Canadian soccer team moves on from humiliating Honduras defeat
Canadian soccer officials had hoped to be in Miami on Thursday, meeting with CONCACAF officials to map out the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Instead, in the wake of a humiliating 8-1 defeat in Honduras, they find themselves forced to do yet another post-mortem on the men's soccer program.
In the past, Canadian soccer has been used to one step forward, two steps back. This time, it may take a while to get out of reverse.
Coach Stephen Hart is likely gone. A decent man who holds the affection and respect of his players, Hart will no doubt pay the price for what happened at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in Honduras.
The embarrassing qualifying exit will also no doubt trigger the retirement of some key players on the Canadian squad. With the next World Cup qualifying cycle years away, players based in Europe or nearing the end of their club career are unlikely to go through the rigours of international football for a team that has nothing to play for.
Players like Junior Hoilett and Jonathan de Guzman, who have other international options, will no doubt continue to turn their back on Canada.
Captain Kevin McKenna agreed that the Honduras debacle was the kind of game that forces players to ponder their international careers.
"Without a doubt," he said after the game. "I mean whether you're young or old, I think it's a game you look back and think 'Is it worth it anymore?"'
McKenna, 32, said he would wait to make that decision, to let things sink in.
After a 15-year absence from the final round of qualifying in the region, Canada seemed poised to return to CONCACAF's elite level.
A small but well-balanced pool of talent offered experience and youth. One of the teams in their group, Cuba, was a weak sister. Hart correctly pointed to Panama as the strongest side in the group but Honduras seemed a possible target.
In the past, lack of success at home snuffed out Canadian chances. This time, Canada took seven of nine points from three games at BMO Field.
But a 0-0 home tie in June against the Hondurans was a killer. Had Canada finished its chances and won at BMO Field, Tuesday's game in Honduras would have been rendered meaningless.
The Canadians (3-2-1) ended up taking one point out of six from Honduras and three out of six from Panama.
"I want to apologize to all the great supporters that were with us the whole campaign," tweeted forward Tosaint Ricketts, who failed to score on a pair of opportunities early against Honduras. "We had an amazing opportunity and wasted it. .gutted"
In a round with no margin for error, the Canadians made three (Honduras at home and Panama and Honduras away) and were punished.
In Honduras, Canada's lack of experience in big-time games took a toll. Hart and McKenna both acknowledged the moment had got to the team.
"We could have and should have it wrapped up before it even got to this game," said McKenna, a straight-shooter who has been a proud servant to his country.
Making the final round would have meant a 10-game qualifying campaign for Canada plus a chance to showcase the sport and perhaps capture the kind of public wave of enthusiasm that engulfed the women's side during the Olympics.
"Crucial for us," Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, said last week about making the final round.
"For us to advance to the next round, it gives us a full competition schedule ... we've seen the interest now over the last two years of what playing home matches can do. And if we can have five matches at home in 2013, it raises the significance, the relevancy of the team to the highest level possible and we know the country will be cheering them on as they were watching the women's team."
File that in Canadian soccer's extensive "Might Have Been" archive.
The blueprint had looked so promising this time.
Dwayne De Rosario was the team's spark plug, a playmaker who can also score. Olivier Occean was the target man while Simeon Jackson, Will Johnson and Iain Hume provided energy around him.
Atiba Hutchinson ran the midfield, backed by Julian de Guzman.
Lars Hirschfeld offered reliability in goal. McKenna and Andre Hainault stood tall in front of goal. Fullback Ante Jazic was a Steady Eddie on and off the field.
The team missed the speed and threat of the injured Josh Simpson. And a knee injury to De Rosario was costly.
The team's preferred offence was a spear formation with Occean at the tip and a player on each side. In Panama (Occean was injured) and Honduras (suspension), Canada was unable to find a suitable replacement and the offence suffered as a result.
Throughout the round, Canada also showed naiveté in attack. Players swarmed the goal but often failed to show the patience or savvy to open up an opposing defence.
Against a poor Cuban side, Canada won 3-0 but squandered one chance after another.
Take away the four goals in two matches against Cuba and Canada had just two goals in the round.
Elite goal-scorers are hard to find. So is dislodging strikers at club level who know their craft. Canadian forwards are just not cutting it.
In Honduras, few Canadian players left on their shield.
Hirschfeld gave it his all. All but abandoned by his defence, he had little chance to stop the goals. And without him, the score would have been even greater. Hutchinson also fought to the end, showing his skills.
But in the hot, hostile Honduran arena, Canada failed to rise to the challenge.
Hart, for one, does not believe the lopsided result is one that will take Canadian soccer some time to rise up from under.
"No, not necessarily. I think you can only learn from this experience. This has happened to us before, I mean albeit it was in Mexico at Azteca (Stadium, an 8-0 loss in 1993) but I don't necessarily believe that. I think the program's on the right track, the CSA did everything for these players to be comfortable, to make it right.
"And when it came down to the game that mattered, it proved that we don't deserve to be there."
Added Hart: "It's disturbing to me that the team fell apart. I've never been in this situation before in my life. So really it's very, very disappointing."
Straight from the horse's mouth.
"Unforgettable" was the front-page headline Wednesday in Honduran daily La Prensa.
For Hondurans fans, there are more big matches to rally behind their beloved national team. In a country scarred by violence and beset with problems, it's hard not to believe the soccer rewards went to the right place.