A Win is a Win for Canadian Soccer
The Canadian men’s national soccer team came away with many positives in a well-deserved 2–1 victory over World Cup participant Honduras on Tuesday in Montreal. But support for Canada’s push to the 2014 World Cup is still slow to build.
After a disappointing 2–0 loss to Peru on Saturday at BMO Field in Toronto, combined with Toronto FC’s narrow loss to FC Dallas immediately following, Canadian soccer fans had good reason to feel disappointed.
Canada had not won a soccer match since last July in the Gold Cup against El Salvador. Since that victory, Canada’s record was 0 wins, 6 losses, and 2 draws.
Prior to Tuesday’s match, Canadian soccer fans proudly recognized fullback Paul Stalteri’s 83rd appearance for the national team. Canadian Soccer Association president Dr. Dominic Maestracci presented Stalteri with a trophy to commemorate his achievement as the player who has represented Canada the most times in international matches.
Stalteri currently plays with German Bundesliga club Borussia Monchengladbach. He also used to play for Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League.
The good vibe created by the ceremony translated into a very positive start by Canada against CONCACAF rivals Honduras who eliminated them from the Gold Cup last year.
While this Honduran team, under a new Mexican coach, was a shadow of the one that exited meekly from the World Cup in June, Canada’s team was also something of an experimental squad.
While the Canadians fielded a stronger lineup in the loss to Peru with players like Toronto FC’s Dwayne DeRosario and Julian de Guzman starting, Tuesday night’s game allowed for the some of the up-and-comers to get their shot as the two Toronto FC stars returned to their club.
Canada went with a more attack-minded 4–3–3 formation with midfielder Terry Dunfield called into action. Dunfield did an acceptable job although his rash foul in the 34th minute led to a Honduras freekick, which was headed home for the equalizer. This quieted the brave crowd after Josh Simpson had bundled home the first goal for Canada in a six-yard box free-for-all.
Canada responded eight minutes later as central defender Kevin McKenna powered home a header off a corner kick.
Being able to hold Honduras off the score sheet in the second half is another positive for Hart and company.
Canadian soccer fans have taken a lukewarm approach to the national team as compared to the support received by Toronto FC and Montreal Impact. For the game against Peru, 10,619 showed up and for Tuesday’s game it was 7,525.
These figures don’t sound particularly impressive, especially when the empty seats at Saputo Stadium couldn’t be missed. But according to the Canadian Soccer Association, the attendance for the Peru game was the highest in 13 years (coinciding with Stalteri’s debut performance) and the 7,525 was the largest attendance for an international friendly match in Montreal.
To put things in perspective, for the Monday Euro 2012 qualifiers, 16 of 22 matches featured a lower attendance than in Toronto.
“We have asked the [Canadian Soccer] Association to provide us with these matches and they have put their best foot forward. The fans now have to do their part by supporting us to get there,” said national coach Stephen Hart in a press release.
Fans in Montreal also had to endure a powerful thunderstorm that stopped play for over 10 minutes. So it would seem fan support is building and, more importantly, being rewarded.
Up next for Canada is a trip to Ukraine for a match on Oct. 8. The 2006 World Cup quarterfinalists won’t need to qualify for Euro 2012 as a host country so one can expect them to treat these friendly matches with greater importance.
And that can only be good for a Canadian team that needs to make the most of the chances it gets to play together.