Canadian soccer team begs forgiveness
By Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency
|Canada's Kevin McKenna, left, and Atiba Hutchinson walk off the field after losing 8-1 to Honduras and being eliminated from World Cup qualifying. (REUTERS)
ABOVE THE GULF OF MEXICO - In the guts of a dim and damp Estadio Olimpico Tuesday night, Canadian head coach Stephen Hart met with a small number of Canadian media after watching the Reds register one of the worst results in the history of Canadian sports.
Following an unthinkable 8-1 drubbing in Honduras, a result that put Canada out of CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifying for a fourth consecutive cycle, Hart, at times, was poetic, acknowledging what was a Honduran “lesson in football” and using hard-hitting words like “disturbing” and “crushing” in describing 90 minutes of hell.
He was honest and regretful, asking for forgiveness on behalf of his players while announcing he didn’t expect Canadian supporters to forgive him for a result that will likely haunt him for the rest of his life.
“(The result) had nothing to do with Stephen Hart,” Canadian captain Kevin McKenna said before the team was bussed away from the venue.
“It was all to do with the players,” McKenna continued. “Stephen Hart had us well-prepared for every game ... It would be a shame if (fans) point their fingers at the coach.”
A spot Canada hadn’t been in for more than a decade, needing just a draw to advance Tuesday afternoon, multiple mainstays recognized Canada’s one-off qualifier as a match of epic proportions, one that would likely define many of their careers.
Instead, many international careers ended in the worst imaginable way.
“It’s going to stay with me for a long time,” said McKenna, who likely competed in his last qualifying cycle for Canada. “To lose a game 8-1 is demoralizing.”
Using a slew of adjectives to describe one of the most shocking results in the history on CONCACAF’s third round, Julian de Guzman’s phrasing seemed slightly more appropriate.
“We pretty much embarrassed ourselves,” the former Toronto FC midfielder said. “They were embarrassing goals (to concede). Every goal that they scored it seemed like they got more confidence and it became worse. They wanted it more than we did and it’s a shame that it had to end like this.”
The real shame is that no one wanted it more than Canadian fans, who came out in record numbers this summer upon watching Canada compete with, and beat, some of the best in the region at BMO Field.
Panama and Honduras, the two sides that emerged ahead of Cuba and Canada from CONCACAF’s Group C, now join the U.S., Jamaica, Mexico and Costa Rica in the region’s final round of World Cup qualifying, from which three will automatically advance to Brazil 2014.
“It’s sad,” de Guzman said when reminded of the never-before-seen support witnessed at BMO Field. “I feel bad for the supporters. They were there. It hurts me to know we can’t enjoy the next stage with the fans. It’s something they wanted.”
With television numbers up and the teasing possibility that Canada would advance for the first time since 1997, the way in which the team rolled over in San Pedro Sula will likely kill many of the positive gains the Canadian Soccer Association made.
For years Canadian coaches and players have complained about the lack of home support whenever the Reds play host, but in order to retain support the performances have to be there.
Although next to no one expected Canada to pick up a result in one of the most hostile environments CONCACAF has to offer, the harshness of Tuesday’s defeat, in a sad way, justifies casual fans’ indifference towards Canada’s national team.
“We completely blew it in the end,” de Guzman said of the repercussions of not making CONCACAF’s final round. “On behalf of myself and everyone else on the team we ask forgiveness.”
Forgiveness will eventually be given. Some of the support will likely be lost.
THE ROAD AHEAD
At the moment, quality isn’t the biggest issue facing Canada. The team has players playing at mid-level clubs across Europe as well as solid sides in MLS. The Reds outplayed Honduras, which typically starts between four and six MLS players, before a goalless draw in June but clearly can’t pull it together in the harshest of conditions.
“I think the moment got to the team,” Canadian captain Kevin McKenna said of the 40,000 Hondurans who made for one of the most intimidating environments most of Canada’s players will ever compete in. “The team is still not ready to win in places like Honduras and Panama.”
The mentality to overcome the elements and compete collectively with discipline and composure in some of the game’s harshest locations isn’t easily acquired. It’s something Canada’s current crop is clearly missing.
“If we can’t beat Honduras at home or get a result on the road then we clearly don’t deserve to make the next stage,” Julian de Guzman said.
It’s the harsh — but fair — analysis of the situation and Canada won’t have an opportunity to right its qualifying wrongs until Russia 2018 qualifying picks up in three long years.
An eternity in the world’s game.