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Adam Johnston


Canada’s Summer of Discontent On The Pitch

Written by on July 14, 2011 | 6 Comments »
Posted in Canada, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps

Adam Johnston has recently finished his three-year Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Rhetoric and Communications at the University of Winnipeg. Interested in soccer in the Americas, he has written for the Uniter, and Herald on other topics outside of soccer. His blog is at

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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6 responses to “Canada’s Summer of Discontent On The Pitch”

  1. John Bladen says:

    hi Adam;

    It may be false hope… but I’m hoping that yet another series of embarrassments for Canadian soccer this summer will leave the CSA with absolutely nowhere to hide.

    While the most recent failures are not entirely their fault, they are a symptom of the archaic development system we have in this country. One way or another, the manner in which we produce & develop young players has to change. It can be done through the academies being set up by professional clubs (which would be my preferred option) or through a truly national development system devoted to the game funded (but not controlled) by the CSA.

    It will be a long time before we are truly competitive on the men’s side even if we start today. If this summer’s results show us anything it’s that we are falling further and further behind, not closing the gap.

    Do you think the CSA will ever admit that they are part of the problem and remove themselves from the elite player development side? They have a role to play in allotting funding (though they could be excused from that as well, frankly) and providing other support for the national/elite programs, but they should not be anywhere near the actual nuts and bolts of player development, IMO.

  2. Hi there, John. I truly agree the Canadian Soccer Association, has a big role to play in it. A large section is due to it. The CSA has nowhere to hide. I am also saying that the mainstream media has a large section to do with this. When Canada was in the Women’s World Cup or the men playing in the Gold Cup this summer, the coverage was very lacklustre. Except for two critical articles one in the Winnipeg Sun, and the Free Press, the mainstream media could do better. Plus, with the NHL coming back to Winnipeg, it has dominated the sports pages here (which to say is not a bad thing).

  3. Interesting point about the mainstream media and I think it might be opportune to share my experience.

    Between 1998 and 2003 I wrote a weekly column on soccer for the Winnipeg Sun. It covered the game from a global perspective and many times I wrote articles about Canadian soccer and that included the CSA.

    The feedback I got from one of the sports editors during that time was enlightening.

    When I once asked how the columns were going over he said that it was the strangest thing. He told me the only negative feedback he ever received was when I wrote on the state of Canadian soccer and the national team.

    The feedback he got was extremely vocal and dismissive and frequently asked why he would have hired someone who knew so little about Canadian soccer to write about it. (Obviously 20 years + of involvement at that time at almost every level was considered inadequate!)

    The lesson I learned was that Canadian fans who wrote and called did not want opinion, debate or criticism – they wanted someone to blow smoke up their kilts.

    I am the first to admit that many of the articles were critical of the CSA and their lack of leadership and accountability. Now 10 years on I would like to think that the points I made were a bit ahead of their time.

    With due respect Adam, I suggest most Canadian writers jumped on the criticism bandwagon only when it was the acceptable thing to do.

    Prior to the last few years almost all were happy to perpetuate the idea that Canada was on the cusp of qualifying for the WCFs and only bad luck and evil foreigners were stopping the inevitable.

    However, to finish on a lighter note my favourite moment was a piece I wrote on the Canadian team and one of the points I made was that Canada needed to get more goals from midfield.

    The article found its way onto to the Voyageurs website and as usual it was getting pounded.

    The capper though was when one of soccer’s great minds decided to contribute his thoughts. He pointed out that it was obvious I did not know what I was talking about.

    After all everyone knew it was strikers who scored goals not midfielders.

  4. John Bladen says:

    …and you won’t name the mental giant, Bobby? oh the suspense…

    The thing that has always troubled me about Canada’s view of the game is our acceptance of mediocrity. If you listen to any major outlet, you’d swear that we won the world cup in 1986,such is the level of awe ascribed to that qualifying campaign.

    Of course, it was a great achievment to get there given the total lack of support for the players who actually did it from the association. This accomplishment was inescapably made simpler by the poor results of our concacaf neighbours and a bit of chicanery in regards to game location for the final qualifier. But in the end, we got into the tournament, defended well, and went home after three games without scoring a goal, as I recall.

    That is something to build on, not success in itself.

    It’s likely that we’ll never win the world cup, nor even appear in a final, no matter how much is invested (country size, other more pre-eminent sports in place etc). But we can and should be regular participants (we won’t make every tournament, of course. Nor should we) and be able to compete with countries at or near our population and economic level.

    As much as we are unfairly criticized for our efforts in other sports, the pointed “Canada – a solid go for bronze mentality” applies perfectly to our footballing system. We don’t aspire to be good, or even mediocre. We aspire to luck into qualification and then, “hey, who knows” (which never works in international football, unlike the Stanley cup, for example).

    I liked the Gold Cup piece on WSC, Bobby. Seems like the confederations cup is still on perpetual life support… like it’s unwanted sister, the club wc… more on that tournament as time allows…

  5. Sadly, the CSA, aims for mediocrity, and the mainstream media does not have an interest

  6. Bobby says:

    John – the soccer giant was a keyboard warrior, no name just a handle.

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