Canada at the Gold Cup: What’s Your Problem Guys?

Canada at the Gold Cup: What’s Your Problem Guys?

Ok, so I have been a soccer fan to some extent for nearly half a century. And yet still the powers that be in Canadian soccer circles refuse to avail themselves of my genius. Yeah. I know I’ve never played the game, don’t understand a large swath of the laws, and barely have any financial stake in the business. But why should that preclude my next rant? Here it comes. You’re welcome.


The Gold Cup Squad Has Issues

Ok, based on the social media feedback in the small sphere of soccer fans I belong to, there are problems with this iteration of the CanMNT. Let me see if I can understand the crux of the argument. It seems they suck. And that is all tied to an inability to beat Guadaloupe and Guatemala.

So I guess some of the questions are:

Do they really suck?

What are their issues?

Is anyone else at fault?

Can it be fixed?

Could it be the result of wearing season after season of insipid, uninspiring fashion?

Does Canada need to start thinking outside of the box?

Let’s break it all down and see what can be done in from my perspective.

How Bad Are They

So according to the angrier of social media’s basement-dwelling posters, Canada’s Gold Cup team sucks and are a complete embarrassment. This must be because they are failing to live up to their past history of tournament success. Canada has one the greatest legacies amongst Gold Cup victors. They are one of only a handful of teams to have won the Gold Cup on multiple occasions.

CONCACAF Gold Cup Canada Soccer / Tony Quinn CONCACAF Champions Craig Forrest Paul Fenwick Tony Menezes Jason de Vos Paul Stalteri Carlo Corazzin Davide Xausa Jim Brennan Jeff Clarke Mark Watson Richard Hastings Garret Kusch Paul Peschisolido Elvis Thomas Martin Nash Pat Onstad Dwayne De Rosario Robbie Aristodemo Holger Osieck Bruce Twamley Les Wilson Kevin Muldoon Alex McKechnie Morgan Quarry

Ok, it has only been twice. In 1985 Mexico didn’t play as hosts of the World Cup and the USA was already eliminated before the last round. But it counts, technically, as the qualification for Mexico ’86 doubled as the Gold Cup that year. And the second victory was the one we all remember so vividly, the tournament of the coin toss. Of course, it has dawned on me that if you are a soccer bro’ in your early twenties raging behind a keyboard you don’t actually remember that at all.

I guess what I am trying to point out is this. Canada rarely wins this event. When they do it takes a bit of luck. (I’m referring to ’85, no Mexico involved. 2000 had a coin toss, sure, but that Canada team held South Korea and Costa Rica, and with all to play for – beat Mexico, Trinidad and Colombia plus boasted the Golden Boot winner and the Player of the Tournament. Not lucky, damn good. thank you Holger).

So to say this version sucks we have to admit that most versions of Canada’s Gold Cup teams are not so great already. 2021 was the finest example of a good team in recent memory. Losing in the semis to Mexico after dropping one round robin match, to the US. Of course if you removed Davies, Larin, Buchanan, Johnston, Eustaquio, Corbeanu, et al from that team….I think you’d have this team, no?

So all that is to say, this team is not historically suck-y, just undermanned. And that brings us to the issues.


Lay Down on the Couch, Let’s Talk About Your Issues Canada

Ok, so let’s start with the worst kept Canadian secret. We aren’t that deep as a soccer nation on the international stage. But any team in Concacaf outside of the two biggest powerhouses in Mexico and the USA would struggle at the Gold Cup without their top couple players. But Canada isn’t missing their top couple players. They are missing arguably their top starting 11. No Davies, David, Larin, Eustaquio, Kone, Johnston, Adekugbe. A horrific injury in the MLS final means maybe our best keeper is out (I love Borjan, but it is a worthy discussion who our number one should be).

LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, has made fifteen appearances for Canada. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

And the stars still leftover from The World Cup are defenders who, while still important, are not the straw that stirs the drink. Miller and Vittoria are key cogs, but key cogs in our weakest area nonetheless. I’d argue the biggest get for this World Cup team is Richie Laryea. He has looked wonderful. But he has suffered from soccer colonialism…more on that later.


Next issue, self-hatred. We have some real issues with loving ourselves and we need some daily affirmations. We are good enough, strong enough, and gosh-darn it, people like us. So why don’t we?

Case in point, the US is rolling at this tournament so far with an MLS-based team. The nation with the 2nd most players in the MLS is Canada. Imagine a team built of established Canadian MLSers. Dayne St. Clair or Jonathan Sirois in goal. Mathieu Choiniere in the midfield. Lukas MacNaughton – now free of TFC’s madness – is showing MLS quality. Kyle Hiebert has 2 goals and has played in 17 matches for one of the MLS’s best teams. Our young defenders are dying for a chance to prove themselves…so slot in the lovely, but aged Steven Vittoria, because…Europe.

The omission of Mathieu Choinière has been a point of contention for many fans Vincent Éthier)

Sigh. We have to love ourselves and our local soccer more. And I know this will get me torn to shreds, but how about even dipping a toe into the Canada’s Professional Soccer league. Didic is a boss. Sean Young has potential. Campbell and Pacius can score at least as much as Brym. And even Choiniere the elder at Forge is known for big game goals. My man scored at the Azteca! Mo Babouli was named to a Concacaf Best 11! That kind of experience doesn’t grow on trees. Think about the Dream Teams of US Basketball. They even saved a spot or two for up-and-coming college kids.


Dual nationals. They are all the rage. Gotta lock ’em up! They’re our only hope (Cue Princess Leia/R2-D2 memes). But are they? In order to lock up a dual national, they have to commit young. And in order to predict how great a young player will become as he matures, you have to have a keen eye for scouting and development. Do we have that? I’d argue Canada Soccer’s issues run deep, and currently our successes are surface level. So giving up a ton of development minutes and opportunity in a nation that doesn’t provide many (see lack of camps and a massive loyalty to old guys as reasons) is a real barrier to developing homegrown talent. I would love to have young stars from around the world beating down our door. I’d argue that a better way to do that is build up the culture and development here, win some stuff, and wait for guys on the fence elsewhere to come to you. Plus, we risk losing guys with a passport who play here at home if they don’t see opportunities. Anyone heard of this Stefan Mitrovic guy? He is from Hamilton and played for Hamilton United, now partnered with Forge FC, and at TFC 2 in his youth. We risk losing our own talent here while we are caught looking in the telescope across the sea.

Luca Koleosho of Espanyol is a high profile dual national Canada has been targeting

Soccer Colonialism. Look it’s a problem. And it is always going to be made worse by having an English coach. Think American Exceptionalism but with a cup of tea and the monarchy. This is how the English think of soccer – “Everything can be made better by doing it the old-fashioned way.” It is so frustrating.

Now before you think I’ve gone of the rails, hear me out. Canada has a king. That’s right. The country that has trucks drive to the Capital to throw tantrums about the tyranny of Trudeau, has an actual posh-talking, butler-bossing, crown-wearing, taxpayer-largesse-enjoying throne sitter. That is how much we defer to the old ways.

So why would it shock you to find out that Concacaf’s 3rd largest nation has fallen under the spell of Colonial Football. While to some degree this has always been the case in Canada (I mean, if hearing Nigel Reed and Luke Wileman call soccer games on the telly doesn’t just put you at ease and make you feel like a cuppa, then something’s wrong with you mate!)


But it has gotten out of hand. Now to be fair, while Shakespeare’s “royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise…precious stone set in the silver sea… this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…” is pretty cool, it still hasn’t come home. And to be even more fair, the colonial powers are all of Europe in soccer. Sorry, football. We are supposed to call it football here in the home of the CSA. And this is where things get truly “Canada Only” weird.

In order to prove you are good enough to play for Canada, you must land yourself in that most heavenly of realms, Europe. Because the best of the best ply their trade in Europe. But here’s the rub. National teams aren’t magically better because their players went to Europe to be kiss’d by god on their mortal feet. They were bought by Europe for their heavenly feet and plopped down in every television/streaming executive’s most cherished gathering. And so the reason Argentina is World Cup Champion’s isn’t solely that Messi played in Spain or France, or that the their roster is littered with players from across Europe’s Big 5. (Although they also had a player from MLS on that squad, Thiago Almada, so maybe some respect for Concacaf please). It is a classic chicken and the egg. Those players showed amazing talent, so Europe plucked them out. And decades of proving themselves as footballing nations through World Cups and Copa America’s did that. Then Europe came knocking to plunder their treasures. Non-Europe built leagues, legends and players at home. Then they were sought out. They didn’t run off, hat in hands, to beg for a spot at the European tables.


This is where Canada gets it so badly wrong. Is the US struggling in this Gold Cup tournament? No, they are thriving. And almost all of the talent on offer is playing in their homegrown league. Something they are proud of. And they should be.

Zator, Waterman, Loturi, MacNaughton all had to leave Canada’s “little league that could” to prove to the powers that be that they were worthy. Surely, keen observers of talent would’ve seen that they were already talented enough to deserve a shot and that the footballing alchemists at Ross County and Korona Kielce aren’t responsible for turning Canadian lead into international gold.

Dominik Zator, previously of York United – David Chant / York United

And here is where I return to the nearly tragic tale of Richie Laryea. Having an English coach with European biases is not all it’s cracked up to be. Richie set off on a course that could have cost him his spot on the national team if he was a lesser footballer. Less of a fighter. Going to England to prove he was deserving of playing for Canada was as ruinous as it is short-sighted. He was getting to play day-in and day-out in a quality league. (Again, Argentina’s National team has a player there). Then he headed to Mother England to prove he was good enough for Canada. Canadians are held in no-esteem around the world. So they have to succeed at levels way over the top, just to get a crack at a line-up. This is because the Colonial powers have biases too. The Larins, Davids, Phonzies of Canada are athletic exceptions who are raw and need to be shaped into the Euro mould. Yes we should want our players to play in the best leagues, on the best teams with the most resources. But Europe for the sake of Europe ain’t it.

Even within leagues there are massive disparities. If you think Victor Loturi at Ross County is having anything like the experience of Alistair Johnston at Celtic, you need to put down your bong. One is playing in Cup Finals, massive pressure-packed derbies and was being coached by a former World Cup qualifying Australian manager with professional titles in Asia, changed now to a former Liverpool manager with Champions League experience and Premier League success (To say nothing of an invincible treble season in Scotland). The other is looking forward to coach rides to Inverness to play the Highland Derby and subsisting on Pie and Bovril (actually he isn’t because Caley Thistle is in the Championship still this year, but you get my point).


And here is another massive point that gets ignored in the rush to prove yourself in Europe. What does your passport say? Canadian kids with parents and grandparents from Europe find it much easier to get a place at the European tables. Man, what does it say about our current footballing culture that lineage is important. How can you get more colonial? Creating unnecessary barriers is not helpful in the long run.

And let’s face it, the coach is trying to have his cake and eat it too. In his Guatemala post game comments, he waxed lyrical about the Concacaf of it all. Which I loved. But there is a certain irony that a coach would talk about how hard it is to play on the road in the Americas, and be the road team when you are so close at home, then ship his charges over to the very alien universe that is European soccer. He spoke of the humidity of Houston, but wants his Concacaf-based players to test themselves in the temperate climes of Hampshire and Saxony. I hate to sound like a xenophobe, because I really love the world, but we need to build something here. The world needs more Canada, not more England-lites.


Finally, money, money, money. This is where I’d normally rail on the CSA and the new suits at CSB. So why break with tradition?

CSA is an absolute tire fire. But Concacaf is quite an accelerant. How can we have the Concacaf Cartel led by a Canadian thug, and not be funneling monetary success into our federation’s pockets? Oh the shame of not being quite shameless enough. What is the point of being at the top of the FIFA hierarchy if not to enrich ourselves in a footballing sense?

Victor Montagliani, FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF president (Ben Gray/AP)

Ol’ Vic has been a VP of FIFA for a while. He played a major role in re-shaping Concacaf tournaments, and he helped get a plucky bunch of businessmen to start a soccer league in Canada. (More on the CSB to follow). But it seems like he is raining down all his power too narrowly in my opinion. Sure you should make certain to find your disgraced friends cushy jobs at Concacaf after being forced out of the CSA in ignominious fashion. (How are ya Dr. Nick?). But dream bigger too. Grow the game broader in Concacaf by not playing every meaningful tournament as a US home game for example. Imagine a Nation’s League weekend in Mexico City or Toronto or San Jose or Kingston? (Of course I’m just kidding about the latter three little cities). Or a Gold Cup spread across the Caribbean or Central America. I know, who cares if the youth of those nations never see a single game in the premier tournament of their federation live. Dreams are for Americans. They have a whole saying about it.


And look, we know the myopic CSA got hustled by the CSB. But if you want something, give ’em something. The CSA has an opportunity to build a really great partnership with some people with money and an interest in foo-ccer or socc-ball or whatever it’s called here. They aren’t quite sure cuz most of their money is tied up in a sport already called Canadian Football here apparently (it has its own league and everything) so cut them some slack.

Look, I kid because I love. But let’s look at some solutions to this whole soccer mess, that, while bigger than the Gold Cup, would definitely help us here.


Solution Time

Own John Herdman’s words. “Amazing. Absolutely amazing. This is Concacaf. You’re in Houston and you feel like you are in the centre of Guatemala.”

Yeah, exactly. Concacaf is a slog, where it is hot and humid and loud and crazy. And in the end you’re likely to get Concacaf’d. (They have a verb for it). So embrace that. I mean we all watch enough UEFA. Whether it is our weekly Premier League fix like the rest of the planet. The Champion’s League. Europa League if you trace your roots back to Seville. Conference League if you support West Ham for some reason. And of course the Euros every four years. And now you can do almost all that in the women’s game too.

But man, you don’t know the passion of Concacaf until you’ve experienced it first hand. It is otherworldly. Country’s Presidents inserting themselves in matches, then handing out cash in opposing locker rooms. Taking tropical countries up to Edmonton for a frigid spanking in front of 45,000 + brave souls. The Finals always played in the heart of the soccer world…the USA. Man what more could you want?

Well I’ll tell you what you didn’t even know you wanted.

You want Canada to do a few things. Concacaf to do a few more. And corporations to bring it on home. Told ya you didn’t know you wanted this.


Number One:

Canada’s Gold Cup teams need to be North American based going forward. We have talent here. Will we dominate and always win? Nope. But we can compete. And make it exciting. And maybe pull off an upset. That is where Canadian Soccer should be anyway. Embrace it.

And notice I didn’t say MLS-based. This will tie in with the corporations soon too. But Canada has a lot of talented players playing here. The MLS’ Big Three lead the way. But the US teams have some solid Canadian talent too (Farsi, MacNaughton, Hiebert in the US; Raposo, Choiniere, Laryea, Nelson, etc. in Canada).

City SC defender Kyle Hiebert, left, turns with the ball away from Earthquakes forward Cristian Espinoza (10) during a match at CityPark in St. Louis on Saturday, March 18, 2023. (David Carson)

But taking them all from mostly, 3 teams is a big commitment from MLS clubs in mid-season. So also grab some talent from a bit further down. The CPL and L1C are both churning out talent. Is it World Cup worthy talent? Not yet. Is it Gold Cup ready? You damn skippy it is. Remember THE Alistair Johnston was sent off for Vaughn Azzurri against HFX Wanderers in the Canadian Championship just a few years ago!

There are CPL teams who have players who’ve been Concacaf’d. You can’t coach 7 feet is a basketball saying. Well I say you can’t coach Concacaf’d. Once you’ve seen it, it lives in you. David Choiniere and Mo Babouli have it. So do Sean Young and Didic. And others will too some day. Let’s tap into that lived experience.

Plus, we have a shortage of camps, because, you know, money. (And fiscal mismanagement, parochialism, in-fighting, etc). But having people be Canadian-based means relatively shorter trips for getting together. It means much more familiarity amongst players. They know each other from league play, academy play, U-17 camps, bumping into each other at the mall. You get me. So lean in to that.

Plus a cursory look at the teams we struggle against – Guatemala, Costa Rica, the dreaded Honduras – will show you that everyone doesn’t have to be in England or Germany to help form a good TEAM. So many of their stars play on the top sides in their own leagues. And Forge FC and Pacific FC have shown that our guys can hang with them. Plus, these guys all have something to prove. They want to move up, and a showcase for them and their league can’t hurt.

Let’s support local soccer.


Number Two:

Concacaf, share the love. Gold Cup is too often, should be every 2 years. But hey, money is money. I am not that naive.

Canadas group stage game against Guadeloupe was the fir GOLD Cup game played in Canada since 2015 (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

So let’s just move it every other tournament. Canada can host a 16-team tourney. Mexico can too, easily. So can a Panama/Costa Rica joint bid. Or Jamaica/Cuba/Puerto Rico/Trinidad. Seriously, how amazing would it be to travel with the Voyageurs to Central America in numbers, with the American Outlaws and local fans. Oh and how do I know Canada can make a tournament work? In 2015 the women showed us. Build the game through soccer tourism here in Concacaf. A little resort life. Or island getaway. Soccer cruises. The sky is the limit.

Number Three:

Welcome the businesses. Starting with the oft maligned Canada Soccer Business. Look, those guys have chucked a bunch of money into the pro game here in Canada where not many have in the past. Kudos.

And I get how so many fans of the National Teams are mad because finally relative success is here -and companies are lining up by our meagre standards – but the money isn’t flowing in the right ways necessarily. I’m not here to re-open old wounds, but to look ahead, because optimism is my drug of choice!

So why doesn’t Canada Soccer give a little to get a little (I know, I know, you think they gave too much already in the near 20 year deal, me too). But it was business done. Let me show you what CSA can do to scratch CSB’s back and get some of that corporate scratch back.

Make Halifax a Canada Soccer Training hub. They have an international airport. They have a pro soccer team on the verge of a right-sized permanent stadium that will be quaint. They represent the shortest flight to Europe from any CSB property. Sure Toronto will still get all the big games. But we have to play Honduras, Curacao, Guatemala et al somewhere. Why not there? And during Nations League windows, why not train there? And before you come at me with weather and location issues, remember King George V’s pitch and the Iceteca? Legendary stuff.


While we are at it open joint training camps on either coast. Starlight is a treasure (We’ll have to chat with Rugby Canada, but hey roommates keep prices down, right?) And its mild weather would be priceless for the colder windows. Plus it really invests more fans (see money) when more people see the game in the ultimate element: Live! (And doesn’t Herdman live there? Help his work/life balance with a nicer commute).

And this does double duty by increasing soccer’s footprint leading to potentially more CPL/L1C fans. Business types would love that. And judging by Commissioner Noonan’s willingness to get games in CPL stadia, this could happen.

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Let’s Get Weird

Again we don’t have to be mini-England. Let’s be Canada. I know there will be massive groans and gnashing of teeth. But hear me out. The CPL All-Star game. Are there a million things that make me hate how MLS does it? You bet, baby! Do I think we can use it for good, not evil? You bet again, baby!

We can’t afford Euro games in September or November windows. Ok, that sucks. But fill some CanPL Stadiums with a CPL All-Star Game vs CanMNT. Especially with the CanPL ending in October, the November window would be a great time. Players still under contract till end of the year. Time to meet up and practice together. Camp can be attended by CSA coaches for scouting purposes. I am obviously biased, but the first ever CanPL All-Star vs CanMNT game can be played at Tim Horton’s Field where support for the MNT/XNT is solid. It is also home to the most storied team in the CanPL’s young history. (I see you sneaking up PFC). THF is close to Pearson Airport for travel complaints and close to home for many CanadaMNT players. This could make money and keep travel costs low, while creating some buzz in Canadian soccer circles and generating gameday receipts. Just a thought

And I know there will be haters, but as supporters can’t we just swallow our pretentiousness for the greater good this one time?

Don’t answer that!

Or, build the Woodbine Stadium. Ok, so I am all over the map with the Home of Canada Soccer. But if CSB can get a deep-pocketed Euro-owner to take over York, that stadium proposal for a national centre of excellence/Home of York United, may come to fruition. And based on Dr Nick’s untendered approach to build one in the GTA during his CSA reign in there may buy-in from the CSB this time.

Give them marketable assets, as they say in the parlance of the times.

And what else can the CSA do? Well as alluded to earlier they can ensure a couple CPL “development spots” on the National Team. Much like how the CPL is committed to developing Canadian Youth through their U-21 minutes, CSA could demand CPL Development slots. They could guarantee that two players currently on CPL rosters be called up in windows to camps with the National Teams. That would be a massive marketing win for CPL to be able to hype National Team member and CPL star Shaan Hyundal for example on OneSoccer or out in the local CPL communities. I know what your thinking, “we need every spot possible for locking up the most recent dual national plying his trade in the English National League, or Ligue 3 or something.”

We’ll survive it. And CSB might even help fund it as a marketing expense behind the scenes. Good trade-off. I don’t know if you heard, but CSA could use the money.

Ok, so don’t think I’ve forgotten my rant about Nike’s gear. I haven’t, because clothes make the man. Want another revenue stream? CSA work with CSB/CanPLs partners at Macron. I own more jerseys than I know what to do with. They don’t always hit it out of the park, but I don’t own a single one that looks like an 11th hour remembrance of a grade 9 homework project. Orange sleeves on a template Nike. You had all semester!

I pushed to the front of the line for my Maynard Thii Hayqwtun Johnny Jr. designed kit from PFC. I dig the grey Lancaster Bomber inspired Forge kit I lost. Halifax’s kit with the plaid collar or the Barrett’s Privateers sound bite, beautiful. Ottawa’s unique red and white stripes…ok, calm down I have to get in at least one Atleti dig per article. It’s contractual.

But the point is a company like Macron could create jerseys with the passion of a smaller (but by no means small) outfit that puts more time into unique offerings than maintaining their brand recognition. I mean for a federation so cash-strapped missing the most ubiquitous cash grab in the sport seems almost visionally inept, even for us.


In The End

Ok my view is a little more big picture than how to win against Cuba in the last match from a tactics & formation point of view. But I’ll sum it up

We don’t suck, really. We just were never as good as we let ourselves believe on that magical qualifying run. Our high end talent masks our tactical and team play deficiencies against the best of Concacaf but fall miles short on the biggest stages.

Canadas draw with Guatemala has left them needing to beat Cuba to have any chance of advancing to the Last 8 of the 2023 GOLD Cup (Carmen Mandato, Getty Images)

However, if we took a page out of the book of successful smaller programs in our region and focused on building local success at the league level at home, and added the super star pieces to a strong base as they are available, we’d be much further ahead next tournament.

And by choosing to learn to play the Concacaf way with those local boys, we might just start to become regulars at the big dance. And then we can learn to be more like our colonial masters there. Time to show there is no shame in building for Concacaf.

After all, home is where the heart is. Or charity starts at home. Or a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

I don’t really know what mindless pap to end on. But the sentiment is this. Who cares what everyone else thinks? No one in the world cares about Canada Soccer beyond our Voyageurs message boards and local youth pitches. Many don’t even care in the Great White North, cuz the NHL starts in a couple of months. So let’s have a bit of fun with it, do things differently and start having a laugh again.

Y’know a little more CAN-do and less CAN’t-do, amirite?

Oh, I guess I did find the right tripe to end on.

Bon chance. les Rouges!

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