The leaves are already changing colour – Week 11 in CanPL

In keeping with the climate in much of Canada, the Canadian Premier League simply bypasses summer straight on its way to fall.

I didn’t mind the split season when it was announced, but it’s losing its sheen for me–too many games–but this is league soccer. Not every game matters.

It will be a relief to teams like FC Edmonton and Halifax Wanderers that couldn’t keep up with Cavalry at the start but are now showing early signs of making a run. The fall is less of a sprint, but it’s still going to feel a lot shorter than your average league season. Every point is going to matter, and both the Eddies and Wanderers got three this weekend.

From here on out, the schedule will start getting difficult again. Wanderers, York 9, and Cavalry all have marquee Voyageur’s Cup match-ups. Forge get the long-haul to Victoria. Teams are going to start establishing positions and form.

Cavalry (W 3 – 2 @ Pacific)

The Cavs, of course, have already established position. They will play in the final come October, which leaves the rest of the fall season with a bit of a question mark.

Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has been very clear that he sees it as part of a process, every game’s important, of course it is. This is what he has to say, not just because he’d be criticized if he didn’t but because it is something players need to hear to stay focused.

That focus is going to be Cavalry’s biggest challenge. Nothing this weekend challenged their status as the best team in the league. But if they go into that final in poor form, even if they also win the fall season, they will be ripe for a very ugly upset. So while every game matters, keeping focus matters more than the end result.

The way this weekend’s game ended is worrying for this exact reason. Much as Cavalry blitzed Pacific in the first half, they conceded in much the same way themselves late. This isn’t a goal you can concede and still say you were focused and that every game is important.

There’s an unwritten rule in soccer: any goal conceded directly off a goal kick is automatically a “bad goal”, no matter what.

Jonathan Wheeldon loses a simple header because he’s slow to engage. Dom Zator is slow to react. Elijah Adkegube doesn’t track Fisk’s run.

All of these sins are forgivable in a single match context. If you’re trying to maintain form, though, they’re worrying. Nothing more, at the moment, but Wheeldon Jr. called them “uncharacteristic” for a reason. This isn’t how Cavalry got where they are.

Their trip to Wanderers’ Grounds on the weekend is going to be a really interesting test for both teams–that fixture was close three weeks ago, and it’ll be a long trip on short rest.

I expect Cavalry to rotate players, as they should, and I expect them to drop results doing it–maybe not this weekend but at times. That doesn’t matter as long as the bad habits don’t repeat. That’s what I’ll be watching.

All the focus right now is on the cup meeting against the Whitecaps, where I expect we’ll see the best of Cavalry.

(Next: v. Vancouver in the cup on July 10th; @ Wanderers on July 13th)

Pacific (L 2 – 3 v. Cavalry)

There are various ways to look at this one for Pacific.

Given the lineup, it’s about as good a result and performance as you’d expect. Pacific started with a centre-back pair of Emile Legault and Matthew Baldisimo. Alessandro Hojabrpour, who’s actually an attack-minded player, continued a pleasant evolution as a defensive midfielder. They got another contribution from Jose Hernandez off the bench, too.

The first half was wild, and very much a young team. When I write that Michael Silberbauer has to coach these kids like pros, I mean that he has to prepare for and better deal with that onslaught. They looked like a team that came in overconfident: they were gunning for every ball early, including the ones they had no chance of winning, leaving all kinds of space that Cavalry cut apart.

On the first goal, Emile Legault just stops playing when Matthew Baldisimo steps up to challenge. He actually wins the ball of Malonga–but nobody’s paying attention to the second ball. That’s where Cavalry thrive. Sergio Camargo, who is not a pacy player, blows right past Legault and scores.

It’s far too easy. It’s down to not having CBs, but it’s a mistake that has to be coached out of Legault. Instead, Legault ends up running around with his elbows flailing, and in a parallel universe, follows up his error by giving up a penalty.

For a variety of reasons I won’t go into detail on, I don’t think Legault’s elbow will get any supplemental discipline, which means Pacific can pencil in at least one centre-back for next week’s match against Forge. It’s a tough start to the fall season for them, but a good learning experience and that they mustered a creditable comeback against Cavalry is progress from the spring season.

(Next: v. Forge on July 13th)

Valour FC (bye)

All is not well in Winnipeg.

Sometimes you don’t play, and still end up losing. As I write this, Valour have just released Stephen Hoyle1He’s actually the first player in CanPL to be released., leaving only Tyler Attardo and Calum Ferguson in a centre-forward position.

I generally like to see a replacement lined up before sending a player away, especially in a position of need, but Rob Gale likely wanted this done before the fall season kicks off and it’s the best move by the player, too, if he has something else lined up (though given he came over from New Zealand, after six years there, who knows?). There is something not right in Valour’s locker-room and Gale had hinted at changes. Was this the right move?

Well, he couldn’t get a game, so this clears what was likely a chunk of salary cap space. Quite why he couldn’t get a game was never clear–see again: locker-room–and it’s a bit puzzling on a tactical level. I always thought Valour were better with Hoyle in the side using his energy to chase loose ends. But in a team lacking final product, maybe better to look elsewhere.

What it does highlight is that some teams in this league did a better job with pre-season scouting than others. Hoyle was always an odd signing–an Englishman who’s spent most of his career in the barely-professional New Zealand Premiership, scoring at an okay clip but not putting up the sort of numbers that scream at you, either. As I said, I liked what he brought on the field. Off the field, who knows when you’re bringing in a guy from the other side of the world. This was always likely to happen.

A lot now rides on who replaces Hoyle–and when. If it’s someone proven who the club has scouted and he makes it in before next Wednesday, it’s the sort of thing could lift the whole locker-room. If it doesn’t come together soon, it’ll leave everyone thinking they’re next.

(Next: @ Edmonton on July 17th)

Halifax (W 1 – 0 v. York)

Official word is that Luis Perea, Chakib Hocine, and Juan Gutierrez–among others–are back in training, but not match fit enough to play. That makes sense, given none of them have featured since early June.

Stephen Hart was non-committal about whether they’ll play tomorrow against Ottawa, just due to that same match fitness. And hey, it makes some sense–if you’ve got a team that’s mostly winning at home without them, do you risk changing it around?

My guess is we’ll see Perea if he can go, just to allow Akeem Garcia to play wide. I’d like to see Chakib Hocine, too, because I feel like he and Peter Schaale are the best combination to shut down the very fast and physical Mour Samb, who’s Ottawa’s main threat. Matthew Arnone’s been starting lately, and got the clean sheet with Schaale against York. Arnone scares me more times a game than I like, but can’t argue with results.

The biggest takeaway from the York game is that the Wanderers didn’t make any of the mental mistakes that lead to badly-timed goals. They kept everything tight before half-time, and as usual improved in the second half–but this time didn’t need to cough up a goal to spur themselves into doing it. For all their results at home, they’ve kept relatively few clean sheets. They’ll likely need another one in the first leg against Ottawa.

That match is by far the biggest for the club thus far. Everyone in Halifax–team, players, fans, staff–all want to see Wanderers play Toronto FC. But it’s also about the Furty, who publicly snubbed CanPL multiple times, calling it a lower level of play. For my money, I’m not sure it is–I think it’s roughly on par with mid-table USL. The Fury have been slightly better than mid-table–or were; they’ve come back to earth a bit–so this is a very good measuring stick for the league, and a chance to make Ottawa eat some crow.

The next league match, though, is also crucial: a repeat of the June 19th’s match against Cavalry that was both very fiery and key in sealing the spring title for the Cavs. Wanderers will want a result this time, and Cavalry look a touch more vulnerable.

If we don’t see the bigger names against Ottawa, I’d guess we will see them against Cavalry, if just for squad rotation purposes.

(Next: v. Ottawa in the cup on July 10th; v. Cavalry on July 13th)

York 9 (L 0 – 1 @ Halifax)

Jim Brennan bemoaned the lack of finishing against Wanderers.

Certainly, Rodrigo Gattas had yet another golden chance, only to mis-kick it straight into Jan-Michael Williams. Simon Adjei put one over the bar late, too.

But I disagree with Brennan a bit: for me, the deliveries weren’t good enough. As evidence, I’ll offer Jim Brennan, mid-way through the second half, with his side chasing, throwing his hands up after yet another poor ball in from Kyle Porter, whom he then proceeded to substitute minutes later.

For all York do in transition–and they do some nice things in the middle third–they run out of ideas badly when they cross into the final third. It’s a bit odd, for a team with Manny Aparicio, not to play through him, but they largely didn’t against Wanderers.

Halifax dropped very, very deep. For much of the game, they actually played something resembling an “umbrella” formation, with two d-mids sitting almost on top of the centre-backs, ceding central midfield entirely to York. Stephen Hart bemoaned the distance between his midfield and strikers in terms of building plays, but it actually worked: York routinely crossed the centre line, played it wide around Elliot Simmons and Andre Rampersad, and got nothing from the resulting cross–except frequent counter-attacks by Garcia against out-of-position midfielders.

This is, count ’em, 23 crosses by York. Only five were successful (green arrows). (Data from Opta via CanPL.ca)

Meanwhile, Manny Aparicio had relatively few touches in the game, putting up most of his possession and distribution actions closer to the midfield line. Eventually, Brennan put Simon Adjei in and dropped Rodrigo Gattas into the hole, which led to his chance off a knock-down. More glaringly, despite countless attacking free kicks, York never completed a cross off one.

Some of their scoring woes are down to Adjei and Gattas finishing very poorly. Gattas regularly gets four or five shots per game (he had three against Wanderers), misses most of them (two in this one), and has two of his three goals in all competitions from the penalty spot. Neither Austin Ricci nor Cyrus Rollocks have really looked ready to carry the load offensively, either, though both could use more minutes.

Both the scoring and their defense will be tested against Montreal. The Impact are likely to play mostly academy kids given they have a fairly critical MLS derby against Toronto FC on Saturday and have lost their last two in the league. So York do have a chance, if they can be more efficient in attack and, maybe just as importantly, cut out the counter-attacking opportunities they give up. That’s easier to do on the narrow pitch at York Lions Stadium.

(Next: v. Montreal Impact in the cup on July 10th; v. Edmonton on July 14th)

Forge (L 1 – 2 v. Edmonton)

They started Jace Kotsopolous! And still lost…. But he scored–so you can’t blame this one on me.

His goal was actually quite well taken, too, and the product of a move that is very much Forge at their best:

Kwame Awuah is better going forward than he is defensively–Bekker slides wide and plays him in, and Awuah takes advantage of having two good feet to put a lovely cross in. Marcel Zajac(!) makes a good play2Maybe his first of the year? Am I being too harsh? to both find the space and have the presence of mind to flick this to Kotsopoulos.

This doesn’t happen if Awuah’s tucked in as an inverted fullback, the way he was asked to do earlier in the year. It doesn’t work if you don’t have two reasonably big forwards. It’s the product of good, flowing build-up play, not an exception to it.

Forge were undone by defensive mistakes, and not for the first time this year. The first goal comes because Daniel Krutzen switches off and lets Tomi Ameobi get goal-side on him. Krutzen is yet another defender who’s better going forward than he is defensively. The second goal, well…. Best you can say is that probably won’t happen very often, but that’s not consolation when goalkeeping mistakes have cost Forge multiple results this year.

It’s these little things that are holding this team back. As a whole, they play some of the best football in the league. On their day, they can beat anyone. They can also lose to anyone.

Because of that, their fall season is already in doubt. Forge needed every point from this stretch of games, especially the home games, before CONCACAF commitments upend everything. They must get points at Westhills next week now before coming home to play Halifax, another team that’s beaten Forge already this season.

(Next: @ Pacific on July 13th)

FC Edmonton (W 2 – 1 @ Forge)

It’s now four straight for Edmonton, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

This was a very smart performance from Jeff Paulus and co. They didn’t overexpose themselves, played a very simple game, and took advantage of opposition mistakes.

It’s that last that stymied them time and again in the first part of the spring season, and it’s why I’m still not quite sold, even if the Eddies are on the upswing properly now–a road win is a road win, especially against one of the best teams in the league.

They still don’t create a lot of those mistakes, though. They’re still outplayed, in terms of just raw numbers, in most games. They relied a fair bit on Connor James again in this one, though that’s somewhat typical of a defensive performance on the road.

Mostly, Tomi Ameobi is now scoring. For how long, who knows–he’s never been a consistent, season-long goalscorer. FC Edmonton probably need him to be, though. He has the intelligence and instinct to take advantage of a mistake like the one by Krutzen. Nobody else in Edmonton seems to be able to do that right now.

It also feels like this group is confident for the first time all year, and maybe that’s as much to do with their turnaround as anything else. Jeff Paulus pretty publicly changed his team’s identity, and now the results are coming it looks like everybody is buying into that a bit. It’s a simpler system, less build-up, more snatch-and-grab.

The winning run won’t last forever, but if it really is the system and not just Ameobi hitting the target now, the form should be able to weather that.

(Next: @ York on July 14th)

Video of the week

I am becoming immensely fond of Westhills Stadium. It’s like a stadium from another planet! It makes no sense. It’s bright purple, there’s a hydro pole in the middle of it, it actually lights up neon at night like some sci-fi gastro-bar, and it has the league’s best video board.

Seriously, this thing is amazing. It’s located down behind the supporter’s section, because the best place for your in-stadium video is behind all the flags and banners. It, too, is blocked by a pole that doesn’t appear to have any function.

Even if you can see it, it’s streaming the OneSoccer feed direct from, presumably, someone’s laptop and the stream is very clearly not well formatted for the larger screen so that the OneSoccer score bug takes up about a third of it. The rest is like a tunnel of mirrors: video board of the video board of the video board.

Usually, you put a video board in so fans at the ends–usually the supporters–can see the game from the broadcast angle while focusing on singing and jumping. But Pacific FC is a club for which aesthetic is important. Distinctiveness is important. And so, the video board exists to make the supporter’s section into a wash of warm neon, sending Vancouver Islanders to the same fever dream as Stewie the Starfish.

It is glorious.

What I’m watching this week

I’ll have liveblogs for the Wanderers cup match, from what’s likely to be a raucous Wanderers’ Grounds. After a push from the club3“I, Zoom Langwa,” is fooling no one., ticket sales are looking pretty good judging by Ticketmaster. The cup match against Valour was pretty sparse by Wanderers’ Grounds standards, but it was a cold, drizzly night and that was the first game not included in the season ticket package.

I’m also really curious to see Cavalry and Vancouver. Like everyone, I want to see how CanPL stacks up, but I’m also curious to see how the MLS clubs approach these games. Will they complain about the surface at Spruce Medows? Will they play many starters? Will there be a surprise? While it’s true one game can’t tell you much about the overall level–no, Reddit folks, CanPL is not surpassing MLS–it can tell you a lot about how teams see each other.

Plus, there’s the ongoing sanctioning storyline. It’s most pressing for Ottawa, which has a decision to make by the end of the year. Don’t think the MLS clubs aren’t watching how that plays out.

 

 

About Dylan Matthias 97 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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