 2018 at the hands of, say, Guatemala. Narrowly missing out on the Hex for the first time since 1997 while getting slaughtered by a hated rival is certainly bad, but elimination from WC qualifying before the good Concacaf teams have even started would be a more insidious failure. Imagine suffering the months-long hype around a suddenly Canada-free 2016 Copa America. It would be existential-crisis stuff all over again for Canada fans. At that point it might be time to order genetic testing kits to shake out some long-lost Latin American ancestry. At least it would be a team to cheer for. It’s hard to know what long-term damage such rapid-succession setbacks would provoke. Some of you may be screaming right now, “After all we’ve come through, WHY WOULD WE STOP NOW?” Fair enough. But consider this. It’s not the incorrigible addicts we have to worry about. Elimination from World Cup qualifying in 2015 would mean three more years without meaningful games for the senior men’s team. Goodwill engendered from a respectable second half in 2014? Wasted. An entire summer of hot North and South American soccer action for Canada-haters to revel in on social media. We could lose a mini-generation of Canada soccer fans currently feeling okay about themselves, maybe on account of U20 success or perhaps the fact a former Real Madrid manager has wrangled the national side into playing solid-yet-uninspiring soccer. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve outlined the absolute worst-case scenario. It’s also completely reasonable to expect Canada to turn in a solid Gold Cup and then comfortably dispatch its opening opponent in qualifying, favourable draw or not. But if there’s anything my relatively short stint as a supporter of Canada’s men’s team has taught me, it’s that a whole bunch of bad shit always seems to happen. I've learned to mentally prepare for the worst. And you know what? Maybe three long years of nothing to get excited about (over and above the numerous long years of nothing to get excited about already in the books) would simply solidify support among Canada’s base. Long simmering resentments given more time to stew. Chips on shoulders given more time to fester. It would just make the long-awaited Holy Grail of World Cup qualification that much sweeter and more savoury, wouldn’t it? We’ll wait for genuine success until we die, or at until Canada ceases to exist as a Fifa recognized nation. Now go buy yourself a new Canada kit. We’ve got some soccer to watch this year.
  10. Gold Cup the immediate concern For Canada, qualifying to the 2016 Copa America Centanario probably just got slightly harder. If Pinto proves even partially as effective with Honduras as he was with Costa Rica it means los Catrachos will improve from the state they’re currently floundering in. Honduras had a shitty World Cup and its media was filled with stories about players and coaches arguing over money during the tournament. The appointment of Hernan Medford as manager was meant to fix this. In fact things grew worse. He argued with fans and local press about everything, including the fact he chose to wear a solitary earring. He also froze out first-team regulars and guided Honduras through a disastrous Copa Centroamericana that has left them awaiting a playoff with French Guiana just to qualify for the Gold Cup. Whether the move to dump him after four months is knee-jerk, it's hard to argue Pinto isn't an immediate upgrade. Assuming Honduras kicks on to the Gold Cup, this theoretically re-ordered squad will be one of those Canada battles for the last two Copa America Centanario spots, along with Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Trinidad, Haiti and Cuba. And if Canada suffers the poor fortune to get lumped yet again with Honduras in World Cup qualifying, a Jorge Luis Pinto-managed squad is certainly less preferable than a chaotic, demoralized one. Conversely, is there a chance Pinto could fail? Of course! Like any manager Pinto doesn't come with a 100% money-back guarantee. His management resume runs long and chequered. Prior to his magical World Cup run he won club titles in Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica but also captained lackluster stints at the helm of both the Costa Rican and Colombian national teams. (Yes, he also managed Costa Rica over 2004 and 2005 and it didn't go so well.) In the buildup to Brazil he spoke constantly about tactical order and defensive fortitude, and his team's stingy performances backed up those words with action. Given Honduras' longstanding problem with scoring it's hard to see him veering from this proven regimen. The boring approach works when you're winning, but he'll require immediate success. There's also the matter of a potentially disastrous marriage between Pinto and the Honduran federation. Two volatile parties prone to rash decisions entering into agreement around something as precarious as international football management. What could go wrong? The British press dubbed Pinto the "Jose Mourinho of South America" and that was before he engineered a spectacular public blowout with his Costa Rican bosses following the World Cup. In terms of player management he's known for being at best a strict disciplinarian and at worst a bit of a dick. It could all yet end badly. Details, details The hiring of a new manager in any Central American nation tends to yield juicy tidbits in the local press around salary and conditions of employment. Comparing these countries to Canada involves apples and oranges but inasmuch as there's any kind of 'market' for mid-level Concacaf managers we now know a bit more about it. For example, Honduran federation president Rafael Callejas told reporters that the budget for any new national team coaching staff would be in the range of $40,000 per month. Anything above and beyond that would require special sponsorship from local companies. (The same article says Pinto demanded $50K/month for himself alone.) However the agreed upon amount is ultimately divvied up, it points to a manager salary at the high end approaching half a million dollars annually. The sports portal Diez also reported Pinto arrived in Honduras with a set of demands that would be the conditions of his signature. He wanted renovations to the player and coach areas of the Estadio Olimpico, he wanted to oversee all youth programs as well as the senior men's side and he wanted freedom to choose team hotels and training areas on the road. There's nothing completely outrageous there but given the scope of control Pinto allegedly desires it's clear who he sees as wearing the pants in this new adventure. In sum, Jorge Luis Pinto just gummed up the competitive logjam in Concacaf's middle class, making it marginally more difficult for all those aspiring to represent the region on the world stage.
  11. The young Canadian finally made his league debut as a 46th-minute sub into a meaningless late-season match against Santos de Guapiles. But a debut is a debut... and what a debut. Aleman himself popped up on Twitter to share a video* of this eye-catching slalom through half of the Santos players on the pitch. The match report (Spanish) described the play as 'Maradonaesque,' about the highest praise a young player can be offered in that part of the world. Assuming Aleman limits further emulating of Maradona's behaviour to strictly on-field activities (pausing, of course, to watch a video of Diego ) this is a wonderful dip of the toe into Costa Rican club football waters.Yes, second-place Herediano was clearly eyeing the playoffs when manager Jafet Soto rolled out what La Nacion described as his 'B team' to face Santos de Guapiles. Yes, La Nacion also described the game as two sides simply going through the motions. And yes, Aleman probably won't figure again once the money matches start, but this appearance has people in Costa Rica and Canada talking, something nobody has been doing about Keven Aleman over the past four months. * Hat tip to fellow CSN writer Daniel Squizzato
  12. Both teams have cause to question the exact point of Tuesday's match. When Panama concentrated on kicking the ball rather than Canadian players they clearly enjoyed better chances. But whether it was their own ineptitude or the athleticism of Milan Borjan, they were unable to capitalize on them. Borjan’s showcase of excellent saves was the most positive aspect Canada can take from it’s final match of 2014. At 27, he’s our guy in goal and there is no question about it. It was a Canada performance similar to those turned out in the latter stages of the Stephen Hart regime: tough to score against yes, but fluid midfield play, attacking soccer and shots toward the opposition goal (goals? lololo) remain beyond what this group of players appear capable of. The positive spin on this result is that it was... a result. A result earned in the sweaty, hostile environs of Central America, a valuable point were it to have occurred in actual World Cup qualifying. The negative spin would be to raise a pertinent question: how many times would this approach work out of 10? Panama was unlucky not to have scored on one of their set-pieces. And you don’t need to be a paid researcher of Concacaf history to know that Canada finishing this game up a man puts the entire proceedings in bizzaro land. It should have been the other way around, given some of the wild studs-flailing challenges attempted by the visitors. On social media, many pointed to the positive contributions of Russell Teibert and Jonathan Osorio after the duo made their eagerly anticipated entrance in the second half. Encouraging yes, but Canada still didn't manufacture a stellar scoring chance even after Panama's Anibal Godoy was sent off. If you were really searching for positives you could point out Panama was two days from ploughing El Salvador in their own stadium. Eerily similar to how Colombia throttled El Salvador in October then immediately struggled to put hot moves together against Canada. By soccer transitive property, Canada is way better than El Salvador. The best news from Tuesday was the U20 men's victory over the U.S. Those players aren't going to be a solution for the national team in the short-term however, and big challenges await next year. A spot in the 2016 Copa America is on the line in the Gold Cup seven months from now. And it also looks like Canada’s journey to the 2018 World Cup in Russia will kick off around the same time. David Hoilett or Lucas Cavallini might help offensively, but neither is a guarantee or even a game-changer with the potential impact Carlos Vela showed on his recent return to Mexico. This isn’t meant to be a slaughterhouse of hopes and dreams. Canada manager Benito Floro is doing what he can with the technical ability of the players available. The immediate goal should be to grind out a quarterfinal placing in the Gold Cup and take advantage of the fact all the other teams competing for the Copa America spots are floundering. If that's the case, a 0-0 draw in Panama is a damn fine thing. Perhaps scoring help will arrive by 2016 in the form of fence-sitters or the current U20 squad, and the painful to watch stinginess can be married with something resembling an attack. In the meantime supporters trundle on knowing what they've known since Canada was eliminated from the last World Cup - commitment levels aside, our guys possess limited flair. We can hope and pray they produce results, but they’re unlikely to have us standing and shouting 'bravo!' in the process.
  13. Regardless of Panama’s place in the grand order of world soccer, Los Canaleros at the very least took a step toward erasing some painful memories on Friday, securing a well-earned 3-1 victory on the road against El Salvador. It was Panama’s first ever victory in the Cuscatlán stadium. The win also proved the team could indeed finish off a close match in the latter stages. Panama has become disturbingly adept at conceding late, most recently in the Copa Centroamericana semifinals against Costa Rica. Following that disappointing third-place tournament finish, star keeper Jaime Penedo acknowledged the team’s frustration at missing the final and assured fans the team “was headed for big things.” Conveniently for Penedo, he won’t be around this month to put his money where his mouth is. The LA Galaxy keeper is busy with MLS playoffs, making him one of two notable absences from the Panama squad, along with FC Dallas forward Blas Perez. That ensures a different look at both ends of the field. Against El Salvador on Friday, Nicolás "Yuyu" Muñoz lead the attack for Panama while Joseph Calderón started in goal. Muñoz plays his club football in El Salvador and therefore promised not to celebrate if he scored. That chance to stare solemnly at his giddy teammates arrived just twenty-two minutes into the match. Two minutes later midfielder Aníbal Godoy added another and El Salvador could not recover. In terms of what else happened, this Spanish-language report highlights an important save from Calderon in the early going, as well as the many midfield interventions by the pair of Godoy and Gabriel Gomez. In an indication of how seriously Gomez is taking these matches, he only made one substitution in the second half. It was a good one, with Roberto Nurse coming on for Munez and scoring the security-blanket goal late in the match. Canada will see five changes in the lineup it faces on Tuesday. Perhaps the most notable switch will be up top, where Luis Tejada replaces Muñoz. This is the one Panamanian media and fans are watching. Tejada has 11 goals in 22 appearances so far for Peru's Cesar Vallejo this season but hasn't figured much in Gomez’s plans this year. As for how the Panama manager sees Canada? He said he watched the Colombia match in October and was impressed with Canada's patience and how well they closed down spaces.
  14. It was a crude yet effective way of explaining to a foreigner that while soccer dominates in Costa Rica, the populace had yet to care deeply about women playing it. Fast forward six months, and the possibility of that gender gap narrowing looks more realistic. The Costa Rican women’s team recently qualified for its first-ever World Cup, the one being held in Canada next year. The news led sports dailies in the Central American nation throughout last week, something the man from the above anecdote has never seen in years of combing through online soccer reports from the region. The coverage culminated with stories of the women’s team returning home to adoring fans at the San Jose airport and starring at pre-planned parties in the nation’s urban centres. One doesn't have to live in Costa Rica to know it would be silly to suggest the women’s team enjoys anything close to the popularity of the men’s side, or is capable of generating anything close to the hysteria that accompanied this summer’s men's World Cup. At least not yet. The historic success of the women’s team coincided with some stellar performances by Costa Rican club sides in the Concacaf Champions League. For the first time since group stages were introduced in 2008, Costa Rica is sending three representatives to the quarterfinals. One more than either the U.S. or Mexico. That might just help prevent yet another boring Mexico versus Mexico final. Big Three? Any half-conscious journalism grad could tell you three make a trend. So considering the stunning romp to the World Cup quarterfinals the Costa Rican men enjoyed this summer, the surprising success of the Costa Rican club sides internationally and the Costa Rican women's historic accomplishment (beating Mexico in the qualifying process to boot) is it time we talk about a Big Three in Concacaf? Others certainly are. This author recently listened to an entire episode of ESPN Deportes ‘Futbol Centroamericano’ program in which grown men from across the U.S. phoned in to argue loudly with the hosts about whether Costa Rica can be referred to as the “Papi de Concacaf.” And hey, for whatever the Fifa rankings are worth, Costa Rica currently sits 16th in the world, ahead of Mexico (17) and the U.S. (23). Is it ludicrous to assert that Costa Rica and it’s four and a half million inhabitants could sustain a challenge to the U.S.-Mexico hegemony in Concacaf? Probably. You'd also have to ignore several things: the 6-0 thumping the Costa Rican women eventually suffered in the Concacaf Championship at the hands of the U.S., or the healthy dose of luck the Costa Rican men enjoyed alongside their tactical sturdiness during the World Cup. Countries certainly rise and fall with any particular ‘Golden Generation’ of players. And with Costa Rica’s Real Madrid starlet Keylor Navas recently being named the best keeper in Spain it’s quite clear Costa Rica has such a generation right now. More like Big Two and a half Costa Rica certainly won’t unseat either of the Big Two, but it might sort of join them; collectively speaking, taking into account men's and women's football, as well as the strength of its domestic league. In terms of economic development and soccer infrastructure, the country certainly has an advantage over any other Central American aspirants. And the implications for both Canada’s men’s and women’s programs are not insignificant. For the men, a perennially strong Costa Rica means an ever tighter squeeze in terms of World Cup qualifying. It's particularly unsettling in the context of (totally as of yet unfounded) rumours in the South American press about Fifa wanting to nick the half-spots Concacaf and Conmebol are allotted in the men's tournament. For the women, the threat is less serious in the short term. Improved levels of competition in Concacaf would make for more enjoyable games, and would seemingly only raise the level of the team’s play when it comes to the money matches against global powerhouses. The local soccer community focuses a lot of concern around Canada's relative slippage on the women's global stage, but maybe a day comes where the Canadian women are not automatic World Cup qualifiers? Perhaps Costa Rica will fade in the coming years. Perhaps the messy, public divorce with manager Jorge Luis Pinto after this summer's World Cup signals disorder at the executive level. Perhaps the women will be trounced in Canada. Perhaps the men's Golden Generation will be followed by a barren one. What seems certain is that 2014 will be remembered fondly for years to come, as either a historic high point or a historic turning point. What also seems certain is that Costa Rican bars will be busy during next summer's World Cup.
  15. What struck me while compiling this list was how little the Colombian media seemed to have to say directly about Canada. It's natural for journalists to focus on the national team they cover, but beyond a few throwaway lines in each report there wasn't much commentary or analysis of the opposition in either the friendly against Canada or the earlier one against El Salvador. In any event, the praise was light, and my Spanish isn't good enough to detect whether any of it was backhanded. If you're looking for a tweet-lengthy takeaway: Canada can't really play the going forward bit of soccer that well, but is good at defence and better than El Salvador. So if we're being honest, they arrived in 90 minutes at roughly the same conclusion those who follow the team closely have known all along. El Tiempo, probably the most well-known newspaper in the country. One of the paper's writers noted that "....the 5-4-1 used by Canada allowed tactics to mask its lack of technical ability." "[Colombia] had control of the ball, but far from Canada's goal, a team that literally piled itself up 40 meters from its end to prevent soccer being played. And thus Colombia had barely any options on goal from open play in the first 45 minutes." El Spectador "Canada was a rival more demanding than El Salvador. A team that was well-ordered at the back and that provided few spaces to Colombia while demanding the maximum from its attackers." El Deportivo "The Reds displayed a grand defensive posture, and provided a very important challenge to the Colombian attack, which included its best players. Even then, there were few clear chances." ESPN Deportes "Colombia defeated a sturdy Canada that has started to take the shape of Spanish coach Benito Floro in a very tactical friendly that left few details to chance in the Red Bull Arena."
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