It was a moment that perfectly encapsulated what it is to be a Canadian soccer fan.
Marcus Haber had just scored the go-ahead goal in a Gold Cup match against Costa Rica in what was essentially a must-win for Canada, and from my perch within the Voyageurs section in the South End of BMO Field the hysteria matched anything you would find at any ground in any established “football nation.”
Delirium ensued, as the rain-saturated masses lost all control, and I do apologize to the girl in front of me who I used as a means to stay upright after being lampooned from behind by some crazed psychotic. Then the air began to fizzle out of the big red balloon. Offside. No goal.
The saddest part was the general reaction around me. Complete acceptance, as this was the only way, right? Canadian soccer fans are not allowed such moments of joy, and the linesman’s flag was simply a demand that order be resumed; that in actual fact nice things don’t happen to Canada, and that we were all just stupid to think otherwise for those 20 or so wonderful seconds.
What a week it’s been for the average pathetic self loathing fan of the game in our country, of which I am proudly one: Gold Cup elimination, Pan Am reality for the men against Brazil, frustration for the women against Costa Rica, and all of this on the heels of a Women’s World Cup where the team did what they were supposed to do, but not more.
Yet amidst all of this disappointment a celebration took place in the form of three players being welcomed into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame. Kara Lang, Jim Brennan and Pat Onstad are an outstanding class of 2015, true servants who wore the Maple Leaf with pride and travelled to distant outposts on skimpy budgets and more often than not, and through no fault of their own, participated in campaigns that ended with the same old questions being asked.
Hope, as John Molinaro wrote for Sportsnet.ca, might just be Canada’s worst enemy. Perhaps it is time to give up, quit on our dreams, and just accept the unacceptable. Then I see Cuba advance to the Gold Cup quarterfinals. I see a very limited Costa Rican women’s team beat an experimental Canada in the Pan Ams, and I think to myself, “To hell with that! I don’t expect trophies but I do expect improvement, even incremental improvement.”
Listen, I buy into what the women’s program is trying to accomplish at these Pan Ams. I understand John Herdman’s pre-tournament comments that this was really an opportunity for individuals to make their case for the senior team rather than a chance to win a medal. Sure, the Olympics are the next goal, but after a very good opening win against an admittedly an awful Ecuador, why experiment with the experiment? Wholesale changes, some enforced with school calling for Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence, but why mess with the standout play of Emma Fletcher and Jessie Fleming?
Meanwhile, senior men’s coach Benito Floro is building from the back, developing a decent defence and worrying about the rest later. Okay, sure, but let’s not do that at the expense of castrating what attacking talent we do have. No one should be even suggesting that the likes of Jonathan Osorio and Russell Teibert are the solution, that is extremely unfair, but I’d sure like to find out if they can lift their level in the International game.
Missing Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson is a valid excuse, but it is something we need to get used to, especially in Hutchinson’s case. The Besiktas midfielder is 32, he is a bit crocked, and if I am his agent (and his club) I am saying now is the time to hang up those Canada boots, and who could blame him if he did?
Again though, this Gold Cup was all about “development” and before we consign Floro to the massive scrap heap of failed Canada coaches, let’s at least give him a World Cup qualifying cycle. Then we can judge.
Development is the key word in Canadian soccer; it is a clever word for the brass to use as it buys them time, but at least on the provincial level changes are happening, albeit slowly. Yes, there are still self-serving personal agendas blocking advancement at various levels, but believe me, there are good, smart soccer people operating behind the scenes in Canada.
Our current crop of young players making the jump to senior level sadly is probably not good enough to elevate the men’s team into a World Cup, or on the woman’s side deep into World Cups. But I do have hope, and long term, we are heading in the right direction.
Of course, every glass I drink from his half full. It is just these days I need to drink from many glasses to stomach it all.