It’s hard to imagine a time when there has been less interest in the men’s national team in Canada than today.
It will take a long time for the stain of 8-1 to wear off the Nats and even the most loyal of fans is struggling to get up for games as they go through the motions following the end of the county’s (naive) Brazilian dream.
This is the environment in which interim manager Colin Miller is operating in as he put the final touches on a makeshift and exceptionally untested Gold Cup line-up, which was released yesterday.
Eight of the players named to Canada’s 22-man (there is still time to add one additional player) will be making their Gold Cup debut. Additionally, four of those called-up play for that long-standing provider of Canadian talent, Unattached FC.
The Canadian men’s reigning player of the year, Atiba Hutchinson, and the all-time scoring leader, Dwayne DeRosario, will be watching from home.
Combine that with what is likely the toughest group in tournament (hello Mexico and Panama – along with trickier than many imagine Martinique) and, well, it could get ugly.
The question is, then, does it matter?
Considering that the general level of interest is so low and that this Gold Cup features mostly second choice line-ups and factoring in that we are still two years away from the games that really matter (and three from when CONCACAF qualifying gets tricky for Canada), maybe a weak three matches and out should be expected and accepted for Canada.
It’s defeatist thinking, but one can appreciate how someone might entertain the idea.
Except the truth is Canada cannot afford to embarrass itself again. That 8-1 loss is too fresh and the punch lines cut too close to the bone.
The Canadian national team risks becoming irrelevant to fans if it goes down to the tournament and bombs out. All of the gains that were made over the last four years in terms of home support will be go away. The new fans that came to the program will likely abandon it, their suspicions about this country’s place in world football confirmed. And, besides, this is our confederation championship. That alone should be enough to motivate both players and fans alike.
It will not be easy, but most understand that the challenge is great. In announcing the roster, Miller suggested that a quarterfinal appearance would be an acceptable building block for the program.
He’s right, with one caveat. Regardless of the final standing, one would hope that this group of young Canadians will win or lose with a bit of pride.
Pride was something that was desperately needed in Honduras and Panama when the heat, fans and pressure caused players that were supposed to represent this country’s best chance at a World Cup birth in a generation to wilt.
So, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that so few of that crew is part of this Gold Cup roster. It’s a fresh start and it can’t possibly be worse than if was the last time they played a meaningful game.