Canada probably played well in our away match against St. Lucia; we don't know since we didn't see it but the 7-0 scoreline certainly suggests that we controlled the run of play. We certainly played well during the second half against Puerto Rico; not brilliantly but I'd say that if we played that well against Honduras we'd probably draw. Hooray.
Against this, Canada played terribly for ninety minutes at home against a Puerto Rican team that was willing to sit back and absorb everything we threw at them. We played badly for ninety minutes at home against St. Lucia, one of the worst national teams in the world. We played badly for the first half of that match in Puerto Rico. We played badly for almost every minute of the 2011 Gold Cup where we were eliminated in the group stage, although that hour where the United States was sitting back lazily and letting us waste ourselves against Tim Howard weren't as terrible as most of them. Now we've played another awful minutes away to St. Kitts and Nevis. They weren't bunkering like Puerto Rico. They were going on the attack and looking for a vital win in front of their home fans. Yet we played their game, and played it terribly, and got out with a 0-0 draw to a team that earlier drew at home to St. Lucia, whose most dangerous forward was a 39-year-old from the Indonesian league, and which has an Elo ranking of 161.
Canada has advanced from the second round of World Cup qualifying. Against a group of the most astonishing minnows ever aggregated into our attention, we have proven that we're basically better than them. We have established our margin of slight superiority over Puerto Rico, which is not a country. We have shown St. Lucia, which has about the population of Richmond, that we are generally better at soccer than they are. And we've shown St. Kitts and Nevis, which has the GDP per capita of Libya and a smaller population than St. Albert, Alberta, that on a soccer pitch we are their equals.
After one perfunctory and meaningless game against St. Kitts and Nevis in Toronto, Canada will advance to the third round of qualifying where we will play Panama, Honduras, and Cuba. You may recall Honduras when they handed the asses of much better Canadian teams back to them in 2007 and 2009. Panama, of course, eliminated Canada from the most recent Gold Cup despite playing a second eleven and demonstrating all the urgency of lazy buffalo.
Never has the utter impotence of Canadian soccer been more vividly demonstrated. You think Canada might get to the hex? Then you're insane.
One fluke result isn't the end of the world. Every country has them. But this isn't one result and it wasn't a fluke. St. Kitts and Nevis fully earned their point and had some decent opportunities to make it three. They couldn't finish, of course; neither could Canada but the run of play seemed roughly equal in either direction. After a calendar year where Canada has demonstrated that it belongs on the fourth tier of CONCACAF powers with the likes of Nicaragua and Guatemala it ceases to be a fluke.
What excuses do you want to make? The field in Basseterre was bad, people say! (Of course, it wasn't that bad: it wasn't as bad as Foote Field in Edmonton is every week, or as bad as Saputo Stadium in Montreal was in our 2007 qualifier against Honduras, but that's why it's an excuse.) Even if the field was the reason Canada couldn't connect a cross or beat a marker or challenge effectively for the ball, we're in CONCACAF. If Canada can't play on crappy grass then Canada has lost. You think the carpet in San Pedro Sula is billiard-table smooth? You think we'll enjoy Swangard-like field conditions in Panama City or Havana? And that's to say nothing of Canada's equally egregious incompetence at BMO Field against the Puerto Ricans.
The Canadian Soccer Association has never in my lifetime supported a team as intensely as they're supporting this one. The players wanted Stephen Hart; well, they got him. They've been getting better-than-usual air travel and hotels. There's been marketing for the home games, every one of which has been in Toronto like the Toronto crowd has demanded. The CSA has even covered some of Rogers Sportsnet's costs for broadcasting the away games. The result has been bupkis.
So whose fault is this? Stephen Hart is easy to blame and even I have fallen victim. His love for useless players like Dwayne De Rosario is maddening; his insistence on trying useless, low-percentage, vanilla crosses from the wings and playing along with a bunch of amateurs and semi-professionals rather than unleashing our artillery on an unspeakably inferior opponent drives me to drink. Then again, it's not Hart's fault that our midfield is shallow enough he's forced to rely on Jonathan Bourgault and Terry Dunfield, or that we basically have no regular right backs (although Adam Straith did well), or that competent professional scorers like Simeon Jackson and Olivier Occean seem to bring the wrong boots to play with their country. He'd probably love to have a healthy Atiba Hutchinson, and I'm going to do him the service of assuming he'd play a healthy Ali Gerba if he had one.
Hart has a lot of problems. He's not the right coach for this program... but we have too many weak players.
But Canada got the results. They will live to fight another day. Perhaps Canada has a secret second gear. Perhaps, when the going gets tough against Honduras, they'll show the great form that they've shown against, er, nobody, actually. The great form that they showed against Ukraine for the first half of a meaningless friendly before the Ukrainians cottoned on to the fact that we were trying this time? The great form that we probably showed at St. Lucia? Maybe they'll mystically turn it on for six games in the next round. Maybe Canada's miserable history of meaningful games since the second game of the 2009 Gold Cup is simply an elaborate rope-a-dope.
Or, more likely, this team just isn't good enough. It's not extrapolating from one bad game: it's extrapolating from a year of bad games. It's not being gloomy after one boring draw, it's accepting that this team is more frequently awful than it is good against opposition worse than what we'll have to beat in order to qualify for Brazil.
I'll keep going to Doolin's. I'll keep cheering, I'll keep hoping. That's what being a fan is. But, for the next round, we are St. Kitts. We're the team Honduras and Panama will be trying to pad their goal differentials against. And unless something drastic changes, our World Cup will end in the autumn of 2012.