Canadian men's soccer team has time on its side | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerCanadian men's soccer team has time on its side

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 11:20 AM

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Russell Tiebert, right, and his Canadian teammates played Tony Beltran's U.S. squad to a scoreless draw Tuesday night in Houston. (Pat Sullivan/Associated Press) Russell Tiebert, right, and his Canadian teammates played Tony Beltran's U.S. squad to a scoreless draw Tuesday night in Houston. (Pat Sullivan/Associated Press)

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Canada's next generation is not exactly up and running, but in recent days it has taken its first tentative steps towards comprehending the requirements of senior international soccer. It will be a slow, painful exercise where patience and tolerance must be placed before expectation.
It is called on-the-job-training.

It is full of mistakes from eager but inexperienced apprentices. They are keen to impress and make their mark. The best will listen and learn. They have potential, of course, but those who succeed will understand the need to grasp the basics and give themselves a solid base from which to build.

That's what this is all about. Forget the score lines. It is, for most, an educational process where a passing grade is achieved only by acquiring the necessary knowledge and having the skills to cope in an alien environment.

Canada's next generation is not exactly up and running, but in recent days it has taken its first tentative steps towards comprehending the requirements of senior international soccer. It will be a slow, painful exercise where patience and tolerance must be placed before expectation.

Let's be clear -- there are no quick fixes. Don't expect Canada to produce a golden generation of gifted young players who are ready to step in and force the old guard into retirement. In the same way time will tell the veterans when it's apt to leave the stage, time alone will tell whether their would-be replacements are good enough.

What Canada has on its side is time. By international standards it has as much time as it needs. The next World Cup qualifying cycle won't begin for close on another three years, and if the race to Russia is too soon, perhaps qualifying for Qatar is a more realistic target. That would give Canada a whopping seven years to get its house in order.

At this moment Canada is not even remotely close. Perhaps it is as far away from its ultimate goal as it has been at any time since that solitary World Cup appearance at Mexico '86. Consequently there are oceans of room for improvement on a team which needs time to grow and mature together.

So what have we learned? First and foremost Canada needs to be playing on a regular basis. A handful of international matches every year simply won't do. Every available opportunity must be taken to give these youngsters the competitive experience which no amount of training camps can replace.

In that regard 2013, is off to a promising start. A pair of matches before the end of January bodes well for the year ahead. Another game against Japan awaits in March and there is talk of adding a second fixture during that trip to the middle east. The sooner these rookies begin to feel comfortable around their senior counterparts and each other the better.

Creditable draw vs. Americans

By its very nature international soccer is different. Unlike the week in, week out routine of the club game, the chance to represent one's country is a comparatively rare event where the margin for error is greatly reduced. An off day at the club level might see a player benched for a game or two -- a similar international performance can lead to a lengthy exile from the national set up.

Colin Miller and his staff have done all they can for now. The interim head coach was charged with assembling a roster of largely raw talent in the knowledge he was, in all likelihood, on a hiding to nothing. Privately he, like we, must have feared the worst as he pushed his Canadian kids in at the deep end against Denmark last week.

Without flotation devices they began to sink quickly. Continually, their collective heads were pushed under by the stronger, superior Danes but, coughing and spluttering, the Canadians managed to drag themselves out of the choppy water at half time.

Finally able to catch its breath, Canada did not completely crumble. On a day when six players earned their first international caps, Miller's men at least managed to stem the tide after the interval. The game was long gone, of course, and Canada ended up losing 4-0. But for the time being this is about education, not results.

International soccer is often less than spectacular. The visiting team will play not to lose and set out with a game plan to frustrate its opponent. Canada's latest meeting with the United States - a scoreless draw Tuesday night in Houston -- will not live long in the memory as a thing of beauty, but the lessons learned are invaluable.

Dour stalemates will not grab the headlines. Right now Canada doesn't deserve any. What it does deserve is some credit for the way it stuck to its guns and competed with a team of Americans motivated by the prospect of gaining promotion to their World Cup squad.

Jurgen Klinsmann was not amused. His team huffed and puffed, but the Canadian house stood firm. Led by the hugely impressive Dejan Jakovic at the centre of defence, there is now "something to build on" in the words of captain Dwayne De Rosario.

Maybe, DeRo. Just maybe.

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