Canada’s Ashtone Morgan (in white) and his team limped to a 0-0 draw with Panama Sunday.The 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup proved an awful experience for the Canadian men’s soccer team rather than the building block they might have hoped for, and their time in the tournament (the regional championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean) came to a dismal end Sunday in Denver thanks to a 0-0 draw with Panama. On its own, that’s not a terrible performance: while Panama, like most of the better countries in this tournament, sent essentially a B-squad thanks to World Cup qualifying, a draw against them isn’t an awful result, and it’s certainly better than the 1-0 loss to Martinique or the 2-0 loss to Mexico Ca nada had recorded thus far. Still, with the Canadians needing a big win Sunday to have any chance (however slim) of advancing to the knockout round, fans might have expected a ferocious, do-or-die effort from them. That didn’t really happen, which adds to the sense brought on by this tournament that new Canadian head coach Benito Floro will have a massive task ahead when he takes over this side after the tournament.
It’s not merely a question of skill for Canada. Yes, the Canadian team’s somewhat outgunned against many of the top CONCACAF countries, and yes, improvements have to be made at every level before the national team, but they are getting more and more players who compete at high levels in Europe and North America all the time. The extremely-young squad interim coach Colin Miller chose for the Gold Cup did present some challenges, sure, but many of these players have done well against significant competition with their club teams. Moreover, the opponents they faced in this tournament weren’t overwhelming. Yes, full-strength squads from Mexico and Panama would likely be favoured against the top Canadian team available at the moment, but both of those countries didn’t exactly send their best and brightest to the Gold Cup, and it’s tough for them to fully focus on it in the midst of World Cup qualifying. That could have presented a chance for Canada to at least look capable of s taying on the pitch against them, especially considering that the Canadian side featured plenty of players thought to be the future of the national team.
Despite that skill gap being narrower than normal, Canada turned in dismal performances throughout the tournament. Sunday’s match had a few bright spots, but featured remarkably little offensive creativity (Canada attempted five shots; Panama fired 15), and the lacklustre effort eliminated the Canadians from the tournament, perhaps requiring them to investigate things to do in Denver when you’re dead. Meanwhile, Thursday’s loss to Mexico was a completely flat performance in a vital game and last week’s tournament-opening loss to Martinique (a French overseas department that doesn’t compete separately in FIFA events and has just over 400,000 people) was one of the worst showings by a Canadian team in some time. Overall, Canada didn’t score a goal in 270 minutes of play and rarely even threatened the opponents’ net: defender David Edgar had a great chance Sunday, but couldn’t get much on a header from five yards out, and that might have been the closest the Canadians came al l tournament.
The question is where Canada goes from here. Floro is a promising hire, and one with a solid background of working around the world, so he’ll be relatively aware of the challenges CONCACAF presents. However, this tournament suggests he’s got a lot of work to do. The players who represented Canada here shouldn’t all be tarred, feathered and thrown out, as there’s plenty of talent in that squad (particularly with Edgar, Will Johnson and Marcus Haber), but they haven’t yet shown they’re capable of doing much for the Canadian national team. Perhaps that’s a question of tactics, or perhaps it’s something that will just come as they gain more experience playing together. Floro’s going to have to start from square one, though, as this tournament didn’t give him a lot to build on. He has time, as nothing really matters until qualification for the 2018 World Cup, and he has some talented pieces (and may soon have more: Sunday’s news that 24-year-old Brazilian-born Vancouver Whiteca ps’ midfielder/striker Camilo may be interested in playing for Canada internationally is certainly promising), so it can’t be presumed that he’ll fail yet. The Gold Cup disaster just shows the incredible magnitude of the task ahead of him.