Major League Soccer season kicks off in a big way

By Phil Cottrell, Daily Observer

Generic soccer photo

Generic soccer photo

The weekend of March 7 /8 saw the MLS  (Major League Soccer ) kick off with a real big bang. Fans were holding their breath as it came down to a last minute agreement between the players and the owners with an agreed CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) literally a couple of days before the start of the season. A players strike had looked a real possibility.

The LA Galaxie won 2-0 against Chicago with a beautiful goal by Robbie Keane. Toronto visited Vancouver and in front of 21,000 fans came away winners with a 3-1 victory. It was yet again a new squad for TFC, and although they looked shaky in the first half Toronto fought back. Newcomer Jose Altidore looked impressive. He is a big strong forward and constantly caused concern for the Vancouver defence. Giovinco, the new Italian midfielder showed his class and will be a very useful addition as a play maker. The two new 2015 MLS teams faced off against each other. It was Orlando against NewYork FC in front of over 62,000 fans who witnessed a thrilling ending with Orlando tying up the match in the last minute of injury time. Montreal lost on the road 0-1 to DC United. In the second week the Vancouver Whitecaps played in Chicago and came away with a 1-0 win, but it was a very different performance from Toronto FC who were down a man in the second half and who lost 2-0 to Columbus, proving that there is still work to be done to make the team gel. The new New York team NYFC opened at home in front of 43,000+ fans to secure a 2-0 win over New England. A great start with some big crowds and thrilling matches. The league has secured a lucrative domestic TV agreement as well as one with Sky Sports in the UK. Add in an increasing number of sponsors getting on the bandwagon and it looks extremely promising as MLS goes forward this year.

The USL League

The USL or United Soccer League is sanctioned as third division soccer in North America. Major League Soccer (Division 1) has now integrated its reserve teams into the USL Pro league, primarily to improve player development in North America, strengthen league competition and build ties between divisions in the North American soccer pyramid. This has resulted in Toronto FC forming TFC 2, the Vancouver Whitecaps forming Whitecaps 2 and Montreal impact with FC Montreal. The USL Pro league consists of a western and Eastern conference each with 12 teams.

Ottawa Fury FC

Ottawa Fury FC opened its preseason with a 3-2 win over Toronto FC2 of the USL league. Unlike last year the full Fury FC squad is now essentially complete at this stage and has been training together extensively for a while. The pace of the game was fast and the game itself was very physical.

The second preseason match up was against the Rochester Rhinos again from the USL, and this was played at the Branchaud Briere complex in Gatineau. It was a scrappy rather ugly affair resulting in a 1-1- tie. The smaller playing surface prevented creative open play, and it was difficult to truly assess players in a situation where pretty much as soon as they got the ball an opposing player was right on them. Nevertheless some newcomers looked impressive. Colin Flavey is a big fast defender, Mike Randolph also on defence made some superbly timed sliding tackles and Patryk Misik in midfield showed he has a very nice first touch on the ball and reads the game well.

And now over to Bhutan

Before you wonder where Bhutan is on the map, it is a country in the Himalayas and it has the dubious distinction of being dead last in FIFA's (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) 209-nation world rankings. The team, which represents a country of about 733,000 that sits between India and China, where cricket is the major sport, lost all 18 qualifier games it played from 2009 to 2014. In 2000, Bhutan lost 20-0 to Kuwait in an Asian Cup qualifying match. Yet, Bhutan, international soccer's worst team, won the opening match in its attempt to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, beating Sri Lanka 1-0. In Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Bhutan's Tshering Dorji scored the game's lone goal in the 84th minute. Then following their 1-0 first-leg win in Sri Lanka they returned home and secured a dramatic 2-1 second-leg victory at the Changlimithang Stadium, Thimphu - both goals coming from Chencho Gyeltshen, amid wild celebrations.

The NBA is jealous

The NBA is "jealous" of European football's Champions League and can learn from it, says Adam Silver, the head of the NBA. The lawyer, 52, now in his second year as NBA commissioner, keeps a close eye on the European club Champions League and envies the sport's "religious" fans.

"The Champions League is a fantastic concept, one we are always looking at," Silver told BBC Sport. "There is so much that happens in European soccer that I'm jealous of." He added, "I just think that the depth and loyalty of the fans, it's almost a religious aspect to fandom."

The Cyprus Cup

The Cyprus Cup is a major international competition for women's soccer and this year is serving as an important warm up for the Women's World Cup due to be played here in Canada this summer. After victories over Scotland, South Korea and Italy, Canada reached the final but lost 0-1 to England. The loss ended Canada's eight-game unbeaten streak. Captain Christine Sinclair echoed the coaches' view that the tournament was a good learning environment for the team. "I think we made a lot of progress in this tournament, showed a lot of growth," she said. "I thought we outplayed England in the final. It was a tough one to lose."

Canada conceded only one goal in five matches in Cyprus, but in the end it was the goal that got away which hurt them most. Nevertheless a solid effort and one that bodes well for us for the World Cup.

Our mens' U-17s bow out

It all came down to Canada's Under-17 national team playing against Costa Rica at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship, being held in Honduras. On the line, a spot in this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup. CONCACAF is the conference comprising North and Central American nations as well as the Caribbean countries. We were very solid in the group stage, going 3-1-1 and rallying for a 3-2 victory against that same Costa Rican side earlier.

But in the decisive game of the competition, again against Costa Rica in the same Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, Sean Fleming's U-17s came up disappointingly short, falling 3-0. So, unfortunately, no U-17 World Cup spot for Canada. Some of our so called sports media could use a lesson in basic patriotism as they chose to ignore the efforts of these young Canadian men playing thousands of kilometers away from home in the heat.

Bombs on the field

An 220 kilogram unexploded World War II bomb was found recently near Borussia Dortmund's stadium in Germany, forcing the first division club to shut down some of its operations. The British bomb was found at a parking area near the Signal Iduna Park hours before coach Jürgen Klopp's news conference ahead of the Ruhr Valley derby with Schalke with 80,000 fans in attendance. It was discovered after viewing aerial photographs, city officials said. The bomb was defused within hours, with the club posting the all-clear via a message on its official Twitter page. Somewhere there's a great joke line here but I just can't think of it.

Remember, whatever your sport, to win the game is great, to play the game is greater, but to love the game is the greatest of all. And the greatest game is played by over 250 million players in 200 countries. So, be part of the soccer fan base world wide, 3.5 billion and counting! Also, remember to support local soccer! If you have any comments on the beautiful game please contact me at, or call 613-587-4856.

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