The embarassing state of Canadian men’s soccer

Jul 11, 2013 by

The embarassing state of Canadian men’s soccer

The Canadian men’s soccer team continues to find new and impressive ways to embarrass the national program on the world stage.  A recent loss to Martinique in the Gold Cup signals yet another shocking loss to a country whose population barely hovers above 400,000 people.  What’s particularly disturbing about this defeat is that the score actually flattered Canada.  Had it not been for some solid goaltending by the Canadian keeper and a handful of missed opportunities by Martinique’s offence, this game could have easily been a three or four nothing score.  On first blush, while watching the game one might have mistaken Canada’s opponent, assuming they were playing France and not their French Caribbean brothers; at least in that scenario a tint of honour could accompany the loss.  Instead, Canadians are collectively left shaking their apathetic heads and wondering how much worse it can get for the national soccer team.  A population closing in on 35 million people can barely compete in a CONCACAF region where much of its competition is a tenth of its size or markedly less, with the majority of the competition having disproportionately less in terms of resources and wealth. Yet Canada continues to find ways to disappoint and show the world that it simply doesn’t belong among even the lower tiered soccer nations.  After watching such a debacle, I can’t help but wonder if anyone really cares? 

The important thing to note is that the blame should not lie with the players, but with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA).  The players are a by-product of the infrastructure that their developed in; if a player wears a Canadian uniform he must be deserving of that honour based on his “high” quality of play as appraised and developed by the CSA.  What is clear and has been evident for nearly 30 years, if not longer, is that the governance and leadership at all levels of play in both the men’s and youth soccer programs in Canada is nothing short of incompetent. Canada produces world-class athletes across a broad spectrum of sports, with the most obvious example showcased in the National Hockey League.  Arguably the best overall athletes are hockey players and this country has an abundance of them and yet we cannot field a respectable 18 man roster to represent the men’s soccer team?  It’s absolutely dumbfounding to reflect upon the abysmal international performances Canada has shown since its last and only appearance in the World Cup in 1986 and the results are a direct indictment on the CSA.

Some suggest there is optimism with the arrival of the heralded new manager Benito Floro, but the problem runs much deeper than the men’s national head coach.  Elite coaching must be accessible to all age groups leading up to the men’s program, otherwise Floro’s impact, and any future successor, is negligible at best.   It’s the development in boy’s formative years that is so vital to the success of Canadian men’s soccer.   There has to be a thorough reconstruction of the way kids learn and develop from the age of 4 to 16. Its reach must be nationwide and not constrained to major urban centres and kids and parents have to be given incentive to participate. The incentive is quality coaching with a highly structured organization that yields results at all age levels and shows promise to a young boy that soccer can be a legitimate sporting career.   From Victoria to Halifax, there is no shortage of hockey schools, and community support for the development of hockey players for every age range, disability, class and ethnicity; however, if a boy in Thunder Bay wants to develop his soccer skills past the age of twelve he’ll be lucky just to have an enthusiastic volunteer to coach, let alone an experienced tutor with the required resources and expertise to help bring out the best in his potential.  There is simply not enough qualified guidance among youth soccer and an overabundance of it in hockey in Canada and that needs to change.  

The international results and expectations glaringly reveal the disparity in success between hockey and soccer in Canada.  Unsurprisingly, in hockey, Canada is among one of the favourites for every major international competition at both the youth and men’s level and the expectation is to win every event. Conversely, the Canadian soccer team can barely compete in the CONCACAF region with countries like Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Panama – let alone the marquee teams of the region like Mexico and the United States.  There is no expectation to win or even threaten to win; it appears the act of participating in these international events is satisfying enough to the Canadian Soccer Association.  After all, if you have not noticed, the national soccer team hasn’t won a meaningful game since they qualified for the World Cup in 1986.  What’s worse is that it might be another 30 years before we witness another.   

This country is embarrassing the sport of soccer with its national program.   I mistakenly thought the low point came on October 16, 2002 when Canada lost to Honduras in a do-or-die World Cup qualifier 8-1, but signs of bottoming are more likely evident in the Gold market than in Canada’s national team.  Clearly it needs to get much worse before someone decides to completely overhaul the program.  In hockey, when team Canada falters on an international scale, even for a brief period, a national summit is held to discuss and analyse what can be done to address the current issues.  There is a pride in winning in hockey in this country that is noticeably absent in Canadian soccer and the prevalent attitude of indifference needs a major cultural shift if things are going to improve.  Some argue that things are changing for the better, pointing to acts like the hiring of Floro.  His signing doesn’t hurt the cause, but the problems run deep into the culture of youth development in Canadian soccer and until winning becomes a mentality and a priority among key decision makers, this country will always produce mediocre if not embarrassing international results.







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