Canada's failure to qualify for the U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer sends a
worrying message about the development of young soccer players in this country, but some bright spots did emerge at the CONCACAF U-20 championship.
Right on cue, the sun set in the Mexican city of Puebla. As it disappeared, so did Canada's dream of reaching the FIFA under-20 World Cup.
With Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the United States in the quarter-finals of the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 championship, another near miss. Failing to qualify for the U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer sends a worrying message about the development of young Canadians. Losing to the Americans in a winner-take-all eliminator merely rubs salt in the wounds.
There are many fragile soccer hearts in this country. The mental scars of the senior men's national team's embarrassing qualifier loss in Honduras still haunt those who care about the game at the international level. Supporting the cause is a noble but dangerous pastime. Making the emotional investment rarely pays dividends.
We follow for two simple reasons. We love Canada and we love soccer. Canadian soccer may love us back but it's not very good at showing it. Once in a while we would like it to give us a great big hug, but it is too shy, too timid, too indecisive to make that commitment.
It began with promise. Canada's youngsters were attempting to rub shoulders with the best in the world for the first time since hosting the tournament six years ago. The first half of the tournament opener against Cuba could, and probably should, have yielded a couple of goals. The chances were wasted and Canada ultimately paid for its profligacy with a 2-1 defeat.
The surprisingly effective Cubans returned the favour. Their subsequent victory over Nicaragua left Canada requiring only a single point from their second match, against the Nicaraguans, to advance. Head coach Nick Dasovic tinkered with his lineup and, far from playing it safe, the Canadians clinically disposed of their hapless opponents in a 5-1 rout.
Caleb Clarke, among others, caught the eye. The tall Vancouver Whitecaps prospect led the line with authority and helped himself to a pair of well taken goals. In midfield, Samuel Piette, already capped by the senior team, ran the show and was also on target from long range.
A low-key start but a buoyant response led to the game that really mattered. Canada's early hiccup would not go unpunished. Its narrow loss to Cuba steepened the gradient -- a head-to-head quarter-final against the U.S. would serve as a single-game qualifier for the U-20 World Cup.
For a fleeting moment, and against all logic, we dared to dream again. When Winnipeg native Dylan Carreiro's powerful shot put the Canadians in front in the 23rd minute, albeit against the run of play, it seemed too good to be true. The mirage soon evaporated as the Americans powered back with four unanswered goals.
Piette would eventually respond with the goal of the tournament in the 64th minute. But in stark contrast to the fist-pumping celebration with which he marked his goal against Nicaragua, he barely acknowledged his achievement against the U.S, knowing a goal of such quality was scant consolation.
Piette's visible frustration spoke a thousand words. At the age of 18 he is trying to make his way as a professional. He is currently honing his skills in Germany with Fortuna Dusseldorf and is acutely aware of the potential an appearance at the U-20 World Cup might have afforded him. Now, like the rest of us, the Quebec teenager will be merely a spectator.
La Belle Province also introduced us to another youngster who's got game. Like Piette, Maxime Crepeau represented Canada at the 2011 U-17 World Cup, but an injury in the opening game ended his involvement.
Crepeau is a goalkeeper with great promise. An excellent shot stopper with a safe pair of hands, he could be destined for Major League Soccer with his hometown team. Crepeau is already part of the Montreal Impact Academy. He distinguished himself in Mexico, and if he is patient and continues to develop, the Impact may have cause to sign another homegrown player in the not-too-distant future.
Small silver linings on another desperately disappointing night for Canadian soccer. Pride and passion are all very well -- but without the necessary technical ability Canada cannot hope to compete on soccer's global stage.
Nigel ReedNigel brings his extensive experience, passion and knowledge of the game of soccer to his role as play-by-play announcer and soccer analyst on CBC. Reed has spent more than 20 years covering the game, most notably a five-year stint from 1999 to 2004 where he was a host and producer for the English Premier League for BBC.
Since moving to Canada, Reed has become the voice of Major League Soccer on CBC. He was part of the CBC broadcast team for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, covering weightlifting, taekwondo, and equestrian in addition to soccer. He was a member of the CBC 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa panel. During the tournament he proudly became a Canadian citizen.