CanXNT at the World Cup: No Excuses

CanXNT at the World Cup: No Excuses

There is a lot of hand-wringing, finger-pointing and mud-flinging on social media right now with regard to the CanXNT’s exit at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Everyone has a take. I have been trying to steer clear of social media because everyone is emotional and over-the-top. And so would I be if I engaged. However, I prefer to enjoy soccer as much as possible, and it is easy to get dragged down into the muck with some of these perspectives.

So I am going to try a new tack for me. Diplomacy and tact. Nuance and research.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

I called my article, “CanXNT at the World Cup: No Excuses” for a reason. I am not interested in the excuses, but the reasons. And the voices from the ether seem to be conflating the two, as is easy to do.

So let’s have a look at what some of the issues are.

Gloom and Doom

For me, the first reason for all the gloom in doom now is the inverse attitude before the games. An over-the-top optimism.

I mean it is (was) hard to not have optimism in this group. These are Canada’s Golden Stars. The defending Olympic gold medalists. And everyone in their group was lower ranked.*

*World rankings mean everything, just ask Belgium’s MNT. Or Nigeria’s Women.

This CanXNT is home to the biggest names in the history of Canadian Women’s Soccer, full of greatness and accomplishment. The greatest ever international goalscorer, Christine Sinclair, in her last hurrah, still netting goals in one of the world’s top leagues, even if not quite at the clip of yesteryear.

Stars plying their trade at Juventus, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United, Olympique Lyonnaise, Portland Thorns, etc. Some of the best talent ever assembled under the Maple Leaf. So duh, we gotta be jacked about that, right?

Writing on the Wall

Now, hindsight is 20/20 but it wasn’t that difficult to see some things weren’t what they seemed, but Canadians are sometimes unable to shade their eyes in the presence of sunshine. I think that is a fair description of some of us. Here are some signs we decided to ignore.

We brought two forwards who had barely played recently due to injury onto a team that struggles to put the ball in the net. Not ideal. Injury makes it hard enough, but the lack of match fitness that accompanies that compounds it. This was especially hard to swallow personally since my favourite Canadian forward wasn’t invited. Clarissa Larisey has six goals from 17 appearances for the top-of-the-table side in Sweden, a hotbed of WoSo soccer talent. C’est La vie. I personally think some combination of Huitema, with Larisey and Lacasse making runs of her hold-up play/quick feet would have been great. Especially with a fresh Viens and Leon then coming in to run at and boss tired defenders later. But that is exactly why they don’t pay me the big bucks.

The Road To Olympic Gold FC13 Podcast

Welcome back Ball Boys and Girls, we know that we have been away for a while on a small break, and we apologize, but we are back and ready to dive into it! And what a better way to kick things off than with an Olympic win! That's right, today Andrae and Thomas sit down to discuss the masterclass performance by the Canadian Women's National team, as they took on Jamaica in the first of two games. It seems as Bev Priestman has really honed the team after their shocking exit from the Women's World Cup, and now have the sites set on Olympic Gold. So jump on in, and buckle up for your source of everything Canadian. ———————————————————— Thanks so much to todays sponsor SeatGeek! When you need tickets, but can't seem to find them, head on over to the #1 trusted name in the ticket resale business, and use our code FC13Pod to get $20 off your first order. ————————————————————- Be sure to follow us on Twitter @FC13Podcast, and our parent account, @13thManSports for all of your sports needs!

But we beat all these teams in the lead-up. Sure. We beat Australia twice pre-tourney. And we handled Nigeria. But context matters. I was at the game at Starlight where Nigeria tied Canada. The signs were there if you wanted to see them.

And a wounded beast at their home tournament is different than a friendly. Australia was always going to be tough, but their slip-up against Nigeria was costly, to us. (Although at some point we just have to give it to Nigeria, no? They tied us and beat Australia while being ranked below both).

So is this team as good now as it was during the Olympics? The straightforward answer? No.

I mean let’s just do the simplest of math. CanXNT minus the Minister of Defence makes them a little less great.

Stephanie Labbé was a thief in Canada’s Gold Medal run. Sheridan is an amazing keeper, with a lot of experience and accomplishments. But I’d argue Steph was a bit better. Plus Buchanan was sick? I mean that doesn’t sound better than the Olympic lineup. (I have a point about Janine Beckie in a bit too).

What Does History Say?

And if you think I am being unfair about how I am treating this version of CanXNT let’s compare it to other sunny versions. The 2015 World Cup team was ranked 8th in the World. They scored 4 goals in 5 games, getting knocked out in the quarters by England. That was played with the home field advantage with some of Canada’s biggest ever soccer attendances to boot (Men or Women). They drew New Zealand and eeked one out over China, while drawing with the Netherlands. All were teams ranked lower than them. And this was arguably with Sinclair already beyond her glorious prime, but better than today. (I’d say the 2003 World Cup in the USA was prime Sinclair, but it continued for a long time after).

Christine Sinclair (12) of Team Canada celebrates with Julia Grosso (7) following their team’s victory in the penalty shootout in the women’s gold medal match between Canada and Sweden on Day 14 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at International Stadium Yokohama on Aug. 6, 2021, in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

How about 2019? Canada snuck past 46th-ranked Cameroon 1-0. Beat winless New Zealand 2-0 and lost to the Netherlands this time. Sweden dispatched them in the Round of 16.

So I guess what I’m asking is, why is a team, now older and arguably less talented, (through injury or selection), expected to go further on the world’s biggest stage as so many other teams improve? Anyone looking at this dispassionately can see a simple World Cup pattern. Successively earlier exits each year.

Fool’s Gold?

That Gold Medal is the reason Canada flattered to deceive. Look, they deserved that hard-fought title. But look deeper.

Our top goalscorer was Janine Beckie with 2 (Fleming added 2, both from the spot). Beckie wasn’t here for the World Cup.

Who did we beat to get to the Gold? Well, weirdly, only Chile and the USA in regular time. We tied Great Britain and host Japan in the round-robin. Then after a nil-nil with Brazil, Canada won on penalties. A penalty in regular time was how we beat the States. Then penalties again versus Sweden for Gold. CanXNT did it, and that is all that matters. But so many games in the balance, down to the finest of margins. Draws and roulette, in the end, saw us get the gold.

And for a nation of rabid fans, that result shielded our eyes from the truth a bit. While we can play with anyone on the day, we were never built to dominate the way the USA or Spain can (or could – the world is catching up to others too in this World Cup, non?). And that’s ok. We’re amongst the best, but when the chips are down, we are usually also-rans. Playing resolute defence and taking the few chances we get. But our fanbase has a belief that we are so much more than the facts bear out.

And that brings me to the discussion of why. Why do the fans feel Canada is better than the sum of its parts? As mentioned that gold medal plays a part. But in reality, the answer is simpler. The individuals are better than Canada realizes, and that is by necessity.

An F for Football

Canada is a failed Soccer State that is propped up by individual greatness. And this is not meant as a simple pile-on of the current-day CSA. (Though it merits a pile-on of biblical proportions for its ineptitude). This goes back a while.

Stay with me.

For whatever reason we have a real inferiority complex regarding professional sports in Canada. And we think the only people who can fix it are American. (Well at least their dollars). Don’t believe me? What is Canada’s greatest sport? If you said hockey, give yourself a cookie. (Sorry lacrosse).

Now where is it played? If you said 78% of the teams are south of the border in our favourite pro hockey league, that’s cookie number two. And I know that boils down to exposure, markets and most importantly money, but still. And I know Junior A fills our local itch, but that makes me kind of sad for so many other reasons.

As I settle into Grampa Simpson story time here, there used to be a time when Canadians loved their own stuff. And you can still see smidges of it here and there still. (in Abe Simpson’s voice: In my day players sometimes chose the CFL over the NFL for its style of play. Joe Thiesmann played for the Argos. Ever hear of Frank Gifford? And beer was a nickel, and not an American brand to be found, it’s water I tells ya! That actually sounded more like an old prospector, but you get it.)

Go to a Roughriders or Bombers CFL game (my local Ti-Cats too). I know the NFL overshadows us, but you’re able to forget that for a few hours on game day inside a rockin’ CFL stadium. Fans are just having fun watching their local heroes and going nuts.

The CPL is following that track. The supporters sections are a blast in Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton and Ottawa. I have a soft spot for the Pie Rack too. All the BC fans are fun. So is the Trench in Winnipeg despite not having much of a product…

And the CEBL will never rival the NBA, maybe not even the G-League. But man it is cool to have our own thing in the gyms too. I miss my Honey Badgers, keep treating them right Brampton! But I digress.

Here in Canada, we have a chance to develop the pro women’s game, like every other nation on the World Cup map is doing. But for a country so guilty of optimism in other areas of life, we are bereft of it when it comes to WoSo.

I have heard it all, from “we can barely afford men’s soccer” to “you know how many leagues go belly up?’ and of course, “women don’t support their own”. I won’t go into all my usual diatribes because if you follow my stuff you’ve seen it all before. (WoSo costs less to invest in to start; many men’s leagues have died on the vine, yet here we are; Women don’t have to do this alone, men are welcome to buy tickets too! Sigh).

But as this World Cup has shown us, soccer starts at home. And so far every team that has advanced to the knockouts has a pro league. (Jamaica qualified after I started working on this, but cheers to them). That’s right Group B fans, Nigeria has a Pro WoSo league (With pro/rel and three tiers!). And of course, we mostly already knew this, because so many of our top players play in overseas top flights. And it is great to have so many stars abroad to cheer on. But that really misses something.

When you have a local professional team, you build dreams. Because here are the facts. If you aren’t among the highest echelon of Canadian players very early on, you give up on the hope of ever playing at PSG or Chelsea. Of course you do, because if you are struggling for time on your academy squad, or even at your college, you start to think of aiming lower or getting a “real” job.

So let’s look at the men’s side. Guys like Waterman, MacNaughton, Loturi and even to a degree, Alistair Johnston were overlooked players bound to slide through the cracks of our game. Without the MLS/CPL, and therefore no real local pro leagues or teams, they would not likely have made the National team’s radar. (The CPL also owns L1C, where Alistair played and developed with Vaughn, though Vaughn deserves that credit…oh and Alistair).

How many squad players are the Canadian Women missing because the ask was too big to relocate to Europe? Or because they didn’t have the right lineage to catch on overseas. (Passports matter). How many late bloomers are missed because they move on with their lives with nowhere to play here?

Canadian women have almost exclusively relied on the CanWNT or the US NCAA system, or both. After graduating some brave souls venture overseas and the road less travelled directly. Clarissa Larisey is a great example. From Ottawa to Iceland to Celtic to Sweden.

And in a lot of cases, they are doing what Atiba had to do 20+ years ago. Why can’t we learn from that?

Ok so back to my building dreams point. There is a generation of young boys right now who will personally connect with professionals who have played for CanMNT. Men like Kyle Bekker, Doneil Henry and Manjrekar James at local autograph sessions, school events and over 14 games minimum each year. And so will young girls. The difference will be, the boys who don’t see themselves as good enough to play abroad yet won’t quit. Because they’ll know they can be professionals at the stadium they grew up going to games at. As of right now, we aren’t affording our young female athletes the same dream. If they aren’t good enough for Paris or London or Stockholm or Lisbon they may pack it in early.

They lose a dream, and we may have just lost a late-blooming, future star. Or a precocious early bloomer who rises like a rocket through the domestic league to riches abroad early.

It isn’t just the players that need this league. It is the girls who want to play in front of their families one day as a professional. It is a whole economy – and more importantly culture – of refs, coaches and executives that we lose. (See my article about the Head coaches of Mexico and USA’s Pro WoSo leagues’ defending champs being Canadian. Yeah that was a pat on my own back, so what?)

And this is why the world is catching up and passing us by in WoSo. They still let their kids grow and dream. They don’t put everything on the individuals’ young shoulders. (Jamaica may be a late anomaly but I have a whole epilogue/future article about that).

The Elephant in the Room

I saved the best for last. Just kidding, we all hate this. But we can’t ignore what happened to our National Women’s program at the hands of their own federation. They got screwed over, plain and simple. You could make a case for the men to “get over it” and just focus on the footy. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I could see where you are coming from.

But it is different for the women.

Here is the non-comprehensive list:

  1. The CanXNT has been unionized since 2016, after a very successful World Cup at home showed them what was possible as CSA coffers swelled. Check that article out for a horrifically-wonderful example of secrecy and success. And yet their partners at the CSA (yes employers and unions are partners in well-run organizations, they don’t have to be strictly adversaries) left them out of communications and deals that impacted what they could earn, demand and rely on going forward. With friends like these, amirite?
  2. The women, unlike the men faced a massive funding cut in a World Cup year that even Earl Cochrane was forced to admit was a mistake. (Would he if he wasn’t before Parliament when he was asked?) Don’t take my word for it, get it right from the horse’s ass’s mouth here at the 1-minute mark.
  3. Men went on strike and had then CSA President Nick Bontis on his knees allegedly begging for forgiveness. The XNT (unwisely, in my opinion) threatened the same action and was met with legal action from that same federation.
  4. The women didn’t get paid last year partly because they are still trying to negotiate a deal for over a year. A deal they were working on in good faith, behind the scenes, until the MNT dragged everything into the public sphere somewhat unprofessionally, forcing the women to issue a statement of their own.
  5. The number of players at camp, the staff at camps and the time at camp were all cut…in a World Cup year.
  6. Professional athletes, in the build-up to a World Cup, were forced to make an account of themselves in a Parliamentary Hearing. One that brought out emotions and issues that are not easily tucked back away, in part for the benefit of soccer fans and future players. Player’s mindsets were so impacted during this fight, that at least one star retired only to be “talked off the ledge.
  7. “Our organization is stronger and more respected than it has ever been,” Montopoli said. This quote is from a 2015 Sportsnet article that praises the money the 2015 WWC brought in and the good standing Herdman and the CanWNT created with their play over his time as head coach up to then. Canada was in the red. Men from that article rode the WoSo success to very lucrative jobs. First Victor Montagliani to Concacaf and Fifa VP and Peter Montopoli is running Canada’s World Cup 2026 organization. The CSA sure helped some folks find funding and good-paying jobs.

I could keep this list growing much longer, but who has the time? And honestly, most readers gave up a while ago due to an unhealthy combination of my holier-than-thou writing parlour tricks, their own social media-sapped attention spans and the utter disillusionment of yet another soccer article when NHL camps are only about a month away.

A Happy Ending

I am a generally pleasant and happy guy. I like to whistle, sniff flowers on my walks and touch my finger to the brim of my hat, then point off towards passersby in a jaunty way as I say “mornin’ friend”. So I am the type who wants to find a happy ending as much as the next soccer fan. So what to do?

Here is my admittedly rudimentary starting list:

(I know, an article with two lists – bush-league…if it wasn’t a letter-based list!)

a – Be kind to each other. We can have different views on what ails our game, and what will heal it of course. But let’s try a bit less “gotcha!” and a bit more, “I’ve got you.” (Whatever that means)

b – Look at a few different vantage points and try to put yourself in the shoes of those you have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye with.

c – Give people space to mourn. We all take losses (in life and in sports) differently. Some people need to scream into the void. Others mope. Some of us get snappy – or is it snippy? Argumentative, defensive, offensive and even elusive. (That last one doesn’t really fit, but I needed it for symmetry). Think about it, we could all be back as our consistently happy family all pulling in the same direction as usual in time for the Jamaica Olympic qualifier, right? Hey, where did you all go?

d – Turn our anger into a proactive letter-writing campaign that targets the media duopoly’s lack of coverage and investment; the CSA/CSB’s inability to renegotiate transparently (not with us through the media, but with the actual stakeholders); the players to tell them how much we respect them on the pitch and off, but hope they’ll leave it to their negotiators/lawyers/reps so they can play with less distraction going forward, and to the MLS Canada teams to ask why they are contributing so little to the federation in terms of funding/financing considering that they only exist to take our ticket purchasing dollars through the grace of the CSA which sanctions them. This is actually an issue for The CSA which already takes more money from the CPL for licensing than they do from their much, much richer American Cousins in the MLS. But let’s face it the CSA is overburdened by waking up in the mornings, let alone working on soccer progressively.

Wait! This was meant to be a happy ending, less ‘gotcha!’ than ‘I got ya’ (Oh, I get that now, clever).

The CanXNT was probably not going very far this World Cup due to injury, team make-up, player lapses, formations, and yes, of course, ugly distractions.

The sooner someone higher up comes to terms with that, the sooner we can grow forward.

To the future!

Oh, and I have something to say about snap comparisons to other ‘distracted’ teams who were successful despite issues as if everything is the same amongst different teams. But I will leave that for my next, shorter, but no less indignant and false-sense-of-superiority-laden article. See you soon.

Subscribe to 13th Man Sports to get email notifications when we post!

3 thoughts on “CanXNT at the World Cup: No Excuses

  1. Some fair points. A lot of it – most of it – is on the federation. I don’t buy that we have an inferiority complex though. It’s realism. The reality is Amercans DO put out better sports product than Canadians. The CFL still is in danger of folding; they almost did fold. The NHL needs its US markets. We do not have the population or the climate to get a league going at the level of the European teams or the NWSL. Canada should’ve bought into the NWSL from the start & got teams in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

  2. Thanks for the feed back. Solid points cycworker.

    One I’ll kinda disagree with is the “Join the NWSL” one in the major markets.

    It worked for MLS, and would probably work here too, to an extent.

    But the problem as I see it is the limits it places on the Canadian WoSo game. MLSE will hire big names, cuz they are a sizzle over steak outfit in a way. You likely would get 3 teams with some Canadian players. But coaching probably goes bigger because we don’t have the experience for the big time. (None of the MLS teams have a history of Canadian coaches, Dunfield is in Toronto cuz TFC gave up on this year).

    Our own WoSo league creates 8 teams for Canadian players without restriction (see MLS rules). It creates 8 head coaching jobs, staffing, need for referees from Canada, etc. This is the culture we need to build. It is more than an being a Northern outpost in a US league. The CPL is doing this quite well, imo

    (Btw, better is relative. For all the complaining about how the EPL has a big Six, but the NFL has parity, just 6 NFL franchises have won 30 of the 56 SuperBowls. So richer is definitely true. More talented 100%. But some things aren’t better)

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.