There was a minor Twitter scuffle this morning between a few Canadian soccer journalists over where tonight’s game against Panama fits in the “Most Important Canada Games Ever” category, one that seems forever sandwiched between now and 1986 when Canada last played in a World Cup. The answer should be an obvious “not very close to the top,” particularly when one considers Canada’s game against Mexico in Varsity Stadium in May 1993, which, had they won, would have saw them through to the World Cup in the USA.
Instead, they faced and lost to Australia in a two leg playoff that is best forgotten.
But the problem is why it should be a problem at all to hype (or over-hype) a very important match in Canada’s quest to qualify for Brazil 2014.
I think the issue Canadian fans face in qualifying is finding a balance between maintaining some self-respect as a footballing nation, and a realistic outlook on Canada’s status in world football.
From the former perspective, playing Panama in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying ain’t no thang. That is, the more stock we put in beating a team like Panama, the less stock observers should put in Canada for getting out of the Hex should the opportunity arise.
From the latter perspective, tonight’s game is massive. Three points against the group leaders is a major accomplishment for this country and could provide the momentum to push on through the rest of the group fixtures and into the Hex.
This is the same balancing act Canadian fans perform whenever we’re faced with the prospect of some hot-shit prospect with a Canadian passport playing the “Will He, Won’t He” game with fans and the press. On the one hand, we want to believe in ourselves enough not to have to court a bunch of overrated primadonnas in search of career glory. On the other, we know we need all hands on deck, even hands belonging to bastard half-way house mercenaries.
The aim for the CSA and all involved in Canadian soccer is bridge these two extremes, so that Canada’s self-respect as a footballing power might one day be rooted in objective reality. If tonight’s game moves us a little toward that eventuality, then it really is the most important game in Canadian soccer history.