Watching Canada’s men’s program struggle through another Gold Cup group stage, without scoring a goal, makes me wonder whether the program will ever get it right. Canada once made a World Cup in 1986, won the Gold Cup in 2000, and has produced some great talents such as Jason DeVos, Dwayne DeRosario, Paul Stalteri, Atiba Hutchinson and many others. With a country as diverse as Canada is, and with a population base as big as it is, why does this program continue to fall flat when it should be reaching newer and greater heights?
Most everyone understands that soccer is not the preferred game of choice in Canada. Even saying that, the costs of playing hockey are rising yearly, and the number of young people spurning Canada’s national sport for basketball and soccer are increasing. Even then though, the link from the talented youth dotted around Canada’s major cities to the few club teams are frayed or, in many cases, destroyed. The culture of clubs and youth soccer in Canada is not something I’m as familiar with, but those who know it better have painted a picture that makes the raggedness of the US development pyramid seem like La Masia.
It hasn’t helped that Canada has been left at the altar by talented players either produced domestically, or born in the country and have chosen to wear the colors of another nation (Canadian fans avert your eyes now). Some names include Owen Hargreaves, Jonathan De Guzman, Asmir Begovic, Junior Hoilett and the list goes on. It was a mild surprise to see Tesho Akindele choose Canada over the US after Jurgen Klinsmann passed a few admiring glances his way. The problem for the current generation of Canadian soccer is much the same as it is for the US in some ways: the lack of a core of players aged 26-30 to bridge the gap between the older hands and the talented youngsters on their way.
Canada’s core group of players in that age bracket can be summed much too quickly for anyone’s liking. There are a few players like Will Johnson, Marcel De Jong, David Edgar and Simeon Jackson in that group but that is a shaky foundation to build upon. Atiba Hutchinson is on the wrong side of 30, and Julian De Guzman is reaching retirement age rapidly. Marcel De Jong is 28, and has only seen his career revived by a MLS stint in Kansas City. Elsewhere? The future of this time is incredibly bright, as seen by Cyle Larin, Tesho Akindele, Jonathan Osorio, Russell Teibert, Doneil Henry, Samuel Piette and the list can go on. But, they have been forced into the spotlight so soon because of the lack of adequate bodies in front of them.