Without question, Canada’s humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras in one of the biggest matches in the history of the programme was disappointing from every perspective. Fans, players, coaches, and everyone involved in the game in Canada have the right to feel upset and angry. However, they need to realize that after a week of sulking, it’s time to pick their heads up and move on to the future. The only way to get over the loss and the failure to qualify for the hex is to focus on strengths and improve on weaknesses.
Even though it’s difficult to see now, when you step back from the emotion of the loss and try to picture Canada’s future in ten years you see them as definite contenders for a spot in the World Cup. Just look at the progress they have made over the last four years. If they can continue to make that kind of progress, there is no reason to doubt that they can be a top six team in CONCACAF. True, a “golden generation” of players may retire from the national team, but there are also plenty of good young players coming through the system as well. There is definite potential.
The difficulty is realizing that potential. The best thing that Canada has going for it right now is momentum. Sure, the national team flamed out, but the momentum behind the Whitecaps, Toronto FC, and the Impact is continuing to increase. All three of these teams have been leaders in MLS in developing youth and infrastructure. Eventually their investments will pay off, not just for the teams, but for the national team as well.
What specifically does Canada need to do over the next few years to maximize its potential for growth and to improve as a programme?
Find a coach: Stephen Hart should be commended for the job he has done with the programme. He has brought stability, discovered new players, and typically gotten his tactics and selections right. However, his goal was also to advance to the hex, which he obviously didn’t do. It’s a shame really that the 8-1 loss will likely be his last game with Canada.
So who should replace Hart? While it may seem like a bit of stretch, the first name that should be on the top of Canada's list is Bob Bradley. It’s unlikely that the ex-U.S. coach will be available in the next two years (unless Egypt fail to qualify for the World Cup), and even then he has always stated he wants to coach a club in Europe. But with that said, one just needs to look at the problems Jurgen Klinsmann is having with the U.S. to see what Bradley brings to a programme. He is a good judge of talent and is familiar with the challenges of coaching a North American team.
Even if Bradley is unavailable, Canada should avoid hiring a big name foreign coach (unless it’s Guus Hiddink!) and stick to someone who is familiar with North America. Perhaps they lure former U.S. head coach and current Galaxy assistant Dave Sarachan to the position. They should also look to include more former players like Jason de Vos and Jim Brennan into their set-up. No matter who is chosen, Canada has the opportunity now to go out and find someone that can improve their programme even more.
Focus on next summer’s Gold Cup: The best way to shake off their embarrassing loss is to have a good showing at next summer’s Gold Cup. A good tournament will prove to fans and players alike that the spine of the team is still strong and that they can compete with the best in the region. The fact that some of the teams in the hex will be sending less than full-strength squads should help.
Schedule strong friendlies: Canada has often had difficulty scheduling tough opponents. Whenever they have played a big name opponent they are mostly fodder for a big occasion, as they were in Argentina a few years back. However, now that they have a freer schedule, they should seek out difficult friendlies, especially ahead of next year’s Gold Cup. Improving the quality of their opposition should improve the quality of their play.
Continue to build youth infrastructure: Canada has an excellent youth structure in place thanks to their three MLS teams. They need to continue to improve these programmes and to challenge their players. One advantage Canada has over the U.S. is that with only three teams in MLS and one in the NASL (with one more on the way), they have more leeway in how they develop players. For the most part, they are free of the U.S. college structure. They should use that to their advantage to create a U-23 league involving the pro clubs, as well as the national team. By doing so, not only will they be giving their players quality matches throughout the year and acclimatizing them to the rigours of pro play, but they will have a direct feeder into the MLS teams and the national team.
Bring back overseas players: If a player has the talent and opportunity, they shouldn’t remain in MLS. But if a player is in some obscure league in Eastern Europe or in the German 3rd division, all effort should be made to bring that player back to Canada. Not only will they be playing with more of their international teammates, but they will have less distance to travel to attend camps.
Reform the CSA: Lastly, but more importantly, the Canadian Soccer Association needs to be reformed. It is a hindrance to the game in Canada. There are many clubs and individuals (i.e. all the MLS clubs) that want to accelerate the game in Canada, and they need to be allowed the freedom to make decisions. They should be the ones choosing who becomes the next head coach of the national team. They should be in charge of youth development. The sport has simply outgrown the provincial administrators that currently run the CSA.
The overall point is that Canada has a bright future if they apply themselves. The disappointment of not qualifying for the hex is going to sting, as is the loss of icon’s like Dwayne de Rosario, but the only option now is to go to work.
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