There’s too much to write about: Week 5 in CanPL

Spruce Meadows show jumping--new home of CanPL side Cavalry FC.
That's a mighty nice-looking pitch they've got there.

Originally, I was going to keep this brief because, y’know, if Wanderers aren’t playing did anything really happen?

Then I thought I’d open this with a bit about the cup games and now it’s a much longer post than I intended. Like a lot of things about CanPL, it’s a good signifier of the long-term health of the game in this country that we now have something like nine games to muddle through this week. More particularly, though, I wasn’t able to watch absolutely all of them, and only partially because of OneSoccer this time.

So I’m sad, but in a good way.

Halifax Wanderers (W 3 – 2 @ Vaughan in the cup)

This is a complicated game to write about. I can’t even do my usual trick of waiting for all the Monday recaps to come out and then saying how all of them are wrong because I drop mine on Tuesday, because all the usual CanPL suspects mostly left the cup alone.

It is, of course, only half-time, as the cliché goes. So we’ll avoid drawing any real conclusions until after tomorrow’s second leg. In the mean-time, go read From Aways’ piece on Wanderers’ midfield questions. As Gary pointed out, Stephen Hart started an aggressive midfield against Vaughan, and it was a big part of that 2 – 0 lead. It was also a big part of why it was 2 – 2 after an hour.

In so far as I suspect Hart set out to win this thing with away goals in the first leg, it worked. Halifax has a busy schedule ahead and he may rest players tomorrow night.

For much of the first leg, Wanderers were obviously the better team. I was impressed by the two semi-pro1And it’s semi-pro in name only–very few players in either L1O or PLSQ are drawing salaries. They train at a semi-pro level, though, and hopefully we get to a point in the not-too-distant future when they can be compensated accordingly. sides last week. It shouldn’t be surprising, because it’s the biggest game of their year for these teams, and one of last year’s cup heroes, Diyeddine Abzi, got himself a professional contract on the back of it. For those who haven’t seen as much of League 1 Ontario or PLSQ–and that would include me–it’s a nice reminder about some of the depth we have in Canada.

That said, while Vaughan had some excellent moments of individual skill, the cohesion was more than a bit lacking. You can see why Ryan Raposo is considered a top prospect, but you can also see that this was an early season game for Vaughan (they’ve played twice in L1O) with a bunch of new players.

Defensively, they got shredded by the pace and precision of professional players. Matt George’s mistake in the third minute was heartbreaking, but the tie could–maybe should, maybe even was–have been over in twenty minutes. Akeem Garcia and Mo Korouma routinely got behind Vaughan’s fullbacks, which led to a second away goal. Tomasz Skublak, who looked comfortable against his old team even if they didn’t look comfortable with him, could have had even more.

Vaughan turned it around at the half by looking more like a unit in their transition. They’re a fast team but too often either ran themselves into cul-de-sacs or played one too many layoffs. They were more willing to shoot when they were down two, unsurprisingly.

Both their goals came off Wanderers disorganization. The second, in particular, involved a poor clearance, and came right on the heels of a substitution in defense, with Alex De Carolis going off for Zela Langwa. It was also Chakib Hocine’s first game, having been injured, and while he looked good, the goal(s) were reminiscent of the goal conceded on week one against Pacific. It takes time for assignments and communication between defenders to become instinct.

The reality of semi-pro play means Vaughan probably don’t have much of a chance in the second leg, unfortunately. Most of these guys have day jobs, and while I’m sure they’ll be able to get some time off, it’s still a big road trip. Last year, the Voyageur’s Cup format was designed to ensure whichever semi-pro team won the playoff played Ottawa, and the winner of that would play Toronto.

Vaughan’s shoddy defending last Wednesday–which continued right through second half stoppage time, culminating in another heartbreak, and Raheem Rose’s needless challenge on Langwa for a penalty–means they pretty much have to score at least twice in Halifax. They may have the firepower to try for that, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do that and defend spaces in behind at the same time. I also don’t think Wanderers will be as sloppy with another week of training together.

(Next: v. Vaughan in the cup on May 22nd; @ Cavalry on May 25th – catch both liveblogs right here)

York 9 (D 0 – 0 @ Blainville in the cup; D 2 – 2 @ Pacific)

There isn’t much to say about York’s cup match. I had it on while I was liveblogging Wanderers and every time I glanced over, nothing was happening. I gather Blainville hit a crossbar at some point.

That’s been York’s season in a nutshell, though. A draw in Quebec isn’t bad, and a draw in Victoria definitely isn’t, but Jim Brennan’s team is struggling for any kind of consistency.

You could make a season montage of CanPL misses using just footage from Saturday’s game at Westhills. Simon Adjei’s could be an entire documentary special.

Simon Adjei lying face-down on the ground after missing agaisnt Pacific.
Pictured: Monastic masochism.

He had time to take a touch, too.

Missed chances aside, I actually thought York were the better team on the day, though I confess this is another game I didn’t watch that closely because frankly both teams are effectively out of the running no matter what you made of the league’s latest manufactured social media spat post-game. Seriously, CanPL, you are trying too hard.

The silver lining for York is that they haven’t played at home yet, and they’ve played only three games so if they can find the home form, their two road draws will look a lot better. There are flickers that this team could come together–certainly Adjei could have won Saturday’s match late–but they still concede a whole pile of chances.


Nathan Ingham’s been brilliant, but the defense hasn’t been. There is a reason Luca Gasparotto wasn’t called up for Canada’s preliminary Gold Cup camp. (More on that later.) They badly miss Joseph di Chiara in midfield, too.

(Next: v. Blainville in the cup on May 22nd; v. Forge on May 25th)

Pacific FC (L 0 – 2 v. Cavalry in the cup; D 2 – 2 v. York)

Pacific will let you come into Westhills and waltz away with points. They’ve now played three of their five home games and collected only five points, plus they dropped the home leg of their Voyageur’s Cup tie. They’re winless on the road and have shown absolutely nothing through two games that makes it seem like that will change.

You gotta win your home games.

They had one of the easier early schedules for the spring season, too. They won’t play again at Westhills until June 23rd. That’s a lot of nights in hotels.

I’d actually thought they might come out gunning in the cup, angling for an eventual match-up with the Whitecaps that would give their season a real highlight. They really didn’t, rotating the squad a bit, which was likely wise in the long term. They have major problems with ongoing fitness problems for Hendrik Starostzik and Issey Nakajima-Farran. Matthew Baldisimo, too, looks like he might be struggling with soreness, though Pacific have finally signed another defensive midfielder in the form of Alexander Gonzalez.

Marcus Haber did score on Saturday. Pacific fans hoping this will start a run might want to consider his career stats. There was some suggestion he might find more joy at a lower level, but so far he’s looked far more like the player he’s always been. That’s not the worst thing, mind: Ben Fisk has been much, much more effective in the game’s Haber’s played, making use of the extra space afforded.

Fixture congestion\ has wreaked havoc on the young players. The congestion is mental as well as physical. A 19-year-old can run for days, but the toll of being away from home and having to change routine is higher.

(Next: @ Cavalry in the cup on May 22nd)

Cavalry (W 2 – 0 @ Pacific in the cup; W 1 – 0 v. Edmonton)

Let’s talk about “Al” Clasico.

That game was painfully hard to watch, and not just because you couldn’t see the first five minutes of it thanks to a downpour. The game was rough and played on a pitch that was even rougher, with enough standing water to raise questions about playability–certainly, there should have been some sand put on that awful rut down the left side.

A massive hole full of standing water on the left side of Cavalry's Spruce Meadows pitch.
In honour of Cavalry’s military branding, I’m henceforth referring to Spruce Meadows as “The Quagmire”.

This is part of Cavalry’s advantage. They’re not an elegant team, frankly–they hoof it good–but their pitch has been unplayable for two of their three home games so far. It looks likely they’ll win the spring season now, which means it’s likely at least part of the grand final will be played at Spruce Meadows. Is that pitch going to look any better in October? After having had horses jumping on it all summer?

This should be an embarrassment to the league.

The way Cavalry play is simple but effective: they get it wide, they cross well, and they win a lot of second balls. It’s how Jordan Brown scored on Saturday, it’s how they got their goals against Pacific, and it’s how Nico Pasquotti won the game against Forge.

They’re not the best team in CanPL–I’m not convinced there is a best team, certainly not yet, which is a good thing. What Cavalry do very well is in win the game of inches. They get a point where a team like Halifax or Valour doesn’t. They defend better than Forge. They eke out a 1 – 0 win on a set-piece. And, yes, you might say that winning teams get these kind of results and it’s down to work ethic, and this is true and also very Canadian. Here’s a spot on the Hockey Night in Canada panel.

While xG data is hard to come by in CanPL at present2This should also be an embarrassment to the league. Full credit to a guy like Oliver Gage, the CanPL head of performance who has been making stats available when he can, but a league launching in 2019 should endeavour to do more. my guess from the eye test is that the Cavs are about average–they take the chances they should take, but if you look at a lot of their goals, they’re not big xG kind of chances.

So there’s a possibility for course correction, maybe, depending on what the stats actually say. For now, it’s unlikely to matter: the spring season is short. I’m a little curious to see if Cavalry can manage the travel–they’ve won four games but three of them were at home–but they did a pretty good job of it with Pacific this week. The trips east will be different, though, and they didn’t look that great against Forge, but they also only have to do that twice more.

I’m ready to give a lot of credit to Tommy Wheeldon Jr. for the way he’s approached this season, but I’ll save that for a future post.

(Next: v. Pacific in the cup on May 22nd; v. Halifax on May 25th)

FC Edmonton (L 0 – 1 @ Cavalry)

Have you heard? Long throws are dangerous.

They are literally all that FC Edmonton have got. It’s like watching Stoke circa 2012, with about the same success. A long throw isn’t inherently a bad tool to have in the box, but only if it’s occasional, and only if you provide a shorter option as well, to force teams to respect multiple fronts defensively.

Otherwise, you just pack the box. Maybe the odd chance comes, but no team defending against repeated long throws is likely to worry about its ability to dominate a game.

True to form, Edmonton have now been blanked in two straight, and still haven’t scored from open play (or a long throw).

They did get a lot better in the second half against Cavalry, when Jeff Paulus changed the game plan by bringing on Oumar Diouck and Marcus Velado-Tsegaye to run at Cavalry’s backline. Nobody save perhaps Forge has really tried that yet, and it can work! Without Mason Trafford, Cavalry’s back three are a bit vulnerable when you break through their press.

And the press can be broken, even on a terrible field, because Diouck and Velado repeatedly got free in the final half hour. The end product was a bit lacking–Diouck still makes some bizarre passing decisions and Velado-Tsegaye looked a tad tentative when he had to beat a man, but both had promising signs, too, particularly the youngster, who had two smashing shots on Marco Carducci from distance. That’s how you deal with a packed box.

Both of those guys should probably be starting from here on out, fitness providing. Edmonton have real issues with attacking depth: Edem Mortotsi is hurt, Tomi Ameobi was hurt and looks like he might be again, and there’s just not enough from James Marcelin, Son Yong-chan, and Jeannot Esua to make up the difference.

They play two more home games early in June, and need to win both or else my slightly bold prediction of them finishing sixth will probably come true.

(Next: @ Forge on May 29th)

Forge FC (W 2 – 0 @ Valour)

This is a helluva stat:

Forge are just incomprehensible right now. I confess I didn’t watch that much of this game, either, and the main take away from when I was paying attention3I like putting games on in the background, okay? Used to edit Gazette articles while watching Fox Soccer Report every night. was more that Valour were tired than Forge being great.

They decided to defend a bit more, and Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson had his best game in CanPL. They still concede at least one inexplicable chance per game–though, this time it was explicable, because Tristan Borges stopped playing when he thought the ball went out. This team really needs to spend less time moaning at referees, generally.

They weren’t as bad as their first couple games. This is more like the Forge we expected, but I’m not sold until I see them actually adapt. That means more than just trotting out a better defensive performance on the road–it also means finding a way to break down a team that’s better organized than Valour. Thus you get the possession stat above.

They added Jace Kostopoulos this week, the third overall USPORTs pick who had faded from the scene a bit. This suggests Bobby Smyrniotis recognizes that they need a big target forward to play off of, or at least to occupy defenders and wreak havoc in the box, as Kostopoulos provides depth behind Anthony Novak. I’d still like to see this team better use Emery Welshman, but that might be too much to ask–right now, they need to do what works. They’ve already played five games and have only seven points–every point counts from here out.

(Next: @ York on May 25th)

Valour FC (L 0 – 2 v. Forge)

That’s two home losses now for Valour, who are that rare group that’s perhaps better on the road than at home.

Valour, too, have played five, with six points to show, but they’ve also been outplayed in three, maybe four of those games.

A lot of this is down to fatigue, and a lack of depth on top of that. Stephen Hoyle’s struggling for fitness. Michael Petrasso is hurt. Josip Golubar’s out for the year. Marco Bustos looked a bit less effective, understandably, on short rest.

This was always going to be a problem for at least one team, and Valour have been the victims of some really difficult scheduling. The whole spring season format leads to this kind of thing, and while I’m generally a fan of the two-stage structure, I wasn’t surprised to hear David Clanachan talking about changing things up for next year.

More worrying for Valour are some of the individual errors. Granted, these can be caused by fatigue, too, but the backline, in particular, doesn’t seem to be clicking yet. Skylar Thomas has struggled, and now Adam Mitter is out for a few weeks, too. And there are Voyageur’s Cup games, likely involving a long trip to Halifax, looming.

(Next: bye this week; @ Edmonton on June 1st)

Chokehold of the week

Valour’s games never lack for entertainment value.

Only in soccer can you see a guy hit another guy in the face while trying to clutch at his own face.

Kadell Thomas, the guy in the middle, got the yellow in all of that, too, probably for the initial foul that set it all off. But really, we need more of this in CanPL. Bonus for one of the all-time great steward cameos in the background, too.

What I’ll be watching this week

A couple of Wanderers games–Wednesday at home (it now looks like it won’t rain!) and Saturday away at The Quagmire. Stephen Hart’s quest to field the same line-up game to game will likely continue. I’ll be liveblogging both of them, so check back here and chime in.

Otherwise it’s a bit of a quiet week. We do get the last home opener of the season, and I’ll be curious to see how York9 do off the field. There have been some complaints about ticket prices, and it’s not their true home yet, but I suspect they’ll be fine. It would be great if they could get their first win on Saturday, too–that would tighten up the standings but also very much help Cavalry, especially if they get another home win against Halifax to go to 15 points.

International corner

Should we be surprised that no CanPL players made Canada’s Gold Cup roster?

No.

Put simply, it’s a question of quality. It’s important we not get ahead of ourselves about what this league is, particularly in Year One. Plus, this Canada squad should compete. If you look at the roster, it’s very hard to make the argument that anyone in CanPL should be included over anyone else. We’re too deep in attack and while Luca Gasparotto maybe had a chance based on positional need and past history, I don’t see anything in his play for York that really screams for his inclusion above guys like Manjrekar James, Doneil Henry, or even Adam Straith or David Edgar, both of whom are playing again in Europe. Now, there are injury questions all over the place there, but why rob York of Gasparotto when, barring injury catastrophe, he won’t likely make the final 23?

Four CanPL players did make at least the provisional rosters–and will likely make the final ones as well. Trinidad & Tobago are rebuilding a bit, but still call key veterans Kareem Moses and Jan-Michael Williams for leadership and continuity. Elton John, sadly, misses out on what might have been his last real shot at a major tournament–he’s been always been the guy three or four spots back of the final squad, unfortunately.

Guyana are going to be a great story at this Gold Cup, win or lose. Emery Welshman headlines their group, and now they’ve added Quillan Roberts as well, which is good news for Q because his Canada future looked pretty cloudy. Johnny Grant misses out through injury.

And in other pre-tournament news, our women’s team won a fairly meaningless friendly against Mexico. Mexico are rebuilding now, but lost in the commanding 3 – 0 win was that this might be the last time we beat them in a while: they have a lot of promising young players with an extremely strong domestic women’s league that’s drawing tens of thousands to games. It will not be long before the women’s road to qualification goes through Azteca, just like the men.

For now, though, maybe the CanWNT can score again? Good timing, if so, because they’re gonna need to break down another New Zealand bomb-shelter of a bunker at the World Cup. Sigh.

Bon voyage!

 

About Dylan Matthias 119 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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