It is a maddening thing to be Canadian, and to care, really care, about soccer.
Not the matches played in faraway places by glamorous professional teams, but the game on the national level, the sides that are sent out wearing the red Maple Leaf, which for reasons never quite as simple as bad form, or lack of talent, or lack of desire, or lack of coaching sophistication, all but inevitably fail to bring home the bacon.
Tuesday, Canada's women's national team, which arrived in Germany with the highest of hopes, completed a terrible World Cup, losing 1-0 to Nigeria – a team ranked 21 places below it by FIFA.
Canada started brightly enough and created a few chances, and by the end was at least credited with its second and third shots on goal in the tournament (the first was Christine Sinclair's free-kick goal against Germany in the opener a million years ago.)
Coach Carolina Morace started 10 of the 11 who began the tournament (veteran 'keeper Katrina LeBlanc got the nod over Erin McLeod, in what seemed a sentimental gesture). With a bit of luck, they might have had a goal or two.
"The ball didn't want to go in for us," Morace said.
But it was at best a battle of equals, and considering that Nigeria twice knocked shots off the woodwork when presented with clear chances as Canada displayed the same defensive confusion that killed it throughout, it certainly could have been worse than surrendering a single goal to the wonderfully named Perpetua Nikwocha in the 84th minute.
Some might have expected Morace to quit on the spot. She did not.
"Yes, I want to continue," she said – and for her bosses and antagonists at the Canadian Soccer Association, that's a good thing, since they don't have an alternative, with Olympic qualifying looming.
But once more, the great and painful Canadian soccer question must be asked: So where do we go from here?
"This has to be a start point," Morace said. "Not the end of everything."
The start of what, precisely?
Soccer people are going to hate how this next sentence begins, but it's really the only way to frame it: If this were hockey, there would be all manner of inquiry, special panels would be convened, experts would be polled, Royal Commissions would be suggested, and the populace would be caught up in hand-wringing agony waiting for the answer as to why we can't win.
With this sport, not so much.
Morace is a soccer coach born of a soccer culture, a stranger in a strange land, largely oblivious to the peculiarities of football's peculiar domestic culture. She was charged with the daunting mission of getting Canada to the podium at this World Cup and at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
What she proposed to the folks from the CSA back in the summer of 2009 was a radical overhaul of the Canadian soccer system, among other things creating a pyramid in which the methods and philosophies of the national team became the guiding force of the entire program – rather than what Canada has now, a structure in which those exceptional players who happen to be produced by what is a largely recreation-oriented system wind up on the national team, including a once-in-a-generation talent such as Sinclair.
Needless to say, that didn't happen.
She at one point also suggested creating a national team-based side and making it part of Women's Professional Soccer, the league based in the United States. That was before opting for a cost-effective – and for her, comfortable – training environment in Italy, where she could surround herself and her team with people whose soccer knowledge she trusted (for the most part, those would be Italians.)
The most interesting and most ominous part of Morace's proposal was the suggestion as to what would happen minus a major change in philosophy: the women's game is on the rise on many fronts, as has been so evident during this tournament. By standing still, Canada would actually fall further and further behind.
That seems to be exactly what has happened. It is hard to ignore the exceptional quality of play and close matches throughout this tournament. Traditional soccer powers that for years ignored the women's game – England, France, South American and African countries – are now producing high-quality sides. (It's not just about money, but it is partly about money: building toward the 2012 Olympics at home, England invested $9.5-million in its women's program this year, compared to Canada's $3.5-million. It has paid off, winning its group and advancing to the knockout rounds).
Morace and her players will rightly bear responsibility for what happened here. They failed miserably. They will finish at or near the bottom of the 16-team field. There's plenty of blame to go around.
But that failure is also a red flag. Olympic qualifying is just around the corner. A home World Cup, which ought to be the biggest event in Canadian soccer history, is coming in four years.
Not much time for a fix – if anyone is even willing to try.