I'm not sure what my least favourite part of the Gold Cup is. It's probably the omnipresent agony that is CONCACAF refereeing. Sometimes it's seeing which major Canadian player will completely forget how to play this game. But right now, it's probably the usual chorus of very intelligent, very well-read, very experienced Canadian football observers saying that the Gold Cup doesn't matter.
This isn't just the guys at TSN saying the Gold Cup is irrelevant because soccer is irrelevant. The 24th Minute's Duane Rollins, as big a Canada fan as you'll meet, seems to be treating the Gold Cup as a friendly schedule with a gaudy trophy at the end. Surf over to the Voyageurs board and see serious fans suggest lineups that stop barely short of including "this twelve-year-old across the street who can keepie uppie for, like, two hours and has a Honduran grandmother".
You know what? Screw that. I'm not going to the Gold Cup because I feel sorry for it. The Gold Cup is CONCACAF's championship, it's the second-biggest tourmanent Canada's men will ever be able to play for, and it's a major event on our calendar for all the right reasons.
- It's the only thing we've ever won. Canada is the only country that isn't Mexico or the United States to ever win the CONCACAF Gold Cup. We and Costa Rica are also the only non-American, non-Mexican teams to win multiple CONCACAF championships in any incarnation. People gripe that football has no winning history in this country and then belittle the Gold Cup, which is the only winning history we've got.
- Adults play it. In 2003, Canada reached the quarterfinals of the then-World Youth Cup, scraping our way through wins and draws before finally losing. To Spain. In extra time. It was possibly the most improbable tournament in our history, and outside of the usual suspects nobody noticed. Canada fans will turn out when we host a youth tournament, but when it's happening in some far-flung corner of the globe nobody will remember the results.
- People pay attention when we win anything. Am I the only one who remembers this? When Craig Forrest spent two glorious weeks as the best goalkeeper in the world and an underskilled bunch of European rejects took the 2000 title with nothing more than grit, determination, a great manager and a lucky coin toss, people around the country cared. The sorts of people who went down to the pub yesterday to watch Manchester United - Barcelona without even knowing Vancouver - Montreal was happening. Canada, normally the doormats of CONCACAF (or so the casuals can be forgiven for believing), had told the Americans, the Mexicans, and those bastards the Hondurans where they could shove their tradition. And then we flamed out of the 2002 World Cup qualifying season in spectacular fashion even for us, and that was that.
- Maybe if we sucked less, Canadians would actually play for Canada. You're David Hoilett. You can play for either Canada or Jamaica. Neither team is in the hex, but the Gold Cup comes, Jamaica sends a real lineup, and Canada sends kids. We play July 3 in Los Angeles, and Jamaica just rolls us. David Edgar misses the rest of the tournament with windburn because he got blown by so many times, that kind of thing. Jamaica ends up losing the final to the Americans, Canada ends up golfing. The next FIFA date, both Jamaica and Canada call you. Are you going to go play for the team that wants to win games, or the team whose motto is Latin for "wait until next year"? The whole reason Owen Hargreaves and Jonathan De Guzman went to England and the Netherlands was because they could win trophies there. Want to solve that problem? Win some trophies.
- Nobody learns from losing. When I was a youth player, I was a midfielder on the championship team from St. Albert, Alberta. We weren't at the elite level but we were up there a bit, and let me tell you, that team was a cocky bunch. We even added a couple ringers; top players from other teams in the city. We went down to Calgary and you could take home the games we won in a matchbox without taking the matches out first. I broke my right wrist in our second-last game, played the last game anyway because we were all in the sort of suicidal despair that numbs mere physical pain, and we lost something like 15-0. I kicked a kid in the testicles just so I could get my foot on some sort of ball. Did that make us better players? Hell no, it just made us want to come back next year a lot less. We should probably try and avoid that with our national team.
- Let's Face It, Winning Is Just Nails. If we named a bunch of thirty-somethings, went down to the States and won this thing, I bet nobody would be complaining then.
Reducing our calendar to "World Cup qualifying" and "friendlies with fancy names" is not the way to build football in this country. There aren't a lot of opportunities for us to win silverware and show the public that Canada takes the sport seriously, so let's not belittle the ones we have.