February 26th Edition

CanWNT off to strong start at W Gold Cup & 2024 CanChamp draw revealed

Tournament football was on the mind this week in Canadian Soccer. 

The Canadian women’s national team are absolutely buzzing at the first-ever Concacaf W Gold Cup, and have already booked their spot in the knockout rounds.

Meanwhile, Canada Soccer unveiled some spicy matchups in the opening round of the 2024 Canadian Championship.

Plus, MLS opening weekend, Richie Laryea’s return to TFC, and plenty more in this week’s edition of The Northern Pitch.

CanWNT off to strong start at W Gold Cup

Canada Soccer

It is just about a dream start for the Canadian women’s national team at the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. After two dominant performances, a 6-0 win over El Salvador and a 4-0 win over Paraguay, they booked their spot to the knockout stage, and sit comfortably at the top of Group C.

Canada scored just three minutes into their first-ever Concacaf W Gold Cup match, as Cloé Lacasse found the back of the net on a deflected strike. They didn’t look back, as Jordyn Huitema, Kadeisha Bucahan also scored, while 19-year-old Olivia Smith bagged her first goal for Canada and Adriana Leon scored a brace.

Leon added a hattrick against Paraguay in a 4-0 win on Sunday, with now a tournament-leading five goals. Smith added the other, as she is making a strong case for her inclusion on the plane to Paris early at this tournament.

The reds arguably could have had even more, as Jessie Fleming missed a late penalty against Paraguay, and multiple other chances went unfinished with Canada generating plenty of opportunities.

Canada’s offensive outburst is critical, because the quarter-finals for the tournament are ranked based on points and then goal difference. Canada’s +10 rating is currently the best in the competition (ahead of the United States at +9).

Canada’s final match of the group stage comes against Costa Rica on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. ET. The quarter-finals will be played on Saturday and Sunday.

Canada Soccer reveals draw for 2024 Canadian Championship

Canada Soccer

The Canadian Championship is back! 

On Friday, Canada Soccer announced the results of the draw for the 2024 competition which includes six intriguing single-knockout Preliminary Round matchups, which will be played between April 23 and May 1.

In three all-CPL contests, 2023 regular season winners Cavalry FC host Vancouver FC, while Atlético Ottawa take on Valour and the 905 darby between Forge and York United is played in the Canadian Championship for the first time. In a regional darby matchup, Pacific FC host League1 BC side Victoria Highlanders FC on the Island. Finally, Halifax host League1 Québec champs CS St-Laurent and Toronto FC host League1 Ontario’s Simcoe County Rovers.

The 2023 tournament finalists CF Montréal, and back-to-back champs Vancouver Whitecaps, were given a bye through the first round and into the quarter-finals. Both the quarter-finals and semifinals will be home-and-away matchups.

The final, which is set to be played in September, will be a single match. Another draw will be done after the quarter-finals have concluded to determine matchups and hosting for the semis and final.

MLS is back!

CF Montréal

🔵 CF Montreal dawned a new era with Laurent Courtois. Bleu-Blanc-Noir travelled south to Orlando to face last season’s second-placed team in the Eastern conference. Laurent Courtois started the newcomers Matias Coccaro, Dominik Yankov and Ruan. CFM showed serious promise moving forward. They looked dangerous and were passing the ball with purpose. MTL was able to get four shots on net in the first half. In the second half, Josef Martinez came on for Coccaro, and Raheem Edwards made his return debut. Martinez missed a goalscoring opportunity, but the MTL’s performance has already had fans hopeful. Despite the 0-0 draw, this game has demonstrated progress under the Courtois era. This could be a good year. Also, Sirois still an absolute beast.

🔴 Herdman era begins. The Herdman era has arrived, and it started with promise. Toronto looks different from last year's team. They had a purpose and a vision of how to play. Insigne and Berna-boy-deschi looked like they bought into Herdman’s philosophy. Both Italians could be seen attacking with flair and backtracking like it was a cup final. Richie played like he never left, and Oso was the beating heart of that team, covering over 10 km in that game. Meanwhile, newcomer Deiby Flores was a standout. The CM disrupted Cincinnati’s attack and was pivotal when transitioning into counter-attacks. Despite the 0-0 draw, TFC demonstrates a positive future. The 401/le classique darby is going to be lit this year.

🪵 Portland Timbers start the season with a bang. We might as well cover the Timbers as a placeholder for the Whitecaps this week. Why? Phil Neville is secretly conspiring to turn Portland into a Canadian franchise. James Pantemis, Kamal Miller and Zack McGraw started as the defensive core for the Timbers in their 4-1 win over Colorado. Crépeau was left out of the game due to personal reasons. However, Pantemis proved his quality in the game with key saves. Kamal and McGraw partnership is showing signs of serious sturdiness. Is Portland back to former glory? We shall see.

In other news

Canada Soccer

👩‍⚖️ CanWNT lawsuit vs. Canada Soccer board. The latest Canadian soccer lawsuit has dropped. This time it involves the CSPA, a union which reps the CanWNT players, filing a $40 million dollar suit against 15 current and former members of the CSA board. The filing alleges that those board members were negligent in the signing of a 2018 media rights and sponsorship deal with Canadian Soccer Business (CSB). Those board members include former Canada Soccer presidents Steve Reed, Nick Bontis, and current president Charmaine Crooks.

🇨🇦 Can-U20 dominate their first two Concacaf qualifiers opener. The Canadian U-20 men’s national team cruised through their first two matches at the Concacaf U-20 championship qualifying tournament. Canada opened the competition by beating Dominica 8-0, including a hattrick from Myles Morgan. They folowed that up with a 4-0 dub against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, complete with a screamer from Alessandro Biello, and a hattrick from Sheffield United youth player Tavio Ciccarelli. Canada play the host Trinidad & Tobago in the final match of the group, where a draw will be enough to see them qualify for this summer’s Conacacaf U-20 championship. The young reds will surely want to go 3-0 to top the group, however, and will be looking to finish the group strong on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. ET / 3:00 p.m. PT. Only the top team in each group advances.

👀 Thierry Henry new CanMNT gaffer? Rumours have been circulating about Canada’s potential new head coach. Among them is former CF Montreal coach (and Arsenal, Barcelona and France legend) Thierry Henry. This news has mixed feelings; some love the prestige it’ll give Canada Soccer, but MTL fans see things differently. His tenure as head coach of CF MTL has revealed certain aspects that the supporters may not have appreciated. Samuel Piette deployed at right midfield, blasting Shamit Shome on the basics and having unrealistic expectations of players. Very little can replicate that, which is the talismanic performance of peak Thierry. However, CanMNT has a different talent pool, with most players balling in Europe. Could Henry bring the best out of Phonzy, JD and Tajon? Perhaps. Will his “bad habits” resurface? Maybe. One thing is certain: Canada can benefit from a big-name coach with world-class experience. He was also the assistant coach of Belgium’s greatest generation and got the best out of their forwards. If there’s any truth, great players seldom make great coaches.

🐎 Cavalry FC struggle against Orlando in Champions Cup. It wasn’t exactly a storybook Concacaf Champions Cup debut for 2023 CPL regular season winners Cavarly FC, as they lost to Orlando City SC 3-0 on Wednesday night. Duncan McGuire opened the scoring just 21 minutes into the first leg of their round one matchup, which took place at Starlight Stadium in Langford, BC. Orlando designated player Facundo Torres then went to work, scoring a brace with a goal on either side of halftime. Cavalry now head to Orlando for the second leg on Tuesday afternoon (6:00 p.m. ET / 3:00 p.m. MT) needing to score at least three goals, and win by three to advance. Against the second place team in MLS last season, that is going to be a tall task.

🙌 Richie is back home! The return of the prodigal son. Richie Laryea is back to Toronto. His time at Nottingham Forest did not pan out due to lack of game time. Moreover, TFC supporters were concerned that he would join the Whitecaps. Alas, the universe has been good and blessed the return of the Torontonian. The Herdman era is starting with confidence and a sense of stability.

Toronto FC

🌊 Ryan Gauld named capitano of the Whitecaps. Last Friday, Ryan Gauld was revealed to be Vancouver's 25th club captain. Being named captain on the Whitecaps' 50th anniversary is a special occasion. The Scottish midfielder has been Vancouver’s most consistent performer. This is welcome news.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Ugbo scores twice for Sheffield Wednesday. It’s a good time for Canadian forwards as of late. For Ugbo, it’s been a good month. The CanMNT forward scored a brace for Sheffield Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Bristol City. Iké Ugbo now has five goals in four games.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Alistair Johnston gives big-time assists. Theo Bair and Motherwell hosted Alistair Johnston and Celtic over the weekend. AJ comes back into the lineup after his head fracture injury. The game was tight as both sides were locked in at 1-1. However, three minutes into injury time, Johnston sets up the late-game assist to establish the tiebreaker over Motherwell.

🇫🇷 Jonathan David sets up an assist against Toulouse. If he’s not scoring, he’s contributing. He’s only adding digits to his stats as he provided from Haraldsson’s goal against Toulouse. Great finish.

🇮🇹 Tajon Buchanan earns another 15 minutes with Inter. In the 77th minute, Tajon Buchanan again came off the bench in Inter Milan’s 4-0 win over Lecce. Earning another 15 minutes with the Italian giants. That 15 minutes will soon multiply and eventually turn into full-time minutes. All in good time.

Halifax Wanderers

⚓️ The Wanderers sign Julian Dunn. Halifax has signed Canadian defender Dunn from Hamarkameratene (HamKam) in Norway’s top division. The former TFC player and graduate has spent the last three years in Norway and returned to Canada, signing a one-year deal with an option for the 2025 season.

⚓️ Wanderers add attacking midfielder Giorgio Probo. The Haligonians have added the Italian after having two impressive seasons at Creighton University after contributing 22 assists and five goals. The former Atalanta youth player signs with Halifax through 2025.

🔱 Pacific FC sign Dario Zanatta. After eight years in Scotland, Dario Zanatta returns to Vancouver Island. The winger went on a journey in Scotland, accumulating 43 goals in over 12,000 minutes.

🦅 Vancouver FC add Elage Bah. VFC has signed 19-year-old Ottawa defender Elage Bah to their squad. He has spent the last two-seasons with Whitecaps FC II registering 32 starts in 45 appearances, scoring one goal, and registering three assists. One thing is consistent, VFC has an eye for young talent.

✍️ Mo Farsi signs a new deal with Columbus. It seems like Dubai will have to wait, Farsi is staying in Columbus. The Montreal baller has signed an extension through 2027 with an option for 2028.

🏟️ Atletico Ottawa sign Kevin Dos Santos. Ottawa just bolstered their forward option with the signing of Portuguese winger Kevin Dos Santos from York United. The tricky wideman will be linking up with Ballou Tabla, Kris Twardek and Matteo De Brienne. That will be a nasty midfield combination for Ottawa. A promising season awaits for Ottawa.

🔴 Toronto FC added mucho defenders. The biggest story is the return of the prodigal son, Richie Laryea. TFC has also added a few more players to bolster its squad. Former Premier League player Kevin Long has signed with Toronto through 2024 with an option for 2025. A big plus for TFC’s defence. Meanwhile, another defender, Nicksoen Gomis, signed through 2025 with an option for 2026/27. The French defender had represented France at the U18 level. Lastly, TFC has added another defender from TFCII, Adam Pearlman. The 18-year-old homegrown talent has signed through 2027 with the option for 2028.

Northern Picks

Gems from at home and around the world.
This week’s picks come from Shen.

Maher (Shen) Shenouda is a lover of all things intersecting music, sports, nature, and storytelling. He’s also a lifelong Arsenal fan, music curator, and DJ from Cairo, Egypt currently based in Toronto.

📚 What to read

I’m currently going back and forth between Text Messages by Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman and The Day the Leader Was Killed by Naguib Mahfouz, however, in today’s context, I highly recommend checking out the former. Narcy’s Text Messages was composed entirely on a smartphone during his travels. This book speaks of the existential crises experienced by diasporic children of war, before and during imperialism in the age of the Internet. Such an eye-opening and visually pleasing piece of work.

📺 What to watch

By far the best footy podcast on the internet right now, Filthy Fellas. They most recently hosted Jermaine Defoe, and it was an absolute hit. Their style and setup make it so their superstar guests are immediately comfortable to share little nuggets from their career that have never been publicly told. Their drafts and top 10 videos are also so entertaining.

🎧 What to listen to

I’m going to go with two video DJ sets for this one. I've been really enjoying Aram’s most recent Shift Radio set and Jojo Lorenzo’s Dreamy Progressive House mix. If you’re a househead, these are for you. Marcelina’s latest release, Leila has also been on repeat alongside Ma-Beyn’s debut EP. Those picks are for the R&B heads.

🛍️ What to buy 

Sn3 Studio’s Rising Sun trackie might be one of the most comfortable and versatile tracksuit sets I’ve ever owned. Guaranteed to land some compliments at your weekly five-a-side.

 Who to follow

Film photography + football = candy to my eyes. Max Galys is Eintracht Frankfurt’s resident photographer but also has some really beautiful commissioned work with the likes of Kai Havertz, Hector Bellerin, and Xavi Simons. The second is Giuseppe Romano, a Milan based freelancer who’s frequently in and around the San Siro showing all the hidden sights of a matchday experience in Italy.

You can follow Shen on Instagram here.