Thursday, May 29, 2008

Headbangers Unite!

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.


Dennis Prouse said...

You mean just like the 1986 World Cup berth changed everything for Canadian soccer? Pardon my cynicism, but I am old enough to remember the last time Canada qualified with what was described then as our best side ever, and then promptly scored ZERO goals at the tournament. Still, the fact that Canada had qualified was supposed to usher in a new era in Canadian soccer. Needless to say, it didn't happen, as evidenced by Canada's cringe-inducing performance in last year's FIFA World Cup U-20 event.

Oh, and no one gives a rat's behind how they fare in a "friendly" against anyone. That '86 side teased everyone with good performances in international friendlies also. If the soccer poobahs in Canada want cynical old sports fans like me to sit up and pay attention, then they not only have to get to the World Cup, but have some success when they get there. Otherwise, it is 1986 all over again.

Duane Rollins said...


What is giving hope is Canada's play at the Gold Cup, a competitive tournament. They've actually looked uninterested in the last few friendlies. And the difference between the current level of talent and the '86 team is considerable (and largely a result of the fall-out from '86). The current team is 100X better, even when you factor in generational improvements. It would have been unthinkable to suggest that Canada would have a player in La Liga in 1986.

To make an international hockey comparison Canada in 1986 was Japan--a curiosity. Now, we're Latvia. Still a way's behind the top teams, but capable of pulling an upset from time to time.

Duane Rollins said...

And Dennis...knocking the '86 team for not scoring is REALLY harsh. When Canada played France in 1986 it was the equivalent of the Detroit Red Wings playing the Wellington Dukes.

Dennis Prouse said...

Canada didn't just lose to France in '86, though. They also lost 2-0 to both the U.S.S.R., a mid-power at best at the time in soccer, and to Hungary, who were a lower power like Canada. There is no way to put a pretty spin on losing 2-0 to the Hungarians.

I'll buy the notion that Canada has made progress, and the Japan vs. Latvia analogy may well be a very good one. All I am saying is that Canada will have to both qualify, and make a little noise at the World Cup, in order to truly engage the public and mainstream sports media back home. Otherwise, it just looks like more of the same. That may not be fair, as I know how brutally competitive international soccer is, but that is the reality.

sager said...

Canada qualifying for 2010 would be a huge sports story in this country, at least one would hope. If people don't get it, and like Dennis says, they might not, then it's a commentary on how unknowledgeable many Canadians can be about sports sometimes. It's like we flagellate ourselves if we're not No. 1, which is unrealistic for a country of such a small population.

Mikey said...

Unknowledgeable about sports other than hockey

The MSM doesn't help this either. On the radio (Team1200, I'm looking at you) and in the papers (outside of the Toronto market where there are significant soccer and basketball shows on the radio and more columns devoted) there is often there is bigger focus on junior hockey than other sports.

The seeds for Canadian qualification are there: a good under-20 World Cup organization (other than our shocking performance), strong following for the big three Canadian club teams and MLS publicity, players playing big minutes in big leagues.

I was at a pub last week and spoke with a guy wearing a FC Copenhagen jacket. I asked him if he was a big Atiba Hutchinson fan. He didn't know who he was, nor knew a Canadian (and a good one at that) was even playing for the side he saw on vacation.

That needs to change. As does the leadership at the CSA which hasn't created the necessary youth programmes that are so key for international success. The CSA hasn't given us a national coach with a record we can be proud of (still dreading Mitchell) or the technical knowledge to smash the programme throuh the brick wall.

We can laugh at the amateur moves of CONCACAF, but the CSA isn't far behind...