Monday, June 20, 2011

The NASL is Coming to Ottawa

The news that broke late last week is now official. The NASL has awarded a team to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). The yet to be named team will play at a redeveloped Lansdowne Park. They will join the league once the stadium is complete, likely in 2013 or 2014. The NASL currently has eight teams, and will stay at eight next season with San Antonio replacing Montreal, who are joining MLS. John Pugh, the owner of the Ottawa Fury and the newest member of OSEG, has been named the team's President.

I was able to attend this announcement and had a conversation with Mr. Pugh. He told me that there would be fan involvement in choosing the team's name and colours. He also spoke of his desire for Ottawa to have a supporter group similar to the Southsiders or the Red Patch Boys. He hoped the games would be fun and noisy. I asked him if he was going to move the Ottawa Fury Women's team to Lansdowne, and he said that was unlikely. He also said there are no plans to bid for a WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) team. During Mr. Pugh's statement to the press, he mentioned that Ottawa would be participating in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, or as I prefer to call it, the Nutrilite Voyageurs' Cup. I asked him if he thought the NVC should be expanded to include teams in the CSL and other leagues across Canada. He said that is the way the FA Cup & US Open Cup are run and, though more logistically difficult, it is a great treat for fans and he wouldn't mind seeing something similar in Canada.

I also had the opportunity to talk with William Shenkman, another member of OSEG, who has previous football experience as he is part owner of Millwall in England. Shenkman talked about how Millwall came quite close to being relegated from League One in his first season at the club and of their later promotion to the Championship. I asked him if he thought a system of promotion & relegation would work in Canada & the United States. He replied that it wouldn't. He mentioned that clubs here, even established MLS ones, don't have the support to keep a club afloat if they were relegated. He mentioned that even in England some large clubs face a lot of problems if they are relegated and used Millwall's archrivals West Ham as an example. We discussed how difficult it would be for a league to lose a market like New York, LA, or Toronto through relegation. I also talked about expanding the NVC with Mr. Shenkman; he hopes it happens and would look forward to an Ottawa derby with Capital City FC. He told me he is glad there is another team in the city that is getting the community out to watch soccer. He said he doesn't think of Capital City as competition for the soccer dollar, more that both clubs are creating interest in local football and that will help everyone.

The final person I spoke with this morning was NASL Commissioner David Downs. We started by talking about stadiums. He thinks the redeveloped Lansdowne will be a great stadium, however he fears that its 24,000 capacity could be too big. He stated that somewhere between 5,000 & 15,000 seats was about right for the NASL. I asked him if he had a maximum number of teams that he would want to have in the NASL, in light of the MLS likely stopping at 20. He said that anywhere between 12 and 16 teams would be great, adding that eight is too few. Ottawa will be the ninth team when they join the league. He mentioned that the League is in talks with other cities, but wouldn't comment on who they are. He also said that it is important for his league to grow prudently. That said, he did expect there would be more growth now that the MLS is likely to add only one more side. The Commissioner said that everywhere there is a successful first tier there is also a successful second tier. He is confident that the NASL will be successful, as will a team in Ottawa.

Though I tend to share the Commissioner's fears about the 24,000 seat stadium being too large, I am excited to see what will happen next, and will be in the stands when Ottawa's newest professional team takes to the field. I should add that the City, OSEG, and CSA are in talks about having Ottawa as a host city for the 2014 U20 Women's World Cup and the 2015 Women's World Cup. Obviously, the redeveloped Lansdowne would host the matches. Hopefully the construction is finished before 2014 so we can have both NASL and the Women's u20 World Cup here in 2014.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thoughts on Villa's manager search

Aston Villa's search for a new boss is a getting a little crazy. The news today was that Wigan boss Roberto Martinez opted to stay at Wigan rather than join Aston Villa, which it must be said is a blow to Villa and their fans. The plus side is that with the relegation of Birmingham, Wigan can step in to fill the rival void. So besides Martinez who haved Villa talked to or been linked with?

1. Rafa Benitez -I can not understand why they didn't hire him. He decided not to take the job after requesting a 30M pound transfer kitty, which was turned down by the owner. So a multiple champions league winner was passed over because he asked for 30M? Didn't Villa let Houllier spend 24M on Darren Bent? Last season Villa spent most of the season battling relegation to get into Europe this club is going to half to spend money. Especially since they are getting a rumoured 16M for the sale of Ashley Young to Manchester United. I think that Villa made a mistake by not hiring Rafa.

2. Steve McLaren - The former England, Boro, Twente, Wolfsburg boss was supposed to have an interview, but had it cancelled because of comments from fans. I think that Randy Lerner was right in cancelling the interview. It is important for the boss to get off on the right foot with fans, just ask Roy Hodgson. Also while he impressed at Boro & Twente he was a failure at England & Wolfsburg.

3. Mark Hughes - Hughes was strongly linked with the post, as he left his role at Fulham. Villa have said that they are not interested in Hughes. That said they can't talk to Hughes until the end of June. I don't think that Hughes is the right fit at Villa. He like Steve Bruce has switched clubs numerous times, just he has done it with less winning.

4. Carlo Ancelotti - The former Chelsea boss who has said that he would like to stay in England, has also said that he is planning to take a year off. Which if he means it would rule himself out of the Villa job.

So after passing on Rafa and being turned down by Martinez, who should Villa be interviewing next?

1. Louis van Gaal - I am surprised that the former Ajax, AZ, Barcelona, Bayern, & Netherlands coach has not been interviewed already I think that he would be a good fit at Villa and has been successful nearly everywhere he has gone.

2. Claudio Ranieri - His name was linked to vacancy, but that was the last I have heard of it. Like van Gaal I think that Ranieri would be a great fit at Villa park.

Both of these men are the sort of managers that would succeed at Villa and help them get where they want to go. I think that they should be the top two names on the short list now, and should have been right behind Rafa & Ancelotti in the first place.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts on Canada - USA round 1

They were better than us. I thought that Hart's formation was the right choice, it worked well to contain the American wingers which was my biggest concern going into the match. However what seemed to happen was that our wingers would mark their wingers leaving huge amounts of space for the full backs to take advantage of, which they did. The US was at their most dangerous when they had their full backs attacking.

The first goal was unlucky, normally Lars makes that save. I expect that Milos will start the rest of the tournament now barring any further goal keeping errors.

Our marking in the box was poor. Ledgerwood noticed Dempsey was behind him much too late and Dempsey scored because of it. In the first half Carlos Bocanegra was left completely unmarked in the box but managed to miss from a few yards out. That was unlucky for the states so I felt that us being down 1-0 at the half was fair.

Problems in the midfield. Atiba is a good player but he is not Iniesta. Too often Atiba was left with no one to pass to and had to dribble his way past a few people, which he succeeded in doing a couple times. Often we would have players standing and waiting for a pass rather than moving into space and receiving the pass. Dunfield had a poor game. I know that he was starting due to an injury from JDG, his passing was very poor more often leading to turnovers than anything else.

Canada was too cautious in possession. We rarely tried a through ball and opted for a "safer" pass than a pass that put the Americans under pressure nearly every time. Specifically, when Dunfield opted to pass backwards to Ledgerwood instead of to DeRo who was in space and in a more advanced position on the right wing. There was a time when Simpson was making a great run into the box but rather than pass to where he was running the pass went behind him.

Ali Gerba was fantastic when he came on. He forced two great saves from Tim Howard. Speaking of which Howard was brilliant making a number of huge saves to maintain his clean sheet. When Gerba came on, Canada changed its formation and gave the USA more opportunities to attack us but Canada did create more opportunities. I expect that had we started that way the US would have scored more than two goals against us.

Man of the Match: Tim Howard

Play of the day: Clint Dempsey's flying back heel

I expect that Stephen Hart will go with a similar set up next match with changes bringing on Gerba likely for Johnson, JDG in for Dunfield if he is healthy, and switching the keepers.

Playing the way we did against the Americans I think that we should be able to get by Panama & Guadeloupe, but we will need to improve our passing to get through the Quarterfinals.

I am pleased that so many fans traveled to the match, I wish I could have been there. I was disappointed with the tv coverage in Canada. I would like to see Sportsnet move the Jays game to Sportsnet One and put Canada on the main network. If you are the home of Canadian soccer then act like it. The Jays play 162 games every year. This was our first competitive match in two years. I was also disappointed how many bars I had to go to before I found one that was showing it. However I was pleased that about half the Capital City squad turned up to watch as well, even if a few of them were cheering on the Americans.