I'm sitting in the Vancouver Public Library 200 meters away from the scene of Canadian Men's soccer Team's devastating fatal ending to the Semi Final stage of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.
They won the game 3-1 over El Salvador, but there is a feeling of disappointment. The empty feeling of not being involved in the World Cup for the eighth straight time.
I hinted at it a bit last week on my blog but that the fact that we won on Tuesday and are still disappointed is progress on its own. In fact, Canada is 9W-4T-1L in their last 14 competitive home games. Unluckily, Canada still sits 100th in the world but it would be hard to find another country with that kind of Home record that also sits in the same ballpark as Canada. My guess is you can't, because there likely isn't.
To continue with a positive theme, Canada's attendance is up. After 15,000 in the 2010 Qualifiers and just under 14,000 in the 2014 Qualifiers, the attendance for the 2018 Qualifiers climbed to 22,000 this time around. Yes, the climb was also helped out to the highly anticipated game between regional power Mexico but its not like they have never played Mexico before.
For the first time in awhile, Canada Men's soccer isn't greeted with sarcasm and rolled eyes like it did a decade ago. A decade ago I was rolling my eyes. The sarcasm has ended and people are starting to treat a Men's soccer game as a big deal and that is a crucial first step in respectability.
More importantly, this was the second straight Qualifying cycle where the chance to advance has come down to the final game. That needs to be the bare minimum standard that Canada has to measure themselves too. You can't expect to make the World Cup every four years. Especially with three really good teams in CONCACAF and only 3.5 berths given out. Canada is missing the "it" factor that the good Central American teams have. We look afraid when we travel to Central America and that has to change.
It's a work in progress, Canada was a bounce or two away. Extremely pleased with the effort Scott Arfield gave to Canada after committing to Canada instead of Scotland. It shows where Canada sits as a country if he thought we had a better chance qualifying for the World Cup than Scotland. We need those players to turn our way like Junior Hoilett and others who decided to play for Canada.
When the opposite happens, the Owen Hargreaves and the Jonathan De Guzman's of the world, play for their families country, Canada will be no more than a laughing stock.
However, the tide is beginning to turn, players like Frasier Arid and Lucas Cavallini to name a few will be likely called up for the 2022 Qualifiers or even next years Gold Cup. If that happens, Canada will exuberate a load a young new faces that could be the face of Canadian soccer for the next decade.
Consequently, Canada will not have much to look forward to until the next set of Qualifiers because of the senseless confederation CONCACAF is. The Gold Cup has gotten old and stale quickly and the number of games Canada has a chance to play in is not enough. For instance, it is harder getting out of the Semi Final stage than it is the Hex. In the Semi Final stage, a tie is a bad result and sometimes fatal ending, Canadians know all about this with their 0-0 tie to Honduras in 2012 and El Salvador in 2015. In contrast, a tie in the Hex is a good result because of 66% of the teams get to either the World Cup or the playoff. With the four extra games the Hex offers compared to the Semi Final stage, there is time to make up those two dropped points.
That needs to change if it were me, but CONCACAF is so stubborn because they want to protect the Mexico-USA WCQ game. CONCACAF needs to get a brain though, Asia is in some ways a similar confederation with two teams being a powerhouse. (South Korea and Japan) They aren't guaranteed a South Korea - Japan WCQ and that confederation survives.
With 10 competitive teams before a drop off in quality, having a 12 team phase is unfair as it will always likely produce one group of death and two easier groups. As the draw guru I have always been, I have fought of different ways we could have a great qualifying system that will make the dictate less of the countries fortune. I will talk about other formats that CONCACAF could explore when the time comes.
Another area where CONCACAF needs to improve on is Gold Cup Qualifying. With 41 teams competing for the Gold Cup Qualifying should be down as a whole. An easy way to do it would be have 10 groups of 4 teams with the group winners and best second place team qualifying for Gold Cup. Adding in the host who qualifies automatically there is your 12 teams. The Gold Cup should be every four years instead of every two years to make the Gold Cup a special tournament. In this system, the Gold Cup would be in July of 2020 2024 and 2028 etc. This would make it to be in the middle of the World Cup years.
Despite slowly, Canada is turning the page, if the CSA can fix a few things along with CONCACAF getting a brain. I believe Canada will be getting the right things in place eventually.