There’s news off the top this week, with Forge assistant coach Peter Reynders being suspended for 45 days by Canada Soccer for racial abuse in the Voyageur’s Cup.
I’m not going to comment on the merit of the decision because nobody really knows what happened. Reynders is appealing, and we have no idea what he’s alleged to have said or even who he said it to.
The decision took 88 days to come down. Jordan Brown, Tristan Borges and Forge as a club were both fined quite a hefty amount, relatively speaking, back in early July.
The delay presents a bit of a catch-22: the only reasonable reason for that kind of delay is to gather extensive evidence. But Reynders says, in his statement, that he hasn’t given his side of the story yet, and has people supporting him.
That’s how discipline hearings go. It’s supposed to all happen at once, so all the evidence can be presented equally. It’s best when it all happens with some transparency. At some point, Forge as a club are going to have make a decision about Reynders’ future, and they’re going to have to explain that decision to fans who won’t tolerate excuses for racist behaviour.
That’s as it should be, but transparency would help everyone understand what actually happened, instead of guessing.
In the mean-time, onto the games.
Forge (W 1 – 0 v. CD Olimpia; W 1 – 0 v. Cavalry)
The game against Olimpia might have been the best I’ve seen Forge play.
The commentary–which was the American feed–was very harsh on them, and it’s true they did concede a lot of the ball in the second half, but they did this with a purpose. Early season Forge sticks to principles there and goes out in a blaze of glory at home like a Nikola Popovic team.
Instead, Forge sat back and used their pace out wide. For the first time this year, Chris Nanco was deployed on the right, and he set up a goal inside five minutes, then tormented regular Honduran international Ever Alvarado for the rest of the first half.
Not to keep harping on my season preview, but this is exactly what I thought Forge would do more often:1It worries me a little that they couldn’t get Welshman to work, though. Welshman’s just a different type of striker–excellent running in behind whereas Novak is more of a hold-up guy first. Smyrniotis figured out the balance between transition and build-up, but he needed a big #9 to do it, and that might limit Forge’s options in future.
Instead, I expect Forge to sit deeper and look to hit any of three speedy players up front. Emery Welshman is the main threat–he’s an okay hold-up guy but he’s absolutely lethal turning into either channel, using his elite strength to shield off defenders even though he’s not that tall. Chris Nanco and David Choiniere are both ambitious signings for Forge, and both should be a threat from the wider channels, although it’s worth noting neither scored much at the USL level.
The emergence of Anthony Novak as a constant threat both in behind and in the air means Forge have a few other options and also don’t miss Emery Welshman much.
Smyrniotis went and did it again on the weekend, despite growing injuries, against a Cavalry team that’s starting to have issues of its own. On Saturday, Forge sat a bit higher, fixing one of the mistakes they made midweek when they gave Cristian Maidana way too much time. Dominique Malonga didn’t have the legs to the threaten in behind, and while Dom Samuel nearly gifted him with a couple goals, that was really all Cavalry had.
The gaffes are still a bit of a worry, though you can already see the effect David Edgar is having on the back-line’s organization.
If they’re smart–and I think Forge are smart now, after trying a bit too hard to walk all over everyone in the spring–they can get this done in Honduras much as they did in Guatemala. That would be huge for Canadian soccer. It’d kill their CanPL campaign, but I, for one, would be cheering.
Next: @ Olimpia on Aug. 28; @ Pacific on Sept. 4
Cavalry (W 3 – 1 v. York; L 0 – 1 @ Forge)
As good as Forge were, Cavalry were bad. That’s the first time I think I’ve typed that.
Now, they were on the road, on short rest. They also smooshed York at home, and I suspect between the pitch, the travel, and the support, Cavalry’s home form will hold fairly steady.
They are no longer the team that was undefeated in the spring, however. Or even the team that went into BC Place and won handily.
The schedule has taken its toll. The tactics, too: the smothering press is essentially gone in favour of something that, if I wanted to be cynical, looks a lot more like PDL ball. Tommy Wheeldon is talking about managing the roster for the next couple of games. ““Then we have significant breaks between games in September to get the squad back to health again, in time for the October run in towards the championship final.”
That contrasts starkly with his commitment to winning every game, to the process, that he was talking about as recently as his last trip to Halifax. The results have been sputtering ever since.
While it’s true Cavalry have a couple breaks in the fall, those are risks as much as they are rests. They’ll get some players back–only Dean Northover is out long-term–but they’ll also lose that critical momentum.
A successful season–for both Cavalry and the league–hinges on living up to their record in that grand final. This week, Forge showed exactly how to neutralize Cavalry. It was at home, but there’s only one team that’s beaten Cavalry in the league at Spruce Meadows.
Next: v. Pacific on Aug. 28; @ Valour on Sept. 2
York (L 1 – 3 @ Cavalry; D 2 – 2 @ Edmonton)
The league narrative is that York are done. The league office does love its narratives2They do, I suspect, help sell the game to casual fans..
York9 have had a tough stretch; they aren’t done. There’s lots of parity in this league–a good thing–and York could climb again in some winnable games after their upcoming break.
It does look more and more like that blip of good form was mostly a streak, though. They were played off the park at Spruce Meadows, which isn’t that surprising, The performance in Edmonton was more worrying.
He can’t stop scoring!
🐇 FCE 2 – 1 YOR 👽
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 25, 2019
You might want to mark the guy who’s 6’6″ on a corner, yeah?
Up front, York created just four shots inside Edmonton’s box, and two of those were the penalty kick and Wataru Murofushi’s rebound goal from it. The centre-forwards have gone missing again. Rodrigo Gattas had just two looks, Brennan threw on Simon Adjei late again to no avail, and aside from the two gifts, they never looked that goal dangerous.
That’s reversion to norm for Y9.
Next: @ Forge on Sept. 8; @ Pacific on Sept. 11
FC Edmonton (D 2 – 2 v. York)
You gotta win your home games. Down after a disappointing loss to Valour, this was, in many ways, the game of the weekend and the Eddies blopped it.
Connor James had a rough afternoon. In an odd way, USPORTs is good prep for CanPL–university athletes play multiple games each weekend on top of all the coursework. James has been durable and mostly excellent It’s also a short season, and you wonder about burn-out. Maybe Dylon Powley gets a look next week, just for fun?
Edmonton are still in the running thanks largely to Easton Ongaro. You wonder, too, if Tommy Wheeldon doesn’t look in his rearview mirror on his way down the highway and see Ongaro standing there, like a ghost. Gabriel Bitar’s back in USPORTs having played just a couple games, and I’ll bet Jeff Paulus’ll raise a glass to that piece of business on the patio in his garden.
I still think, as I wrote last week, that the Eddies struggle to scare the top teams. They’ve emerged as part of the mid-pack in CanPL that doesn’t dictate games but which can absolutely scrap out results. That’s better than I thought they’d be, and considering some of the hurdles with their roster build, it’s not bad for year one.
How they do in the two trips to Halifax–they’ve yet to play there this year–will go a long way to determining how far they can push on. Edmonton go traditional home-away-home-away for the rest of the season, which will be tough travel back and forth. Everybody keeps asking if we’ll have a decisive “Al Clasico” in the grand final, but I’d look to the one on Oct. 19, on the final weekend–as with the spring season, the Eddies could go down to the wire.
Next: @ Halifax on Sept. 2
The long break ends tonight with a game in Winnipeg that’s absolutely critical.
I’ve been perhaps too high on Wanderers at times–they are, indeed, tough to play against but they’re also sometimes tough to watch–on the road, for instance.
The road back to the top of the league is very difficult thanks to that calamitous trip to start the fall season, flanked by cup matches. Here’s a look at the overall table, which comes into play if Cavalry win the fall season.
#CanPL Overall Table (EOD Aug. 27):
1. Forge – 35pts – 11 games remaining
2. FCEd – 27pts – 9GR
3. Pacific – 21pts – 10GR
4. Y9 – 21pts – 9GR
5. Valour – 18pts – 9GR
6. HFX – 18pts – 10GR@CPLsoccer should really publish this because I am not that good at math.
— The Merchant Sailor (@merchant_sailor) August 28, 2019
Wanderers have five home games remaining, which means 15 points if they can win them all (not as outlandish as it might seem, given they’re 6-2-2 at home). They play four of their next five at home.
“I think all of us, as coaches behind the scenes, have yet to crack how best to travel to Halifax and feel ready,” said Rob Gale when asked at the pre-game presser yesterday about playing Wanderers. “It’s a difficult place to reach in one day…. With the budgets and hotels, it’s a struggle.”3He’s still salty about the Natal Day fireworks on the Commons, isn’t he?
If they don’t win in Winnipeg, those home games won’t matter. This is one of their more winnable games, and IG Field is the only stadium other than Wanderers’ Grounds where Halifax have won this year, thanks to the Voyageur’s Cup. Lose tonight and I’ll probably be looking at what went wrong on the season in next week’s recap.
Every game from here is a six-pointer. They’ve now had three weeks to train and get healthy, so that excuse is gone. They’re without Peter Schaale, who’s gone back to school, but should otherwise have everyone available, including Duran Lee, though I expect Chakib Hocine will start. He was one of the marquee signings, but has barely played due to injury. When he has played, he’s been poor.
Against the Capers in a USPORTs pre-season friendly, Wanderers won 2 – 1, which is either good or bad depending on how you feel Cape Breton would do in CanPL.
I’ll have live coverage of the game as per usual starting at 8:30pm.
Next: @ Valour on Aug. 28; v. Edmonton on Sept. 2
Valour (L 1 – 2 @ Pacific)
I thought Valour were the better team on Saturday but poor defending cost them yet again.
First, the refereeing decisions:
Skylar Thomas didn’t get a way with a red card for grabbing the ball. Terran Campbell’s face down on the ground–that’s not an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Raphael Ohin might have got away with one, though. It looked like his clip on Marcus Haber was just outside the penalty area. That’s a very difficult decision without video, but Pierre-Luc Lauziere cautioned Ohin for denying a goalscoring opportunity in the penalty area on that play. Outside, and Valour are still 1 – 1 but Ohin’s off and they’re playing a training cone at centre-half against Wanderers because there is no one else.
Martin Arguinarena is the latest to go out for the season, joining Josip Golubar and Jordan Murrell’s sense of discipline on the sidelines. Tyson Farago is still out, too, though Matthias Janssens recovered from whatever he did to hamstring in the second half in Victoria. Federico Pena is sick. Something might be wrong with José Galan, and Ali Musse might not be able to do ninety. Wow.
The good news is Mike and Mich–Petrasso and Paolucci–are beginning to find some chemistry, and so Valour are scoring again, something they hadn’t been doing with any consistency since May. They haven’t been held since August 5th in Halifax.
They’ve also given up seven goals in that time. “If we can just eliminate the soft goals, the set pieces against us,” said Rob Gale. Well that’s the rub, isn’t it? Soft goals have been Valour’s problem all year.
Gale will likely replace Arguinarena with Raphael Garcia, who’s been a big part of Valour’s improved play of late not so much because he’s better than Arguinarena as because he stays at home more, which helps shield the centre-backs. Bad news: he’s not yet had a good game against Wanderers in three tries, and Akeem Garcia is probably back. Stephen Hart has twice shifted Akeem to line up against Raphael possibly because of his sense of humour but probably because it’s a pace mismatch. Both games ended in Wanderers wins.
Valour have to try and stay tight in this one. If they can, I think they have enough firepower to outgun a Wanderers team that still doesn’t win any games in the middle of the park, where Valour are at their best. If Valour turn it into a track meet like they have their last several games, it could look a lot like the Ottawa – Wanderers game, and I’m not sure that’s good for Valour’s defense.
It would help if they could get through 90 minutes without anyone (else) limping off, too.
Next: v. Halifax on Aug. 28, v. Cavalry on Sept. 2
Pacific (W 2 – 1 v. Valour)
There’s a quandary with Pacific: when Marcus Haber plays, and plays badly, it’s fairly easy to talk about them as kids. When the kids play well, it’s fairly easy to talk about the potential of the young team.
Last week, Haber scored twice and was the only reason Pacific won. The kids had an off day, as kids are wont to do, and the grizzled curmudgeon rescued them from oblivion.
A loss at home to Valour would have been very bad for Pacific, who still did their damnedest to lose, conceding a whopping 21 shots, 19 of them in the box. Mark Village stood on his head, got some help from his posts, and Valour fans will tell you he still should have faced a penalty.
Sometimes you win a game like that. Don’t count on it, but take it. It’s actually a bit of a statement win for Pacific, not just because it opened their new stand but because it’s the kind of game young teams usually fail to win.
The goal they gave up was pretty ugly–you generally don’t want to concede from nearly the goal-line–and they were clinging late after a thoroughly needless red card from Matt Baldisimo. Those mistakes will hurt them next week at Spruce Meadows, where I bet they’d love to have a couple d-mids roaming around.
If you scroll up to the overall table, Pacific aren’t actually out of it. They’ve quietly been playing at about 1.4 points-per-game in the fall season, slightly better in the past five, and 1.4 PPG over their last 10 would take them to… 35 points, where Forge are now. They’ll need better, but not that much better. It’s doable, is what I’m saying.
That wouldn’t have been conceivable back in May. This team has developed even from where it started.
Next: @ Cavalry on Aug. 28, v. Forge on Sept. 4
Left foot of the week
Johnny Grant is not naturally left-footed, folks.
FORGE GO AHEAD
🔨 FOR 1 – 0 CAV 🐎
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 25, 2019
Whoo, that’s a helluva shot. Maybe the best we’ve seen in CanPL, I think. Carducci had absolutely no chance–that’s right into the side netting. From your right-back.
That’s why this league is great.
What I’ll be watching this week
Wanderers tonight–remember the liveblog, right here, at 8:30pm Atlantic.
I’ve got company this week so not sure I’ll be able to watch the Pacific game, but after catching myself being, dare I admit, positive about Pacific just now, I may have to.
But I will watch Thursday, San Pedro Sula be damned.
Then it’s back to Wanderers’ Grounds at last as CanPL takes the weekend off for another holiday Monday special that all of the teams will quietly complain about.