Sunday, October 21, 2012

The dream is dead, again

Hedging one's bets

I'm not much for gambling. But I did sign up for an account through one online sportsbook because doing so would give me access to streaming coverage of Bundesliga matches.  I log in and place a small wager or two every now and then, but for the most part my account balance hasn't strayed far from the minimum deposit required to sign up.

But last Tuesday, in anticipation of Canada's biggest match in some time, I went for an emotional hedge. That is, by betting against Canada in Honduras, I provided a small cash reward to hedge against the emotional downfall of a Canada loss.

To be honest, I should have gone way bigger.  The excitement of Canada advancing to the hex would have been worth losing far more, while winning enough to buy a six-pack hardly hedges anything at all.

I can't help but feeling that this is in some small way my fault.

*     *     *     *     *

Honduras 8, Canada 1

If you're a reader of this blog, then this nearly week-old result is not news to you.  Having provided themselves with the best opportunity to make the hex in over a decade, the team and its players failed in the most spectacular fashion possible.

And there was hardly any drama to it.  I watched as the team started brightly, and were a more talented man than Tosaint Ricketts to receive Nik Ledgerwood's cross just three minutes into the match, it was probably 1-0 Canada.  Instead, four minutes later Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault combined to make a real mess of an innocuous bouncing ball and it was quickly 1-0 Honduras.

I wasn't surprised.  From that moment, the writing was on the wall.  I didn't even bother to watch the last 80 minutes of the match.  Instead, I stepped out onto the porch with a couple of magazines, and enjoyed the last nice fall day of an October in Winnipeg.

I feel as though I made the right choice.

*    *     *     *     *

Who is to blame?

A Toronto Sun article on Stephen Hart's resignation contains a poll with the question "Who is to blame for Canada's 8-1 loss to Honduras?" The readers divided the blame between the players (57%), the coach (1%), and both (42%).

It's hard to understand how anyone could select anything other than that last option.  The match was such a comprehensive failure that nobody can come out of it untainted.  Hart's prompt exit suggests that even he would recognize that he could have done more to avoid such an embarrassment.

The players' failings were there for one and all to see.  There is clearly a mental issue that this team has not been able to overcome when playing in these hostile environments.  8-1 may not tell the true tale, as the team more or less checked out after three goals against, but it would be hard to credit any player's performance in that match, with the possible exception of team stalwart Atiba Hutchinson.  A back line that had been mostly good until now was shredded.  It was not helped by a clearly-past-it Mike Klukowski going in for the ill Ante Jazic, but it was the ungodly performances of Hainault and McKenna that were truly shocking.  And the players weren't any better elsewhere on the pitch.

But even the fact that Klukowski was put into that position falls on Hart.  There is no excuse for not starting Marcel de Jong, the team's best-pedigreed player (considering playing level and playing time).  There is also no reason that Hart should have forsaken the 4-3-3, the only formation the team has known under his control, in both of the team's most difficult matches (Panama away, Honduras away).  And the team's psychological failings must to some extent rest at his feet as well.

An underachieving generation of players, including Lars Hirschfeld, Kevin McKenna, Mike Klukowski, Ante Jazic, Patrice Bernier, Julian de Guzman, Dwayne De Rosario, Olivier Occean and Iain Hume, and some more peripheral players, have all likely played their last meaningful matches for Canada.  Some of these have had excellent professional careers but have not done themselves much credit with their international performances.

A sporting axiom is that it is easier to change the coach than the players.  In the next few years, Canada will have to do both.

To be continued...

Friday, October 19, 2012

WCQ goals contest: Final standings

You may have noticed this blog has quiet in what has been a rather unquiet week for Canadian soccer.

Rest assured that I have some stuff in the works. Topics I'm mulling over include:

  • Tuesday's shitfest in Honduras
  • The departing generation of MNT players
  • Hart's resignation, whether he was the right man, and what kind of coach should be hired next
  • How much it sucks being a Canadian soccer (and local sports) fan in Winnipeg
  • Central America, the shithole

In the mean time, there is business to be taken care of.

I've been running a contest for this semi-final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, with entrants selecting players for each of the 12 participating teams and gaining points for each goal scored.  Despite counting 5 Honduras goals towards my tally on the final match day, I didn't quite manage to finish first.

Two participants, Trevor C and Paul B, are tied on top and I did say there would be a prize.  I'll be in touch in a few days when I get that figured out.

Entry Pts
Paul B 30
Trevor C 30
Jon W 29
Scott B 29
Alex G 28
Seth G 28
Branden F 27
Jamie M 25
Theo G 20

You can view the full spreadsheet to see all of the picks and players.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Canada all-time vs Cuba

I remember a cool-ish June evening 12 years ago. Behind me, in a mostly full stand, a group of older men were discussing Germany's match earlier in European Championships. On the pitch Canada was pushing around a Cuba squad that didn't seem much interested in scoring a goal, even though their World Cup lives depended on it. A dreadlocked Jason Bent drilled a long-range shot against the cross bar.  Paul Stalteri took a throw-in just a few feet in front of me. Canada's best chance came late as Paul Peschisolido's effort dribbled just wide of the post.

My lone Canada cap ended in a 0-0 draw at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex. Jason de Vos' goal a week earlier in Havana was enough for Canada to move on to the next round of qualifying.

It won't be this week.

* * * * *

Canada's upcoming World Cup qualifying match this Friday against Cuba is critical.  With two matches left in the round Canada is third in Group C, even on points with Honduras but down two in goal difference.  Both teams trail leaders Panama by 2 points.

For a number of reasons, a big goal scoring win against Cuba would make things easier going into the team's final match in Honduras next Tuesday.  There are two realistic scenarios where a large margin against Cuba would help Canada's chances:

  • If Panama beats Honduras on Friday, a big win over Cuba leaves the possibility that Canada could advance even should they lose. Here's the math: (PAN margin over HON + CAN margin over CUB) > (HON margin over CAN + 2) then Canada would advance.  At a bare minimum, the goal difference of the teams would have to shift by 4 to make a 1-goal loss in Honduras a useful result.  Realistically, Canada would likely have to score 3 goals against Cuba.
  • Should Honduras manage to beat Panama, Canada could still advance with a draw if they can eliminate Honduras' current goal-difference advantage. For other tie-breakers to come into play the following needs to be true: (HON margin over PAN) + 2 <= (CAN margin over CUB)
I refuse to countenance anything but a win over Cuba. Should Honduras beat Panama, Canada may need to win in Honduras to advance (the scenario above being the lone exception).  Any other result combined with a Canada win over Cuba means a draw does the job (the first scenario is the only by which Canada could advance with a loss).

With the desire for -- and in some quarters, expectation of -- a big win over Cuba, we look to likelihoods.  The historical evidence provides reasons for encouragement and for caution:

Jan 5, 75
0 4
Nov 11, 81
Tegucigalpa, Hon
2 2
Oct 10, 96
2 0
Oct 13, 96
2 0
Oct 6, 99
Los Angeles
0 0
Gold Cup Q.
Jun 4, 00
1 0
Jun 11, 00
0 0
Jul 14, 03
Foxboro, USA
0 2
Gold Cup
Jul 12, 05
Foxboro, USA
2 1
Gold Cup
Jun 8, 12
1 0

In brief:
  • Canada has faced Cuba ten times with an all-time record (W-D-L) of 5-3-2, and GF-GA of 10-9, though that stat is skewed by a 4-0 friendly loss in the 1970s.
  • In WCQs Canada is unbeaten with a 4-2-0 record, with 8 goals for and 2 against.
  • In home matches Canada has 2 wins and a draw.
  • Canada has never managed to score more than two goals against Cuba, while keeping a clean sheet in 6 of 10 matches.
The latter is the greatest cause for concern. Canada is a team that has struggled to score goals, matches against Caribbean minnows on cricket pitches excepted, but will have to reverse their record on Friday to make their road easier in Honduras.

As a Canadian supporter, I'm reluctant to hope for too much. The likeliest scenario, in which Canada needs only a draw in San Pedro Sula to make the Hex, is one I would have gladly accepted when the groups were drawn last winter.