Thursday, May 29, 2008
Supporting Canada in soccer is a bit like repeatedly hitting your head against a cement wall. No one understands why you are doing it, it hurts a whole lot and it will eventually make you crazy.
But, somehow you know that if you could just break through to the other side of that wall--if you could open it up to let the light shine through--that the years of shame, ridicule and confusion will have been all worth it.
However, as we sit on the eve of 2010 World Cup Qualifying, there is reason to hope that maybe you are staring to make a dent. The current squad is as good as has ever wore the maple leaf. With players like Rob Friend, Atiba Hutchinson, Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman making up a core of players that would start for any team in the region there is no reason not to think that Canada has a real shot at playing in South Africa in two years time.
It won't be easy. CONCACAF qualifying can be corrupt, dangerous and uncomfortable. In a reversal of fortunes from most other ares of the region, Latin America has the clout and as such a country like Canada can have it difficult. Drawn into a semi-final grouping that includes the No 1, No. 3 and No 4 ranked teams in CONCACAF (example 1-A of the, um, questionable decisions that are made in the region - CONCACAF used a ranking list that was almost a year old when it drew for the qualifying groups, despite having just played the regional championships. The country that most gained from using the old rankings was likely Trinidad and Tobago, home of the president of CONCACAF. Not accusing, just observing...).
But, the talent is there. Something that, sadly, the majority of Canadians--even Canadian soccer fans-- aren't aware of. People don't know that Friend lead Monchengladbach with 19 goals and helped the team return to the Bundesliga, that de Guzman was named to the La Liga weekly top XI on more than one occasion this year or that De Rosario is arguably the best midfielder in MLS.
Frustrating to fans is that even when there is an opportunity to promote theses successes, the major Canadian sports media often drops the ball in favour of yet another column on the next Leafs GM. Case in point: this Saturday Canada plays Brazil in a tune-up. Brazil. The word's most recognizable soccer team. However, there has barely been any mention of the game and, unbelievably, a Canadian fan that wants to watch it is going to have to troll the Internet Saturday night looking for illegal Chinese P2P broadcasts. A two inch AP (the game is in Seattle) wrap-up is about all we can expect in Sunday's papers, I suspect).
But, if the team can just keep it together enough to claim that third sport to the World Cup things will change. We the fans will have finally burst through that damn wall enough to let the bandwagoners through (who we'll be annoyed at--where were they when we were scrambling to find that Icelandic webfeed of that friendly in '06?--but willing to live with if it means that we can give our head a rest).
In the meantime, pass the Advil. It's going to be a crazy ride for the next few months.