During the earlier, happier portion of my weekend, I reacquainted myself (yet again) with Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 German war epic, Das Boot. And, as ever, one particular scene still evoked the same, familiar frisson: after working his crew for 16 hours to repair their U-Boat against all odds, the ship’s captain, exhausted but euphoric from the news his ship has been patched up, declares: “You have to have good men. Good men, all of them.”
The same obviously applies to football teams. And this is the reason, ultimately, that I’m not going to go into a tailspin of anguished self-disgust over Canada’s 1-0 loss to Martinique, a game in which the non-nation nation of 400,000 could have and perhaps should have won 3 or 4 nil.
For one, it came in the Gold Cup. For two, the team is under the guidance of an interim head coach.
But most importantly, it’s important to put this loss in a wider context. Martinique after all holds a special place in recent Canadian soccer history: in 2008 the mens national team took a boat there to play a friendly there that was literally beyond the reach of media (save for Martinique’s local radio station) and statistical monitoring (details were only posted after the game). Dwayne De Rosario scored the winning and only goal.
That friendly is a reminder that the utterly lack-lustre, awful team that lost in extra time yesterday was not conjured up by a call-up, but in decisions or lack thereof made or not made by the Canadian Soccer Association in the years it was run by the provincial associations, who, naturally, cared more about the interests of their soccer associations than the national team. Political energy that could and should have gone into modernizing the Canadian national program to compete with the ascendant United States was instead diverted to petty squabbling over the location of the next meeting and the recipient of the next historical recognition.
And so in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the Canadian Soccer Association didn’t do the difficult but necessary work of nurturing young talent, providing them with a solid foundational platform, and making a reasoned, visionary case to both government and private interests in the geopolitical and cultural importance of investing in Canadian soccer. It didn’t work to build a professional foundation on the grass-roots leagues in the provinces to give younger players a chance to play together before leaving for brighter pastures. It didn’t establish a national development pathway for young players, or national standards in coaching education to prevent “angry dad” effect on youth soccer pitches throughout the country. It didn’t live up to the standards set by its forebears over a century ago.
It didn’t do it then, but it’s doing some of these things now. I grant you, it has waited far, far too long. But, as Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon yesterday, the first British man to win the trophy in 77 years, better late than never. So don’t judge the state of the national team based on a single humiliating loss to Martinique. Judge it on the work it is doing today, across the country, to help ensure those just born or to be born will have something very real to hope for in playing the Beautiful Game in their home and native land. That work will not come to fruition without your help.