Step Into the Light–and more from CanPL Week 18

A year ago, Terran Campbell was an obscure prospect you only knew about if you were a hard-core Voyageur or really into Canadian Football Manager sims.

Now he’s leading the Canadian Premier League in scoring, unseating regular name, if not regular goalscorer, Marcus Haber. He’s 21, and but for this league would very likely either be out of the game or lighting up USPORTs en route to a business degree and a career selling your mother a Kia.

This is what Pacific needed this year: a young player coming good. It proves their model. And thanks to Campbell, they’re actually still in with a shot: both Pacific and Wanderers have seven points with less than half the fall season played, and both have easier schedules from here on out. You never know.

Wanderers (bye)

It’s been a while since I did one of these, so even though Wanderers were off this past weekend I’ll give local readers top billing.

As above, with Pacific, Halifax aren’t definitively out of the fall season. The initial road trip was brutal, which is why the club now has a -9 goal differential. They’re in the midst of three weeks off to heal, finally have the Voyageur’s Cup out of the way (probably a good thing), and the next stretch of games is at least manageable.

The home games against Valour and Cavalry were a long way from spectacular on the pitch, even if Peter Schaale’s farewell party was another off-field high point. Four points of six isn’t bad, though, and the next four games are all winnable, given Forge will be starting to feel the schedule pinch.

One big thing is they now get a chance to train for a bit. All season, Stephen Hart and others around the club have been, not without reason, talking about how little time they’ve had to train, thanks to the travel and injuries. Training well is a huge part of development, and keeping with the future focus, Wanderers are a young team. You see guys like Elliot Simmons and Chrisnovic N’sa make mistakes and it’s training time that could make a difference.

Four of the next five are at home. Two–including the road game in there–against Valour. Training or no, Wanderers need to win now if they’re really a contender.

If they don’t, I think that’s fine. The focus then becomes about prepping this young group for next year. It’s easy to forget, but even in a league of young players, Wanderers’ core is very young.

With more experience in the league, that group will be quite something. Schaale’s return to USPORTs meant the club signed another youngster, Duran Lee, last week, coming in via Vaughan Azzurri of League 1 Ontario.

If they can get the veterans sorted–and healthy–there is still a chance, this year and next.

Next: @ Valour on Aug. 28

Forge FC (W 3 – 1 @ Valour)

They’re past Antigua, albeit in a bit of a nailbiter. I expected a touch better from Forge, actually–Antigua aren’t that good–but they did manage to get the all-important road result in Guatemala.

Canadian club sides actually have a pretty good record in CONCACAF play, you know. The Impact made their legendary run to the Champions League semis. Vancouver got there, too. Toronto FC were a penalty kick away from winning it. Not a lot of American teams can say that.

Sadly, that has a lot to do with it. Spare a thought for all those killed or injured in Tegucigalpa this week.

(Note that it was announced yesterday that Forge will now play in San Pedro Sula a a result. Those with window seats can breathe a sigh of relief.)

All that occurred at the local derby between Motagua (Amado Guevara’s old team) and CD Olimpia. Forge’s game next week will be sleepier, but these are the realities of CONCACAF, and it is one reason why players–like Jose Escalante, an Olimpia almnus1Olimpia are one of the better developmental clubs in CONCACAF.–might choose to play here.

I’m not that sure the league has done Forge any favours rescheduling the league games. It’s probably necessary given the travel to Honduras (check out the landing in Tegucigalpa!) and the limited roster size, but it’s not that much easier playing five games in fourteen days, culminating in that home and home with Wanderers.

Bobby Smyrniotis’ team is deep enough to do it, barring the travel. They need every player at their best, though, as they were on the weekend in Winnipeg. Guys like Chris Nanco and David Choiniere need to be scoring, and that’s tough to do coming off brutal travel.

There has to be real worry about Betrand Owundi, too, after he limped off on Friday night with what looked like a hamstring problem. Things can get thin real fast.

Next: v. CD Olimpia in the C-League on Aug. 22; v. Cavalry on Aug. 25

Cavalry (L 0 – 1 v. Montreal Impact; D 0 – 0 @ Edmonton)

The cup run is over.

As with Wanderers, it’s probably a blessing in disguise. Going to the final, while unquestionably the storyline of the year, would have meant Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side would be splitting priorities all the way into September.

Instead, they can come back to the league, stabilize a bit, and get ready for the grand final in October. Whether or not Cavalry win the fall season, they need to win that tie or the league’s weird format will look, well, weird. They’ve been the best team all year.

Except kind of against FC Edmonton last weekend. It was played on 48 hours rest, so let’s maybe not read too much into it. But Cavalry looked sluggish against Montreal, too. Against Wanderers, they yet again lost almost 60% of the duels. What was the league’s best pressing team has not been quite as relentless or tenacious down the stretch.

That’s a byproduct of playing the way Cavalry do. The same thing tends to happen to other pressing teams: Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC always flatten out in October; Jesse Marsch’s New York Red Bulls could never win in the playoffs, even mighty Liverpool under Klopp tend to… fade a bit. Tommy Wheeldon is a very studied manager, and this is the way football is played nowadays, but the teams that do this well aren’t playing two games a week, every week, with 23-man rosters.

As yet in CanPL, there’s no real alternative approach. Cavalry have retained enough of their defensive solidity in spite of fatigue that teams like Edmonton and Halifax–and even Montreal–can’t force a way through.

Don’t look now, but Cavalry are scoreless in three games, and have just two in their last five, since they beat the Whitecaps. Seasons can turn on both highs and lows.

Next: v. York on Aug. 21; @ Forge on Aug. 25

Valour (L 1 – 3 v. Forge; W 3 – 1 v. Edmonton)

Until the second half of the second half of the weekend, this weekend was yet another disaster for Valour.

Louis Béland-Goyette scored a wonder goal, they got yet another penalty, and still managed to cling on to a win over the Eddies. That was… better.

Rob Gale switched out an injured Martin Arguinarena for a now-injured Raphael Garcia against Edmonton. Arguinarena had a tough game against Forge, who used direct play to get in behind Valour’s high line.

This is what I wrote about Valour’s defense in preseason:

[Arguinarena’s] experience and decision-making in choosing when to go forward is going to be crucial, though, because nobody in the middle for Valour is especially pacy. If Arguiñarena is at the opponent’s by-line and his cross gets blocked, there’s going to be a huge amount of space behind him and in front of guys like Golubar and Thomas.

Valour are likely to be among the teams most susceptible to counter-attacks, but if Arguiñarena can put himself in smart positions to both support the attack and limit space on the break, he can limit a lot of the damage, particularly down the left side.

For all the win is a boon, and for all the big 1 – 1 draw against Cavalry was a boon before that, Gale hasn’t been able to solve this fundamental tactical problem. Mathieu Le Bourhis was brought in late in the transfer window, but he’s a very similar profile as Jordan Murrell: physical, and struggles 1-v-1.

Anthony Novak’s not even that fast. Le Bourhis misses the read, then can’t get back. But you could swap Murrell, or Thomas, or even Arguinarena when he’s playing as a CB, and that run turns out no differently.

This club has managed to miss on every single defensive signing. I can’t think of a way you could play that back-line with the midfield and have it work. Brining José Galan and Michele Paolucci has helped structure Valour’s build-up, but both are in their mid-thirties. Galan, in particular, can barely run. That creates the gap where Le Bourhis–or anyone else–has to step up to support.

This is a Next Year Problem at this point. Meanwhile, they get out of the cellar with the win, but four of their past seven goals have come from penalties. That’s not luck that’s going to hold.

Meanwhile, that win was their first at home since–wait for it–May 11th, when they won 1 – 0 against Wanderers in week three. It was great to see the fans get something to celebrate at long last. Valour play three of their next four at home.

Next: @ Pacific on Aug. 24

York 9 (L 0 – 2 v. Pacific)

All of a sudden, the bottom’s fallen out of their fall season. Since the 6 – 2 win over Wanderers, they’ve dropped two straight 0 – 2s to weak teams.

We have a recency bias in this sport. It’s pervasive amongst the league’s analysts, and hell, I do it too in these recaps because there’s only so much to talk about. There was some truth to York’s form in July, though: they’d had good underlying numbers all year even if a couple of wonder goals (caused by bad defending) were what people focused on.

The fundamental problems, though, persist. At this point in the season, that’s true for all teams: Wanderers give up gaffe-goals; Valour push too high; York can’t defend their way out of major finishing problems.

The pattern of their two losses–to Valour and then Pacific–was remarkably similar. In both, they outplayed the opponent early on their strange, short pitch. Then they coughed up a bad goal. Then they missed profligate chances left, right, and centre. Finally, Jimmy Brennan pulled the goalie and the opponent scored the empty-netter.

Wheeee!

Look, it’s an inventive strategy, I’ll give him that. Why lose 0 – 1 when you can lose 0 – 2 and have a last gasp chance off a corner?

Because now York’s goal differential is back down to 0, even after the big win over Wanderers, that’s why. It’s looking like a tight fall season race, and York might need that tiebreaker, especially if the overall table comes into it.

Next: @ Cavalry on Aug. 21; @ Edmonton on Aug. 26

FC Edmonton (D 0 – 0 @ Cavalry; L 1 – 3 @ Valour)

Remember what I said above about recency and underlying numbers?

Edmonton’s were never that good. Nor were they as bad as they were in the spring season. They got hot late in June and started dragging the narrative–and their xG–up River Valley Rd.

But they’re still a team that only does one thing: get the ball in the box. Their most recent blip in form has coincided with the revelation that if you put a 6’6″ guy in the box, this strategy works better.

Its limits are more obvious against big centre-backs like Jonathon Wheeldon and Skylar Thomas. Even then, Edmonton did create some chances.

This week was fairly brutal travel-wise, too. Calgary’s close, but it’s still three hours down the QE2. Then 48 hours later in Winnipeg. That’s crazy. So I’ll cut the Eddies some slack.

They still don’t beat the big teams, though, because they don’t really scare anybody. They don’t dictate games. They rely on good defending and great goalkeeping. Against Valour, they didn’t get that: Connor James missed another2He’s got to have LBG’s shot at his near post., James Marcelin gave away a clonker of a penalty, and Mélé Temguia was missed.

Next: v. York on Aug. 26

Pacific (W 2 – 0 @ York)

If this team could string multiple results together, I’d stop talking about prospects and start talking about their prospects this year.

Every time they get a win, they usually get a solid one: 2 – 0 away to York is not bad at all. The 3 – 1 over Cavalry made Pacific the only team to beat Cavalry by multiple goals. They’ve beaten Wanderers twice at Westhills. They’ve followed each of these up by leaving points on the table.

That makes this latest win an opportunity, if you choose to look at it that way. Valour are far from a sure thing, Pacific will be back at home for the first time since mid-July, and they’re in form.

Last time, they beat Wanderers then drew 2 – 2 against Valour, giving away the win with a late penalty.

That’s been the other story. Klutzy, and at times criminal, defending countervails anything Terran Campbell can do. This team is still only two weeks removed from starting Alessandro Hojabrpour at centre-back against Edmonton. Against Easton Ongaro. And while Michael Silberbauer resisted the urge to play Marcus Haber against York, that might change at home with fans–perplexingly–craving their “marquee” striker. (I suppose you can say he has an even goal differential, at least: the own goals are cancelled out by the goals he’s scored.)

The swarming attack is fun, as are the young players, but there’s still no shape or coherent structure to this team, and that causes the inconsistency.

Next: v. Valour on Aug. 25; @ Cavalry on Aug. 28

Floodlight of the Week

Notice that’s in the singular?

Among the other “quirks” of Spruce Meadows, it turns out to only have one floodlight, off in the far western corner.

That is, uh, creative. As a result, the last 20 minutes of the Voyageur’s Cup tie against Montreal were played in what felt like an appropriate gloom.

We really are a CONCACAF league. Though we haven’t truly made it until a referee has to stop play because, in his opinion, the floodlights are inadequate. One day, though.

What I’m watching this week

Not a whole lot, given Wanderers are off. Sadly, I missed the NSSL finals because I was sick for a bit, but USPORTs pre-season starts soon so I may do some preview stuff over that way. Want to follow the exploits of Peter Schaale and Gabriel Bitar? This is your home for the next two months (assuming I have time).

In CanPL, that Pacific-Valour game is interesting from a sheer medical perspective–diagnosing broken tactics is always fun. Plus I’ll probably cough up to watch Forge – Olimpia on TSNwhatever. Forge then follow that up by hosting Cavalry 48 hours later.

Hey, we have games now.

 

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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