Golden age could be on the way for Canada
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/07/2017 (2160 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
An exciting season of Canadian soccer, that kicked off with the April announcement that this country will endeavour to co-host the 2026 World Cup, is set to intensify further with next week’s start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Canada, which hasn’t progressed beyond the group stage of the North and Central America and Caribbean tournament since 2009, will play the 2017 installment’s first match Friday against French Guiana.
In the three months between the launch of the World Cup bid atop the Freedom Tower in New York (Mexico and the United States are also part of the proposal) and the upcoming contest in nearby Harrison, N.J., soccer fans in Canada have welcomed the fledgling Canadian Premier League, cheered on the women’s national team here in Winnipeg and Toronto, and honoured an expanded crop of inductees to the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.
If you go back a bit further to November’s MLS Cup semifinal between Toronto FC and Montreal Impact, you get what likely has been the most stimulating and, hopefully, most formative period in Canadian soccer history. A competitive showing from the men’s national team at the Gold Cup would make it only more memorable.
That’s easier said than done.
Although they’ve not lost since December and earned an impressive draw away to Scotland in March, Canada’s men go into the competition having played just three matches this year and only one under new manager Octavio Zambrano. The United States, by comparison, will play its eighth this afternoon — a friendly against Ghana.
The paucity of games and the resulting lack of cohesion have long been an issue for Canada’s men. Time and again they have been made to look disjointed by opponents they should, at least on paper, be able to break down; it’s a weakness that repeatedly reveals itself in a scarcity of goals. While it doesn’t take a particularly special side to disrupt oncoming build-up play, creating chances in the attacking third requires at least a modest measure of familiarity.
Two years ago, Canada failed to score a single Gold Cup goal. The team similarly failed to find the back of the net at the 2013 event. In 2011, it managed two tallies — both courtesy of Dwayne De Rosari — although the pair of them were dispatched from the penalty spot. You have to go all the way back to 2009 and Marcel de Jong’s screamer against Costa Rica to find Canada’s most recent goal from open play at a major international tournament.
Now, this is merely a snippet of a very discouraging history. A dearth of matches, like the diaspora of Canada internationals and the absence of a top-tier national league (something the CPL hopes to remedy), is only one of the several concerning layers that combine to constitute the problem.
So is the upcoming Gold Cup a fool’s errand for Zambrano & Co.? Not necessarily. After all, the bar hardly could be lower for this team.
Emerge from Group A and Canada, rightfully, will be commended for making progress. And progress, don’t forget, is anything better than a winless, goalless campaign in the region’s most important competition. Do it with contributions from up-and-coming players including Raheem Edwards and Alphonso Davies and Canadian soccer fans will experience something they haven’t encountered in quite some time: hope.
Davies, just 16 years old, has turned heads with Vancouver Whitecaps this season and made an impact in his maiden international appearance as a second-half substitution against Curacao. Edwards, 21, was also capped for the first time in that match and has contributed three assists for Toronto FC so far this term. Should Canada advance to the quarter-finals the duo will be joined in attack by 22-year-old Orlando City striker Cyle Larin, who is serving a suspension after being arrested on a DUI charge.
To get there, Canada will have to play to its disruptive, defensive strengths, relying on centre-backs Dejan Jakovic and Manjrekar James to keep things tidy in front of goalkeeper Milan Borjan and trusting veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier to carry over his form with Montreal Impact that convinced Zambrano to bring him back into the squad.
Then, if Davies, Edwards, Toisant Ricketts and Anthony Jackson-Hamel can pop up with even the occasional goal, Canada might just be able to sneak out of the bracket.
Granted, they’ll need to pick up at least a point against one of Costa Rica and Honduras, and that’s assuming they beat French Guiana, who have a handful of players from Ligues 1 and 2 in France.
No one is expecting Canada to seriously contend for the Gold Cup, nevermind win it. But demonstrating at least measurable improvement from 2015 would go some way toward ensuring the men’s national team is included this country’s feel-good spring and summer of soccer.
So many of the other pieces are coming together to make soccer a compelling, relevant ingredient in the Canadian sports mix. The men’s national team needs to make sure it’s a part of that.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @JerradPeters