Everyone calm down a bit from Tuesday night? ‘Cause I was worried for some of you after reading Twitter following Canada’s 0-0 draw with Costa Rica and consequent elimination from the Gold Cup.
Let’s get this out of the way first: strip away the need for Canada to win this match to advance, and you’re left with a pretty good result. Drawing Costa Rica is no small feat, and Canada had many opportunities to win the match. There were some truly fantastic individual performances from Les Rouges, and with a bit more luck the result would have been different. Costa Rica was clearly rattled by Canada’s ability to put together some cohesive passing sequences and make their way up the field. This was not the Canada of the pre-Floro era.
Nor am I trying to paper over the obvious mistakes that were made by the manager in this tournament, but when I read John Molinaro’s headline calling Canada’s performance a “disgrace”, I couldn’t help but get my back up. Not scoring in this tournament surely is a cause for concern, but you don’t have to look too deeply to see what David Edgar noted postgame, which was to point out that Canada is doing a lot of good things on the pitch and the goals will come. Calling the team’s performance a disgrace is disappointing from a prominent soccer voice in this country. Losing 8-1 in Honduras was a disgrace. Drawing two out of three matches while allowing one goal is not. Let’s keep things in perspective.
Floro’s cavalier attitude in responding to media questions didn’t help matters either, and seemed to ignite the passions of the Canadian soccer community. Floro got into a pissing match with the assembled media by pointing out what I just did, but suggesting they should be asking questions about the positives of the tournament instead of focusing on the lack of goals scored. It’s always ill-advised to intimate to the media that they’re not doing their jobs properly, or asking the wrong questions. We need the media on our side when it comes to the men’s program, and such aggressive deflection is not productive. Granted, some people who are assigned to cover soccer in this country aren’t scholars in the sport (this is not directed at Molinaro, whose opinion I respect even when I don’t agree), but Floro would be wise to hide his scorn for them.
So, which is it? Does Canada need to go back to square one and rebuild its program? Or do we accept that we got unlucky and look forward to a successful World Cup qualifying campaign? I lean towards the latter, but anyone with any degree of familiarity with the men’s program knows that the former has been true for a long time. I tend to think that things are getting better on that front, compared with where we were only five or six years ago. I won’t devolve this post into a history lesson about the Canadian Soccer Association and where it is now, but suffice to say progress has been made in terms of player development and technical ability. That’s my take, and you’re free to disagree of course.
I saw things in this tournament that really gave me hope. No, Canada did not perform as well as I thought it would, but positives abound. Young players stepped up in these three matches to show that the future is not so bleak. Russell Teibert in particular was a shining star every game in which he came on. Jonathan Osorio showed flashes of brilliance and should have been given more time on the pitch (surely the Bekker start against El Salvador is seen as a mistake by all). Karl Ouimette was stellar on Tuesday night, save for one lapse in which his man beat him on the right side of the 18-yard box. Maxime Tissot’s performance left me wondering why he doesn’t get more starts under Frank Klopas in Montreal. Cyle Larin was disappointing in the three matches, but Tuesday was an outlier because Floro somehow thought he’d be effective out of position on the wing.
Some veterans also showed that they have gas left in the tank. Kenny Stamotopoulos’ performances will not soon be forgotten, to the point where a goalkeeping controversy might be warranted when Milan Borjan is once again available to Floro. Not enough can be said about Julian de Guzman’s tireless performances. David Edgar was the star of the tournament for Canada and the main reason only one goal was scored against us. His defensive partner, Dejan Jakovic, barely put a foot wrong throughout the three matches.
It wasn’t all flowers and rainbows. Larin, as previously mentioned, was often invisible. Tesho Akindele didn’t see enough of the ball. Adam Straith (playing out of position), did not do a good job of linking the defense with the midfield. Samuel Piette had some good spells, but also some bad ones where he looked lost and struggling to find his role (let’s remember he’s only 20 years old). Marcus Haber, despite his hard work, never looked dangerous in a striking position. Work needs to be done either with the players mentioned or need to be replaced. Thankfully, Canada’s best player, Atiba Hutchinson, will anchor this midfield going forward and relegate Straith to the bench. Will Johnson, if the planets align and we all make the proper sacrifices to the soccer gods, will show up in World Cup qualifying and help solidify the midfield.
People who are upset with Floro are justified in their anger. By the same token, those who are calling for him to be fired are being short-sighted. Call me an apologist if you like, but you don’t throw away two years of work, most of which has been positive, because he made the wrong choices at the Gold Cup. I take the Gold Cup very seriously (too seriously?), but I haven’t lost sight of the fact that the ultimate goal is World Cup qualifying, and I’m certain Floro’s mandate is to qualify for the hex. If he just sacrificed the Gold Cup in order to tinker with the squad in preparation to reach that goal, I’m not happy about it but part of me understands.
Three matches, one goal against, no goals for. Things to hang our hat on, others to work on. As a whole, I’m content with where the program is right now in that I feel we are headed in the right direction. Managers at both club and country level often make sure their squad is defensively sound before fixing the offense. We may just be witnessing this process unfold before us. Or, Floro is a washed up coach with Real Madrid on his CV who has duped us all in the early part of his mandate, and some are waking up from the spell he cast. We’ll see.