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Maple Leafs lose to Sharks as troubling trends persist: ‘We gotta execute’

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SAN JOSE — A day before the Leafs faced the Sharks, practice was nearly done when a frustrated Sheldon Keefe put a stop to things.

“Everybody in here please,” he said.

The Leafs coach was not happy with what he was seeing. The execution wasn’t there. He voiced his displeasure, urgently. Then, he ran the drill back again. This time it was executed properly. And that was it. Practice was over.

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A day later, his team failed to execute against a Sharks team that’s sitting near the league basement. This, after losses already this season to the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens, two teams that finished at the bottom of last season’s standings.

The Leafs have yet to really look like the Leafs this season. Nothing like the team that stacked up a franchise-record 115 points last season. Instead, they’ve looked lost, disjointed, uninspired. Not much is going right at the moment.

“Obviously we want to build traction,” Auston Matthews said after the loss to the Sharks, which came three nights after a dispiriting loss in Vegas. “I just don’t think we’ve really put together a full 60-minute game. I think that consistency within the game and momentum shifts and stuff are kinda hurting us right now.”

The Leafs fell behind 26 seconds into the game in San Jose, and then slipped into a 3-1 hole.

“I think there was just too many ups and downs, not a whole lot of consistency throughout the game,” Matthews went on. “There was times we did some good things obviously, and had some good possession and some good plays offensively. There was also times where we were just a little bit stagnant and couldn’t really get much going.”

(D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports)

Keefe’s lineup shakeup had only a so-so effect.

Alex Kerfoot’s addition to the top line helped spur two goals — one from David Kampf, the team’s unlikely five-on-five goal leader, another from Mitch Marner. It was hardly a dominant outing, though.

As Matthews noted, the Leafs struggled to turn one good shift into another.

More concerning was how things went for the one line that remained intact: the trio of John Tavares, William Nylander and Nick Robertson.

They were pinned in their own end for most of the night, to the point that Keefe had to remove both Nylander and Robertson from the line in the third period and replace them — with Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok — for defensive zone draws.

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The Tavares line was having to shoulder an unusual share of defensive zone faceoffs because of the lineup restructuring. The coaching staff wasn’t going to send the tough stuff to the line that featured Michael Bunting and Denis Malgin. And they most certainly aimed to get the Matthews’ group on offence as often as possible.

So Tavares and company were tasked with more of that load (38 percent offensive zone faceoff percentage). Shot attempts were 13-4 for San Jose when Tavares, Nylander, and Robertson were on the ice.

Nylander, notably, was held without a shot or attempt. Tavares is still looking for his first five-on-five goal of the season.

“I thought that San Jose’s best players gave us a real hard time today,” Keefe said. “Every time those guys got on the ice they tilted the ice.”

That sounds, in a roundabout way, not unlike the message Keefe delivered after the loss to the Coyotes. San Jose’s best players — Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier — were all playing against the Leafs’ best players — and winning those minutes.

Keefe may have to go back to the drawing board, whether that’s dropping Michael Bunting back onto the top line or finding a different look for the Tavares group. It’s probably time to give Nicolas Aube-Kubel another look at the bottom of the lineup.

The only line that should definitely stick for now is the one that reunited Kampf with Pierre Engvall. That unit, with Zach Aston-Reese filling things out, was the most successful group in San Jose. Despite landing only one offensive zone faceoff, the line finished with an expected goals mark approaching 90 percent.

For the second game in a row, the Leafs gave up too much good stuff, too many high-quality opportunities (though two of the four San Jose goals came on one power play).

“We gotta figure out these turnovers,” Marner said. “We’re giving a lot of teams a lot of odd-man rushes, a lot of chances our way. We’re not helping our D a lot, especially forwards. We’re not coming back to pucks. They were way hungrier on the forecheck. That’s the thing that our team has been so good at the last couple years, getting pucks back and creating offence off that. The forward group, we need to get way hungrier on the puck. We need to create way more chances up ice and help our D out a little more.”

“We didn’t play our game the first two periods,” added an unusually outspoken Kampf. “I feel like in the third we came back a little bit and started playing a little bit harder. It wasn’t good all game.”

Keefe has not been happy with the way the puck is moving from the D to the forwards. In other words, how the team is initiating its attack. It’s what, in his estimation, has stalled the offence and led to his team spending more time playing defence.

The Leafs are sitting about 50 percent expected goals for the season. Not great. Last season that number was 56 percent.

“We gotta execute,” Keefe said. “You watch the game, you watch how many times we don’t execute on passes. We’ve got a lot of really good players, a lot of skill on our team, and we’re just not connecting on passes, like, tape-to-tape passes that we’re just either making the wrong decision and passing to the wrong guy, or we’re holding on too long and it gets disrupted. That’s a big problem for us.

“Our inability to move the puck up the ice efficiently is slowing down all of our game on offence and it’s really hurting our game defensively as well because we’re just getting stressed. The second period we couldn’t get our defence off the ice because we just couldn’t move the puck up.”

Though Marner pinned those problems on the forwards, Keefe said, “It starts with the D. Their first touch (with the puck) has to be better.”

The defence looks overexposed right now, with Jake Muzzin and Timothy Liljegren both absent with injuries. That’s two of the usual top six (or seven) out of the mix, including the second-best defender (T.J. Brodie is tops at this point) on the team.

The Leafs have no choice but to continue to lean on a struggling Justin Holl until Liljegren returns next month. They’ll have to find an external replacement for Muzzin if he doesn’t return this season.

(D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports)

Keefe didn’t think changing up the pairs would fix the issues the Leafs were having, but it’s something worth contemplating even if the options aren’t exactly obvious.

First, would be splitting up Morgan Rielly and Brodie in the name of balance.

Option 1: Hand Brodie, the most reliable defender the Leafs have, over to Holl.

But then who plays with Rielly? Rasmus Sandin on his off side?

Option 2: Reunite Brodie and Mark Giordano.

Again though, who plays with Rielly?

Option 3: Keep Rielly and Brodie together, but swap Sandin for Giordano.

Is there enough mobility and puck-moving ability in a Giordano-Holl combo with Holl struggling like he is at the moment? Can the Leafs play Sandin and Mete together?

Option 4: Split up Rielly and Brodie, but go extreme in sliding Rielly over to the right side until Liljegren is ready to play. Rielly, remember, spent time on the right during training camp as well as the offseason.

Giordano – Rielly
Brodie – Holl
Sandin – Mete

Like we said, not a lot of great options there.

It’s evident the Leafs feel there’s only so much they can throw at Giordano. He was supposed to play more in Muzzin’s absence. He’s ended up playing less. That might need to change.

Another issue is that the Leafs’ power play has yet to get going, though Matthews’ one-time blast was encouraging.

About the most positive development of the early season has been the play of Ilya Samsonov. There aren’t a lot of players off to roaring starts. Keefe has felt the need to press hard from Day 1.

It’s been a checkered start, certainly.

It is still October, still 74 games to go, still early. And the Leafs started in similar fashion last season before turning things around.

“It’s not an excuse, right?” Kampf said. “The season started already, so we have to be ready from the start of the season.”

Stats and research courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

(Photo: Kavin Mistry / NHLI via Getty Images)

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Bedard, Fantilli headline Canada’s selection camp roster for 2023 World Juniors – Sportsnet.ca

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Recap: Brazil vs South Korea – World Cup 2022 – Al Jazeera English

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Neymar has returned from injury to help Brazil thump South Korea 4-1, setting up a World Cup quarter-final clash against Croatia.

Four unanswered Brazilian goals in the first half at Stadium 974 on Monday set an imperious tone for a team with their sights firmly on a sixth World Cup title.

And while the game settled in the second period, it was never sluggish or scrappy, and a spirited South Korea fought hard to score a consolation goal in the 76th minute.

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It took just seven minutes for Brazil to get off the mark, with Raphinha picking up the ball just outside the box and rushing in on the right side, sending in a pass to Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain number 10 was brought down by his marker and the ball ended up at the feet of Vinicius Jr, in acres of space.

The Real Madrid star steadied himself before placing it to the right of Kim Seung-gyu in the South Korean goal.

Brazil celebrating their third goal, with goalscorer Richarlison in the centre [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Just three minutes later, Richarlison was brought down by Jung Woo-young inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar, who had reportedly flown his barber out to Qatar to dye his hair blonde following previous victories over South Korea with bleached hair, wasted no time in slotting it into the bottom-right of the net. Brazil was up two-nil with less than 15 minutes on the clock.

South Korea had their share of chances, with Hwang Hee-chan, fresh off scoring the winner against Portugal, having a go from a distance but sending the ball comfortably over the bar. Moments later, Allison was forced to make a diving save to his left, his first save of the tournament.

But Paolo Bento’s men were simply outclassed in every part of the pitch.

A remarkable piece of skill in the 26th minute saw Richarlison juggling the ball, heading it to himself three times while evading defenders on the edge of the South Korean box. He then passed the ball before running through on goal to receive the return, firing the ball in for Brazil’s third.

Just 10 minutes later, Vinicius Jr set up Lucas Paqueta with a cheeky chip, and the midfielder shot low and right. Kim Seung-gyu could do little but look at the ball nestling in the back of the net.

With four goals before half-time, Brazil was putting down a marker for any teams who think they might have a chance of lifting the trophy on December 18.

Son Heung-min nearly clawed one back for South Korea straight after the restart, but Alisson — who must, through this game alone, be in contention for the Golden Glove — got enough of his arm onto the shot to tip it wide.

Faced with the intensity of Brazil’s onslaught, South Korea tried to slow the game, but more chances for Raphinha and Vinicius Jr followed despite the best efforts of the men in red.

Then came the 77th minute, and out of nowhere, Paik Seung-ho scored from outside the box. A free kick for South Korea was bundled clear by the Brazilian defence, falling to Paik, who belted it past Alisson’s dive to find the top-right corner. Finally, the South Korean fans had something to cheer about.

South Korea continued to work hard in defence and create chances in attack, but that goal was to be their only score, and they head home having been soundly beaten by one of the best teams in the world.

Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals at Education City on Friday.

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Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson reveal pro Canadian women's soccer league set for kickoff in 2025 – CBC Sports

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Professional women’s soccer is coming to Canada.

Christine Sinclair and former national teammate Diana Matheson announced on Monday plans to kick off a domestic professional women’s league in 2025, featuring eight teams throughout Canada.

The two players sat down with The National‘s Adrienne Arsenault to reveal the news.

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After the duo helped Canada capture bronze at the 2012 Olympics — Matheson scored the medal-clinching goal — Sinclair expected progress. After all, the team had just snapped Canada’s 108-year podium drought in the sport.

“I really thought that 2012 was going to be a turning point for this country in bringing professional soccer home,” Sinclair told Arsenault. “But it never happened. And there’s still no pathways within this country.”

And so, a decade later, Sinclair and Matheson took matters into their own hands.

The still unnamed league would begin in April 2025 with an inaugural champion crowned sometime in the fall. Each team will have at least one Canadian international, and the goal is to bring home about half of the over-100 Canadians currently playing abroad.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler examines absence of top domestic women’s league:

Canada’s greatest athletes still without a domestic league of their own

2 months ago

Duration 2:53

Host Signa Butler explains the landscape of women’s sports leagues in Canada, as some of the country’s best athletes are without a league in their own backyard.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Calgary Foothills Soccer Club are confirmed as the first two teams to join the upstart league.

“Whitecaps FC are thrilled to be one of the first teams to sign on to a professional women’s soccer league in Canada,” said Stephanie Labbe, Whitecaps FC general manager of women’s soccer. “The creation of this league is something we have been advocating for over many years, and to be part of seeing it come to fruition is truly exciting.”

The league is being built by Matheson and her business partners at Project 8 Sports Inc. Sinclair, soccer’s all-time international scoring leader, is on board as an official advisor.

“The whole idea behind this is to aim high. And like, if you’re not, what’s the point?” Sinclair said.

“So let’s go out from the get-go and compete with the best leagues in the world and bring in the top talent. And yeah, have 10 year olds watching a game that 10 years later is on the Whitecaps, for instance. That would be my dream.”

Matheson, who retired from playing in July 2021, has visions of the league pushing the entire Canadian women’s sports infrastructure forward.

“It’s health and wellness. It’s confidence. It’s tied with better academics. There’s a huge tie between women in sport and women in business,” Matheson said. “And this is about soccer, but it’s about the coaches, it’s about the referees, it’s about women in executive roles in sport.”

Part of that women’s sports fabric comes down to marketing like jersey sales. Sinclair said she can’t even get her hands on her own jersey to gift to her niece.

“I don’t know if they exist,” Sinclair said.

Pursuing diversity

Matheson, 38, said she’s been working on obtaining her Master of Business Administration, as well as partaking in UEFA programming. She’s hoping the league becomes a Canada Soccer member by 2023, with full sanctioning by 2024

Sinclair, left, and Matheson, right, at the 2012 Olympics. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

She said Air Canada and CIBC are already on board as sponsors, and that it’s especially important to have the right team owners involved in the league.

“One of the things is having more diversity to begin with — more women, diverse voices to begin with, more players voices to begin with. And that’s top to bottom. I want women owners, women in the executive, women’s player voices as part of this,” Matheson said.

The Oakville, Ont., native made the case that the buy-in, which is expected to be between $8-10 million, is a worthwhile investment, noting that National Women’s Soccer League clubs, which were bought for $150,000 US 10 years ago, are now valued at a minimum of $35 million US. The Orlando NWSL franchise was purchased in 2021 for about $400 million US.

Matheson said her league can compete with average player salaries across the world right now.

“We just have way more opportunities to monetize our own brand. Players can do appearances, they can work with companies, they can run camps in a way that they just can’t when they’re playing in Italy and England,” she said.

Another point of importance for Matheson and Sinclair is ensuring players in their league are protected. Reports of abuse in the NWSL last season resulted in the resignation of half of the league’s coaches.

Sinclair is captain of the Portland Thorns, whose CEO Merrit Paulson stepped down in October following reports of systemic emotional and verbal abuse, as well as sexual misconduct.

“[It’s] unfortunate just how women are treated and taken advantage of. That’s why we need women owners. We need female executives,” Sinclair said.

Added Matheson: “It’s training, it’s vetting, it’s independent reporting systems. And for us, that’s going to mean working with those groups that are really good at doing those things.”

Sinclair autographs a fan’s ball during a men’s World Cup watch party in Toronto in November. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press)

Establishing pathways

At its crux, though, the league intends to establish pathways for young Canadian women to stay in soccer and work their way onto the national team — to foster future generations so that one day they could get their golden moment like Sinclair had in 2021 in Tokyo.

“It’s time to change the narrative and inspire the next group,” Matheson said. “I believe kids need to see it to believe that it’s possible to happen. And with the launch of this league, kids will be able to go into their own backyard and watch their heroes play and dream of one day representing their hometown professional club and maybe representing Canada.”

Sinclair said she was once one of those kids, watching the 1999 World Cup with a dream to be on that pitch herself one day.

23 years later, the Burnaby, B.C., native has accomplished nearly everything she could in her sport.

“We’ve inspired Canadians on the podium,” Sinclair said. “Now it’s time to actually make an impactful difference here in Canada.”

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