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Building Canada's Lost Soccer Generation

Paul Giamou/Canadian Soccer Association
Paul Giamou/Canadian Soccer Association

I'm afraid I've been sick lately. That's the main reason I've been absent from the blog for the past weeks: nothing serious but the sort of nagging, pain-in-the-ass flu which left me too run-down to be creative or insightful every day. I'm still fighting it to an extent: my voice is weak and husky enough that I temporarily have an excellent Leonard Cohen impression.

That's not all that's made me feel unwell, though. It's not the only thing that's drained my enthusiasm for Canadian soccer. It's old news now, but two weeks ago the Canadian Soccer Association announced that all four of the Canadian men's team's home games, including three World Cup qualifiers, will be played in Toronto.

I won't re-hash the entire argument this afternoon. It's been discussed: magical thinking which presumes that Canada but not its opponent gains an advantage from playing on grass in a city with slightly shorter flights from Europe or the Caribbean, the inmates-running-the-asylum mentality which says "what the players want, the players must get" (I assume these when these people travel by air they insist the passengers fly the plane), and of course the rejection of science and fact in favour of wanting international soccer in their backyard. I've hammered these points time and time again, but logic will never overcome greed.

Nor do I plan to make a passionate appeal that Vancouver should have gotten some of those games. For one thing, I already wrote that article, and for another, if you only have four men's games to spread around in 2012 Vancouver arguably shouldn't get one. We've already had the women's Olympic qualifying, and what a joy it was: it should arguably fill Vancouver's quota for the 2012 season. Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Moncton are all clamouring for their chance.

What I will say is that the vast majority of this country is being robbed of a Canadian national team that is becoming as foreign and distant as any European team. It's easier for the average Canadian to grow attached to England than it is to Canada. This doesn't strike anybody else as insane?

This country has long had a problem with elite soccer players who love Canada as a country but don't care about it as a soccer nation: cutting off so much of the country is not going to help.

Swing by the website of Canada's largest sports broadcaster and you'll see heavy advertising for their coverage of EURO 2012. Although they're improving, the broadcaster of Canada's national teams still prioritizes their European soccer coverage over anything Canadian. Small wonder: Canadian national soccer games draw bad ratings compared to the big European games. How many people do you know who developed their passion for the Canadian national team by watching on TV?

If you're watching a Canadian game on television, and especially if you're riding a plane or a bus to Toronto for a match, odds are very high that you're already a die-hard fan. What about the rest of Canada, who have the European game promoted to them as the very pinnacle of world soccer, who turned out in big numbers to watch the EURO 2012 draw, and who might visit Sportsnet's website to find the play-by-play man of Canada's national team mocking the non-Toronto parts of Canada for their inferiority?

We've already lost Owen Hargreaves of Calgary, Asmir Begovic of Edmonton, and Jacob Lensky of Vancouver. You'd think these stories would be a cautionary tale. Toronto fans are fond of remembering how little they saw of the national team while Junior Hoilett and Jonathan de Guzman were growing up; you'd think somebody could connect the dots.

Instead, an entire generation of Canadians is growing up in an atmosphere the Canadian national team is every bit as distant and foreign as Manchester United or Spain, with the flip side that those other two teams get more press coverage, better television coverage, and might win something.

Don't tell me that qualifying for the World Cup will cure all ills. The 1986 World Cup didn't lead to a "golden generation": players who grew up through 1986 matured for our catastrophic attempt to qualify for 2010 and make up the core of the current, third-rate team. That's presuming that playing in Toronto will give Canada an advantage over opponents that are also playing in Toronto: a leap of faith so wide it sprains the mind. Canadian fans who watch and cheer for Spain aren't going to switch horses because Canada fluked into Brazil and got a chance to lose 4-0 to Ghana. If you grow up with the big European teams that you have an easier time watching than the pathetic Canadian one, "qualifying for the World Cup" does not count as an achievement.

An entire generation of Canadian soccer fans and players with no emotional attachment to Canadian soccer. It's great for 16% of the country. For the other 84%, I'll see you at EURO 2016.