Sunday, March 29, 2009

LeBlanc shines in WPS opener

Photo: Karina LeBlanc makes a save while training with the Canadian women's team in 2007 [Photo from].

In what may perhaps be a big step forward for women's soccer in the United States, a Canadian played a key role. Karina LeBlanc, the long-serving Canadian international (69 caps at the senior level according to the CSA site), made several impressive saves [The Canadian Press] to preserve a 2-0 victory for the Los Angeles Sol over the Washington Freedom in the first-ever game in the new Women's Professional Soccer league.

It's been a long road to this point for LeBlanc. According to her bio page, she was born in Atlanta but moved to Maple Ridge, B.C. with her family at a young age. She went to Maple Ridge Secondary, where she didn't play high school soccer (as they didn't have a team at that point) but starred in basketball, track and field hockey. She then spent four very successful years playing soccer at the University of Nebraska, finishing with a career record of 67 wins, five losses and three draws and a career GAA of 0.56 (36 goals against in 79 games). After that, she joined the Boston Breakers of WUSA, the last attempt at a high-profile women's pro league in the States. LeBlanc did well with them, but the league collapsed and she wound up in the lower-profile W-League, where she had stops with at least the Montreal XTreme and the New Jersey Wildcats (perhaps other teams as well, but none of the bios available seem to reflect them).

Throughout her career, LeBlanc's been a tremendous representative for Canada. She was the number-one keeper for quite some time, but has more recently taken a back seat to Erin McLeod. However, she has still been a valuable presence for Canada and has proven very effective when called upon, as she was in the Olympics this summer against the United States after an injury to McLeod. I wrote at the time that LeBlanc was "a huge reason that the Canadians were even able to take the game to extra time." It's good to see her find success at the club level as well.

LeBlanc was the only Canadian international in this first game, at least according to the Washington and LA rosters online. However, there were still plenty of Canadian connections. As Neate pointed out long ago, one of the most prominent investors backing the league is Victoria's own Steve Nash (who's also now a co-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps). Also, Canadian midfielder/forward Martina Franko is listed on the L.A. roster, although she didn't see action in this game. There aren't any details up about her yet on their site, so I'm guessing she's a recent signing. Franko has been another long-time stalwart for the national team and won W-League titles with the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team in 2004 and 2006. She's also perhaps the only Canadian women's soccer player to make it onto Jezebel. Moreover, the striker LeBlanc spectacularly denied twice was American star Abby Wambach. Wambach has been a thorn in the side of the Canadian women for years, including this past year's Olympics and the 2006 Gold Cup, so there perhaps is some poetic justice in having her stopped by LeBlanc.

Overall, it was a pretty good start for the WPS. The Sol (by the way, they should really look into Sol beer as a sponsor) and the Freedom played in front of 14,832 at the Home Depot Centre in L.A., very impressive for a women's game and comparable to some MLS crowds. According to the CP article, organizers expected an attendance of 10,000, so this is a step up. League superstar and World Player of the Year Marta was impressive in her WPS debut and set up the second Sol goal. In some nice continuity with the past, several long-time stars of the women's game were also involved, including Wambach and Washington goalkeeper Brianna Scurry. Mia Hamm, who perhaps has done more for the profile of women's soccer than any other person, was also recognized in a pre-game ceremony, which was good to see. (By the way, if you've never read Gary Smith's Sports Illustrated profile of Hamm, you owe it to yourself to check it out).

That doesn't mean that the league will be a guaranteed success, though. As this excellent piece on Avoiding The Drop pointed out yesterday, there are still many concerns surrounding the league, including marketing and television. There's a lot of competition in the women's soccer market, including the NCAA game and the aforementioned W-League. Moreover, as Sports Business Journal's Bill King asked in his piece on the league, is it really feasible to launch a new league during the current economic crisis? Only time will tell.

Until then, I'd suggest enjoying the WPS for what it is and sending your best wishes to the Canadians involved. Games can be caught on Fox Sports World Canada every Sunday, and there's plenty of Maple Leaf-covered players, including Christine Sinclair (FC Gold Pride), Christine Latham and Candace Chapman (Boston), and Melissa Tancredi (St. Louis). We may even see Canadian-based teams some day, and WPS investors Nash and Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett apparently even tried to have the Canadian senior national team (based out of Vancouver) join the WPS, but were shot down by the CSA [Marc Weber, The Vancouver Province]. That doesn't mean the dream of WPS in Canada down the road is dead either, though, as Whitecaps' president Bob Lenarduzzi left that door open with his comments in Weber's piece. Before then, if you want to see Canadian stars on Canadian soil, you should take Ben Knight's advice and head out to the Canada-Japan game on May 25.

(Cross-posted to Out of Left Field)

Live blog of CIS men's hockey final

This is rather spur-of-the moment, but myself and some of the other writers from The CIS Blog thought we might as well live blog this afternoon's men's hockey final between the Western Mustangs and the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds (which can be seen on all four Sportsnet regional channels and at Who will take home the University Cup? It should be quite the clash, so come join in the live blog below!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dale Mitchell fired

The wait is over, and Dale Mitchell has officially been axed as the head of the Canadian men's national soccer team. I have more over at The 24th Minute.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The reasons behind the ban of the Dalai Lama

Wednesday's announcement [Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail] that the Dalai Lama will be barred from visiting South Africa until after the 2010 World Cup was rather interesting. After all, as the Globe pointed out in their editorial on the matter, this is a country famous for producing civil-rights advocates like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. This move seemed a step back from the recent success of South Africa, and more in tune with the country's ugly past under apartheid.

Government spokesman Thabo Masebe told the Globe the move “would not be in South Africa's best interests.” That depends on the interests you're considering. There's a good reason "Follow the money" is one of the most memorable lines from the film version of All The President's Men, one of my favourite journalism books of all time. You can often learn quite a bit from the greenback trail. Let's try and apply that methodology here and see where it takes us.

South Africa, of course, is hosting the 2010 World Cup, a massive multibillion-dollar event. The World Cup is organized by FIFA, known for shady financial dealings and influence-peddling in the past (see this excellent story by Andrew Jennings on the Swiss bribery trial where FIFA head Sepp Blatter has been named; there are plenty of other examples in his book, Foul). FIFA gets the money to put on lavish World Cups through TV rights deals and sponsorship agreements with global companies such as adidas, Coke, Visa and McDonalds.

Those global companies are always looking to expand their brands into new and emerging markets. One of the most crucial markets for expansion is the People's Republic of China, which boasts over 1.3 billion people and an emerging middle class with significant buying power. The PRC has had significant problems with the Dalai Lama for some time due to his credentials as a Tibetan exile leader, and accused him of orchestrating riots [The Associated Press via MSNBC] in the lead-up to last summer's Olympics. Given the power of the PRC government, it could make either life very difficult or very easy for those companies if it felt like it. That doesn't mean that they're involved with this ban, but it does suggest that they would have strong motivations to help the PRC if asked.

Of course, the sponsors needn't necessarily be involved at all. China is also a key target market for FIFA: 1.3 billion people with substantial purchasing power in an area where soccer has not yet become the dominant game. Given the PRC government's control of the country's media, they have tremendous power to either aid FIFA in their marketing or make it very difficult for anyone in China to watch or follow soccer. FIFA has also been known to exercise substantial political influence before [one example from Andrew Jennings, in the Sunday Herald], so it's not like meddling in international relations would be anything new for them.

There are also options for China to put substantial pressure on South Africa without involving soccer or corporate intermediaries. As York wrote, "The ban is the latest signal of Beijing's growing power and influence in Africa. China has become the top trading partner of many African countries, and China's ruling Communist Party is reported to be one of the biggest financial contributors to the African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party." Yeah, that probably didn't hurt their case.

It's not a secret that the PRC is at the back of this. From York's story, we learn that "The Chinese embassy in South Africa has confirmed that it opposed the Dalai Lama's visit. In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday that China appreciates any country that takes "measures" against the Dalai Lama." They may or may not have invoked the help of those looking for Chinese support in the soccer and corporate worlds; that's not for me to say without evidence. However, as pointed out above, exerting pressure on South Africa to keep the Dalai Lama out is in line with the key goals of the PRC government. Thus, FIFA and the global companies involved certainly can't oppose this easily without annoying a key government ally they need on their side, and the PRC may have even persuaded them to go along with it. If they felt like it, they could add their voices to those of the PRC and make life even tougher for the Dalai Lama to pick up a few brownie points with the Chinese government. It's business as usual in the world of soccer, but it's a depressing day for humanity and civil rights.

Update: 9:43 P.M. Found some other good takes on the situation. Sam of The Canadian Stretford End calls it "a disgusting move", while Cesar Benoit sees it as a "huge PR blunder".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Campus Corner: Top 10 Gaels' moments poll is live

After much ado and Internet wrangling, my poll of the Top 10 Gaels' moments of the year (a collaboration with the Athletics Department) is finally live. Unfortunately, only part of the explanatory text made it into the Journal post on the matter, so I figured I'd just post the whole thing and the survey link here as well. Check it out and vote for your favourite! If you feel I left out any key moments or just want to talk about the list, post a comment here or e-mail me at andrew_bucholtz[at]

Here's the full release on the matter:


Kingston, Ont. (March 19, 2009) – The Queen’s Journal invites
fans of the Queen’s Gaels to vote online for the top sporting moments
of the 2008-09 season.

Fans can visit the Journal website at to cast their ballot and select this year’s top sporting moment. The moments will be ranked and
unveiled at the 73rd Annual Colour Awards Athletic Banquet on March
31st. Voting closes on Sunday, March 29th at 12:00am.

Journal sports editor Andrew Bucholtz paired down a list of thirty of the school’s top
sporting moments into a top-ten list. Fans are now
asked to rank the top moments.


The ten moments selected to appear in the poll are (in chronological order):

10/05/2008 – Dominant Weekend: Gaels squads across multiple sports
dominate opponents registering significant victories over a two day
period (October 4 & 5) - Rugby (M) vs. Trent 106-0; Football vs. York
80-0; Soccer (M) vs. RMC 5-0; Hockey (W) vs. Western 4-0.

10/18/2008 – Undefeated: Football and Rugby (M) both finish their
regular seasons undefeated without a loss. Football marches to a
perfect 8-0 season while Rugby posts a 5-0-1 record and would go on to
capture a silver medal at the OUA Championship.

10/25/2008 – Champions: Rowing (M/W) captures Queen’s only banners of
the 2008 Fall Term taking both the men’s and women’s banners. For the
women’s team it marked their second consecutive banner. One week later on
November 3, Queen’s would finish second (women) and third (men) at the
Canadian University Rowing Championships.

10/26/2008 – Silver Medal: Lacrosse (W) captures its fourth
consecutive silver medal finish at the OUA Championship. The Gaels
finished with a regular-season record of 9-3 and 18 points second to only Laurier who had 24 points.

11/21/2008 – National Honours for Football – Head coach Pat Sheahan
and linebacker Thaine Carter (Nanaimo, B.C.) are recognized nationally
for their season. Sheahan is named Canadian Interuniversity Sport
(CIS) football coach of the year, while Carter is the recipient of
the CIS Presidents’ Trophy for top defensive player in the country
just a day earlier.

1/7/2009- Moore scores 40: Brittany Moore made Queen’s history scoring
40 points in a single women’s basketball game against Royal Military
College. She broke former Gael and current assistant coach Claire
Meadows’ old record by a single point. Moore was nine points shy of
tying the OUA single-game mark (49) held by Candi Lohr (Brock) in

1/24/2009 – Crazy Ending - Queen’s women’s basketball edged the
Carleton Ravens 53-52 on a last second lay-up by Brittany Moore.
Moore’s basket was part of a bizarre sequence of events which saw
Carleton foul Moore on a three-point attempt and leave her undefended
at the foul line.

2/3/2009 – Captain Burke - In his first night as interim captain,
Billy Burke of Aurora, Ont., scored two goals, including the overtime
winner, as Queen’s defeated the Carleton Ravens 3-2. Burke went on to
score six goals in three games after recording just three in his first 21 games. His efforts helped men’s hockey finish the season with a
6-0-1 record.

2/19/2009- Silver Again- The men’s volleyball team collected a second
consecutive silver medal as they competed against the McMaster
Marauders for the third straight season in the finals. Volleyball
tallied another impressive season, including a seven-game win streak.

3/3/2009- Morra leads Gaels to Semifinals- Amanda Morra of Pickering
Ont., had a hat-trick as the Queen’s women’s hockey team defeated the
No.9 nationally-ranked Toronto Varsity Blues 4-2 in the OUA
Quarter-finals to advance in the playoffs.

Premier League Punditry 03-22-09

Premier League Punditry is back! Plenty to talk about this week, including Liverpool's trampling of Aston Villa and Man U's loss to Fulham. Is the title race back in play? All that and much, much more from the world of soccer will be discussed. Join us in the live blog after the jump!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The return of Premier League Punditry!

After a one-week hiatus thanks to my duties covering the Final 8 men's basketball tournament, I'm happy to announce that Premier League Punditry will return later today at the usual time (1:30 p.m. Eastern). As always, there will be lots to talk about. The focus will be the Premier League as normal, but we'll probably also touch on the Champions League and the recently announced MLS expansion to Portland and Vancouver. Come join us live at 1:30 or leave comments, questions or discussion topics in the comments on this post!

Update: Make that 2:30; a meeting came up that Amrit has to go to.

Friday, March 20, 2009

MLS: Vancouver and Portland rekindle West Coast rivalry

Today's announcement [Jose Romero, The Seattle Times] of Portland as the 18th MLS franchise could mean great things for the league, especially considering how Vancouver was named as the 17th franchise [Marc Weber, The Province] on Wednesday. Of course, there are many great reasons behind this pairing, but one of the most interesting is the history between the cities. Way back when Duane first called the race for Vancouver and Portland on March 3, his MLS source stated that the decision was made due to "stadium plan, political support and geographical factors". The stadium plans and political support are obviously crucial, but much ink has been spilled about them already, so it's those geographical factors that deserve further examination.

Vancouver, Portland and Seattle have had a natural soccer rivalry since the days of the old NASL, and that rivalry has carried on through the USL; all three cities had USL teams from 2001-2008, rekindling the old flame. Moreover, the geography of the region is well-suited to rivalries; it usually takes about two and a half hours to drive from Vancouver to Seattle and just under three hours to go from Seattle to Portland. Thus, there's been plenty of travelling support for all of these teams at the USL level, and that tends to make the games much more interesting. One of my favourite Whitecaps games last summer was their 2-1 victory over the Timbers, complete with about 30 Portland fans who made the six-hour trek north for the match armed with drums, horns and high spirits. A good crowd of away supporters adds a lot to a match and galvanizes the home fans, so that was great to see. Imagine how much more exciting those trips will be with all three teams in MLS.

Rivalries are crucial to building, expanding and selling sports in this day and age. There's a big reason why Arsenal-Tottenham or Real Madrid-Barcelona clashes are much more anticipated than your typical game. It's not just soccer, either; the Yankees and Red Sox have driven much of Major League Baseball's popularity, the regular Maple Leafs-Canadiens clashes in the 1950s and 60s helped Hockey Night in Canada take over the Saturday night airwaves and the Lakers and Celtics were a huge factor in the rise of the NBA. Those matchups draw huge amounts of fan and media interest, which leads to more people in the stands, more viewers of the TV broadcasts, more rights/advertising fees and dramatically increased profits.

However, MLS has had a tougher time developing rivalries. Yes, there still are plenty of hated opponents for each team, and I'm sure the readers of this blog could provide quite the list. The problem is that most of them haven't really jumped from the sphere of the diehard fans to the sphere of the general public, which is what you need to see real economic benefits from rivalries. Like in other sports, the hardcore supporters will often tune in to each and every game their team plays regardless of opponent, but the Yankees-Red Sox or Celtics-Lakers clashes go beyond that and reel in members of the general public who may not even follow the league or the sport all that closely.

In my mind, there's a good chance that Vancouver-Seattle-Portland could have the potential to draw in those casual fans, certainly on a local level and perhaps on a larger scale. There are several crucial reasons why. For one, these cities all have a significant population base of their own but also have the potential to pull in fans from their suburbs and the remainder of their state or province. Another key point is that each city only has one to two other professional teams competing for media and fan attention in season; the Canucks (NHL) and Lions (CFL) in Vancouver, the Seahawks (NFL) and Mariners (MLB) in Seattle and the Blazers (NBA) and Beavers (Triple-A baseball) in Portland. Most of those seasons don't overlap significantly with MLS; the NHL and NBA are there for the first couple of months (depending on how far your team goes into the playoffs), while there's a bit of NFL overlap at the end of the season. Baseball and the CFL bring more of an overlap, but the CFL is one game a week which can be avoided with careful scheduling (and that's made easier by the shared MLS/CFL stadium) and there are so many baseball games in a season that an individual one doesn't usually get a huge amount of attention or coverage.

Even more important is how all of those other teams are in separate leagues. Seattle, Portland and Vancouver have long been rival cities, but soccer is now the only professional sport where they can duke it out for bragging rights (thanks to the long-ago departure of the NBA's Grizzlies from Vancouver and the more recent exit of the Sonics from Seattle). By contrast, New York and D.C. probably have one of the stronger rivalries in MLS, but that rivalry has less ability to draw outside attention as those cities battle in baseball, basketball, football and hockey as well.

Also key to the equation are the supporters' clubs. All three cities have long had passionate and organized fanbases, and those groups can do a lot to promote a rivalry. As I mentioned earlier, they aren't too likely to bring in extra income on their own for these games (as many of them will be there regardless of the opponent), but if they get fired up for these games, that can add to the passion and intensity surrounding them and spill over into the general populace. It's a common human reaction to get excited about something if there are other people passionate about it.

One final point in favour of these rivalries working on a large scale is the pre-existing media interest. Soccer has been recognized as a key sport in each city for some time now, and the papers (particularly The Province (which even runs soccer columns from Whitecaps GM Bob Lenarduzzi every Friday), The Seattle Times and The Oregonian), radio stations and TV stations have picked up on that. There's always been good coverage when these teams have played each other in the USL; expect that to be taken even further when they're played out on the MLS stage. It remains to be seen if these rivalries can be sold on a national level, as that hasn't historically worked too well in any sporting league. With the large and passionate fanbases in each city, anything is possible, though. In any case, the rivalries will certainly be big in each of the three cities and likely in those states and provinces as well; that's a great starting point.

This is not an isolated view, by the way. Consider Lenarduzzi's comments to Marc Weber of The Province when Vancouver's successful bid was announced Wednesday; he said that he'd love to see Portland in with the eighteenth slot even over a Canadian bid like Ottawa and specifically referred to the old NASL rivalry.

"As much as I’d like to show my national colours, it would be absolutely unbelievable if it could be Portland so that we could recapture that rivalry we had in the late 70s and early 80s [in the NASL].”

Back in February when I laid out the case for Vancouver in MLS, one of my key arguments was the ready-made rivalries with Seattle and Portland (and also Toronto). There were plenty of other reasons to give Vancouver and Portland expansion franchises, including the finances, the ownership groups and the stadium plans. However, the rivalries may be one of the most important factors in the growth of the game on the West Coast, and they may prove a key selling point for MLS.

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Update: 4:38 P.M.: Don Garber apparently also shares my line of thought. From Weber's story yesterday:

"MLS commissioner Don Garber said he's excited to recapture that derby feel from the NASL days.

'The passion in the NASL was the Northwest rivalry," he said. 'We're going to be able to replicate that with Vancouver and Seattle, and if Portland comes in you get that trifecta. That was a big part of what intrigued us and what excites us.'"

Weber also has a piece today about the excitement in Seattle and Toronto thanks to Vancouver getting in.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Campus Corner: A momentous day

One of the things we often forget about democracy, especially at the level of student politics, is the impact some decisions can have. That was evident at tonight's AMS Annual General Meeting, where around 800 students packed Ban Righ Cafeteria and almost unanimously approved the athletics department's request for a $120 fee increase [myself, Queen's Journal] over four years. It's easy to see why we often have voter apathy, though; much of the rest of the meeting was consumed with the petty squabbles and meaningless arguments more frequently found in politics, and it's a credit to those who managed to stick it out until the Athletics motion. Still, this one decision was incredibly important and will be remembered as such. Yes, there was a long process of research, polling and discussion leading up to today, but in the end, the future direction of the department all came down to this vote. Without the increase, Queen's sports would have been reduced to a shell of their former selves; with it, the stage is set for a further push towards excellence. That's why March 16, 2009 may be a day long remembered by those who follow Queen's sports.

Tonight's meeting was not an isolated event, though. I spoke with Director of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin about the result shortly after the motion, and we talked about how this was part of the logical evolution of the department that started shortly after her appointment [Brennan Leong, Queen's Journal]. In fact, some of the issues even predate her involvement. The introduction of entrance athletic financial awards, for example, has led to massive shakeups [myself, Queen's Journal] in how Ontario universities approach their athletic programs and was one of the key factors in the long-running and long-delayed Athletics Review [myself, Queen's Journal]. One of the key recommendations in that review was raising the student athletics fee to a point where it was one of the top five in Ontario [myself, Queen's Journal].

Actually, this increase is more ambitious than that; with the $120 tacked on to the current fee of $131.75, Queen's becomes the OUA school with the highest athletic fee, narrowly edging out the University of Toronto (according to the comparative information provided by the athletics department). 11 of the 18 OUA schools have said they'll be looking for a fee increase in the next two years, though, so Queen's may not retain that distinction for long.

I was happy to see this fee pass with so much support; I figured it would be a much tougher challenge given students' natural opposition to parting with more money and the magnitude of the increase, plus the widespread apathy towards varsity athletics that seems to exist on campus. It was a tremendously smart decision on the part of Athletics to first find out how many people were generally in favour of a fee increase via referendum (72 per cent) and then use that and the information on the services students value to create a specific number for the increase that could be passed at Assembly and then the AGM. Referendums on campus are characterized by apathy; most people have one or two issues they care about, and fill out the rest of the ballots either at random or without a lot of thought. Some don't care about any issue, but vote to earn their free coffee. A $120 increase is much tougher to pass in that climate, especially as there's no opportunity to explain why it's needed or what it's for.

By contrast, the Annual General Meeting route is still quite democratic. Any student can attend and vote (although not all have the time), but the effort that's required to do so means that the people who turn out are those passionate about the issue (in this case, at least half the crowd appeared to be varsity athletes). There are several legitimate concerns about this increase, and many have been addressed during the various discussions to this point, but the key factor here is that this increase was hardly rammed down students' throats. It's up for debate if as many people would have supported it in a campus-wide referendum; what this did prove is that those who support the increase were much more organized, passionate and effective about it. The opportunity for dissent was there, but it was barely taken; most of the criticisms I've heard on the issue were only raised by one Tyler King on his radio show, and he didn't bother to speak about the motion at any of the meetings along the way. I'm sure there are others who share his concerns, but apart from one economics student who complained about the magnitude of the fee tonight (mostly because he wanted money for his own pet project, a climate-change audit of the university) and the 5-10 people who voted against the increase, there wasn't much dissent voiced. To me, that shows that Queen's students are at least as apathetic about long meetings and votes as they are about going to varsity games.

It's interesting to look back at how Athletics has evolved over my time at Queen's. There have been plenty of changes, some I have heartily supported and some I have disagreed with. The overarching narrative has been one of a department moving towards a professionally-run excellence-driven approach. Sure, there have been missteps along the way, but those happen in every organization. Overall, though, it looks to me like they're heading in the right direction with full-time coaches, athletics scholarships and some great new facilities that should open this fall. This new funding is an important step towards that kind of excellence-driven model. Moreover, undergraduate students have now shown that they're strongly behind athletics, which is something the department can hopefully leverage to get further support from the graduate students, the University and the alumni. This decision isn't the end of the road, as there are still many changes to come and the cuts to athletics from the University mean that the impact of this student support is lessened. However, it is an important milepost along the way.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Final 8: Carleton - UBC live blog

This one's for all the marbles! It's the national championship game, live from Scotiabank Place. The top-ranked Carleton Ravens are taking on the third-seeded UBC Thunderbirds. Join in the live blog below!

Premier League Punditry to return tomorrow

Sorry, I forgot to post this earlier. Premier League Punditry will take place tomorrow at 1 p.m. Eastern, as I'm pretty busy covering basketball today. Join us then for all your soccer analysis!

Final 8: Ottawa - Concordia live blog

Live from Scotiabank Place, it's the consolation final of the Final 8! The Concordia Stingers are taking on the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Join in the live blog below!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Final 8: Carleton - St. FX live blog

The final game of the day sees the top-seeded Carleton Ravens take on the wild-card St. Francis Xavier X-Men. Join the live blog below!

Final 8: Western - Ottawa live blog

It's the Battle of Ontario, CIS hoops-style! The Western Mustangs take on the Ottawa Gee-Gees at 6 p.m. tonight, live on The Score. The winner will play whoever comes out of tonight's late game between Carleton and St. FX. Join in the live blog below starting at 6!

Final 8: UBC - Dalhousie live blog

Join in the live blog below!

Calgary - Concordia live blog

And here's the promised live blog of Calgary-Concordia Final 8 men's basketball! Sorry it took so long; had to fight a vast horde of technical gremlins. Join me and the other CIS Blog guys below.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Upcoming CIS basketball live blogs

I'm off to Ottawa later this morning for the men's basketball nationals, the Final 8. It should be a great tournament. Four of the five of us from The CIS Blog are going to be in attendance and will be providing wall-to-wall coverage there, but I'm also planning to do some stuff at this site. In particular, I'll be involved in the live-blogging of all the Friday and Sunday games, and thanks to the magic of CoverItLive, you should be able to access those live blogs here, through Out of Left Field or through The CIS Blog. I have to return to Kingston for some Journal meetings on Saturday, so I won't likely be in on those live blogs (I think the guys are still planning to do them), but you can access those at The CIS Blog. Here's tomorrow's slate of games:

#2 Calgary vs. #7 Concordia: 12:30 p.m. Eastern (SSN Canada)

#3 UBC vs. #6 Dalhousie: 2:30 p.m. Eastern (SSN Canada)

#4 Western vs. #5 Ottawa: 6:00 p.m. Eastern (Live on The Score), also webcast live at SSN Canada)

#1 Carleton vs. #8 St. FX 8:00 p.m. Eastern (Live at SSN Canada, rebroadcast at 10 p.m. Eastern on The Score)

How Stephen H. Webb is Ruining America: A Jeremiad

(Note: this is a tongue-in-cheek parody of this First Things article by Webb about how soccer is ruining America. The words I've changed are in bold.)

Update: 11:43 P.M. Links and some further thoughts added at the end of the post.

Update, March 27: It's become clear that Webb intended his article as satire. Still, it was pretty harsh and at least some of the criticisms seemed genuine. Anyway, the guys from the excellent Avoiding The Drop spoke to Webb and had him watch a soccer game for the first time ever and report in. I guarantee you'll like him much more after reading this. Sounds like they may even have made a convert!

(By the way, he also talked to Jason of Match Fit USA before this and I missed it. Also worth a read).

Soccer is Stephen H. Webb and his ilk are running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people critics of soccer as if they can do no wrong. Every kid criticism is a winner, and nobody no grumpy old man is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball society going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer Webb and his kind came first is hard to say, but soccer is their writings are clearly an important means by which American energy, drive, and competitiveness is are being undermined to the point of no return.

What other game kind of rant, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch read? (Stories about bowling and golf come to mind, but reading the sound descriptions of crashing pins and the sight of the well-attired strolling on perfectly kept greens are at least inherently pleasurable activities.) The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer form of these diatribes is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock. Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns. Crusades against soccer is are the fluoridation of the American sporting scene literature.

For those who think I jest, let me put forth four points, which is more points than most fans readers will see in a week of games collected volume of anti-soccer rants—and more points than most anti-soccer players writers have scored made since their pee-wee days.

1) Any sport criticism that limits you to not using your feet brain, with the occasional bang of the head, has something very wrong with it. Indeed, anti-soccer writing is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability. Anthropologists commonly define man according to his use of hands his brain. We have the thumb intelligence, an opposable digit that God gave us to distinguish us from animals that walk on all fours. The thumb brain lets us do things like throw baseballs and fold our hands in prayer. We can even talk with our handsbrain. Have you ever seen a deaf stupid person trying to talk with their feet without their brain? When you are really angry and acting like an animal, you kick out with your feet react without your brain. Only fools punch a wall with their hands. The Iraqi who threw his shoes at President Bush was following his primordial best instincts , but might not have thought about the consequences. Showing someone your feet, or sticking your shoes in someone’s face, Writing or talking without your brain is the ultimate sign of disrespect. Do kids ever say, “Trick or Treat, smell my hands”? Did Frank Tyger not say, "There is no evidence that the tongue is connected to the brain?" Did Jesus wash his disciples’ hands at the Last Supper? Did Terry Pratchett not say, "They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance." No, hands brains are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God wise men), while feet the brainless are in need of redemption. In all the portraits of GodEinstein’s wrath, never once is he pictured as wanting to step on us or kick us; he does not stoop that low.

2) Sporting Arguments should be about breaking kids your own ideas down before you start building them up. Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport to analyze precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes, and outs OPS, VORP, PECOTA and DIPS. Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie brilliant people, and tapping the bat to the plate testing our ideas in the blogosphere gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals. The boy chosen to be the pitcher Bill James was inevitably the first kid on the team to reach puberty gain popular acceptance, and he threw a hard ball interesting, well-supported ideas right at you.

Thus, when inventing new methods of writing while using your brain, you had to face the fear of disfigurement being laughed at as well as the statistical probability of striking out. The spectacle of your failure was so public that it was like having all of your friends invited to your home to watch your dad forcing you to eat your vegetables. We also spent a lot of time in the outfield blogosphere chanting, “Hey batter batter!” "Fire Joe Morgan!" as if we were Buddhist monks on steroids. Our chanting was compensatory behavior, a way of making the time go by, which is surely why at soccer games on the anti-soccer Interwebs today it is the parents uninformed who do all of the yelling.

3) Everyone knows that soccer brainless writing is not a foreign invasion, but few people know exactly what is wrong with that. More than having to do with its origin, soccer arguing without thought is not a European sport because it is all about death and despair. Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less points you score. Even the way most games of these arguments end, in sudden death without a point, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel. How could anyone enjoy a gamewriting where so much energy results in so little advantage coherent thought, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out without making a point, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery. These pointless argumentsShootouts are such an anticlimax to the game progress of dialogue and are so unpredictable that the teams might as well flip a coin to see who wins—indeed, they might as well flip the coin before the game, and not play at all.

4) And then there is the question of gender. I know my daughter will women everywhere won't kick me when she they reads this, but soccer is uninformed arguments are by and large a game for girls. Girls are usually too smart to waste an entire day playing baseball writing pointless diatribes, and they often do not have the bloodlust for football Internet arguments. Soccer Informed debate penalizes shoving and burns countless calories, and the margins of victory are almost always too narrow to afford any gloating. As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccerinformed debate mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.

Let me conclude on a note of despair appropriate to my topic. There is no way to run away from socceruninformed debate, if only because it is a sport all about running. It is as relentless as it is easy, and it is as tiring to play as it is tedious to watch. The real tragedy is that soccer pointless argument is not a foreign invasion, but it is not a plot to overthrow America. For those inclined toward paranoia, it would be easy to blame soccertrivial argument’s success on the political left or the political right, which, after all, worked together for years to bring European decadence and despair to lower the bar of civil discourse in America. The left politicians tried to make existentialism, Marxism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism pointless debates fashionable in order to weaken the clarity, pragmatism, and drive of American culture. What the left politicians could not accomplish through these intellectual fadsfutile arguments about political matters, one might suspect, they are trying to accomplish through futile arguments about sport.

Yet this suspicion would be mistaken. Soccer Trivial argument is may be of foreign origin, that is certainly possibly true, but its promotion and implementation are thoroughly domestic. Soccer is a These inane arguments are self-inflicted wounds. Americans have nobody to blame but themselves. Conservative suburban families, the backbone of America, have turned to soccer unsupported arguments on the Internet in droves. Baseball is too intimidating, football too brutal, and basketball takes too much time to develop the required skills. American parents in the past several decades are overworked and exhausted, but their children are overweight and neglected. Soccer is Internet arguments are the perfect antidote to television and video games. It They don't forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game world. Soccer and television Internet arguments are the peanut butter and jelly of parenting.

I should know. I am an overworked teacher journalist, with books to read and books to write, and before I put in a video for the (imaginary) kids to watch while I work in the evenings, they need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me! Last year all three of my kids were on three different soccer teams making inane arguments at the same time. My daughter is on a traveling team, and she is quite good. I had to sign a form that said, among other things, I would not do anything embarrassing provide any factual support to her or the team during the game. I told the coach I could not sign it. She was perplexed and worried. “Why not,” she asked? “Are you one of those parents who yells at their kids? “Not at all,” I replied, “I read books on the sidelines during the game, and this embarrasses my daughter to no end.” That is my one way of protesting the rise of this pitiful sport. Nonetheless, I must say that my kids and I come home from a soccer game a meaningless debate contest a very happy family.

Stephen H. Webb Andrew Bucholtz is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College penniless journalist and blogger. His recent books include American Providence and Taking Religion to School haven't been published yet.

Related: A nice FJMing of Webb over at Avoiding the Drop.

Update: 11:43 P.M. The intertubes are alive about Prof. Webb's piece! Here's a brief smattering of some of the other pieces I've seen so far.

- The Wall Street Journal decided to pick this piece up? I thought they had standards...

- A great post on the matter at the always-excellent Unprofessional Foul.

- A good take from Carlos Caso-Rosendi via the comments here; he noticed this piece long before the rest of us.

- Another strong piece on the matter over at Ginge Talks The Footy.

- Alex Massie offers a British perspective on Webb's nuttery over at his blog on The Spectator's site.

- A more political take on the matter at Philosoraptor.

- A good letter in response from Chuck Adams.

It's amazing that this has provoked so much reaction already, but in some ways, it proves the theory I expounded in this post. The extreme arguments get all the attention. If Webb had merely written a piece saying that he didn't like soccer, he'd be just one voice among many and no one would care. Because he takes it to ridiculous levels and brings in politics, religion and nationalism, people around the world suddenly know who he is (and he gets himself a nice WSJ byline). I'm sure there are plenty of people watching, and that certainly isn't going to encourage civil or reasoned debate. Moreover, Webb makes every group he represents (Americans, conservatives, Christians, baseball fans and probably some more that I missed) look bad by comparison. The title of my post is perhaps an exaggeration, but there's a nugget of truth in it. In my view, it's this tendency Webb represents towards extreme positions and non-rational debates that just turn into mudslinging and flame wars that's ruining our society, not soccer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Campus Corner: Update on Queen's proposed athletics fee increase

Next Monday's going to be a very significant moment in the future of Queen's athletics. That's the date of the AMS (Alma Mater Society, the undergraduate student government) general meeting, which takes place in Ban Righ Hall at 8 p.m. All current students have a vote at the meeting. The key motion to be addressed is a $120 increase to the current athletics fee of $131.75, spread out over several years (you can see the details on the Queen's site here, along with some very interesting budgeting data). Steep university budget cuts mean that the athletics department is facing some challenging times financially and may have to drastically alter their programs if they don't get this increase. Anyway, an interesting foreshadowing of what may go down at the AGM occured March 1 at a special AMS Assembly meeting to consider endorsing the fee increase and sending it to the general meeting for further ratification. I got the bare-bones details on the meeting in last week's Journal but figured I'd provide a little more information and context on it here thanks to the lesser space constraints. My article follows; I'll weigh in with my own thoughts on the matter as the AGM gets closer.

Athletics fee increase sent to AGM

By Andrew Bucholtz
Sports Editor
At a special meeting on March 1, AMS Assembly voted to put a motion to increase the annual Athletics and Recreation fee on the agenda for the AMS annual general meeting on March 16. The motion proposes an increase of $120 spread out over several years. The final schedule of proposed fee increases differs from the original plan put forward by Athletics at the February 11 AMS Assembly, which proposed a $50 increase in 2009-10, an additional $40 increase in 2011-12 and a further $30 in 2012-13 with the fee to be indexed to inflation thereafter. The new schedule proposes a $35 increase in 2009-10, with a $40 increase to follow in 2011-12, and a $45 increase in 2012-13 before indexing the fee to inflation in 2013-2014.
Director of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin said the change was due to feedback from the department’s meetings with the PHESA and ComSoc assemblies, which proposed that shifting the larger increases to later years would be fairer to the students graduating next year who would only have one year of access to the Queen’s Centre facilities. Dal Cin said the revised schedule would force the department to run a deficit for one more year than the original plan would have, but the University has agreed to let the department run that deficit. Over 50 student-athletes and coaches attended the meeting to show their support for the fee.
Dal Cin said she was thankful for the support Assembly showed for Queen’s athletics and recreation programs.
“We’re grateful for both the support and the comments about the process,” she said. “The fact that so many people think supporting athletics and recreation is important is tremendous and is tremendous for our confidence.”
Dal Cin said the department plans further campaigns to increase awareness of the proposed increase and what the funds would be used for before the AGM.
“We still have more education to do,” she said. “We really felt people needed to be informed and engaged.”
Dal Cin said the change was due to feedback from student leaders.
“That was a suggestion that came out of both the ComSoc meeting and the meeting with PHESA,” she said. “It really spoke to an understanding of when the services would come on line and a certain degree of fairness that people who are graduating next year wouldn’t have had the benefit of what the Queen’s Centre can bring and all the programs and services for their previous three years.”
Dal Cin said the department made the change because they wanted to address student concerns about the fee increase.
“It was a great suggestion and we were happily able to accommodate it,” she said. “I think that helped in terms of shaping our process and people understanding that we were looking for input and prepared to accept it once we received it.”
CESA president Todd Ormiston said the increase is necessary thanks to the budget pressures faced by the athletics department.
“I think unfortunately this fee is needed,” he said. “This fee needs to happen for athletics to survive and I think we all recognize that.”
Ormiston said he doesn’t want the University to cut their funding to athletics further, though, as that would force students to bear even more of the load.
“It’s time for us to stop paying backdoor tuition fees,” he said.
Dal Cin said she’s hopeful the University will continue to support the department.
“We will do our best to make sure that the University does its part for Athletics and Recreation,” she said.
EngSoc president Jordan Black said the increase is needed to allow students to take full advantage of the new Queen’s Centre facilities for both athletics and recreation programs.
“It’s really important that we continue to provide the resources or improve the resources to both of these programs,” he said. “With all these new facilities coming in the form of the Queen’s Centre, it would be a shame to not operate them at their full capacity.”
Black said the strong student support shown for the fee increase in both the winter referendum and further polling conducted by Athletics and Recreation made it important for Assembly to send the motion to the AGM.
“Students are making a point of saying that they support this,” he said.
Medical students’ representative John Doan brought forward an amendment to approve only the first year’s fee increase and send the other increases to a referendum. Doan said his constituents don’t support a fee increase, as many of them don’t often use athletics facilities.
“In general, they are somewhat opposed to the motion, and as their representative, so am I,” he said.
Done said his constituents were also concerned that the fee was going to the AGM instead of a campus-wide referendum. He brought forward an amendment to send the first increase, of $35 for the 2009-2010 school year, to the AGM and bring the other proposed increases to referendum.
Dal Cin said the funding uncertainty that would arise from Done’s amendment would put the athletics department in a deficit position.
“If we were to adopt that motion, we would never be able to get out of that deficit,” she said.
Chair of the AMS Board of Directors Kaitlyn Young spoke against the amendment. She said she wasn’t concerned about sending the fee to the AGM instead of a referendum thanks to its support among students.
“We have student support for this and that’s what we’d be looking for in a referendum,” she said.
Young said the increase is essential to ensure stability in the athletics budget.
“Ever since I’ve been here at Queen’s, there’s been uncertainty around the athletics program,” she said. “I think the way the motion is worded without the amendment is perfect to give athletics some stability.”
Done’s amendment was voted down and the motion to send the fee to the AGM was passed with only one vote against.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Premier League Punditry 03-08-09

Premier League Punditry is back to the usual time this week, and we should be back to the usual cast as well. Plenty to talk about, including the midweek games and this weekend's FA Cup clashes. If there's time, we may even bring some world soccer into it with Beckham, the Montreal Impact and MLS expansion. Come join us in the live blog below starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Queen's - Laurier women's hockey live blog

Join me in the live blog below!

Live blog of Queen's-Laurier women's hockey coming up

A quick note that I'll be live-blogging tonight's women's hockey OUA semi-final game between Queen's and Laurier. Laurier's only lost one game all year, so this will be a tough one for Queen's, but they do have home-ice advantage. It's a best of three series; this is the first game. Check in here around 7 p.m. for the live blog.

Update: 7:10 p.m. Technical gremlins have postponed the start of the live blog. Will have it up ASAP. In the meantime, here's a preview story I wrote earlier:

Women’s hockey stays alive
By Andrew Bucholtz
Sports Editor

The women’s hockey team kept its season alive with a 4-2 road victory over the ninth-ranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues in the OUA quarterfinals Tuesday night. Fifth-year forward Amanda Morra notched a hat trick for the Gaels, and forward Becky Conroy scored the game-winning goal and goaltender Melissa John recorded 38 saves.
Head coach Harold Parsons said it was significant to defeat Toronto in the playoffs given the Gaels’ history with the Blues.
“It was a great game,” he said. “It’s been a hell of a battle between us and Toronto over the past couple of years.”
Parsons said the Gaels’ third line of Morra, Jessi Cone and Megan McNutt was the key to their success.
“We felt our third line was the best line on either team,” he said. “Any time you can get three goals and be responsible defensively, that’s a bonus.”
Forward Victoria Kaufmann said the Gaels thought they could handle the highly-ranked Blues given their two victories over Toronto earlier this year.
“We played pretty well against them all year,” she said. “We were really confident going in and it paid off.”
The Gaels got off to a strong start when Morra scored the first goal of the game 11 minutes into the first period. Toronto bounced back with a barrage of shots on John and forward Annie DelGuidice tied the score before the end of the frame. In the second period, the Varsity Blues took the lead with an early goal from Callie Balzak, but Morra recorded her second goal of the game midway through the period to tie the score. Queen’s took control in the final period with an eighth-minute goal from Conroy and Morra iced the victory less than two minutes later with a shorthanded goal.
Kaufmann said it was thrilling to see Morra record a hat trick in one of her final games for the Gaels.
“It was so exciting,” she said. “She’s always been the best penalty killer on our team and a really hard worker, so it was exciting to see that hard work pay off. It couldn’t have happened to a better player.”
The Blues outshot the Gaels 40-25, but Kaufmann said it wasn’t a concern.
“We always get outshot,” she said. “I don’t think there’s been a game all year where we haven’t been outshot.”
Kaufmann said the Gaels can handle it thanks to their strong goaltending.
“We have a lot of confidence in our goaltending,” she said. “Both Melissa and Karissa [Savage] have been great for us all year.”
Kaufmann said strong penalty killing was the key to the Gaels’ victory, especially with Morra’s shorthanded goal late in the game.
“When Amanda got the shorthanded goal, that was definitely a turnaround point,” she said.
Queen’s has struggled in the new year. They went into the Christmas break with a 9-5-1 record, but struggled down the stretch to finish 13-13-1 and only clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the season with a win against the Western Mustangs. Kaufmann said their slump down the stretch was due to poor mental preparation.
“We just didn’t get up for the big games and we took the lesser-ranked teams very lightly,” she said. “Now that it’s the playoffs, we are playing the better teams and so of course we’re up for the games.”
The victory against Toronto gave the Gaels a berth in the best-of-three OUA semi-finals against the second-ranked Laurier Golden Hawks, who finished the season with a stellar 26-1-0 record. It’s the second-straight year that the teams will face off in the semi-finals and the third-straight year that they will battle in the playoffs.
Kaufmann said the Gaels aren’t intimidated by Laurier.
“It will obviously be a great game and hopefully we’re up for the challenge,” she said. “It would be a real honour obviously to knock them off.”
Kaufmann said Laurier’s record may be a blessing in disguise for the Gaels, as it allows them to approach the game without a lot of pressure.
“You’ve got nothing to lose,” she said. “You’re the underdog and nobody’s expecting you to win, so there’s no extra pressure. You just go out there and give it everything you’ve got.”
The Gaels kick off their three-game series against Laurier tonight at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Centre.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Victory for Vancouver?

Yesterday may well be remembered as a momentous day in Vancouver soccer history. The news that Miami was dropping out of the MLS expansion race [Duane Rollins, The 24th Minute] was huge, as many had seen their bid as almost a sure thing given the involvement of FC Barcelona. This also reduced the pool of remaining cities to four (Vancouver, Portland, Ottawa and St. Louis), giving Vancouver a 50 per cent chance mathematically. Shortly thereafter, the news got even better: Duane related that a highly-placed MLS source had confirmed Vancouver and Portland as the two teams to be added, while Ives Galarcep anointed Vancouver as the front-runner. That seems to be the consensus around the intertubes at the moment, with Vancouver Province soccer reporter Marc Weber telling me on Twitter that he’d bet his house on Vancouver earning an expansion slot (he also put up a post about it today), Ben Knight declaring the Whitecaps all-but-in today, Ben Van Weelden proclaiming the Whitecaps as the obvious choice and Jason from Match Fit USA giving it to Vancouver and Portland by process of elimination.

I’ve been writing about why I think this bid will work for a while here, as well as at Out of Left Field and most recently on The 24th Minute, so I’ll try not to repeat too much of that. The key point at the moment is that Vancouver is the safest option on the table. The city has a long history of passionate support for high-level soccer and an incredible ownership group with tons of financial resources and experience running professional sports franchises. Furthermore, they’ve never made any suggestion of paying less than the desired $40 million franchise fee (while St. Louis has reportedly tried to negotiate it down to $9 million: Weber jokingly said "[Their] master plan is to raise money at Card's games. Every time Pujols homers, he donates another $100"). The Whitecaps have a solid stadium deal already locked up with B.C. Place, and it’s a design that’s worked very well for soccer in Germany’s Allianz Arena. There’s also a very good prospect of a beautiful waterfront soccer-specific stadium down the road, but the key point in Vancouver’s favour is there are no immediate stadium concerns. By contrast, Ottawa hasn’t even decided what they’re going to build yet, the St. Louis group is heavily leveraged and may run into financing issues and Portland still needs some support from local politicians. I don’t see any way that a Vancouver franchise can fail, and that’s got to be something that’s in the mind of the MLS executives making the decision.

Moreover, Vancouver’s bid has a lot of upside. For one, there’s the rivalries. You instantly have some very exciting fixtures between Vancouver and Seattle and Vancouver and Toronto, as well as Vancouver-Portland if the Timbers make it in as well. These are extremely marketable to sponsors (see the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and the five or six different sponsors they found for it on short notice last year; imagine how much bigger that becomes with both Vancouver and Toronto in MLS), and also are attractive to TV stations looking for enticing matchups to sell.

Furthermore, bringing Vancouver in could be huge for negotiating national television deals in Canada. The one failure of Toronto FC so far has been on the national television front; they’ve gotten their games on TV across the country, but they’ve tended to attract incredibly small audiences so far, and that doesn’t provide a lot of leverage in future negotiations. It’s a long and difficult process to sell a national audience on a Toronto team; ask the Raptors about that! With Vancouver and Toronto teams, though, you’ll certainly have fans from all over B.C. interested in MLS, and you may even get fans from other provinces drawn to the league and picking sides in the old Vancouver-Toronto rivalry. That’s a huge advantage over the Ottawa bid, which might draw viewers from that city’s region and perhaps a few from Quebec, but not too many nationally. Remember that one of the most successful TFC matches so far in terms of ratings was the Canada Day clash [myself, Out of Left Field] against the Whitecaps last summer; that suggests to me that there’s a lot of potential for increased national audiences with Vancouver in the league, particularly for their games against Toronto.

If there aren’t any further twists (something that’s tough to rule out in MLS), this is tremendous news for soccer fans in Vancouver. There certainly are plenty of them: the old NASL Whitecaps had a ton of support, and the USL 86ers and Whitecaps have received a lot of fan backing over the last few decades. Moreover, the soccer community is huge in the Lower Mainland; I played on various clubs in the area for about 12 years and know firsthand how much support there is for the sport. Something that will be interesting to watch is how Vancouver’s ticket sales compare to those in Seattle and Toronto; there are big rivalries between soccer supporters in Vancouver and those in both other cities, and both have been hailed as model expansion franchises. Seattle one-upped Toronto in sales before they’ve even played a game (thanks at least in part to a larger stadium); I have a feeling that Vancouver fans may try and take it even further. The stadium designs at the moment imagine a much lower capacity for soccer than football, but I could see that changing if there’s demand for tickets on a level similar to Seattle. This could be the start of something huge.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Premier League Punditry 03-01-09

Plenty to talk about in this week's instalment of Premier League Punditry, including the Carling Cup and the slipups of Liverpool and Aston Villa. Join us in the live blog below!