It’s becoming painfully obvious how the schedule is taking its toll on the players. Some of it is, quite literally, pain: while exact numbers are hard to pin down, every team is missing at least three or four guys off a 23-man roster. Stars like Dominique Malonga and Elimane Cissé limped off this week, too.
The end product is a lot of boring games of the sort we tend to see in the summer months anyway. And that’s tough on the fans.
I’ll be writing more about the schedule in the coming days, but looking back at this past busy week, we’re starting to see some gaps form between teams that can handle the congestion and teams that can’t.
Bench depth is essential in this league, as is an ability to win the tightest of contests. To no one’s surprise, Cavalry are the class of the league in this department.
Cavalry (D 0 – 0 v. Vancouver; W 1 – 0 @ Halifax)
We’ll come back to the draw against the Whitecaps.
The result in Halifax was exactly what won them the spring season, and a return–more or less–to the kind of form Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s men displayed earlier in the season.
Rarely if ever did they dominate the game. At times, Cavalry might have actually been outplayed. They only won 45% of their duels in the first half, which is astoundingly low for a team that presses as well as Cavalry.
The half-time adjustment was subtle, and mostly mental: they stopped pressing quite as high, sat deeper, stifled Wanderers, and waited for the chance to counter-attack. As Wheeldon Jr. put it:
“What we wanted to do was get down the sides early and then get pockets for Julian Buescher, Ledge[rwood] to get the ball in the spaces.
“Once we get that, and tired legs run, then on comes Sergio and on comes Oli.”
It came, and Sergio Camargo struck, this time finding Oliver Minatel for the tap-in.
I wrote this morning about how that goal comes about. Some of the blame is on Wanderers, but mostly it comes because Cavalry are deep enough to bring a guy like Minatel off the bench most games, and they’re smart enough to hammer the other team when they press.
Good teams often win by the tightest of margins. It was, on Saturday. Cavalry looked absolutely gassed. They were without Malonga (and will be for some time) and Dean Northover (who’s back the match after next).
Doing this against higher-level opponents is… tougher. For all Cavalry impressed by getting a result against an MLS side, they were well outplayed, ceding over 70% of the ball. Only the horse pasture at Spruce Meadows saved them–Vancouver looked lost trying to find build-ups on that and have absolutely zero strikers with height or power up front to play for bounces–or competent strikers at all, really1Somebody, somewhere in MLS, is going to realize that Fredy Montero’s best days in MLS were playing as a second striker off Obafemi Martins..
I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Cavs got a result at BC Place next week just because Vancouver are that bad when they have to take initiative and Cavalry are that good at tangling with teams that want to possess and build against them. It’s almost a perfect tactical battle.
If Marc Dos Santos has been watching CanPL (like he should!), he’ll have noticed there’s a weakness forming in Wheeldon Jr.’s side. Just like Pacific a week ago, Wanderers caused a few problems going long straight up the middle against Cavalry.
Usually, that’s a low-percentage play, and you’d rather play the ball diagonally. But that’s where Dean Northover and Nathan Mavila hang out, and because Cavalry’s midfield is so aggressive, it forces their back line to step a bit higher just to keep in touch, shape-wise. None of Dom Zator, Jonathan Wheeldon, or Mason Trafford are particularly fast, so if you use the split-second you have to chip it over the centre-backs and run, there can be holes.
And at some point, you wonder if the fatigue of pressing so relentlessly through the hot summer will catch up to them. Hasn’t yet, though.
(Next: v. York on July 21st)
Halifax (L 2 – 3 v. Ottawa; L 0 – 1 v. Cavalry)
This was a bad week for Wanderers on the field.
Off the field, it was tremendous–they packed the ground for three straight home games, and the atmosphere absolutely lived up to expectation on Wednesday. People around Halifax were talking about the team as much or more than the popular Jazzfest, which was also on this week.
But results matter, and Wanderers are not a team that can afford to drop home games.
That they were in the game against the Fury–consistently threatening, even–is a big step. While neither MLS team phoned it in, Ottawa were clearly fired-up for this game in a way the bigger teams weren’t. The “olés” and victory celebrations after the game were evidence enough2And a little risky, no, given there’s still a second leg?.
The consistent problem has been conceding easy goals. That continued even as some of the injured players came back in (though not Chakib Hocine, yet). Ottawa had three wonderful finishes, yes, but two of them should never have happened but for Wanderers mistakes.
For 85 minutes on Saturday, it looked like Wanderers had conquered this demon. Last time Cavalry were in Halifax, Wanderers gave away a dreadful goal right before half-time. This time, the Cavs really only threatened on throw-ins. The One Soccer highlight pack basically cuts straight to the 75th minute, which is a credit to Wanderers defending.
Then they got tired. I broke down the goal in detail this morning, and it’s a classic mental mistake. A bad decision is a bad decision, but it happens when you spring 100 yards up the field in hot weather, then sprint back.
Stephen Hart is often loathe to use the schedule as an excuse, but showed no such reticence after this one, calling it “dangerous”. Certainly, it is something the league needs to work on.
“We know things we need to work on from an individual and collective perspective,” said Hart–and he’s referring to the mistakes that sunk Wanderers again this week. “But we have no time to work on it because you have to give players time to rest, and then you have maybe a half of a training session the day before you play a team like Cavalry–or any team.
“So we need to sit down and talk about it. The schedule is way too compact. There are three teams that play nine games this month and one that plays ten.” That last is Wanderers.
Hart wasn’t making excuses–he was reasonably happy with how his team played on Saturday, and with good reason. This is reality, though, for all CanPL teams right now.
I’m still reasonably high on this Wanderers team, but starting to wonder if it’s going to come together this year. It could. They play their next four on the road, though, and could be in trouble if they don’t get points from one of Forge or Pacific.
The schedule is what it is, and it’s not getting kinder. Plus, there are internal problems around the team coming out of the game against Ottawa that I can’t report on yet, but will as soon as I can. That needs to be managed and this team needs to find some confidence. That can get a team through fatigue better than almost anything.
(Next: @ Forge on July 17th; @ Pacific on July 20th)
York9 (D 2 – 2 v. Montreal; W 2 – 1 v. Edmonton)
This really was the week of the counter-attack.
TELFER BAGS ONE
👽 YOR 2 – 1 FCE 🐇
▶️ Check out this match on https://t.co/hishXepRT3 to see how it ends up!
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 14, 2019
Ryan Telfer doesn’t get free enough to do stuff like that, and I really wish he would. It’s a product of the way Jim Brennan wants to play, but this team is still irresistibly capable of playing direct soccer.
Brennan’s possession system–lots of rotations and lay-offs into channels–looked at its best this week, too. They were smart against Montreal and assertive against Edmonton, which is exactly how to approach a week like this.
Their result against Montreal was the most impressive, for me, of the week. The Impact played close to a full lineup, actually, and York more or less outplayed them. When you get to a point that mental mistakes are all you’re worrying about, you’re doing okay. The fundamentals are there. Nathan Ingham isn’t going to do that every week.
He did kind of cough up Edmonton’s second-half goal on the weekend, though granted there are more errors than just his on that play. Goalkeepers aren’t going to be as subject to the fatigue, but you do wonder about the mental fatigue. York have three keepers signed, and have used only Ingham. Maybe rest him at some point?
The upcoming schedule is insane for York. They travel to Spruce Meadows, then back to Montreal on two days turnaround. Then they host Wanderers. At some point, Brennan will have to rotate not only a keeper, but probably some other players, too. I’d like to see more of Cyrus Rollocks at some point, too.
(Next: @ Cavalry on July 21st)
FC Edmonton (L 1 – 2 @ York)
Pop goes the winning streak.
The underlying numbers always suggested this: the Eddies had been scoring on just about every chance they created over the past few weeks. Sometimes that’s football. Enjoy while it lasts. Points are points.
They created a couple chances against York, too, so that’s promising–you only panic if they revert to creating next to nothing. I actually think this team is better without Son Yong-chan in it. Bruno Zebie’s spent more time running forward from midfield and the temptation to biff a long throw in every single time they get into the attacking third is removed.
Of course, they missed the chances they created in York, too. Oumar Diouck’s early on was particularly bad. They did eventually score more or less by accident, and hit the crossbar. I haven’t seen xG stats, but they should be respectable at least.
I think that’s pretty much where the Eddies are: respectable. Not a bad place to be. I think there’s a talent gap, and the talent they’re putting out there week-to-week is not young, either, though Marcus Velado-Tsegaye did play (and struggle) in York and Easton Ongaro came off the bench well again.
They’re about to play four home games, which is going to make or break this season both on and off the pitch. Their spring season was derailed by some horrible performances at Clarke Field: the early draw against Pacific and the loss against Valour. How far in the rear-view are those old problems?
And can they draw fans when performing better?
(Next: v. Valour on July 17th)
Valour FC (bye)
Valour are Edmonton’s next opponent, and the only team in the league that can’t complain about the scheduling right now because they’ve been off since some time in the last ice age.
Rob Gale has used the time to dismantle his team. Gone is Stephen Hoyle. In is José Galàn, to replace Josip Golubar–Galan is 33 and was last seen playing nine games with “Dreams FC” in Hong Kong. Dreams, indeed. He’s had ten clubs in three years, and hasn’t topped 1000 minutes in longer.
“They need experience, but they also need people with experience to help them through and to learn from and to see and compete with on a daily basis”
— ValourFC (@ValourFootball) July 15, 2019
There’s likely a striker on the way, which is good, because if I had to pick a problem for Valour it wouldn’t be defensive midfield. Ali Musse and Michael Petrasso–the only two strikers who have really looked up to it this year–are still hurt, and will be on Wednesday, too. Summer can be a good time to add talent, but one has to wonder at this point what Valour has in terms of cap space and scouting prep. Galan’s signing looks more like desperation for both player and club.
“Okay, I have to admit I have this adventure mind-set,” Galan said. “But now, I want some stability.” Valour FC, most stable club in CanPL.
We knew changes were coming after Gale shellacked his team following the spring season. It’s tough on the bevy of young midfielders they signed, though, most of them Canadian. Guys like Raphael Ohin and Louis Beyand-Goyette are on notice that Gale doesn’t believe they’re capable right now.
Let’s see how they react.
(Next: @ Edmonton on July 17th)
Pacific (L 2 – 3 v. Forge)
I am running out of ways to write about this team being bad, so let’s change tack and look at what has worked.
It actually has been a bit better from Pacific, too, of late. They took Forge all the way to the final whistle last week. A lot of that is down to Forge’s defending, but the two goals were both well-taken, by Terran Campbell and Victor Blasco. Neither man has been especially consistent. Without Marcus Haber, the attack is a bit of a group of parts, but it’s a group that’s fast and inventive when it’s not just lomping it to Haber’s immaculately-styled head.
The goalkeeping’s been good, too. Mark Village has been good. Nolan Wirth has been, I think, even better–I don’t quite buy that there was much he could do about Welshman’s finish. Once Welshman’s in that spot, he scores most of the time. Plus Wirth’s got to be the most Vancouver Island guy ever unearthed from a tree-trunk somewhere in Nanaimo. He’s probably the future for this team, frankly.
Hendrik Starostzik is back, too, playing about half an hour and striking dread into livebloggers who have to spell his name again, if not opposing strikers.
Even with him, Pacific were cut apart too easily. All the Forge goals came right down the middle of the park. Granted, Welshman thrives on that kind of play and the Bekker-Thomas-Borges third was the product of some gorgeous movement. Pacific missed Alexander Gonzalez to throw a wrench into those–he needs to make sure he’s not getting needless cards.
There are signs of progress. Gonzalez will be back for Wednesday’s game against York, though Pacific will miss Matt Baldisimo through accumulation the following game against Wanderers. Lukas MacNaughton might be back by then. Their next three games are all winnable (Valour is the third, on the 31st in Winnipeg), and if they can get six points in there–which is possible–I’d be tempted to consider them back in the hunt.
(Next: @ York on July 17th, v. Halifax on July 20th)
Forge (W 3 – 2 @ Pacific)
It’s been the elephant in the room for a while, but you could always say, “Well, they didn’t have Johnny Grant,” or, “they out-played the opponent anyway.”
They didn’t out-play Pacific, and they had Johnny Grant, and the defensive display was still awful. It should have cost them the result even with some incredible attacking play, once again, from Tristan Borges.
Forge spent the last 10 minutes of the game bunkered in their own area with a one goal lead. They gave away free kicks. They lost scrambles. They got away with it, ever so barely.
Points are points. Forge need these, because things get awful in August. On the road, I guess you don’t quibble too much. I just really don’t like the goals they conceded.
The first is just so preventable. Nobody gets within a light-year of Blake Smith. Johnny Grant looks most culpable, but in Smyrniotis’ system he’s always going to end up inside, so the winger Emery Welshman has to track the fullback. That has never been Welshman’s thing. Terran Campbell makes a great run to score the header, but Betrand Owundi and Dominic Samuel aren’t so much disconnected as groping around the dark. Owundi in particular just stops running.
The second is unforgivable. It’s a clever free kick routine from Pacific, but if you want to be a top team, you have to be aware of it. Kadell Thomas is not. Kyle Bekker probably can’t get there, but he literally does not take a step between the kick being taken and the ball hitting twine.
This game should have been dead. Forge are on the road, there’s no need to do anything more, and they had control. They never particularly sat back. They never seemed to have any control of space at the back, which led to the free kick, which led to Pacific’s second. These are the mistakes that the best teams in this league–Cavalry, in particular–keep punishing. And they will keep punishing them.
Most of this is on the guys on the pitch, rather than Bobby Smyrniotis. Maybe they could have sat back a bit, and you could question the balance of attacking players to defensive ones–sometimes you gotta be practical–but it’s mostly a question of communication and, perhaps, commitment.
CONCACAF teams will nail these mistakes, too, particularly at home. Forge now sit on three points with two home games remaining before that gauntlet begins. They need to win both, I think, or they’ll be out of the running by the time they get back into CanPL action.
(Next: v. Halifax on July 17th; v. Valour on July 20th)
Anthem of the week
Many people don’t actually know the history of “O Canada,” our erstwhile national anthem.
Like many things, including Canadian democracy, it mostly came from the French. Calixa Lavalée wrote the music, and it’s not intended to be a pop ballad–indeed, the French lyrics are pretty darn combative, too3And we didn’t bother changing them last year when we changed the English ones, which has tripped up more than one singer across the league already. That’s Quebec politics for you.. It’s generally a march, if a slightly slow one, and should, in my view, be played somewhere at or at least near march tempo of 120 beats per minute.
The Canadian Premier League has been insisting on playing it before all its games, which makes our league an outlier in world soccer–only us and MLS do this regularly. CanPL loves to wrap itself in the flag any time it can, sometimes to the point of silliness, and I’ve always felt that it would be best left to international soccer where the anthems feel special and appropriate. Ever since the Women’s World Cup, I’ve had “La Marseillaise” stuck in my head, which always happens. I feel like Lavalée would probably approve.
If we must have the anthem, can we let the fans sing it? Privateers already belt out the final verse in Halifax. It took Toronto FC a few years to figure out, but they now let the supporters take it after a short intro (in the vain hope the stadium might actually be in sync). It’s so much more organic, and so much of what this league should be about.
At least, for the country’s sake, a slightly faster tempo.
There, that’s my plea for the week. I’ll now lock the editorial department in the basement again.
What I’ll Be Watching
Too many games again, probably.
The Wanderers – Forge game is another that’s fairly important for the standings, and I’ll have a liveblog going for it tomorrow night.
With several teams on three points coming out of the first couple weeks, we really don’t know much yet. We’ll see Valour in the fall for the first time this week, and get a chance to see whether their reset is going to amount to anything. That could tighten the standings even further.
One reason Cavalry ran away with the spring is that every other team in the league took points from the others. That led to all the movement on the final day, which was exciting(!). If Cavalry do manage to win the fall as well, while it’ll be awkward for the league, it will give us a a great run-in as all the other teams gun for second place.
To which end, the league really needs to put a combined table somewhere on its website. Add it to the list, I guess.