Before the start of the second round of World Cup qualifying, if you were to tell Canadian soccer fans that, after two games, they would have four points and be firmly in possession of second place in the group, most would have taken it in a heartbeat.
But after a surprise success in Cuba in the first game, where they were able to snatch three points away from the home side while playing with only 10 men, and multiple opportunities to win against Honduras at home Tuesday night, Canada is well within its right to be lamenting lost chances.
After weathering a wide-open first 30 minutes, one that saw both sides create strong chances, the Canadians settled into a wait-and-see attitude. They didn't push too much and they didn't allow themselves to get pushed too far. Glancing headers in the final minutes for Canada, ones that would dance just wide of the net, will be what sticks in the memory after a 0-0 draw, though.
However, a few other moments, ones that might have been lost in the final scoreline and not seen by all, did jump out.
In 2008, nearly 5,000 Hondurans converged on Saputo Stadium in Montreal and turned what should have been a home game for Canada into a decidedly hostile away crowd. Tales from that night still burn in the wounds inflicted by a loss on the pitch and the fisticuffs thrown in the stands. What would turn out to be the death blow for Canada's chances in that World Cup qualification, did not exit through the gift shop before some lessons were learned.
What was borne out of the night was an understanding that if Canada was ever going to become a soccer nation, ever going to find some edge or some chance at World Cup qualification, it would have to ensure that it started to provide a home crowd for its home teams.
Last night in Toronto, three years on from that debacle, Canadian fans got their first real taste from the fruits of that tree of labour. The Canadian Soccer Association, along with the Ontario Soccer Association, went to great lengths to ensure that Canadian tickets got into the hands of Canadian fans on Tuesday.
The CSA worked closely with the local supporters groups that frequent Toronto FC games to give them priority access to tickets. They were given first choice of seating, control over who sat in their sections and, in many cases, at a reduced price than what was made available to the public.
The OSA also did its part, putting out marching orders to its membership to suspend play among its young ranks on the evening to ensure that kids and families could also attend. And while a number of the local youth leagues ignored the patriotic play by their board, some of the more influential clubs did not. Oakville Soccer Club, the largest youth club in North America, brought nearly 1,000 youth players to the game last night. That's a number that deserves some pause.
And it wasn't alone. A number of other smaller clubs bought up sections, rows, whatever they were able to, and ensured that a large majority of the seats on this evening were filled with red.
Purposeful efforts were made to keep tickets out of the hands of Hondurans and still, they were not without their support on this night, as they always are.
However, it was a far cry from the blue mob that once overran the Canadian support at home.
The result of the CSA and OSA's work was that Canada got to play in front of a decidedly partisan crowd. One that, for the first time in recent memory, made the opposition feel like they were the ones who should be intimidated. It's not the be-all-end-all in games like these, but it does make a difference.
This isn't an easy subject to broach in the multicultural mosaic that is Canada as, too often, people fall to their default position of inclusiveness. But in this case, when cheering on Canadian athletes, it is very much a Canadian thing to do by trying to give them the best possible chance of winning.
If that means bending the fairness meter to the home side, then so be it. It is done the world over when it comes to soccer. Hostile environments like Mexico and Honduras are what they are because of those partisan tactics. They make it difficult for opposing teams to win there and it's a small reason why they are as successful as they are.
Just because Canada is beautiful in its accepting nature shouldn't mean that we Canadians accept that the beautiful game here be anything less than its true nature.
On the way out of the stadium, I passed by a small group of Oakville soccer kids. They were no more than 10-years-old, wearing their club's tracksuits and waving Canadian flags twice their size. The expletives out of their mouths -- more than a few directed Honduras' way -- were making their mothers cringe. It was the kind of language kids use when their parents aren't looking and really was nothing more than excitable boys being carried away in the moment.
But as they caught hell from their parents for using such un-Canadian language, I couldn't help but think to myself that this was as Canadian a moment as it comes.
Canadian soccer may not have arrived yet, but at least it's now showing that it's no longer content to just sit in the station.
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