On the surface the Canadian men’s and women’s programs could not seem further apart.
The men are coming off a disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign, scrambling to find anyone willing to play them and unable to get teams to release their players.
The result of all this was a tepid 1-0 loss to a Costa Rica B-side Tuesday in Edmonton last night. Just 8,102 fans bothered to show up for the first men’s game in Western Canada in almost 5-years (although it should be noted that the 6 p.m. local start and construction around the stadium made it difficult for fans that wanted to go to actually get there).
Meanwhile, the women are coming off an Olympic bronze medal, are announcing new corporate sponsors and are preparing to play the world’s most famous women’s team at BMO Field on Sunday.
There will be far more than 8,102 fans at the game. BMO sold out in less than 4-hours and tickets are being sold off-market for around $200.
The capper, of course, is that the women are guaranteed a berth in the next World Cup as hosts. The Canadian women are darlings of the Canadian sports world, while the men are like your drunk Uncle at Christmas dinner—barely tolerated once a year before you go back to ignoring them.
The future seems limitless for the women. Folding the program on the men’s side has merits, some might say.
The problem with that type of thinking is that it ignores a lingering fear of those that closely observe the sport in Canada: the women’s program may not be in any better shape than the men’s.
In fact, it might be in worse shape, especially when Christine Sinclair decides to retire.
On the surface that claim seems absurd. How could a top 10 program that produced an Olympic medal-winning side be in worse shape than the punchline that is the men’s national team?
However, when you start to put the two programs in context it becomes clearer. The harsh truth is that there are currently no more than, at best, 15 countries in the world that take women’s soccer seriously. That’s a terrible indictment of the inherent sexism in world football and we all should dream of a day when it isn’t the case.
That doesn’t change the act that it is the case though. So, when you critically evaluate Canada’s world ranking on the women’s side you find that it isn’t much different than what it is on the men’s side, where pretty much the entire world takes the game seriously.
In recent years we’ve seen nations like Japan and North Korea put their full resources (or, something close to that) into the women’s game and, as a result, they’ve moved past Canada. Project that trend over another decade – especially among UEFA sides, which are starting to see the light – and Canada might be looking way up at the top sides.
As on the men’s side, the issues have to do with a lack of vision on development. Head coach John Herdman said as much last week when he announced the roster for the US friendly. In defending his choice to call-up American-born, trained and living-her-whole-life-in fullback Rachel Quon, Herdman said that there simply wasn’t a Canadian that could fit their needs. He stressed the need for a “development pipeline” to constantly challenge the full national team.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about improving the development pathway. What change that has occurred has happened on the men’s side of the game, and is largely the genesis of the three MLS teams.
No one seems willing to take a risk on the women’s side of the game and the modest success its had has blinded people to its problems.