The Canadian Soccer Association has gone through some peaks and valleys. In May, the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF), which is a part of the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), imposed a ban on players wearing turbans, sending shock waves throughout the nation. Every other provincial and territory soccer association in the country did not have a similar ban on turbans. The CSA did an amazing job handling the off-side situation by suspending the Quebec Soccer Federation. The QSF immediately over-turned their decision on turbans and allowed players with the religious headwear to play. As a member of the soccer community all my life, I was personally really proud of the way the Canadian Soccer Association handled the situation with the QSF.
And now the valleys. Late last year Canada was knocked out of the qualification stage of world cup qualifying. All they needed was a win against Honduras or Panama to make it to the last group of qualifying for a chance to make the world cup in 2014. So what happened? Canada choked against Panama, losing 2-O in Panama City. Canada then went on to play in Honduras, facing not only a decent team, but a rabid and wild fan base. Canadian players look like they were scared for their lives as they walked on to the pitch. Honduras ended up crushing Canada 8-1. Soccer is a sport where scoring three goals is considered a high number in one game. Letting 8 goals against you is just an embarrassment. With that loss, Canada lost a chance at taking the next step in the qualification process and finally earning a berth to the World Cup. Our national men’s side has not qualified for the last seven World Cup Finals.
Many believed that the game against Honduras was a low-point for the Canadian Soccer Men’s National Team. Fast forward to last month. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is a tournament, held every two years, for countries in North and Central American. Canada was placed in a group ranked 20th with Mexico, Panama and the tiny nation of Martinique. Our national superstars started out the tournament by playing against Martinique; a country of 400,000 people. What should have been an easy win for Canada turned out to be one of the most embarrassing showings in Canadian soccer history. Canada lost 1-0 to Martinique. Of course, this did not make major news in Canadian sports media outlets because the National Hockey League draft and free agency period was all that was being talked about by our “sports” networks. I am sure Martinique has quality soccer players but there is no way that a country, with the population size less than Vancouver Island, should beat a country with over 30 million people. This staggering loss should never have happened. Canada would be at a crisis if a similar loss happened to our national men’s hockey team.
Canada was up tough against Mexico in the second game at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The game was closer than I expected and Canada lost 2-0 to a far superior Mexican side. Canada failed to score a goal for the second game in a row. Up next was a do or die game against a very beatable Panama side. This time Canada was not shut of gaining a point in the standings, yet they were still shutout for the third game in a row by tying Panama 0-0. Soccer is not a high scoring sport, but how can a team go a whole tournament without scoring a single goal? Canada failed to make the second round of the Gold Cup, yet another embarrassing showing for Canada.
The older I get, the more and more likely it seems to me that the Canadian men’s team will not make the World Cup Finals in my life time. However, if there is any chance of our national side ever making the finals, it starts with our youth! We need more top-notch world class youth soccer programs developed in Canada. With the lack of these programs, Canada has lost many young talented players to European youth club teams. Some of these players develop into great players and end up deciding to try and make the national side of the country their club team is, rather than coming home and playing for a lackluster Canadian team. I do feel having Major League Soccer in Canada now, more youth will be exposed to the game at a higher level locally. The Vancouver Whitecaps do have a youth residency program that models European youth clubs. We need more programs similar to the Whitecaps program for our youth that excel and develop into excellent players at home, rather than in Europe. The CSA has to find a way to get more funding so they can bring in world-renowned coaches to help our youth programs and re-build the men’s soccer program.
In the mean time, while we wait for the men’s team to turn it around, at least we have Christine Sinclair and our woman’s team!