December 18th Edition

Canadian Soccer 2023 Year in Review

What a frankly odd year it has been in Canadian Soccer.

We re-launched this thing back in April with the intention of providing curated weekly updates to Canadian Footy fans and this is now the 37th edition we’ve published. We had no idea this would coincide with probably the wildest year for the program to date, with weekly headlines that at times felt too ridiculous to believe.

Along the way, the readership has continued to grow immensely and we cannot thank all of you enough for continuing to read, share and support our little newsletter.

In 2024, we have some exciting plans to make this even bigger and better as it continues to provide what we feel is a valuable role in the Canadian soccer landscape.

With that being said, if you have any feedback for what you think would make the newsletter even better, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to hear from you.

As the next two Mondays are Christmas day and New Year’s day, we are going to take a bit of a hiatus until early January. We hope you all have a lovely holidays and get to watch or play some footy with the fam.

Until then, enjoy the final edition of The Northern Pitch for 2023.

Canada Soccer

It’s that time of year again. Where Spotify or Apple Music (or whichever streaming platform wants to sponsor us) reminds us just how trash our music taste is, we make unsustainable resolutions, and most importantly reflect back on the past 12 months.

The year in review for Canadian soccer, however, is a bit more complicated as we look back at a 2023 that will certainly go down in the history books.

In January, it seemed like we were all living in the post World Cup glow, where even if Canada got a little bit humbled in Qatar, it was still exhilarating to see them make history on the World stage. It quickly became clear, however, that just below the surface was an absolute tire fire just waiting to explode.

February brought that explosion in full as story after story surfaced about the mismanagement and governance issues that were plaguing CSA. The women’s national team tried to boycott matches at the SheBelieves Cup, then were forced to get back into action under legal threat. Later that month, Nick Bontis resigned as CSA President, but the turmoil certainly didn’t stop there.

Over the months that followed came the Heritage Committee hearings, and ugly statements issued from both sides as it seemed like Canada Soccer and the players were growing further apart by the day in a highly contentious CBA negotiation.

What could have been a massive summer for the program ended in disappointment. In June, the CanMNT got played off the park by the USMNT in the 2023 Concacaf Nations League final. Then in July, what was close to a Canada B team did themselves proud in a penalty shootout loss to the Americans in the quater-finals, but otherwise underwhelmed at the Gold Cup.

Later that month, the CanWNT took to the pitch in Australia at the 2023 Women’s World Cup and failed to get out of their group, including a humbling 4-0 loss to the Matildas in the final matchday.

The start of the fall brought a glimmer of hope, as the Women’s National Team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympic games after a pair of decisive victories over Jamaica.

However, after failing to secure friendlies in September, the Men’s National Team couldn’t close out Jamaica in Concacaf Nations League and missed out on an opportunity to get back to the Nations League finals, and secure a spot at the 2024 Copa America (This one still hurts).

But there is still hope on the horizon. The year ended with a spectacular celebration of Christine Sinclair, the greatest to ever do it, complete with a pair of impressive results for CanWNT against Australia.

If the men can beat Trinidad and Tobago on March 23rd in a Copa America play-in they will get a group that includes Peru, Chile… oh, and World Cup Champions Argentina in the opening game of the tournament. Qualification has never been more vital.

But what happened for most of 2023 has to be a lesson that if this program cannot get its affairs in order quickly, it risks squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accelerate the growth of Canadian soccer with a home World Cup.

No more division. Everybody needs to start pulling in the same direction.

Other news this week

💔 John Herdman shares heartbreaking truth on a podcast (Warning: this section includes discussion about suicide). The former CanMNT coach was featured on the “Player’s Own Voice” podcast hosted by Anastasia Bucsis of CBC. On the show, Herdman had shared the tragedy of his sister’s suicide prior to the World Cup and how it affected him. He had opted to lead the CanMNT in Qatar instead of being with family grieving over the loss. He had described it as “I had a decision to make in June [2022], and I went against my instinct … I shouldn’t have gone.” He further expressed the pain he had felt during this time: “I’ve never been hurt like that.” It’s difficult to imagine what he was going through as he stood on the sideline of Canada’s first World Cup since the 80s. Above all, to mask the grief while on the biggest stage with global attention is something many of us cannot comprehend. For anyone seeking help, please call the 9-8-8 suicide crisis hotline.

🇨🇦 Stephen Eustaquio and Jessie Fleming win Canada Soccer Players of the Year. Of the six finalists, two emerged on top. Unsurprisingly, Chelsea maestro Jessie Fleming won Canada Soccer POTY for the third time. She is the beating heart of any team’s attack. Her passing and playmaking ability is unparalleled. Stephen Eustaquio has won his first-ever POTY award. Rightfully so. He’s been a regular starter for Porto and is one of their main playmakers. He can play as a hold mid, box-to-box or a #10. His versatility demonstrates his footballing IQ and his skills as a complete midfielder.

🍁 Ismaël Koné and Jade Rose were named Canada Soccer Young Player of the Year. Anyone tracking this award handed to U21 players will not be astonished. Ismaël Koné won the award last year, and he is currently the only young Canadian player performing at the highest possible level with Watford. This is Jade Rose’s third time winning the award in the last four years. Rose participated in matches that helped Canada qualify for the Olympics. She has also been a regular starter for Harvard University with 16 appearances, one goal and four assists.

✍️ York United signed coach Martin Nash to a contract extension. York United have signed their first extension of Martin Nash’s contract. Despite troubles with the previous ownership, Nash made club history by accumulating the most wins and points while reaching playoffs for the second time. The last thing to do is disrupt that moment.

🔵 CF Montreal has made moves in the off-season. After letting go of seven players last week, CF MTL has brought in new talent to reinforce the squad, specifically the wing-back positions. MTL brought Raheem Edwards for a second stint in exchange for $400,000 in GAM with LA Galaxy. The second move is controversial and was a trade deal with DC United. Aaron Harrera for Ruan. The latter has a history in Stade Saputo, as he was responsible for injuring Nacho Piatti back in 2019. The fans are split on Ruan, but he is one of the best fullbacks in the league.

✍️ Columbus Crew re-signed Mo Farsi and Julian Gressel made a free agent. It is no surprise that the Crew re-sign Canadian sensation Mo Farsi. After rising through the ranks from Columbus Crew 2, Farsi has earned his spot in Columbus’ first team and has become a vital fixture for Wilfried Nancy. Meanwhile, former Whitecaps Julian Gressel has become a free agent. Gressel is competing in right-back with Farsi and will not dislodge the Montrealer for the starting spot.

👀 Woobens Pacius to MLS? Impact legend Patrice Bernier has stated that Woobens Pacius is headed to an MLS club. On Sunday, Pacius confirmed that he was leaving Forge FC after three highly successful seasons on his personal social media. Where to? Yet to be confirmed. With CF MTL off-loading Romell Quioto, it is safe to say that the club would attempt to bring Pacius back to Quebec. Also, Montreal has a good track record with CPL recruitment. However, Nashville SC are the strong favorites in signing the young forward.

⚽️ Marie-Yasmine Alidou scores a banger in front of a record crowd in UWCL. The Montrealer scored in Benfica’s legendary Estádio da Luz in front of a record 10,787 supporters—the largest-ever attendance to watch a Portuguese women’s club. Alidou’s banger is her 14th goal for Benfica and her 5th goal in UWCL this season. Moreover, this was Benfica’s first UWCL goal in Estádio da Luz. A Canadian made history in Europe.

🇫🇷 Jonathan David last minute goal against PSG. Lille hosted the Parisian Air Jordan collabs in an evenly balanced game. It was a tight affair, with Mbappé putting away a penalty in the 66th minute. Late into stoppage time, Jonathan David scores a header off a rebound with the game finishing 1-1. The young Canadian striker is finally rounding into form this season, and now has five league goals.

🤝 Ismaël Koné faced Liam Millar as Watford played Preston North End. It’s been a couple of weeks for Koné, scoring his first week for the club and contributing a goal in Watford’s 5-1 win away at Preston North End. Liam Millar assisted the game’s first goal, but Watford started putting goals away. Ismaël Koné scored the fifth goal for Watford, now making it his second goal for the club. It was another banger from outside the box.


🏆 Vancouver Whitecaps, Forge FC and Cavalry find out their Champions Cup opponents. The winners of the CanChamps, CPL regular season and CPL champions are given a spot in Concacaf Champions Cup (not Champions League, we know, we’re adapting too.) This week, the draws have been made for the first round and our Canadian clubs have been matched with strong opponents. 

🌊 The Whitecaps will face Liga MX champions Tigres UANL. Vancouver are no strangers to Tigres. Both sides faced off earlier this year in the Leagues Cup. The Caps lost to them on penalties. Tigres has a successful track record in this competition, winning it in 2020. With Vancouver’s new signings and Sartini football proving effective, this will be an even game, especially with Tigres’ squad showing their age. This will be a balanced game.

🔨 Forge FC will play against Mexican heavyweights Chivas Guadalajara. The Hamiltonians are no strangers to this competition. Last year, Cuz Azul knocked them out, losing 4-1 on aggregate. Despite the result, Forge FC displayed an impressive performance. Retaining many of last year’s players, they have a core that understands the pressure of the competition. This will be an exciting matchup—a must-watch.

🐎 Cavalry FC will play Orlando City SC. The Calgary club will face an MLS contender in Orlando City, as they finished second in the Eastern Conference. A well-rounded team with stubborn defence, Cavalry will have a major task ahead. To add complications, Cavalry FC will play their game in Starlight Stadium in Victoria, B.C. due to bad weather. This did not go well with the supporters.

The Best of 2023 Northern Picks

This week’s picks are a collection of our favourites from the past year.

📚 What to read

A New Formation: How Black Footballers Shaped The Modern Game by Calum Jacobs - DARBY staff pick

Angel’s with Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined a Nation and Changed the Game Forever - Selected by Gisoo Kim (@thesoccerpilgrim)

Football Saved My Life - Selected by Tagwa Moyo (@shuttersworth)

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Frankin Foer -Selected by Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic)

The Club: How the Premier League became the Wildest, Richest, Most Discruptive Force in Sports by Joshua Robinson, Jonathan Clegg - Selected by Mitchell Tierney (@MitchellTierney)

By Any Means Necessary by Malcolm X - Selected by Ali Ahmed (@aahmed22_)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Selected by Khendrick Beausoleil

📺 What to watch

Rabona TV - Selected by Gisoo Kim (@thesoccerpilgrim)'

Angel City (HBO Original) - Selected by Alex Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic)

The Blacklist - Selected by Ali Ahmed (@aahmed22_)

That’s Football - Selected by Pat Ryder (@Patryderr)

The Overlap - Selected by Desmond Smee (@dez.the.barber)

Neymar: The Perfect Chaos Selected by Sammy Ssebaduka (@Sammy.Ssebaduka)

Filthy Fellas - Selected by Sekou Thornell (47thkou)

Dogs Of Berlin - Selected by Michael Wagenknect (@wagsinho)

Piers Morgan vs Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Selected by Thomas Meilleur-Giguère (@thomasmeilleur64)

🎧 What to listen to

Just Offside Podcast - DARBY Staff pick

The Footy Culture Podcast - Selected by Gisoo Kim (@thesoccerpilgrim)'

The Future of Football - Selected by Tagwa Moyo (@shuttersworth)

That Peter Crouch Podcast - Selected by Jordan Perruzza (@JordanPerruzza)

All the Smoke - Selected by Ali Ahmed (@aahmed22_)

The Footballer’s Football Podcast - Selected by Sammy Ssebaduka (@Sammy.Ssebaduka)

The Athletic Football Podcast - Selected by Adrian Sousa (@RabonaTV)