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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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