No Wanderers, No Problem: Week 8 in CanPL

We’re back after a slow cup-centric week with a boatload of Canadian Premier League action. But it doesn’t involve Wanderers–boo!

It’s also that point in the season where we can start to say, definitively, what worked and what didn’t for teams, at least as far as the spring season is concerned. I’m going to save a lot of that up for a “Season Preview Revisited” post come July when we have 10 – 12 games worth of stats for most teams. So much of this spring season is what clicked at the right time.

Before we dive in, a tip of the hat to the Canadian international teams, both of whom have discovered winning recently and seem to be enjoying it quite a bit. So are we.

There’s a lot still to come before either team is truly successful at their respective tournaments, and as these things go you can lose quick on a VAR decision. No doubt, if either team overachieves we’ll get a lot of starry-eyed pieces about how Canadian soccer has arrived, and these will be nice but also a tad premature. We’re still growing, there are still problems, and CanPL is part of the solution but not the entire one.

We could do with a women’s league, for instance. Nichelle Prince is scoring because she’s playing pro ball regularly, which she wasn’t four years ago.

I’d love to be writing a recap for CanWPL right now.

FC Edmonton (L 2 – 3 on agg. in the cup; L 0 – 3 v. Cavalry)

Let’s do the Eddies the honour of top spot since they do, in fact, have a women’s program at least on the academy side. We can only hope a women’s pro side follows.

The men’s pro side has not been having a great time of it lately. They still can’t reliably score, but now they’re actually trying to attack more, the defense has broken down, too. I actually think that’s a step forward for Jeff Paulus–you can’t solve your problems unless you’re working on them–but this team is several pieces away.

They put 18 attempts at Cavalry last weekend. Two of them hit the net. Two. Oumar Diouck had five all on his own, four from inside the box, and missed all of them, plus a grade A chance that didn’t end up in a shot because he fluffed it into the defender’s shins from six yards out.

Read it and weep.

Red lines are missed shots. Blue are blocked. (Data from Opta via CanPL.)

My question for Edmonton at this point, given they’ve been out of the running for the spring season for a while, is where are players like Prince Amanda and David Doe, the two teenagers who have barely played this season?

The answer is that Amanda has five goals in seven games playing for the U20 team in the Alberta Major Soccer League. David Doe’s played there as well.

To an extent, you have to trust that Jeff Paulus knows which team best suits their development. He’s coached them long enough in the academy, after all. On the flipside, though, you’ve got a collection of aging players on the senior team not performing even close to standard, looking increasingly frustrated. Has anyone seen Ajay Khabra? Or Ajeej Sarkaria? From Aways did a piece this week about making use of different talent pipelines, and I’ll be talking about the same in my mid-season review, but Edmonton have missed badly on the USPORTs draft and it shows.1Connor James, their first pick, has been stellar. But he, like all of them, was an academy guy they already knew. And the others have been invisible, despite that familiarity.

So far, Edmonton have stayed mostly in house and it’s not worked at all. The rally against York was commendable, and I commiserate a bit with Paulus given a tough call at the end of the first leg hurt them. I don’t think he needed to apologize afterwards, but I did think it was good that he took responsibility for the performances. It’s not his fault that Oumar Diouck can’t finish, but there is a lot of work to be done, and it’s not just on effort or resilience. The Eddies looked laggard against Cavalry on the weekend, and for a team that’s built on physique and which employs guys like Jeannot Esua, that’s not acceptable.

Cavalry FC (W 3 – 1 on agg. in the cup; W 3 – 0 @ Edmonton)

(I guess for the sake of accuracy I should mention that Foothills has a women’s program, and play in United Women’s Soccer, an American league. It’s an eight game season, though, which barely counts as a league.)

It’s tough to see how Cavalry doesn’t win the spring at this point, but here’s how it could happen: they have two games and two points in hand on Forge, but they do play each other. Even if Forge win that game, they still need the Cavs to drop points somewhere else thanks to the games in hand.

That makes Cavalry’s midweek game against Wanderers critical. It’s really the first brain-melting trip for Cavalry–on short rest, coming from Edmonton, then heading home to play Forge again on the weekend. This week will make the spring season.

So for Tommy Wheeldon Jr., it’s about executing the little things, the things that grind out results. So far, Cavalry have been very, very good at doing that. It’s those little things that get you results even when you’re tired and playing badly.

That’s why Sergio Camargo goes on the post-match interview Saturday and talks about his disappointing start to the season (and it has been), then says, “We got to start out better. We’re gonna lose a game if we keep coming out that way.”

Lose a game. The horror.

He’s right, though. They came out flat against the Eddies and conceded way too many chances. They again had trouble building play through Elijah Adekugbe when Edmonton pressed higher themselves. Marco Carducci saved them from a being sucked into the black hole recently discovered beneath the Clarke Field turf.

Win against Halifax, and they can finally end Forge’s pursuit on the weekend, and celebrate the spring title at home. But the travel is going to be tough. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re a bit sleepy on Wednesday in Halifax. Lose that game, then lose to Forge, and they’re off top spot.

Little thing to focus on.

York9 FC (W 3 -2 on agg. in the cup; W 1 – 0 v. Pacific)

York are the other team that are going to have a crack at Cavalry at home, next week. It’s a big assignment, but York might finally be finding some form, and on that field, who knows?

They look better than they did at the start of the year. They still give up way too many chances, too many of them inside the box–five of nine against Pacific–and that leads to goals like the one Mélé Temguia scored in the cup. Which, yeah, it’s a weird bounce but it comes off yet another marking mishap.

So the clean sheet on the weekend is a nice get, even if it came against Pacific. They yet again made a critical error early, with Luca Gasparotto giving away a penalty, which Ben Fisk missed. Watching their game felt a lot like watching the Wanderers – York game–York were the better team, occasionally dominant, but never airtight or lethal.

As with Edmonton, there’s a platform to build from. York still attack very well, and reliably create more chances than they give up. They just don’t finish enough of them (and even their winner against Pacific was finished by Ryan McCurdy).

The spring season is over, but there’s still the cup. York did well to see off Edmonton and book a derby of sorts with the Montreal Impact. That should be a fun game, and you know the MLS clubs won’t be trotting out starters during a busy July playoff push, and you throw in the weird York Lions pitch, and I’d make York the likeliest CanPL team to pull of an unlikely upset.

Pacific (L 0 – 1 @ York)

It’s been over for a while for Pacific.

I’ve now seen the first Reddit thread calling for Michael Silberbauer to be fired. That’s premature, but you have to wonder a little bit how a team that had two weeks off came out so, so flat in York.

It’s the mistakes. Some of them are mistakes of youth, but not all of them. What is Ryan McCurdy doing on that own goal? There’s nobody behind him. That’s just panic. And panic happens because you don’t know your teammates, or don’t trust your teammates, or aren’t talking to your teammates.

That’s all on the coaching. It starts with culture and it ends with training the little things, like Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has with Cavalry.

An interesting little thing: at the end of the match against York, Jim Brennan embraced Pacific assistant James Merriman after being brushed off by Michael Silberbauer.

Silberbauer’s the only foreign coach in this league, and I can’t imagine that’s easy–there’s a camaraderie between the managers that was formed before he was around, and there’s a Canadiana bent to the whole thing. But for whatever reason, it feels like Pacific need a jolt, and they’re not responding to what Silberbauer’s been selling so far. He needs to change it up, because his usual thing of moaning about refereeing decisions and bad bounces is not working. There are larger issues here.

Once they went down to York, that was it. Throwing Marcus Haber on late changed nothing–he still has only one goal in league play, which ties him for Pacific’s lead. The attack was improvisatory at best, as it has been all spring.

It’s very hard to see where or how this team gets better beyond any incremental development the young players manage.

Valour FC (L 1 – 4 on agg. in the cup; L 1 – 2 @ Forge)

Valour’s form on the CanPL standings page is like a Christmas decoration. This team can’t win back-to-back games.

You have to wonder a bit about Stephen Hoyle, too. He was yet again left out on Saturday. He’s coming off a full season in New Zealand, but the NZ Premiership is only an 18-game season.

Without him, and without Michael Petrasso, who’s been their best player until he pulled up injured against Wanderers last week, Valour haven’t been able to consistently generate chances from all their wide play. Rob Gale tried Marco Bustos alone up top against Forge, and it worked–Bustos scored the fastest goal in CanPL so far just thirty seconds in–but it didn’t work for anything like 90 minutes.

They managed to limit Forge, albeit without creating much themselves, which has been typical of Valour’s spring season. Bustos’ goal was the only time they tested Triston Henry. Then they blew it on set pieces, goals Rob Gale called “annoying”. And given he’s been changing his goalkeeper every week–Janssens goofed a corner in Halifax, Farago misread a free kick in Winnipeg, now Janssens does a corner in Hamilton–you can understand why he’d feel that way.

There are pieces here, albeit some of them need to get healthy. Bustos has been mostly what Valour needed in the middle–they just need someone ahead of him looking to receive the ball. Ali Musse’s been better out wide, Petrasso is very good out wide when he’s fit. Calum Ferguson hasn’t been able to really impact games in Hoyle’s stead.

The cup performance is going to sting. Valour feel like a team that was built for a cup run–get hot for a bit, go on a run. Much like Halifax, though, they make some unnecessary mistakes, and it was Wanderers who took advantage in the second leg.

Forge FC (L 1 – 3 on agg. in the cup; W 2 – 1 v. Valour)

Jace Kostopoulos!

The last USPORTs player to debut has joined right in with the others–this draft class has actually turned out very, very well. Five of the seven first round picks are regular starters2The seventh, Tommy Gardner, probably would have played a bit if he didn’t want to focus on his academics., and Kostopoulos–who for a time looked like he wouldn’t be signed–has come in to fill what could have been a massive hole for Forge with Anthony Novak’s injury.

It’s becoming very clear that this is a team that needs a target man, a big #9 to build an attack around. Emery Welshman is now off at the Gold Cup, which removes the temptation for Bobby Smyrniotis to try and get innovative with a 5’9″ striker.

Except that’s what they did with David Choiniere up front for about an hour. Choiniere, too, is a smaller, technical striker–great poacher, but he’s not going to create a lot of space for guys like Tristan Borges or Kyle Bekker and he’s not, quite frankly, going to bull past people int he box like 6’5″ Kostopoulos.

Kostopoulos comes on and that game changes just because of set pieces.

Forge get the midweek off, and will face Cavalry on the weekend, at Spruce Meadows, in a match that could at the very least put loads of pressure on the Cavs. And if Cavalry lose or draw in Halifax, it’s a chance for Forge to leap them. It has to be better than what Forge cooked up in the cup, which was a bunch of grey-green slop. It almost looked like a motivation or belief hang-up, as it did at times earlier in the year with this group.

The win over Valour secures Forge’s spot in the CONCACAF League. That also makes winning the fall half of CanPL much more difficult. This is Forge’s best chance at getting into the final.

Interview of the week

I can’t find a photo of it, which is killing me, but after Canada’s win over New Zealand in the Women’s World Cup, FIFA’s on-field media person chose to interview Jessie Fleming, probably Canada’s best player in the game but also notoriously shy.

The look of sheer terror that spreads across her face as she gets asked possibly the most softball question ever asked is priceless.

Then she answers with a straight forty seconds of sports clichés like a boss.

What I’m watching this week

Wanderers, of course, on Wednesday, which I’ll be liveblogging as usual from Wanderers Grounds.

It’s maybe the most important game in CanPL this week, too. As mentioned above, this is Cavalry’s big week. A win over Wanderers, as they got at Spruce Meadows about a month ago, sets up a clincher on Saturday against Forge. Lose and the pressure’s on.

There are a pile of other games Wednesday and Thursday–York host Edmonton and Pacific play in Winnipeg–but it’s mostly a chance for teams that are out of spring contention to test some things out. Remember, though, that if (and only if) Cavalry win the fall season as well, the other finalist is chosen from cumulative points. A win for Valour, in particular, could be important for that reason.

Wanderers, by the way, are the only other team besides Forge and Cavalry not yet out of the spring race. They’re very, very close to being out–they’d need to win out and have Cavalry do something drastic–but, hey, a win on Wednesday’s a step up the table.

Plus, remember that Canada are in action on Wednesday as well, with the women playing a not-as-important-as-advertised final group stage game against the Netherlands and the men’s defense going up against Mexico3This isn’t your Mexico of yore, though. Carlos Vela walked out on the team. The centre-back options are getting a bit old. There’s a worrying void of leadership. Tata Martino. They still have a pile of frightening options in attack, though, as always. Plus Canada’s playing at altitude and we know how that goes..

About Dylan Matthias 244 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.


  1. Nice to see someone in the media somewhere acknowledge the Netherlands v Canada game is not so important. First or second doesn’t matter, since either way we play a second place finisher of approximately the same strength.

    As for a women’s professional league, hockey-mad Canada couldn’t even keep a women’s hockey league going – it folded just this April. With soccer well down the depth chart of interest and money, what do people expect for a women’s soccer league? Seriously.

  2. Thanks for the comment, killsmith.

    I’d love to get Japan because they look utterly lost without Sawa. I think we can beat Sweden, but I don’t wanna bet we can beat Sweden, y’know? We needed penalties at Algarve. (One of the only ever ABBA shootouts in the world. FIFA’s ditched that plan now. We’ve already made history!)

    I agree about the women’s league, and wrote a lengthy thing about it before CanPL launched, on the day CWHL folded. Didn’t publicize it widely because I didn’t want to rub salt in the wound.

    It comes down to the business models. There are huge obstacles to overcome, and I think we do a disservice to our athletes when we try to make a women’s league beyond our means right now. If and when we get CanWPL, Jessie Fleming is not going to be playing in it in the same way Alphonso Davies is not going to be playing in CanPL. She’s far, far too good. And we need to accept that, like with CanPL, that’s not its purpose.

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