The summer of 2011 was supposed to be a high note for Canadian soccer on many levels.
First was the fact that a second Canadian MLS team, the Vancouver Whitecaps were entering the league, while new Toronto FC coach Aaron Winter was promising a new style for his team that would make the squad competitive for a playoff spot for the first time since its inception in 2007.
Second, the men’s national soccer team was entering the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup with high expectations, having played well with some strong results before the tournament.
Lastly, the women’s national team was ranked sixth heading into the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
What was more interesting, they had the largest increase in points in the rankings since November 2010 with an increase of 54 points.
Despite all these positive trends that have occurred in the world of Canadian soccer, the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” can be used to sum up this summer.
On the first level, both Canadian MLS teams have been playing very sub par at best.
To be honest, the Vancouver Whitecaps are an expansion team, packing in the crowds at Empire Field and are building a team that hopefully with the right moves can be a playoff contender within two years.
However, it is different on the opposite end of the country. Toronto FC, now in its fifth season, has played 21 games. In those 21 games, they have won three games lost nine and drawn nine.
More futile is Toronto’s record of goals for and against, a minus nineteen, the worst in the league.
While Vancouver has only won two games, and played one less game their goal difference is a minus nine, a 10 goal difference. Plus if it was not for the brilliant play of Stefan Frei at times, Toronto would have leaked many more goals.
While Toronto can claim a third straight Canadian Nutralite Championship on July 2nd over Vancouver, neither team, unless a dramatic turnaround in the final third of the season, is going to be seeing any post season action.
If Toronto fails, expect many more angry fans to be asking questions of MLSE once more and many cancelled season tickets a result.
Vancouver, unlike Toronto has time to build a solid squad, while Montreal, coming into the league will be interesting to watch next season.
While both MLS teams struggle the men’s national soccer team, failed to make it to the quarter-final round of this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Canada, going into this tournament, led by Coach Stephen Hart, was looking pretty good. Decent friendly results with a win against Belarus, and a draw against Ecuador showed they had enough fight to make it to the quarter finals.
Players like Julian DeGuzman, Dwayne De Rosario and Ali Gerba, brought enough firepower in what should have been enough to get to the next round.
However, a loss to the United States, and a draw against Panama ruined any chance of them getting to the Quarter Finals.
Some questioned Stephen Hart’s conservative tactics and linked his approach to Canada not getting through to the next round. Others charged that the team did not play up to its potential while some said that the team was not given enough time.
All of these are good reasons as to why Canada did not get far in this Gold Cup, and this team could very well be hard pressed to make it to the FIFA World Cup in 2014 Brazil, given the Mexico/U.S.A stranglehold on CONCACAF, while other countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, and Honduras, Guatemala, looked well.
But then again, a Gold Cup tournament does not always tell who will be in the next World Cup.
While the men’s team fell from grace of the Gold Cup, the Women’s team walked off the plank from the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
A team, that had high expectations of perhaps maybe reaching the semi final round, left Germany, the worst team in the tournament. The team only scored one goal, allowed seven, and rarely registered a shot on net.
What was even more concerning was the team had more time to prepare for this tournament (unlike the men’s team with the Gold Cup), while training together in Rome, Italy for four months, according to The Sporting News/Canadian Press article.
Now Canada returns to the drawing board as they prepare for 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying early next year.
What the MLS teams and both the men’s and women’s national teams paint a telling story of is the situation of soccer in this country.
There needs to be lots of work done, in a country where although soccer coverage has made great leaps and bounds, the game still continues to face an uphill battle for attention with hockey.
The beautiful game, in this country has the mixed blessing having a mainstream media that hardly gives strong critical attention (outside of the likes of Jason De Vos, Craig Forrest, Nigel Reed, and Jerrad Peters) to the game and how it is played.
Mixed blessing I say in a sense that while MLS teams and the Canadian national teams don’t have the media pressure to perform, as those in the likes of Latin America, Europe and perhaps even now the United States, a stronger critical mainstream media would hold those involved in soccer in this country more accountable.
Even with the Internet, more soccer thanks to digital cable in 2011, soccer will continue to grow in respect, yet face an uphill battle in terms of complete attention of most of Canada’s psyche with hockey.
Now with the NHL back in Winnipeg, and hockey more popular than ever, the MLS teams, and our national programs will have to step it up a notch to grab the imagination, of our country, which the beautiful games fully deserves. The summer of Canada’s discontent on the pitch has not helped out in those matters.
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