The Canadian Soccer Association has announced today that the Canadian men's national team will play a closed-door friendly against Trinidad and Tobago August 15 in Lauderhill, Florida.
This is not bad, actually. CSA supremo Peter Montopoli had promised an August friendly in an interview with Ben Rycroft but the days had ticked past and no friendly had been announced. Most of CONCACAF's quality opposition have already found games by this point, so we knew we weren't going to get a brilliant opponent for a tune-up; still, Trinidad and Tobago rates a solid "could be worse".
It's not perfect. Perfect would have been a first-class CONCACAF opponent, in a part of Canada which could use exposure to the national team, with the promise of our best players available and no focus but improving both the team and the program. But given the difficulty the CSA's had just reaching "good enough", well, sad to say but this friendly is something to be pretty pleased about.
The Soca Warriors are far from what they used to be. They're already out of 2014 World Cup qualifying; the second round ended in disaster with memorable 2-1 losses to lowly Bermuda and eventual group winners Guyana. They still retain some strong players: chronic underperformer Kenwyne Jones as well as Carlos Edwards, Keon Daniel, Julius James, Carlyle Mitchell, and Devorn Jorsling (who, despite playing his career in the Trinidadian league apart from a spectacularly unsuccessful stint with Orlando City, is their leading active international scorer at 28 years old).
Many of the players just named, despite being key talents for Trinidad and Tobago, wouldn't get a sniff at Canada. No, this is definitely not 2006 anymore.
The closed-door friendly in Florida is a disappointment but not a surprise given the CSA's parsimony. As lovely as it would be for the Canadian Soccer Association to throw a game to Moncton or Winnipeg or Regina or Edmonton or Vancouver or Victoria or whoever you like, they'd never do it when they could play the game on a public park in the sweltering Florida heat and save a few bucks. Truth be told, the sweltering Florida heat probably isn't bad practice for a trip to Panama anyway.
Or at least it will be for those players making the trip to Panama. The game should be competitive because scuttlebutt is that this won't be Canada's full "A" team. The August window has long been bemoaned by the Canadian Soccer Association as a very bad one to get players for. There's been a lot of beating-around-the-bush and oblique hints that the friendly will see a number of players further from the World Cup roster making an appearance.
This, of course, greatly reduces the value of this friendly as World Cup preparation. Getting Haidar al-Shaibani and Jaime Peters ready doesn't serve much good if neither is called to meaningful games. But the roster announcement is well in the future and there could be pleasant surprises in store. It's weeks too early to start throwing around blame for that.
Sadly, the roster will be the main factor that determines how valuable this game is as preparation. If the objective is just to get some "B" teamers a run out then we could have done better than Trinidad and Tobago and in a better location (what happened to Canada playing neutral-site second-rate friendlies in places like Wrexham?). But as a rule this friendly is certain to be better than no friendly, and "no friendly" would have been what we got in years past. Progress.