Dwayne De Rosario is one of the Canadians with something to play for even if the team has nothing. (Canadian Soccer Association)
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So, it's over. This game means nothing. Canada's already through to the next stage of World Cup qualifying, meaning the result is irrelevant. Coming off the match in St. Kitts, Canada can't call up a developmental roster, meaning the long-term impact of the game is diminished. In all probability, St. Kitts and Nevis will sit back and try to grind out a draw Puerto Rico-style, meaning the game will probably be tedious as hell.
You won't hear the Canadian camp talking about that, of course. As is proper, Stephen Hart and company have been discussing the need for a big performance, to raise confidence and quench fears by kicking the hell out of a hapless Caribbean minnow whose entire population could fit into SkyDome. Of course, our next competitive match is more than half a year away and if you think confidence from a 20-0 victory can last that long, you're more optimistic than I.
The St. Kitts and Nevis press has been enthusiastically praising their team for its playing soccer against Canada rather than sitting back on Friday; their football association even declared St. Kitts and Nevis deserved a 2-0 win. Such lofty clippings might suggest that the Sugar Boyz will try to please their supporters by slugging it out with Canada... but with St. Kitts and Nevis now having shot their bolt and their attention turning towards Olympic qualifying they'd probably be much happier with an ugly 0-0 draw than a glorious 2-1 loss.
Well, that's soccer. Those of us leaving work early to watch the match (Doolin's Irish Pub, the corner of Granville and Nelson, 4 PM PST) are in for a meaningless snoozer. Meaningless to us, and meaningless to the competitive hopes of the Canadian national team, but not meaningless to all the players. If Canada has something to prove then that's nothing compared to some of the Canadians, who are chasing milestones or chasing dreams or just chasing some proof that they belong at this level.
Take the man pictured at the top of this page, Dwayne De Rosario. Having just ragged on his MVP bid you may be under the impression that I don't like De Rosario, and you'd be correct. Although he had some effective moments earlier in his career, for most of his career he's been the epitome of the Canadian player who achieves great things with his club but can't come through for Canada when it matters; skipping the 2009 Gold Cup when Canada had hopes of a deep run, doing most of his meaningful scoring in the last five years from the penalty spot while being more trouble than he's worth in open play.
However, De Rosario is probably the highest-profile Canadian player domestically, captain of the team in the absence of Kevin McKenna and Atiba Hutchinson, and more importantly only one goal away from tying Dale Mitchell as Canada's all-time leading international goalscorer. When the Toronto media wants a Canadian soccer quote DeRo is their go-to guy and he's always happy to oblige; he does more to keep the Canadian national team in the press than a thousand bloggers.
De Rosario's been one goal away since he banged in a penalty against St. Lucia on September 2. He hasn't been shooting willy-nilly trying to get himself into the record books but there is a segment of the Canadian fan corps who think De Rosario should just get the record as quickly as possible so it stops being a distraction. At 33 years old, it's almost certain De Rosario will break Mitchell's record even if he just knocks penalties in for the rest of his career: the only question is "when". In five games against lowly minnows ranked below the top 100 in the world by both FIFA and the Elo ranking system, De Rosario has no goals in open play but he's not the only Canadian who's struggled for goals. A goal or two in front of his hometown crowd would certainly be a great moment for De Rosario and his fans, and it would certainly give the press something to report about besides "Canada struggles again" (although I'd be miserable).
Of course, there are plenty of fringe players with monkeys on their back. Striker Olivier Occean has been on the fringe of the national team for the past seven years, always almost good enough but not quite there. But at age 30 Occean has had an improbable career renaissance, challenging for the German 2. Bundesliga scoring title with SpVgg Greuther Fürth. In Germany he's known as a ruthless assassin in front of goal but for Canada he struggles for positioning and has been accused of laziness and excessive showmanship. Occean's scored only four times for his country, twice against St. Lucia and never against an opponent of better quality than Iceland. The team is struggling badly up top, and while that's probably due to the tactics more than anything, if Occean could show a bit more Ali Gerba and a bit less Rob Friend he could win a starting spot for 2012.
How about Ashtone Morgan? He's a left back, traditionally considered a position of strength for Canada, but Marcel de Jong may be better employed in an attacking role and Michael Klukowski is starting to look old. Morgan's certainly impressed for Toronto FC and has a puncher's chance at being a part of qualifying when the games start to count. Patrice Bernier has many fans in the Canadian soccer community but he's on the wrong side of thirty years old, coming off a serious injury, and hasn't spent much time in the national team for the past two years. Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault plays in a lousy division, is often out-of-position for Canada, and gets no respect. but he's still just 23 years old and has shown pretty well when he actually plays his native defensive midfield role (he's Canada's Jeb Brovsky).
The stars have to show that they can star. Josh Simpson, the poor devil, is playing well enough but isn't meshing with his teammates enough to create scoring chances. Will Johnson has enjoyed a stretch of awful games for Canada since the Gold Cup and Julian de Guzman has been no better. Simeon Jackson might play in the English Premier League but he needs to stop being marked into non-existence by amateur defenders and start cashing in his breakaways.
Canada's got a lot of problems. God knows I've gone on about them. But they also have a lot of players for whom this game should be more than a meaningful jog.