January 29th Edition

A Wild Week in Canadian Soccer

January of 2024 will go down as one of the most craziest months in Canadian soccer history. Which, if you know anything about Canadian soccer history, is quite the statement.

This past week alone, we saw the new General Secretary step down on her first day on the job, a potentially record-breaking transfer, a media rights deal implode and a multi-year extension for Bev Priestman.

You can’t write this stuff... but we will try to do just that, and give you our signature 5-minute roundup of the chaos that was Canadian soccer in this week’s edition of The Northern Pitch.

MediaPro Out

Credit: OneSoccer

The future of soccer broadcasting in Canada was thrown into complete chaos this past week.

The news initially broke through The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke that the broadcast rights deal between Canadian Soccer Business and MediaPro had broken down. 

What this means in principle is that the rights for both Canadian national teams, the Canadian Championship and the Canadian Premier League are now up in the air, with no broadcaster for this upcoming year and beyond.

Both sides are claiming that the other did not live up to their contractual obligations of what was supposed to be a 10 year deal, worth $87 million. The matter is now before the Ontario Superior Court. In non-legal terms, it is an absolute mess.

Regardless of what’s next for the broadcasting rights of Canadian soccer, it was a very sad day for the sport in this country. OneSoccer continuously provided unprecedented coverage and access to the sport in this country both through their channel and digital platforms.

In fact, OneSoccer has often been the place where Canadian soccer supporters have reliably turned to make sense of all the chaos that is happening within the sport in this country.

Here’s hoping that, should it cease operations, the many talented individuals they employed find or create platforms where they can continue to be an integral part of how the sport is told in this country.

Walker Walks

Credit: Canada Soccer

A few weeks back, it looked like the CSA had finally solved one of their biggest question marks: who would be leading the embattled federation forward as their General Secretary, the most influential staff position in the organization.

The role is critical in day-to-day decisions, as well as monumental ones, like who will be the next head coach of the CanMNT, and solving the ongoing labour dispute between the players and the federation.

Now, everything is in a holding pattern, because the impressive candidate whom Canada Soccer, and consultant firm Korn Ferry, ultimately settled on, Alyson Walker, never ended up starting the position. Walker, who was supposed to start on January 22, posted on LinkedIn that due to an ‘unforeseen personal matter’ she had stepped down from the position.

Evidently, with anything regarding personal matters we first and foremost wish Alyson Walker the best and respect her privacy at this time. But it unquestionably completely alters the timeline for the CSA, which already needs to make critical decisions in short order with a home World Cup looming.

The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke reports that her resignation comes is to a health issue. He also says that the organization’s decision to extend Mauro Biello as interim head coach of the national team was made in light of the new uncertainty surrounding the General Secretary role.

Fleming to Portland

Credit: Tagwa Moyo / DARBY

It had already been a big January transfer month for Canadian ballers, but it is about to be a record-breaking one.

A report from Tom Gerry of The Telegraph says that the NWSL’s Portland Timbers are set to pay £250,000 for Canadian international Jessie Fleming.

The transfer fee would be the biggest ever paid by an NWSL side and one of the most lucrative in the history of the women’s game.

Fleming joined Chelsea in 2020 and played 111 matches for the London club in all competitions, scoring 12 goals. With Chelsea, Fleming is a three-time WSL champion and three-time Women’s FA Cup Champ. She is also a Gold medallist with Canada, three-time Canadian best player of the year and scored 19 times in 123 matches for Canada. A decent resumé for a 25-year-old.

The Thorns ties to the north are strong, with their General Manager being legendary Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, the GOAT Christine Sinclair just signing on for what is expected to be her final season for the club, and fellow CanWNT star Janine Beckie who’s returning from injury.

The city is becoming ‘Canada south’ for national team players, as CanMNT trio James Pantemis, Max Crepéau and Kamal Miller have already joined Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.

Bev is Back!

Credit: Canada Soccer

There is one bit of stability within Canadian soccer that we can report on this week, and that is the fact that Bev Priestman’s contract has been extended and she will remain as CanWNT manager through the 2027 World Cup.

The decision comes after months of speculation, linking Priestman to everything from the (at the time) vacant USWNT job to even CF Montréal. Instead, the 37-year-old will lead the defending gold medallist CanWNT into the 2024 Paris Olympics with plenty of job security.

Aside from leading Canada to a Gold medal in Tokyo, under Priestman, they also finished runners-up at the 2022 Concacaf Championship. The team is, however, coming off a highly disappointing World Cup in which they did not get out of their group.

Positivity was restored to some degree in recent months, however, as Canada qualified for the 2024 Olympics in a playoff against Jamaica, while putting in positive results against Brazil and Australia in friendly matches. CanWNT are currently ranked 10th by FIFA.

The next few months will be incredibly busy for her squad, who play in the first-ever edition of the Concacaf W Gold Cup next month before the SheBelieves Cup kicks off in April. All this will aid in their prep for the 2024 Olympic Games, which are set to kick off on July 26.

Other news this week

Credit: Toronto FC

🐻 Jonathan Osorio was made TFC captain. The DARBY Issue 3 cover star and hometown hero has been made captain of Toronto FC. In his 12th season with the club, Osorio becomes the eighth captain in club history. With veterans such as Michael Bradley and Richie Laryea exiting the club, the leadership void has fallen on Oso. Importantly, having a Toronto boy lead the boys in red again will feel like an alignment of the stars after a disastrous season.

🍁 The CPL Schedule is out! The Canadian Premier League has finally released the 2024 schedule, but it comes with a bonus. You can follow your club by booking flights with WestJet. They offer a 15% discount for any travelling CPL supporter. Pretty nice.

👀 Did EA FC accidentally leak the Canada MLS kits? Did EA do a whoopsie? It seems like they have. EA FC have leaked unreleased 2024 MLS kits on their Ultimate Team web app. This accidental kit drop was promptly deleted from the platform. However, the internet does what it does best: save the evidence. Screenshots of the dozens of leaked kits were saved, including away shirts of Toronto FC, CF Montreal and Vancouver Whitecaps.

😵‍💫 Adriana Leon scored big, but her club could be disqualified. How does this headline make sense? Let us explain. Adriana Leon and Aston Villa defeated Sunderland 7-0 in a Conti Cup game. Leon scored the final goal of the game after coming off the bench. What is not as lovely is the investigation from the FA for Aston Villa allegedly fielding an ineligible player. Among the substitutes to come off the bench was Noelle Maritz, who had already played three cup games with Arsenal. A player who has played in a competition with a team cannot play in that competition with another club in the same season. If found guilty, Villa would have to forfeit. Aston Villa stated it was an administrative error from the club secretary—major whoops.

🇪🇸 Copa Del Rey belongs to Cyle Larin. The Canadian international at Mallorca is now “Mr. Copa Del Rey.” Larin scored the opening goal of the matchup against La Liga leader Girona, contributing to Mallorca’s 3-2 win. Cyle has helped book Mallorca’s progress to the semi-finals against Basque club Real Sociedad. Also, Larin is now the fifth top goalscorer in the competition, with only two goals behind the top goalscorer, Anastasios Douvikas.

🇮🇹 He shows up and wins a Coppa Italia. Tajon Buchanan's life in Milan has started decently. He arrives in Italy in January and ends the month with a Coppa Italia. Despite not playing in the final, club captain Lautaro Martinez scored the game's only goal against rivals Napoli. 

🌊 Whitecaps sell out BC Place for Messi and his sidemen. Let’s coin a new term here, “the Messi effect.” An economic phenomenon caused by the potential arrival of Lionel Messi. In which a short-term economic boom occurs due to the arrival of a GOAT. That is what happened with BC Place. The Whitecaps achieved a club record by selling 50,000 tickets with a resale market set in the thousands. Essentially, whoever can sell their tickets can pay for rent.

😕 Renard Hervé says no to the CanMNT job. The former coach of Saudi Arabia coach, the same team that defeated Argentina at the 2022 World Cup, has turned down the CanMNT. The current FranceWNT had reportedly rejected a “competitive offer” from Canada Soccer. He is likely to see out his mandate with the France WNT. Hervé would have been the perfect candidate for the job as he has experience navigating newly developed national team programs such as Morocco and Zambia. The Canada Soccer program was not long ago comparable to the countries mentioned above. The Herdman legacy is bringing Canada to the next level.

Credit: Portland Thorns

🐐 Christine Sinclair signs an extension with Portland Thorns. The GOAT has retired from the national team, but she's not done with her club career. The 40-year-old has signed a one-year deal with the Portland Thorns as a free agent—one more year to tally more goals. Canada’s greatest will have her final dance in Cascadia.

🍁 Bianca St-Georges moves to North Caroline Courages. The 26-year-old from Québec has signed a two-year contract as a free agent with the mutual option for 2026.

🥳 Ballou Tabla is back in Ottawa. Good news for Ottawa, the man who contributed to Ottawa’s regular season win has returned. Tabla signed a three-year contract with Atleti from Turkish side Manisa FK. Ballou was not given much game time in Turkey and Atletico is gaining big-time firepower going forward. A win-win for all parties.

👏 Ryan Gauld re-signs with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Once again, Van is making smart moves in the off-season. Instead of getting a big name, they retained their most crucial playmaker. The Scottish talisman Ryan Gauld has re-signed with the Caps to a three-year deal. Since joining the Whitecaps in 2021, Gauld has registered 26 goals and 34 assists. He has been pivotal in Vancouver’s attacking prowess, and if they want to make a title run, they need this man.

Credit: Atletico Ottawa

🇩🇪 Alphonso Davies, GOLAZO! Canada’s big man comes up massive in the Bundesliga. The fullback moved like Marcelo towards the box and then scored with his weaker right foot from outside the box. Phonzy scored the second goal in Bayern Munich’s 3-2 win over FC Augsburg.

🇵🇹 Marie-Yasmine Alidou scores in UWCL. Life has been good in Portugal for the Montrealer. Alidou scored for Benfica in the UWCL match against Rosengard. The game ended 2-2, but at least she earned a Champions League goal.

⚽️ Vanessa Gilles continues to score. Another Canadian score in UWCL. Gilles and Lyon travelled to St. Polten and defeated the home side 7-0. Ouch, but good for Gilles, as she registered a towering header.

👀 Theo Bair for Canada? The Motherwell forward is making a case for his call-up to the national team. Bair scored against former team St. Johnstone in a 1-1 draw in the Scottish Premiership. Theo Bair has six goals and three assists this season. Does he deserve a CanMNT call-up? He’s making a solid case.

Northern Picks

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

Chris Abbey is a podcaster @dutempsetdesjeux and an absolute baller with the Ringleaders. His french language podcast co-hosted with Yann is all about video games. Chris is also a talented footballer. As a young man from the Parisian suburbs, he is controversially an Olympique Marseilles supporter. Nonetheless, we know one thing to be true: Paris produces gems.

 📚 What to read

I’ve been feeling quite inspired and creative lately, willing to try new things and get outside of my comfort zone. To accompany me in this journey, I’ve found great insights in Rick Rubin’s book: “The Creative Act: A Way of Being”. His vision and perspective on things is refreshing. I’d also recommend his interview podcast called Tetragrammaton.

📺 What to watch

The Diary of a CEO podcast episode with French football Legend Thierry Henry. Growing up playing football in the suburbs of Paris, Henry was, and quite frankly still is an inspiration to me. If you’re a football fan you may be familiar with his accolades, titles and highlights clips. With this interview, you’ll get to know more about the human being behind the cold blooded striker. Henry opens up about his childhood, relationship to his father, mental health and personal struggles.

🎧 What to listen to

I want to share one of my favorite album of 2023, “Saison 00” from French artist Luidji. The writing, the melodies, the production, the overall attention to detail is something else. Special mention to “Telefoot” for the line on Anelka. ;)

✅ Who to follow

@samutaro cool page giving insights on trends in clothing, art and everything pop culture. @nsssports great content on Football, streetwear culture and lifestyle 

You can follow Chris on Instagram here.