That was one November 11th I hope to forget.
Canada drew St Kitts last night 0-0 in Basseterre, eliminating the St Kitts and Nevians from World Cup qualifying contention, and as a result moving themselves on to the next round.
IN MOVING PICTURES
The CSA produced a highlight package of the match, but it is hard for the word highlight to be taken as anything other than euphemistically. Some of the men involved expressed disappointment with their performance but from my point of view they were far too understated.
WE GOT THE RESULT?
It seems that some are suggesting that Canada set out to play for the draw and ought to be happy with the achievement of qualifying from their round 2 group with a match to play. I am not one of those people.
Call me crazy, but when I see our team being outplayed by an island nation (ok, two islands) of 50,000, I'm not happy. Listen to Hart's interview (linked above) and he'll tell you the same. After the first half, in which Canada gradually asserted itself, it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before a break through. But the second half was an enormous step backwards with Canada constantly under pressure and failing to generate much for scoring chances. (Except for easy breakaway chances that were our so-called Premiership striker could not capitalize upon).
Another axiom trotted out is that there is nothing to be learned from a match against low-ranked opponents like those Canada has faced in this group. I think this is only half-true: we can't learn much about our team by thrashing a collection of amateurs 7-0, but failing to score for 180 minutes against amateurs and semi-pros is inexcusable.
BLAME THE PLAYERS?
To be sure, the players did not do themselves any favours with their performances yesterday. Prior to the match I was mostly excited about the strong lineup Hart had fielded:
Ironically Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, currently a bit-part player in the Germany's third tier, was one of the few men to deliver a creditable performance.
The back 4 of Ante Jazic, Mike Klukowski, David Edgar and Adam Straith, which I was interested to see in action, is not one I need to see again. Ante Jazic was consistently drawn to far inside, often covering for Klukowski who was playing out of position. This left acres of space down the wing. Kluka made some vital interceptions but also looked downright foolish on a number of crosses leaving men completely unmarked. Only Straith, also playing out of position, played up to expectations.
In the midfield JBB outshone Julian de Guzman and the downright abysmal Will Johnson which is all that needs to be said.
And while Simeon Jackson was wasting chance after chance at forward, Dwayne De Rosario was slacking and sulking and providing miserable corner kicks until Klukowski eventually took over those duties. And Josh Simpson looked dangerous when running at defenders, but chronically unable to deliver a useful pass.
It turns out another pre-match tweet turned out to be far more prescient.
Hello acid reflux.
BLAME THE COACH?
After Canada's embarrassing attempt at qualification for the World Cup in 2008 Dale Mitchell was deservedly out of a job. But it also left the players off the hook for terrible attitudes and even worse on-field production.
I don't mean to let the players off the hook again because for the third match out of 5 this round they were quite poor. But this qualification effort could be over in a flash come June and we'd be remiss if we didn't question whether Stephen Hart is up to the job.
Let's not forget that this is a man with little in the way of coaching credentials. Prior to gaining the national team job Hart coached a team in the Nova Scotia men's league, and then failed to qualifying the U17s for World Cups five consecutive times. Find me an international coach with a more threadbare resume.
He earned the NT job largely on the strength of an interim gig at the 2007 Gold Cup. This was a team that had JDG and Kluka at the peak of their powers and advanced largely on the strength of a stalwart defensive performance, yet didn't win any matches in which they would have been considered underdogs. Subsequent Gold Cups have produced less inspiring results.
And he is clearly out of ideas. His 4-3-3/4-5-1 has looked dangerous at times, but not lately. And last night it left gaping holes in midfield that the defense had to scramble to cover. Hart is reputedly liked by his players but we know how that story goes.
Canada is moving on to a round where two of the opponents will feature squads of mostly superior players. We need to be punching above our weight, but what evidence has Canada provided that they are capable of doing so with Hart in their corner?
I'd be fully on board with Hart being replaced by nearly anyone with a more impressive resume (which wouldn't be hard to find) but fat chance that we see that happening.
Canada needs a good performance on Tuesday at BMO Field. Qualification is assured but the natives are restless. The players and Hart need to prove to the fans, many of the them newly brought into the fold, that the team will be able to compete in the next round. Right now it hardly seems worth my time to follow this team when every sign points to a quick and quiet exit in the next round.
If you want to talk me off the ledge the comments section is all yours.