Cascadia: America’s answer to World Cup heartbreak

On October 10th 2017, referee Marlon Mejia blew the final whistle at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. An own goal from Omar Gonzalez and a right-footed long-range effort from Alfie Jones saw Trinidad & Tobago shock North American football. The USA discovered that results had gone against them in Panama and Honduras and they would not be heading to Russia the following summer for the FIFA World Cup. In fact, they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to redeem themselves through a play-off. For the first time since 1986, the United States would not be representing North America on the world stage, leaving American football fans without a team to support this summer. Or does it?

Enter Cascadia.

On May 31st, a region from the Pacific Northwest called Cascadia will take on Ellan Vannin (known more popularly as the Isle of Man) at Gander Green Lane, in their opening World Football Cup fixture. However, there are a significant number of hurdles the Cascadian team has to overcome before they step on the field in three months time, including finding people to play for them.

“We do not currently have any players signed up. Players can be anyone who has a family or residence connection to Cascadia.” Aaron Johnsen, President of CAFF – or the Cascadia Association Football Federation – told me when I asked him about the side. In fact, Cascadia have yet to play a single game and have no friendlies currently planned in the lead-up to their maiden tournament.

“Cascadia qualified by being the only organisation of our kind in good standing with CONIFA. Our expectations going into the tournament are to put together a team that can compete and hopefully win.”

This is the crux of the problem for Cascadia and many teams like them within CONIFA. If you don’t have any local counterparts, then it becomes incredibly difficult to organise fixtures for your side. Cascadia are the only qualifiers from North America for this summer’s tournament, and currently Quebec are the only other team on the same continent as Cascadia who also have CONIFA membership, and the two sides couldn’t be further apart while existing on the same continent.

There has always been a lot of interests in the project, yet we have failed to attract the talent required to actually start a team.”

The aim of the side is to have a roster of players to choose from by April 1st according to their Facebook page, although it’s unlikely the likes of DeAndre Yedlin of Newcastle United and Freddy Montero of Sporting CP will be selected, even though both players are eligible to represent Cascadia.  Yedlin was born in Seattle and Montero has played for the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Welcome to the Epicenter of North American Football

This is the statement that greets you when you visit the official Cascadia website. The history of football in the region stretches back to the beginnings of professional football in the United States at the start of the 1970s, with the three major cities within Cascadia – Seattle, Portland and Vancouver – being awarded NASL sides within a year of each other. As well as admission to the NASL, the three teams created the Cascadia Cup, awarded to the best performing side in the region and was won by the Portland Timbers in 2017 for the first time in five seasons.

When the MLS began in 1996, Seattle were only denied a franchise due to the lack of a dedicated stadium. Vancouver were the first non-US based side to join the competition in 2011, the same year as the Timbers, who have already won the MLS Cup.

Unlike many of the sides at the World Football Cup, people are less likely to be aware of where Cascadia is or how they qualify under CONIFA’s rules to join the federation.

“We put together a bid that included showing were we are, the unique culture of bioregionalism and soccer.”

Cascadia’s mission statement describes themselves as a distinct cultural identity and isolated bioregion, made up of parts of Oregon and Washington state in the US, and the western region of British Columbia in Canada.

cascadia region
The green section represents ‘Core Cascadia’ while the dark outline contains ‘Bioregional Cascadia’

As the term suggests, a ‘bioregion’ is an area with similar natural characteristics such as native plants and wildlife, the climate and a continuous geographic terrain. But the term also takes the local population into consideration and the football culture in the Pacific Northwestern was another key component of Cascadia being granted CONIFA membership. The trifecta of the Sounders, the Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers are key contributors to this culture, with all three sides boasted a 96% capacity or higher last season. Compare this to the likes of the New York and Los Angeles clubs who average around 80% and you can see just how popular football is in the area.

Like all the teams wishing to compete in London this summer, Cascadia need the support of the general public to support the side in their goal of representing their region. You can visit Cascadia’s official site and sponsor the side, any support will be greatly appreciated. Alternatively, Cascadia are still looking for players and coaches, and if you think you’ve got what it takes to play in a World Cup this summer, you can enquire about joining the side here.

The CONIFA World Football Cup: What we know so far

Football is coming home this summer, but not in the way you might expect. Sixteen teams from across the globe are travelling to London at the end of May to take part in the third World Football Cup. These teams represent nations, ethnic groups or diasporas which aren’t recognised by FIFA but instead are encouraged to play football through an organisation called CONIFA. CONIFA (or the Confederation of Independent Football Associations) is “a global acting non-profit organisation that supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories” and for two weeks will bring together teams representing five continents, to find a new World Football Champion.

Who’s competing?

The sixteen teams contesting the World Football Cup this summer are:

Europe:

Abkhazia – An autonomous region of Georgia recognised by Russia and several other states. They were the winners and hosts of the previous World Football Cup in 2016 and automatically qualified for this year’s tournament due to their achievements two years ago.

Felvidék – One of two sides at this summer’s tournament representing a Hungarian minority, Felvidék are appearing at their first World Football Cup having won the Hungarian Heritage Cup in August 2016. They finished 7th at last summer’s European Football Cup.

Padania – Padania represent eight of the northern regions of Italy and are considered one of the strongest sides in CONIFA having first been recognised as a footballing state in 2008. They won the first three VIVA World Cups (the predecessor of the CONIFA WFC) and are the reigning European Football Cup champions.

Northern Cyprus – A region of Cyprus with a largely Turkish population, Northern Cyprus are another strong competitor outside of FIFA organised competitions. A third-place finish in Abkhazia and runners-up to Padania when they hosted the European Football Cup last year, expected the Northern Cypriots to challenge for the title again in London.

Székely Land – Székely Land are the second Hungarian diaspora to qualify for the WFC, and the team that heralds from central Romania qualified for this summer’s tournament with more qualification points than any other European side. Certainly one of the rising stars of CONIFA competition who will be looking to improve on their performance in their debut WFC in Abkhazia in 2016.

Ellan Vannin – Better known as the Isle of Man, Ellan Vannin were awarded a wild card to appear in London this summer, with the highlight of their qualification campaign coming in a 6-0 victory over Greenland. They recently played Yorkshire in a friendly in their debut match – which you can read all about here – and as one of the more local sides to London, they’re sure to receive a lot of support from fans.

Asia:

Tamil Eelam – Tamil Eelam represent the Tamil diaspora from Sri Lanka, although their players are based all over the world in the UK, Canada and Switzerland. This will be their second appearance at the WFC, and victory in the CONIFA Challenger Cup against the Romani people secured their spot in London.

Western Armenia – Western Armenia are infamous in the non-FIFA community for being involved in one of the most prestigious matches against a non-CONIFA side, when they narrowly lost to Olympique de Marseille’s reserve side 3-2. Another strong side with substantial tournament experience, the Western Armenian’s were granted a wild card to qualify for the 2018 version of the tournament.

Tibet – The other Asian side awarded a wild card was Tibet, despite not taking part in a single qualifying match. Tibet will be an unknown quantity for many of the sides they come up against, but London 2018 offers them the perfect opportunity to gain some valuable experience.

Panjab – Panjab were initially set up to represent the British Punjabi diaspora but since their conception in 2014 have spread further afield. The side have come on a long way since their 8-1 defeat against Ellan Vannin in their second ever international, taking Abkhazia to penalties in the previous WFC final and losing 4-3 to Leicester City’s International Academy. Another team to keep a very close eye on as the competition progresses.

United Koreans of Japan – The name of this side is pretty self-explanatory. UKFAJ are affiliated with club side FC Korea in Japan and play in the fifth tier of Japanese football. The majority of their players come from the club side although anyone from the Zainichi region is eligible to turn out the UKFAJ.

Africa:

Barawa – Barawa are the official hosts of this year’s World Football Cup, despite Barawaland being a coastal region of Somalia. The diaspora are London-based and have been competing in friendly over the past two years despite automatically qualifying. They finished bottom of their group at the World Unity Cup in August 2016 competing against Tamil Eelam and the Chagos Islands who failed to qualify this summer.

Matabeleland – Matabeleland is made up of three regions in western Zimbabwe and will be competing in their maiden international tournament this summer. The side qualified as one of the strongest teams from the African region and manager Justin Walley is also the head of the African section of CONIFA.

Kabylie – Kabylie represent the cultural region of Kabylie in Northern Algeria, which is primarily found in the Atlas Mountains region on the coast of the Mediterranean. The region has a population of over 7,500,000 people and will also be appearing in their first World Football Cup.

North America:

Cascadia – The only team representing North America, Cascadia encompasses Washington and Oregon state in the USA and British Columbia in Canada. Cascadia is a bioregion, and they’re recognised by CONIFA due to the unique ecosystem in the area.

Oceania:

Kiribati – No team will travel further to reach London this summer than Kiribati, and although the island nation are technically eligible to play within FIFA. They are a member of the OFC, and have played ten internationals in their history, although all of these have been away from home due to the lack of grass pitches in the archipelago.

Where are they playing?

So far three venues have been announced to host games this summer, with several others to be revealed over the course of the next few weeks. Tickets will cost £5 for children and £10 for adults with an extra pound going towards a team of your choice.

Sutton United – Ganders Green Lane

The first venue to be announced was Ganders Green Lane, home of National League side Sutton United. The 5,014 capacity ground will host two group games, two quarter-finals, and two placement games including two matches on the opening day between Ellan Vannin and Cascadia, and Padania and Matabeleland.

Bromley – Hayes Lane

The next ground fans will be able to experience is Hayes Lane, also home to a National League side in rapidly improving Bromley. Like Ganders Green Lane, Hayes Lane is an artificial pitch meaning it will have no issue with hosting four matches over the course of a week. Bromley will welcome a plate match and a quarter-final on June 5th, and two plate semi-finals two days later.

Enfield – Queen Elizabeth II Stadium

The iconic art-deco pavilion makes Enfield Town’s home ground instantly recognisable, and having been chosen to host ten matches, it’s essential for fans to make their way out to Middlesex at some point during the tournament. The QU2 stadium will host all-but-one of Group B’s matches, alongside Western Armenia v Kabylie, before hosting a quarter-final and three placement matches on the final weekend of competition.

What’s the format?

Sixteen teams are split into four seeded groups, with no more than two teams from each continent allowed to be drawn together.

The top two sides from each group go into the quarter-finals, and the rest of the tournament follows the traditional knockout format.

To make sure all the travelling teams get the maximum game time, teams that don’t progress through their groups will play three placement matches, meaning all sixteen teams will be ranked from first to 16th by June 10th.

If you enjoyed this and want to see more CONIFA content before the tournament starts, make sure to give @FTHalfwayLine a follow on Twitter.