Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ooh Ah Canada! A 4-1 win over St.Luca to help calm the nerves

For those for those of you who live in Toronto and did not attend the Canadian Men's National Team's (CMNT) 4-1 victory last night against St.Lucia, you missed a special evening. The stadium was not at capacity, but if you were standing outside BMO you would have thought it was ram packed. The atmosphere from the Canadian supporters in the south end was absolutely amazing. Last night was my first opportunity to watch a Canada match from that end of the stadium and I must admit it was an incredible experience. A major factor in that made the experience so memorable was the fact that the majority of the fans were Canadian supporters.

It has been well documented in the past that matches played in Toronto lack home support. Aside from the Voyageurs and the TFC supporters groups who always turn out in their numbers for CMNT games, the crowd tends to be tilted in favour of the away side. A case in point would be Canada's Pre Gold Cup friendly against Ecuador in early June. I was at that game stuck in a section that was 99% Ecuador supporters. Out of the announced attendance of just over 10,000, 90% of those were supporting the away side. What made last night so special was the fact that people of all races and ethnic backgrounds were in the supporters end legitimately supporting Canada. It is a reflection of the current Canadian urban landscape and a refreshing site to see in a city that at times can be quite divided.

Josh Simpson (Centre) celebrating the opening goal.

As for the match itself, Canada dominated with large amount of the game spent in the attacking end. It was clear that they were playing a side in St.Lucia that had a large amount of Semi-Pro players who did not have the conditioning to sustain the pace Canada set. Although Canada eventually put four behind the St.Luca keeper, head coach Stephen Hart will have some concerns heading into Tuesday's match at Puerto Rico. After winger Josh Simpson opened the scoring in the 6th minute, the Canadian back line when to sleep and immediately gave up the tying goal on a wonderfully struck 30 yard shot. The Canadian defenders did a poor job of closing down the St.Lucian midfielder, and keeper Lars Hirschfeld did not cover the proper angles on the shot. However that would have been the only real defensive complaint, the left and right backs for Canada were so far up the pitch they should have considered proper wingers.

Going forward Canada looked sharp, although they at times lacked wide play. Especially down the right in the first half in which there was a lot of space to create chances. The attacking trio of  Simeon Jackson, Dwayne DeRosario and Josh Simpson worked very well along side central midfielder Julian De Guzman. Granted St.Luca were abject at the back, but these are the type of games Canada must to assert its dominance in order to progress to the next round of World Cup qualifying. The road to the next stage is clear, they must win this group to advance. With remaining home and away games against the aforementioned  Puerto Rico and St Kits, plus one more away game at St.Luca this is a group Canada should win.

And a opening match 4-1 thrashing goes a long way to establishing that claim.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

5 really good transfers that flew under the radar

It's always interesting to step back and look at the business clubs made at the end of the busy summer transfer window. The high priced, star laden transfers always get the attention, however it's always good to look further down the transfer list and find those potential diamonds in the rough. Who knew that after his low cost 6 million pound move, Javier Hernandez would turn out the way he did in his first season at Old Trafford? Who knew that Seamus Coleman and not Marouane Fellaini would be Everton's best buy in 2009?

So here they are my 5 best low key buys of the 2011 summer transfer window:

5) Joel Campbell - ST - Deportivo Sapressa (Costa Rica)  to Arsenal (ENG) - Loaned to FC Lorient (FRA)
The Young 19 year old shone at both the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America in his first major senior team tournaments for Costa Rica. However it was his play at the U-20 level that had scouts after the 5'10 striker. 10 goals in 13 games at that level helped propel him to a 5 year deal at Arsenal. Manager Arsene Wenger knowing Campbell needed game time to grow used his French connections and loaned Campbell to FC Lorient, who will have space to play him with the loss of France international Kevin Gamero. If Campbell can adapt to European football his finishing ability could help the Brittany club move up the Ligue 1 table.

4) Ireneusz Jelen - ST - AJ Auxerre (FRA) to Lille (FRA)
While most of the news for the French champions on transfer deadline day was surrounding the loan signing of former England international Joe Cole, a less talked about move was the free transfer for the Polish international Jelen. Coming off the back of a disappointing 2010-11 season with only 5 goals, Jelen will be eager to prove he can get back to the form that saw him score 14 goals for an over achieving Auxerre side in two straight seasons before 2010-11. If Jelen is back to full fitness he has the track record of scoring goals in Ligue 1, and could prove to be the man that can replace the Arsenal bound Gervinho.

3) Davide Santon - DEF - Internazionale (ITA) to Newcastle (ENG)
This move originally looked like a loan deal, but became a full buy the day before the window shut. Santon showed a lot of promise under Jose Mourhino's reign at Inter, however he has since lost his way a little. What we have to remember about Santon is that he's only 20 and he will make mistakes. Aside from a goalkeeper, learning how to be a top notch defender takes time. Santon has an abundance of skill and talent, and if he can adjust to the rigours of the Premier League should be a very good left back.

2) Jonathan De Guzman - MID - Mallorca (ESP) to Villareal (ESP)
Putting aside my "He should be playing for Canada not the Dutch" hat for a second. This is a wonderful pick up for Villareal. De Guzman has excellent vision, creative fair and an eye for goal. The 23 year old was a constant highlight for a Mallorca team that fell short of it's high spending expectations last season. Helping to fill the creative boots for the departed Sani Carzola will be difficult, however Jonathan has all the skill to succeed at El Madrigal. He will be expected to help feed goal machine Giuseppe Rossi as well as add a few goals of his own. De Guzman will also get the opportunity to showcase his skills in Champions League this season which will serve as extra motivation.

1) Shane Long - ST - Reading (ENG) to West Bromwich Albion (ENG)

Surprise! I know this won't be the sexiest choice as number 1, but I was looking at which player will walk into the club and make a difference right away. After watching Long in the championship last year and his first 3 Premier League games this season I believe he's a player. Considering most of the West Brom news this summer focused on the contact saga of star striker Peter Odermwingie, Shane Long's signing was seen as a  scenario in which he backed up Odermwingie. The qualities he has that a lot of new signings into the Premier League do not is the pace, strength and conditioning required to compete at that level. He also has a great strike rate, and has already scored in two of the Baggies three games this season. No one including I are fancying him for the English Golden Boot...yet, but he could become a future contender.

As always these lists are of my own choosing and feeling. Feel free to rip it apart and come up with your own 5 under the radar transfers.