HARRISON, NEW JERSEY – The last time Canada won a game at the CONCACAF Gold Cup was in 2011 against Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory that wasn’t even an official FIFA member.
On that day in humid Tampa Bay, Dwayne De Rosario scored from the penalty spot as Canada scraped by with a 1-0 win. Since then, the Reds have played seven times at the Gold Cup and only scored once, with no goals in their last six games.
In the middle of that misery was a 1-0 loss to another French territory, Martinique in 2013, the year following the 8-1 World Cup qualifying debacle in Honduras in what was quite possibly the darkest time for the Canadian national team.
It’s a record of futility Canada hopes to end when it begins play at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup versus French Guiana on Friday night at Red Bull Arena.
“With these teams, you never know because some of these guys play in some good leagues in Europe,” said midfielder Patrice Bernier, who at 37 is the oldest player on coach Octavio Zambrano’s Canadian roster that’s going through a youth movement.
“We’ve got to watch out. We have a lot of respect but Octavio wants us to be confident, wants us to be courageous and to play. We just have to go out and play our own game.”
The Gold Cup is the only time Canada gets to see teams such as French Guiana in action. Because French Guiana isn’t a member of FIFA, it can’t particpate in World Cup qualifying, although its players can compete for other nations so long as they carry French passports.
One of the quirks of this relationship is the inclusion of French international Florent Malouda for this year’s Gold Cup. At 37, the former Chelsea star is currently playing professionally in India and is past his prime, but it’s been five years since he last suited up for Les Bleus so he’s eligble to play for French Guiana. Malouda is the biggest name on a team made up of professionals largely playing in the French league alongside domestic-based amateurs.
Canada is regarded as the favourite for Friday’s contest but as the team that lost to Martinique back in the 2013 Gold Cup knows, anything can happen on any day.
The first thing on the agendas for Canada will be to end its streak of scoring futility that dates back to 2011. Again, it was a De Rosario penalty against Panama that was the last time Canada scored.
If you’re looking for signs of progress, getting a goal against French Guiana is a place to start.
“We didn’t score any goals in the last Gold Cup so I know the disappointment of the boys,” said midfielder Scott Arfield, who is playing in his first Gold Cup for Canada. “I only found that out the last couple of days when we started talking with the guys so that’s something you want to do. You only win games by scoring goals.”
In taking over Canada, Zambrano is tyring to build a team that is not afraid to take chances, and that is offensive-minded.
Whether that will work in the blistering heat that awaits Canada in Texas for its next two games in this tournament is another story, but it will be interesting to see how Zambrano’s side fairs given the promising prospects at his disposal, including Alphonso Davies and Raheem Edwards.
“I don’t want players who are just there to be one more guy on the field. I want them to take ownership of moments in the match where you can make a difference and do it,” Zambrano said. “This is the idea that I have espoused for all my career as it pertains to young guys and the players themselves, whether they’re younger or not. All of them need to come up to the plate and do it.”
Zambrano takes over the program with the last vestiges of the old guard gone, with the exception of Bernier. What’s left is a big void, but if Zambrano can shape his highly touted youngsters into a dynamic force, Canada could be a fun team to watch.
Given the barren wasteland that the Gold Cup has become for Canada, getting a goal is the first priority. And then a win would be nice.
“This is definitely the most important game for us right now,” Zambrano said. “We know that getting a good result in this first match would give us enough of a confidence builder. Our second match being Costa Rica, it’s vital that we get past this obstacle.”