I am sometimes asked which national team a Canadian soccer supporter really hates. Is it the Americans, our traditional rivals in literally everything, athletic and otherwise? How about the Trinidad and Tobagans, Jack Warner's little prize puppet who also victimized us in one of the worse-officiated World Cup qualifying games of all time? Perhaps it's Honduras, which has dealt us some pretty horrifying defeats over the years?
There are good arguments for all these countries, but I can say with some assurance that the national team we really hate most is Canada.
Last night, we crossed swords with Peru, at home, with very nearly the best team we could possibly have assembled. Peru was missing some key players due to injury, whereas we were missing only Mike Klukowski and our usual rogue's gallery of potential defectors. Peru's manager, Sergio Markarián, was making his first appearance commanding his national side, whereas Stephen Hart had been with most of these players in some role forever. Theoretically, we ought to have had this one.
We didn't, of course. We didn't come close. We lost 2-0 and utterly deserved to. Because we're Canada, and that's what we do better than anything else. We lose. At least not many fans in the less-than-half-empty BMO Field were around to watch our unequivocal disgrace on home soil, since apart from the Voyageurs most of those 10,000 were there to support the Peruvian national team.
I held off writing the post-game until today because I wanted to sleep on it and calm myself down. No such luck. I'm trying to think of a single thing that went right. It's hard. I think I can force myself into it but it's hard.
So here's the list of things that pleased me. I was impressed by Adam Straith - again. This marks something like the third consecutive game in which I've seen Straith and said "wow, that guy looks really poised and confident." He takes some of the responsibility for the second Peruvian goal - he should have cut out that cross - but that was pretty much his only mistake in ninety minutes. There was very little to complain about and what a shame for him the only blemish was so categorically dealt with by Peru. He was my Canadian man of the match and by the way, he was the youngest player on the team. At age nineteen, he became the first player to wear his age as his jersey number since Frank Yallop first called up a 3-year-old Jaime Peters. I don't want to say he's Franz Beckenbauer quite yet... okay, maybe I do. I need something to cling on to.
Part marks to Simeon Jackson for the most complete appearance I've seen from him in a Canada shirt for some time. Stephen Hart's decision to play the accomplished professional poacher Jackson on the wing was... odd, and certainly Simeon crossed like a guy who hadn't had to do much crossing for a while. But with our midfield largely out of it Jackson showed most of the enterprising spirit we had in attack and had a few pretty cheeky runs.
At that point, I really think I'm out of puff for positivity. Not everyone was terrible, but nobody else played up to the level we expect of them. Atiba Hutchinson was fair, for example, but against opposition like Peru Atiba Hutchinson has to be an awful lot more than fair. There was an awful lot more that just out-and-out infuriated me.
Let's take Rob Friend as exhibit A. Rob Friend has never scored a goal for Canada in either the Gold Cup or World Cup qualifying. His two international goals have come against pretty good clubs; Jamaica and a little country called Brazil. But there are only two of them, and the most recent came two and a half years ago. Friend has those two international goals in twenty-five caps, meaning he scores once every 0.08 international appearances. That's pretty poor. Of course, the excuse is that he doesn't get service, which totally excuses his standing around doing nothing except occasionally completely botching a first touch like his feet were made of granite and essentially putting Canada down to ten men for the entire game whereas at least fellow non-scorer Simeon Jackson runs around and generates chances and even a fat guy like Ali Gerba manages to power in goals with the exact same quality service.
If Rob Friend is really a terrific scorer whose inability to do anything internationally beyond consume our oxygen is because of his bad service, I think we have more than abundant evidence that he will never get the precisely placed balls flicked to his largely motionless, inert, but gigantic body which will allow him to score for Canada again as long as he lives. So let's stop calling up that gigantic pile of useless and start bringing in strikers who can score more frequently than Paul Stalteri.
Speaking of Paul Stalteri, I'm choosing to assume that a recent lack of first team minutes explains why he no longer seems to know the dimensions of a soccer field or be able to keep track of opposing players. I have enough respect for him to give him the benefit of the doubt there.
The Toronto FC contingent was staggeringly useless and I actually feel bad that so much fuss was made about them now: I'd much rather have seen them all in Dallas last night helping Preki out than in Toronto wrapping their hands around Stephen Hart's throat and squeezing. Dwayne De Rosario, while not as useless as Rob Friend (for that would be very useless indeed) might have been the primary reason our attack rotted on the vine; after a few charges and a bit of rough handling from Peru that De Rosario surely must be used to after his time in MLS, Dwayne decided to go into full-out useless sulk mode and when he got the ball either played it back impotently or lost it even more impotently than that. Julian de Guzman actually had a pretty fair first half, I thought, in his usual holding midfielder role but struggled in the second as Peru's speed started to expose him and he didn't get enough help from his fellow midfielders. I actually think Preki may have roofied their water bottles just to teach Hart a lesson, they were so poor.
Nana Attakora deserves a paragraph of his own. He was supposed to be in the starting lineup, you see, they say in Kevin McKenna's place. But Stephen Hart handed in an incorrect lineup card and as a result Attakora was ineligible for the match. It was a singularly Claude Anelka thing for the normally reliable Hart to do, and as a result the Toronto FC player I was most interested in seeing won't be seen at all. The three will be returning to Toronto and the only confirmed replacement is Terry Dunfield of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who will miss tonight's game against the Puerto Rico Islanders and yet I don't feel overwhelming rage at Canada daring to call upon one of Vancouver's stars for an international friendly. How peculiar. But more on that tonight.
The truth is, it was a miserable game and if we play like that against Honduras there won't be enough of Canada left to take home in a plastic baggie. This is normally where I should say I'm glad I didn't spend $800 to go to Toronto and see it in person, but I'm not because, in the true tradition of the Canadian soccer supporter, I firmly believe I could have changed things had I been there. At the very least, I could have picked Rob Friend off with a well-tossed brick and saved us all a lot of bother.