VANCOUVER - The early World Cup qualifying exit. The finger-pointing. The soul-searching.
It’s all become so familiar.
Canada will once again be spectators when the World Cup rolls around in Russia in 2018, after a 3-1 win over El Salvador wasn’t enough to get them to the Hex for the first time since the 1998 cycle.
Had Mexico performed to its capabilities, Canada could well have overcome the goal difference with Honduras. But the 0-0 result at the Estadio Azteca meant Canada’s win didn’t matter.
“We had a good group. We played good and we played some good stuff from the start,” an emotional Atiba Hutchinson told Yahoo Canada Sports. “The results sometimes didn’t go the way we would have hoped but for me, I thought this was one of the best groups that we had to qualify. We were very strong at home apart from the game against Mexico where the result didn’t go our way.”
The end of the line likely means the end of Hutchinson’s national team career, though he was unable to say whether Tuesday was his last game in a career that has been grossly unappreciated in Canadian sports circles. It definitely means the end of Julian de Guzman’s time in a Canada uniform, the 35-year-old midfielder confirming that he’ll see out the end of the season with Ottawa Fury FC of the NASL.
It’s the natural cycle whenever the campaign ends for players to assess their futures when it comes to playing for their country. With some big names going, Canada will look much different at next summer’s Gold Cup.
Another major matter is what will happen with head coach Benito Floro. Is he headed for the exit? Probably. Is he to blame for what ails the Canadian program? Of course not.
Floro left no stone unturned in studying not only his opponents but also his own players. He would go over their play with club teams and work with players on developing their tactical intelligence in the game.
“He’s brought something priceless. I always go back to what (Dwayne DeRosario) said and there are many guys that have said this: they’ve never been taught football,” said de Guzman. “The first time DeRo said that was toward the end of his career. Nobody ever taught him football and that’s something Benito brought here for a lot of the young guys.”
Having to instruct players in the finer points of tactical matters that should have been ingrained years ago is like building an airplane already in mid-air, but Floro hasn’t been without his wrinkles. Replacing Cyle Larin, who scored once against El Salvador but missed a lot more, with unattached Marcus Haber was a head-scratcher and one example of his sometimes curious decision-making. Meanwhile, the Spaniard’s insistence on dealing in English with media when perhaps it would have been best to continue learning English in private while using an interpreter meant some of his decisions lacked clarity.
Many players in the program, however, were unwavering in their support.
“For me, he’s brilliant,” said Tosaint Ricketts. “He’s one of the best coaches I ever had and he just showed us a different side of the game we’d never seen before. It improved our national team and we’re going to have to see what’s going forward.
“Those decisions are never easy and will not always be right but today it proved to be right. We scored three goals but Mexico didn’t show up (so) it really didn’t matter in the end.”
With Floro likely moving on, the question turns to who takes over in time for Canada’s next competitive action at the Gold Cup, less than a year away.
For those clamouring for the return of a Canadian coach, be careful what you wish for. If a Canadian who knows the system was the solution, Frank Yallop, Dale Mitchell and Stephen Hart all would have been resounding successes.
If there is one Canadian possibility, it’s Marc dos Santos. He’s shown he can do more with less at the Montreal Impact and Ottawa Fury FC - but with dos Santos slated to become head coach of the new San Francisco Deltas of the NASL, he may not be available any time soon.