We all know what happened last night, so let’s not delve into overwrought analysis for once.
As far as international rivalries go, Canada US in men’s senior soccer is about as evenly matched as a pinata and a hyperactive 8 year-old’s birthday party. Canada has gone 0 and 14 against the US, a record dating back to 1985, the same year Back to the Future came out. Last night, Canada was more Stuck in the Eternal, Dismal Present (which sounds like an Charlie Kaufman script). A lively Ecuador friendly gave us naive Canucks hope, only for the USMNT’s experience, cohesiveness and focus to out do us. We never quite got to 50 miles per hour, let alone 88. The road to the Gold Cup—forget World Cup—is looking pretty rocky (“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need any…roads”).
I’ll leave the match day nitpicking to the tactics geeks, but what struck me more is the difference in vibe from the usual hate fest featured when Canada plays the US in international (or club, as recent events illustrate) hockey. Try as footy fans might, there was no escaping the fact the US is hard to loathe as an international competitor. Many in Canadian soccer regard the US as a positive role model for player development. Canada and the US both regard CONCACAF officials, whether on the pitch or off, with suspicion. We are both vested in the growth and prosperity of Major League Soccer, and are equally sensitive about overseas (particularly English) attitudes about North American sah-ker. This convivial attitude was best summed up last night in a Tweet via Canadian Soccer News writer Rudi Schuller in Detroit for the game, who noted how Torontonians cheered a confused USA fan wearing a shirt that featured a profane variation on ”Habs Suck!”
Not that all is sunshine and roses along the 49th parallel as far as football’s concerned. There was huge controversy in the 2007 Gold Cup semifinal between the US and Canada when Atiba Hutchinson’s equalizer was incorrectly called offside in the closing stages of the match, handing a 2-1 victory to the Americans. And the rancorous blog and forum site Big Soccer regularly features anti-Canadian missives from writers like Bill Archer. But he’s really one guy, whose name seldom came up in the fan forum lead up to last night. Plus his beef with Canada rests on an odd perception that Canada wants to transform MLS into the Premier League and bankrupt America in the process, not exactly the kind of issue that stokes an international hate-fest.
Really, the sad fact of the matter is that US doesn’t consider Canada a rival because we’re not nearly at the same level internationally. Despite the achingly slow inverted commas “reform” process underway within the Canadian Soccer Association, yesterday’s one-sided affair is evidence of the gulf between our two nations. The lead up to the game yesterday involved a lot of “Canada who?”‘s from American soccer pundits. It’s hard watching Canada play the US, not because of the age old friendly rivalry between our two nations, but because watching the US is like watching what could have been in this country if we’d taken a different approach to the sport and youth development years ago. Instead we’ve qualified for one World Cup, while the US has gone to nine of them.
So for now, Mexico will remain the USA’s number one adversary in international football. And Canada?
Well, there’s always Honduras.