Wednesday, May 26, 2010

All on the line: Whitecaps - Impact live blog

"We search for the truth/We could die upon the tooth/But the thrill of just the chase/Is worth the pain" - Ronnie James Dio, The Last In Line

Tonight's Voyageurs' Cup game against the Montreal Impact may well be one of the most important matches of the Vancouver Whitecaps' season. Thanks to a pair of lacklustre draws at home, they must win on the road [Marc Weber, The Province] against their bitter rivals to maintain their hopes of claiming the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and its attendant berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. They have two points from two matches, while Toronto FC have seven from three. The teams play each other in the final clash of the competition next Wednesday, though, so the Whitecaps still have a shot at the title. In order to make that game relevant, though, they need to come away with three points tonight.

As I wrote at Fighting For Canadian Supremacy before the season started, this competition may be the crucial one for the Whitecaps. A return to the Division II title game would be nice, but that would likely mean less in the long run than a defeat of their Canadian rivals, the franchise's first Voyageurs' Cup and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. That would give the Whitecaps a huge boost heading into their first Major League Soccer campaign next season. A Division II title would also help, but I'm not sure it would have as much of an effect. Moreover, the drawn-out regular season and playoffs of Division II make it much more difficult to reach that goal while developing young talent, which is still the club's top priority heading towards MLS. A short tournament like this should be easier to win with a younger side.

This won't be easy for Vancouver, though. They struggled at home against Montreal in recent clashes in both the Voyageurs' Cup (a late 1-1 draw thanks to a Marcus Haber penalty) and the league (a 0-0 draw where they couldn't find a way to beat Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan). Coming away with three points on the road in front of the Impact fans may be even more difficult. On the other hand, Montreal doesn't have anything to play for (and they famously rolled over against Toronto FC in similar circumstances last season). Vancouver captain Martin Nash told me Saturday that the Impact won't be an easy opponent even if they field a reduced lineup, though.

"Even if they don't play their best lineup, they still have good players," he said.

Don't write the Whitecaps off yet, though. They finally found their scoring touch Saturday against Rochester, notching two goals and breaking a 276-minute scoreless streak in the league and a 296-minute scoreless streak in all competitions. Even more impressively, their defence has been superb. Keeper Jay Nolly recorded his seventh shutout in all competitions Saturday, and the team hasn't allowed a goal in 274 minutes of league play and 419 minutes of all-competitions play. If they can keep that defensive intensity up today and find the net on their scoring opportunities, they might just come away with a win today and send the competition to a crucial final match next week in Toronto. Find out what happens in the live blog below, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A tale of two streaks

Saturday’s Vancouver Whitecaps clash against the Rochester Rhinos saw the fall of one streak and the continuation of a more auspicious one. Before 4,996 fans at Swangard Stadium, the Whitecaps found a way to break their goalless streak while maintaining their defensive dominance, coming away with a 2-0 victory.

Vancouver threatened early, but that was something we’ve seen before. This last stretch of games has been characterized by the team creating scoring chances but not capitalizing on them. Tonight was different, though, as Cornelius Stewart ended their scoring drought in the 17th minute. He collected the ball in the box after Marcus Haber’s shot hit him, turned and drilled it past Rochester goalkeeper Neal Kitson into the corner of the net. The goal came in the 276th minute of USSF-II play since the Whitecaps’ last league tally (April 29 against Portland) and the 296th minute of USSF-II and Voyageurs’ Cup play since their last goal of any type (a Marcus Haber penalty May 5 against Montreal in the Voyageurs’ Cup).

Perhaps getting one goal took care of the Whitecaps’ confidence issues, as they were able to add a second in the 51st minute. Haber made an excellent run down the right flank and won a corner. Captain Martin Nash, making his return to the starting lineup from injury, executed the corner brilliantly, floating a perfect cross across the box onto the bandaged head of central defender Greg Janicki, who made no mistake heading it home. It was only the second time all year (other than in exhibition play) that the Whitecaps had scored two goals; the first was their 2-0 win in their season opener against Minnesota.

Even up two goals, the Whitecaps continued to create chances. Haber had a good run in the 62nd minute and beat his defender, but took too long to get his shot off and had it blocked. He then had a 64th-minute header ring off the crossbar. Stewart and Marlon James also had scoring chances, but couldn’t convert.

Nash said finally notching a goal took a weight off the Whitecaps' shoulders.

"It was great," he said. "I think it took a little pressure off us."

Nash said they didn't alter their game plan, though. Rather, it was more that some of their opportunities finally went in.

"We've been creating chances all along," he said. "We had good balls coming in against Toronto, but we couldn't get on the end of them."

The more impressive streak continued unabated, though, as the Whitecaps’ defence again refused to allow a goal. Keeper Jay Nolly recorded his seventh clean sheet in all competitions and his sixth in the league. It’s now been 274 minutes of USSF-II play since the last goal against them (from that April 29 Portland game) and 419 minutes since the last goal against them in any competition (from that May 5 Montreal game). That’s an incredible run.

Nash said the defensive success has been a unified effort.

"The back four's been great, but the whole team in front of them has played well," he said.

Vancouver dominated the scoresheet as well, finishing with 11 shots to Rochester's six and four corners to the Rhinos' two. Despite the win and the goals, head coach Teitur Thordarson was only moderately impressed with his team's performance, however.

"I think we played a decent game," he said. "It wasn't the best, but we got two good goals and we had the chance to score more."

Thordarson said the clean sheet was nice, but the overall defensive effort wasn't as strong as in past games.

"We didn't control the game defensively as much as I wanted to," he said. "I wanted to see more possession. Back and forth, that's good for the fans, but not what I wanted."

Thordarson said he was pleased with Stewart's play, though, and he foresees using him more in the future.

"He was impressive today," Thordarson said. "He is equally good on both sides."

Stewart said he isn't taking his success or his place in the lineup for granted, though.

"I'm going to keep working hard," he said.

The Whitecaps now travel to Montreal Wednesday for a crucial Voyageurs' Cup clash against the Impact (8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific, will be live-blogged here). They need to win to have any hope of taking home the trophy and its attendant CONCACAF Champions League berth. Nash said the team can't get overconfident about Montreal having nothing to play for, as he expects them to still be a tough challenge.

"Even if they don't play their best lineup, they still have good players," he said.

Nash thinks the Whitecaps still have a chance at the Voyageurs' Cup, though.

"It's going to be a tough task, but I think we're capable of it."

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Whitecaps - Rhinos live blog

I'll be live-blogging tonight's USSF Division II game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Rochester Rhinos. Kickoff is at 10 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Pacific. A video feed of the action can be found on the Whitecaps' website. Come join me then!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hockey: Montreal's return to prominence

The Montreal Canadiens are in tough against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first-ever NHL conference final between a #7 seed (Philly) and an #8 seed (Montreal). They're down 2-0 in the series, they've given up nine goals and they haven't yet been able to beat Flyers' goaltender Michael Leighton. As Bruce Arthur wrote in his column in today's National Post, Philadelphia's rounding into form nicely and Montreal hasn't been impressive. If that continues, it seems likely the Canadiens' Cinderella run will end here.

Yet, there are several factors that have me thinking this one isn't over yet. For one, Philadelphia's lineup doesn't overly impress me, especially without the injured Jeff Carter. They have talented players like Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Simon Gagne and, as much as it pains me to say it, Chris Pronger, but much of their roster is filled with guys who are most known for their thuggery. Montreal wasn't any better during the regular season (both teams finished with 88 points and the Canadiens had a worse goal differential), but they have plenty of weapons up front with the likes of Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, and I've got more faith in Jaroslav Halak as a playoff saviour [Dan Steinberg, D.C. Sports Bog] than I do in Michael Leighton, who looks more like a very naughty boy than a messiah. Moreover, Montreal's already come back to knock off Washington and Pittsburgh, much better teams than Philadelphia in my mind.

For me, the biggest thing still in Montreal's favour is that they're returning to home ice tonight, though. Yes, home ice doesn't always mean that much these days, but there's something special about the atmosphere in Montreal, driven by the unique history of the Canadiens and their relationship to their city and province. To try and explain it, here's an excerpt from D’Arcy Jenish's book, The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory, sent my way by the good people at Random House. You can find more information on the book and buy it through their site. Without further ado, here's what makes Montreal unique and how the Canadiens got to where they are today:

This is Hockeytown

Other cities may lay claim to the title, says Pierre Boivin during an animated discussion in his corner office on the seventh floor of the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens. Then, with a sweep of his arm, he gestures at the city beyond his windows. “Make no mistake about it, this is Hockeytown.”

Montreal is Hockeytown by dint of history and the citizenry’s enduring passion for the sport. It is where a raw and ragged game – shinny played on the icebound creeks and rivers and lakes of a wintry nation – came indoors and became hockey, the world’s first arena sport. It is where the first rules were written, where the first team was formed – the McGill University Redmen in 1877 – and where the sport’s most hallowed prize, the Stanley Cup, has come to rest thirty-nine times since it was first awarded in 1893, a prize captured by the Canadiens, Maroons, Wanderers, Shamrocks, Victorias and the Winged Wheelers of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.

In the 1890s, when the sport was young and the Stanley Cup brand new, the Winged Wheelers, Victorias and Shamrocks and their rabid followers were hockey’s hottest rivals. A few decades later, in the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties, English Montreal had its team, the Maroons, and French Montreal had its standard-bearer, the Canadiens, and games between them produced war both on the ice and in the stands.

For seven decades now, ever since the demise of the Maroons, Montreal’s sporting public has worshipped at one altar, that of the Canadiens, and the passage of time has done nothing to diminish the ardour of the citizenry. “When we win on Saturday night, you get on the subway Monday morning and three-quarters of the people are smiling,” says Boivin, president and CEO of the Canadiens. “If we lose a couple and Toronto’s ahead by a point, Montrealers are very unhappy. If we don’t make the playoffs, spring is hell. To some degree, the city’s productivity is influenced by the team’s performance. Hockey is part of what makes this city tick.”

And yet, in the first years of the current century, hockey in Montreal was in jeopardy. Le Club de Hockey Canadien was grievously ill and in danger of folding. The team was mediocre and missing the playoffs more often than not. Attendance was declining. Financial losses were mounting. Furthermore, there appeared to be no way out. The Canadiens were damned by circumstances beyond their control. Player salaries had risen to untenable levels, owing to the free-spending ways of wealthier rivals, most of them in the United States. The Canadiens, like the five other NHL teams based in this country, were paying their athletes in U.S. dollars but earning their revenues in a domestic dollar worth about twenty-five percent less. On top of all this, the Canadiens were saddled with over eight million dollars per year in municipal taxes, whereas the league average was less than a million per team.

“We were losing a ton of money year in, year out,” Boivin recalls. “There was no way we could make money because of structural economic and competitive disadvantages. We had no hope of surviving.”

The Canadiens and their Colorado-based owner, George N. Gillett Jr., solidly supported the lockout of the players that cost the NHL its entire 2004—05 season. The NHL Players’ Association eventually capitulated and accepted a new collective bargaining agreement with a yearly salary cap, initially set at $39 million (U.S.) per team. This drastic measure trimmed the Canadiens’ payroll by about $12 million annually and helped save the franchise.

“Toronto was the only Canadian club that could have survived long-term and been competitive under the old regime,” Boivin adds. “We would have seen the relocation or the demise of the other five teams, and Montreal was no exception.”

Hockey returned to the city in the fall of 2005. The Canadiens played their first home game against the Ottawa Senators on the evening of October 10, a Tuesday. About ninety minutes before the puck dropped, the main doors of the Bell Centre opened and a crowd several hundred strong surged into the lobby. Boivin was there to welcome them. So were Gillett and general manager Bob Gainey and former players Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer and Réjean Houle. By game time, they had greeted several thousand people, a slice of the sellout crowd of 21,273.

The return of the NHL was cause for jubilation in the city that gave birth to the game. The league’s financial foundation had been restored and the future of its oldest and greatest franchise seemed assured. And the Canadiens had something else to celebrate: the one-hundredth anniversary of Le Club de Hockey Canadien – formed on December 4, 1909.

That fall, the Canadiens launched their centennial celebrations. The first significant public event occurred prior to a Saturday night game on November 12, when the Canadiens retired jersey number twelve. Left winger Dickie Moore, a two-time scoring champion, wore that sweater from 1951 to 1963, and right winger Yvan Cournoyer from 1964 to 1979. In the run-up to 2009, the team also retired numbers worn by Bernard Geoffrion (five), Serge Savard (eighteen), Ken Dryden (twenty-nine), Larry Robinson (nineteen) and Gainey (twenty-three). These joined numbers already taken out of circulation to honour Jacques Plante (one), Doug Harvey (two), Jean Béliveau (four), Howie Morenz (seven), Maurice Richard (nine), Guy Lafleur (ten) and Henri Richard (sixteen).

Two major events were planned for the centennial year. The league awarded Montreal the 2009 All-Star Game and scheduled the contest for January 25, the one-hundredth anniversary of the first match to go into the books as part of the Canadiens’ official record. The league also named Montreal as host of the 2009 Entry Draft.

Amid this prolonged centenary, a remarkable transformation was taking place. Gillett, who was seen as an interloper when he acquired the club and its building in January 2001, was proving to be a good owner, and he was winning the respect of Montrealers. Boivin and his executive group were overhauling the Canadiens’ business organization, while Gainey and his staff in the hockey department were rebuilding the team through trades, free-agent signings and, above all, the draft.

As the Canadiens completed their ninty-ninth season, these efforts were beginning to yield results. Le Club de Hockey Canadien had reclaimed its status as one of the best in the sport. The Canadiens were contenders again, and another Stanley Cup – a twenty-fifth for the team and a fortieth for the city – seemed a distinct possibility.

Excerpted from The Montreal Canadiens by D'Arcy Jenish. Copyright © 2008 by D'Arcy Jenish. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

We'll see if Montreal can live up to that tonight. I wouldn't bet against them, though. History is on their side.

The top 10 soccer ads

Nike came out with another brilliant soccer ad today [Spencer Hall, SB Nation]. Check it out:

This got me thinking about the long history of tremendous soccer commercials. There have been plenty of them, and this looks sure to find its place on that list. What better way to celebrate that than with my personal top 10? Here they are, for your enjoyment:

Bonus: Nike: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Bugatti Veyron

This couldn't quite crack the Top 10, as it doesn't actually involve any soccer, but it's still pretty cool. The Bugatti is probably a better player than Ronaldo's former teammate Juan Sebastian Veron, for what that's worth.

10. adidas: Jose + 10

This adidas commercial from the 2006 World Cup is pretty awesome. Great lineup of players for a pickup game, including Oliver Kahn, Kaka, Michael Ballack, Zinedane Zidane and best of all, a young version of Franz Beckenbauer.

9. Pepsi: Surfing

It appears an impressive lineup of players from Ronaldinho to Thierry Henry have traveled to the island from Lost. Instead of fighting a smoke monster, though, they're playing soccer while surfing. Do you really need any other motivation to watch this?

8. Nike: Airport soccer

Do you hate waiting in airports? The Brazilian national team sure does. They've found a way to make their own entertainment, though.

7. Pepsi: Foosball

David Beckham and Manchester United take on Edgar Davids and Juventus—in a foosball game.

6. Adidas: High Beams

Raul, Michael Ballack, Kaka and David Beckham playing soccer on elevated steel girders against some odd army? Sounds good to me.

5. Pepsi: Old West

David Beckham and Manchester United face off against Iker Casillas and Real Madrid - in an Old West shootout? This has potential. The wanted poster for Rivaldo (1:21) is a nice touch. Who walks into a saloon and orders Pepsi, though?

4. Nike: The Next Level:

This ad, directed by Madonna's husband Guy Ritchie, and featuring a first-person look at what it would be like to rise through the ranks and play for Arsenal and the Dutch against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, is pretty awesome. Great concept.

3. Nike: Museum heist:

Edgar Davids and a team of elite footballers go all Ocean's Eleven on us with a museum heist of a "rounder" ball, but they appear to have run into Craig Ferguson's robot skeleton army.

2. Nike: Good vs. Evil:

Eric Cantona, Paulo Maldini, Ronaldo, Rui Costa, Luis Figo and a team of all-stars take on an army of devils in an infernal stadium of fire? Uh, yes please. Also, any commercial that gives Cantona the ability to shoot fireballs is just fine with me.

And my favourite soccer commercial of all time?

1. Nike: The Cage:

A secret tournament, on a boat, featuring 3-on-3 soccer cage matches between the best players in the world? That's pretty tough to top, and that's why this one remains my favourite. Tune in for six minutes of greatness in the full version below.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The scoreline remains the same

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, the scoreline remained the same Wednesday night at Swangard Stadium as their third consecutive match there finished in a 0-0 draw. This had much more to it than previous USSF Division II efforts against Crystal Palace Baltimore [Simon Fudge,] and the Montreal Impact, though; the Voyageurs’ Cup and its accompanying berth in the CONCACAF Champions League were potentially on the line against hated rivals Toronto FC. The Whitecaps responded to the occasion and played a superb game against a Major League Soccer side, controlling possession, shutting down TFC’s attackers and creating their own chances. At the end of the day, though, that superior effort merely translated into another 0-0 scoreline.

Head coach Teitur Thordarson was pleased with his team's performance, though.

"I thought we played exceptionally well in all departments of the game," he said. "I thought we did well and controlled the game. For me, the only thing missing was the goal."

Thordarson said this kind of effort against Toronto FC bodes well for the Whitecaps' league play.

"We're creating chances against a team that's in the MLS," he said. "If we can do that, we can certainly create chances against the teams in our league."

Defender Wes Knight said the team's been more cohesive lately, which has helped.

"The last two games have been a breath of fresh air for us," he said. "We're coming together as a unit."

The Whitecaps dominated the first half of play and created several good chances. The best was a Ricardo Sanchez corner that found an unmarked Nelson Akwari at the far post in the seventh minute; Akwari headed wide, though. Vancouver picked up five first-half corners to TFC’s none and several dangerous free kicks, and they controlled the run of play, but were unable to break the deadlock.

The second half was much the same story, despite a few halftime adjustments from TFC. Vancouver controlled the possession and displayed a heightened sense of urgency, and they were rewarded with a plethora of solid scoring chances. A Marcus Haber cross just missed Justin Moose in the 50th minute, and a Sanchez effort from 20 yards out less than a minute later didn’t miss by much. Luca Bellisomo had a superb chance late in the half off another corner, but narrowly missed. TFC didn’t control much of the ball in the second half either, but they created a few notable chances on the counterattack. Amadou Sanyang fired high from 20 yards out in the 78th minute, though, and Dwayne De Rosario’s 83rd-minute effort was parried. Vancouver poured on the pressure late, but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and the match finished 0-0.

The Whitecaps have now gone 279 minutes in all competitions without a goal. It's also the first time in club history (across the NASL, Canadian Soccer League, A-League and USL) that they've racked up three straight goalless draws. Their last tally was Haber's 81st-minute penalty against Montreal. Knight said he's not worried, though.

"I feel very confident in our squad and our defensive ability," he said. "The goals will come."

Thordarson said it's not any particular flaws in the Whitecaps' game that are keeping them off the scoresheet. In particular, he thinks they've done well to create so many chances off set pieces.

"The service off the corners is perfect," Thordarson said. "It's just a matter of luck."

Thordarson said nothing's changed since the Whitecaps' early-season goals; he feels they just aren't getting the bounces.

"You need a little bit of luck," he said. "Earlier we had that, later we didn't."

From a Toronto FC perspective, this was more of a disappointing outing. The Reds were outshot 10-6 and conceded 10 corners while only earning one of their own. Head coach Preki said he wasn't impressed with his team's showing.

"I don't think we played particularly well," he said. "I don't think we came ready to play today right from the first moment."

Preki said that might have been from a long road trip, or it could have been Toronto underestimating their opponents.

"It could be complacency, maybe a little bit of fatigue, but I don't want to make excuses," he said.

He did make some interesting lineup decisions, leaving the likes of Stefan Frei, Sam Cronin and Chad Barrett on the bench to start. Preki said he elected to go with Jon Conway rather than Frei in goal to give Frei a rest.

"We've got two good goalies," he said. "Sometimes, you've got to give Stefan a little break. I thought Jon did a good job tonight."

Vancouver now controls their own destiny in the chase for the Voyageurs' Cup. They have two points from two matches (home draws with Montreal and Toronto). Toronto has seven from three matches (two wins against Montreal and tonight's draw), and Montreal only has one. The remaining matches see the Whitecaps on the road against TFC and the Impact. If they win both, they claim the title with eight points; if they drop any points, TFC will clinch their second consecutive championship.

That's going to be a difficult challenge for Vancouver, though. They were 2-7-6 on the road in league play last year, and beat Montreal while losing to TFC in last year's Voyageurs' Cup road games. Thordarson thinks they can pull it off, however.

"It is doable," he said. "If we go into Montreal and play like this, we will create chances."

Knight isn't intimidated by the tough task ahead.

"It might be to our advantage," he said. "We go into Montreal with our backs against the wall. We have nothing to lose."

The Whitecaps' next Voyageurs Cup clash is May 26 at 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern in Montreal. It will be live-blogged here. Come join me then!

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Toronto FC - Vancouver Whitecaps live blog

I'll be live-blogging tonight's crucial Voyageurs Cup game [Marc Weber, The Province] between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC here and at The 24th Minute. It could be the game of the season for Vancouver, or it could give Toronto FC another Nutrilite Canadian Championship. Kickoff is at 7:37 p.m. Pacific/10:37 p.m. Eastern, but we'll kick off the coverage around 7:30. Come join me then!

Update: My game preview is posted over at Fighting For Canadian Supremacy. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CIS prospects finding NFL homes

It's been a good couple of weeks for CIS football. After a strong showing by CIS prospects in the CFL draft, including first-overall pick Shomari Williams (who I interviewed before the draft), six CIS players appear in good shape to catch on with NFL teams. The Detroit Lions signed [Sean Yuille, Pride Of Detroit] Laurier defensive end Chima Ihekwoaba after their rookie minicamp [Tom Kowalski,, via Ron Balaskovitz], and Concordia linebacker Cory Greenwood signed with [Mark Masters, National Post] the Kansas City Chiefs today. Waterloo offensive lineman Joel Reinders has signed with Cleveland [David Naylor, The Globe and Mail, Concordia offensive lineman Kristian Matte has inked a deal with Houston [Herb Zurkowsky, The Gazette], Bishop's wide receiver Shawn Gore reached an agreement with Green Bay [Dave Heller, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel] and Regina wide receiver Jordan Sisco signed with the Indianapolis Colts [Ian Hamilton, Regina Leader-Post].

This does seem to represent a significant change. CIS players like Israel Idonije and Dan Federkeil have headed straight to the NFL out of CIS schools before, but most of the Canadians in the NFL have come from American schools, like Nate Burleson. Having so many players from CIS schools sign with NFL clubs is certainly surprising, especially when several of those players weren't even ranked among the top CFL prospects [Kirk Penton, Toronto Sun].

Christine Rivet of the Waterloo Record had an interesting piece on this, interviewing New York Jets' scout Brock Sunderland, a former director of scouting for the Montreal Alouettes. Sunderland said the gap between CIS-trained and NCAA-trained players is closing, and the fourth-round selection of Western defensive end Vaughn Martin by San Diego last year has convinced more NFL teams to take CIS football seriously.

"I think the Vaughn Martin thing really opened up the eyes to the CIS athlete – that maybe this might be a real opportunity more than just a (fantasy)," Sunderland said. "It opens up the belief it can happen."

What's also interesting about this is that NFL teams are looking at CIS wide receivers and linebackers. Previously, many of the CIS guys taken have been offensive linemen, and some have made the argument that those guys have been seen as projects, chosen based on physical attributes and in spite of the quality of their competition, rather than because of it. Physical attributes are obviously important at receiver and linebacker too, but the amount of guys heading south and the diversity in their positions suggests to me that NFL teams are developing more of a respect for the quality of play in CIS.

The loser in all of this may be the CFL, though. The CFL draft has always been difficult because you have to balance a player's talent against the likelihood that they'll suit up for you; as Masters pointed out in this piece, the more talented players obviously have a higher risk of sticking around in the NFL. Sometimes, top talents will bounce around the NFL for a year or two before heading back north, like Jamall Lee; in other cases, they'll make their reputation up north and then head to the NFL, like Ricky Foley. In other cases, high CFL draft picks like Samuel Giguere, Federkeil and Idonije stick in the NFL and never see the field up north.

It's a delicate balancing act, and we won't be able to properly evaluate it for a few years, but it's important to keep in mind that most of these players went pretty high in this year's CFL draft. The big loser could be the Montreal Alouettes, who used their first two picks on Matte (seventh overall) and Ihekwoaba (14th overall). However, the reigning Grey Cup champions have less immediate needs than other teams and may be able to afford to wait a few years in hopes that those guys will come up north. The Toronto Argonauts have more immediate problems; they traded down from first overall to third, passing on Williams and picking Greenwood, who now seems unlikely to suit up for them next year. They also chose Reinders 26th overall, which seems like reasonable value given that he was rated as the 11th-best prospect by the CFL's scouting bureau, but that could hurt them if he sticks in the NFL. Sisco went eighth overall to Saskatchewan, and the Riders can probably afford to wait for him, given the depth of their Canadian receiving corps. Gore went 10th overall to B.C., and that may hurt more, as the Lions could use some more Canadian pass-catching talent. The eventual effects of this trend on the CFL can't be fully analyzed until we see where these players wind up in a few years, though.

In the end, this seems to me to be a bit of a reflection on how CIS football is changing. I wrote about the effects of increased athletic scholarships and national recruiting a while back, and this may tie into that. There's more competition than ever to attract recruits, and many schools have looked to do that by improving their athletic facilities, adding full-time coaches and offering more advanced strength and conditioning programs. We've also seen a rise in out-of-conference exhibition games among the bigger programs, which has helped to increase their national profiles. More CIS schools seem to be taking football seriously, and high-school recruits, CFL scouts and NFL scouts are all noticing that. To me, that's a good thing.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Whitecaps: Chances, but where are the goals?

Saturday night’s 0-0 scoreless draw [Simon Fudge,] with the Montreal Impact saw the continuation of a disturbing trend for the Vancouver Whitecaps. They’ve now gone 259 minutes without scoring in league play since Nelson Akwari notched an 11th-minute goal against Portland on April 29. Following that, they went 79 minutes of the Portland game without scoring again, then held Crystal Palace Baltimore to a 0-0 draw [Marc Weber, The Province] last weekend before tonight's scoreless clash.

Of course, Vancouver did get one goal during that span, but that came against Montreal in last week's Voyageurs' Cup game, though, not in USSF Division II competition. They're still doing reasonably well in the league and lead the NASL Conference with eight points, but that's unlikely to continue unless the goals start to come.

Tonight's game was a little more promising on the offensive end, however, as head coach Teitur Thordarson commented post-match.

"I think it was a good game in all aspects, except scoring goals," he said. "We were a bit unlucky. We definitely were the best team today."

The first half was a largely lacklustre affair. Vancouver held the majority of the possession, but they weren’t able to do much with it. They did create some stellar chances off free kicks and corners, including a Ricardo Sanchez blast from 25 yards out that was parried by the outstretched fingertips of Matt Jordan at the last possible instant. Montreal had better chances from the run of play, including a Rocco Placentino effort that Jay Nolly punched off the bar, but they weren’t able to capitalize either and the teams went into the break with the score knotted 0-0.

There were a few more scattered chances here and there in the second half, but neither team really took over the play. Most of the scoring opportunities came off set pieces, and Nolly and Jordan put on a spectacular exhibition of keeping to maintain the 0-0 scoreline. Montreal probably had the best chance of the half after a superb Leonardo Di Lorenzo run down the right flank where he beat two defenders and crossed it in, but a flick-on from Hicham Aaboubou was cleared by Greg Janicki just in time. Vancouver’s best chance came off a long Wes Knight throw in the 87th minute that was loose in the box, but shots from both Janicki and Marcus Haber were parried by defenders and the ball was cleared. In the end, the match ended without an offensive tally by either side.

Vancouver did well on the stat sheet, though. They won seven corners and countless offensive free kicks, and looked particularly dangerous on many of them. They fired eight shots at the net and forced Jordan into three saves, as well as countless plays where he had to rush out and intercept crosses. In the end, the goals just weren't coming, though.

Sanchez made his first Whitecaps' start in place of the injured Martin Nash and created several chances, particularly from set pieces. He said it's difficult to stay focused when you're not playing regularly, but he took it as a challenge.

"It's hard, but you have to be prepared, you have to keep working and and wait," he said.

Sanchez said he felt the Whitecaps turned in a solid performance, even if they didn't come away with three points.

"It was a good game," he said. "I thought everyone played real well tonight."

Vancouver now gets set to host Toronto F.C. in a crucial Nutrilite Canadian Championship clash Wednesday night (10:30 p.m. Eastern, 7:30 p.m. Pacific, televised on Rogers Sportsnet and will be live-blogged here). Thordarson said he's unsure if Nash and injured striker Marlon James will be recovered in time for that one.

"With any of these guys, we don't know that they'll be ready," he said. "We're hopeful they will. Nash is still a question mark, and so is Marlon."

Thordarson said the Whitecaps can gain some momentum from tonight's game, though, as he thought was a good performance. He said that may be crucial.

"It's huge," Thordarson said. "It's always easier to come off a good game than a bad one."

It may have been a good game, but at the end of the day, the opposition's net remained empty. Vancouver will have to change that Wednesday if they want to keep their hopes of winning the Voyageurs' Cup alive.

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Whitecaps. Impact. Live blog.

The Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact will face off again tonight [Simon Fudge,]in USSF Division II play. The game has plenty of on-pitch implications, as Vancouver (2-1-2) and Montreal (2-1-1) are the top two clubs in the NASL Conference so far, but it also carries a significant off-field component. The rivalry between the teams is long-running, but it took on extra heat last year when Montreal's lopsided loss to Toronto FC cost Vancouver a CONCACAF Champions League berth, and again when the Impact beat the Whitecaps in the USL final.

This year, the two clubs battled to a 1-1 draw in the Voyageurs' Cup last Wednesday. Montreal was officially announced as the newest MLS team (joining in 2012, one year after Vancouver) on Friday [Paul Attfield, The Globe and Mail], so this will be the first time the two clubs face each other since that, but hardly the last; Vancouver will travel to Montreal to face the Impact in another Nutrilite Canadian Championship game on May 26, and they'll have further league games against Montreal on June 30 and Sept. 24. Tonight should be another exciting instalment in the rivalry. The webcast of the game can be seen on the Whitecaps' website, and I'll be live-blogging it from the Swangard Stadium press box starting at 7:45 p.m. Pacific (10:45 p.m. Eastern), so come swing by then!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The NHL's greatest upset?

TSN's Gino Reda tweeted an interesting question following the Flyers' improbable 4-3 comeback victory [Broad Street Hockey] over the Bruins [Jon Bois, SB Nation] tonight; was this the greatest comeback in NHL history? I'm tempted to say yes.

To start with, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit in a best-of-seven in any sport is incredibly rare. It's never been done in the NBA, it's been accomplished exactly once in Major League Baseball and it's happened three times now in hockey. The other two occasions were the Toronto Maple Leafs' comeback against Detroit in 1942 and the New York Islanders' comeback against Pittsburgh in 1975. Let's take a look at them and see how they stack up.

First, the Maple Leafs' comeback in 1942. This was in the Stanley Cup Finals, so they get bonus points for that, and it was also the first Cup Finals to go seven games, so that's worth even more points. That was a tremendous Maple Leafs' team, featuring Turk Broda, Bucko McDonald, Bob Goldham and Syl Apps Sr.. This was also one of the great old-time rivalries.

However, the series result wasn't really an upset; the Leafs were second in the league that year with a 27-18-3 record and 57 points, while Detroit was fifth (in a seven-team league) with a 19-25-4 record and 42 points. These were not the legendary Red Wings of Howe and Lindsay; they had good players like Sid Abel, Syd Howe (no relation to Gordie) and Mud Bruneteau, but they were more basement-dwellers than stars. Also, the Leafs had home-ice advantage and the Flyers did not. The series itself wasn't as dramatic as this one either; the Leafs lost the first three games 3-2, 4-2 and 5-2, but won the next four in convincing fashion (4-3, 9-3, 3-0, 3-1) thanks to some inspired lineup changes [Joe Pelletier, Greatest Hockey Legends]. That's still an incredible feat, but it doesn't quite have the flair of Philly's 5-4 (overtime), 4-0, 2-1 and 4-3 wins, with the last one coming after falling behind on the road. This is close, but I don't think it edges Philly - Boston.

How about those 1975 New York Islanders? Well, they were a good team and they get bonus points for making the playoffs for the first time that year. They featured plenty of notable players like Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin and Chico Resch, but they didn't yet have Bossy or Trottier.

The Islanders' win over Pittsburgh was a slight upset (an eight seed beating a six), but the Penguins only put up one more point in the regular season, and that wasn't a very good Penguins team (although, oddly enough, it had Syl Apps Jr.!). Their leading point-getter was Ron Schock, who, funnily enough, said that Pittsburgh was one of the two places he'd least like to go and was traded there two days later. New York got that one done on the road, which improves their qualifications, but they went on to lose to Philadelphia in the next round. Also, the comeback in Game Seven wasn't there; the Islanders won their last four 3-1, 4-2, 4-1 and 1-0. This is an impressive effort as well, but it also falls short.

Tonight's game was just all-around amazing. Philadelphia looked completely out of it at first, surrendering three goals in the first 15 minutes. They battled back, though. Michael Leighton closed up shop the rest of the way after looking awful early, making 22 saves to keep the Flyers in it, and he got some help from his defence. Even more importantly, though, their offence came through; they created next to nothing early on, but James van Riemsdyk knocked in a somewhat fluky goal before the first intermission, Scott Hartnell stepped up to add one in the second period and Daniel Briere tied the game near the midway point. Then, in perfect fashion, Boston channeled former Bruins' coach Don Cherry [The Gazette] and got caught with too many men on the ice, something that's been a trend lately [Darren Dreger,] in these playoffs (and also across sports [myself, Grey Cup 2009]!). Of course Simon Gagne scored on the power play, as that was too perfect not to happen. This one had drama in the playoff run thanks to all the Flyers' injuries, the series thanks to close games and the Bruins being favoured (and predicted to win by just about everyone, including myself), and the final game itself thanks to Boston's early lead. To me, that makes it the best NHL comeback of all time.

If we're going for comebacks across sports though, I'd have to give the edge to the 2004 Red Sox comeback against the Yankees. That was too perfect given the intense rivalry between the teams, the Curse of the Bambino and Boston's long history of playoff futility. This can't quite match that in my mind, but I'm quite willing to call it the greatest comeback in NHL history, and perhaps also the best real-life opportunity to use this:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Canucks - Blackhawks: Game Six

The Canucks came through in the crunch last time on the road, but can they pull it off again at home? They're still down 3-2 in the series, even if they may be buoyed by the return of Sami Salo. Will the Canucks continue their run, or will the Blackhawks close out the series? Find out in the live blog below!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Canucks - Blackhawks: Game Five, This Is What It Comes To

With their backs against the wall, this is what it all comes down to for the Vancouver Canucks. Down three games to one, in hostile territory on the road, they need to get a win here. If they can't pull it off, the dream of lifting the Stanley Cup will die for another year. Can they do it? Find out in the live blog below:

Why Lawrence Taylor isn't Ben Roethlisberger

Two prominent cases involving NFL players have hit the headlines recently. First, current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault [Will Brinson, NFL FanHouse] for actions in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub with a drunk 20-year-old college student. This, of course, was the second time in less than two years Roethlisberger faced similar accusations [USA Today]. . Second, former New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor was accused of third-degree rape this week regarding an incident in a small-town New York hotel room [CBS]. Both incidents present serious image problems for the NFL [Scott Stinson, National Post], especially when seen in the light of all the other off-field criminal incidents involving NFL players.

However, there are significant differences between what happened in each case, and those are worth looking into. Despite compelling evidence that Roethlisberger may have forced himself on his accuser, he is currently facing no charges under the law. Meanwhile, Taylor is looking at up to four years in jail despite not being accused (at least so far) of forcing himself on the victim; he is accused of third-degree rape, which "is defined as sexual intercourse in which the victim is incapable of consent because the victim is under the age of 17 and the perpetrator is over the age of 21" [Dan Graziano, NFL FanHouse]. This gets into the murky area of statutory rape, which often involves sex that would normally be considered consensual if not for the ages of those involved [Jackie Burrell,]. To me, Roethlisberger's conduct appears much more objectionable, but he's facing much less severe penalties.

No charges were eventually brought against Roethlisberger [ESPN], perhaps partly thanks to poor investigative work by the police [Raina Kelley, Newsweek], many of whom seemed more interested in posing for pictures [Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] with Roethlisberger and calling the victim a liar and a "drunken bitch" [Barry Petchesky, Deadspin] than finding out what actually happened.

There also was a lack of conclusive evidence, and Georgia law requires a very high threshold of proof in these cases, demanding proof of "forcible penetration...against the will of the accuser" [Lester Munson, ESPN]. Finally, there was the accuser's own wish for the case not to go any further given the media storm. Add it all up and you can understand why the case didn't go ahead. However, that still leaves a truly disturbing [Kate Brumback, AP via The Star] police report and Roethlisberger's prior history [Jack McCallum, Sports Illustrated] of behaving badly [Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun]. Then again, being a good, well-rounded person has never particularly mattered in the NFL [Andy Hutchins, The Sporting Blog].

It shows you the severity of this case that despite the charges being dropped, Roethlisberger has been handed a six-game suspension [MJD, Shutdown Corner] by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. It's quite possible that Roethlisberger's history of head injuries played a role [David Epstein, SI] in the awful decisions he has made, but that doesn't excuse some truly awful behaviour. Roethlisberger may have gotten off in the eyes of the criminal justice system, but it's still going [Lya Wodraska, The Salt Lake Tribune] to be tough[Kevin Cowherd, The Baltimore Sun] for him to win back the Pittsburgh fans [Michael Bean, Behind The Steel Curtain]. Still, that's probably easier to deal with than the prospect of jail time.

Taylor may not get off so easily. He's already admitted to having some contact with the victim [Robert Littal, Black Sports Online], and that alone could be enough to put him behind bars. As Mike Florio writes, "Every state has selected an age below which no person — male or female — legally may consent to sexual relations with someone over a certain age. If sex happens, even if there is consent or (as in the case of Mary Kay LeTourneau) love or (as in this case) cash payment, a violation of the law has occurred. And it doesn't matter if the defendant didn't know the person's true age." Furthermore, under New York law, sex with someone under the statewide age of consent is considered third-degree rape [AP, via SI], regardless of if the victim was forced into sex, and it can be punished by up to four years in prison.. That's why we've seen plenty of headlines saying Taylor has been accused of rape despite no allegations so far that he forced the girl to have sex. Like Roethlisberger, Taylor also has a history of bad behaviour off the field [Peter King, Sports Illustrated]. Add all that up, and it doesn't bode well for Taylor.

I don't think the targeting of Taylor is right, though. To be absolutely clear, rape is abhorrent. Forcing someone into sex is abhorrent, whether it's done by means of physical force, drugs, alcohol or abuse of power. Taking advantage of anyone is abhorrent. Consensual sex, however, is far from abhorrent. The key here is to figure out which category Taylor's charges fall into.

First, let's take a look at the definition of rape. The word comes from the Latin verb rapere [Webster's], which means grab, snatch or carry off [Wiktionary]. It made the transition to "rape" in 14th-century English, at which time it was understood to mean "to seize and take away by force" (interestingly, "rapture" also comes from "rapere"). Neither the Latin nor the original English specified sexual activity; in fact, many early uses of the word were more about plundering raids in general [Random House] than anything particularly sexual. Over time, the sexual connotations of the word became more explicit, but the idea of force was still generally involved.

Force was removed from the equation with the advent of "statutory rape" [Webster's] in the late 19th century. This basically held that sex with someone under a legal "age of consent" was tantamount to rape, as they could not legally consent to it. The age of consent has long been a tricky subject, as just about every jurisdiction has its own ideas on how old is old enough to consent. Because the debate is more about what forms of sexual activity society finds acceptable than real research about the development of the human brain, this leads to some odd anomalies, such as higher ages of consent for gay relationships than straight ones [Wikipedia].

This can lead to numerous problems. For one thing, it can mean that sexual activity many people would consider consensual (i.e. two 16-year-olds) can wind up being labeled as rape. Many jurisdictions have so-called "Romeo and Juliet laws" [Wikipedia] to deal with this, which provide certain exemptions for people within similar ages, but it again becomes about drawing firm lines between what is and isn't acceptable and the application of the laws again differs from area to area.

For example, consider the case of Genarlow Wilson, a 17-year-old from Georgia. He was sent to prison for 10 years (although he only served two) for receiving consensual oral sex from a 15-year-old; he would have been protected by the state's Romeo and Juliet law, but it was found not to apply to oral sex. Current Dallas Cowboys DE Marcus Dixon wound up in similar trouble, and was sentenced to 10 years in jail for having consensual sex with a 15-year-old when he was 18; his case was later overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court. As Rutgers law professor Sherry Colb pointed out in a column at the time of the Dixon case, statutory rape laws have some utility, but they also carry significant potential for abuse.

Furthermore, these laws reflect "standards", and standards change over time; keep in mind that the likes of Saint Joseph, Henry VIII, Percy Shelley and Thomas Jefferson all could be accused of statutory rape in New York State. What's really odd is that according to Wikipedia's list of marriageable ages, you can get married at 16 in New York State if you have parental consent, or 14 if you have parental and judicial consent. It seems, at least from that, that the NY statutory rape law is more about legislating what sexual relationships are acceptable than concerns about 16-year-olds being too young to give proper consent.

I'm not trying to whitewash Taylor's actions here. A middle-aged man having sex with a teenage girl certainly raises questions under any circumstances, and it definitely has significant potential for mental, emotional or physical abuse. A married man hiring a prostitute definitely isn't a good situation, either. Whether prostitution itself should be a crime is up for debate, but legal or illegal, it can lead to or exacerbate significant problems including homelessness, drug addiction and abuse. Patronizing a prostitute" itself is a charge in New York, which adds to Taylor's problems. He won't be winning "Man of the Year" any time soon.

I'm not sure Taylor deserves the label of rapist, though. According to what's come out so far, it sounds like he thought he was paying an of-age prostitute [Littal] $300 for consensual sex. That's certainly a poor decision, but whether it deserves the label of rape is another question entirely. We'll see what happens in court, but to me, Taylor seems far closer to a playboy athlete like Tiger Woods, who had questionable consensual affairs, than one like Roethlisberger, who's been accused of forcing himself on women. At the moment, Taylor's in far more legal trouble than Roethlisberger, and that doesn't seem fair or just to me.

There Will Be Live Blogs - The EPL Title

It all comes down to this. On the final day of the season, with the English Premier League title on the line , Chelsea will host Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge. They sit top of the table with 83 points, so three points from a victory will clinch it for them. If they draw or lose, however, Manchester United could sneak by them. The Red Devils host Stoke at Old Trafford, and are only one point back of Chelsea. A draw does them no good thanks to Chelsea's superior goal differential, but if they win and the Blues drop points, it will be United who are champions of England. Adding to the drama, all of Sunday's games take place at the same time, 11 a.m. Eastern/8 a.m. Pacific. I'll be live-blogging both the Manchester United and Chelsea games and throwing in updates from other ones from time to time. Come join me here then to see how the EPL title is decided!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Canucks - Blackhawks: Game Four live blog

A short preview and a collection of links for tonight's Canucks-Blackhawks game is posted over at Canuck Puck. Join me there or here at 9:30 Eastern/6:30 Pacific for tonight's live blog!

CIS: On the addition of UBC-Okanagan

I have a post up at The CIS Blog on Canada West's decision to add UBC-Okanagan, reject UNBC and VIU and make UFV and Thompson Rivers University permanent members. Might be worth a read for those interested in CIS issues; it's been a long process to get to this point, and it's still far from over.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Whitecaps: A wild draw

(L to R: Martin Nash, Teitur Thordarson, and Marcus Haber address the media after Wednesday's match).

Wednesday's Voyageurs Cup game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact felt rather like an episode of 24, starting slowly and building to a chaotic and hard-to-believe 1-1 final. In between, there were a couple of goals, plenty of cards and much more entertainment than that other Vancouver team offered.

The match offered little at first, with both teams electing to start defensive lineups; Montreal fielded a 4-5-1 with Peter Byers as the lone striker, while Vancouver opted for a 4-4-1-1 with Marcus Haber supported by attacking midfielder Jonny Steele. The Whitecaps controlled most of the early possession, but only created a few chances, and the score remained level until Byers slipped one by Jay Nolly in the 31st minute. Montreal then took over the game for the next fifty minutes until a bizarre sequence of events unfolded.

With time dwindling, the Whitecaps began to apply more pressure, and they were helped by a dubious foul called just outside the Montreal penalty area. That led to a free kick swung in by Martin Nash, and Impact defender Adam Braz lost his mind. Already on a yellow card, he saw Vancouver central back Greg Janicki slip by him as the ball soared into the air, and responded by bull-rushing Janicki and knocking him out of the way before the cross got there. That resulted in Braz's ejection and a penalty kick for the Whitecaps, which Marcus Haber coolly converted for his first goal of this year in the 81st minute.

Thanks to the score being knotted at one and Montreal being reduced to 10 men, Vancouver turned the pressure on even more. They had several further chances, but were foiled by excellent keeping from Matt Jordan, who grabbed every cross that came anywhere near him. Marlon James actually managed to sneak through the defence and beat an onrushing Jordan, but his shot trickled wide. You have to think Vancouver may regret that missed opportunity down the road.

Right at the end, there was a further complication. A clash between Montreal's Reda Agourram and Vancouver's Chris Williams saw Agourram sent off with a straight red card. It was difficult to tell what exactly happened, but the result means Montreal could face a couple suspensions for the upcoming tournament games. Already missing Roberto Brown after a foolish punch against Toronto FC, they could be even more shorthanded for the rest of the tournament, a difficult prospect considering that they have only one point from two games.

Head coach Marc Dos Santos is convinced that they're not out of it yet, however. In the post-match press conference, he pointed out that the Impact came back to win the inaugural Nutrilite Canadian Championship under identical circumstances in 2007.

"If we've done it once, we can do it again," he said.

They will need plenty of help from both Vancouver and Toronto FC, though, as the most Montreal can now finish the tournament with is seven points.

"We can't depend on ourselves anymore," Dos Santos said.

He was rather displeased with the way the match turned out.

"I really felt we deserved the full three points until the 80th minute," he said. "Until the 80th minute, Vancouver didn't have a real chance."

His Whitecaps' counterpart, Teitur Thordarson, also wasn't happy with the end result.

"I'm a little disappointed we didn't get more than one point," he said.

Thordarson was pleased with Vancouver's early play, but disappointed with their second half performance.

In the end, the draw was probably a fair result. The shots were 7-7, with Vancouver putting three on net and Montreal responding with four. It was a chippy game as well, with 14 fouls for the Impact and seven for Vancouver. Neither side will be completely happy with their showing, and the draw does give Toronto FC a leg up on the competition, but there are still plenty of matches to be played. If the rest of the tournament is anything like this, it won't be lacking in drama.

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Whitecaps - Impact live blog

The Vancouver Whitecaps kick off their Voyageurs’ Cup schedule tonight against the Montreal Impact. The two clubs have always had a strong rivalry, but last year's events took it to a new level; first, Montreal's 6-1 loss to Toronto in the final game of last year's competition cost the Whitecaps the championship, and the Impact made things worse by beating Vancouver again in the USL-1 championship. There's going to be a lot on the line tonight, as Sam pointed out in his preview; with Vancouver heading to MLS next season, this tournament may be even more important for them than the league. Tonight's game starts at 7:30 p.m. Pacific (10:30 p.m. Eastern) and can be seen on I'll be live-blogging it here and at The 24th Minute come join me then!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Appearance on Feuerstein's Fire

I was on Daniel Feuerstein's excellent soccer show, Feuerstein's Fire, earlier today to discuss the Whitecaps, B.C. Place and the Nutrilite Canadian Championship (speaking of which, I'll be live-blogging the Whitecaps - Montreal Impact match here tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. Pacific) with Daniel and my 24th Minute colleague Duane Rollins. The entire show is well worth a listen, touching on Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Canadian soccer generally. My segment starts about 45 minutes in. You can check out the show here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Canucks - Blackhawks live blog: Game II, The Odyssey Continues

The Canucks take on the Chicago Blackhawks tonight in what should be an excellent Game Two. My game preview is up over at Canuck Puck, and I'll again be live-blogging the game both here and there. All are welcome to come join in. The puck drops at 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific: hope to see you then!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

There Will Be Live Blogs: Manchester United - Sunderland

Thanks to Chelsea's 2-0 thumping of Liverpool earlier this morning, Manchester United head to the Stadium of Light with their backs against the wall. They must beat Sunderland to have any hope of remaining in the title race. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. Eastern/8 a.m. Pacific. Join me in the live blog below!

There Will Be Live Blogs: Liverpool - Chelsea

The English Premier League title race continues towards its exciting conclusion, and this second-to-last week features two matches that might just decide it all. First, Liverpool host league-leaders Chelsea at Anfield, and then Manchester United travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland. Chelsea have 80 points from 36 matches, one more than United, and are also well ahead on goal difference. In the last week of the season, they'll host Wigan, which should be a relatively easy win; thus, their performance today will be crucial. United have a bit of an easier schedule, on the road against Sunderland today and then at home against Stoke next week, but they could win out and still lose if Chelsea take both of their games. I'm planning to live blog both of today's clashes, so stop by here for that. The first one, Liverpool and Chelsea, will kick off at 8:30 Eastern (5:30 Pacific) and will be live-blogged in this post; the second one, United and Sunderland, kicks off at 11 a.m. Eastern (8 a.m. Pacific) and will be live-blogged in a separate post. All are welcome to drop by; hope to see you then!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Canucks - Blackhawks: Previews and live blogs

This evening will see the debut of one of the most anticipated second-round series in the NHL playoffs, with the Vancouver Canucks traveling to Chicago to try and avenge their second-round defeat at the hands of the Blackhawks last year. It should be an outstanding matchup; the teams are very good and very even, and there's a burgeoning rivalry between them. I'll be live-blogging Game I here and at Canuck Puck starting at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific; make sure to stop by then! To keep you busy until the puck drops, I also have two previews up over at Canuck Puck, one interviewing Jim Neveau of Paint It Blackhawks and one with my series prediction and the best previews from around the web. Check those out, and then come back here at 8 for the live blog!