For the love of the game

Monday was a good day.

It started like any other. Running around the house like a crazed maniac, saying ‘It’s time to go, it’s time to go, it’s time to go’ about 800 times to get my six-year-old and his friend out the door to soccer camp. Doing volunteer work at the Arts Council of New Westminster, picking up my kid and his friend after soccer camp, watching them go all Lord of the Flies in the forest, running home, eating dinner, running out of the house, once again yelling ‘It’s time to go it’s time to go it’s time to go!’

It’s time to go to football practice.

Nick Hebeler, eat your heart out. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Nick Hebeler, eat your heart out. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Today I stood in front of 30+ six- and seven-year-old boys and two girls (YES) and talked to them about football and about bleeding orange (GO HYACKS! GO LIONS!). Today I got to start them on the road of a lifetime of passion for the greatest sport in the world.

Today I got to share this with my son.

Continue reading For the love of the game

EA nods at the women’s game

For the first time, women will be given some serious play in the world of sports gaming. In the wake of record viewing numbers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan will grace the Canadian and American covers of EA’s flagship soccer title FIFA 16 alongside some guy named Lionel Messi. Not bad company to be in, even if they do call him La Pulga, which is Spanish talk for the Flea. 

This marks the first time that women have been included in the artwork of an Electronic Arts sports title. What’s more, the game will also include the opportunity for gamers to play as women — 12 different women’s national teams appear in the gameplay options, allowing customised FIFA Women’s World Cup scenarios.

Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan appear on the cover of EA's new soccer title, which bodes well for the 2015 Young Player Award recipient Kadeisha Buchanan. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan appear on the cover of EA’s new soccer title, which bodes well for the future of 2015 Young Player Award recipient Kadeisha Buchanan. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Sinclair has been the face of Canadian soccer for more than a decade. As the most decorated player of any gender in the country’s history, she’s a no-brainer to receive this honour. It’s only a matter of time, however, before up-and-coming players like impressive defender Kadeisha Buchanan take her place. Buchanan was flat out the best Canuck in the tournament, even if you include Canadian-born U.S. roster player Sydney “They’re Saying LeBoo” Leroux in the mix.

On that American side, Morgan is a good player, but make no mistake: she’s an aesthetic choice. Alex Morgan is as likely to sell to young males as females — she’s probably more popular among the swimsuit model folks as she is among soccer aficionados.

Sydney Leroux and Ngozi Ebere chase a ball during the women's world cup.
Sydney Leroux was born in Surrey, BC, but plays the beautiful game for the dirty rotten stinkin’ US.  Here she is chasing down a forward ball against Nigeria in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Then again, Christine Sinclair’s American counterpart Abby Wambach will almost certainly retire now that she has finally won a World Cup title. Keeper Hope Solo, thrust front and centre in the championship photos while ol’ Abby stood back to enjoy the view, is mired in a domestic abuse case that advertisers don’t want to touch. And so, as easy as it is to pooh-pooh EA’s choice of the comely visage of Alex Morgan, who else should be on the cover? Carli Lloyd turned in a performance for the ages in the final game against Japan, but frankly not enough people in the public at large know who she is.

Alex Morgan keeps tabs on a Japanese throw in during the final of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Alex Morgan keeps tabs on a Japanese throw in during the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Not surprisingly, U.S. media are by and large reporting only Morgan’s appearance on the brand. Ignoring Sinclair is nothing new for the Yanks, however — even when she scored a hat trick against them at the Olympics, they only had eyes for the Scandinavian referee and her mysterious pro-U.S. whistle.

If this Twitter user has his way, however, future editions of games north of 49 will be even heavier on the CanCon.

Elsewhere, the game will still allow players to select female teams, but the cover will be a boys’ club. In England, for example, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson appears next to Messi. [Editor’s Note: We’ve just been made aware that another EA FIFA 16 cover will also include a woman: Steph Catley of the Matildas will join Lionel Messi on the Aussie cover.]

All snark aside, this is a huge leap forward for the women’s game. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup shattered viewing numbers, both at the turnstyles in Canada and on TVs around the world. The semis between the States and Germany drew more eyes than the NBA finals, and the atmosphere in BC Place for the seven games I attended was phenomenal.

Now, stepping outside the electronic game for a minute, where the hell are the Lady Whitecaps? Surely they would draw as many or more fans than the Whitecaps II are getting at Thunderbird Stadium?

Episode 071: The dirty rotten stinkin’ Americans totally deserved to win the Women’s World Cup

Russell and Jason discuss the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, warts and all. The States didn’t show up until it mattered, when they put beatdowns upon the Germans and Japanese. Do we have to like Wambach, Solo and Leroux? No. Do we have to live with the fact that they’re the class of the joint when it comes to women’s soccer? Sigh.

The United States won their third Women's World Cup title with a 5-2 thrashing of the defending champion Japanese at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The United States won their third Women’s World Cup title with a 5-2 thrashing of the defending champion Japanese at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

 

Caps continue to shine on the road

The Whitecaps continue to shine on the road, taking a 1-1 draw out of Portland this weekend. They’ve taken five points off the Timbers in their three-game season series, notching a win at BC Place back in March and two draws at Providence Park in Portland.

Why is this a big deal? I’m glad you asked.

First, because the Caps just cannot freaking score. Between the Whitecaps, the Canadian national teams — both men’s and women’s, thank you very much — and recent editions of the Canucks and Giants, fans in Vancouver are becoming offended with the lack of offensive production.

Okay, besides that? The Caps took a point out of Portland three months back, you say. Well, the Timbers just don’t concede many points at home — in fact, they’ve won five straight since tying that May 2 match against Vancouver. So it’s pretty darned special for the effing dynamite boys in blue and white to scamper back up the I-5 with a couple of points in their back pocket.

Let’s not forget to look at the Western Conference standings. Vancouver sits just two points back of the dirty, rotten, stinkin’, divin’ dogs from FC Dallas, sure, but only three points separate top spot from the sixth place Timbers. Not only did the Caps steal two points out of Providence Park, but they prevented Portland from getting their muddy mitts on the full six points up for grabs, too.

This draw wasn’t a moral victory, either. It wasn’t the lucky 0-0 draw they got back in May. In that match, Darlington Nagbe put a penalty kick off the post and out of play in the 30th minute. Portland carried most of the possession, and probably deserved better for their efforts. Saturday’s match was a different story. Kekuta Manneh could have scored twice himself, but was stopped by keeper Adam Kwarasey on a breakway and, later, by hirsute defender Nat Borchers on a goal-line slide.

Check out the highlights below, I dare ya.

Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers and Vancouver Whitecaps striker Octavio Rivero. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Octavio Rivero gets his foot on a loose ball which had fallen out of Nat Borchers’ beard. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

While they’ve been fair to middling at home, the Caps have been bloody road warriors this season. They’ve won away against the Chicago Fire, Orlando FC, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution, matching a franchise record of six wins away from BC Place in a single season. This, with five away games left in the MLS schedule. Despite scoring just 24 goals in 21 matches overall — an abysmal 1.14 goals per game — Vancouver is the only team in the Major League Soccer with a positive goal differential away from home.

There is a host of theories about Vancouver’s success on the road, most of which discuss the team’s speedy core of strikers being custom built for the counter attack. At BC Place, they just haven’t shown a consistent ability to parse visitors who sit back and defend — they’re much more comfortable letting other teams come at them, then turning the ball over in the midfield and sending their dynamic forwards, well, forward. Are they good at stopping the ball themselves? Sure. Kendall Waston has shut down opposition strikers game in and game out. Tim Parker has shown surprising dexterity and poise on the back line, and Christian Dean in limited play this year has looked solid. David Ousted? Well, he’s been superb this year. Oustanding, you might say.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC Man of the Match David Ousted. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
David Ousted has been deservedly named as a last-minute addition to the MLS All-Star roster. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

With the summer transfer window open, fans are hoping Carl Robinson can find another Octavio Rivero to jumpstart some offense. If this team could score with any regularity, they’d in all likelihood be in strong contention for the Supporters’ Shield. As it is, even with an anemic finish, they’re still in the conversation.

Vancouver’s next game is at home on July 26 against the atrocious San Jose Earthquakes. It’s a game they should win, against a non-playoff team. Therefore, expect the Whitecaps to play an uninspired 90 minutes that produces little or no results. What better way to limp into August, a month that sees Vancouver play eight matches in three competitions in just 29 days.

More Cheers, Fewer Beers

Hi, I’m Russell Arbuthnot. You may remember me from such blog postings as “A Rennie Saved is a Rennie Earned” and “Band-Aids and Berber.” Typically, my audience (thanks to both my mom and my editor) is used to reading my cogitations on football, but like, the European kind. Here in North America, the colloquial term for the sport is “soccer”, yet our local “soccer” team denotes itself as a “football club” despite playing in Major League Soccer.

It just so happens that we also have another football club in town, which actually plays what is commonly referred to as football in this here continent. The BC Lions F.C. kicked off the 2015 season this past Friday night, providing the first opportunity for the team and fans alike to experience the purported new and improved atmosphere at BC Place.

These dudes weren't in the conference room — they're available for sale at the front counter, though. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
A general feeling of over-crowding is exactly what the Lions are looking for this season after closing off the upper deck at BC Place.  Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Now, fair reader, you may be asking yourself, “Why is this dolt writing about CFL football?” Good question. Jason asked me to produce a preview for the Whitecaps game versus Kansas City in a limited time frame. Me, being the social butterfly that I am, had committed to a variety of good times the likes of which you would never be invited to, so I just couldn’t make it work. One of these events was the aforementioned Lions home opener, hence the revised assignment request. I was there. I got a free hat. Bonus.

Continue reading More Cheers, Fewer Beers

Episode 070: the Canucks are bleeding out

Russell and Jason go with off-season hockey for episode 70: mostly Canucks stuff, but we throw some Brandon Saad and Phil Kessel in there for good measure. Bonus CanCon with Trooper hitting up the outro track.

  • Introduction
  • Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
  • Scars, plasma and exposed dermis, oh my!
  • Canucks bleeding out
  • Sell low, buy pretty much nothing
  • So long Eddie, so long Shawn, so long Juice
  • Vancouver media and their goldfish attention sp…
  • Prust is trade bait at the deadline
  • What about Ryan Miller & the twins?
  • Brandon Saad gets PAID
  • Will Phil Kessel finally hit 40 goals?
  • Three Dressed Up as a Nine by Trooper
  • Thanks for Listening

Adios, Mr Kassian. May your IQ be always in your favour.

Ex-Canucks forward Zack Kassian is an ugly man. Photo stolen without shame from a Pinterest page devoted to ol' Zack.
Ex-Canucks forward Zack Kassian is an ugly man. Photo stolen without shame from a Pinterest page devoted to ol’ Zack.

Putting your favourite sports team’s troubles in perspective.

Because we all need, from time to time, to feel like hey, at least we aren’t that guy, Pucked in the Head is pleased to bring you some news from the Oceania region.

The Federated States of Micronesia recently decided, for the first time in their history, to try and qualify for the Olympics in the sport of men’s football. For those unfamiliar with the tiny island nation, it’s, well, tiny. My garden shed is bigger than this country, as the Voyageurs’ chant goes, and I live in an apartment. The country has a total land area smaller than Metro Vancouver and a population base in the neighbourhood of Maple Ridge. The players had in most cases never left their own island prior to the tournament, and in some cases had never played 11-a-side football before. You might expect this qualification attempt to go poorly. You might be correct.

Micronesia, not a member of FIFA, was put into a group with Tahiti (182nd), Fiji (195th) and Vanuatu (200th) at the Pacific Games, an Olympic qualifying tournament. They lost to those teams 0-30, 0-38 and 0-46 respectively. That’s what happens when you use goal differential as a tie breaker. Here are some highlights, if you can bear to watch.

US women capture third World Cup title

Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny the fact that the American women have dominated women’s soccer for more than 20 years. Their last meaningful loss came at the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, when Japan shocked them with late tying goals in both regulation and extra time, then ultimately won on penalties.

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The 2015 team started this tournament in lacklustre fashion, but turned it on in the semis and final game. They struck four times in the first 16 minutes in Vancouver, embarrassing the Japanese defense with intense play and raw will in the box. The fourth goal, which capped a hat trick for midfielder Carli Lloyd, was a cheeky chip shot from centre field, as keeper Ayumi Kaihori was caught well off her line shouting directions at her team when they turned over the ball.

It was an odd performance by the Japanese, who looked uncharacteristically rattled by the raucous US-dominated crowd.

More later, notably when Russell and I chat the Women’s World Cup this upcoming Wednesday on the radio show. Check out CIVL Radio, or the podcast later in the week for that riveting discussion!

Episode 069: The back side of the ball

John Stewart guests in our second baseball episode. We talk the back side of the ball in this, the 69th episode of Pucked in the Head.

• Introduction
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Mike Zunino can’t hit but he frames pitches like a master
• Paxton designed Zunino’s mitt
• Robinson Cano has a sky high baseball IQ
• A happy little dance at shortstop
• John loves Felix Hernandez
• John loves Kyle Seager, too
• John loves being a nerd, three
• Being a manager is a tough gig
• Stompa! by Serena Ryder

Is decor a dirty word?

My most prized bit of sports decor: a framed 8x10 of Hall of Fame goaltender Gerald Michael "Cheesey" Cheevers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
My most prized bit of sports decor: a framed 8×10 of Hall of Fame goaltender Gerald Michael “Cheesey” Cheevers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

I like my sports stuff. Photos, cards, jerseys… you name it, I’ve got a few. My favourite piece for years has been an 8×10 Gerry Cheevers signed for me when he was in town for a Vancouver Giants Legends Night— dude, CHEEVERS! Two Stanley Cups, the 1974 Canada Cup, a stint in the WHA, and that iconic mask, are you kidding me? This guy is the very epitome of old timey hockey. He’s even got his own three-chord proto-punk song, for crying out loud.

Mrs Pucked in the Head isn’t so wild about having 8x10s and pucks littered about the place, however, even if they have been scribbled upon by ageing professional athletes. I have to pick and choose what goes up on the wall, and what goes into storage. (Sure, I’m a sucker for cutesy pictures of our daughter, but we’ve got plenty of those photos around the rest of the house. I can moon over her adorableness in just about any other room, at pretty much any time, so I stamp this room with my own personal clutter, thank you very much.)

Probably the prettiest medal I've earned so far came from the 2014 Rock n Roll Vancouver half marathon. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Probably the prettiest medal I’ve earned so far came from the 2014 Rock n Roll Vancouver half marathon. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Since I started running last year, for example, I’ve managed to assemble a fistful of finisher medals from 10k races, half marathons and that one bloody full marathon I did back in May. Throw a few of those on the curtain rod, and they look all right. Add some hockey memorabilia and a small collection of tribal masks acquired during various vacations, and you’ve got a cosy little office space.

Continue reading Is decor a dirty word?