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For the first time since the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, the west coast is hosting international soccer. For the first time in even longer than that, we're hosting a meaningful Canadian national team game. The opponent's underwhelming, but the occasion is important and Canada's women will be playing live for a Vancouver crowd.
Canada will make its debut on the new turf at BC Place in a game they know they should win. I discussed Haiti earlier this week; realistically, they should not be a credible threat. The Canadian crowd should be able to enjoy themselves and watch their girls romp to victory over one of CONCACAF's many weak sisters. John Herdman's not even likely to play a second eleven and rest his starters, since Cuba is worse.
This game is about the party in the stands, about the first Canadian national team game (any gender, any age group) in Western Canada since 2008 and the first on the Pacific coast in over five years. Pummeling Haiti would be a welcome bonus, although I for one anticipate a relatively tight game by a Haitian squad that will be looking to avoid mistakes and, if possible, snatch a result by seizing chances on the break. Typical underdog soccer. But it'll still be fun.
I've been so excited for this tournament to kick off I can barely control myself. First-class international soccer in Vancouver is almost unheard-of in recent years, as the Canadian Soccer Association has struggled to remember Canada's western border isn't off Highway 401. This tournament, along with the coming 2015 World Cup, is an excellent opportunity for Vancouver to show its stuff as a home for our national teams. It's also a chance for Vancouver fans to reconnect a bit with the national program; the long absence has taken its toll on, for example, the hardcore Vancouver fans' support for the Voyageurs, Canada's national supporters' group.
I'm going to be honest and say that I'm not expecting great attendance. 10,000 fans would be a pleasant surprise. Still, after so long and with the limited community involvement we've seen from the CSA until almost the last minute, that's not so bad.
There won't be much away support for Haiti. There may be some home support; as Marc Weber points out in a fine article, many of Haiti's players come from Canada and the United States and hopefully they'll have some friends and family in attendance.
A point for Haiti against Canada would be the biggest result in the history of their national team. It is almost unthinkable, but this is soccer and anything can happen. The underdog appeal for Haiti, both as a team and as a country, is titanic. Canada and Haiti enjoy a close relationship made tighter by Canada's leading role in their reconstruction post-earthquake. Heck, BC Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association actually provided support for the Haitian women's national team, donating vital equipment. It all makes me think that even a tight Canada win wouldn't be so bad. Give a boost to some girls who've worked and suffered as much as anybody to get to a tournament in which they should get creamed.
Some so-called Canadian fans are sneering at this tournament, because it's the first soccer tournament in history where the best teams are far greater than the worst teams apparently. Well, anyone can probably predict the winners for most of the round robin. But I won't be there because of any suspense. I'll be there because Canada's national team is finally in town, and because I support them. Hell, I'll even be there for Haiti, who deserve success in every sense but the competitive one. Anybody who scoffs at that can fuck off.
Elsewhere in Group A: Costa Rica takes on Cuba at 5 PM. Obviously, Costa Rica is heavy favourite for three points: the Cubans should be complete doormats. However, there's just enough mystery around this Cuban team to make it interesting for a spectator. The Cubans should be terrible, but that's just based off the numbers: nobody can really tell what they're going to bring. And if they're better than the stats suggest and want to nab an upset then this is just the game to do it.