Sports

Canada and World Cup qualifiers

By Phil Cottrell, Daily Observer

Team Canada's Mercel De Jong (right) fights for the ball against Belize's Jarret Davis (11) and Samuel Piette during first half FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer action in Toronto Friday Sept. 4, 2015.

Team Canada's Mercel De Jong (right) fights for the ball against Belize's Jarret Davis (11) and Samuel Piette during first half FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer action in Toronto Friday Sept. 4, 2015.

Canada has advanced into the fourth round of the Central America, the Caribbean and North America conference (CONCACAF) of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifiers after a 4-1 series win over Belize. Canada and five other nations have advanced, joining a group of 12 nations in the 2015-16 continental semifinal stage.

Canada and El Salvador (who won their series 2-0 over Curaçao) advanced to Group A, joining Honduras and Mexico in a six-match, round-robin series from November 2015 to September 2016.

In the other series, Jamaica squeaked past Nicaragua 4-3 on a late goal while Haiti cruised past Grenada 5-1. Jamaica and Haiti join Costa Rica and Panama in Group B.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines won 3-2 over Aruba while Guatemala won 2-1 over Antigua and Barbuda. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Guatemala join USA and Trinidad and Tobago in Group C.

From the 12 remaining CONCACAF nations, the top two teams from each group will advance to a six-team, 10-match final round in 2017. At the end of 2017, the top three teams qualify for Russia 2018 while the four-best team advances to an intercontinental playoff.

Canada had won 3-0 in Toronto and went into Belize for the return leg where they only managed a 1-1 tie. That really was not good enough, and I’d hate to imagine what will happen when we go down to play Mexico or even Honduras. We simply have to do better. Belize has only a small semi-pro soccer league, and is ranked 163rd in the FIFA world rankings (we are position #102). Its population of 332,000 is about half that of Winnipeg. Here in Canada, we have more than 800,000 registered soccer players. I would like to see a real blow out by Canada against one of these smaller nations, but it does not happen. Anyway, it was quite the experience to watch the live stream of the match from Belize. Fuzzy picture, hard to make out what was really happening and an absolutely hilarious, wonderfully biased and quite bizarre commentary by two excitable announcers, one who was called “Maestro”, and the other who went by the name of “Mad Bull”, both who went ballistic when Belize scored their goal. However, it was totally unacceptable that there was no Canadian broadcast for this game, either from one of the national sports broadcast companies or Canadian Soccer Association. But this is not even ‘just’ about the broadcasts. It is about the entire mismanagement of soccer in this country. Jason de Vos, a respected soccer commentator, and excellent past national player has spoken at length about the issues of Canadian soccer, but when there is no opportunity to interview the head coach of the National team, after a very disappointing Gold Cup where the team failed to score a goal and several roster decisions were questioned, there must be some serious concerns about the state of soccer in this country. It is very clear that fans really do care, so it is not an issue of that. It appears, to me, that it is something inherently wrong with the soccer culture in this country, essentially and primarily from a media standpoint.

Anyway, next up for Canada in terms of World cup qualifying is Nov. 13 at BC Place in Vancouver when we face Honduras, and that will be quite the test since the last time when we played the return leg in Honduras they embarrassed Canada by beating us 8-1.

Montreal Impact

Montreal impact of Major League Soccer (MLS) has made a huge signing in Ivory coast player Didier Drogba. With a long and successful career in the English Premier League (EPL) in signing Drogba, the Impact is hoping to put fans in seats and recreate the excitement of previous years. And it looks that way. In front of a sell out crowd of a little more than 20,000, Drogba scored three goals during his first full game with the Impact and was named Major League Soccer’s player of the week.

The international star became the first player in MLS history to record a hat trick within his first two games, scoring in the 27th, 61st, and 65th minutes in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire. Drogba scored one goal with his left foot, one with his right foot and one on a header. Money well spent I’d say at this stage of the game.

3-1 . . . and 700 million viewers.

The EPL is only just into its season, but there is incredible worldwide interest in the major matchups. In a classic encounter Manchester United eased past Liverpool as Anthony Martial scored on his debut in a 3-1 win. Anthony Martial was born in December 1995, and is a French footballer. He joined Manchester United for an initial $72 million, the highest fee paid for a teenager in football history, which some commentators have said, quite correctly in my opinion, is totally insane. The BBC stated that there was a worldwide audience of over 700 million for this single league match, which is spectacular when you consider that the Super Bowl’s very best viewer numbers were 140 million.

Cam Cole in the Citizen

In a very interesting article in last weekend’s Ottawa Citizen Cam Cole attempted to join the dots between attendances at MLS teams in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, compared to CFL attendances in those cities. He was suggesting that perhaps interest in the CFL was waning in those markets and that one of the reasons could be the ever increasing interest in their soccer teams. I always am hesitant to compare the leagues as often some CFL fans can get quite rabid and unpleasant towards soccer. But whether they like it or not, it is here to stay. So, bottom line…let’s all try and live together.

Ottawa Fury FC

After picking up three valuable points with an away win deep in the heart of Texas against the San Antonio Scorpions in searing temperatures, Ottawa Fury FC returned home to TD Place to face the red hot Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Veronique Rene did a very sonorous and wonderful renditions of the national anthems, and young Cormac Foster, the Canadian Tire winner who looked very cool brought out the game ball with the officials. And so in a rainy cool 19 C day there were more than 6,000 fans on hand to witness an exciting game with back-and-forth action, shots on goal, but no actual goals. Ottawa’s defence with Colin Falvey and Rafael Alves is reckoned to be one of the best in the league by far and the goalkeeping of Romuald Peiser is absolutely outstanding and should result in him easily being awarded the goalkeeper of the year in the league. A very good match which helped kept Ottawa still at the top of the fall season standings.

But, the coach is leaving!

Ottawa Fury FC announced that Marc Dos Santos, head coach of the Fury since its founding last year, will be leaving the club at the end of the current North American Soccer League season to pursue a coaching opportunity with an MLS organization. The Fury have given permission to the MLS organization to enter into contract discussions with Dos Santos.

"It's the nature of the sport," said Fury FC president John Pugh. "Marc has done a great job for us, other clubs have noticed and he is moving on with the intention of moving up to higher levels of the game. We thank Marc for his two seasons of service to Ottawa Fury FC and wish him well in the future.”

Well, therein lies one issue with the NASL. It is second division North American soccer and MLS is basically Division 1. And so, obviously the top players and coaches in the NASL will attract the attention of MLS teams, and more importantly MLS will throw big bucks around in order to obtain these top coaches and players from the NASL teams.

International goal scoring record

Wayne Rooney made history by breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time England goal scoring record recently in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland at Wembley.

England captain Rooney equalled Charlton's tally of 49 with a penalty in the victory against San Marino that ensured a place at the Euro competition in France next summer.

And he was on the spot against the Swiss for goal number 50 to erase a record that has stood for 45 years.

Rooney rewrote the record books with a thunderous penalty six minutes from time, earning a standing ovation from within Wembley Stadium.

As he celebrated the crowd of 75,751 inside Wembley – joined by manager Hodgson and his backroom team – rose to acclaim the 29-year-old as he was engulfed by teammates. Even the travelling Swiss fans generously recognized the significance of the moment. History had been made.

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 be part of the soccer fan base worldwide, of 3.5 billion and counting! Also, remember … support local soccer! If you have any comments on the beautiful game please contact me at cottrell@nrtco.net or call 613-587-4856.