All posts by Chris Withers

Whitecaps Draft Recap: Replacing Andy O’Brien

In the 2015 MLS SUUUUUUUPERDraft, the Vancouver Whitecaps selected, I kid you not, a guy from Hicksville and a Banjo for him to play with. The Caps came into the draft looking to shore up their depth in a couple of key areas, and appear to have ticked all their boxes by selecting Tim Parker from Hicksville, NY via St John’s University, and Kay Banjo from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

Continue reading Whitecaps Draft Recap: Replacing Andy O’Brien

Somebody Approved This: 2015 NHL All-Star Jersey

In an age of hyper marketing, intense competition and tightly controlled PR, it’s amazing that truly horrible ideas can still make it past the brainstorming stage. Whether it’s the nightmare of design by committee or just a conflagration of mediocre talents pulling the wool over the eyes of out of touch rich CEOs, we occasionally see awful designs rolled out in an underwhelming explosion of anticlimax. Today, we analyze the most recent NHL obscenity with the resurrection of Somebody Approved This.

Recently, the National Hockey League apparently decided to just give up on their All-Star Game. “Screw it,” I imagine Gary Bettman saying, laying arms crossed inside a coffin while Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly nourishes him with the blood of the eternally youthful Jaromir Jagr. “If the fans want to turn this thing into a farce by voting in an obscure Latvian member of the Buffalo Sabres with 42 career points then we shall give them their farce!” Enter the latest in somewhat sorta hockey jersey-looking apparel. The 2015 NHL All-Star jersey, brought to you by Zellers.

BMX hockey tribute jackets? Nope. These are the actual 2015 NHL All-Star Game jerseys. Not even Chris Withers likes them.
BMX hockey tribute jackets? Nope. These are the actual 2015 NHL All-Star Game jerseys. Not even Chris Withers likes them.

Continue reading Somebody Approved This: 2015 NHL All-Star Jersey

Is there hope for 2018?

It is unknown at this time whether Benito Floro is familiar with the works of Emily Dickinson. Photo cribbed from a rudimentary foray into Googleland.
It is unknown at this time whether Benito Floro is familiar with the works of Emily Dickinson. Photo cribbed from a rudimentary foray into Googleland.

As Benito Floro begins the onerous task of hauling the Canadian Men’s National Team — kicking and flailing like Doneil Henry playing fullback — out of the year-long nadir that began with 8-1 and saw Les Rouges fail to score even once in 2013, there is a feeling of wrongness about even trying to hold this discussion. “A World Cup qualification,” we all cry, channeling the timeless incredulity of Jim Mora, “I just hope we can win a game!” But time marches on, and the abysmal 2013 plunged Canada far enough down the CONCACAF rankings that we find ourselves just half a year away from participating in the minnow round of yet another World Cup qualifying cycle. Is there hope this time?

Of course there is.

Continue reading Is there hope for 2018?

Earthquakes Shake Up Whitecaps Offence

Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts to earn a corner kick, and the Vancouver Whitecaps proceeded to score off that corner kick en route to a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Now, there’s a whole lot of awesome going on in that lede, so let’s break it down, shall we?

Seba Fernandez buzzed the San Jose Earthquakes defense all night, as the Whitecaps took a 2-nil decision at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Seba Fernandez buzzed the San Jose Earthquakes defense all night, as the Whitecaps took a 2-nil decision at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“…the Vancouver Whitecaps proceeded to score…”
Mired in the longest goal-scoring drought of their MLS existence, forced to listen to boos, heckles and songs declaiming their utter lack of prowess in front of goal from their own supporters, the Whitecaps did the recently unthinkable and potted not one, but TWO GOALS! They even scored both of them themselves.

Pedro Morales was a one-man wrecking crew for the Whitecaps, at times taking on the entire Earthquakes back line to get the ball into position. Later he would score the club's first goal in 450 minutes of MLS play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Pedro Morales was a one-man wrecking crew for the Whitecaps, at times taking on the entire Earthquakes back line to get the ball into position. Later he would score the club’s first goal in 450 minutes of MLS play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts…”

This is what Victor Bernardez looks like when kicked in the junk. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
This is what Victor Bernardez looks like when kicked in the junk. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

It was not a good day for the Honduran defender, whose aged testicles received two solid blows — one literal, one figurative — both of which led to goals. Referee Jose Carlos Rivero delivered the first in the 39th minute, when he figuratively kicked the seasoned defender in the nuts by awarding a dubious penalty kick to the Whitecaps. Bernardez’ contact with Kendall Waston on a Morales free kick seemed  minimal, and I’m not entirely convinced Waston could have got anything on the header even if he’d been unimpeded. (Hey, it bumped the slump, we’ll take it.) The second was a literal shot to the cojones from Fernandez, who broke down the left wing, cut to the inside, and attempted to deliver a cross that was intercepted by the Bernardez family jewels.

“…proceeded to score off a corner kick…”
Well. That was refreshing.

Kendall Waston celebrates his first MLS goal, a gloriously aggressive header off a corner kick. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Kendall Waston celebrates his first MLS goal, a gloriously aggressive header off a corner kick. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

(Editor’s note: it was just the second Whitecaps goal off a corner kick this season, and Carl Robinson looked positively teary-eyed when he saw his dream of Kendall Waston heading home this set piece.)

“…a 2-0 win…”
For only the second time in their last 11 games, the Whitecaps won! The win puts the blue and white two points clear of Portland for the final playoff spot, with seven games each to play, and gives them a four-point cushion over Toronto FC for a place in the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League.

Mauro Rosales was less of a factor this game, but still put a few dangerous-looking crosses into play from the flank. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Mauro Rosales was less of a factor this game, but still put a few dangerous-looking crosses into play from the flank. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“…a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.”
As much fun as it was to get a win and see some goals for, we should probably not get too high. Erik Hurtado and Sebastian Fernandez couldn’t score on gilt-edged chances, making it more than five games since the Caps got a goal from a forward. The Earthquakes — let’s face it — are also pretty terrible: sub-par in every category but the little-known stat, Ugly-ass Black Capris Owned By Goalkeepers, San Jose look like a team playing out the string. Or possibly a team playing their second game in four days, a fate that awaits the Whitecaps as they travel to Dallas on Saturday for what should be a much sterner test.

The legendary first touch of Erik Hurtado is back in full form, as he managed to fluff several chances in glorious field position. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The legendary first touch of Erik Hurtado is back in full form, as he managed to fluff several chances in glorious field position. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Whitecaps Look Lost In Space Against Galaxy

If there remained any doubt about who the Vancouver Whitecaps’ most valuable player is in 2014, tonight’s match removed it. The Caps returned to the Stubhub Center on Saturday evening without standout defensive midfielder Matias Laba, who served his one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. The difference was stunning.

Matías Laba was forced to wear his training gear, as he served a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. Sadly, the Caps didn't seem to get out of practice mode themselves, dropping a 2-0 decision to the far superior LA Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Christopher Vose at the Vancouver Herald.
Matías Laba was forced to wear his training gear as he served a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. Sadly, the Caps didn’t seem to get out of practice mode themselves, dropping a 2-0 decision to the far superior LA Galaxy. Photo of early season training at UBC courtesy of Christopher Vose at the Vancouver Herald.

Without Laba, and with Gershon Koffie still nursing an ankle injury, the Whitecaps resorted to a defensive midfield pairing of Russell Teibert and Mehdi Ballouchy. The result was an underwhelming, listless performance in a 2-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy. It was arguably Vancouver’s worst performance of the 2014 campaign.

Laba’s absence seemed to affect the Whitecaps in a way no other player’s absence has so far this year. They missed his timely interventions, and the way he so casually turns the ball up field without immediately conceding possession.

Without him, Los Angeles roamed through Vancouver’s half with impunity, the Caps utterly unable to dispossess them. Even when the ball miraculously ended up on the foot of a player in blue, the clearances were uninspring. Ballouchy and Teibert often resorted to farting the ball in the general direction of Darren Mattocks, hoping he would be able to win an aerial duel. I am unable to recall him doing so.

The highlight of the game was getting a look at both of the club’s latest acquisitions, with Kendall Waston and Mauro Rosales both making second-half appearances. Though neither was able to make a difference on the scoreboard, both showed glimpses of why Carl Robinson brought them in. Waston set up Vancouver’s best scoring chance of the night, with a nice little touch to Mattocks, while Rosales had some promising possession on the right.

The lowlight was a ridiculously bad tackle from behind late in the game by Johnny Leveron that drew a straight red. Though it certainly didn’t affect the outcome of the game, Vancouver having rolled over long since, the mistake could be exceptionally costly for Leveron, as it opens the door for Waston to start in his natural centre back position next week. It would not surprise in the least if the big Costa Rican took the spot and did not relinquish it.

Up next for the Whitecaps is a potentially Cascadia Cup-clinching derby at home against the Portland Timbers. Fans should keep their fingers crossed that the return of the young Argentine turns around the dreadful form the team was on tonight.

A League Of Our Own?

It’s been twenty-two years since Canadians have had a domestic soccer league to call their own. In 1992, the semi-professional Canadian Soccer League folded after only six seasons. Since then, the Canadian soccer landscape has been dotted with mostly short-lived teams trying to make their way as part of dodgy American leagues. Yesterday, news broke on Canadian Soccer News that the long winter of domestic soccer in this country may finally be drawing to a close.

The report, somewhat limited in details, says that the Canadian Soccer Association is in talks with the Canadian Football League and the North American Soccer League (current home of FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury) to bring domestic soccer to Canada as early as 2016.

If accurate, this could be the most important moment in Canadian soccer since the men’s national team qualified for the ’86 World Cup. Canada is one of an incredibly small number of countries to have qualified for a World Cup without a domestic league, and a Canadian league is seen by many as an important step towards getting back to that stage. The establishment of a stable league would be a massive coup for the oft-maligned CSA.

The viability of a Canadian league is certainly not a given. Historically low soccer attendance figures in many major markets, combined with the huge distances teams necessarily need to travel in this country, make the financial prospects far from rosy. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear that the CSA may be enlisting the aid of the CFL.

The report says that the league will initially comprise seven teams, each associated to a CFL team. A CFL partnership makes sense for a few reasons. First, if anyone knows how to run a nationwide league without going broke, it’s these guys. Second, having respected institutions like CFL teams (well, CFL teams not nicknamed Argonauts) using their marketing muscle to support a fledgling league would be just what the doctor ordered. Third, there is the very real possibility that they can bring TSN — a network that almost single-handedly saved the CFL in the not-too-distant past — along for the ride.

TSN is in an odd place right now, having recently announced that they’re expanding their channel lineup while also being outbid for National Hockey League rights by Rogers Sportsnet. They already have easily the best soccer production crew in the country, so it makes some sense that they might look to the most popular game on the planet to give their subscribers something to watch.

If I have one major concern about the report, it’s the tidbit that teams will be playing in CFL venues. This seems like an awful idea at first glance. Even the smaller stadia like Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium and Hamilton’s not-yet-completed Tim Horton’s Field seat upwards of 20,000 people, when division two soccer in this country has always hovered around 3,000-5,000. The biggest task for the league will be to find a way to get attendance high enough that the atmosphere doesn’t suffer.

World Cup Power Rankings: Volume 1

Now that we’ve had a look at all 32 teams competing in Brazil, let’s take a look at where they stand. Please note: like all power rankings ever created, these are complete bullshit. These particular rankings do not necessarily reflect how good the teams actually are, or how they are playing. Rather, these rankings give us a chance to crack jokes and make snide comments.
CW — Chris Withers; JK — Jason Kurylo

32) Uruguay
New rule: lose to a CONCACAF team, and you get dropped to the bottom of the rankings. I’m not sure why I’m surprised. This is a team that managed a scoreless draw against Jordan at home in their final qualification game. Jordan. CW

31) Ghana
Sorry guys, but rules are rules. Look, you outplayed the USA and deserved better than a 2-1 loss, but you’ve got all the polish and finish of (somewhat ironically) a 400 lb American redneck in a barbecue sauce-stained tank top cruising up to the McDonald’s drive through in an 84 Dodge pickup at 3 in the morning. CW

Never Ghana give you up.
Never Ghana give you up.

30) Honduras
Fuck these guys and the bullet-ridden, thrice-carjacked bus they rode in on. The slaughter at the hands of the French is the first step in what’s sure to be an early exit for these assholes. You’d think they’d be more motivated to stay, given that the alternative is returning to Honduras where the largest export is stray bullets. (PS: CBC, I’m sure you must have footage of Honduras scoring goals against countries other than Canada. Please use some of it.) Spend a few weeks watching international football with fans of Canada’s men’s squad, and you’ll understand my unvarnished rage. CW

29) Australia
Australia is a terrifying place. Poisonous jellyfish, Vegemite, giant poisonous centipedes, Vegemite, and something called the Australian Paralysis Tick (!!?). The fates didn’t really need to add yet another way to go, yet here they are in a group with Chile, the Netherlands and Spain. Still, I can’t feel too bad for them. If you’re going to walk around with a name like the Socceroos, trouble will follow. CW

Continue reading World Cup Power Rankings: Volume 1

A Million Ways To Lose The Voyageurs Cup

Add another one to the list. Last night, the Vancouver Whitecaps’ improbable streak of failing to win the Voyageurs Cup stretched to 13 years when Joe Bendik made the only save of a penalty shootout to send Toronto FC through to the finals against the Montreal Impact.

Erik Hurtado dances and deals prior to Darren Mattocks' goal during a 2-2 draw between the Whitecaps and LA Galaxy. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Erik Hurtado is starting to shed his reputation as a speedster with no touch; he provided more than a few moments of excitement, including a gorgeous one-touch goal on a full run, during a home-and-home against TFC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Continue reading A Million Ways To Lose The Voyageurs Cup

Whitecaps Wednesday – Yet More MLS Expansion

Let me tell you a story about soccer, greed and spending outside your means.

Once upon a time, there was a league of soccer teams in North America called the North American Soccer League. (Nobody in 1968 had an imagination, more’s the pity. ) Despite a rocky start, the NASL accomplished quite a bit in a short time. In 1969, the league had only five teams, and an average attendance under 3,000. Only a decade later, the league’s heyday saw 24 teams compete before an average attendance of over 14,000. Vancouver fans saw a championship team in the midst of that heyday, as the Whitecaps won the NASL SoccerBowl in 1979 over the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Five seasons after that, however, in 1985, the league was dead.

Carl Valentine was one of the darlings of NASL soccer in its heyday, helping the Vancouver Whitecaps to its only SoccerBowl trophy in 1979. Today he works as an ambassador for the MLS incarnation of the club. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Carl Valentine was one of the darlings of NASL soccer in its heyday, helping the Vancouver Whitecaps to its only SoccerBowl trophy in 1979. Today he works as an ambassador for the MLS incarnation of the club. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Continue reading Whitecaps Wednesday – Yet More MLS Expansion

Preview: Whitecaps at Galaxy

Ah, the home-and-home. Beloved institution of NHL schedule-makers, now being adopted by the demented spider monkeys that determine the Major League Soccer schedule by, one assumes, flinging their faeces at team logos on the wall and seeing what sticks. The Vancouver Whitecaps take to the road this coming Saturday to face the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Stubhub Center before returning home next weekend for a rematch at BC Place.

Gershon Koffie assisted on two Whitecaps FC goals in their only defeat of the LA Galaxy: a 3-1 win last season at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Gershon Koffie assisted on two Whitecaps FC goals in their only defeat of the LA Galaxy: a 3-1 win last season at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Caps have a tall order this weekend. They have yet to manage a single point against the Galaxy on the road, being outscored by a dismal 12-2 in their five losses. This club, at full strength, could likely compete well with the Galaxy, but alas they will not be at full strength.

Continue reading Preview: Whitecaps at Galaxy