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The Canadian men's national team finally has a slogan. "Mission 2014 begins today". The objective? Qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. All else is irrelevant. Hell, the Voyageurs even did up a sweet banner to mark this new, most important of objectives.
I'm not buying it. Not quite buying it, anyway.
Canada was eliminated from 2010 World Cup qualifying on October 11, 2008 when we lost 3-1 in San Pedro Sula. From that moment on, it seemed to me like Mission 2014 was on. Saying that it begins today makes me naturally wonder what the hell we've been doing the last two years. Besides, the implied rebuke in that slogan - that the 2011 and 2013 Gold Cups matter only insomuch as they help us qualify for 2014 - almost dismays me with its singlemindedness. A trophy is a trophy and surely what matters is winning, not concentrating on one prize to the exclusion of all others.
But I'm just whining now. Canada's back in action for the first time since May. We're back in action in Canada for the first time since October 15, 2008, when we memorably drew the Mexicans 2-2 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. We have a shot at winning our first game since the 2009 Gold Cup (remember that?) against El Salvador. This is an important match on its own, even apart from valuable FIFA ranking points and how it'll help us get into the World Cup.
I'm not there, appallingly, but if ever "I'll be there in spirit" applies it applies to me. I went to the liquor store and made them charge me $12 for a beer just so I could get that full BMO Field ambiance.
The Canadian Soccer Association has been approaching this friendly with more than their usual level of verve. The players and coaches have been active in the media and even the Canadian guys talking about soccer have been going to press conferences and getting in on conference calls. The media, or at least the worthwhile parts, have been going along, with Ben Rycroft in Toronto's Metro penning a heavily-promoted piece about the aforementioned banner and various mainstream outlets taking advantage of the high level of access the CSA's been providing to grill Hart and company about... well, usually about Hoilett, Bunbury, and Jonathan de Guzman, but at least they're doing some grilling.
The CSA is taking this friendly seriously, from the roster on down. It's odd but encouraging to see. It's less encouraging that ticket sales have been so luke-warm: what I've heard is that sales are below 10,000 for the 21,800-seat stadium. Apparently we're missing the big away crowd that's been a part of Canadian attendance successes since time immemorial. With the Canadian National Exhibition running, there may be a good walk-up crowd, but all the same it's hard to picture the boisterous, red, pro-Canada Toronto crowd we all dream of.
Well, that's soccer life in Canada, unfortunately. We maniacs for the national team have long ago come to grips with the fact that, however enthusiastically we promote and however hard we try to infect our fellows with the Canadian virus, we're in the minority. I see an important game for the national team, but the casual sports fan sees an exhibition game against a country he hasn't really heard of in a soccer context but they're from South American so they're probably better than we are (since, says the guy who reads the newspaper and sees FIFA ranks us 101st in the world, we really stink).
It's hard to blame that casual sports fan, really. It's difficult to commit yourself to spending a lot of money so you can watch Canada get thumped by a bunch of players you haven't heard of in a sport you only sort of care about. That's my essential objection to the concept of Mission 2014. Of course qualifying for the World Cup is important, but what's really important is winning games period. Beating Peru today, thumping that Honduran "B" team in Montreal, going into the 2011 Gold Cup, kicking some ass, and taking some names. Getting the Canadian national team in the newspaper with a headline that doesn't involve the word "defeated" or the phrase "match fixing". Making that casual sports fan say "hey, Canada's been doing pretty well lately, maybe I will head out for this World Cup qualifying match." Our FIFA ranking is utterly non-indicative of how good we are, but when you're glancing around and don't know much about soccer that's the first thing you see. Also, it affects the seeding for World Cup qualifying, so it's in Mission 2014's best interests for us to be ranked third or fourth in CONCACAF and get a sweetheart spot when we reach the last round.
If I were to come up with a slogan for the national team, it definitely wouldn't be "Mission 2014 starts today". It would be "just win, baby". The rest takes care of itself.