Why I didn’t go to see Crystal Palace

July 19, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Posted in General Football, Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps 2016, Whitecaps Season 2016 | 11 Comments
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I am a football nut.  I can’t walk by a football match at any level without stopping to see what is going on.  I have been a season’s ticket holder for the 86ers and the Vancouver Whitecaps since 1998 or so.   So why didn’t I go see Crystal Palace play the Whitecaps? Especially after griping for years about no friendlies!

  1. No benefit to season’s ticket holders.  While I admit I made no enquiries directly of the ticket prices, the rumours floating around my section were that prices for our seats were more expensive than we pay for a Whitecaps MLS match.  Pay more for a friendly? No thanks.
  2. I went to see West Ham play in Seattle recently.  Though West Ham is my favourite English club, the team put on a poor show.  There were no names on the jerseys.  The players did not even bother to wave at the West Ham supporters section before they slunk off after an indifferent performance resulting in a 3-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders.  The players and the coaching staff clearly didn’t care. It was a very bad reflection of the English Premier League brand and was a disincentive to attend to see another Premier league team in a friendly.
  3. The other rumour running around was that Palace manager Alan Pardew had made comments to the effect that fans here would simply flip over a Premier League side no matter which one it was, and that frankly, we wouldn’t know the difference between one team or another in any event.  More arrogance from the English Premier League!  We do know the difference and know that Palace are generally a quite unspectacular second division club, albeit one that has very recently become somewhat more ambitious.
  4. This was not really a Vancouver Whitecaps gig, but someone else’s.  The fact is this match was not really a Whitecaps initiative, it was just an event they had agreed to participate in.  The lack of control the Whitecaps had meant there was a lot of confusion in the marketing of the match.  When Manchester City came to town back in 2011, the match was a part of the season’s ticket package for the Vancouver Whitecaps.  That set a precedent and I found myself confused and bewildered by the crazy swing the other way where the match seemingly cost more than a Whitecaps match. The marketing of the match was very alienating.
  5. Fan fatigue.  The match timing was poor.  The Whitecaps have had three very recent home games  in close proximity.  I am tired!  If you have to skip one match of these four, then surely you skip the friendly before the other full-blooded matches.
  6. It’s only Crystal Palace.  Sure they are in the Premier League, but Palace is not a well known side outside of England.  I can remember reading about them in Shoot! magazine as a boy,  and they do have a cool name, but they are not really a team that sets the pulse racing.  Their only real claim to recent fame was that they were defeated in the most recent FA Cup final.  Boring!
  7. Top players missing.  In the run-up to the match it became clear that this would really be a reserves match.  Palace had many of their top players missing due to participation in the recent Euro 2016.  If we want to see any Palace players, those are the ones we want to see!  Pay more money to see second stringers play second stringers? No, thanks.

I am a huge football fan but all of these factors turned me off of this match.  I never really got any kind of convincing argument or persuasion from the Whitecaps or anyone else to rebut my feelings about it and to convince me that this match was worth attending.

Ultimately this was a case of poor timing, poor planning and poor marketing.  If the Whitecaps had more control over the enterprise and had given season’s ticket holders a tangible benefit, it could have been more successful.

 

 

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Reflections on a mixed football weekend

April 3, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Posted in General Football, Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps 2016, Whitecaps Season 2016 | 3 Comments
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The events of the recent weekend in Vancouver football represent a real watershed in Canadian sport history. Friday night’s Canada-Mexico World Cup qualifying fixture at BC place set a record for attendance for any sporting event in Canada. I believe another record must have been set for the greatest number of Mexicans at a Canadian football fixture. More than a third of the huge crowd of 54,000 plus were either Mexican nationals or expatriates. I met a fellow had made his way up from Mexico City to watch his nation’s team play. I said to him “may the best team lose”.

Unfortunately for us Canadians the best team won. Mexico put on a sparkling footballing clinic which demonstrated how far behind Canada still is as a Soccer nation (although with Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan’s display Canadian goalkeeping is doing just fine). Any illusion we held that Canada might make the World Cup finals in Russia was put to rest. Though Canada started the match brightly, and squandered a couple of early chances, their ponderous methods were soon easily figured out by the Mexican team. Canada rarely got possession of the ball thereafter, a trend which continued for the rest of the match. By contrast, Mexico moved the ball very quickly in a fluid fashion, and were able to get behind the Canadian fullbacks (especially De Jong, who really struggled to keep up) with intelligent ball movement. The sheer predictability of Canada’s ball movement meant Canada was limited to pinging the ball around in their own end, meaning they only got one weak shot on Mexico’s goal in the second half. Frankly, in terms of football intelligence and ability Mexico got an A and Canada got a D.

The following evening at BC Place Major League Soccer served up prosaic stuff, as the clash with the international break meant that both the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Houston Dynamo were missing top players to international duty.  The Whitecaps were missing four starters. There was a muted environment in BC place as a much smaller crowd, the majority of whom had been at BC Place the night before, showed signs of tiredness or hangover. Neither Vancouver nor Houston could demonstrate the glittering football that Mexico did the previous night.

The match was decided by a dubious penalty when Vancouver’s Japanese striker Kudo went down in the box after a slight tug on his jersey from a Houston defender while he was trying to get to a far post cross he never was going to reach. It was yet another incredible call from an MLS official, and it decided the match. Poor officiating often does in MLS play. Pedro Morales dispatched his fourth penalty of the season and Whitecaps Coach Carl Robinson was content to cautiously see out this poor match with a 1-0 victory. To make the whole story even more bizarre the MLS disciplinary committee then gave Kudo a ban for diving later on in the week.

The Saturday night match proved the folly of not stopping MLS play for international fixtures. It really feels like MLS is biting the hand that feeds it when fans pay good money to see their MLS teams play a clearly diminished standard of football due to the absence of its best players for international duty. MLS games are worth watching when teams have their full strength squads available, but once two or three top players are missing from squads, a lot of MLS teams become quite dull to watch.

While I have always praised MLS for trying out new ideas in the very conservative sport of football, continuing MLS play while its best players are absent for international duty is a poor idea. MLS fans are sophisticated enough to see the difference in the football we watch.  MLS fans deserve to see the best players playing for their teams, and anything less shows us disrespect.

Women of the World Cup shine despite Canada’s shameful plastic pitches

July 6, 2015 at 9:09 pm | Posted in General Football, Vancouver Whitecaps, World Cup Memories | 2 Comments
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The fact is we Canadians let the best women football players in the world down by making them play a World Cup on inferior plastic playing surfaces.

I am embarrassed as a Canadian that my country, a first world country, could not provide grass playing surfaces for the world’s best players. While the organization and attendance at the World Cup were top class, the playing surfaces were truly embarrassing, making this a much poorer World Cup to watch than the last one.

While Canada’s World Cup showed top class organization, the poor playing surfaces show we as Canadians are still in the stone age in footballing terms. All of those apologists for the plastic pitches, including the Canadian Soccer Association, demonstrated they simply don’t know football and don’t deserve to be in the positions they are in.

Many of the top players, like Abby Wambach, had the courage to launch a human rights lawsuit about it, but dropped it to play football instead. We owe them a debt of gratitude for that.

Abby Wambach got to have her cake and eat it too. She had the courage to expose the sexist attitudes that our plastic playing surfaces represented and then went on to win the trophy nonetheless. She proved she is a true champion and a courageous person who is willing to speak her mind. She spoke the truth: it is laughable to even suggest the Men’s World Cup would ever be played on plastic grass.

I got to take in two matches: USA v Nigeria and Canada v Switzerland. Both matches were played in front of more than 50,000 people. It was a spectacular affirmation of the greatness of women’s sport, and an affirmation of the greatness of the players, whose names and exploits we will not forget. I will never forget the sight of Japan’s Homare Sawa coming in as a sub in the final in her sixth world cup. Simply unforgettable.

Our Canadian team was knocked out earlier than we would have liked but is there any doubt they made us proud to be Canadian? I am grateful to them all, even to those who made errors. They all had the courage to pull the red jersey on to fight for our country in front of tens of thousands of people. Canadian girls,(and boys too, it turns out!), will remember this tournament and will strive to win a World Cup one day.

What a shame it is the tournament was not played on grass. It would have been better as a spectacle, the football would have been better, and the players would have felt better and played better. From watching this World Cup there is no doubt in my mind that Canada’s plastic playing surfaces held the players back from their best.

Thank God women footballers have been promised the next Women’s World Cup will be held on proper grass playing surfaces. The top women’s football tournament should never be held on plastic playing surfaces again.

Montreal fails to clear the final CONCACAF Champs League hurdle

May 4, 2015 at 10:27 pm | Posted in General Football, Vancouver Whitecaps | Leave a comment
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Like many Canadian soccer fans I declared a truce with the Montreal Impact for the purposes of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). Against all odds, the Impact made their way to the two-leg CCL final operating under Major League Soccer’s strict salary cap limitations.Their opponent was mighty Club America from Mexico which are operates under no salary cap limitations.

Amazingly, the Montreal impact had gone to the Azteca in Mexico City, the venue where Pele and Maradona wrote their names in football history, and had nearly won the match one-nil. Only a late goal by the Mexicans spared their blushes in front of their home fans.

Looked at more abstractly, The CCL final was unlimited free enterprise (Club America) verses the controlled centralized economy (Montreal Impact). In the CCL, free enterprise beat the controlled centralized economy as surely as the US beat the USSR in the Cold War.

The second leg was eagerly anticipated in Montreal where 60,000 or so bought tickets to watch a mid-week match. Other MLS teams looked forward to seeing one of their own lift the trophy, which has gone to Mexican sides for seven straight years now. Even MLS Commissioner Don Garber, (the “Soccer Don”) made the trip to the Great White North in hope of watching a historic match which would vindicate his controlled-growth model of soccer and win the tournament for an MLS team for the first time since the CCL format started in 2008.

Unfortunately the writing was on the wall for Montreal. Their squad was too thin to compete with a strong and deep Club America. The Impact’s star goalkeeper Evan Busch, who was key to the Impact’s success in the competition, received a yellow card in the first leg which disqualified him for the second leg. The Impact had to desperately find an experienced goalkeeper and signed obscure German goalkeeper Kristian Nicht from NASL’s Indy Eleven, just just days before the second leg (he was released just days after the final).

Another bad sign was that Montreal coach Frank Klopas put Nigel Reo-Coker on right back. Vancouver Whitecaps fans remember Reo-Coker as a highly talented midfielder, but as a very poor right back.  Reo-Coker had a few matches for Vancouver at right back and did not perform well at all. During the second half of the second leg in Montreal Reo-Coker was exposed on three of the four goals Club America scored. While the whole Impact team ran out of fuel in the second half, Reo Coker flagged first. Klopas should have played someone else at right back and put Reo-CoKer in central midfield where he knows how to play very well and would not have to chase fit young Mexican wingers.

It all started gloriouly well as the Impact rattled the shaky Mexican defenders with aggressive attacking play early in the first half. The Impact’s Romero scored early and held their advantage until halftime.  We all held our breath and dreamed of the wild celebrations at the “Big Owe” in Montreal when the final whistle blew.

In the second half the bubble burst for Montreal in a big way. Club America scored four straight goals, running Montreal’s makeshift team into the ground. It was very sad to watch the dream of a great moment in Canadian soccer history die.  The Impact salvaged some pride with a late goal to make it 4-2, but it was a consolation goal in the truest sense of the word.

Don Garber slunk away from Montreal with the expected  “proud the Impact got so far” comments, but the frustration was clear for all to see and feel. The post match commentary and social media said it all: the tight salary cap in effect for MLS teams makes it nearly impossible for them to build and carry a squad strong enough to win the CONCACAF Champions League.

In fact, as Vancouver Whitecaps fans must now be painfully aware,  participation in the Champions league has proven to be a liability for Montreal in MLS league play. Montreal has failed to win a match in league play, and face a huge workload to make up the MLS league games they have missed to participate in the CCL.

For once, I actually feel for Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo. He and his team put their hearts into the CCL and have paid a heavy price for their troubles. They deserved better. If Saputo’s team had been freed from the chains that MLS has put on it, we would probably be toasting his team right now and for the future as well.

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