Thursday, September 13, 2012

#FixTheCSL and London City

Last night, CBC's The National ran the first part of a conversation that has been long over due in taking place.  It is a conversation about the fact that it is becoming increasingly evident that match fixing has taken place in Canadian soccer matches.  The league in question in the Canadian Soccer League which plays in Ontario and Quebec and includes a team that is local to myself in London City.  The league also includes the academy sides for both Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact so protecting the league and its credibility is important to myself as a member of the London community and as a fan of Toronto FC.

The documentary on CBC last night focused on a match that took place in Quebec which according to German court findings was fixed by overseas bettors.  If you are interested in that story then you can find it here.  It was the comments from a player on Canadian Soccer News that brought things closer to home.  In this interview between Ben Rycroft and an unnamed CSL player there is one part that really stands out to me:


Um, I’d say the London game last year.


At the field. Like I was warming up, as I say, I was warm. Last guy to come off the field and a gentleman stopped me you know and say “Like I know the odds for London to beat you guys is a lot, is it possible, do you want to make some money?” and I go 'No.' And then he was just telling me that 'Listen, even if you score three goals I will, you’ll still make money' or whatever the case may be. I said I don’t want nothing to do with it. I’m a soccer player. If I go out there and I score three goals I score three goals. If I score 4 goals I score 4 goals. If I don’t score, I don’t score. So it’s just that’s just the way they do stuff. And I guess this year I got approached in Ottawa about the same thing."

That did not sit well with me as both Ottawa and London are places I have been a part of the soccer community in and seeing that people connected to match fixing could be present there was like a punch to the gut even though it was naive of me to think it could not happen in my own back yard.

Now I do take this report at face value and do not wish to question any of the work that Ben or CBC has done to uncover cases of match fixing but it should be made clear that at this point there is nothing to suggest any London City player has accepted money to throw a game.  What is being suggested is that visiting players were approached at their field with offers to fix matches.  That actually makes sense in a lot of ways as London City have been a development club in recent years and have experienced a number of rough season where they lost a lot more games than they won.  That means that many times London were faces very long odds on the betting sites so if you could get their opponent to throw the game that would really open the door for a bigger pay day.

This report led me to spend some time looking over the club's results from previous seasons to see if any of them really stood out to me as being odd.  I went back to the start of 2008 and came up with this list of games worth looking at just a bit harder.

London City2 - 2SC Toronto

London City 1 - 1Serbian White Eagle

Toronto Croatia 0 - 2London City

Serbian White Eagles 1 - 2London City

Serbian White Eagles 2 - 2London City

This list is by no means evidence of anything and in fact is just a list of London City's more impressive results.  Just because a game goes against the odds does not mean that you should start to question the result.  What did bother me was the fact that Serbian White Eagles kept showing up on the list despite being a top club in the CSL year after year.  I was at that 2-1 win back in 2011 and I could tell you with complete confidence that London City had to fight for every bit of that result.  They had to clear the ball off the line a number of times and won off a top quality finish.  If that is evidence of Serbian throwing a match they were doing a terrible job of it.

I was not at any of the other matches on the list but from my limited knowledge of betting I would imagine that even a surprise draw is not the best way to get a big payout.  I am left to conclude that their is no real evidence in any of London City's results to suggest that a match involving the club has been fixed.  There is even less evidence to suggest that they themselves have ever been involved in the throwing of their own game.

I am not Declan Hill or even Ben Rycroft when it comes to knowledge about match fixing but having done my own digging through results I feel a lot more ease about London City and their possible involvement in anything to do with match fixing.  That is important to me because not only is the club part of a soccer community I care about greatly but the club has also been home to people I consider to be my friends in recent years.  I don't know anyone on the team this year but that does not mean I have stopped caring about them.

I would hope that unless some real and concrete evidence comes out people will not take these match fixing reports and paint all teams in the league with the same brush.  It would be a shame to have some bad apples in the CSL taint a club that the Gaus family worked so hard to build into a major part of the London community without any evidence.  That said, if these reports cause us to look at how the CSL is run and improve the league it will be good for everyone including London City.

This is just one side of the conversation and I will post my thoughts on how this might impact Toronto FC academy on Waking the Red this afternoon as well so look out for that.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

At Least it was Exciting

I have come up with a new moto for Toronto FC.  It is that if you can't be good you should at least be exciting.  They lived up to that moto against DC United in what had to be one of the most exciting games in recent memory.  The game was a 3-3 draw in the end but along the way to that final scoreline there were talking points left right and centre. 

The game kicked off with DC United's keeper being sent off in the 7th minute thanks to a nasty two legged tackle that sent Avila flipping through the air.  After chatting with his assistant the ref decided that the right move was to send Hamid for a very early shower, if he even needed one after only 7 minutes played, and I think it was the correct move.  Watching the game I knew that things were only going to get more lively from there.  The stage was set for TFC to go on and get their first road win of the season but we all knew it was never going to be straight forward like that.  TFC found a way to commit three major mistakes, one by Frei and two by Iro that allowed Dwayne De Rosario to net one of the easiest hat tricks you will ever see.  TFC answered back with goals from Marosevic, Koevermans, and even one from Julian De Guzman.

If you want a nice summary of the match then you came to the wrong place.  Instead I want to focus on the emotional roller coaster that TFC took me on last night.  Coming in to the game I just had that feeling that DeRo was going to put in a performance and i guess he did just that last night even though one of his goals was a penalty, one was misplayed by the keeper, and the other was basically gifted to him by Iro.  I will give credit where credit is due and say that DeRo did well to take advantage of the gifts that were being given to him by his former side.  I do not agree with the sentiment that I am coming across today that this game shows why TFC should have paid up and kept DeRo.  Instead I still think that letting him leave was the right move for a club that is looking to rebuild.  He is a very good MLS player and a proven goal scorer but Toronto needed to take that one step backwards so that they might one day to able to move a lot further forward.  The fact that DeRo scored a hattrick left me with a bad taste in my mouth but the one positive that I can take from it would be the fact that if DeRo is on form come the fall it will be a massive boost for the CMNT.  So I guess we can thank Andy Iro and the rest of TFC for giving him a confidence boost.

At the exact other end of the emotional roller coaster that was this match was watching Julian DeGuzman score a screamer of a long range goal.  The only thing wrong with his first goal for TFC was the fact that the ref should have never allowed it to happen since DCU were in the midst of making a change when JDG decided to take a quick freekick.  Again if you look at this from a Canadian perspective it is great news.  JDG will be a key member of the team and if he discovers any sort of his form from before he joined TFC then Canada will be in much better shape.  The end result of JDG's goal was DCU coach Ben Olsen being dismissed from the sidelines having just flipped his lid in reaction to the goal being allowed to stand.

The last part of the game that I want to cover is how I felt about Iro and his performance.  He was complete shit but I do not give him the entire blame for that.  TFC played much of the second half with basically only 2 actual defenders on the field and Iro was not getting much help at all.  He is a decent MLS defender but he needs to have a stronger partner in centre back.  He is not strong enough or confident enough to control the middle of the pitch without somewhere better there to help him.  He needs to play better then he did last night as the second goal was all his fault with him failing to clear the ball but the penalty he conceded was a real team effort.  He was not the only one in the box that was failing to clear the ball, just happened to be the one who got caught bringing the man down.  So blame him for one goal if you will but blame the entire team for the lack of defending that was going on in this game.

So like I said if you can't be good at least you should be exciting and at the moment TFC seem to have that covered.  I like the fact that they are scoring more goals, I have been impressed by some of the new additions to the side, not just Frings and Koevermans either and I think that even if the results are not coming in yet the team is going to be better once things settle down.  Games like this are giving me lots of reasons to be excited for 2012 and the chances of the team being in a position to be more competitive but before that I am just pleased that TFC are going to be a more entertaining team to watch down the stretch even if the playoffs are quickly fading from reach.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Let there be no Excuses!

So yesterday I posted about how supporters tickets are going on sale now and that regular ticket sales for Canada's home games will begin sometime early next week.  With tickets about to go on sale it is time for the people who care about the Canadian men's national team to stand up and do there part.  The CSA has done there part by promising that they will be turning all of their spare focus to contacting clubs and other organizations to try and market the game.  This move seems to come as a direct response to the calls that came out from a lot of Canadian fans, including the guys over at Canadian Soccer News, following the friendly against Ecuador.  At that match, also in Toronto, there was a clear lack of youth soccer teams at the game.  Personally I only noticed one team and they came from Oakville which is a club where Jason DeVos is heavily involved so the fact that they were at the forefront was no surprise at all.  This time around there should be no excuse for more clubs not coming out.  Yes only one of the three games is going to be on a weekend night with that being a Friday so there will still be the excuse of being unable to make it.

So the CSA has promised to do there part, they even tweeted me saying: "No worries, we got that covered! we'll be turning our office into call central so that we can reach as many cubs as humanly possible!"  This tweet came in response to my slightly cynical remarks about the CSA announcing that it would be offering discounts and group packages for clubs.  I for one might have felt well that is nice but the problem is that who is going to tell that clubs about this since last time many of them claimed to know nothing about the match and their options.  This time the CSA has gone on the record and promised that they will do everything in their power to promote this game and I am ready to applaud them for that but will wait until September 2nd when we get to see the fruits of this labour.

The commitment of the CSA is nice and that is a great start but lets face it at the end of the day a lot of pressure is still coming to be on the people who call themselves supporters of the national team.  I am not just referring to the normal names and faces who do their best to promote the games any time they happen since that is not where new fans are going to come from.  They are all ready fans and in a lot of cases they have already exhausted their friends and family with attempts to win them over.  I trust that despite that though they will all once again do their best to fill up at least the south end of BMO for each game.  The pressure now will actually fall on the more casual fans.  The ones that say they support the team, or want to support it,  but have yet to do anything really tangible about that.  These are the fans that we need to get on board if we are going to fill the rest of the stadium, at least part of the way.  I am not going to be the first or the last person to make a plea to these fans and I acknowledge that most of them will not be reading this post since my audience is generally the more hardcore fans.  So I hope that people with a much bigger audience and reach then I have will also echo what I am saying.  Today i was glad to hear that on Tim and Sid Uncut (A Score program) Sid Seixeiro
 gave a very impassioned plea to fans to get out and support the team.  If you want to check it out head over to:

The podcast is basically an hour long and talks about all kinds of sports but the important part is how fired up Sid gets about this issue.  The thing is though that The Score is already among the leaders in promoting CMNT and the sport of soccer in general around this country so I am not sure how much more they can do.  They worked hard to increase the profile of the Gold Cup and the friendly leading up to it.  So maybe this plea from Sid is just going to end up reaching people who have already heard it all before and decided not to respond.  I hope though that it does reach at least  few people and gets just a couple more butts in the seats.

Let me add to what Tim had to say and stress that if you have the chance to get to Toronto for at least 1 game, can afford a 20 or 30 dollar ticket, and care about sports in the country over even just like soccer then you have no excuse here.  You can spend all day trying to reason with me about why you wont be at these games but I will be hearing none of it.  I have no excuse for not trying to bring the people that I know to the game and promoting it where I can so you have no excuse to not try your best to be there.  If I get to BMO on September 2nd and the crowd is as disheartening as it was earlier this summer I will be more then a little disappointed.  I know that people who really care about the CMNT are putting in the effort and now I just want to see some sort of reward for that!  So please get out and do something real to support your national soccer team.  We won't be in the World Cup with out it!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Tickets are Here!

So with the dates being officially set and the locations locked down the time has now come for tickets for the World Cup qualifiers to go on sale.  The games will all be taking place at BMO and though the general sale of tickets has yet to begin many of the supporters groups have begun working on selling tickets in their section.  If you are reading this and considering attending the game I am going to guess that you are passionate enough to handle the experience that comes with being in a supporters section.  But in case one of these games would be your first time here are some basics:

- be prepared to stand up and sing for basically the entire 90 minutes
- flags are permitted/encouraged so they will block your view from time to time but most people are smart about using them at the correct times so it is not a major annoyance.
-the sections are not what you would call family friendly, they are filled with loud and very passionate fans who have probably had a few drinks so if you are easily offended there are other great ways to see a game
- there will be NO away colours in these sections.  That means if you want to support the other side then stay out of the south end.
- this is an experience like no other.  If you thought you were a die hard Canadian fan just wait until you meet some of the guys at the front rows of section 114.  These sections are filled with folks who have long struggled for the cause of promoting our national teams and many are worth chatting to

So if all that appeals to you and you can make it out to Toronto for a game then just head over to the Voyageurs site (they are an Official Canadian Supporters group) and order up a pair of tickets.  Otherwise is you still want to come the general sale of tickets should start as early as next week Monday.  Hope to see you all there!

Link to the V's :

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

CSA confims WCQ Schedule

Earlier today the Canadian Soccer Association confirm what most of us were already assuming to be true.  That is that all 3 home games in the second round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying will be played at Toronto's BMO field.  The games are St. Lucia on Sept. 2, Puerto Rico on Oct. 11 and St. Kitts and Nevis on Nov. 15.  These dates and locations come as no real surprise since it had been speculated for weeks that the games would all be at BMO and following the drawing of the groups the dates had been released on the CSA site.  Now there is no speculation left and we all know how the road to Brazil is going to look for at least the first round of matches.

This news was greeted by a very mixed reaction by loyal fans across the country.  The fans in Toronto were of course very pleased by the news that all 3 games will be taking place in our back yard.  The issues came from the fans across the rest of the country who felt that this was some sort of snub to them and favoritism towards the GTA area.  I am not going to get in to the wild debates that were taking place on my twitter feed throughout the afternoon but instead I will try to lay out why I think that this is the best move for the national team and will actually help the team in the long run as well as the CSA.

1. BMO field is the only stadium in Canada that is good enough to host these matches.  It is up to date, has over 20 K seats, and most importantly it has a grass surface.  That along with the fact that having the games in Toronto puts it in the middle of Canada's largest population area increases the chances of getting a large pro-Canadian field.  Cities like Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver would also be more then capable of hosting a game but they do not have grass fields and at this stage putting down a temporary surface for one match is not worth the hassle that it brings, just ask Whitecap fans.

2. It is what the players want.  A lot of them are from the GTA area, they like spending time in the city of Toronto and again it comes back to the issue of playing surfaces.  If you did a survey of the players I guarantee that they would all say that playing on a grass surface is one of the most important factors.  The players are the ones who go out and play the game, not the fans, so it is key to keep the players happy since last I checked that helps them to play better.

3. It is the easiest thing for the CSA to do.  By having all the games in one city they have less to do in terms of making arrangements for player travel, training grounds, and promoting the games.  At this stage I think that anything that makes the CSA's job easier is a good thing since they have proven to struggle when they try and do to much.

4. Having all the games in one place will allow the Canadian players to develop a comfort level on the field and in the stadium which is a big part of a home field advantage.  That advantage might not be as crucial in this first round but if Canada is going to push far into qualifications then it will eventually be crucial.

5. This debate is not about what we want as fans.  It is about what is going to give the team the best chance of advancing to the next round and eventually moving on to the World Cup.  That means that we have to accept that it might not be convenient for some of the fans, it might not help to grow the fan base, and it may even make Toronto a bit more hated but at the end of the day none of that matters when this is a World Cup qualifying campaign.  At the end of the day this is not a fan making campaign and the best way for the CMNT to make new fans will be having success.  Who knows where the games will be in the third round but for now this is the best move.

For all those reasons I think that the CSA has done the right thing by placing all the games in Toronto.  IT is all about making the World Cup and this gives us the best chance to do that.  I will though admit that if the shoe had been on the other foot and all the games were in other places I would have been very annoyed so I understand how fans around the rest of the country are feeling.  All in how you look at it at the end of the day.

Another Day, Another Deal

So this afternoon Toronto FC made yet another players move.  This time it was a trade with FC Dallas that saw TFC swapped Maicon Santos for Eric Avila.  At first look many might wonder why TFC have moved Santos as he has basically been the teams top scorer all season but that fact of the matter is that for the most part Santos has failed to live up to his price tag.  He was one of Toronto's top paid players and as such the club should have expected an even better return from him than 10 goals in his 32 matches for the club.  Avila on the other hand represents another move towards youth and potential for Toronto but he is also capable of jumping right in to the starting lineup.

So let me now introduce you to Eric Avila.  He was drafted in the second round of the 2008 MLS Super draft having come out of UC Santa Barbara a year early.  He ended up with FC Dallas where he was in his fourth season and made 58 appearances.  As an attacking midfielder he scored only 3 goals for the club but what he has to offer goes beyond the stat sheet and his goal tally.  Avila is a dynamic player who has the ability to create space in the center of the field as well as being able to create chances for those around him.  At only 23 years of age Avila still has some time to mature and develop his game so he may yet reach his scoring potential.  Avila showed that potential when he was in college where as a junior he was nominated for the Hermann trophy.  While at UC Santa Barbara he played in 66 games scoring 15 goals and collecting 18 assists. That is an impressive scoring record for a midfielder at the college level and it is just that kind of potential that TFC will be hoping he begins to show in the MLS.

Avila is an American born player who comes from California.  He played for the US national team at both the U-17 and U-20 levels a total of 30 times.  He was also a part of the US residency program that was set up in Bradenton, Florida which he joined in 2003.  Avila is very much one of the players who shows the fruits of the US national teams efforts to develop young talent and TFC will now be hoping that he continues to develop and reaches the level where he can play at the senior level. 

So Toronto have gotten younger and a bit more potential which is the point of a rebuild.  For that reason I think that this is a great deal for them.  It continues to develop the team in the way that Winter has said he wants to since Avila is a creative player who is capable of playing something similar to Total Football.  The other good part of this deal from a TFC point of view is that they are saving money on salaries as well as adding another international roster spot.  All in all it was a good move for TFC and hopefully it sets the stage for a good result tonight.

Interesting facts:
1. The addition of Avila brings TFC within one player of breaking the MLS record of 36 players used in a single season.

2. Aside from home grown players only 5 players are left on TFC from the 2010 squad and two of them are keepers (thanks to Luke Wileman for that one)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Road To Brazil: 175 teams dreaming of World Cup places

So the title of this blog is probably a bit on the misleading side considering that many of the 175 FIFA member nations still in the running to make the World Cup already know that they don't actually stand any sort of realistic chance of advancing far in the qualification rounds let alone making it to Brazil.  As we saw yesterday, if you were watching the live draw in which case I feel sad for you, Brazil is far from ready for the World Cup that is is going to host as they still need to work on stadiums, transportation, airports, and basically all of the infrastructure that is required to host a World Cup.  That said yesterday, once you got past all the useless talking and breaks for music, was all about the dream of these nations of making it to Brazil.  There was no concern about whether a nation that is not doing so well financially would be able to stage such a massive event with so much to do in so little time but instead there was a bit of a show with several Brazilian legends taking part and a lot of nervous fans waiting to hear who their nation would have to get past if they want to make it.

There were many talking points in throughout the afternoon's events but for the sake of this blog we are not concerned with how France feels hard done by having been drawn with Spain, how FIFA made some foolish mistakes by allowing most of the former Yugoslavia to be drawn in to the same group, or even how FIFA confused us all with the draw for the intercontinental playoffs coming out with two different results (actually that will come up) and will instead focus for the most part on the events that relate directly to the Canadian Men's National team.  The first important draw of the day from a Canadian perspective was the aforementioned intercontinental playoff draw where it appeared that CONCACAF had been drawn with Asia meaning that 4th place in the final round from CONCACAF would take on the team that comes in 5th in Asian qualifying.  That seemed to be a decent draw for teams like Canada who might just be able to sneak in to the 4th place but after a fair bit of confusion things got even better for CONCACAF who were actually drawn with Oceania and the broadcast actually made a mistake.  That means instead of 5th place in Asia the 4th place team will instead be taking on the winner of the Oceania qualifiers which is almost certain to be New Zealand which probably represents a better game from the CONCACAF perspective.  That said I doubt any of the Kiwi's are all that worried about the idea that their road to the World Cup might have to go through Canada.

The second stage of the draw that was relevant to Canada was the actual draw for CONCACAF.  In an earlier post we set out how the regions qualifiers would work which might be worth a read before you go on with this one since it can get a bit confusing if this is all new to you.  The first part of the draw was to set up the groups for the second round (first round has already been played) which saw most Canadian fans just hoping that Canada would avoid being drawn with Guatemala who represented the toughest potential opponent of the group.  Canada being in the 4th pot (best one for this round) meant that they would at least on paper be the strongest team in their group which appears to be the case.  In the end Canada got basically the best draw that they could have asked for having avoided Guatemala and the other less terrible sides.  Canada have been handed a group with St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Puerto Rico.  I personally have to say that for Canada that is a favourable draw and really gives them a good chance to advance from the group.  If Canada does want to advance from that group they will have to come in top place which will require them to at the very least win the home games and get a couple of results on the road.  It should be a straight forward task but you never really know with Canada.

Assuming that Canada does win that group that will be where things start to get more interesting.  Canada was placed in Group D for the second round and the winner of that group was drawn into a third round group yesterday as well.  If the second round draw was kind to Canada then the third round draw was a dream come true.  Fans have to be pleased that Canada will be able to avoid the likes of Mexico, Jamaica, and the United States until at least the final round.  That was great news for Canada as the third round setup allows for the top 2 teams from the group to advance meaning that Canada does not even need to come in top spot.  For the third round, assuming that Canada makes it there, they would take on Cuba and Honduras as well as the winner of Group C which is made up of favorites Panama, Dominica, Nicaragua, and Bahamas.  So if things were to go according to the FIFA rankings and who the best teams are on paper then Canada will be in a group with Panama, Honduras, and Cuba meaning they will have to find a way to come in second place finishing above at least two of those teams.  It is very much possible for Canada to beat Cuba and Panama which is what fans will probably be counting on but even Honduras is not completely out of reach.  The last time that Canada took on Honduras was in a friendly and Canada won that rain soaked match in Montreal 2-1.  Yet that game is not where any Canadian fans focus is going to be as most will be thinking back to the 2009 Gold Cup instead where Canada were knocked out in the quarter finals thanks to a 1-0 defeat to Honduras.  Most Canadian fans will remember that game and how Honduras won on a penalty despite Canada being the better team.  What I am trying to say is that assuming Canada advances to the third round it sets up a great chance to extract some real revenge on Honduras which has many die hard fans salivating at the prospect of getting one over on them.

So to summarize Canada has gotten basically the best draw that they could have asked for.  Having been handed a very winnable group in the second round, and a group with a beatable Cuba in the third round it is actually possible that Canada will make it to the hexagonal assuming that they do not find a way to mess things up.  I for one am actually full of confidence and hope that even if Canada does not make it to the World Cup they will at least go on a decent run and make things exciting.  We all know that excitement is something that Canada needs right now to try and boost the support.

The other news of the day was the announcement of when the matches for the second round will take place.  Canada's schedule is the following:
Friday 2 September : Canada v St. Kitts and Nevis
Tuesday 6 September : Puerto Rico v Canada
Friday 7 October : St. Lucia v Canada
Tuesday 11 October : Canada v Puerto Rico
Friday 11 November : St. Kitts and Nevis v Canada
Tuesday 15 November : Canada v St. Lucia

So the home games for Canada will be September 2nd, October 11th, and November 15 and it is expected that all 3 of them will be taking place in Toronto but these are the dates that I have taken off of the Soccer Canada website.  The dates on the CONCACAF calender seem to be quite different and the order of the opponents for Canada is also different.  I have been told that the dates and opponents on the Canadian website are more reliable but I guess we will have to wait for final confirmation before I book the dates.  If you are interested in potentially coming to any of the games either send me a message and I will pass along the info I can get my hands on or you can check out:

That site is home of Canada's largest supporters group and I can assure you that they throw a great party and will certainly have the best discount for supporters tickets around.  So I hope to see all sorts of you at the games this fall and keep an eye on the blog for more details including previews of the opponents and the dates once all is confirmed

Saturday, July 30, 2011

TFC in the Champions League

So it was another busy week for TFC, which by this stage is not even the slightest bit of a surprise since they all seem to be busy ones, as they played their opening game in the CONCACAF Champions League and made a few more player moves.  I am going to start with the CCF match though as it was clearly the highlight of the week for me.

TFC were taking on Real Esteli FC in the home leg of their qualification round.  Many fans were hoping that TFC would go out and field a full strength side in hopes of making a real run in this competition as the league seems to be a bit of a lost cause at this point with playoffs getting further away.  TFC are already champions of Canada so why not give it a good honest try to get somewhere towards being club champions of CONCACAF.  I know winning the CCF is a bit much to ask for TFC but beating Real Esteli is very much something that they are capable of.

They showed just that in the opening round game as they continued their good run of results in games that are not related to the MLS.  Having done so well in winning the Nutrilite Championship TFC continued that midweek with a win over Real Esteli.  Things would have been a lot better if they had not conceded late on in the match to make the final score 2-1 but by winning the opening leg TFC are in just the position they want to be before going on the road later in August to play the second leg.  The hero of the game for Toronto was Joao Plata who netter a brace to make it 2-0 for TFC. 

In the first half Toronto was creating a number of chances but Soolsma and Johnson were frequently unable to convert them.  It was not until the second half introduction of Plata that things started to go the right way for TFC.  Plata was brought on in the 49th minute and made his impact felt almost immediately as he worked the keeper with a long range effort with basically his first touch.  That effort was just a warm up and a sign of things to come from the small Ecuadorian who came in from the left and managed to sneak a low shot in beside the left post to make it 1-0 for the hosts.  Plata would add a second goal as he again found the left side of the net but this time it was from a very nice free kick.  Plata showed that he has the skill to take a great free kick with his right foot and his second of the match in only 23 minutes of playing time seemed to have Toronto on course for a comfortable and much needed win.

The defensive problems showed up yet again though as TFC once again proved that they are just not capable of keeping a clean sheet no matter who they are playing against.  A defensive end turnover from TFC keeper Kocic all but gifted a goal to Esteli in the 81st minute.  That single away goal gives them a way back in to the match for the second leg as now even a 1-0 home win would be enough to see them advancing.  For Toronto though you have to be happy with the display and the fact that the job is now at least half done.  Another good showing in a weeks time will be enough to hopefully earn their place in group C of the CCF.  The winner of the tie will go on to join Pumas UNAM of Mexico, Tauro FC of Panama and the winner of the FC Dallas-Alianza qualifier (FC Dallas won 1-0 in the away leg). 

So in at least one competition things are going well for TFC.  Hopefully this win will give them a boost in form that will carry over in to MLS play as the team take on Portland this weekend.  

In other TFC news they of course added a couple of new players in the past week.  Both players failed to really impress at their old clubs but TFC will be hoping that giving them a fresh start will let them live up to their potential. The first move saw Toronto ship out struggling defender Dan Gargan to Chicago Fire in exchange for Dasan Robinson.  On the surface this move is basically a straight swap of one defender for the other with both clubs hoping that the player they are getting does better for them then they did for their previous club.  With the way that Gargan has been playing of late I am sure that this move will be an upgrade as long as Robinson proves to be competent.  He only started 2 games for Chicago this season but will hopefully add further depth to Toronto's back line which is hurting for that at the moment.  The second move of the week was another one that I am a fan of as Toronto picked up some more depth for their attacking unit by signing Peri Marosevic.  The 22 year old forward was never able to lock down a spot with FC Dallas and was eventually let go by the club.  He was drafted 5th overall in the 2009 super draft and boasts a lot of potential having represented the US at almost every youth level including being a member of the U-20 squad.  He only played in 4 matches for FC Dallas and failled to get on the score sheet before being waived but if he can find a way to live up to the potential he showed as a member of the Michigan Wolverines then Toronto might still be able to develop him in to a decent forward.  To me the move adds depth, is low risk, and could have a fairly decent reward if he can get on track.

The Time is Here

Brazil 2014 might seem like a long ways off but the fact of the matter is that 32 teams have already been eliminated from the running for qualifying.  The teams already out include the likes of India, Philippines, Yemen, Palestine, Hong Kong, Laos, and Maldives.  So they are not the traditional powers in the sport by any means which is why they had to take part in the earliest round of qualifying but as Grant Wahl pointed out the 32 teams already knocked out compromise 29% of the world's population.  So for a quarter of the people living on planet earth the dream of making the World Cup ended before it ever really began.

For the other 175 nations that are competing for the 31 spots up for grabs in Brazil (the hosts have the 32nd spot already) the dream will begin in earnest today.  So in case you did not know the World Cup qualifying draw is upon us and by the middle of the afternoon (EST) we will know the CONCACAF draw shakes out and that includes who Canada will take on in its opening round.  So from here on in this post we will shift our focus to CONCACAF since that is all that matters in Canada's road to the World cup.

It really is not the easiest thing to try and explain the qualifying road and how the draw is going to shake out but I will do my best to try and highlight the basics.  If you want some more info that is probably laid out better then I could do feel free to check out

So CONCACAF has already had one round of play for the lowest ranked teams in the confederation.  This round saw Belize, Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba and Bahamas all advance as winners.  They will now join the next 19 teams in terms of rank in the second round of play.  It is in this second round that Canada enters the fun and will be drawn in to a group with 3 other teams.  As one of the higher ranked teams in this round of qualification Canada will be looking to get a favorable draw that will allow them to advance.  For round 2 CONCACAF has the 24 teams drawn in to 6 groups of 4 teams each with one team coming from each of the pots, which are determined based on FIFA rankings.  The winner of each group will advance to the third round where they will join the top 6 teams that have advanced straight to this stage.  The second round matches will all take place in the fall.

So Canada gets involved in things before the confederations top teams and we will just have to hope that they do not mess up and actually make it to the third round.  If they do they will be drawn into one of three groups of 4 from which the top two teams will advance.  This is the point in qualification is going to be tough as some of the top teams will start getting knocked out.  By the end of the third round there will only be 6 teams left.  The round will again be drawn based on pots, they will again be based on FIFA rankings but this time based on the ones coming out in March as this round will not take place until the spring.

So assuming that your team is able to get past the third round by finishing in the top 2 of its group then you can really start to dream as making the World Cup as at least 3 of the final 6 teams will be going on to play in Brazil.  For the final round there will be only one group and all 6 teams will be placed in it as they compete to finish in the top 3 spots and automatically advancing to Brazil.  For the fourth placed team their fate will be decided by an intercontinental playoff while 5th and 6th place will have to join over 100 other countries dreaming of 2018.

So for Canada who start play in the second round the road is going to be a long one.  They will have to win their group in the second round, come top 2 in the third round, and top 3 in the final round if they want to be playing in Brazil but one thing is clear to me now.  Today is the kind of day where you just can't help but hope that some sort of miracle happens and come 2013 Canada will be in that final group.  Just that would be a great achievement in my eyes as actually making the World Cup is still probably a distant dream.  Just want to see them take a step forward and do well against teams that they should be doing well against.

The other big news leading in to World Cup qualifying is that Bob Bradley is out as the American head coach and has been replaced by Jürgen Klinsmann who was the clear favourite to land the job and will now almost certainly have more control then any of his predecessors.  It was thought that the chances of Klinsmann taking over were becoming slim as he had a fair few differences with the US governing body as he wanted almost total control but someone must have caved for this hiring to be allowed to take place.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Look TFC = Same Result

So we have talked about all the roster moves that TFC has made in the past month or so and there were a lot of them.  To be honest I am not even sure if Winter is all done making moves even now so who knows what else could be in store.   Last week though we got the chance to see this very changed TFC side in action twice after a fairly long layoff and sadly all we got as fans was a lot more of the same.

Against FC Dallas Winter put in 6 of the new players for the starting lineup meaning that the club eclipsed the 100 players all time mark and then some.  They also had more then half of their starting 11 players being fresh faces which was almost certain to result in a bit of a settling in period.  I won't be getting in to the actual match but the fact of the matter is that you could see the need for yet more patience.  The team still had a fair few areas that are in clear need of improvement and if not for an impressive effort from Frei things would have been a lot worse then the 1-0 final score.  The other thing that struck me was that Koevermans clearly had not played in a match of late and seemed to lack sharpness in front of goal.  Training can help a lot but for both Danny and Frings they went from being in their offseason to jumping straight in to the middle of a season so it might take them a while to get up to pace.  Speaking of Frings though he was one of the best players in the game for TFC.  He provided a sharpness and edge to the midfield and his passes were instrumental in almost all of the chances that TFC did manage to create.

On the weekend things looked a whole lot worse for TFC as the team continued to defend terribly and this time Frei was not able to stand on his head and keep the scoreline close.  An awful stretch of around 10 minutes saw the team conceding goals like it was going out of style.  The 3 goals in 9 minutes was more then enough to sink Toronto on the day and made sure that new comers Koevermans and Ryan Johnson picking up their first goals for the club was not enough.  In the end the score was 4-2 for Kansas City and for TFC it was the 4th straight defeat and 6th in their past seven matches.  There is no point in trying to sugar coat it at this point as we can all see that TFC are struggling and have a long ways to go still before they are really competitive in the MLS.  The problem is that no one on the team seems to know how to defend properly.  It is not just the back 4 that are to blame for this, but they do get their share of the blame, but also includes the midfield who seem lost more often then not when they are trying to track back and cover.  There is a part of this that has to be attributed to the coaching of the team as they do not seem prepared to defend properly and are often looking unorganized.  The other half of the problem is that the personal to play defense are just not their with all the injuries.  The team added Iro which is a plus and gives them another decent defender but they need at least 4 of them and they are well short of that number right now.

The problem that I see for TFC is that they do have some good defenders who are out for the season the most notable of them is Adrian Cann.  So if they were to go out and make trades to bring in more quality defenders then they would have a bit of an overload come the start of next season when everyone is fit.  So if you are planning for the long term you might just have to kiss any sort of playoff push goodbye and just make due with what you have and then work to improve things for the next season when you know who will be fit.  I personally think they will not make a lot more changes this season in the back line but I hope that they do bring in a top class centre back.  Not someone of Iro level but instead someone who would be among the best defenders in the MLS.  The club needs to make a big move in the back line but now is not the ideal time to do that barring De Guzman moving back to Europe.

So we have our first two games for the new look TFC in the books and it is clear that they still can't defend and that the wins are not just going to start pouring in now.  The club still has a long ways to go but at least as these players all settle in I expect the team to only get better.  In fact I would still say that despite continuing the losing ways TFC are better now then they were before all the roster moves.

Women's World Cup Lookback

This post was full intended to be written quite a while ago but things got busy and it kept getting shelved.  The good news is now I can write about the WWC with a bit of distance and hopefully give a more assessment but lets face it no matter how long I wait it will still be my own skewed view. 

The first thing that I have to say is that this summers Women's World Cup is the most enjoyable FIFA event outside of a men's world cup that I have ever watched.  On top of that I will even go as far as to say that on the whole it was every bit as good as WC2010 in South Africa.  That might seem like a huge statement for me to make but this WWC really did have every single thing you could ask for in a football tournament.  It had some fairly big upsets, it had great story lines, and underdog champion, and most importantly it had a whole lot of quality playing. 

The Women's world cup was not plagued by all kinds of blowouts, the worst scorelines were 4 goals wins including the one that France got over Canada, and it did not have the issues with diving and simulation that so often destroy the credibility of the men's game at the highest levels.  So me the Women's game may be at a slower pace, the shots may be less powerful, and in many cases the keeping is not as great but this year that did not ruin it for me.  It was nothing like watching women's hockey, which is something I can only do every four years and then only Canada's games, in fact I found myself trying to catch every game possible.  For the first time in my life I was watching rebroadcasts of games that did no involve United which is saying a whole lot since I normally cannot stand watching a game at all if I already know the score.  The games were good enough to keep me interested long after Canada were eliminated and in fact the success of this World Cup is going to keep me coming back to the Women's game for years to come.

Another positive thing about the WWC is that it satisfied my need to dislike many of the traditional soccer powers as well as my constant desire to cheer against the Americans.  The fact that Germany and Brazil did not make to the finals made me quite happy and even if the US went all the way to the final watching them lose to Japan was so satisfying.  Yes I would have loved the event even more if Canada had done better but I think I actually enjoyed it more this way, once I overcame the crushing pain of once again seeing Canada come up short, as I was able to just sit back and enjoy the games and just appreciate the skill on display.

Speaking of Japan, them winning the WWC was a storyline that you could hardly even dream up.  They are of course a very good side and would have been among the contenders to make it to the semifinals for most knowledgeable fans but picking them to win it all would have been quite a long shot.  Japan was a country in need of a good storyline after a really rough year from which they are still struggling to recover and their women's team delivered.  Just their showing in the final match against the United States shows that they were a side driven to succeed and every time the US wasted a scoring chance you just got that feeling that Japan were somehow destined to win the game.  Then each time they fought back I could not help but support them.  By the time the match made it to penalties I had gone from cheering against the USWNT to cheering for Japan and the only way I could have been happier with the winner would have been if it had been Canada.

With all that praise I do have to add that their is still a long ways to go in the Women's game.  The quality of the players is only going to continue improving, the depth of the competition should keep getting better (it has to with the tournament field expanding for 2015).  The other area where the game is going to need to see improvement is officiating.  For the most part it was good during the tournament but there are a few terrible moments that are going to stand up as glaring marks on the event.  The handball that was not called in the Australia match will be one of the moments that most people will remember but I do hope that with a little more time people who watched the event forget that some of the reffing was poor and instead only remember this event as being something special and great fun to watch.

I can hardly wait for 2015 now when with any luck I will be going to at least a couple of matches.  I can now safely say that I am a supporter of Women's soccer and that is a big statement for someone who has once been accused of being a sports sexist.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Becoming a Coach

So this blog is going to be more of a personal one but seeing as the point of this blog is to be about my journey to get more involved in supporting local soccer it does still fit.  This summer my brother started coaching, as an assistant coach, but he has yet to begin the process of training and certification to become an official coach in the provence of Ontario.  I intend to enter the coaching ranks next summer, since I need to fill the void left by no longer playing or reffing the game, but as part of that I am trying to learn how the whole thing is going to work.  I am familiar with how the setup works for becoming a ref as I had taken my class 3, this was before the change to the new system, and to be honest it was a fairly straight forward setup for becoming an official.  With that each time you took a course you became more qualified and it was only one course for each level.  In coaching though I have come across this pathway which is clearly more complex.

To me this pyramid indicates that if next summer I wanted to coach say a U15 boys team at my local club I would be required to take first the Children's course at 9 hours, then the Youth course at another 9 hours, and finally the 16 hour senior course.  That is 34 hours of courses just to get to where I want to be but the trick will clearly be trying to find a way to do as much of this as I can in a single spring.  I was hoping to find a chance to get started on taking one or two of the courses this fall but at least for now there seem to be none listed on the OSA calendar.  That means the obstacle of having to take this course in their prescribed order is going to be the toughest part of this plan.  Even assuming that I can find a course in my area for each level and can get enough spare time on the weekends to attend them the very least amount of time it will take me is three weeks but I highly doubt I can do it that fast.

The one bright spot for me in this process is that there seems to be no waiting period required between taking each course.  It is not like I have to coach at each level for say a year before I can go on to the next.  That should help me in this process and with any luck by this time next year I should be done my community coaching level and able to move on to the pre-B assessment.  So maybe this won't take that long after all but I do still wish there was a way to skip levels for someone who has played and officiated for the better part of 15 years.  I get that the OSA feels there is a need to train coaches on the special needs at each age level since they will be unique and all present different challenges but a part of me wishes that I could do one intensive weekend of say 20 hours of training and cover all 3 levels rather then having to do it over 3 different weekends.

Going further in to the OSA coaching section on their site I have now found that this fall they will apparently be announcing some changes to the structure of the coaching pathway this fall.  No clue what these changes are going to entail since the site does not give anything away besides saying that by november the site will reflect the changes.  To be honest though like many other sections of the OSA website the coaching section is not the best done site I have ever been on to say the least.  It took me quite a while to find all the info that I wanted and for something I still have had to consult with people who have already started the process just to try and understand the structure.  In fact if you are aware of how everything works for coaching in the OSA feel free to get in touch with me since I would love to get a better grasp on it so by the time that the changes are announced in November I can finalize my plans to begin the road to becoming a coach.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Busy day in Winter's wonderland

When Toronto FC announced that they had signed Frings and Koevermans it was made clear that these two signings were just the beginning of the moves that we could expect from the club during the summer transfer window.  Today all that promise of activity came to life as the trade activity kicked off.  The first deal of the day saw TFC picking up Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield from rival club Vancouver Whitecaps.  This deal saw Toronto sending allocation money and future considerations in exchange for the player.  The second move of the day was a big deal with the San Jose earthquakes that saw Toronto landing Jamaican international Ryan Johnson in exchange for Alan Gordon, Nana Attakora, and Jacob Peterson.

The first move to bring in Dunfield does two, or maybe even three, important things for Toronto FC.  Dunfield gives Toronto more depth in the centre of the midfield as the Canadian international is capable of slotting in to a number of different roles in the centre of the pitch.  Having cost Toronto very little this move seems to be a good piece of business.  The issue will be that Dunfield has shown all kinds of heart for Vancouver but often that covered up a number of shortcomings in his play.  He has often been at fault for turning the ball over and wasting chances.  Toronto will be hoping that he can thrive in a new city that will see him no longer playing in front of his own family and friends so often.  Dunfield will likely end up playing in the midfield in front of Frings or De Guzman which will give him freedom to help out the attack.

The second move of the day is by far the bigger one and the more important one.  While landing Dunfield helps the midfield bringing in Ryan Johnson gives an even bigger boost to the teams attack.  He will now be able to partner Koevermans in the attack in what shapes up to be a potentially lethal pairing.  Johnson is now 26 years old and had made 99 appearances for San Jose since joining the club back in 2008 as well as having made 13 international appearances for Jamaica.  Johnson was a part of the Jamaica side at this summers Gold Cup where he scored a pair of goals.  He gives TFC another proven attacker and hopefully he will be able to spend more time fit and in the lineup then Gordon did.  Speaking of Gordon he was one of the players that went the other way in this trade.  Along with Alan Gordon TFC gave up Nana Attakora and Jacob Peterson which to some might seem like a bit of a steep price to pay.  The fact of the matter is that Peterson has had more then his share of struggles this season and has been out of the lineup for a fair bit of time.  Nana has found himself completely out of favour and no matter how many people were out injured he still seemed to be unable to get a place in the starting lineup.  Gordon was Toronto's top scorer but he also had a lot of injury issues that saw him miss a number of games already this season.  To me the core of this deal is Toronto trading Gordon for Johnson which I think is a good deal for the club since they still get a scoring threat but hopefully Johnson does not develop the same sort of fitness issues.  The other key factor in this second deal is that Toronto was able to pick up an international roster spot which in my opinion would be a decent return for Peterson and a clearly unwanted Nana.  I think in the end Toronto have done well in this deal as long as it is not the end of the moves they are making since they now need to strengthen the side and get deeper in other areas.

The move to trade Nana means that of the players on the teams first season roster no one remains.  Nana had been the last player left around from season 1 but now it is like the club have completely made a fresh start.  In some ways we can say that on thursday one chapter of TFC's history came to an end and now the era of Winter has truly begun.  He has come good on his promise to shake up the roster and make changes and it was clear that he was not done yet.

On Friday the wheeling and dealing continued as TFC made another deal this time with Columbus Crew.  This move I am a bit less of a fan of since it saw Toronto sending Tony Tchani the other way and in my opinion he has been one of the clubs best players in recent weeks.  I guess in the eyes of the people in charge at TFC the move to bring in Dunfield meant that Tchani was extra to the needs in the centre of the park.  Granted there was a clear need to get some help in defence which is exactly what they did by acquiring Andy Iro in return.  Iro, who is 26 years old and from Liverpool, had been with the crew since 2008 where he played in over 50 matches having joined the team out of college being drafted 6th overall.  Since making his debut against none other then TFC Iro has gone on to develop in to a strong and confident defender.  At 6 foot 5 he will give the team a lot more strength and heading ability in the back line.  He is just the kind of player that TFC were in need of to strengthen the back line and more important he will bring them skill and not just serve as another body.  The second player that TFC got in return is Leandre Griffit who has only been in the MLS for a short time but at 27 years old he has had a lot of experience around the Europe including stops at Southampton, Crystal Palace, and IF Elfsborg.  He will come in as a depth player for the most part helping to round out the clubs midfield and fill the spot left by Tchani.  He only made a handful of appearances for Columbus so I do not really know what to expect from him and as such I am expecting him to just end up coming in as a role player who we will see from time to time.

So when Toronto FC take to the field in their next match against FC Dallas fans may just have a bit of a tough time recognizing any of the players.  Tchani, Gordon, Peterson, and Attakora will all be gone and instead the club will have Frings, Koevermans, Johnson, Dunfield, Griffit, and Iro.  That of course is assuming that they do not make any more deals before that game comes along.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Lesson on Real Esteli F.C.

On July 27, Toronto FC will play the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League qualifying match at BMO Field versus Nicaraguan side Real Esteli F.C. TFC qualified for the continental competition for the second year in the row by winning the Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champions over Vancouver Whitecaps. For Reds fans, the day the draw was announced was probably the first time they had heard of Real Esteli. So tonight, with the help of Google, I will try to introduce myself and all our readers to TFC's Nicaraguan opponent.

Real Esteli F.C. are a Nicaraguan side, as stated above, located in Esteli, Nicaragua's third largest city, who play in the nation's top flight of football. The team is nicknamed El Tren del Norte, which according to Google translates as "North Train" but is better translated as "Train of the North" because they come from the northern part of the country. The club was founded in 1960 and plays at Estadio Independencia, in front of 4,800 fans.

Domestically, Real Esteli is one of the most successful clubs winning three national titles and achieving an outstanding record of finishing in the top 5 in every season since 1986. On top of their three national championships, they have won 10 Primera Division de Nicaragua in the nations odd league set up which is similar to other Central American nations like Mexico where they play two seasons a year. Real Esteli has also won the Copa de Nicaragua in 1991.

There matches with Toronto FC coming up later this month will mark the Nicaraguan side's second appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League following their initial appearance in 2008 when they only made it to the Preliminary Round. They have also made 5 appearances in Central America's club competition the Copa Interclubes UNCAF. Real Esteli's best performance was a trip to the Quarter Finals of the competition in 2005 having never made it past the First Round in two previous attempts and the two more that followed.

Toronto FC are easily the favorites against CONCACAF minnows Real Esteli despite their own lowly stature entering the competition. The Reds will have to take care of business at BMO Field and ensure a big lead before they make the difficult trip to Nicaragua. TFC will have to deal with a low standard of playing surface and a completely hostile club when they travel Esteli and Estadio Independencia. Winter will field a strong line up in the home leg to ensure a comfortable win so that he can keep key players out of the line up for the away trip and not risk injuries to players important to the remainder of Toronto's season.

As the day of the first leg approaches, we will provide more coverage ahead of the match as Canadian champions Toronto FC aim to qualify for the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League for the second straight season. Thanks to Google and predominately Wikipedia, I hope I gave you a good introduction to Real Esteli, a little known club from the smaller Central American nation of Nicaragua.

Whitecaps add a Designated Player

So last evening the Whitecaps official twitter account tweeted that at 9:30 PST this morning, July 12th, they would be making a major player announcement.  This tweet of course started off a huge amount of speculation all over my twitter feed as every fan of Canadian soccer seemed to have their own couple of suggestions for who it might be.  The early front runner was of course Owen Hargreaves who has bee often linked to the two Canadian clubs in recent weeks as well as having been spotted training in British Columbia of late.  That speculation of course caused the expected reaction with die hard Canadian fans hoping that all the worst possible things happen to Hargo.  The rumour of Hargreaves being the player coming in were squashed only a few minutes later when rumours came out that Vancouver's new player was going to be an African who had been in Belgium recently where he was a decent player.  It was also reported that this new player might have been the captain of either his national team or his club team.  So of course many fans who wanted to be the first to report the name, including myself, spent a few hours on the internet trying to find out just who all met these criteria.  I for one never even came close to getting it right though and really only helped to add to the outlandish speculation that was going on with the likes of Eto'o and Drogba being linked just because they are captains of African nations.

So this morning all the rumours were put aside and the actual announcement was made that the Whitecaps would be adding another Designated player to their team in the form of Gambian international Mustapha Jarju.  He is a striker who spent last season playing for RAEC Mons of Belgium's second division.  So he did indeed fit all of the criteria that were being put out in rumours the night before.  He also fits the needs of Vancouver as last season he scored 25 goals for his club last season and has 58 career goals despite only being 24 years old.  So he will bring the Whitecaps a second scoring option that should provide the sort of partner that Eric Hassli has been lacking all season long.  Hassli has 6 of the teams goals this season but the introduction of Jarju will take some of the pressure to score from him as well as drawing some of the attention of the defenders away from him.  The Whitecaps will be counting on their two designated players to get the job down and give them the attack that has been lacking in so many games this season.

Jarju will be counted on for scoring and to also create goals for the other attacking players.  He has a good record of both in Belgium but that is by no means a guarantee of success in the MLS.  His record in Belgium would suggest that he is worthy of that DP tag but now Vancouver has 2 of its 3 potential slots filled and has used both on them on attackers.  It could limit their ability to strengthen other areas of the team but even with that aside there is still the question of whether a relatively unknown player from Gambia is worth that kind of investment rather then the team going after players with proven MLS quality.  I personally think that signing Jarju is a worthwhile risk and as he won't command that massive of a salary and it is also possible that as soon as next season he could no longer be a designated player which would free that spot up to be filled by another player.  His upside is very large as a 24 year old who has a proven ability to create in front of goal and if this move pays off he could be a huge factor in any improvements that the Whitecaps will make in the coming seasons.

The other big part of todays signing is that Jarju becomes the first African player to be signed to an MLS contract as a designated player.  His move to the MLS could be seen as opening the door for more African players to make the same move in the near future which could only be good for the league that needs to continue exploring new talent markets in hopes of improving the overall quality.

For the Whitecaps they now have the attacker they needed but reports suggest they are still in the hunt of a midfielder which could even see them bring in a third designated player.  That does mean that their fans will have to continue to worry about the potential of Hargreaves being signed in the coming days or weeks if he can prove he is fit and ready to play.  Fans will likely be hoping that if the club does make another big move that it is on signing a proven player with real quality rather then gambling on a player from a small African country who plays in one of Europe's weaker leagues.  Hargreaves would fit that bill but the fact is he has a major history of injury so playing him at Empire field would just be asking for disaster and that is my attempt to avoid discussing other reasons why signing him would be a terrible idea.

For the Whitecaps todays signing was another step forward but as a team that has only scored more then one goal in a match just one time in their last 21 matches there is clearly a lot of work left to be done.  Jarju is possibly one piece of the puzzle that is success in the MLS but at this point he only address one problem on a team with a multitude of them.

Friday, July 08, 2011

A Whole Other Class: TFC-NYRB

So this part week Toronto FC were taking on the New York Redbull in what was always going to be a tough test for TFC but what they did on the day was prove that they are still a long ways from reaching the levels of the top teams in the MLS.  This game almost made the match against the Union seem like a close match since at least TFC were able to find the net on that occasion.

I have to be honest and say that despite the Red Bulls poor form coming in to the match, 3 draws and a loss in their 4 game road trip, I still felt that they were primed to crush TFC who would be unable to up their game from the level it had to be to defeat the Whitecaps twice last week.  That was mostly because of the fact that TFC are on an even worse run of form with Vancouver being the only team that they seem capable of beating.  Toronto have only that one win in the MLS since May 7th and in that time they have been shut out 5 times.  We all know by now that TFC have an anemic offence but it is even worse when they don't even have Gordon or Santos in the starting lineup like they did midweek.

When the lineups were announced and there was no Gordon or Santos it felt like the best that TFC were going to be able to get was a 0-0 draw since they just don't seem to have anyone else who can step up and score.  I don't even think that Gordon and Santos are great strikers or great goal scorers but the fact is that they are clearly the best options that the club has.  Compare Toronto having Soolsma, Plata, and Martina as their attacking options with the fact that New York had Henry, Rodgers, and Agudelo leading their line.  I guess there is no surprise that Toronto FC struggled to create any sort of attacking chances and New York had them in abundance.  The 5-0 final score was by no means flattering to the Red Bulls but I don't even want to get into the match itself more then that.

What I feel is the most worthy element of this game is the fact that this game once again illustrates how for behind Toronto FC are in terms of skill and experience.  I know that they are a side that is slowly being destroyed by injuries and that their two new signings are yet to be eligible to play for the team but I can't help but notice the gap in skill between the two sides.  The Red Bulls two designated players are Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez who both have loads of experience on the world's biggest stages and despite being a bit advanced in age they still have the kind of quality that allows them to be stars in the MLS.  The Red Bulls third spot is still empty since they traded De Ro but chances are that when they do fill that spot it is going to be with a player who is better then any of the three designated players in Toronto's roster.  Toronto, having recently signed a pair of DP's, now have De Guzman, Frings, and Koevermans on its roster.  I do like all three of those players and think that when they were at their very best they were all world class but now none of them seem good enough to be dominant players in the MLS which is what you should expect from such players.  You can only have three of these players so you really are going to have to make them count which New York is clearly doing a better job of then Toronto is.  It may not be fair to expect TFC to go out and sign their own Beckham or Henry since Toronto is not the most appealing city and the team just does not have the same kind of budget but what I want to see is this gap starting to close down.  That would be the point of this rebuild that the club is going through after all.  Maybe we can will even one day see the club make a move for a world class player who is still in their prime and can be a real difference maker for the team.

So what is the point of all of this?  The point is that I do understand that TFC are going to lose games like this from time to time.  They are a side that is messed up by all kinds of injuries right now and even when they are completely fit they still would not be as good as the top teams in the league.  But what I need to start seeing is that TFC are making the kinds of moves that are going to help them close down this skill gap.  Frings and Koevermans are a start but with them taking up two of the DP spots the club is limited in that kinds of moves it can make to get better unless they go out and make some big trades.  Since I do understand that these kinds of defeats are bound to happen for this team I will just keep on hoping to see signs of progress from the team since the playoffs are not going to happen unless they start beating anyone not named the Whitecaps!

Here We Go Again

Earlier this week, Toronto FC found themselves on the wrong end of another blow out as New York Red Bull stampeded the Reds to a dominate 5-0 win. Goals from Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Joel Lindpere, and Juan Agudelo (2) matched TFC's worse defeat in their five season MLS history. It has been a rough season for Stephen Frei and the Toronto back line that due to numerous injuries this season was patched together with Richard Eckersley playing in the middle. On top of the injury problems the Reds have had this season, it has also been a season of growth and rebuilding as Aron Winter looks to build his team.

In the match against New York, the Toronto back line was far from Winter's first choice of defenders. Richard Eckersley was moved from his regular right back position ,where he has played really well for TFC this season, to central defender. The fiery red head, who normally bombs forward in attack, was called upon to sit back, a very different role than he is used to. Eckersley was joined by Dan Gargan, Ty Harden, and Danleigh Borman, who was replaced by Ashtone Morgan at half time, in the back line. Nana Attakora and Adrian Cann have been out on long term injury and leave Toronto short at center defense. Hopefully when the Toronto FC back line is back to full health the Reds will see an improvement and watch that league high goals against start to slowly go down as the wins go up.

Aron Winter's goal when he came to Toronto FC during the off season was to bring Dutch style football to the MLS. Winter wants his TFC side to abandon the long balls to play a shorter passing possession game as used by the top European sides. The team that Winter inherited from his predecessor was not suited to play his technically high 4-3-3 formation. He did not have the players available to him to play the necessary positions so many players have been placed in roles that they have never played before. Some players have fit into Winter's system well and have been nice surprise in a dark season including youngster Joao Plata. Toronto FC's current groups of players have also shown that they are not technically skilled enough to play the Dutch style of football that the management staff is trying to introduce at BMO Field.

It is only half way through Winter's first season in charge of Toronto FC meaning he has not had much time in charge with the transfer window open so that he can build a team that fits his style of play. With the summer window now open, Winter has already made two big moves by bringing in two new designated players from top European sides in Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans. Winter finally had the space and cash to build the team he wants and the addition of Fring and Koevermans adds a lot of experience at the top level and high technical skills to a Reds side that is experience growing pains this season.

After four seasons, Reds fans were upset because the sides was not producing anything on the field. Toronto FC had what their fans believed to be a strong team but had failed to make the playoffs in all four seasons. Now it seems that Toronto has taken a step back and are having a season similar to their first year in the league. But this is not the time to get upset with the team but rather it is the time to be patient. TFC needs to finally find stability at the manager position so they need to stick with Aron Winter who has a long term plan for the team. The fans and clubs have to be patient with Winter because this plan will not generate instant success but it will a couple seasons down the road.

Its time for patience, not change.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Women's World Cup Wrap-up: Canadian Edition

It is honestly hard for me to know where to even begin in writing this post.   That is a rarity for someone like me who so often has far to much to say.  So I will begin by saying that todays match between Canada and Nigeria has left me feeling just down right bad.  Nigeria were a team that many had written off as just being in the World Cup to make up numbers but instead they played Germany and France closely and then found a way to beat Canada in the battle to see who would not end up last in the group.

The defeat at the hands of France was a tougher one to take for me since it meant that the team were mathematically eliminated and that even a win on the final day would not be enough.  It also worked to ensure that almost all of the positivity that came from the opening day match against Germany was forgotten.  Any good feelings that might have been left over are now gone as well.  I think I would have been able to understand and be okay with Canada just missing out on moving on from this group because France and Germany are two very strong teams but Canada didn't even come close.  What can you say in the defence of a team that was talked up as potential competitors for not only moving in to the knockout rounds but maybe even winning the whole thing gets sent home without collecting even a single point and in the biggest game of many of these women's lives they plain did not show up.  I would have thought that today with the pressure off the women would have at least found a way to put on a show and give themselves something positive to build on going forwards but it was the complete opposite.  They once again did not show up, they looked poor in every area of the game, and they deserved to lose to a Nigerian side that seemed to be putting in a greater effort.

I don't think that I need to say anything more about that really.  We all have the same feeling of disappointment in this team and a lot of that feeling comes from the fact that many of us bought it when we were told this side was going to be a contender.  We liked the idea that Canada might just win something or at least have a good showing on the international stage.  In theory it was great to think that with the players all on board with Morace game plan things would go perfectly come the World Cup.  Instead it all went wrong and we are now left doing the customary finger pointing.  I do think that this needs to be a learning experience and next time the team needs to do a couple of things differently but also I do not see any point in over reacting.  My thoughts on it are:

1. There is no need for drastic change.  Morace is the right coach for the job but her some of her decisions were questionable and she did not get the best out of her players

2. The players we have in the system while they are decent need to be developed in to more refined players who have the skill set required to win on the biggest stage.

3. The training camp in Rome was far to long and may have left many of the players feeling emotionally drained by the time that they got to Germany

4. There needs to be a better balance in the number of games played in the run up to a major tournament.  You have to play some to get ready and develop as a team but they may have played too many matches this year with to much travel again taking a toll on the women who for the most part are not used to that

5. Canada needs to once again look at all of its programs and ask why we never seem to get the best out of our players on the international stage.

For more on what Canada needs to move forward from here I highly suggest you read the article that Jason Devos posted earlier today.  It is something that I feel strongly about and we need a lot more people who feel the say way as Jason to start making things happen as the way forward for Canada requires change at every level from the local club all the way up to the CSA.  Its going to be a long process and maybe even an expensive one but if we ever want to have international success its something we have to look at and give serious consideration.

Devos Article:

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Nutrilite Canadian Champions!

For the second time this week Toronto FC were taking on the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Having beaten them 1-0 in a fairly dull league match thanks to a penalty earlier in the week TFC were feeling confident that they would be able to get the result they needed in the second attempt at the second leg of the NCC final.  In case you have forgotten, it was a good while ago, Toronto FC were totally outplayed in Vancouver but managed to steal a 1-1 draw in the first leg.  Then the second league again saw Vancouver being the better side by a clear margin but heavy rain and thunder storms had other ideas as the unsafe weather conditions led to the match having to be abandoned a rescheduled for the next time Vancouver were in town.  That meant that Canada's club championship was now set to be fittingly decided on Canada weekend.

The weather on saturday was once again calling for rain and a good chance of thunder storms but thankfully it held off and we can finally say that this seasons Nutrilite Canadian Championship is in the books.  The two teams made their agendas for this match fairly clear earlier in the week when you looked at the teams that they selected for the MLS match.  TFC, who are currently ravaged by injury, fielded a fairly strong side as they looked to end their 10 game winless run while the Whitecaps rested several players as they were seemingly willing to give up 3 points in the league in exchange for improving their chances at winning the Voyageurs Cup.  The move on Vancouver's part was a bit of a tricky one since giving TFC the win in the league was sure to restore some of their battered confidence and give the players increased hope that they would be able to win again on saturday.  After all this week was one of great optimism around TFC as they finally ended their winless run as well as announcing the signings of two former internationals.

Toronto FC came into the second leg with a lineup that was almost the same as it had been on Wedensday night as only Julian De Guzman and Maicon Santos were brought in.  Vancouver on the other hand made a drastic 7 changes from midweek.  The match kicked off in a fairly lively fashion with the first real chance falling to Santos after a quick counter attack and some ver questionable decision making by the keeper left him in all alone chasing after the bouncing ball.  By the time Santos was able to catch up to the ball he was almost on the goal line and was unable to hit anything but the side netting with his effort.  In the 20th minute though it was the Whitecaps who would open the scoring thanks to a beautifully taken free kick by Sanvezzo who stepped in with his right and fired a shot in to the top corner that gave Frei no chance of making the stop.

Toronto almost found an answer only 5 minutes later as a lively run from Plata opened up the Whitecaps defence and his ball allowed De Guzman to fire in a shot that was well save by Cannon but came back off the post to Martina who's effort had to be cleared off the line.  That chance was followed up with more scrambling and more chances for TFC but in the end they could not convert and the ball eventually went out for a corner.  It was clear that TFC were going for the win in this one and the signs of life were encouraging for the home fans having seen their side already go down 2-1 on aggregate.

Just before the half there was another moment where the Whitecaps were left wondering what their keeper Cannon was thinking.  He came well out of his box to claim a long through ball but the ball bounced off of his chest and ended up landing at the feet of Martina who was then staring at a wide open net.  Martina slid his shot in goal wards but some great hustle by Jay Demerit allowed him to get back and just barely clear the ball from off the goal line, or did he?  This one will go down as yet another case for goal line technology as the ball was definitely most of the way past the goal line before it was cleared but the question was whether or not it was completely across and personally I can not say having watched the replay a number of times.  I think that the right call was made in this case though as it was far to close to tell and awarding a goal would have been very harsh for Vancouver.  The Whitecaps went into the halftime break leading the game 1-0 and the final 2-1 so the job for Toronto was a simple one.  If they wanted to win the NCC then they had to find a way to come back and win this match in the second half.

The signs of life that TFC had shown in the first half carried over into the second as they again came close to levelling the score in the opening minute of the half.  Once again it was a lively run by Plata that got things started as his low cross into the box eventually ended up at the back post where Soolsma turned it toward the back of the net but it ended up being picked up by Cannon.  Cannon once again looked shaky as he failed to deal with the low cross.   The pressure continued for TFC and only a few minutes later a ball into the box ended up at the feet of Plata who was brought down and awarded the penalty.  This time Cannon did not look the least bit shaky as he got across well to push Plata's spot kick up and over the bar.  Unluckily for Cannon though the assistant referee caught the fact that he had taken several steps off of his goal line before the shot was taken which meant that the penalty was going to have to be retaken.  Cannon was absolutely furious at the decision and was only going to be made more angry by the fact that this time Plata stepped up a sent him diving the wrong way.  Plata who had been right in the middle of most of TFC's chances was rewarded with the goal that made it 1-1 on the night and all even at 2-2 on aggregate.

The 2-2 scoreline would have meant extra time and maybe penalties but with Toronto on top in terms of the run of play they looked to press their advantage.  A lovely ball over the top once again opened up the Vancouver defence and once again it was the pace and skill of Plata that got on to the end of the ball allowing him to bring it down at the top of the box before running in and sending a low cross into the middle past several defenders before it eventually wound up at the feet of Yourassowsky who fired it home giving Toronto its first lead of the match.  The Whitecaps tried to find some fight back but the couple of chances that they did create were well dealt with by Frie and after 93 minutes of play Toronto FC were hoisting their third straight Voyageurs Cup.

The win gives Toronto FC a date with Nicaragua's Real Esteli in a 2 legged qualifier from which the winner moves on to the group stage of the 2011-2012 CONCACAF champions league.  For TFC, who are already thin thanks to injuries, the Champions League is probably one competition more then they can afford to be worried about and I expect them to make a swift exit as they have other priorities.  The win also gives Toronto back-to-back wins for the first time in ages.  Yes they may both have come against the Whitecaps who are also struggling along at the bottom of the MLS but they have done enough to at least give the fans back some hope that the team is heading in the right direction.  At the very least TFC and its fans can now claim that they are the best club in Canada still but barring some sort of incredible second half turn around in the MLS they will once again be missing out on the playoffs.