Bunkering and brain farts: Week Seven(?) in CanPL

A variety of Jim Brennans.
Which Jim Brennan do you most identify with? All Business Jim Brennan? Cologne Ad Jim Brennan? Leadership Jim Brennan?

Is it week six? Seven? Already? Nobody actually seems to know–I missed Week Three just because, and CanPL.ca is putting out Week 5 content, so every number is fair game.

What we do know is that the spring season is short and frantic. I think a lot of us though it would be exciting for that, but I feel like that hasn’t quite happened. I don’t want to reach too far, either, but you get a sense of this from the team’s, too. It’s not something talked about, but there are little hints that the coaches aren’t especially happy with the fixture congestion.

“I know that they are all tired. We’ve been going like this for I can’t even count now. But it’s my job to push them and push them and squeeze as much out of the orange as I can.”

That was Stephen Hart with a Stephen Hart-ism after Saturday’s game. That’s as much frustration as you’ll see from him about the schedule–it is what it is for all teams–but it is a factor. I liked the intent behind the split season and still do, but I’d guess we see changes next year.

Cavalry didn’t play this week, but other teams sent them gifts for their holiday by not winning their home games.

Forge are only two points back, yeah, but Cavalry have two games in hand. They do have to actually win those, of course–sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Halifax (D 1 – 1 v. York; W 2 – 1 v. Pacific)

I had Wanderers with an outside chance of catching up because they had games in hand at home. That’s probably gone because while the 1 – 1 draw against York wasn’t a dreadful result, you have to win your home games in this league, especially in the spring.

Wanderers did better on Saturday, but still conceded an early, preventable goal when Terran Campbell just kinda… walked through the entire team.

I’d do an anatomy of this goal, too, except it rather explains itself. What is Matthew Arnone doing there? (I liked Arnone a lot in midfield–CB is his natural position but he’s made two big errors this week, which is not ideal.)

For me, a lot of this is on fatigue. Zela Langwa’s been great for Halifax, but he’s played most of every game so far, and it’s showing when he gets beat too easily there, too. I asked Stephen Hart about it after Saturday’s game, here’s what he said:

“Fatigue of the brain and fatigue of the body. But, to be honest, it was too easy. I think we could have done a lot better. The guy was trapped, we had three players there, we failed to put pressure on the ball–I mean he touched, set his sights, and then hit it, nobody even tried to block it. So I’m not going to give them the excuse of fatigue–it’s poor defending.”

I like that he doesn’t accept that it’s just fatigue, because it’s not. It’s taking time for Wanderers to really understand each others’ tendencies, and it’s cost them too often for this team to quite achieve what it could have in the spring.

When you give up the first goal, especially at home, you let teams bunker. Pacific don’t have the defensive depth to do that yet, but York do and did a very good job of it on Wednesday after winning a penalty just three minutes in. Then they sat back for over an hour, switching to a back three after about 25 minutes and still getting the odd chance later on, too.

Wanderers don’t concede a lot of goals, but they concede them at bad times. On the road, it’s cost them points. At home, it’s cost them points. They’d be in the spring title race but for the mistakes, because there’s nothing structurally wrong, just errors.

I tend to think this team will improve as the season goes on, and Hart very much sees room for it to happen. Akeem Garcia scored Wanderers’ equalizer on Saturday, after Hart chewed him out at half-time.

“I thought he was a little bit leggy, a little bit tired. I had a little go at him in the dressing room, to be fair. He buckled down, he did what he was asked because we asked him to run behind, to stretch the defense, and the goal came because of that.”

That step from occasional brilliance to consistent performance is what’s next for Wanderers.

(Next: v. Valour in the cup on June 5th)

Forge FC (W 2 – 0 v. Edmonton)

Forge played Thursday, which admittedly feels like a while ago. At this point, it feels like teams should beat FC Edmonton, and Forge did so quite handily.

Anthony Novak was yet again solid, though there was some concern when he went off injured. Emery Welshman yet again failed to score, though his movement opened up space for Tristan Borges, who did, after winning a penalty.

At this point, I don’t think Forge are going to miss Welshman when he leaves for the Gold Cup in a week. He really needs to find some scoring form, and I’d like to see what David Choiniere can do with more starting time.

Defensively, whatever was tweaked after the Cavalry match has worked. I haven’t seen enough of Forge to nail down what’s changed just yet, but I suspect a lot of it is just getting settled and defenders understanding where others are going to be. Marking is mostly about communication, so it can take time, especially in a nascent league.

But some credit goes to Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, who after a wobbly start (he was mostly used out-of-position) has been very, very good as a deep-lying #6. He’s still involved in building play, but Bobby Smyrniotis doesn’t have him playing quite so high up the park.

Starting with him instead of asking the fullbacks to tuck in is smart, at least for now. It’s a bit simpler, but simple can be a lot more effective six weeks into a new league, and Forge have quickly started performing like the top team they were expected to be. I won’t quite believe their problems are fixed for real until they play a couple tougher opponents, though.

We’ll get to see that midweek when they play Cavalry in the cup–plus remember they’ll meet again in a decisive league match a couple weeks from now.

(Next: v. Cavalry in the cup on June 5th)

Valour (W 1 – 0 @ Edmonton)

Valour have consistently looked better on the road than they have at home. This is just their second win on the season; their first came at home against Halifax where they were probably outplayed.

They looked decent away to Cavalry, too, and along with Wanderers were–and still are, thanks to their road win–one of those teams which, if Cavalry slip up, could make things fairly interesting.

They should–should–win at home against Pacific and York, mind. A lot of their spring season will be defined in comparison to Halifax: both were teams built from scratch, both have a couple games left at home, and they play each other in the cup for the chance to be CanPL’s representative in the Vengeance Showdown against Ottawa Fury.

Rob Gale’s team are still fighting injury problems, and it’s beginning to feel like that might be a problem all year. Diego Gutierrez, who’s been quietly quite good at right-back, went off against Edmonton. Stephen Hoyle is obviously running on empty. Josip Golubar is out for the year.

They’ve now also had to do a brutal coastal trip twice: they had to go to Pacific on short rest and now have to go east on even shorter rest, playing the delayed game on Sunday and the early kick-off on Wednesday afternoon. I have no idea what that Valour team will look like, but I still remain reasonably impressed with they play in transition no matter who’s in. Final product has been a little trickier.

A clean sheet for the undermanned defense against Edmonton is a biggie, too, even if the Eddies might not score against one of those kids teams that come out at half-time. It’s more about confidence for the partnership of Skylar Thomas and Jordan Murrell–it hasn’t been good, so far, but as with Forge it’s coming together a bit with time.

(Mattias Janssens still had to be pretty good though on Sunday, eh? I’d guess he’s won the starting job from Tyson Farago.)

(Next: @ Halifax in the cup on June 5th)

FC Edmonton (L 0 – 1 v. Valour)

You’re 0 – 0 at home, haven’t scored in three and a half games, and it’s the 74th minute. You bring on Jeannot Esua, a fullback-turned-winger who’s main attribute is athleticism, for Ajeej Sarkaria.

Meanwhile, Rob Gale brings on Stephen Hoyle. Guess which team wins the game.

The focus has to be on the Voyageur’s Cup now. Edmonton play York, which is possibly a winnable battle for Edmonton–it’ll be a direct tie featuring a team that can’t score (Edmonton) against a team that doesn’t defend well when it opens up at all (York).

The winner of that tie gets an MLS match-up against the Montreal Impact. I tend to feel like Edmonton deserve that–they got shafted a couple times by V-Cup draws earlier in their history.

The CONCACAF League spot is probably out of Edmonton’s reach, but this is a good thing. Whichever team wins that (likely Forge) will torpedo their fall season with even more insane travel–witness what CONCACAF does to MLS teams. Edmonton do not need that. But beating the Impact team that controversially cost the Eddies a chance at a final in 2014 would make the Eddies season in a year that’s unlikely to bring much more joy.

This team still has potential, but a lot of it is still to be realized and a lot of it is teenage. Marcus Velado-Tsegaye has been a breath of air, but he still doesn’t have a goal. David Doe, understandably, hasn’t been able to establish the same dominance in CanPL as he did in CCAA.

Guys like Sarkaria and Ajay Khabra made up the meat of the Eddies roster. All are primarily university players. All are mid-20s. None have even looked like scoring.

Some of the veterans are injured, yeah, though Tomi Ameobi finally got 90 minutes against Valour and… didn’t really make an impact–some of his physical style has left him as he passes 30. Oumar Diouck is still Edmonton’s primary creative threat, but his categorical inability to make the right decision in the final third limits the chances Edmonton get.

They’ve still only played five games, and the spring season isn’t necessarily going to be representative of the year as a whole, but I struggle to see where Edmonton go without reinforcements.

(Next: @ York in the cup on June 5th)

Pacific (L 1 – 2 @ Halifax)

Alexander Gonzalez changes some of the calculus about this team.

I wrote that during the first half at Wanderer’s Grounds on Saturday. Gonzalez faded a bit in the second, as is perhaps understandable given the unfamiliar travel and new teammates.

What he gives Pacific is something more fundamental, which is a first pass out of the back and, maybe more importantly, someone to shield the back line when Hendrik Starostzik isn’t playing.

Trouble is, when Gonzalez makes the first pass, it takes Marcus Haber out of the game. Remember a couple weeks ago when a lot of CanPL pundits thought Haber was Mo Salah because he could win a high ball? As soon as Gonzalez starts playing the ball sideways and wide instead of lomping it to Haber, Haber’s touches dry up.

Pacific actually look better, though. They got the ball into wide areas and their stable of attacking wingers play like attacking wingers. Terran Campbell scored, and it came off that kind of build-up. Kadin Chung picked the ball up, Wanderers stopped playing for some reason, and Campbell was able to more or less walk in from the right hand corner.

Campbell’s had a tough first month, but he’s not a bad player and it was good to see him finally break his egg after coming close a few times in previous weeks. The more scoring threats Pacific can trot out, the less teams can do what Wanderers did and sit two guys on Haber and let the rest play out.

At least until Hendrik Starostzik comes back (maybe in a couple of weeks, after the bye?), though, this team just can’t afford to protect a lead. Ryan McCurdy and Lukas MacNaughton are not capable of stopping CanPL defenders, and both were exposed repeatedly by Halifax in the second half. Neither is quick enough for the high line Silberbauer keeps having them play, and that’s how you get Akeem Garcia and Kodai Iida running in behind for goals.

(Next: @ York on June 15th)

York9 (D 1 – 1 @ Halifax)

For a team that will play it’s next five league games at home, a draw on the road is actually a pretty good result.

The performance was less amazing, but they did what they had to do and I was impressed with some of the adjustments Jim Brennan made in the first half, particularly switching from a back four to more of a back three (or five, really) when York didn’t have the ball.

They got the early penalty by exploiting a known weakness down Wanderers’ right flank. That’s good preparation. Then they bunkered, which is smart.

They could have won it but for another horrendous missed chance, which is becoming something of a theme. This time it was Rodrigo Gattas, receiving a very errant pass from Matthew Arnone.

That is not a “real cheeky one”. That’s a “should score in your sleep; have nightmares about missing” one.

It’s also kind of becoming Rodrigo Gattas’ thing–and a thing for York9 more generally. Gattas took five shots, just as he did against Forge the weekend prior. And, just as against Forge, he hit the net once. And that was on his penalty kick.

The above clip is a tough one for Gattas. He’s all alone and doesn’t realize quite how much time he has. Why oh why does he try and hit it on the volley, though?

But York aren’t so solid defensively that they can afford to squander. While they could have won it last week, so could Halifax, and it’s York who are left going into the final three weeks of the season without a win. They’ve missed Joseph Di Chiara and Roger Thompson, and both may be back soon, but until they show they can score consistently without opening themselves up too much–a common problem for new teams, but one very much on display once they bunkered against Wanderers–their fall season still looks hazy.

Before that, though, is a big cup tie with Edmonton, which York could win if they can contain Edmonton on the counter.

(Next: v. Edmonton in the cup on June 5th)

Cavalry (bye)

No games for Cavalry this week, so they get to remain perfect one more week.

Then the travel starts. Or rather, it starts tonight because they play at Forge in the cup. This will likely be the tie of the round. Both teams have a lot to play for (against each other, no less) in the league, too. Does one manager change emphasis a bit, to get an edge in one or the other?

That’s not Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s plan. And I’m sure Cavalry would love to face the Whitecaps just as much as Pacific would have. (Forge might not–the draw put them into the west-coast side of the bracket for some reason.)

We’ll likely see guys like Gabriel Bitar and Malyk Hamilton, who aren’t bad players but haven’t quite clicked yet. Cavalry have plenty of depth, but Forge will be keen to test it.

Wheeldon Jr. also has several players–Mason Trafford and Josรฉ Escalante, at least–coming back from injuries. I’d imagine they get a run in the cup, too, but with a pile of games coming up, they’ll need them to stay healthy, too.

(Next: @ Forge in the cup on June 4th)

Rodeo of the week

Imagine it’s the Merseyside derby. Everton at Liverpool, supporters crowding the pubs pre-match, European spot on the line.

Only the Kop stand is in Bolton for a horticultural event.

This is what happened in Edmonton thanks to the rescheduled game this weekend. The supporters stand ended up at a rodeo and the supporters themselves were stationed somewhere else–unfortunately mostly off-camera.

This feels uniquely Canadian soccer. FC Edmonton actually did a pretty good job handling the smoke-induced reschedule, letting kids in free and communicating well. They managed to draw almost four thousand for a 10:30am game on a Sunday morning, which is actually pretty good.

Clarke Stadium continues to be its own character in CanPL, though.

What I’m watching this week

There are no league games this week, so it’s Voyageur’s Cup all the way. Forge and Cavalry play tonight, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that not so much to see which goes through but to see how Bobby Smyrniotis preps his team for the opponent they need to catch on June 26th. Big factor will be the health of Anthony Novak, who didn’t play against Cavalry last time these teams met, limped off at the weekend, and has been key to Forge’s offense.

I’ll be liveblogging Wanderers – Valour, so as always you’re invited to come along, starting at 5:45pm. I’m hoping for more interaction, so I’ve added the ability to tweet the blog using the hashtag #WAN-VALlive, and I want to see comments, people. Last week I got almost every single name wrong, so someone has to correct me.

About Dylan Matthias 91 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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