Mostly, I try to sleep through February. But this is a brave new world: soccer in Canada. Transfer drama! (At least, transfer drama if you count Marco Bustos to Pacific, which I do.)
I’ve already started patching together a proper season preview, but before all that, let’s check in with where teams are at in the doldrums of the Canadian winter.
Have been a bit quieter, adding only a couple of NCAA grads with former MLS academy connections. Mateo Restrepo is a centre-back from UC Santa Barbara–always a strong program–and will help replace Matt Arnone. Jason Beaulieu was the Impact #3 for a bit before heading to another strong NCAA set-up at University of New Mexico. He’ll challenge Christian Oxner, which I think is probably the way to get the most of him the Ox.
There are still holes, particularly up top, although the team has promised more signings to come. I do wonder if Wanderers were in on Thomas Meilleur-Giguere, who would have been a terrific partner for Peter Schaale. There can only be one winner in transfer battles, though.
The biggest transfer of the off-season was Tristan Borges move from Forge to OHL in Belgium for a decent (and as yet unreported) fee. Borges gets to pursue his career in a league that’ll suit him well, Forge get reimbursed, and the national team gets a chance creator learning in Belgium. I bet Jonathan David’s passport helped with Canadian visibility.
Borges will need to be replaced, but remember back in November when Bobby Smyrniotis hit another solid double in the USPORTs draft? Alex Zis and Gabriel Balbinotti will have a much stronger chance at minutes now, and Forge will have all kinds of cap room to make a new signing, likely more of an out-and-out attacker.
All of which is very good for Canadian soccer.
The bleed-out continues. Mike Petrasso is now in Ontario, Marco Bustos is in Victoria, and Louis Béland-Goyette had already got as far from Winnipeg as possible.
Those were, arguably, Valour’s top three players, leaving the corpse of last year’s team. How you view that may vary, but either way, they need to be replaced.
In, thus far, is ex-CanMNT journeyman Fraser Aird and erstwhile Whitecap Brett Levis. Both are solid attacking fullbacks2Aird’s kind of turning into a defensive winger based on where he played in Scotland., both are young, and both never quite solidified into the kinds of players fans of their higher clubs once hoped they might be.
They’ll be solid workhorses in CanPL, as will Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who’s older and coming off a couple rough seasons. Daryl Fordyce is 33 and hasn’t scored much since he left Edmonton. These are all journeyman signings–not necessarily bad ones, but Valour just lost its entire attacking marquee. Rob Gale needs more than journeymen before mid-April.
While I’m sure the brain-trust in Victoria is still dreaming of selling a player, winning is also important. See again, Forge and Cavalry.
To that end, they’ve added two veteran centre-backs with experience. Jamar Dixon and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere were both regulars for Ottawa Fury. Meilleur-Giguere’s only 23, too, but it means Pacific’s youngsters, particularly USPORTs draftee Jan Pirretas Glasmacher, can lean on two smart, strong pillars at the back when things are tough.
Centre-back was the biggest question, but in luring Bustos from Valour, Pacific both hurt a rival and adding a creative key to the attack. At times last year, Pacific couldn’t reliably create from the middle, and they relied a lot on a combination of youthful energy and hopeful crosses. Bustos is still young, but he’s more proven. This is a huge get for Pacific.
It does mean Ben Fisk is probably gone for cap reasons. Issey, too, which is sad but his time was up. Marcus Haber remains unsigned. Go figure.
They formally announced Jair Cordova, the Peruvian striker with a very mixed record, but otherwise it’s been more out than in.
Dom Malonga has been sent–voluntarily–to inner Mongolia. Or rather, Inner Mongolia Zhongyu, in the Chinese First Division. He is, apparently, going to be well-paid, and it’s the kind of move a veteran journeyman will make. The money has to come first for the sake of family and post-career plans.
So good luck to Malonga, who did what he was paid to do in CanPL. He leaves big shoes to fill in Calgary, too, but if they can get younger and more reliably healthy there, so much the better. It does mean more will be asked, more consistently, of Jordan Brown.
I actually think the bigger loss might be Julian Buescher, who was probably the Cavs’ most consistent midfielder. Not always the best, but consistent. They need Sergio Camargo to stay healthy, too.
The 2019 squad will, mostly, be back, which makes sense. They have added Bruno Zebie from Edmonton, who will mostly be depth in Calgary, I expect.
The quiet finally broke in a big way, at least noise-wise, with the signing of Jose Vasconcelos from, nominally, Corinthians.
Jim Brennan is calling this a “coup”. I am calling it a disappointment waiting to happen. I really, really hope York have looked beyond the club next to his name, because Vasconcelos has mostly played in the Brazilian Serie B where he has three goals in almost fifty games. He is a forward. Somewhat understandably, he is now finding minutes hard to come by3He scored a lot, apparently, in the Brazilian U-20 system. But there’s a lot of disparity in Brazilian football, and a lot of the league is structured by state, so it’s not uncommon for the big clubs like Corinthians to beat up on smaller local rivals who don’t have the same sheer size of academy infrastructure..
Apparently, he has skills off the dribble. Think false nine. Which means York have added another attacking mid who doesn’t score much to replace Rodrigo Gattas, who was an… you get the picture. Apparently, this signing came through the league’s partnership with 21st Club, the data scouting service, but whatever underlying numbers Vasconcelos might have, they’ve utterly failed to translate to the scoresheet in three years as a senior player.
Didic is all but officially a Whitecap. Edmonton did the right thing by not standing in his way, and will get a nominal fee back for him, so it’s a good look all around but leaves a massive hole at the back.
Mind you, there was one last year, too, until Jeff Paulus plucked Didic from the USL. So don’t count out another move–the Eddies can still flesh out the roster a bit.
Expect most of that to come from within. The Eddies have been busier in February, adding academy products Antony Caceres and Chance Carter. Caceres got some reserve minutes last year, and both are Eddies alum who didn’t catch on with the Whitecaps. Pacific did okay with that model last year.
Continuing with betting on youth, the Eddies also snapped up Duran Lee. I was a bit surprised (and disappointed) that Wanderers didn’t bring the 19-year-old back–he’s one of the fastest defenders in CanPL. He makes mistakes, as most teenagers do, but with the right coaching, he can be solid in this league, and he fits Edmonton’s style.
Finally, the Eddies have added Erik Zetterberg, a Swedish midfielder. This feels like the first real move to get back to what Paulus wanted to do from the start, vis a vis attacking football. He’s not a sure thing, either–few players coming to CanPL are; it’s why the league exists–but he has a similar profile to Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson, and if he can deliver some of the same calm stability, Edmonton’s midfield–by far the biggest weakness last year–might become more of a strength.
Well, there in. For the spring, would you believe it.
There are huge risks in this. This is a league of risks, so it fits. I thought about doing a post on all them, but I don’t want to rain too hard on the parade. Soccer in Ottawa is saved. We can iron out the kinks later.
It will be a heavily branded team. Atletico are less obstreperous about this than, say, Red Bull, but this is still one of those “global brand” things. It’s not like there’s not some serious heritage in those colours, at least. And the team will have to start at least six Canadians every time out, just like every other team.
Until the infrastructure is set up, they can’t really sign those Canadian players. Many of the better Fury alumni have already resettled–Meilleur-Gigeure in Victoria, Chris Mannella in York–and I doubt they’ll get the top stars like Mour Samb or Wal Fall on CanPL salaries.
Instead, expect Atletico to loan in a bunch of youth players. Now, like most of these set-ups, Atleti have several teams. If you’re at Atletico B (which plays in the Spanish third division) on the cusp of breaking into the first team, you probably go to Atletico San Luis, in Liga MX4A club which was also on the brink of extinction before Atletico stepped in. There are worse ways to go about expanding a global brand., a league that serves as excellent preparation, stylistically and competitively, for La Liga.
No, Ottleti will be getting youth players who need a change of scenery. Still, the league has to be careful not to permit cap circumvention through loan deals. I doubt it’ll be a major issue, though.
More likely, Ottawa are going to be very, very bad this year. Hopefully, as they get some time to establish the back-end of things, that changes, because the biggest risk here is another big, empty stadium in a league that’s already got too many. This is going to be a massive challenge.