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An Essay on Canada and the Hex

Does Canada's match tomorrow against Honduras matter? In the historical sense, no.

Paul Giamou/Canadian Soccer Association

On Tuesday afternoon, at 1 PM Pacific Daylight Time, the Canadian men's national team will play the Honduran men's national team at San Pedro Sula. If Canada draws or wins, they proceed to the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the famous "hex". If Canada loses, they do not (all presuming Panama - Cuba isn't the upset of the century).

I can say without fear of contradiction that this is the biggest game in Canadian international soccer since, erm, August. But it is the biggest game for the Canadian senior men's national team since either last summer (2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup round robin against Panama) or the summer of 2009 (2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-final against Honduras). Both those games were massive disappointments and god, there's suddenly something very familiar about all this.

Tomorrow is the game of Canada's World Cup 2014 qualifying cycle to date. But if Canada beats Honduras and gets to the hex, it will not mean anything except Canada keeps playing. It will not usher in a new era of Canadian soccer, or bring fans flocking to the Maple Leaf, or make Junior Hoilett rethink his so far utterly implacable antipathy, or achieve much of anything. It will be a very good win, but it won't be an important one except as a milestone to potentially important wins.

We all know this, right? I've seen the occasional tweet that seems to be overinflating the moment, the occasional pub chatter that thinks we're on the verge of something great rather than something which ought to be expected. Tomorrow is a key day for the 2014 qualifying campaign, but that's all.

Once upon a time getting to the hex was our birthright. Now, Canada hasn't advanced that far since the Bob Lenarduzzi era, but that doesn't mean getting into CONCACAF's top six is in any way an achievement. Especially given that this is possibly the worst group in our national history (with a reasonably imposing Panama, a thoroughly washed-up Honduras, and a completely and historically incompetent Cuba). Anything less than advancing to the hex is always a failure, and from this group it would be a catastrophe. "Not sinking the Titanic" is no historical achievement.

There would be more fans at BMO Field for Mexico than for Cuba, but that doesn't mean there was any great revolution; it just means there'll be fans to see the Old Country and that a few more shameless frontrunners will shamelessly frontrun until we're, inevitably, not in front anymore. It has always been thus and always shall be, in every city and almost every country.

It is a fallacy to think that we're living in the revolution, that we're on the verge of the Next Big Thing, that ours is always the most important generation. Despite running the entire Canadian men's national program for the convenience of Toronto, attendances at BMO Field are still thousands below what they were for the Jamaica match in 2008. The theory that it's worth losing the country if it gets a few more fans into Toronto has been exploded forever, on the off chance that there was anyone in the world who based that theory on facts rather than superstition and personal convenience. There is no explosion of interest, and no reason to believe a slightly different stage of qualifying will create one even in the only city the CSA cares about. Only a well-taken but extremely lucky goal against Panama allows tomorrow's game to matter at all.

So cheer on Canada. Be happy if we win, of course: it's one giant step towards a World Cup that might actually make a meaningful difference. But the last thing we need is the tunnel vision of recentism trying to see history in the making when, actually, Canada should just expect a result.