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Defender Ricardo Ferreira switches soccer allegiance from Portugal to Canada

Ricardo Ferreira, a Canadian-born defender who won one cap for Portugal, has switched his international allegiance to Canada.

The 28-year-old, born in Mississauga, Ont., to Portuguese parents, was with SC Farense in the Portuguese top tier most recently but became a free agent last month.

After spending time at the Toronto FC academy, he left Canada at 15 to join FC Porto’s youth ranks. His club resume also includes time in the AC Milan system.

“It’s been quite a journey. A long one, lots of ups and downs,” Ferreira said in an interview.

The right-footed centre back said John Herdman has been in contact with him since taking over the Canada’s men’s team in January 2018.

“I felt like it was finally time to make the decision and I’m just extremely excited to be part of the national team squad,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to take part.”

FIFA has approved Ferreira’s switch, given his lone appearance for Portugal at the senior level was not in a competitive game. Ferreira played in a November 2017 friendly against the U.S.

He represented Portugal at the youth level from 2008 to 2012.

“It’s been a long journey with Ricardo,” said Herdman. “It looked like we’d lost him at one point when he made his debut for Portugal. Since that date, there’s been many a conversation, many a presentation, just to see if we could coax him back into a red jersey with that Maple Leaf on.

“Of the three years of conversations, the last one was a really good one. And it’s a proud moment to see a player of his stature and experience pledge his allegiance to Canada.”

Herdman describes Ferreira as a “modern centre back” who has played at a good level in Europe. He has been on the Canadian radar for some time — then-national coach Octavio Zambrano talked him up in 2017.

Canadian beginning, transition to Europe

He grew up playing for Dixie SC and Brampton YSC, won the Canada Soccer U-14 Cup with Brampton Blast in 2006 and also played for Ontario’s youth select teams.

After Porto, he played for AC Milan’s under-19 team, with loan spells at Italy’s Empoli and Portugal’s SC Olhanense and FC Pacos de Ferreira.

He found a home in Portugal at SC Braga in 2015, winning the Portugal Cup and reaching the quarterfinal stage of the Europa League in 2015-16.

His time at Braga was interrupted by two knee injuries, however. He had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, only to re-injure the knee in his first game back.

“It was about a two-year interruption. It’s perfectly fine [now]. I’m 100 per cent,” added Ferreira, who still has family in the Toronto area.

When his Braga contract expired, he moved to Belenenses SAD in 2019 before joining newly promoted Farense last September. He did not see first-team action with Farense, which currently stands 17th in the 18-team league at 3-9-4.

“I can’t say it was a great experience but that’s football,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t go the way we want it to or the way we plan it. It’s a closed chapter and I’m just looking to move on and to find another club where I can showcase my talent and help the team.”

Improved retainment of talent

After losing the likes of Canadian-eligible players Owen Hargreaves (England), Teal Bunbury (U.S.), Jonathan de Guzman (the Netherlands) and Asmir Begovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) to other countries in the past, Canada has a good record of retaining and securing talent in recent years.

Current national team stars Alphonso Davies, born in Ghana to Liberian parents, and Jonathan David, born in the U.S., both chose to wear Canadian colours.

Others to choose Canada over other options include Tesho Akindele (U.S), Scott Arfield (Scotland), Zorhan Bassong (Belgium and Cameroon), Zachary Brault-Guillard (France and Haiti), Stephen Eustaquio (Portugal), Cristian Gutierrez (Chile), Junior Hoilett (Jamaica), Jayson Leutwiler (Switzerland), Ballou Tabla (Ivory Coast), Steven Vitorio (Portugal) and David Wotherspoon (Scotland).

Eustaquio, Gutierrez and Wotherspoon all switched national associations to represent Canada, currently ranked 72nd in the world.

“There’s definitely an optimism around the group,” Herdman said of his team. “It’s a very talented group. We’ve, I think, created a culture that is professional, it has a high-performance foundation and these players can see that.

“And they can see that the team is primed to go somewhere and they want to be part of it.”

Herdman’s recent camp in Florida featured defender Frank Sturing, a former Dutch youth international. Theo Corbeanu, who represented Romania at the youth level but has switched allegiance to Canada, was also slated to be there but ended up staying with England’s Wolves.

Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola, who was born in Detroit but moved to Canada when he was one, missed out through injury.

He made his debut for the U.S. senior side in December, scoring in a 6-0 win over El Salvador, but is not cap-tied because the match was a friendly. Canadian officials had hoped to show off their program at the Florida camp.

Marcelo Flores, a 17-year-old Mexican youth international forward in the Arsenal youth ranks, was also supposed to attend the camp but stayed in England.

The Canadian men are scheduled to face Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Suriname in the first round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in March and June. The Canadian men also have the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.

Herdman expects Ferreira to find a new club soon.

“Fingers crossed he be back playing and active before that March camp and available for selection.

Canadian men’s soccer Olympic qualifying tournament

The Canadian men will open CONCACAF Olympic soccer qualifying against El Salvador on March 19 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Canada will then face Haiti on March 22 and Honduras on March 25 to complete Group B play.

While the groups were announced in January, CONCACAF unveiled the schedule Friday for the 15th edition of the Olympic qualifying tournament set for March 18 to 30 at Guadalajara’s Jalisco and Akron stadiums.

The eight-team tournament, originally scheduled to be played last spring, will determine two teams to represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the Tokyo Games. The Olympic soccer competition is slated to run July 21 through Aug. 7.

Group A of the qualifying tournament features the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

The top two in each pool advance to the semifinals with the March 28 semifinal winners booking their ticket to the Olympics.

The Canadian men, who have not qualified for the Olympics since 1984 when they lost to Brazil in a quarterfinal penalty shootout, will be coached by Mauro Biello.

FIFA has kept the same eligibility rules that were first established, saying players must be born after Jan. 1, 1997.

Women’s Olympic qualifying took place in January-February 2020 before the pandemic. Canada, which won bronze at the last two Olympics, and the defending champion U.S. have both qualified.

Canada’s Schedule at CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying

(all times ET)

Group Stage

March 19

  • Canada vs El Salvador, Jalisco Stadium, 6 p.m.

March 22

  • Haiti vs Canada, Akron Stadium, 6 p.m.

March 25

Honduras vs Canada, Jalisco Stadium, 9:30 p.m.

Knockout Stage

Semifinals

March 28

  • 1B vs 2A, Jalisco Stadium, 6 p.m.
  • 1A vs 2B, Jalisco Stadium, 9 p.m.

Final

March 30

  • At Akron Stadium, 9 p.m.

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Orlando City survives bizarre shootout as defender takes gloves to seal wild finish

Benji Michel’s goal in a second penalty shootout and a late save by a reserve defender summoned to play goalie helped send Orlando City into the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals with a wild 1-1 (6-5) victory over NYCFC on Saturday.

No. 4 seed Orlando next plays Nov. 29 against top-seeded Philadelphia or No. 8 New England.

Orlando thought it had won at the end of the first penalty shootout when goalkeeper Pedro Gallese turned away NYCFC’s fifth penalty kick. But during the team’s brief celebration, officials ruled Gallese left his line early, drawing his second yellow card. Gallese then drew a red card when he disputed the call.

Referees concluded Orlando backup goalie Brian Rowe was ineligible, which forced it to bring in reserve centre back Rodrigo Schlegel in net. Orlando briefly lost track of the penalty kick count and thought it had won after Schlegel turned away NYCFC and started celebrating. Michel then came on to end it.

VIDEO: Unlikely hero Rodrigo Schlegel secures Orlando’s 1st playoff win:

After Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was awarded a red card during a penalty shootout, reserve centre back Rodrigo Schlegel replaced him and stopped Gudmundur Thorarinsson, leading to Benji Michel’s game-winner. 3:50

Orlando scored in the fifth minute on a penalty kick from Nani, the result of a hand ball in the penalty area against NYCFC’s Anton Tinnerholm.

Three minutes later, Maxime Chanot tied it on a header off a corner kick from Jesus Medina.

Gallese helped keep it even in the first half with four saves. At the 43rd minute, Gallese stretched for saves to deny Valentin Castellanos and Keaton Parks seconds apart.

Crew set up possible clash with TFC

Pedros Santos, Darlington Nagbe and Gyasi Zardes scored and the Columbus Crew beat the New York Red Bulls 3-2 on Saturday to advance to the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals.

Third-seeded Columbus will play Nov. 29 against the winner of the Tuesday night match between second-seeded Toronto FC and No. 7 Nashville.

Seventeen-year-old Caden Clark gave the Red Bulls the lead in the 23rd minute. Santos tied it on a penalty kick in the 26th, Nagbe put the Crew ahead in the 46th and Zardes made it 3-1 in the 68th.

Brian White scored for New York in the 90th.


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Toronto FC sign defender Rocco Romeo as homegrown player

Rocco Romeo, who served as a ball boy at Toronto FC games growing up, has signed a first-team contract with the MLS team as a homegrown player.

The 19-year-old defender from Richmond Hill, Ont., becomes the 21st player in club history to join the first team from the Toronto FC academy.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney said Romeo has a big upside.

“He has a great frame for a centre back — 6-4 and change — and moves nicely for a centre back. Very athletic,” said Vanney. “In terms of that, he’s got a lot of tools to work with. He’s very comfortable with the ball. He’s comfortable playing on the left side or the right side of the two centre back positions.”

Romeo was all smiles Tuesday but said he had no plans to celebrate his deal.

“There’s still a long way to go … I’ve already told my family, no parties, no dinners, nothing.”

Romeo said he always put his hand up when the call went out to his youth club for ball boys at Toronto games.

“I’d always volunteer because I thought it was pretty cool being field level and watching the game,” he said.

His parents had season tickets in the 2016 and 2017 season and Romeo was in the stands when Toronto won the MLS Cup in 2017.

“I was debating running on the field but my dad would have kicked my ass,” he said.

Romeo appeared in 10 matches for Toronto FC II during the 2019 USL One regular season. He also had a short loan spell with Danish second-division side HB Koge where he made eight appearances. He said he grew up on and off the field in his six months in Denmark.

“We’ll find ways to continue to challenge him,” said Vanney.

With Omar Gonzalez and Chris Mavinga as Toronto’s first-choice partnership at centre back, with veterans Laurent Ciman and Eriq Zavaleta in reserve, Vanney has depth in defence. But he said Romeo will see action in the pre-season and get his chance to shine.

“We’re optimistic we can make some real progress with him this year,” he added.

Romeo joined the Toronto academy in 2014 and signed for Toronto FC II in September 2017, becoming the 28th player from the academy to sign a pro contract.

Romeo, who represented Canada at the under-20 level, had looked at attending Michigan State but is now focused on TFC.

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Swedish coder held by Ecuador was defender of Assange

An ace Swedish programmer who was an early, ardent supporter of WikiLeaks has been arrested in Ecuador in an alleged plot to blackmail the country’s president over his abandonment of Julian Assange.

But friends of Ola Bini say the soft-spoken encryption expert is being unfairly targeted for his activism on behalf of digital privacy.

On Saturday, prosecutors said they intend to charge Bini for hacking-related crimes and had him ordered detained for up to 90 days while they compile evidence.

The 36-year-old was arrested Thursday at the airport in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito as he prepared to board a flight to Japan. The arrest came just hours after Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Bini was carrying at least 30 electronic storage devices.

His lawyers said they have not been notified whether he’s been charged. Authorities said the plot hatched with two unidentified Russian hackers living in Ecuador involved threatening to release compromising documents about President Lenin Moreno as he toughened his stance against the WikiLeaks founder.

“It’s up to the justice system to determine if he committed a crime,” Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said Friday. “But we can’t allow Ecuador to become a centre for piracy and spying. That period in our history is over.”

Travelled to meet Assange at least a dozen times

Romo said Bini had travelled at least 12 times to meet with Assange at the London embassy. She said he was also in Venezuela earlier this year around the same time as a close aide to Moreno’s ex-mentor turned arch enemy, Rafael Correa. The former president granted Assange asylum in 2012 and has been leading a campaign cheered on by WikiLeaks to expose alleged corruption by Moreno that has included the release of damaging personal documents and photos, including several that showed him eating lobster in bed.

While the extent of Bini’s relationship with Assange is unclear, the Swede has defended the WikiLeaks founder’s free speech rights in an online blog he’s kept over the years.

“Any official who has called for Assange to be treated as a terrorist or enemy combatant should be seriously considering stepping down from office,” he wrote in December 2010.

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange is seen in a police van after he was arrested by British police in London on Thursday. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

In the same blog, Bini condemned Amazon for knocking WikiLeaks off its hosting services, and credit card companies and PayPal for refusing to process payments to the secret-spilling site. He also described working on a January 2011 panel about WikiLeaks put on by his then-employer, global software firm Thoughtworks, and including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.

An expert on secure communications, Bini arrived in Quito in 2013 after being transferred from Chicago to the Ecuador office of Thoughtworks, which has guiding principles that stress social activism. Around the same time, he started to rethink his online habits and at one point gave up his Gmail account in favour of self-hosted email.

“I am not a huge fan of having all my electronic life hosted under the auspices of U.S. legislation, especially not in light of recent events,” he wrote in a 2013 post.

‘I didn’t realize that knowing somebody is a crime’

Friends and loved ones describe Bini as a computer geek who felt most at ease solving complex programming problem for days at a time. At the time of his arrest, he was travelling to Japan, his former wife Malin Sandell told The Associated Press, for two weeks of jujitsu training — one of the few hobbies he indulged in outside of his all-consuming work as a code developer.

His Ecuadorian girlfriend said that she did not recall Bini ever expressing strong support for Assange despite the fact that the WikiLeaks founder has deep ties in Sweden and would have been an obvious topic of conversation in the small Ecuadorian programming circles.

“Ola is not a hacker, if by that you mean a criminal, but he is someone trying to understand how computers work and protect people’s privacy,” Sofia Ramos said in an interview from Brussels.

Ramos worked with Bini on a project at the Center for Digital Autonomy for creating a more secure instant-messaging encryption protocol. In its statement Friday, the centre said Computerworld had ranked him in 2010 as Sweden’s No. 6 developer.

The centre is a small non-profit incorporated in Ecuador and Spain dedicated to private, secure and anonymous communication. Its website says it has contributed to well-known projects including Enigmail and the Tor privacy browser.

In the hours before he went to the airport Thursday, Bini sent a tweet warning of a “witch hunt” by Ecuadorian authorities mopping up after Assange’s forced departure from the embassy. Now his friends say that prophecy appears to have been true.

“I didn’t realize that knowing somebody is a crime,” said Vijay Prashad, who runs a Marxist publishing house in India and last saw Bini a few months ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “He’s the last person who would ever be involved in an attempt to overthrow a government.”

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Toronto FC acquires former MLS defender of the year Ciman

Toronto FC, which conceded a franchise-worst 64 goals last season, moved to bolster its defence on Thursday by acquiring veteran Belgian international centre back Laurent Ciman.

To get the former MLS Defender of the Year, Toronto sent a second-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft to expansion FC Cincinnati to move up one spot to the top of the allocation ranking.

The 33-year-old Ciman played most recently played for FC Dijon in France's Ligue 1. He spent 2015 through 2018 in MLS with the Montreal Impact and Los Angeles FC.

"We are excited to add a player with Laurent's vast experience," Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. "This is a player who has been a captain of two MLS teams, an all-star and the defender of the year.

"He is an excellent passer, an organizer in the back and a passionate, fiery competitor. We look forward to him joining our club immediately and becoming an important part of our group."


Ciman, who turns 34 in August, will join veteran Drew Moor, who will be 35 in January, at the heart of the Toronto defence. Injuries limited Moor to just eight MLS appearances in 2018.

The two veterans will be supported by Chris Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund, Gregory van der Wiel, Justin Morrow, Ashtone Morgan and Brazil's Auro in the backline.

Plagued by injuries and inconsistent play in the league, Toronto went from MLS Cup winner in 2017 to 19th overall and out of the playoffs in 2018.

Ciman should add stability to the TFC defence in a 2019 season that, barring new deals, is the last under the current contracts of designated players Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

Toronto set the stage for the Ciman acquisition earlier in December when it moved to No. 2 in the allocation ranking order in a deal that sent San Jose $ 75,000 US in general allocation money, $ 75,000 in targeted allocation money and the No. 6 allocation spot.

Major League Soccer uses the allocation process as its way of acquiring select U.S. internationals, elite youth U.S. internationals or former MLS players returning to the league after joining a non-MLS club for a transfer fee greater than $ 500,000.

The allocation ranking is set by taking the reverse order of the club's standings at the end of each MLS Season, with the expansion clubs at the top of the order.

Award-winning season in 2015

Ciman played three seasons for the Montreal Impact and was named MLS Defender of the Year and to the MLS Best XI in 2015. He was traded to expansion LAFC ahead of the 2018 season and later sold to Dijon.

He was selected to the MLS all-star game in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Ciman left LAFC in late August, saying the move to France was the best for his family's future.

Prior to coming to MLS in 2015, Ciman spent eight seasons in Belgium's top division (with Charleroi, Club Brugge and Standard Liege) and has played 20 times for Belgium's senior national team.

Ciman made $ 661,667 in 2018 with LAFC, according to the MLS Players Association.

FC Cincinnati now has five selections in next month's MLS SuperDraft, including the No. 1 overall pick. The draft choice traded by Toronto is the 30th overall.

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Impact sign defender Bacary Sagna to 1-year deal

Defender Bacary Sagna has re-signed with the Montreal Impact, agreeing to a one-year deal on Monday.

"I'm very happy to be back with the Impact for one more year," the right back said in a news release. "I hope we have a good season and make it all the way."

Sagna played 810 minutes over nine games with the Impact in 2018 and scored one goal, in September against the New York Red Bulls.

"I am very satisfied that Bacary [is continuing] with the club," said head coach Rémi Garde. "He played a big role in our good second half to the season in 2018 and I am sure he will once again be an important part of the Impact in 2019."

FA Cup, League Cup champion

The Impact earned a record of five wins, three losses and one draw, conceding just 12 goals with him on the field during the 2018 campaign.

Sagna played in the Premier League from 2007 to 2017, appearing in 267 games with Arsenal and Manchester City. He scored four goals and added 19 assists.

He was named to the Professional Footballers' Association's Team of the Year in 2007-08 and 2010-11 and won one FA Cup and one League Cup.

On the international scene, Sagna represented the French national team 65 times, taking part in the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and 2014. He also played every minute of Euro 2016, including the final against Portugal.

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TFC signs Brazilian defender 'Auro' from Sao Paulo FC on loan

Toronto FC signed defender Auro Alvaro da Cruz Junior on loan Tuesday.

The deal will take the 22-year-old Brazilian player, who’s known simply as “Auro,” from the Brazilian club Sao Paulo FC with an option to buy.

Auro has represented Brazil at both the U-17 and U-20 championships.

He’s also made a combined 34 appearances in Brazil’s Serie A and Campeonato Paulista leagues over three seasons with Sao Paulo FC.

“Auro is a young and versatile defender that will provide us with flexibility within our line-up, both on the left and right side,” said Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “We are pleased to bring him in on a loan deal with an option to buy for the future.”

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Impact trade star defender Ciman, acquire ex-TFC wingback Edwards

The Montreal Impact shook up their backline Tuesday, trading star defender Laurent Ciman to expansion Los Angeles FC for Canadian wingback Raheem Edwards and Finnish defender Jukka Raitala.

In acquiring the Belgian international, LAFC added an experienced centre back to anchor its defence.

“Laurent is a top defender who provides leadership and great distribution,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said in a statement. “His experience in the league and with the Belgian national team will be invaluable as we build our club.”

LAFC had taken Raitala and Edwards in the expansion draft held earlier in the day, Raitala from Columbus with the fourth pick and Edwards from Toronto FC with the fifth.

It was a dizzying day for Edwards, who went from Toronto to Los Angeles to Montreal where he now finds himself a member of Toronto’s biggest rival.

Montreal sheds salary

Montreal shed salary in the deal, with the 32-year-old Ciman making US$ 661,666 this season. The 22-year-old Edwards earned $ 53,000 and the 29-year-old Raitala $ 161,670.

“The salary cap plays a part in every move that you make within this league,” Impact technical director Adam Braz told a media conference call. “I also think when you look at age, that’s factor as well.

“Raheem Edwards is really young and has a bright future, a lot of upside and potential. [New coach] Remi [Garde] has done really well in his past with young players, helping them come through. And Raitala is an experienced left back that came into the league with Columbus and showed that he can do well in a new environment and helped Columbus have a good season.”

Braz said Raitala would help fill the void left by Ambroise Oyongo’s “probable departure.”

Former defender of the year

Ciman was MLS defender of the year in 2015. That year, his first in Major League Soccer, the Belgian international was also named to the MLS Best XI and MLS all-star game and was chosen Impact Defensive Player of the Year.

Ciman played 85 MLS games for Montreal, starting 30 matches this season.

Asked if Ciman requested a trade, Braz pointed to past interviews in which the Belgian said he wanted to stay in MLS. He did not elaborate.

Ciman came to Montreal from Belgium’s Standard de Liege. He also played for Brugge, RSC Charleroi and KV Courtai.

More moves expected

Raitala played 28 games, starting 20, in his first season with Columbus this season. He previously played for 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany, Osasuna in Spain and SC Heerenveen in the Netherlands. He has 39 caps for Finland.

Edwards had a breakthrough season with Toronto in 2017, playing 21 games (10 starts) with one goal and six assists. He has two caps for Canada.

“After having analysed the team’s defensive play during the last season, and by relying on internal reports, it seemed important to me to make some adjustments,” Garde said in a statement. “It’s the first change in terms of departures, but other players will get added to the roster in the next few weeks.”

Montreal ranked 16th in the 22-team league this season in goals against, conceding 1.71 goals a game.

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