The rule of opening week is everyone overreacts.
Most of the attention come the weekend will justifiably be focused on the historic debut of a new, improved Canadian professional league.
Lost in that is just how much these points matter. In the short CanPL spring season–just 10 games–there will be no time to make up ground lost early. There’s no settling for draws as good enough, even on the road.
At the same time, everyone–including me–will read too much into the first two games. If Forge lose, I’ll probably have a bit in my recap about the weight of expectations, just like everyone else. Then they’ll go and win in weeks two and three and everything’s fine.
One of the nice things about an inaugural season is that every team is gunning for that title. There are no rebuilds, no teams slightly past their prime, no real championship windows.
Of course, one team will win it, and that starts now after more than 25 years of waiting, so let’s take a look at what this weekend has in store.
Generally I’ll be doing these as wrap-up posts after the weekend, and they’ll include a look ahead for each team. It’s kind of a template I used during the university season. But since it’s week one….
If you want a fuller look at each team, my league-wide season preview is here and includes lots of fancy and almost-functional tables that took me several hours to put in. You should enjoy them. There are also more wild predictions than will be here.
Also, if you’re a Wanderers (or Pacific, or any other team) fan who wants to follow along, I’ll be liveblogging the Wanderers season opener on Sunday from 7:30pm. In theory, you can email in and have your comments included, though this is dependent on my getting the software to work and also on my remembering to check the comment queue. Either way, it should be a fun way to chat during an away game.
Forge FC v. York9 FC
Sat. Apr. 27 @ 2pm12:30 in Newfoundland. You should henceforth assume all times given on this blog are in Atlantic.
This is the big one, live on CBC. Expect pre-game festivities, though CBC’s slot is only two hours so maybe tune in to OneSoccer if you want to watch those and pray the stream works better than past CanPL streams.
On the pitch, I’m really interested to see how York line up. According to Armen Bedakian, who’s actually seen them in the Dominican, Brennan has them playing a little more of a possession game in preseason than I expected in my preview. That might not be wise on the road in front of 25,000 fans, but if they do come out to play it would be a great spectacle between too reasonably skilled teams.
A lot of that style will depend on Manny Aparicio and Wataru Murofushi for York, and it asks a lot of the defenders, too. None of those guys save have played in front of 25,000 before. You don’t get that in League 1 Ontario.
In truth, the game is more likely to get scrappy at times. Most big games do, as the occasion becomes a bit bigger than the game planning and emotion takes over. If York decide to get pragmatic, they have the size and grit to win more physical duels and I’d give them the edge, actually.
Both teams are a tad inexperienced at the back, so there could well be goals, which is great news for the league with a lot of potential new fans in attendance.
Prediction: Forge 2 – 3 York – It could really go anywhere but it should be a wild one and Joseph di Chiara is going to shine in that kind of game.
Pacific FC v. Halifax Wanderers
Sun. Apr. 28 @ 8pm – follow the liveblog from 7:30 at this link and see how long I can go without cracking a joke about Pacific’s roster size
I was down on Pacific in my preview, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a challenging game for Wanderers.
It’s not just the travel. In fact, I actually think the travel’s not that big a deal, at least for the first game of the season. Wanderers shouldn’t have any lingering muscle issues of the sort that are just hell on airplanes for six hours. It’s a long, non-direct day of flying, but by getting out there early, Wanderers will have a full day to train in Victoria and should be loose and rested.
Exactly what Pacific will do in this is a mystery. They’ve played two preseason “games”, if you can call them that, both against out-of-season, undermanned opponents in UVic and TSS Rovers. The 8 – 0 win over Rovers is the more impressive.
They won’t win this 8 – 0. Against professional defenders and not mid-table PDL teams, Pacific’s young players will have to step up a level. This could be the moment the roster reality meets a brick wall.
But they are at home, the fans will be passionate even if they don’t have their usual section, and Pacific have high expectations and will come out looking to meet them. As much as every point matters in the short spring season, this is still a road game, and I expect Hart to be pragmatic in the face of Pacific’s attack.
I rate Pacific’s backline more than some, but the challenge here is going to be contending with counterattacks. Wanderers will grit this one and look to spring one of Hart’s variety of pacey wingers, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Zach Sukunda bombing up the left wing as a midfielder. Both Kadin Chung and Blake Smith will have to be careful about when they attack the byline because neither Hendrik Starostzik nor Lukas MacNaughton is going to thrive in a track meet.
Pacific will threaten Wanderers with pure numbers if nothing else, and this game could expose some of the concerns I have about Halifax at the back, as they’ll have to track not only Haber but also Issey cutting in and whatever Ben Fisk ends up doing. Terran Campbell’s scored five times in preseason, too, and even if I don’t rate the games, he’ll be coming in confident, plus he’s another physical handful.
So I could see goals in this one, too, and Pacific could have every chance to win if they can figure out those counters. There’s a second quirk, though, that I’m less confident they can contain, and that’s Juan Gutierrez. He operates in a position where Pacific have literally no players, and if they don’t get someone on him, he’ll give Wanderers the hold-up play to get out of trouble and he’ll pull a centre-back away from Luis Perea.
I have no idea who will track him, and I haven’t seen the same Pacific line-up from two different sources yet. I think it’s most likely to be Matthew Baldisimo, a 21-year-old ex-Whitecaps fringe prospect. It could be 18-year-old Alessandro Hojabrpour, who’s really an attacking mid. Steve Sandor at the league website has Victor Blasco–a winger–playing there. Gary at From Aways has Ben Fisk playing as an #8, which I agree is a waste.
Gutierrez will likely be one of the best playmakers in the league and he’s Halifax’s key man. The plan for dealing with him shouldn’t amount to a shrug.
There’s nothing wrong with scrimmaging against local sides–most CanPL teams have done some of that–but if Pacific hit any adversity against Halifax, I think we’ll get a better sense of what this team actually is than we can get by looking at a roster. I don’t think Pacific are necessarily a terrible team even if I ranked them lower in my preview, but they have to figure out that area of the pitch or it’ll be far too easy for teams to pull them apart. Even if their attack is better than I think it is, they’re not going to outscore that problem.
I’ll predict a 2 – 1 score, favouring Halifax. Pacific should score, and it could easily flip or finish 2 – 2, but I don’t see a clean sheet for the hosts.
(Update: Pacific, naturally, signed 19-year-old right-back Emile Legault as I’m writing this. He’s a good add for them, but not a d-mid. I also confess a degree of scepticism about members of that 2018 U20 team–that tournament did not go well–but Legault is another solid prospect for Pacific, and gives them better depth on the backline.)
What I’m watching this week
Aside from the above, which is a more substantial preview than I’ll usually end up doing, I’m watching the off-field stuff. Not just for the spectacle of it all, though there is that, but also for the first indicator on how well the league’s marketing moves have worked.
Duane Rollins made a good point on Twitter about one of those business principles that’s a bit counter-intuitive, though I can attest there’s a lot of sense to it2The same issue crops up in video games and books, both of which I’m familiar with.. Tim Hortons Field should be full. I’m curious how loud it will be, but full is good. I might even agree a full stadium is worth the risk of turning away walk-ups and having scalper sections, but that depends on how big the patches are.
Mostly, though, I’m just looking to see how the opening week atmosphere will define this league. One of my favourite things about Canadian soccer is how fans in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver defied expectations about what soccer in this country looked like. Tim Hortons Field may have been papered and Westhills Stadium isn’t fully built yet, but I expect soccer fans in this country to once again exceed expectations.