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For soccer fans, it’s the best and the worst
It seems that we have entered a golden age for Canadian football. The women’s national team is Olympic champion for the first time after their thrilling shootout victory in the gold medal match in Tokyo. Today the Olympic heroes Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence and Christine Sinclair were nominated as World Footballer of the Year for the Ballon d’Or. Meanwhile, the men’s team is looking more and more like they could reach the World Cup for the first time in three and a half decades.
The men’s 1-1 draw in Mexico City last night was enormous. In sport you sometimes hear a draw being called a “moral victory,” and that certainly applies here. Canada, number 51 in the world rankings, competed in their own stadium with number 9 and scored one point. Not just any stadium, but the dreaded Estadio Azteca – located at a lung-wrenching 2,200 feet above sea level and filled with notoriously hostile Mexican supporters known for literally pissing at opposing players and yelling unspeakable insults at them (in fact, the game was made yesterday Evening briefly interrupted due to homophobic chants from the audience). Mexico rarely loses there or is even satisfied with a draw. When Jonathan Osorio equalized in the 42nd minute after a precise pass from young superstar Alphonso Davies, it was the first goal a Canadian against Mexico at Azteca in 41 years – so long since Canada left this torture chamber with anything but a loss . The Canadians have been outdone 16-0 in their last four visits.
But this is a new Canadian men’s national team. Led by Davies and brilliant striker Jonathan David – superstars at 20 and 21 respectively – Canada is playing in the finals of regional qualifiers for the Men’s World Cup for the first time in more than two decades. And not just play, but thrive. In four of their 14 games in this phase, Canada are in third place alone with a record of one win and three draws. The first three teams qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while the team in fourth place can still enter by winning an intercontinental playoff match. Another great sign: Canada’s street games against the region’s two best teams – Mexico and the US in 13th place – are already out of the way, with Canada earning a draw in both. Canada also defeated El Salvador 3-0 at home in 65th place. The only result that you can’t feel comfortable with so far was a 1-1 home draw against the 63rd Honduras.
Next up is another away game against the 59th Jamaica on Sunday at 6pm ET, followed by a home game against No. 68 Panama on Wednesday in Toronto. In November, Canada will host Costa Rica on November 12 and Mexico on November 15 at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, where the cool weather could benefit the home side. Yes, it’s early days, but it’s hard not to be excited and optimistic about Canada’s chances of winning a surprising World Cup place.
And yet, at a time when so much darkness has fallen on the National Women’s Soccer League, it is difficult to find unbridled joy in the sport. If you haven’t been following the avalanche of devastating news in the past week or so, here’s a roundup:
Last week, The Athletic published a story by Meg Linehan in which two former NWSL players accused coach Paul Riley of multiple sexual assault and various other forms of harassment. Sinead Farrelly claims that Riley forced her into a sexual relationship that weighed so heavily on her that she eventually suffered a mental / emotional breakdown that made her unable to play. Farrelly and Mana Shim both claim that Riley sent them lurid pictures of himself and that he pressured them to kiss. Farrelly, Shim and several others who played under Riley for the Portland Thorns from 2014 to 2015 say he also made inappropriate comments about their weight and sexual orientation. Shim filed a complaint with the Thorns’ front office after the 2015 season and, following a team investigation, his contract was not renewed. But he was soon hired by another team. Farrelly and Shim say when they asked the NWSL for a fresh investigation into Riley’s behavior earlier this year (Farrelly’s allegations were not part of the 2015 Thorns investigation), Commissioner Lisa Baird told them the matter was closed.
In the Athletic story, Riley described most of the allegations against him as “completely untrue”. Nevertheless, he was fired from Courage last Thursday. Utah Royals and Washington Spirit coaches were also dismissed last year for allegedly making inappropriate comments or verbally abusing players. But Riley’s dismissal appears to have sparked a long-awaited reckoning for the NWSL. The next day, Commissioner Baird resigned and that weekend’s games were canceled as the players condemned the league for ignoring their complaints about the abusive conduct of the coaches. When games resumed this week, players met in midfield and crossed their arms on the sixth minute – which represents the six years they believe it was before the allegations against coaches were heard by Farrelly, Shim and others . On the same day, Portland agreed to its players’ request to put the team’s GM on leave for failing to address the allegations against Riley years ago. Washington’s CEO also resigned this week. Canada captain Christine Sinclair, who plays for Portland, has described the league’s failure to protect its players as “unacceptable”. The NWSL is currently under investigation by FIFA, US football, and an independent investigation commissioned by the league.
Behind all these problems is the power structure of the NWSL, which can be very unfavorable for the players. As Linehan points out in her story, three-quarters of them make less than $ 31,000 a year, and they often fear the nine-year league could collapse at any time. This makes it very difficult to hold your own against a celebrity coach like Riley, who has the power to make or destroy careers that are already dangerously short.
For a long time, players seemed to have no choice but to accept the toxic environments this power structure can create. But now they finally feel able to take matters into their own hands in order to build the league they deserve. It was clear that no one else would. That is what the strike, the midfield protests and the demands are all about. The players want to have a say (a “seat at the table” as the Thorns put it in their statement) about how their league is run and how they are treated at work. It is now clear that their safety and wellbeing depend on it. Nobody can ignore them anymore.
Orlando Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod on the NWSL’s “systemic failure” in protecting their players
Canada’s top tennis players are ready to take the place in the prestigious Indian Wells. The four best-placed Canadian individual players – Felix Auger-Aliassime in 7th place and Denis Shapovalov in 8th place in the men, number 16 Bianca Andreescu and number 23 Leylah Fernandez in the women – all received byes for the first round for what some tennis fans ” call the fifth Grand Slam “. The unseeded Canadian Vasek Pospisil joined them with a win over the American JJ Wolf yesterday evening in the second round and will now face Shapovalov on Saturday. Auger-Aliassime also meets an unset opponent in the second round. Fernandez, who plays for the first time since her formidable run to the US Open final last month, will face unseeded French Alizé Cornet tonight at 11 p.m. ET or later. Andreescu, who won Indian Wells in 2019 and is still the defending champion because last year’s event was canceled, will face unseeded American Alison Riske tomorrow. If you missed our preview of Indian Wells earlier this week, here’s what’s at stake for the best Canadians.
The WNBA final tip on Sunday. The matchup will close tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET when the number 2 seeded Las Vegas Aces and number 5 Phoenix Mercury play the fifth and decisive game of their semi-finals series. Las Vegas forced the rubber match with a 93-67 blowout on Wednesday night, in which Phoenix lost guard Kia Nurse (the only Canadian remaining in the playoffs) in the first minute to a knee injury. She was disqualified for the season because of a ruptured cruciate ligament. The winner will face the number 6 seeded Chicago Sky in the finals that begin Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. Chicago survived two single-elimination playoff games before upset the top-seeded Connecticut Sun in four games in the semifinals. Two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker, 35, is still going strong for Chicago, averaging 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game in the playoffs for her home team.
This weekend at CBC Sports
Here are the live events to watch on TV and online:
Beach volleyball – World Tour Final: Canada’s reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes did a perfect 4-0 round robin today to win their group and advance straight to the women’s semi-finals. These begin at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, and you can also stream the quarter-finals from 8:30 a.m. ET. The final is Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET. See them all as part of CBC Sports’ live streaming coverage of the women’s and men’s tournaments here. The Road to the Olympic Games show on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on CBC TV will also show the World Tour Finals.
Junior Hockey – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies versus Shawinigan Cataractes: The second of six Canadian Hockey League games broadcast on the CBC TV network this season features the reigning Memorial Cup champion. Rouyn-Noranda won it in 2019 before the tournament was canceled for the next two years due to the pandemic. The Huskies start the QMJHL season 2-1-0, while Shawinigan suffered two defeats in the shootout. Watch the game live on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on CBC TV, the CBC Gem Streaming Service, the CBC Sports App, or CBCSports.ca.
You are up to date. Have a nice long weekend. Talk to you Tuesday.