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...


Anonymous said...

So, what exactly is the deal with De Jong? I did see some comments on the CSN site suggesting he was sick too, but there was never any official confirmation of that to the best of my knowledge. It certainly didn't prevent him from dressing and sitting on the subs bench (or going the full 90 in Germany today).

It's quite simply unfathomable that Hart didn't play him. If not at left back, then in a more advanced role. Were there some issues between the two of them that we're not aware of?

De Jong did depart the last Gold Cup under rather dubious circumstances. I believe the official explanation was that he separated his shoulder while sleeping. That doesn't seem entirely plausible. I know Hart was a players coach, but perhaps those two didn't get on well.

jonathan said...

De Jong has never been a stand out player for Canada, but I put that down to never getting the opportunity. He has been carrying some niggling injuries during part of this semi final round, but has looked good when called upon.

I think the "player's coach" tag comes from Hart's relationship with the core clique (de Guzman, De Rosario, etc) rather than any particular player-friendly attributes.

De Jong is still young enough that he can be a big part of the next WCQ squad. Hopefully the next manager won't be as off-base as Hart was in this regard.

Anonymous said...

It was a god awful performance, the worst I have ever seen by the NT, a country mile worse than the back to back matches vs USA and Mexico away in trying to qualify for WC 98.

Looking at all the goals you can see a daisy chain of errors from bunches of our players, not just one or even two. Even Hutchinson looked poor on the 5th when he didn't track Martinez's run into the back and subsequent cross. No one is free of blame here.

As much as people like to dog pile on McKenna and his performance, Hainault was the worse of the two. Sadly, he's had a tough year at club level, losing his place in the Dynamo backline since before the Panama matches, and so it showed in his performance.

The De Jong exclusion was a head scratcher. Klukowski looked, as you said, completely past it: on the third goal there was no urgency or awareness in his recovery run to pick up Costly when it was clear that the original marker, Hainault, was never going to get goal side of the Honduran.

This result really damages the MNT in terms of other young up and comers who choose to follow the leads of Jono and Junior and not commit to this program. Cavallini getting captied and his enthusiastic tweets were refreshing but had he not gotten into the game, and let's say he made good progress in Uruguay, who's to say he might have wanted to explore other options? This issue really needs to be addressed as early as next summer with GC 2013, the next time we can officially cap tie players. Do we opt to try and bring in 20 uncapped up and comers and play them all in the 3 round robin games? MIght not be as absurd as it originally sounds, considering that the Yanks liked to do that at previous GCs with their "cattle call" selections. Or do we hope that a "name" coach has the cachet to resurrect the program. Don't know.

Always good reading, this blog.


Anonymous said...

Great article. We have to usher in the next generation of players, while at the same time the so called “Golden Generation” must exit stage left. The Golden Generation tag has never been more laughable. In terms of the players we need to cull, I wouldn’t call time on Hume’s international career just yet. He’s still shy of thirty and his work rate and overall tenacity justify a place on the roster into the foreseeable future. All the better if those attributes rub off on the youngsters we need to blood.

On another note, I really hope Hutch and Simpson carry on. I know some of the Vs were speculating that Hutch may elect to pack it in and focus on his club career considering how dim our prospects look for Russia 2018. Three knee surgeries over the past couple of years and the retirement of some of his long-time teammates could provide further justification for such a move. Sadly, there’s no guarantee that Simpson will recover from his injury given the overall severity and his age. I know he’ll turn out if he’s able.

jonathan said...

The repeated failures and now exit of what should have been Canada's Golden Generation (veterans of successful youth teams like 1997 U23 and 2003 U20) will be the subject of my next post later this week.

jonathan said...

Is anyone finding the captchas are getting kind of difficult? I may turn them off.