I returned yesterday from a technology-less weekend at our church’s annual family camp to discover that I had missed a glorious weekend for Canadian soccer! I’ve been a soccer fan for nearly a decade now, and have largely had to content myself with the odd exploit of a Canadian player overseas, or an occasional miraculous result (Canada’s 2000 Gold Cup win) when it comes to Canada’s performances on the international soccer stage.
Well, I am now daring to hope that Canada might be turning a corner, and becoming a solid, competitive soccer nation. First, Canada soundly defeated Guatemala 3-0 on Saturday afternoon to set up a Gold Cup semifinal with the host United States this Thursday. I did not have the pleasure of watching the game (had to content myself with catching the goals on YouTube), but I am led to believe that Canada played beautiful soccer and could easily have won the game 6-0.
Those who have suffered through watching Canada’s national team in the past will appreciate the steps Canada has taken toward respectability. Even when they won the Gold Cup in 2000, they only squeaked into the playoff round through a coin toss, and many of their results could politely be characterized as less than aesthetically pleasing. Canada’s strategy has often been to launch long-balls down the field (as opposed to moving upfield as a team, passing the ball around, creating an opening…) or try to nick a goal off a set piece, and then hunker down with ten men behind the ball and defend for the rest of the game. On Saturday, they actually controlled possession and bossed the game against a decent Guatemalan side. I don’t know if they’re ready to take the next step by beating the USA, but given the fact that the Americans have looked average thus far and Canada seems to be peaking at just the right time, anything’s possible…
In addition, I enjoyed watching Toronto FC demolish FC Dallas 4-0 in an MLS game yesterday. TFC are an expansion team and are currently hovering near the bottom of the MLS standings, but when they play at home they are quite good and a pleasure to watch. They are selling out every home game, and BMO Field is already a unanimous choice as the most intimidating venue in the league. Players have regularly compared the atmosphere in Toronto to soccer grounds in Europe – a high compliment, to be sure!
I find it so odd (in a very good way!) to be able to watch a professional soccer team playing on a national television network right here in Canada! Of course the quality of play in the MLS isn’t up to the standards of Europe just yet, and may never be; nonetheless, for one who spent most of his first decade as a soccer fan gazing jealously across the pond, wondering what it might be like to have professional soccer teams with passionate fans right here in Canada, TFC’s first season is proving to be a real treat to witness.
So this weekend fills me with hope for Canadian soccer! The fact that TFC is Canada’s highest level pro team, and that they have a couple of Canadian internationals on their roster compels me to overlook the fact that I have to cheer for a professional sports team from Toronto (at least until Vancouver gets a team). And the national team’s performance in the Gold Cup gives me hope that Canadian soccer fans may witness a World Cup qualification in the not-too-distant future.
All in all, things haven’t looked this good for the state of the beautiful game in Canada for quite some time! All I can say is, “More please!!”