My Hart Will Go On and more from CanPL Week 20

Rob Gale coaching in preseason.

I’d been wanting to ask Jeff Paulus about David Doe for a while. Edmonton were finally in Halifax, so I had the chance.

FC Edmonton have been looking to get young players minutes somehow, and have turned to the Alberta Major Soccer League, the top amateur competition in Alberta. It’s similar to the NSSL. Cavalry do the same thing.

David Doe has played 11 games there, and 19-year-old Prince Amanda 14. Of late, Marcus Velado-Tsegaye has joined them. None have had many minutes with the senior team, which I’ve been critical of at times. (Velado-Tsegaye had a good handful earlier in the season.)

But often, it makes sense to play kids regularly against lesser competition, to develop good habits and remediate weaknesses. Doe, for instance, has struggled to put up numbers in AMSL, and playing for a youth team can be a mental challenge, too.

Including professional players required special dispensation from AMSL and Alberta Soccer Association1They’re also limited to three professionally contracted players per game., but I think it’s smart to grant that. It means better competition for its amateur players along with better opportunities, and it’s not like either FC Edmonton U20 or Cavalry U20 have run away with it–FCEU20 finished fourth while Cavalry U20 were a point back of their mini-Al Clasico rivals in fifth. Edmonton Green-and-Gold ran away with the title while a Calgary team made up mostly of UofC USPORTs guys finished third.2If one of the U20 sides were to win, it wouldn’t claim the spot at nationals. But that’s standard practice for B teams the world over.

“For Marcus Velado-Tsegaye, David Doe, and Prince Amanda, they’ve actually played more minutes than some of the lads that I travel with,” said Jeff Paulus this week. “They play every single [AMSL] game. These minutes are vital.

The larger rosters mean the CanPL squads can keep some backups handy and promote a promising youngster if need arises and space permits. Cavalry have preferred to trust Foothills first, signing Aribim Pebble and Tofa Fakunle. But maybe FC Edmonton looks to someone like Antony Caceres who put up comparable numbers as pro signing Prince Amanda did this year?

More importantly, it means more kids have access to professional coaching and a professional environment from a young age. That’s entirely the aim of Canada’s long-term player development vision and it’s only common sense in a country this big. Cavalry U20 ran out a few USPORTs guys who Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s staff will have cast their eyes over in advance of the next draft. It took MLS two decades to think like this. CanPL is figuring it out in year one.

Every province has its own local amateur league, many of which contain some unearthed stars who might not be able to make it to an open trial. Pacific have already made use of the Vancouver Island Soccer League but the Vancouver Metro league remains largely untapped. The league went out and bought League 1 Ontario. Wanderers have scouted NSSL players but have otherwise been quiet. There’s obviously history to respect and logistical barriers to overcome, but Aziz Yousef has a better chance of minutes tomorrow night with the Somali national team than he does with Wanderers this year.

“If we don’t have something like that,” said Paulus, “we’ve seen with some players in the past that they never got to play, and they’re no longer playing the game. These were high0-

If we want U20 players to develop into talents we can sell–and the league’s financial viability rests on that–we need them playing regularly under watchful eyes from a young age.

Edmonton (D 0 – 0 @ Halifax)

Now I’ve finally seen Edmonton live I can confidently say they’re just as boring in person as on TV.

It’s not ineffectively boring, mind. A draw in Halifax is a good result no matter how many chances you create (in this case, none). They left Edmonton at 4am on Sunday and arrived at 5pm–not exactly ideal travel.

While the result means they stay within touching distance with 14 points to Forge’s 16, the overall tables is less kind, so unless someone catches Cavalry (8 – 0…!), the Eddies actually trail Forge 35 points to 28. Yay format.

They also lost Randy Edwini-Bonsu to injury again and Tomi Ameobi took a hard knock, too. Jeff Paulus was not pleased with the physical play.

“It’s part of football, but I’m not a fan of these comments that ‘we’re Canadians so we have to be physical footballers.’3I’m not quite sure what he’s referring to here, but commissioner David Clanachan has spoken out a couple of times to say the league and Canadians in general won’t tolerate diving.” Paulus went out of his way to clarify he wasn’t upset about calls influencing the result, just the way the game was played. “If we have this hockey mentality that we try to bring into North American football, we’re going to kill the game.

“They played Easton Ongaro very physically today. At the end of the day, though, I think this is a brilliant day for Easton to learn. He’s got to learn to do things with his body, stepping into defenders to create space for himself now.”

I agree with what Paulus is saying, and I like that he went out of his way to avoid using it as an excuse–of course they have to learn to play through it, on the road. But overly physical play is something that has held MLS back at times, and it’s not fully–or even substantially–on the refereeing, though it is always nice when defenders aren’t allowed to kick stars to pieces. A lot of it falls on the players, who need to learn when to tackle and when not to as much as they need to learn to play through.

Plus, when everyone wants to win, coaches and players go for that extra push. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a year one league, and Cavalry are among the best at it. It’s a big reason why they’re winning, because they aren’t the cleanest team in CanPL.

As the league grows, though, fans should expect a better balance between athletic physicality and rugged desperation.

Halifax (L 0 – 2 @ Valour; D 0 – 0 v. Edmonton)

“I can’t fault any player today on the field. I thought everybody was on their game, did their role. I was very proud of them. Of course we didn’t score, but we created more opportunities than we had in a long time.” – Stephen Hart after the Labour Day game.

I dunno about fault, but it wasn’t a great game. A 0 – 0 at home is never good enough, especially not when a team is chasing the pack, even more so coming off a dispirited away performance that had fans and players alike frustrated and promising more.

While Wanderers did have the run of play against Edmonton, the quality of chances created was middling at best. More evident, and more consistent, was frustration when they couldn’t get a foul or a pass.

What I will give Hart is an improved defensive performance. Matt Arnone had what I thought was his best game. Duran Lee is getting better with every outing. Andre Bona bounced back from a poor game midweek and Hart’s decision to start Alex De Carolis paid off in solidity when Edmonton, as they often do, tried to start attacks on the right.

On the basis of the first half, you could see it working. Wanderers threatened late, only denied a goal by a fantastic double save from Connor James. Par for the course with him.

The urgency flagged badly after the break. The ball spent a lot of time pinging around in the air, and the closest Halifax game to scoring were a couple wild swings by Mo Kourouma that hooked out over the third base line. It all culminated in a bizarre triple substitution where Hart withdrew three attackers and replaced them with two fullbacks and a like-for-like up front.

“Langwa has some good attacking qualities. We just thought he could pin back their fullback, who for me was getting higher and higher up the pitch, and I thought he did that. He has played there before for me, so it’s something I felt comfortable doing.”

By my count, it’s still six defenders.

Langwa did, indeed, run at Jeannot Esua a bit–after Hart urged him to, in the 87th minute of a tied game at home.

“We spoke as a team. We wanted to attack all eight games aggressively, try to get twenty-four points out of it, see what that does for you…. We’re going to stick with that, see how many points we can get from the next seven games now.”

I can’t fault the motivation and I can’t fault the effort, but that’s a quote you give when you know the game is up. Wanderers are out of the running, in their own minds and everyone else’s, and it showed this week.

Cavalry (W 8 – 0 @ Valour)

I don’t bring this out lightly, folks.

“We’re devastating!” screamed the headline as Cavalry blew away a Valour team for which this kind of result had been coming.

I still worry. I worry because there are issues with Cavalry’s recent play that can’t be fixed by obliterating the least organized team in the league.

On Wednesday, they beat themselves, and it wasn’t the eventual 1 – 1 draw but the lack of organization that showed through.

“The mentality in our locker room is unbelievable. “This mentality, this hunger to win games like this and show like this today was unbelievable. This is what’s going to take us all the way this year.” – Nik Ledgerwood

You know what takes a team all the way? Attention to detail. Attention to every game, as if every one is a final. “Mentality” is a buzzword, a warm nothing.

Mentality might make sure your team bounces back after a poor performance. Attention to detail means you don’t have that poor performance to begin with.

Cavalry won’t see Forge again until the final week of the season4And because this is a schedule devised by an evil genius, Cavalry will then play again, against Edmonton, on the weekend while Forge get an extra four days off to, likely, prep for the grand final.. That game could define their season. The grand final will define their season. Maybe the game against FC Edmonton next week matters because going up and doing 8 – 0 against a much more organized, much more balanced Eddies side, well, that might signal a mentality that matters, that’s consistent.

Valour (W 2 – 0 v. Wanderers; L 0 – 8 v. Cavalry)

This team just does not win back-to-back games. A reasonably comprehensive 2 – 0 over Halifax, and then….

That result is the sort that gets managers fired in much of the world.

I am not of the opinion Rob Gale should go. I don’t think any CanPL team would be wise to fire a coach in year one–to me it just sends the wrong message to fans, particularly new fans.

But to be a fly on the wall in the Blue Bombers boardroom. Because the CFL season is back underway, the Jets will be loading up for another run in a month, and Valour FC could so easily become a punchline given their penchant for results like this.

I wrote last week about how some teams love to defend while others merely tolerate it. Watch those eight goals and tell me anybody out there takes pride in his work.

Nope. I don’t know if it’s personnel on the field, off the field, or some combination. I do think starting Nico Galvis, a winger, ahead of Raphael Garcia against Cavalry was a silly decision–the kind of decision worked against a toothless Wanderers attack but which even there was risky. Nico Pasquotti abused Galvis all through the first half. By half-time, the game was over and Valour knew it.

The rest? I suppose that’s mentality. Because while attention to detail wins games across a season, sometimes you need a leader on the field–a Nik Ledgerwood–to step up and remind players what they’re playing for. Valour don’t have anyone like that.

Forge (L 1 – 4 @ CD Olimpia)

Speaking of blowouts, there was a point there last Thursday where it looked like Forge were headed to another classic Canadian finish in San Pedro Sula.

It wouldn’t have been complete without Jerry Bengston scoring a backheel5I’m actually amazed that didn’t start a fight. Any higher level manager probably subs him off right then and there, but this is CONCACAF, so go figure..

Bobby Smyrniotis started more or less the same line-up he did in the first leg, which is exactly what I would have done, so, as usual with Canadian games in Honduras, it’s hard to find fault so much as just shrug. Maybe David Choiniere could have started–he came on late and helped–but it’s hard to argue with Tristan Borges getting experience in that setting, too.

Now the busy stretch begins, though it’s not as bad as it would have been with another CONCACAF tie in there. Forge travel to Victoria this weekend, then back to Hamilton. Then Winnipeg, back home, and back out to Halifax. It’s two games a week from here on out.

It is easier to protect a position. No team has been able to close the gap while Forge wasn’t playing. The trickier part, though, is going to be actually winning the games in hand We’ve seen the schedule break most teams in this league at some point, even Cavalry, thanks to the 23-man rosters.

I still think we end up with a Forge – Cavalry final, though.

Pacific (D 1 – 1 @ Cavalry)

Didn’t see that one coming.

Pacific became just the second team to take points at Spruce Meadows in league play–the other was Forge.

I think a lot of it is the schedule catching up to Cavalry, as I wrote last week. Pacific were more opportunistic than dominant–the goal was a gift–but that’s what teams across the world do on far less travel, and it shows how far Pacific have come, developmentally, this year. Terran Campbell, in particular. Early in the season, he doesn’t press Jonathan Wheeldon there, and the mistake goes unpunished.

I thought it was interesting, if not surprising, to hear Rob Friend on Soccer Today! this week saying Pacific intends to sell players. That’s always been the assumed objective, but for him to come out and say it sends the signal that the shop window is open.

Lest anyone think that hurts Pacific, with young players, the opposite is more true: a lot of these guys were cut by the Whitecaps system. They’d love nothing more than a chance to catch on in MLS–or elsewhere–and stick it to Vancouver.

That’s no small part in why they’re showing so well now.

“The way Pacific choose to do things by pushing young players, they showed us a plan. “When a club has a plan for you and they lay out all your next steps, when it’s clear? It gives you a motive to work hard.” – Noah Verhoeven to CanPL.ca

That is a man who knows what his plan is. Verhoeven is not going to be in this league for long, and that’s great. #hippychivas indeed.

In other news, Pacific loaned David Norman this week in what I now think is a deliberate attempt to reunite the inspired Canadian U20 side I picked on my last jaunt through Football Manager.

He’s also been announced as a signing for Inter Miami FC in MLS, making Pacific’s strategy even more sure long-term.

Ballad of the week

“My Hart will go on.”

The Kitchen sang Céline for Stephen Hart on Monday.

Hart’s reaction was even better. You could see him roll his eyes from the press box, then he went and sat in the dug-out for a while.

This after Privateers co-founder Garrett McPhee got Hart’s face tattooed about a month ago, to which Hart said, “I’m flattered, but all I can think of is this poor guy is going to have it for the rest of his life. Maybe he’ll change it into Stanley Tucci when I retire.”

Soccer is doing quite well in Halifax.

What I’ll be watching this week

Not Wanderers. Again. The schedule is doing momentum no favours.

So instead, why not switch focus to USPORTs? I’ll have my preview up soon (promise!) and AUS kicks off this Friday night, which isn’t a bad night out (though you’ll have to go to Wolfville–nobody plays in Halifax until Dal host Amit Batra’s Acadia on Sunday).

CanPL-wise, if Pacific can win at home against Forge tonight it not only has fairly major implications at the top of the table, it also signals Pacific’s continued rise as a team that can compete, not just develop. Are they West Ham or Ajax?

There’s only one game on the weekend, too–it’s a quiet week for CanPL–as Forge jet back across the country to host York in the 905 derby.

Housekeeping

I’ve been playing around a bit with the timing of these posts. Given the league’s weird scheduling and that OneSoccer often doesn’t post weekend games until Monday, I find it hard to watch everything even by Tuesday.

I might play around with moving the CanPL recap to Wednesday, especially since I want to continue my weekly recaps for AUS, too. I’ll probably play around with the format a bit, too.

If you have a preference, let me know in the comments.

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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