Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Chief Editor Bill Morphy and contributor Jordan Moss. This week, Canada bows out early on the world stage in Qatar. The Canucks look to salvage their season. The Seahawks sag and an introduction to the beautiful and talented Bria Skonberg.
Croatian Crush – In digesting Canada’s early ouster from the World Cup of Soccer in Qatar, Yogi Berra would have probably said “it was over before it was over.” The young Canadian squad met a highly motivated Croatian side (thanks John) that schooled Canada throughout. Yes, it was great that Alphonso Davies scored on a brilliant header that saved Canada from the ignominy of continuing World Cup goalless futility. The 4-1 drubbing was humbling. The World Cup finalists from four years ago exposed Canada’s defensive weakness in clinical fashion.
Team Canada can now hope to salvage some measure of respect when they close out the tournament on Thursday against Morocco. Canada will return home with a healthy World Cup cheque of $10.5 million US despite not advancing out of the group stage. It will be a financial shot in the arm considering Canada Soccer’s annual budget is $30 million. Now all they have to do is quit the bickering and figure out how much of the prize money goes to the players.
We knew Canada’s group was going to be tough. Morocco has been a huge surprise, earning a tie against Croatia and an upset win over Belgium. Croatia has been as advertised. Veteran squad. Very steady. Belgium survived a potential scare against Canada but look out of shorts on the attack. They need a result against Croatia in order to advance.
What was John Herdman thinking in letting Alphonso Davies take the penalty kick in the World Cup opener against Belgium? Made no sense. Herdman apparently left it up to the players to decide on the spur of the moment. Really? Most teams designate the penalty-taker prior to the game. Davies had taken only two penalties in his career, both for Canada, without a single penalty kick for his club team, Bayern Munich. Jonathan David, on the other hand, is 9 of 12 in his pro career. That’s a 75 percent success rate. Why not have David take the kick? Go figure!
Qatar Confidential – For any diehard soccer fan, attending a World Cup is a lifelong dream. Not sure I would want to check it off my bucket list by going to Qatar. Is there a more soulless outpost on the planet? The decision to deprive fans of a beer at the stadium tells you everything you need to know. Apparently, a beer in the hotel runs you 15 bucks. A mixed drink is twice the price. Why bother? Qatar has spent a reported $220 BILLION to stage the tournament. Some four thousand migrant workers reportedly lost their lives building the facilities. Why go there to support that kind of oppression?
The World Cup has certainly shone a light on the lavish style enjoyed by the Qatari royals. They are reportedly worth more than Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos combined. The lifestyle is pure opulence. Check this story for the lavish details.
Brazil is always a pre-tournament favourite and for good reason. They are five-time world champions and boast a ridiculous depth of talent. Anyone who loves the sport will hit the pub just to witness greatness. Want evidence? How about the bicycle kick goal by Richarlison in the opening match takedown of Serbia? Brazil makes the beautiful game beautiful. Will they live up to the hype this time around? Who knows? Even with Neymar and ace defender Danilo injured, and out for the next two matches, Brazil should have little trouble advancing.
Spain looks impressive. How about wunderkind Gavi, who at just 18 years and 110 days, is now the youngest goal-scorer in the World Cup since a guy named Pele back in 1968.
Ronaldo became the first male player to score in five World Cups. He now has 118 international goals. Booted out the door by Man United, Ronaldo may actually be willing to take a back set for Portugal. Forget I said that! His ego wouldn’t allow it.
England still can’t find a way to beat the U.S. Mystifying. 19-year-old Jade Bellingham looks like a breakout candidate for the Brits.
Despite injuries to six top players, France does not seem ready to cede the crown. The defending champs are crazy deep and may still have enough firepower to advance into the final stages.
The normally-tough Germans fell victim to the upset with an inexplicable loss to Japan. Germany may exit early again despite earning a late draw on Sunday vs. Spain.
Canucks Notebook – You knew the Canucks had to wake up sooner or later. They’ve suddenly figured things out and have moved back into the fringes of a playoff spot.
How spineless can you be when you blow multi-goal leads as often as the Canucks? The club record for losses in a season when holding a multi-goal lead is nine. That was set in 1986-87. The Canucks had already blown seven such leads after only 19 games. Five times they have blown multi-goal leads and lost in regulation. It’s incomprehensible. It’s embarrassing. It’s certainly illustrative of a team not built to win.
Any success enjoyed last season by the Canucks following the coaching change can be directly attributed to superb goaltending from Thatcher Demko. This year has been a different story. Demko has been outplayed by backup Spencer Martin. Demko is 4-9 with an .885 save percentage and a 3.81 GAA which places him right near the bottom of the league. Martin is 6-1 with a .907 save percentage. Fact is, Demko has been left out to dry many nights with far too many odd-man rushes and cross-seam passes. The penalty-killing continues to struggle. The Canucks allowed at least one power-play goal in all but three of their first 18 games. How much of this can you dump on Demko? Everything the Canucks do going forward should be built around developing a defensive structure that provides the team with the kind of foundation you need to win on a nightly basis.
Things have gone church-mouse quiet on the Bo Horvat contract front. Captain Bo is having a career year as he motors toward UFA status. He’s tied with Connor McDavid for second in goal-scoring with 16, two behind surprise leader Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars. The fact that Horvat has only seven assists makes him look like a Cy Young award contender. Would you be willing to sign him to an expensive, long-term extension? Horvat’s five-on-five numbers are nothing to write home about. He does two things really well – winning faceoffs and playing the bumper spot on the power-play. Does he make his linemates better? The seven assists answer that question. Hidebound by the salary cap, the Canucks are in no position to extend their captain, like it or not.
NHL Notebook – The Maple Buds are hurting big-time along the blueline. With injuries to Morgan Reilly, T. J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin, the Leafs are icing a top pair featuring 39-year-old Mark Giordano and Justin Holl. You wonder how long the Leafs can survive before they hit a tailspin.
What’s up with Auston Matthews? The reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner has ten goals but only four have come at even-strength. Just a thought but…accountability inside the Maple Leafs dressing room went out the window when Lou Lamoriello walked out the door. Lou demands accountability and sorry, we just don’t see it in Toronto.
The Carolina Hurricanes were a pre-season darling among NHL prognosticators. The Canes can certainly defend but their offense is sputtering. It’s time to call Jesperi Kotkaniemi a major bust. He managed only three points in the Hurricanes first 20 games. Kotkaniemi was given a chance to play with Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas in the early going but blew the opportunity. Look for Carolina to go shopping for a top-six forward before the trade deadline. Bo Horvat perhaps?
Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old North Vancouver prodigy, is making his way through B.C. with the Regina Pats. Bedard is wowing sell-out crowds at every stop. The presumptive first overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft played his first-ever junior game in his home province on Friday night against the Vancouver Giants before a crowd of 5,276 at the Langley Events Centre. Bedard had one assist in a 3-0 Pats win. It was onto Victoria on Saturday night where Bedard ran his scoring streak to 23 games with a hat trick and an assist in an easy 9-5 victory. He leads the WHL with 53 points including 22 goals in only 24 games. Bedard has now totalled 85 goals and 181 points in 101 career WHL games.
Rumours are already circulating that Connor Bedard has no intention of reporting to Arizona if drafted first overall by the Coyotes. Could you blame the kid for pulling an Eric Lindros? The Coyotes have been rebuilding since they left Winnipeg. Who would want to play in a 5,000-seat college arena for at least the next three years? Bedard’s representatives would be smart to play hardball and get him into a hockey market where he has a chance to win.
Seahawks Notebook – So much for holding down first place in the NFC West. The Seahawks not only slipped a game back of the 49’ers, they also dropped out of a wildcard playoff spot with the wacky 40-34 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders shredded the Hawks for 576 total yards including 282 rushing yards. Josh Jacobs had a franchise-record 229 yards all by himself. It may be time to start looking ahead to next year which was what this season was supposed to be all about in the first place.
The Seahawks trade of Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos is the gift that keeps on giving. It could end up being Herschel Walker-good…the trade that is generally considered to be the most lopsided in NFL history. The deal with Denver included first-and second-round picks in 2022 and 2023 plus three players – tight end Noah Fant, defensive tackle Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock. With the two picks this year, the Seahawks selected left tackle Charles Cross and defensive end Boye Mafe who are both making major contributions in their rookie seasons.
The Donkey’s hit a new low on Sunday by losing to Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers and it’s appearing like next year’s first-round pick could be as high as third overall. The Seahawks will reap two more building blocks thanks to the Broncos, maybe even a future starting quarterback like Kentucky’s Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Who can argue that trading Wilson wasn’t a franchise-altering decision?
Depending on how far the Broncos fall and where the first-round pick lands, it may still be tough for the Seahawks to land a promising developmental quarterback. Four teams – Houston, Carolina, Detroit and Las Vegas – all figure to be picking early and have a need at quarterback.
It’s time for Darrell Taylor to step up his play. He was supposed to be the Seahawks top pass rusher this season but has been a major disappointment. Taylor has only 12 pressures in 180 pass rush snaps this season with just three sacks. His playing time continues to drop. What’s most worrisome is Taylor has been terrible against the run and you know Pete won’t tolerate that for long. Taylor had 6.5 sacks last season and figured to continue improving this season.
Cornerback Tariq Woolen is looking the steal of the 2022 NFL draft. He was selected with pick No. 153 in the fifth round and get this – Woolen was the 21st cornerback selected. He looks a future Pro-Bowler and the second-coming of Richard Sherman. Woolen is second in the NFL with five interceptions (two more than any other cornerback) and ranks seventh in passer rating allowed. (58.5). Woolen will definitely be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the year.
NFL Notebook – It certainly appears as though the New York Jets Zach Wilson is the latest quarterback bust in the NFL. Wilson was taken second overall in the 2021 NFL draft and has played like anything but a franchise quarterback. He has a passer rating of only 72 percent. (For the uninitiated, that’s BAAAD!) The Jets gave Wilson every opportunity to take the reins. In 26 second-half plays against the New England Patriots in a crucial divisional game last week, the Jets generated two yards. Wilson has shown no leadership abilities. In fact, all Wilson has done is alienate his teammates. No wonder he’s been benched. In that 2021 draft, instead of hitching their wagon to Wilson, the Jets could have taken Ja’Marr Chase, Patrick Surtain or Micah Parsons, three players who appear headed for Hall of Fame-type careers.
Pat Mahomes is the clear-cup MVP in the NFL this season. No questions asked. Did you know that Mahomes is now 25-0 in November and December in his NFL career? That’s sick! He is yet to lose a road game in his division in five years in the league. Looks like Kansas City will again be hosting the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs have had a bunch of injuries among the receiving group but it hasn’t affected Mahomes whatsoever.
The Chiefs amazing Travis Kelce can lay claim to being the greatest tight end of all-time. The numbers bear it out. He is on his way to his seventh straight season of over 1,000 receiving yards. He has gone over 100+ yards in a game 33 times, breaking Rob Gronkowski’s record of 32. What Kelce is doing is more than Hall of Fame worthy. Kelce has 12 touchdowns already this season. He’s in reach of Gronkowski’s single-season record of 18. Antonio Gates holds the record for most career touchdowns by a tight end with 116 in 16 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. Kelce has 69 touchdowns to this point in his career.
2023 NFL Mock Drafts have Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud going off the board early. We would question why. There’s been a steady procession of quarterbacks coming out of the two powerhouse programs but who’s actually had any success? Quarterbacks from the two schools excel with all the talent around them but fall flat once they enter the NFL. It’s something to keep in mind if the Seahawks go looking for a QB early in the first round.
It’s starting to look like Bama and Ohio State may not be part of this year’s college football playoff. The top four teams at the moment are Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC. The Wolverines (12-0) reached a season-high No. 2 after knocking off the Buckeyes for the second consecutive year following years of frustration. It was Michigan’s first win at Ohio Stadium since 2000. The four teams selected to the College Football Playoff will be announced after conference championship games next weekend.
Jays Off-Season Notebook – The MLB Winter Meetings are set to begin in San Diego on December 7. The Toronto Blue Jays off-season wish list includes help in the starting rotation, swing-and-miss arms in the bullpen and a left-handed-hitting outfielder, preferably someone who can handle centre which would allow oft-injured George Springer an opportunity to move to right.
On the free agent market, Mets centre-fielder Brandon Nimmo is the prize catch. He’s represented by super-agent Scott Boras so he figures to be out of the Jays price range. Former National League MVP Cody Bellinger, cut loose by the Dodgers, could be a potential target. Going the trade route using their depth behind the plate, the Jays may target one of two St. Louis Cardinal outfielders – Dylan Carlson or Lars Nootbaar. The Arizona Diamondbacks could be another potential trade partner. Outfielders Daulton Varsho and Alec Burleson would be nice additions. Among free agent starting pitchers, Chris Bassitt and Canadian-born Jameson Taillon figure to be on the Jays radar. The Jays could use another leftie in the rotation so Andrew Chafin and Jose Quintana may be under consideration. The Detroit Tigers would make a good trade partner if the Jays want to add a hard-throwing arm in the bullpen. Alex Lange and Joe Jimenez are both swing-and-miss relievers.
Activity should pick up quickly once general managers arrive in San Diego. The Jays would be wise to act fast.
Golf Notebook – The 2022 portion of the PGA Tour schedule is over. Players will be taking a break before the schedule starts back up in January with the Sony Open in Hawaii. No one is going to enjoy the break more than Surrey’s Adam Svensson. The 28-year-old claimed his first PGA Tour win with a two-shot victory at the RSM Classic in South Carolina. He came into the week ranked 174th in the world.
To say the victory came out of nowhere is an understatement. Svensson opened with a 73 that left him tied for 108th. He would play the final 54 holes in 20-under including rounds of 64, 62 and 64. Svensson earned $1.4 million for the victory but more importantly, he will get to play in his first major at the Masters in April plus the comfort of a two-year exemption. Svensson’s win is the second by a Canadian already this season. Mackenzie Hughes captured the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. Hopefully this signals a banner year for Canadians on the PGA Tour.
Leftovers – While Canada was bowing out at the World Cup of Soccer, we were making history in Malaga, Spain with Canada’s first ever Davis Cup title. A pair of singles wins by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov clinched the victory over Australia. It was a remarkable feat considering Canada had been eliminated back in March. Canada was granted a second life (as the highest-ranked country eliminated) when Russia was turfed out of the tournament following the invasion of Ukraine. From there, Canada advanced through the elimination rounds before taking out Germany in the quarterfinals and Italy in the semifinals.
What can be said about Fantastic Felix. Is there a better player in the world right now? He’s risen to No. 6 in the world. He won all eight sets at the Davis Cup including three decisive singles matches. The 22-year-old closed out the season by winning three ATP titles before leading Canada to its first ever Davis Cup crown. Can a tennis major be next? Let’s hope so.
Considering all the attention Canada is receiving for reaching its first soccer World Cup in 36 years, you have to wonder if it will have an impact on Canada’s wealth of talent in the NBA. Are they watching and thinking how good it may feel to lead Canada to great heights at the Olympics? It certainly came to mind for me. Many Canadians playing in the NBA have been reluctant to don a Canadian jersey on the international stage. Maybe watching our Canadian squad in Qatar will shift their thinking.
The Toronto Raptors have been slammed by injuries in the early stages of the NBA season. Nick Nurse has been forced to use a different starting lineup almost every night. One big bright spot has been the emergence of O.G. Anunoby who’s leading the NBA in steals and is an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Spotify Playlist Tracks of the Week – Meet Bria Skonberg. Hometown – Chilliwack, B.C. Bria is a talented singer-trumpeter-band leader who has gained international acclaim while remaining virtually unknown here in Canada. The 39-year-old graduated from Capilano University in Vancouver with a degree in jazz trumpet. She got her start playing with jazz legend Dal Richards in concert and on recordings. Skonberg moved to New York City in 2010 and has built a solid career in the Big Apple and on the world jazz festival circuit. In 2017, she won a Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year for her crowd-funded album Bria.
Here she is performing the Beatles “Blackbird” in a live session on National Public Radio in the U.S.
Luke Winslow-King is a 39-year-old singer, guitar player and multi-instrumentalist from Michigan who now makes his home in Spain. He spent 15 years in New Orleans which explains his influences which include Delta blues, jazz and ragtime. While growing up in Michigan, Winslow and his sister were extras in the Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day.”
We went through Winslow-King’s catalogue and pulled a few recommendations. From the album I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Always Last, have a listen to No More Crying Today. We recommend the title track from the release Blue Mesa. From the release If These Walls Could Talk, have a listen to Love at First Sight and Watch Me Change featuring Italian slide guitar wiz Roberto Luti, a mainstay on the Playing for Change releases.
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