Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices
Canada's Doneil Henry, left, and El Salvador's Nelson Bonilla vie for the ball during first half FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer action in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday September 6, 2016. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canada's Doneil Henry, left, and El Salvador's Nelson Bonilla vie for the ball during first half FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer action in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday September 6, 2016. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Kelly: Belief and urgency must be self-generated. It can’t be planned by suits Add to ...

This is how far soccer culture has fallen in this country – even bribes don’t work here any more.

They work everywhere else. The whole second-tier soccer world is awash in dirty money and fixed results. But not when it involves the Canadian men’s game.

Just one thing happens here – we lose.

The El Salvador national team came up this week with a funny story. Someone – apparently, a local booster – offered them money to beat Canada. At issue was advancement to the next round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

This is where anybody who follows the Canadian game spits out their coffee. Apparently, they don’t get the sports pages down in El Salvador.

It wasn’t a lot of money – apparently $10 per man per minute played. So, about 900 bucks each.

People tried to get excited about the story, but couldn’t manage it, since this is the least ambitious match-fixing plot ever. You rig games to lose, not win. When you’re fixing them to win, it’s called “hoping for the best.”

The Salvadorans came out blazing on Wednesday night, giving up a quick goal and a million other chances to a Canadian team that scores about as often as Mercury transits the sun. Presumably in an effort to paint themselves as pure as possible, El Salvador had decided to make Canada 2016 look like Brazil 1970.

They let in another and had a man ejected. That poor crook must have been beside himself. What’s Spanish slang for “boomeranged”?

In order to advance, Canada needed to win by several goals – at least four. Any other result was meaningless. For just a moment there, it seemed possible.

Up 2-0 with about 20 minutes remaining, Canadian manager Benito Floro began swapping out goal scorers for defensive players. In tactical terms, it’s like pointing a mortar straight up.

This may have been the most Canadian moment in Canadian soccer history – protecting the lead in order to lose a tournament with dignity. They managed that much at least. Heavy emphasis on “least.”

“I am really proud of them from the first day,” Floro said after another Canadian World Cup campaign had clipped the treeline shortly after takeoff and burst into flames. “Everything we proposed, they always did.”

Evidently, winning was not among his propositions.

Every four years, we play a little game in this country called, “It’s time for a change.” In the interim, we lose at that, too.

Canada has not participated in a World Cup since 1986. We have no chance of doing so again until 2022. Let me go a step further – we currently have no chance of doing so, full stop.

For the past decade or more, spurred by increased interest in the sport and massive growth in the women’s game, people who didn’t use to have started to care. The results are the same. Worse, even. The more Canada would like to be good at soccer, the less able we become.

Since 1986, 63 other countries have qualified for the World Cup. Sixty-three. It’s a lot. If it were the world championships of rain-forest tending, desert traversing or yurt building, you’d understand. As a nation, we don’t get a ton of practice at such things.

But a lot of us play soccer – more than participate in hockey. A few of us play it at a high international level. We have top-class facilities, people who want to teach the game and kids who want to learn it.

This is not quantum physics. It’s putting a ball into a net. I’d guess that every single one of us has, at some point in his or her life, played soccer. You cannot say the same for elite swimming or competitive sprinting. Given that fact, how can so many of us combine to be so much poorer at it than our neighbours?

There are a million decent reasons we are given as to why the men’s program is so poor – underfunding, poor oversight, inefficient grassroots development and a lot of other business-y sounding stuff. This is what happens when you give bureaucrats a hammer – every bent nail is an administrative problem. Usually to be solved with more money and more bureaucrats.

This excuse falls down when you look at our betters.

Six teams advanced from our region to the next round of qualifying. The United States and Mexico are the class of the group.

The four others (our real competition) are Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago. They have a combined population of nearly 19 million – about half of Canada’s.

Let’s take Honduras, the nation that hung the most humiliating soccer defeat in Canadian history around our necks a few years back.

The Honduran economy is about 1/70th the size of Canada’s. According to Transparency International, it has one of the more corrupt political set-ups on Earth.

How do you think their soccer bureaucracy is working out? Well oiled? Smooth functioning? Money meant for the kids gets to them every single time?

I would guess not.

Does Honduras magically produce magnificently talented players who’ve mastered their skills kicking a ball against a barn wall? No. Most of them are garden-variety schlubs who play professionally in their own country. One standout plays in Spain (for a terrible team in the second division).

Nonetheless, Hondurans win. They made the past two World Cups. They reached the semi-finals of the Rio Olympics.

Why?

It’s not public money or a dream team of sports administrators. It’s because they are expected to. If Honduras had lost out on Wednesday, it would have been a national calamity. So they didn’t.

Canada imploded and the coach is patting everyone on the back for a job not well done. There’s your difference.

In the end, no amount of planning by suits can infuse a team with that belief and urgency. It has to be self-generated.

At what should be our highest level of soccer, Canada doesn’t have the intangible quality that turns on-paper contenders into real-life ones. There are no signs of developing it any time soon. Or any time at all.

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @cathalkelly

Next story

loading

In the know

The Globe Recommends

loading

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular