Let's be honest, Saturday is a crappy time to write about soccer news. The major European clubs are almost all in action, nothing much is likely to have happened anyway, and people are far more engaged watching soccer than reading some idiot rambling about it. That's why Eighty Six Forever has shied away from writing big, exciting, set-the-world-on-fire posts on the weekend: our traffic dies on the weekend regardless of what I put up, so save the good stuff for the weekdays when people will appreciate it!
There should be some good stuff coming up this week: tidbits on the Canadian national teams, an article on which country Teal Bunbury will wind up representing, the possibility of high-level soccer finally returning to Winnipeg, and of course more rambling about the Whitecaps. Articles too good to waste on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Besides, for once there was plenty of news on Friday to cover. News that, unlike just about everything one hears in Canadian soccer, actually made me smile. I walked with more of a bounce in my step, the rain seemed less grim and oppressive. It was a good time. Beautiful news from CONCACAF Women's World Cup qualifying, from Major League Soccer, and even some glorious information regarding the Whitecaps' shambolic ticket arrangements (although my idea of "good news" there is actually pretty negative). A day that successful deserves some sort of commemoration.
So, in lieu of actual content, here are the stories in Canadian soccer I enjoyed yesterday.
Of course, the world of women's soccer was an almost non-stop avalanche of joy yesterday. Canada's 4-0 victory over Costa Rica looked in danger at first: the Canadians had a considerable but not overwhelming advantage in the first half, and at kickoff in the second half it looked for fifteen minutes like las Ticas would be the ones to break through. I was chewing my fingernails and fearing a horrifying upset. Then we discovered our finishing feet at last; Josée Bélanger got a greasy one fighting through traffic and kicking in a Jonelle Filigno rebound. From that point, Canada decided to stop messing around and kicked some Costa Rican butt: Filigno got a lovely, if possibly offside, goal on a breakaway ten minutes later and almost immediately afterwards Christine Sinclair scored a typically inelegant Christine Sinclair goal on a scramble in the area. An own goal late, and Canada got away with a deceptively one-sided result.
The Costa Ricans didn't deserve to lose by four and played a strong, frustrating game that mostly limited Canada's ability to penetrate their back four. Canada didn't help themselves, mind you, with some abominable finishing in the first half and a strange unwillingness from such a strong passing team to play wide and spread the Costa Ricans out. When the Costa Ricans started mounting some effective counters, particularly in the second half, I really thought Canada's conservatism would come back to bite them in the ass. But their superior technique and athleticism won out, proving once again that if you keep calm and stick to your game plan, skill will usually beat will in international soccer.
The Americans did not keep calm and stick to their game plan against Mexico. Were they rattled by a ferocious pro-Mexican crowd in Cancun? The United States plays a lot of games either at home or before indifferent away audiences, but Estadio Beto Ávila was rocking with far more Mexican support than Canada experienced on Tuesday. Maribel Domínguez got under a long ball in the second minute and put Mexico in front: a horrible lapse of American defense against a top international striker. The Americans equalized twenty minutes later but almost immediately Mexico retook the lead. Mexico played moderately, although not spectacularly, sound defense and kept the ball away from the Americans. Meanwhile, the American players... and there's no other way to put this... absolutely lost their shit.
I was only able to start paying full attention to the game in the second half, but that meant I got to watch the United States trying to come back. They looked utterly panicked and mentally three steps behind. Despite being ten times better than Mexico with the ball on the ground they hoofed long balls as if it was one of Even Pellerud's wet dreams. They fouled like mad women, diving recklessly into tackles and engaging in plenty of grabbing, then roared at the referee when they got called on their dirty tricks, as if trying to make damned sure that any fifty-fifty calls would go against them. They genuinely seemed to have no idea how to react to being down to a far inferior team with the crowd against them and a World Cup berth on the line, and the 2-1 win was no more than the Mexicans deserved. Of course, had the Americans played their best, they would have beaten Mexico, but they never did. The United States will probably (I say probably) beat Costa Rica on Monday and Italy in their home-and-home series to determine the final World Cup qualifier, but such a catastrophic reaction to adversity bodes very badly for their future hopes.
This means, of course, that Canada plays Mexico on Monday for our first senior continental championship for either gender in ten years, and only our second ever that took place against a full field (we won the men's CONCACAF title in 1986 when the Mexicans weren't involved and the women's title in 1998 when the Americans sat out). Everybody is rightly delighted that Canada has qualified for the World Cup, but let's bring home some hardware too. It's time the CSA's trophy cabinet got an expansion.
On the club level, I was pleased by the news that Major League Soccer has rejected the Vancouver Whitecaps' claim to striker Cody Arnoux. Now, that may seem like an odd thing to be happy about. I'm just happy because that means I probably won't have to watch Cody Arnoux next season.
Cody Arnoux is twenty-two years old, making him the oldest member of the Edwini-Bonsu/Mobulu/Stewart/McDonald/Khalfan/Arnoux many-headed monster that competed for minutes at striker after the departure of Marcus Haber. While not the least effective of the lot (I'm still happy about Jonathan McDonald getting his sorry ass released, by the way), Arnoux was certainly in the bottom half. Edwini-Bonsu, Stewart, and Khalfan all clearly outplayed him, and Mobulu was probably his equal. Even if you say that Mobulu and Khalfan are best employed as wingers or midfielders, Arnoux was still an awful long way behind two players who are a lot younger. Arnoux is athletic, works hard, and is actually a fairly good defensive player for his position but just cannot play the ball at a professional level. He was badly exposed at times in the second division and I can't imagine how he could contribute in the first. I'm disappointed that MLS is going to all these lengths just to maintain control on how players can enter the league, but I won't be disappointed to miss out on Cody Arnoux.
I'm happy that the backlash against the Whitecaps' atrocious ticket pricing scheme shows no signs of subsiding. The article I wrote on the matter is already one of the most widely-read and well-circulated posts in the history of this site. This isn't just sticker shock: we supporters have had a couple of nights to sleep on it and we're still just as angry. Reactions on the Whitecaps' Facebook wall and their post announcing the new ticket prices are still coming in and are still almost unanimously negative.
In an interview on the TEAM 1040's The Sports Market this morning, Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett fielded some softball questions that were mostly uninformative. But one thing he did harp on was how the thought the laws of supply and demand should be applied to sports: again and again, he returned to "supply and demand" and how he had tried to apply those principles to the Vancouver Whitecaps. In an interview yesterday with Pratt and Taylor, Bob Lenarduzzi was openly contemptuous of the Southsiders' concerns: he had the stones to say that there are "very [few] people who are concerned with the pricing" and brushed off the usurious endzone prices by saying that most of the tickets are reasonably priced so it doesn't matter. His reaction to the Southsiders' displeasure was, and this is a quote, "that's just the way it is" and that a true supporter should pay whatever the club tells him to pay. Perhaps the Whitecaps' idea of "supply and demand" is that they demand we supply an atmosphere that allows them to charge $500 for the worst seats in the house. I'm happy the club is being so overt about their desire to squeeze their die-hards for every drop, both in terms of direct revenue and in terms of drawing other people to sit in overpriced seats, and am even happier they're not getting away with it.
I'm happy this issue isn't going to go away.