Sober Second Thoughts: The house is on fire

Still.

There’s a strange instinct among many Canadian soccer fans to always find the positive when it comes to CanWNT.

The same people that will work themselves into a tizzy about a men’s game against Dominica or the Cayman friggin’ Islands will brush off a one-sided loss by the women as no big deal and not indicative of any problems in the program.  

The women have won bronze, after all. Twice! They can’t possibly be in danger of losing their relevance in the WoSo world.

Here’s the thing. They kind of already have lost their relevance – well, much of it anyway. Outside of Canada, they aren’t considered a contending team to win major tournaments. They are, at best, a medal darkhorse in Tokyo in what is a historically weak Olympic field.

Based on what we saw over the past three games, that darkhorse status is almost solely based on the previous two Olympics and the possibility that Christine Sinclair has two more weeks of elite play left in her.

I mean, she might. She’s that good. And, if it happens, I’ll be waving the flag as hard as anyone.

I just don’t see it happening.

As it relates to the now completed SheBelieves Cup you can make excuses, but ultimately what we were served was pretty mediocre. Sure, Canada was missing some key players this week and they certainly weren’t outplayed to the point that you would think that all hope is lost in the immediate future.

But, it was clear as day how razor thin Canada is. They are overly reliant on a tiny group of players that are increasingly getting older. When too many are missing you get…well, you get three games where they produce one goal that came from a lucky bounce in a scramble.

This Canadian program has simply not produced the type of players it needs to compete at the very highest level of the sport. They can defend well and hang on – like any plucky underdog – but to consistently compete? No. Not really.

To be clear, this isn’t meant to be a criticism of the players on the field. They are competing to the best of their abilities and their dedication is clear. It’s only because of their drive and hard work that Canada is able to still keep in touch with the top teams in the game.

We aren’t being failed by the players; we are failing them.

Specifically, the Canadian development system is. From a young age, we are not putting players in a position to succeed. Rather, we stick a select few (that usually come from a privileged few clubs) and put them into the REX program, where we then shield them from being challenged domestically.

Sure, they give that select few good coaching and nutrition and expose them to the best sports science, but we also give them a false sense of accomplishment at a young age. That, in turn, leads to a nasty surprise the first time they get punched in the mouth (symbolically) in international play.

Just look at the youth results of the last decade. They are shockingly bad. Canada routinely loses to teams like Costa Rica and Haiti at the youth level now. It’s only a matter of time before that translates to the full senior level.

Yet, if you listen to the CSA and its apologists, they will not only deny that there is a problem with the REX program and the youth pathway in general, but they will also go that extra mile and claim that we are actually doing things better than other countries.

So much so that the coaches that are leading Canada’s youth teams to 5th place finishes in Concacaf events are getting PROMOTED.

Look at Bev Priestman’s record as a youth coach for Canada and then explain to me why she was given the senior job? Isn’t sports a results-based space?    

The idea Canada is thriving at the development level is pure insanity. There is literally no evidence backing that claim up. People get away with it because of the bronze medals.

Those medals are blinders for most people. They just don’t see past them, or see them for what they are – a stroke of luck in London (seriously, look at London with a critical eye and you’ll realize Canada played exactly one game that was good from start to finish in the tournament, the quarterfinal versus Team GB) and a two-week hot streak in Rio where they legit deserved that medal, but there was not a continuation of momentum following the tournament.

These are all things I’ve written before. The difference now, I think, is more people are starting to see it. Not as many as we need to make changes, but more.

So, we’ll keep shouting from the rooftops that the house is on fire (while hoping against hope that the player’s will and effort can overcome the system they play in).