“What went wrong against Honduras?”
Apparently, it’s the question we’re all asking – including a lot of people who have had little-to-no interest in the team prior to hearing they might be going to the World Cup (which by no means a result against HON would have assured anyway). Let’s chat (see: I talk, you listen) about it briefly before we get back to Arsenal matters.
A brief recap: Canada went into San Pedro Sula to play Honduras in a WC2014 qualifier that, with at least a point taken, would have put Canada into the fabled “hex”, the last round that determines which countries represent CONCACAF in the next World Cup. Having not qualified for a World Cup since 1986 (the only time we have) and having not been in the “hex” since 1998, understandably both excitement and expectations were quite high.
What followed suit was a disaster of catastrophic scale, an 8-1 defeat where Canada looked bereft of ideas, confidence, and ability. Defensively we were amateur at best; going forward, we had no meaningful spells of possession; awful touches occurred all over the park; and even our gilt-edge goal scoring opportunities taken by some of our better forwards were not lethal enough. It was difficult to watch as a fan, and likely incredibly disheartening for people who had only just started to turn their attention to CanMNT and the qualification campaign.
What has resulted has been a lot of scrutiny – probably heaped on in unnecessary amounts simply because it was one of the few games casual soccer observers here bothered to watch. It’s a shame, because I think it unfairly masks the fact that Canada actually didn’t do too bad overall, and because it has once again fed a tired stereotype of Canadian soccer being incapable of moving forward.
To get in a position to finish a single point shy of the “hex” is a pretty good achievement considering our international CV. Canada is NOT a soccer powerhouse – that is obvious and goes without saying. But that is true to the extent that countries like Honduras – rated one of the most violent in the world in 2011 – actually have better-funded soccer programs than we do. Added to this lack of investment, we have only had true professional domestic teams here for a few years of the last couple decades, with two of those three (Vancouver and Montreal) having entered the MLS over the last two seasons. And the relatively young long-term development platform by the Canadian Soccer Association of “LTPD” has not yet started to pay dividends in earnest.
It is not to say there are not significant problems to be fixed in this country. I am no expert of the bureaucracy or politics of the game in the country, though word-of-mouth tells me there is an exceptional level of inefficiency at both provincial and national levels; there is also much work to be done at scouting talent at the youth level which requires better grassroots programs across the country. But there is some tangible progress we can build on if we don’t give up on the program.
Therein lies the danger – buying this whole notion that “Canada is not and never will be a soccer country”. Erroneous, false, self-defeating. It may never achieve the status of hockey here, or perhaps any other sports, but with the multicultural heritage and “first-world” sports science research we have access to, there is a very solid platform to build on if we do not allow ourselves to be set back by these old cliches. Instead of letting the result get us in a mindset of “typical Canadian soccer”, let’s start thinking “we did some things right, now we have to improve on the rest”.
Returning to what I touched on earlier, I believe CanMNT in its qualification campaign “review” by many fans and pundits alike, has had its grade weighted far too heavily on what was a single (albeit awful) game against a team that was playing in the World Cup merely two years ago. On paper it sounds like a very poor country to lose to (no pun intended), but those in football-knowledgable circles will correctly tell you that Honduras is a competitive CONCACAF member who has produced some very talented footballers – Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa, and David Suazo will be familiar names to EPL and Serie A watchers. Unfortunately Canada just isn’t at this level of competitiveness yet, and it showed – though the result was far more lopsided than it should have been. However, that should not take away from an effective campaign that I believe exceeded expectations – it did mine, anyway.
By now many other bloggers and writers have ventured their opinions on how Canada should proceed, and I’ll leave you to their opinions and analyses. I will however mention in brief that I believe we need a younger team (particularly at the back), and that we should continue to build a formidable reputation as a “fortress” when playing at home (the fans at BMO for the Cuba match were fantastic, let’s keep up that enthusiasm). I’m also of the opinion that players who could make significant positive impact on the team who are currently undeclared – looking at you, Jonathan de Guzman and Junior Hoilett – should come and help the cause instead of suggesting ‘they’ll think about it if Canada gets to the hex’. We need a few top-talents like these guys to add a bit more credibility to the country’s program, so we stop losing talents like Begovic and Hargreaves (to name a few).
Right, that’ll do. Conveniently, Simeon Jackson (a personal favourite of mine) offers a segway from CanMNT to Arsenal, as the Gunners take on his Norwich side this coming weekend. So Canadians, stay on course and keep the faith that we will “SeeTheeRise”; Arsenal fans, thanks for bearing with a little International coverage, now back to your regularly scheduled programming.