Having hope is killing Canadian soccer

After a quick Gold Cup exit from Canada Tim and Sid discuss (heatedly) the issues with Canada's men and women's soccer programs.

“I don’t want hope. Hope is killing me. My dream is to become hopeless. … (Hopelessness is) my only hope.”
— “The Fix Up,” Seinfeld, Season 3 (Episode 16)

Maybe George Costanza had it right. Maybe hopelessness is the key for fans of Canada’s men’s soccer team. Having expectations hasn’t quite worked out. Really, what do we have to lose at this point?

The futility of the Canadian men’s team continued on Tuesday when it was held to a 0-0 draw by Costa Rica at BMO Field. That result not only eliminated Canada from the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but also capped off what was a disappointing tournament (and I’m being charitable here) for the Reds, who finished last in their group.

It gets worse. Canada failed to score a single goal during its three group stage games—two draws and a loss—extending its scoring drought at the CONCACAF competition. Canada has now gone the last two Gold Cups without a single goal, and hasn’t scored from open play at the tournament since 2009.

There was hope—maybe it was false hope, but hope, nonetheless—that things would be different at this Gold Cup for Canada. Youngsters Cyle Larin and Tesho Akindele developed decent chemistry and scored in a pair of World Cup qualifying wins over Dominica last month. Canada had newfound confidence and a bit of momentum. Surely, Benito Floro’s team (ranked No. 103) could navigate its way through a manageable group that included Costa Rica (No. 41), Jamaica (No. 76) and El Salvador (No. 88), and advance to the knockout round.

It turns out they couldn’t, and Canada’s first-round exit raises the question: Was it wrong to have expected the Reds to, at the very least, get out of the group stage?

In Tuesday’s post-match press conference, Floro bemoaned the fact he was missing starters, and also said Canada doesn’t have the depth or quality to compete against teams the calibre of Costa Rica and Jamaica. He also explained that many of Canada’s players aren’t getting regular first-team football at their pro clubs, which was another reason why his team sputtered in the group stage.

The same issues dogged the Canadian men’s team 15 years ago. In fact, three members of that team told Sportsnet they didn’t think that side was any more talented or had much more depth than the current squad. And yet the 2000 team defied expectations—and benefited from a lucky coin toss—and won the Gold Cup. That’s not to suggest Floro’s side should have won the whole thing this year, but that the obstacles facing his team weren’t as insurmountable as he would have us believe.

With that mind, and even taking into consideration the absences of key midfielders Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect Canada to make it through to the knockout round. Not at all.

And while the real test will be whether or not Floro can lead Canada into “the Hex” of World Cup qualifying, it’s still very difficult to put a positive spin on a Gold Cup performance that produced a meagre two points and not a single goal.

So maybe hopelessness is the way to go. Maybe we shouldn’t have any expectations. Maybe we should give up positivity, and disabuse ourselves of the idea that Canada will ever again qualify for the World Cup, or go on a decent run at the Gold Cup.

Maybe we should embrace the reality that the player developmental challenges Canadian soccer faces right now are too great to overcome, and that until those issues are addressed we’re just spinning our wheels.

Hope is killing Canadian soccer. Where has having hope got us? Why not try hopelessness? We certainly can’t do any worse. Hope has led to the status quo of complacency. Hope has resulted in inaction.

Maybe hopelessness will finally spur people to force changes in the current system. Maybe once relieved of the burden of hope—and said developmental problems are tackled in a serious way—the Canadian men’s team will then provide us with genuine hope.

Should we continue to support the team as fans? Absolutely. Our support should never waiver. Never.

But hope? It’s time to try hopelessness.

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