That was reasonably fun, wasn’t it? You already knew the scoreline going in–2-2–but getting there gave us all Canadian soccer had to offer. Young players scoring, couple crazy tackles, no real defending.
Goals against in #CanPL 2020:
VAL 2 pic.twitter.com/Gnh99Unh5a
— Marty Thompson (@martythompson_) August 16, 2020
(Really, though, this is quite weird.)
That brings us through the first weekend at the Isl–Potato Cup, and now we’ve got our first dark day. Everybody’s played at least once at this point, so let’s look at where each team is at.
Wanderers: D 2 – 2 v. Pacific
There was a lot for eager fans to like in Wanderers’ draw against Pacific. A comeback, no less! That’s new!
There were also some of the old problems. Those Pacific goals were way, way too easy. You could maybe hang that on first-game wobbles but for it happening so often last year, too–one goal would go in, sometimes even against the run of play, and that was it.
That Stephen Hart got his team to battle back is a good sign, and one Hart credited to the team’s newfound character. That’s a cliché, but if it’s real, it’s good.
It’s also real that both goals Wanderers scored were gifts. That’s very much in keeping with the sloppy start to the tournament, which you’d expect, and it’s true that good teams tend to win penalties–Wanderers had very, very few last year, which isn’t a coincidence.
They didn’t create many clear-cut chances outside of those penalties, the first of which really was a gift from Nolan Wirth. Joao Morelli linked things and Cory Bent offered his mix of pressure and trickery, which will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Wanderers’ most dangerous stretch was when Akeem Garcia came on, though, and the lack of true depth at #9 (Morelli started there as a false nine in game #1) means there’s not much there if he can’t go.
Up next: v. Forge on Wed. Aug. 19. I’ll have a liveblog here starting at 8:30pm.
York9: D 2 – 2 v. Ottawa
(York: 2 – 2 v. Ottawa)
So, about Gabby Vasconcelos?
I was pretty harsh on him in my preview. Jimmy Brennan was pretty harsh on him in York’s opener. Both Vasconcelos and Rivero–the starting attackers–were unceremoniously yanked at 55 minutes, the classic move after a manager says at half-time, “show me something in the next ten or you’re coming off.”.
Neither showed much. Rivero at least made some effort defensively. Vasconcelos barely broke into a sprint. York were absolutely dreadful through the first 50 minutes–defensively, offensively, even in midfield. They were roundly played off the park by a team that had 15 players signed a week ago.
The good news, of course, is that Brennan threw on two Canadian teenagers in Lowell Wright (16) and Max Ferrari (19) to replace Rivero and Vasconcelos. Wright scored almost immediately, off a feed from Ferrari.
The biggest difference was the movement. It opened space–including for Joe Di Chiara to run underneath, which led first to a (debatable) dismissal for Ottleti’ Vashon Neufville and then to a (not debatable at all) penalty off his replacement, Jared Phillips.
My guess is Wright and Ferrari start next time out and Vasconcelos and Rivero get some time to take in the sights on the island.
Up next: v. Pacific on Aug. 18 (note that TFC-Vancouver is on at the same time)
Forge: D 2 – 2 v. Cavalry; W 2 – 0 v. Edmonton
Forge just keep on ticking. You know what you’re going to get from this team (and you know what you’re going to get from Bobby Smyrniotis, namely gruff, witty comments from the sideline).
They looked terribly sloppy for the first 25 minutes against Cavalry–very much like a team that really needed a preseason. It continued a bit, too–I didn’t think they were all that cutting against Edmonton, and Paolo Sabak has, thus far, been more intriguing than actually exciting.
Mo Babouli’s backheel to set up Awuah was more audacious than the goal itself was, but otherwise Forge again missed Anthony Novak’s presence up top against the Eddies. I put very little stock in game-by-game xG–expected goals are really an aggregate stat–but 0.29xGF against Edmonton might be extreme enough to indicate, well, that you need more from Paolo Sabak when Edmonton are bunkering.
Still, they got their four points and are level with Cavalry. Same old, same old.
Up next: v. Wanderers on Aug. 19
Ottleti: D. 2 – 2 v. York
There were a lot of positives, obviously. There was a kind of euphoria to Ottleti’s start, fittingly, and it lasted right through–well, at least the first hour. Then the side on the pitch got really, really tired, but hey, a point is a point.
They actually looked quite good for it, too, at least when Francisco Javier Acuna was on. He was clearly on a different level than most of CanPL–a regular Liga MX playmaker, still with enough energy to buzz around for an hour and the mentality to do it all with many players he’d barely met.
For much of the first half, I actually think York did fairly well what most teams will try to do having seen Ottawa’s approach, which is force Acuna wide and out of danger areas. Once he comes inside, well, you get that second Ottleti goal, which was a work of art.
He came off after the hour because Neufville got sent off. That changed everything. Depth is going to be a real problem here, as it is for any expansion team, because neither Phillips nor any of the other attackers who came on could put any kind of attack together. Much as Ottawa were, indeed, all kinds of fun, there were also a lot of players out there didn’t show much of anything.
They’re still playing for a win at this tournament, but if Acuna stays healthy, they have a chance of getting one, at least.
Up next: v. Valour on Aug. 19
Pacific: D 2 – 2 v. Wanderers
Defending in football always has a tinge of tragedy to it. You get no credit when the team wins and all the blame when points get dropped.
Sometimes, your goalkeeper does this.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 15, 2020
Pacific spent a lot on new centre-backs to prevent exactly this kind of mistake. These cost games.
That back-pass is underhit. Then, once Pacific had the lead back, Lukas MacNaughton took out Akeem Garcia. Two penalties gifted to Wanderers and two pointed gifted to the ether.
Neither was the attack quite what was advertised, though that may well be down more to first-game wrinkles than anything, especially given Alejandro Diaz only played the last thirty (though he didn’t do much in those thirty). Zach Verhoven was, yet again, the team’s best creative threat, and while that’s another young Canadian doing big things, it’s also a bit concerning.
There was a lot more fluidity to that attack, though, and, for the most part, the central midfield actually held up okay behind the front four. Matt Baldisimo and Alessandro Hojabrpour do still have a tendency to over-aggressive ball pursuit at times, and Pacific looked steadier once Jamar Dixon came in, but there was real progress from within there, which is what you want to see moving towards 2021, and moving forwards in this tournament.
Up next: v. York on Aug. 18
Valour: L 0 – 2 v. Cavalry
(Valour: 0 – 2 v. Cavalry)
I actually opened up the One Soccer stream on Sunday thinking I was probably about to be proven very wrong. I dumped on Valour in my preview–I acknowledge it–and with the benefit of a week away (mostly spent sweltering in a swamp). I’d talked myself into Fraser Aird. I really, honestly had. The fumes had gotten to me.
I don’t know what I was expecting.
As has tended to be the case with Valour, 8 – 0 aside, they weren’t actually routed. Neither were they ever particularly in the game. Rob Gale said at half-time that there was nothing in it for the first 25 minutes, and technically he was right, in that Valour never did much of anything. They weren’t horrendous but they weren’t ever threatening, and soon enough the Calgary side got their legs under them and that was that.
Marcus Haber’s goal was too easy. It’s a nice story for Haber and Mo Farsi’s cross was superb, but that’s got to be claimed by James Pantemis and might well have been if his back-line hadn’t pushed him all the way into the netting of his own goal. Haber had room to run at the back post and bundle Arnold Bouka Moutou out of the way. That’s what he does.
The penalty was more unfortunate, but neither were Valour likely to get to 1 – 1, let alone 2 – 2, thus becoming the first team to lose on PEI.
Inverting Aird and fellow former Whitecap Brett Levis was intriguing but bizarre–I’m not sure what Gale sees in either to convince him they’re the kinds of technical players who can take a man on. Both have carved out careers as hard-nosed workhorses, and both are big and strong enough to trundle down the wing like old-school wide midfielders and put in a better-than-decent cross. Aird, who is almost entirely right-footed, actually put up decent numbers in Scotland doing just that. He looked lost on Sunday.
Instead, Shaan Hundal and Daryl Fordyce–both of whom live on that kind of wide service–barely got any touches.
That’s a map of all Fordyce and Hundal’s actions, defensive and offensive, made from CanPL.ca’s Opta data. Valour are attacking the goal to the right. The pentagon for Hundal (#11) is actually an offside. Valour attempted only three shots, one of which, that one by Fordyce (#16), was apparently from his own side of centre. Needless to say, none hit the target.
It wasn’t really that much better defensively. Andrew Jean-Baptiste gave up the penalty. Julian Dunn continued his worrying tendency to get spun around far too easily. Bouka Moutou’s hamstring exploded an hour in, which is really too bad because he looked quite good going forward otherwise. Stef Cebara got repeatedly torched by a guy who was playing in PLSQ last year.
Admittedly, it’s one game against a good side, but this was Valour’s top lineup and I don’t know where the difference-makers are coming from.
Cavalry D 2 – 2 v. Forge; W 2 – 0 v. Valour)
The book on Cavalry had been that they could just roll this first round like they did the short spring season last year.
They are pretty clearly not quite that team any more, at least not without the various absentees. But in some ways, they’ve looked a more veteran bunch through their first two games, catching Forge early, then countering them and almost closing it out but for a bad break.
On Sunday, they started slower, likely still feeling Thursday’s bruises, but played their way into a game like a team that knows it doesn’t need more than third gear to get past Valour. They have two more games in the next ten days, so this gets harder before it gets easier, but they’re also getting quality contributions from the depth, particularly Mo Farsi, who was a standout in PLSQ and looks like he’s going to be the same in CanPL. It says a lot that Tommy Wheeldon Jr. rewarded his good play off the bench against Forge by starting him against Valour. He got another excellent assist out of it, too.
Up next: v. Edmonton on Aug. 20
Edmonton: L 0 – 2 v. Forge
I never know with the Eddies. Quite honestly, half the time I do these, I forget to write their entry altogether. This time, I remembered, but they were the last team to play and it was a close thing, last night.
And what to say? They looked like the Eddies of yore, which you can take as a compliment or not depending on how highly you rate Daryl Fordyce (if you do, scroll up for Valour’s bit).
There were definitely moments that Keven Aleman looked like he could be a difference maker, but nowhere near enough of them. His cause wasn’t helped by how little he and Hanson Boakai had the ball. In the first half, especially, everything went diagonally to… Jeannot Esua, who is many things, but technically skilled is not one of them, and he showed that he’s not going to be beat a guy 1 v. 1. Repeatedly.
Getting possession against Forge is hard, to be sure, and the second half was better for Edmonton because they got a few set-pieces and went to work. The adjustment–from pleasing to pragmatic football–went smoother, too, and if two headers had been an inch to the left, we’re probably looking at the fifth 2 – 2 draw of the weekend.
So it’s not a bad start for Edmonton. It really is more of the same. It probably isn’t good enough to really frighten other teams, but they deserved a point from this weekend.
(Non)-Controversy of the Week
At some level, I actually understand why CanPL and One Soccer look under every rock and stone for the salamander of a referee controversy. It just annoys me that all of this weekend’s were so cursorily obvious to anyone who’s read the handball law.
I’ll admit I have the benefit of having sat through a variety of fascinating instructional clinics on this, and it took me about three of them to really understand it, but honestly, it mostly just takes slowing down and thinking about the law step by step. To do this, of course, a commentator has to read the law. A lot to ask, I guess.
But this stuff is publicly available. IFAB and FIFA changed the handball (again) in an attempt to make it clearer. You’re allowed to look it up! Back when I ran the Dal Gazette’s USPORTs coverage, I had a fairly simple rule: if you want to be assigned to a sports beat, you had to read the rules for that sport.
Journalists on the politics beat should (you hope, anyway) know how legislative votes work. Arts reporters tend to know about bands, for instance, in a way I don’t, and if you’re going to criticize the mix on a new album, it helps to know something about mixing.
I can assure you the referees don’t care one jot if you’re wrong, nor should they. Your readers might, though.
I’m not surprised. It’s just in keeping with this week’s theme. More of the same, I guess. People talking is a good thing, but wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t people talking out their asses?
What I’m Watching This Week
I’ll have a liveblog for Wanderers on Wednesday night, and may add another to my schedule if I can keep my internet on. Apologies once again for those following this past weekend for my too-frequent departures.
For once, the Alberta derby should be interesting, too, not least because it’s not being played in Alberta. Edmonton looked… okay against Forge, but it’s the first game. Things will change this week an that sloppiness that every team has dealt with to some extent will fade. Cavalry, however, will be playing a third game in ten days. Jair Cordova and Jose Hernandez have been out injured since Thursday, and if they play they won’t have trained.
Things are about to get very tight, I think. We might see more 2 – 2 draws.