Picking up a theme from last time: road games in Canada are tough.
We now have more evidence that, even with a more or less weekly schedule, good teams will still struggle on the road. Teams all over the world struggle on the road traveling far less distance than Canadian teams rack up getting from airport to stadium and back again.
As a result, it’s still too early to draw conclusions about how the 2022 Canadian Premier League season will go. Even newer stats like expected goals aren’t much use in samples below ten games or so as the noise from road games vs. home dates muddies things.
For instance, Wanderers score goals now!
Week 3: L 1 – 2 @ Pacific
Week 4: W 3 – 1 v. Edmonton
Edmonton were tired coming into Halifax — their connecting flight from Toronto got cancelled and they spent Thursday night at Pearson coming off a hard-fought but encouraging result on Wednesday against Pacific back in Edmonton.
Wanderers still played very well. For one, they started getting runs from the outside into dangerous spots — that is, spots in the 18-yard-box where crosses, passes, and deflections turn into chances. Wanderers had 23 touches in Edmonton’s box on Saturday. Pretty much by definition, that’s a chance of some level created. Fans at the Grounds had lots to cheer.
Fifteen of those came after half-time when Alex Marshall was swapped for Sam Salter, who went on to have his best game as a Wanderer.
I wasn’t able to make the post-match press conference, but if I had, I was going to ask Hart about Alex Marshall. Maybe it’s for the best given the mood was appropriately celebratory (I love nothing more than to rain on a parade) but the Jamaican has struggled since his call-up for World Cup qualifying.
The result in Victoria didn’t go Halifax’s way, but the performance was good for the third of three on the road to the start the season, undone mainly by a very unfortunate penalty call.
After trips to Winnipeg and Guelph next week, they have three in a row at home. If Wanderers are a playoff team, they need to kick their habit of gifting teams points at Wanderers’ Grounds. Moral victories against the likes of Forge and Cavalry will not be enough.
Next: @ Valour on May 7, @ Guelph in the Voyageur’s Cup on May 10, v. Cavalry on May 15
Week 3: L 0 – 2 @ York
Week 4: W 2 – 0 v. Pacific
Speaking of long road trips to start the season, no team has it worse than Calgary, thanks to Spruce Meadows’ show-jumping schedule in the late spring.
They play six of their first eight away, and only managed two goals and a single point in the first three after getting blanked in Toronto.
That home win was really, really important, not least because it was a repeat of last year’s late-season home collapse, right down to the debatable ball in/our call leading to a goal — except this time it went in Cavalry’s favour because they didn’t stop playing, and so got a lead two minutes in.
Pacific never recovered. Cavalry never threatened to run up the score, but they dominated the midfield, particularly the winning of second balls. I don’t know that Cavalry answered any questions this past weekend, certainly not any of the many raised by their first three weeks, but the points are what matter.
The club raised some more questions this week after Mason Trafford gave an interview talking about his work with the club’s front office. This isn’t unheard of in CanPL, and it’s not cap circumvention, either: according to the league’s guidelines, clubs are allowed to employ players outside the cap so long as they let league office know and pay market rate — anything above market hits the cap. It’s mostly a cost-cutting measure, I suspect, and a way to let CanSoc veterans like Trafford support the club off-field and transition to building their careers after the game.
Which is a long way of saying Cavalry are an old team. They’ve already lost a pile of players to long-term injuries, and Charlie Trafford went down against Pacific. It’s particularly showing in attack, I think. Joe Mason continues to score lovely goals, but Ali Musse is struggling and Jean-Paul Assi is eighteen and does not look ready for CanPL yet.
It was great to see Marco Carducci back so quickly after his cancer diagnosis, though. And he gets a clean-sheet to celebrate it.
Next: @ Edmonton on May 6; v. Edmonton in the Voyageur’s Cup on May 10, @ Wanderers on May 15
Week 3: W 2 – 1 v. Wanderers
Week 4: D 0 – 0 @ Edmonton; L 0 – 2 @ Cavalry
On the other end of things, you’ve got Pacific, coming off three straight at home to start the season, in which they looked far and away the best team in the league.
As I wrote last week, Starlight Stadium is a very tough place to play. The proxy I usually use in CanPl (in any league, really) to assess teams is “win your home games, compete on the road.”
Pacific have the first part of that. In a league where travel is a major factor, home grounds should be pretty close to three points, and three times 14 home games is a playoff spot, based on 2021 numbers. But Pacific do not want to be just a playoff team. They want to be up there with Forge 2021 and Cavalry 2019 as the best team over a whole season.
They did not do a good job showing that against Cavalry 2022.
At home, it’s easier to do what Pacific do best and build quickly in possession into attacking positions. That’s Pa-Modou Kah-ball. It’s “get the ball to Marco Bustos” ball, too.
At Starlight, teams will sit back and absorb a bit more. On the road, under higher pressure, Pacific could not get the ball through the Cavalry’s midfield and several times hurtled straight into horrible turnovers, including a particularly egregious one by Nathan Mavila that led to Mason’s goal.
This is the sort of thing that can be worked out with time. Mavila has CanPL experience but is short on Pacific FC experience. Abdou Samake was filling in for Thomas Meilleur-Giguere and had an off night. Spruce Meadows is a tough place to play to begin with, even when you’re not passing to the other team. (It was kind of a theme this weekend: I don’t think Mavila’s was even as bad as Diyaeddine Abzi’s and Pierre Lamothe had a clanger, too. Sideways passes in the build-out are just fatal in this league.)
A little more concerning was how many of the same foibles were on display in what was a very, very drab performance by Pacific at Clarke Stadium. Points gained from Edmonton will go a long way to sorting the playoff seedings this year. The Eddies are no pushovers at home, and they press a bit higher than you’d expect of a patchwork team. Pacific struggled there, and struggled a bit when Wanderers and Valour did take pressing risks at Starlight, too.
That might be an emerging weapon teams can use against them.
Next: @ Ottleti on May 7; v. Edmonton on May 14
Week 3: W 2 – 0 v. Cavalry
Week 4: D 2 – 2 v. Ottawa
I want to reassure York fans that I’m going to be positive this week. I wrote about Osaze De Rosario last week, and he followed that up with two masterful displays, particularly on the 22nd against Cavalry when he once again looked a lot like another De Rosario (dad could never score with power from distance, though, so Osaze might have him beat there).
DeRo Sr. was in attendance against Ottawa, too, which is fun and likely good for York’s bottom line given he still brings a crowd bigger than a Cape Breton’er heading to a party down the road.
Speaking of Capers, Isaiah Johnston hit a dime of an assist for Oliver Minatel’s goal against Cavalry and was the only creative force anywhere for York in the first half against Ottawa. Like Jim Brennan, Martin Nash is getting real mileage out of the young Canadians, and he’s done it basically without an out-and-out striker given Lowell Wright’s absence with the Canadian U20s.
The Ottawa game also revealed some of York’s puzzling defensive problems. It’s a solid enough group: Diya Abzi, Dom Zator, Chrisno N’sa, and Roger Thompson. All of those guys can have bad days, and all had them together against Ottleti, especially late. All have maybe not hit their usual level yet this year, and it’s cost York points repeatedly. Too many of the goals they’ve conceded this year have been gifts. The only good thing about that is teams can usually cut out mistakes. The lack of creativity in midfield is a little more structural, but I want to see them with a fuller line-up before I dive into that.
After four of their first five at home, York are going on a road jaunt, starting with the Voyageur’s Cup game back at Ottawa. Given how the game ended last Friday, that should be a fun one.
Next: v. Forge on May 6; @ Ottleti in the Voyageur’s Cup on May 10; @ Valour on May 15
Week 3: L 1 – 6 v. Valour
Week 4: D 2 – 2 @ York
Off comes the shine.
If we continue our riff here, one thing you very much do not want to do tin this league is get lit up at home. It’s hard enough to draw fans as it is.
Previously, this had been Valour’s thing, so there’s some poetry (we like poetry here, as long as it’s bad) in Valour doing the deconstruction this time.
It could easily have been 8 – 0, too — Ottawa were that bad. But unlike 2019, where you could see Valour’s catastrophe coming across the Prairies all season, this was a sharp reversal of form for Ottawa, who had looked so very good over the first fortnight. There had been some signs of frailty, but wow.
Rotation was some of it. Drew Beckie was suspended (he’ll be back for Pacific). Jose da Cunha made his first start and demonstrated why I didn’t think he was quite ready last fall. Abdou Sissoko is not a natural centre-back. Unhelpfully, Diego Espejo got hurt against York so the rotation may have to continue.
Fortunately, they can out-score some of their problems. Brian Wright is having a very nice year, Ballou is starting to click a bit, and they found a way to bunker down on the road in York and still score enough goals that they maybe deserved to win the game.
Next: v. Pacific on May 7; v. York in the Voyageur’s Cup on May 10; @ Forge on May 14
Week 3: W 6 – 1 @ Ottawa
Week 4: Postponed v. Forge
Sorry, Valour fans. I already talked about your big win in Ottawa’s section.
It had to feel pretty good, though, and I think it was the ideal of what the dos Santos soccer can be.
When you get out fast in transition, you create better numerical match-ups. Instead of running at four defenders, you’re running at two, maybe even with support. It’s not always a direct counter-attack, but rather about taking what space is there — often behind the fullbacks.
Ottawa played into this with their back three, especially because Jose da Cunha is not fleet of foot and does not defend well in channels. Once that numerical advantage exists, it’s very very hard to scramble well enough to cancel it out.
There were flashes of this in the dos Santos era in Vancouver as well. Like the Whitecaps, Valour are not blessed with a lot of creative talent, but if you let guys like Moses Dyer and Willy Akio get away into space, you’re in a lot of trouble.
I have a theory about the dos Santos brothers, which is that they’re examples of the kind of lower-league managers who understand how to win what they have, and how to take advantage of the league around them. It’s why they won so much in NASL and USL, but struggled in a larger league with more focus on spending and recruitment.
CanPL teams, in general, are not that tactically or positionally astute. The league is full of young players who take the wrong risk or commit to the wrong decision. It’s not that Valour play anti-football — you don’t win 6 – 1 with anti-football — so much as they’re built to thrive on exactly the situation they’re in. I think that was true of Rob Gale’s team, too, but where a lot of teams in this league have tried to be Forge, Valour have consistently tried to be Cavalry.
Myself, I’m a possession guy. I like pretty soccer. But the Machiavellian in me appreciates what Phil is trying to do, when it works. I have some doubts about how often it can work, even in CanPL, and especially against the better teams that do have a higher level of tactical understanding.
On the road, though, for Winnipeg as Vancouver, it often makes for exciting soccer and crazy upsets. Here’s to seeing that next week back in Vancouver.
Next: v. Wanderers on May 7; @ Vancouver in the Voyageur’s Cup on May 10; v. York on May 15
Week 3: W 3 – 0 v. Edmonton
Week 4: Postponed @ Valour
Win your home games.
There’s not a lot else to say. Like Wanderers, Forge did their job against FC Edmonton. At some point this year, the Eddies will steal a game on the road against someone, and it will cost that someone a playoff game at some point down the line.
For all Forge have been very good over that same span, they’ve actually lost a fair few at home — five in 2021, albeit one of them at IG Field in the bubble.
Which means they could actually be even better….
There’s not actually a lot else to say about them this week. The Edmonton game was over fairly quickly and without much fuss. Sterner tests are ahead, but they’ve only played three so far and looked strong if not quite superb in all of them.
They usually start slow, but will need to be alert for a potentially tricky cup game against Outremont next week.
Next: @ York on May 6; v. Mont-Royal Outremont on May 11; v. Ottleti on May 14
Controversy of the Week
It’s getting a bit tiring that, every single week, CanPL discourse finds some new refereeing decision to get up in arms about.
On the one hand, I suppose this means we’ve made it as a professional league. Every fan in every country thinks the local refereeing is just the absolute worst. They can’t all be right.
The thing is, none of this stuff actually matters. Gareth Wheeler can pontificate until his eyes turn blue from lack of oxygen and it won’t change the fact that mistakes happen and the fact that refereeing in the Canadian Premier League has generally been very, very good. Not perfect, but way better than fans had any right to expect given the challenges inherent in covering a coast-to-coast league with a pool of professionally-experienced referees that, prior to 2019, measured in the single digits.
This should be one of the biggest successes the league can boast. It has unearthed a genuine pack of young, hungry referees with decades ahead to push for CONCACAF and FIFA events and make CanPL a top league for officiating. Carly Shaw-MacLaren is twenty-five, with a shot at five World Cups!1Probably a very long shot for 2023, but it’s rare for a referee to be eligible for three World Cups, let alone four or five. Most retire from on-field internationals around 45. She also missed Kyle Bekker assassinating Amer Didic’s ankle on PEI because she turned her head too quickly, which is the kind of mistake she wouldn’t make even now, with two more years’ professional experience, plus Bekker has been doing this since Shaw-MacLaren was in high school, which is why he’s one of the best players in CanPL. It takes time to learn the ways of the ninja.
Instead, the league and too many fans and media spend as much time as they can stirring up controversy. The reason Wheeler pulls out the fainting couch every week on One Soccer is because outrage drives viewership, and One Soccer needs new viewers way, way more than Canada Soccer needs new referees. But all the yelling also erodes the culture being built around the game, which is a critical part of CanPL’s purpose It spreads to players, then it spreads to coaches, university leagues, developmental youth leagues, and finally the grassroots, which is how you get this.
— EMSA District Referees (@emsareferee) April 28, 2022
This is not the culture we want to build as fans. It’s not why we built this league, and it’s not even entertaining. It’s a reactionary culture, one that’s polluted so much of the game thanks primarily to betting and over-professionalism, which mean there’s far too much riding on one game and one decision. To some extent, these are necessary evils: ComeOn is keeping Oli Platt in hair gel and I appreciate and respect that commitment to the development of Canadian soccer media.
But journalists have an obligation to inform the audience that comes before any obligation to increase the size of that audience. The line between doing so and stoking the fires of passion can be a bit blurry, and I like it that way, since it means I can make fun of Valour repeatedly. When it comes to officiating, however, most journalists don’t do even the basic reading, let alone make any effort to understand the deeper factors at play in any given decision, which might help viewers understand how it works.2Both Platt and Wheeler are generally pretty good when they do get a chance to do this. Mostly, I blame the producers here. Being on-air is extremely hard. It’s at least as hard as reffing a soccer game, maybe harder. You’re only as good as the people around you, as the preparation and planning you put in. It’s on Wheeler and co. to deliver the information; it’s not solely on them to unearth it.
Calling for better referees (without ever acknowledging the immense difficulty of developing professional referees) or massive changes to discipline codes (without understanding why they exist) isn’t journalism. It isn’t even “commentary”. It’s ignorance masquerading as authority.
I have no problem with Filip Dujic and Fabrizio Stasolla red-carding as many players as it takes to get the message out that CanPL is not going to be the kind of league where money and ego trump the interests and integrity of the game.