On The Surface: Some thoughts ahead of the first Canadian Premier League season

On The Surface: Some thoughts ahead of the first Canadian Premier League season

They were keepers of the flame when the small spark of a new league was suggested, confirmed, peddling intrigue on their podcasts, pushing out speculative articles, prodding those on the inside for pre-release nuggets, providing fodder for the forums.

A few even suggested they wouldn’t mind a gig with the league, a team, before first kick.

The long-serving Canadian soccer personality Duane Rollins, who in the past scheduled fund raising on the novel concept of daily pushing out numerous short blurbs on his website, emphasizing quantity over quality (a practice that hopefully didn’t extend to personal endeavours, making the 24th minute an ambitious timeline), staked a claim on being the first to announce the strong probability of a new domestic football league.

Mr. Rollins has paid his dues, elevated his brand, known by brethren footy podcasters, scribblers on both sides of the border, being one of the few canucks who is regularly called on to comment on the state of football in Canada. He has shown passion, a vigour for the declared and hopeful communities of the CPL, bringing a bantering maturity when the league is featured on the Soccer Today! podcast.

His game was a tad sharper, more entertaining when he was challenged, had to take some lumps, from the fluctuating audio crew back in the day, than simply dealing with the single foil of Kevin Laramee.

In recent years he’s fired a few hopeful flares, implying that he wouldn’t mind a job in the CPL, but appears to have settled into having Mr. Laramee encourage listeners to subscribe to the Two Solitudes podcast (for patrons only), with the implied delivery of in-depth, tasty bits about the league, to procure coin.

There’s usually a couple of times in a Whitecaps match on TSN that you conclude that the bespectacled Peter Schaad is in urgent need of scheduling a consultation with a competent optometrist when he enthusiastically states that a ‘Caps shot “skimmed the post” when it was obviously a metre wide, outraged when a yellow is issued to a ‘Caps player though he” barely clipped him”, while his former broadcasting partner Daso would courteously delay the correct verdict till after the replay – “ nope, he got him”, getting a grudging agreement from Schaad.

He has been applauded by viewers south of the border, perceived not to be steeped in homerism, fans appreciating his generosity in praising the quality moments, players on the opposing team, knowledgeable about the league. His longevity as the voice of the Whitecaps has a strong local contingent appreciating his professionalism, while (especially during the Rennie, Robbo era) having critics that find his creative ability to delay serious debate, criticism of management and manager, cloying.

The Villain’s love of football, from playing to following to broadcasting was evident, occasionally glorious, in the few years he commanded The Footy Soldiers, his podcast (decommissioned) that enlisted the Rodgers brothers, Mark and Jon.

They held a briefing on the Canadian Premier League on February 11th 2016, free flowing opinions that were strongly presented, occasionally edging into borderline strident, Schaad drifting into a Bernd Schuster mazy run, passionate in detailing the dream of having the Stanley Park Gunners walking out on a pitch at Brockton Oval.

They laid down some markers that have been picked up by the CPL – emphasizing a boutique approach, appreciating, focusing on the fanbase, making game day an event, suggesting free jerseys for season ticket holders. The trio were seconded to the league in 2018, Jon designing the Calvary FC logo, Mark hired as a university scout prior to the CPL U Sport draft, Peter designated the Brand Identity Team Storyteller. Quite the tale….

The seven teams were each given a Club Story video that began with the nonsensical “To launch the CPL, we went on a journey from coast to coast, to search out the identity of soccer in Canada” – a PR exercise that was focused on rolling out the name chosen by the respective owner(s), than finding a true local pulse. The next shot is Schaad being filmed in an office, sporting socks that may have been purchased for his involvement in an amateur production of Pufnstuf, at ease in his spiel.

Cavalry FC : Club Story starts with informing us that after meeting “dozens of Calgarians”, what emerged was a coming together during times of adversity, Schaad informing us that the theme was one of selflessness, bringing up how the citizens of Calgary responded to the Bow River flooding, the fire at Fort McMurray, suggesting that Albertans are primarily known for their community spirit during times of crisis.

The response to a catastrophe can bring out the best in people, folks coalescing around helping those in need, an opportunity to re-awaken base values, share kindness. The wildfires in the interior of BC in 2017 had the Kamloops region rallying with an estimated 4,000 volunteers to help the temporarily displaced, take care of livestock, pets, a centre for distributing governmental aid, accepting private donations.

The volunteers were happy to receive a shipment of bottled water from Fort Mac, a reciprocation for the convoy from the ‘ Loops that made the trek to Northern Alberta a year earlier. Nik Ledgerwood should have stopped after “I think that goes across Canada as a whole”, but this was primarily a contrivance for further droppings of road apples….

Next down is Schaad falling off the hay wagon in his description of the volunteers who became Lord Strathcona’s horse and fought in the Boer War, as “a group of area ranchers who said let’s pack up and go … the ultimate sign of selflessness“, leaving the impression that it consisted of cowpokes near Cowtown who pawned the family silverware to travel to South Africa.

Donald Alexander Smith (Lord Strathcona) was one of the last private citizens to raise and pay for a regiment in the British Empire. They were marshalled in Winnipeg and consisted of “roughriders” recruited from over 20 centres across the western provinces and Ontario, including a strong contingent of volunteers from the North West Mounted Police. They departed from the ‘Peg for Halifax with 540 soldiers, 599 horses, sailing for Cape Town on March 16, 1900, sadly suffering the loss of 176 horses on the voyage.

The regiment’s badge doesn’t bring up an association with Sugarfoot riding the range in wildrose country; strictly a homage to Lord Strathcona, with a crown and lion designating allegiance to the monarchy, four gents in a canoe, and a (pre-skinned) beaver gnawing a tree that acknowledges the peer’s service with the Hudson’s Bay Company, a hammer and spike tribute to his being a co-founder of the CPR (he’s the bearded bigwig pounding in the last spike at Craigellachie).

The video brings up “the unified spirit of its people” with the inference that the feel of the city has changed, featuring a DJ spinning for a pulsating, momentarily free-spirited gathering, likely more attuned with finding molly and Montellier than having an affinity for chaps and spurs.

Prior to his marching to a military tattoo, Schaad had advocated Foothills FC for Calgary and Lokomotiv FC for Winnipeg (tempting to ponder the names the supporter groups could have adopted, the potential for incorporating a red star into their gear).

The shoe (with some hammering on an anvil) fits in Calgary with the celebration of the Stampede, horse flesh galloping down the sidelines at McMahon Stadium. Lord Strathcona’s Horse were officially established in Calgary in 1919, rolling the tanks to their new barracks near Edmonton in the late 90’s, but it appears that its association with Spruce Meadows, the CEO and former Olympian Linda Southern-Heathcott aware that Dressage FC would be a step too far, allowing Calvary FC to prevail over a more imaginative moniker.

It has become an annual affirmation that leading up to the ‘Caps season, Schaad glides into the studio, imbued with a Steve Marriot all I need is your whispered hello, smiles melting the snow, nothing heard, your eyes, they’re deeper than time young man’s infatuation, words dancing as he energetically informs the hosts and listeners that at training the recently signed midfielder was pinging the ball all over the park, the on-loan striker fiercely rippling the onion bag, intrigued with the gaffer’s musings, throwing in the caveat that he knows where the exit is should the season go south, moments when he is probably unaware of the depths he has slid into the sell.

When he’s truly feeling it, Schaad has the ability (especially on his radio broadcasts) to set the anticipation of the opening kick-off with a short burst of vibrancy that can make you ache to be at the stadium, firing up that desire, necessity, of catching a live match.

We also know that Schaad can smoothly shill shite, flourishes included “the (Bow) river rose; the citizens rose higher”, and when he shamelessly surrenders to a league narrative whose recipe is stuffed with porkies, one is reminded that his utterings have to be parsed, that solidarity with his audience vacillates.

I was expecting it from the former host of Red Card, but it’s still gobsmacking that Anthony Totera believes that an audience would want, benefit from his compulsion for kicking out the cliches, banalities, accompanied with a side dish of ass-kissing.

Don’t believe me? Listen to the Canadian Footy Corner podcast, Episode 2, and his responses are thirteen minutes of time crime, weighed down with platitudes, hugs with Pierce Lang, trotting out information that is familiar to fans of the CPL who aren’t comatose.

Pierce Lang and Jon Peckitt were actually on point with their proddings, especially interested in the response to Mr. Lang’s cheeky query on how he got his job with the league, but he deflects with a mind-numbing personal growth, gratitude parade. “It’s an interesting story” Mr. Totera begins – not the way he tells it!

He thanks, praises more folks than an Oscar winner, tripping over the superlatives he was trying to spit out. Victor Montagliani is bestowed “the man”, it’s “God bless Bob Young”, David Clanachan, Paul Beirne and Scott Mitchell are apparently “unbelievable”, a shout out to Dino Rossi, and his gaffer Jim Easton Jr is the mesmerizing “leader, innovator, main man behind the scenes.” He has elevated fauning to heights Nijinsky never achieved.

Pierce Lang brought up that he was aware that Mr. Totera had gone on a speaking tour of League1, amateur clubs, Totera responding by sketching in the basics of players being interested in the CPL, devoid of specifics, not a single deep dive. One would need The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch creative infusion to contemplate Mr.Totera even slightly deviating from a standard rah rah, league infomercial, presentation.

Mr. Totera was in the front office of the North York Rockets of the CSL, a four year stretch with League1 Ontario’s Dino Rossi, one of the first hires of the CPL – he must have value beyond a lengthy stretch of networking, an ability to stick to the script glad handing, that is not perceived from his Red Card, public, mundane offerings.

He’s well known, apparently well-liked in the soccer community, he should consider being forthright or pass on podcast participation.

It’s a safe bet that AFTN’s Michael McColl would be lining up the night before when a CPL team opens its office in the Lower Mainland, that the GM better sit down for the lengthy justification that he be hired, fulfilling the dream of working for a football team.

The Young Gaffers’ Adam Kostanuick’s arrival in Victoria coincided with PFC starting to pick up steam, and I’m surprised that Josh Simpson didn’t hear (and remedy) his initial weekly update of informing us of his unemployed status. Passionate in covering the CPL on the podcast, a youngster at Xmas in revealing the free swag he received from the club for helping out with their open trials.

You could fill a couple squads, players on the bench for those who have been passionately providing (much appreciated) a lengthy service in the amateur ranks with blogs and podcasts on Canadian football. The CPL has to be happy with the number that have recently come into existence that focus on the league. Should they have ambitions, it could be tough to get a foot in the CPL’s door, the demand to be a proficient all-rounder in digital, social media and marketing, like…

Kurt Larson, disdained by a contingent of Whitecaps faithful, didn’t endear himself to female footballers with his brain shrinkage observation “Matches aren’t won via athleticism and emotion as they are in the women’s game. Results are secured through tactics and technical ability on the men’s side”.

He obviously made a better impression with the Commish in his sit down with David Clanachan that appeared in the Toronto Sun on January 11, 2018, and was hired as the league’s director of content six months later, deemed by a Southsider as “the first major misstep of the CPL.”

A three man media crew was assembled, appreciating Armen Bedakian’s early efforts to throw out a strong hook to drag you into a story, disappointment that his hyped Issey Nakajima-Farran three-parter featured more gushing than the vertical eruption that put a smile on James Dean’s mug in Giant, the continued narrative devolving into a Ride Captain Ride shmaltz.

To round out their coverage, it felt inspired and sensible that the league decided to hand out writing assignments to scribblers across the country, a few who have served our footy community for years, familiar names in Steve Sandor, Oliver Platt, and James Grossi. There have been efforts where talent shone, hard grafting evident, the angle intriguing, but far too often the background has been drenched with the need to invigorate a player’s journey that felt forced, incomplete or too familiar, the mandatory soaking up a coach’s sop, perhaps the league making them aware of the benefits of wearing belt and braces.

The loquacious Mr. Squizzato, whose twitter profile indicates a hand-waive dismissal of the debated self-deprecation, stick with distilling the pragmatic of Samuel Johnson’s “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money”, produced an article for the league that while he re-tweeted Larson’s promo, it likely raised an eyebrow or two with the author ”Nobody writes about the magic of the Voyageurs Cup quite like Daniel Squizzato.”

You can find other examples of Larson’s puffery, wise that they didn’t affix a comments section, that promoting the league and their players in a pre-dominantly soft light is the name of the game. Dictated or his own volition, it’s unlikely that he possesses the fortitude, desire to shake the feed of short articles that lean to displays of competency than evoking verve (perhaps reflecting the remuneration).

It took eight seasons and a lawsuit for MLS to recognize their players union, and I hope that the CPL can avoid hiring Chuck Tchobanian and entering a courthouse, that a players association will peacefully emerge in the league. It’s likely a few years away, but behind closed doors issues related to players must have been sorted, that treatment has to be seen as uniform for all clubs.

We haven’t been provided the details of their salary cap, minimum salary, how U Sports players will be compensated (scholarship funded?), the preferred duration of a contract, and if the suggested option years ban is league policy.

They have to decide that to attract players that are above a team’s pay grade, they’ll forgo the possibility of a transfer fee and allow a player to park themselves in the league for a season, on display to land a more attractive contract. Will foreign players be provided with medical coverage after the season has ended? What will be their status in the country should their contract be terminated?

These issues (and others) will emerge in the season, the league will be pressed for answers and Larson should try and get out in front of these concerns, branch out from the duckin’ and jivin’, treat these topics with the base line that the majority of those that peruse the articles will possess decent brain function.

It’s unlikely that Larson is dismayed in his decline from the endurance high of meeting deadlines, intriguing interactions, observing beautiful football, that life-affirming foreign footsteps of covering a World Cup, amusement in debating what tidbits of inner sanctum gossip, facts to reveal as an ink-stained wretch for those interested in TFC, to currently being viewed by a few as primarily an in-house pablum pusher.

The dosh is probably above decent, Postmedia and job security aren’t synonymous, there’s a feel of camaraderie, flashes of piss-taking with the pitch boys of summer trio – and he’s in on the creation of a new league. Communal living with OneSoccer and Mediapro, a 365 days cycle need for programming that could lead to Larson having the opportunity to form his own production company to help handle the demand.

When the CPL unveiled the Mediapro deal, VW sponsorship on a gray and cold late February day in Toronto, David Clanachan was last to the mic, beginning his address to the gathering by declaring that he could have utilized his Tim Hortons dough and depart for warmer climes, conjuring being poolside, shades, Paul Theroux on the earbuds, slathering Coppertone on his ahh slider depot, rejuvenation in the sunshine.

One can speculate on what made the commissioner head straight for the confessional – stressed by the rapidly approaching first kick, a deep breath exhale that the foundation was being set with impressive partnerships, a shiver that a post-World Cup start in ’18 was contemplated.

There must be moments in his office that he’s tempted to indulge in a boot scootin’ care free shuffle, delighted that the talented people he hired have more than delivered, hopefully tempered with understanding for the few who occasionally disappoint.

The affable Bobby Lenarduzzi, if not pressed for time (or feeling the walls slowly closing in) would be happy to chat with a ‘Caps fan, chuffed at looking out from his perch and seeing a full house, but after 45 years on the Vancouver soccer scene, it can’t match the energetic hustle, highs and lows of Josh Simpson, Rob Friend, and Dean Shillington bringing a club to fruition in Victoria. The gratitude they express on podcasts, the creativity that went into opening a store and happily serving popcorn to those lined up to get in, suggests they greet the morning invigorated for the travails of the day.

The words, commentary, will expand as the matches begin, grins and spin, an expected few sour and sulky. The artifice of a seven team new endeavour, massaged from Toronto, nourished locally, a civic pride that could have the footy agnostics joining the congregation with a prayer that the team flourishes in their community, curiosity possibly enticing them to fork out for a ducat. A smile for those who go to their first professional match and are bewitched, a sigh that the seduction can be lasting, commanding.

Many moons ago, John McGrane appeared on The Soccer Show (hosted by Nigel Reed and Robert Iarusci), the old school NASLer and national team player, currently a VP with Forge FC, reminiscing that playing for the Aztecs, he was walking in downtown Los Angeles on a game day morning and spotted teammate George Best weaving out of a booze can, and the priority immediately became hooking up a caffeine IV and getting him to the stadium on time.

The raconteur mentioned that he was planning to bang out a memoir that would entertain, stray from the staid and stuffy. A terrible tease, it appears his interest waned and the tome never emerged. The SFU alumnus was also a coach and GM for the Hamilton Steelers, and it would be a true service if he would be the hub to canvass former owners, management, players, and fans in producing a tribute to the CSL.

Hopefully there’s a diarist or two at CPL HQ, that when it’s time to re-new the Mediapro contract, they celebrate the first decade with facilitating a history of the league. I wouldn’t expect the author to suffer a strain hauling out the dirty laundry, but there has to be honesty in detailing the triumphs, difficult stretches and embarrassing moments.

The fans deserve it.

Authored by: Mark Bick

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