By DUANE ROLLINS
Discerning Canadian soccer fans can be forgiven for being a tad bit ambivalent about the Canadian national team’s success during the preliminary round of the Gold Cup.
We’ve seen the movie before after all. A plucky Canuck team surprises the critics (and terrifies the bookies) by playing attractive, winning football at the CONCACAF championships. It leads some neutral observers to suggest that the country may be poised to make a long awaited breakthrough.
In 2000, the Canadians actually went out and won the whole thing. Two years ago Canada was the talk of the tournament and who knows what would have happened if Atiba Hutchinson’s extra time goal was allowed to stand in the semi-final against the U.S. (as it should have).
But every Canadian fan knows that there is a second part to the movie.
There Canada crashes back to earth and fails to make a significant impact in the region’s World Cup qualifying campaign. In 2000, then head coach Holger Oisek cautioned Canadians about the pitfalls of pre-booking their tickets to Germany.
“This is the Canadian World Cup team, not the Canadian Gold Cup team,” he said after the historic win over Colombia. “We haven’t achieved our goal yet.” That goal was never to be achieved.
Two years ago, Canadians tried to stay positive as interim head coach Stephen Hart handed the keys to Dale Mitchell, the man who somehow managed to lead a host team to a scoreless exit from the FIFA u-20s the previous summer.
Two points from a possible 18 in qualifying was worse than anyone would have imagined. Another cycle was wasted. More promise was wasted.
So as we sit here today watching a Hart lead team (some posters on the Voyageurs supporter group’s web page are trying to hang the nickname “the Hart Foundation” on the team – at least partially in an effort to get Hart to stick with the team) surprise, we do so with a more cynical viewpoint. It’s hard to get the stench of the failed ’10 World Cup campaign off after all.
Even if Canada were to win this strange version of the Cup what would it mean? We understand that the top teams are, to be charitable, using experimental line-ups. We know all too well that the dream of a World Cup spot is gone for another four years. Logically, we know that we’re not really supposed to care about this Gold Cup.
But yet when the games start the emotions take over. We are fans and we want to win. We want to see proof that this team was good enough to qualify. We need a little bit of hope to get us through the next couple years.
In the end it doesn’t much matter what Canada does in this Gold Cup. With the pressure almost non-existent and the comfort of playing the tournament in the US, the Gold Cup isn’t much of a predictor of World Cup success – at least when it comes to Canada. Wins this week will have no affect on how Canada does in 2012 when this whole roller-coaster ride starts again.
Except for maybe one thing. Success here could convince Hart to stay on full time. The players seem to want to play for him and, even though he lacks name brand appeal, he does something that no other Canadian coach has consistently been able to pull off. He wins. Whether he could continue to do so without the interim tag remains to be seen, but it is pretty clear that he deserves the chance to find out.
Duane Rollins is SBI's Canadian Soccer and Toronto FC correspondent and is creator of the Canadian soccer site The 24th Minute.