Tigers toy with Whitecaps

April 5, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2017 | Leave a comment
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Oh well, we knew it was a long shot. We only lost 1-2 at home to a far superior team in Tigres UNAL and once again, the free enterprise football teams of Mexico beat the salary capped Major League Soccer (MLS) teams of Canada and the USA.  The CONCACAF final will feature Tigres and Pachuca, and it is Mexico which will yet again send a team to the World Club Championship.

It all started well when a Christian Bolanos free kick found Techera whose cross put Tigres ‘keeper Guzman under pressure.  The big netminder coughed the ball up to Brek Shea, who neatly tucked the ball into the net past him.  It was 1-0 Whitecaps after only three minutes.  We were in with a chance.

Or so we thought.  For the rest of the match Tigres had possession of the ball for the vast majority of time.  Whenever the Whitecaps got possession of the ball they soon gave it up under the cohesive net of defensive pressure Tigres employed.

Even if we put one or two passes together, Tigres defenders were able to easily read what the ‘Caps players were doing and made the necessary adjustments to put out any brush fires.

Shea left the pitch early because of an injury, and youngster Davies came in and looked for the first time like a kid out of his depths.  In MLS play Davies is able to put heavy pressure on multiple defenders but he was easily squashed by just one defender tonight.

The overall quality of the Tigres team was solid from front to back and their team play was on another level.  The quality of Eduardo Vargas, Chilean international and Andre-Pierre Gignac, French international was on display and it was Gignac who put the tie beyond doubt with a curling shot from outside of the box mid way through the second half.  Whitecaps defenders gave the Frenchman too much room and time to shoot and you could see the punishment coming.  At 1-1 the Whitecaps needed three goals in a short amount of time; it was an impossible task.  Tigres struck again late on and there is no doubt they deserved to go ahead to the final of the CONCACAF Champion’s League.

All of this will make for grim news for MLS commissioner Don Garber.  His salary cap model is no match for Mexico’s free market Liga MX, which has once again proven itself to be  far superior in quality.   MLS has a long way to go before it can compete with the Mexican league, and it remains a distant second in terms of quality in the CONCACAF region.

Vancouver Whitecaps set to play real football club in Champions League

March 13, 2017 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2017 | 1 Comment
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It is a funny thing when you make the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League and all you have played is a couple of Major League Soccer (MLS) teams (and one of those clubs only played their b-team) and a very poor team indeed from Trinidad.

Things will change dramatically tomorrow night when the Whitecaps play comparative giants Tigres UANL in Monterrey, Mexico.  Whereas MLS clubs play in a climate controlled aquarium, Tigres play in the open ocean of world football. MLS clubs labour away under a heavily cost controlled environment with mysterious rules which only a priestly caste can understand.  Tigres operate freely, and can pay their players what they wish.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber would love to have MLS teams beat Mexican teams in the tournament, but it just does not happen that often.  It is always a Mexican team that lifts the trophy at the final whistle in the tournament finale.  The truth is that most clubs in the MLS are not that enthusiastic about the tournament, and MLS fans tend not to show up for games.  The barrier to MLS clubs winning is not just money, but commitment, especially, south of the border.  Canadian clubs have shown more enthusiasm, especially the Montreal Impact, who made their way to the final only to be humbled by Club America of Mexico.

Liga MX, Mexico’s top football league, is superior to MLS in overall player quality, as the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to find out.  If the Whitecaps escape Monterrey tomorrow night having conceded only four goals, they will have done well.

The Whitecaps  will face a crowd of over 40,000 hostile Tigres fans who will expect their team to deliver on the beautiful grass pitch in the stadium called “the Volcano”.   The Whitecaps  will also face international players Vargas, of Chile, and Gignac, of France, if Tigres deem it necessary to play them.

While I will cheer the Whitecaps on with hope in my heart, the reality is that the MLS cost controlled model does not yet produce teams capable of winning the tournament.  It will require MLS some years of development and some loosening of financial restrictions before that can happen.

 

 

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.

Whatever Happened to Leeds United?

March 3, 2009 at 5:24 am | Posted in General Football | 4 Comments
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Leeds United managed to take one of the Holy Grails of world football, qualification for the Champions League, and turn it into a garbage bin.   Leeds qualified for the Champions league through the back door qualification process back in 2000.  They made it thorough the first stage (it was then a two stage process before the knock out round), through the second stage, and progressed all the way to the Semi-Final where Valencia beat them.  I watched them lose to Barcelona 4-0 in September 2000 (see post on this blog) but the team rebounded to go on its incredible run to the semi-final.   The game in which they defeated Lazio 0-1 at the Stadio Olimpico was absolutely thrilling.

Buoyed by their incredible run the season before, Leeds invested heavily, betting the farm on the hope of qualifying for the next year’s Champion’s League.  They did not qualify.  What happened in the financial shock thereafter dealt Leeds a terrible blow which they still have not recovered from.   They were demoted from the Premier League , the Championship, and then fell as low as Division One.  They were given a harsh points penalty for falling into administration which prevented them from going up to the Championship.   Last year they made the Division One play-offs only to be beaten by Doncaster Rovers (whom my Grandad used to play for in the thirties), their Yorkshire neighbours.

As it has turned out, it appears Doncaster was the better team to go up as they seem to have found form to stay up in the Championship whereas Leeds is strugging to stay in the play-off zone in Division One.

I miss Leeds United and hope they come back up to the Premiership soon.   The club has a wonderful history including being the last club to win the Division 1 title before it turned into the Premiership.   Furthermore, there has been a great connection between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Leeds United with Johnny Giles, Peter Lorimer, Terry Yorath, Ray Hankin and David Harvey being players who spent time at both clubs (In 2012 the Whitecaps signed Andy O’Brien from Leeds United).  They also have generated some classic playing strip, especially the ones created by Admiral back in what I believe was the late seventies or early eighties.

While there is no arguing that they did not make it to the Premiership without merit, some of the Clubs currently in the Premiership hardly quicken the pulse.  Wigan, Hull, Bolton and a few others are not the kind of clubs I look forward to seeing on the tele.  Leeds is a Premiership club that I love to watch.   I look forward to the day they make it back up to the top.

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