Mourning Vancouver, Mourning Canada

By Benjamin Massey

May 31st, 2013 · No comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

If I don’t say something about the soccer games earlier this week I know I’ll regret it down the line. So I’m forcing myself to, against the desires in my gut. I’m still not quite over it. That’s a pretty rough week, soccer-wise.

First, the Voyageurs Cup loss on Wednesday. Comprehensive analysis of the game is besides the point. If, by chance, you need such analysis, I suggest Michael McColl, whose staccato paragraphs sometimes seem to convey a lot of emotion for a pretty formula match review[1]. My thoughts, in brief, are that the Whitecaps played well enough to win, had no passengers on the pitch even if they had a few who weren’t quite at the top of their game, and that Martin Rennie managed it well (the much-maligned Jordan Harvey substitution was good theory and “the absence of a second forward” was hardly the reason Montreal drew a corner kick with Vancouver’s midfield way up the pitch, then scored). Vancouver had almost twice as many shots directed as Montreal, twice as many shots on target, they hit the woodwork twice… I mean, what else do you want? It’s Martin Rennie’s fault that Johnny Leveron’s wide-open header off a corner hit the crossbar but Hassoun Camara’s went in? Fuck off. Vancouver played extremely well and the soccer gods shit all over us.

Haven’t we lost this tournament in as many ways as possible? I mean, we had the Feisty but Inferior Team (2008), the Screwjob (2009), the Desultory Team That Was Never Good Enough (2010), the Weather Screwjob (2011), the Underachievers (2012), and now the Shit Out of Luck Gang (2013). Just heartbreak on top of heartbreak; sometimes because we weren’t good enough, sometimes because we were but the gods conspired against us, and now, when we did absolutely everything but get that final goal, hitting our breakaways off Evan Bush, hammering the post again and again, having our ultra-late last-minute sure things go so close and into the side netting that the person I was standing next to actually turned to me, eyes wide, and asked “Did that go in?!”

What should I say here? It’s been two days and my reaction still essentially amounts to fuck. It’s not like I can’t go about my life, I haven’t been laying at home in bed with my pillow over my head or anything, but every time I try to turn my brain back to soccer there’s this wrenching sensation in my head like I’m being lobotomized by a jackhammer. I was out for lunch with my co-workers this afternoon and the Voyageurs Cup came up; it was like a shell had hit next to me and I was wiping my buddy’s brains off my face. I think I have the soccer version of PTSD.

Jesus. How did we not win? How did that Harvey shot not go in? Why was nobody on the near post? How could a team which played so well, and so earned a trophy it had never won and desperately needed against a moral rival, wind up losing on away goals? As long as I live I will never understand. Ours is a primally unfair world. Most people die terrified and alone, screaming in the dark. That game was a miniature of why the universe is so horrifying and unjust.

I don’t blame the players. As a fan I sometimes wonder, do the players care about a competition like this as much as I do? But the Whitecaps gave a glorious effort in a losing cause. Nobody slacked off. There were no perfect games and both of Montreal’s goals capitalized on Vancouver mistakes. But a perfect game of soccer has not yet been played, and in most game those errors pass without exploitation. The difference is that Montreal capitalized, their shots went in, and Vancouver missed, our shots hit the woodwork. Vancouver outplayed the Impact, made fewer errors (against an excellent team playing its blood out), and it just didn’t happen. It didn’t fucking happen.

I don’t mean to take much away from Montreal. They were inferior, they were lucky, but they were still very good. Jeb Brovsky and Alessandro Nesta fighting back from injury and making major contributions was every bit as impressive as Kenny Miller and Daigo Kobayashi doing the same for Vancouver. No doubt their fans are rightly overjoyed. But look at the shots again. Look at the passes. Look at the chances Vancouver just couldn’t put away. I will go to my grave convinced the Whitecaps were the better team over the two legs everywhere but where it counted.

That really was the worst game I have ever seen. Those who went to watch Canada lose 8-1 in Honduras will suggest that one but at least it was over quickly. A shot to the back of the head, then Honduras is up 4-0 and you’re ordering the highest-alcohol beer you can find. “Losing a Cup final at home to a mortal rival on away goals”… I don’t know. Penalties might have been worse. That’s it.

As for the Canada game in Costa Rica, what stood out was how little our bubble guys showed. The players who are or should be automatic (Hainault, Edwini-Bonsu, Borjan, okay that might be it) showed well enough. The players on the bubble did absolutely nothing to convince me they deserve another look. Naturally, every single bubble player made Canada’s 35-man preliminary Gold Cup roster[2], because Tony Fonseca has an insane and indefensible bias against NASL players (oh, yeah, Stefan Cebara, Daniel Haber, two U-20s who have never played a professional game, and one Scottish U-20 who has never played above the Scottish Third Division are all well ahead of Shaun Saiko on the depth chart). Paul Hamilton isn’t named, of course; if the Carolina Railhawks ever played a team like Los Angeles they’d get killed. Simon Thomas, who will be backing up for FC Edmonton on Saturday, is named. John Smits, who will be starting ahead of Simon Thomas for FC Edmonton on Saturday[3], is not. It’s actually hilarious (and I like Simon a lot). No bias against the NASL here! No sir! Kyle Porter materialized out of thin air rather than spending three years as a B or B+ player in the USSF D2 and NASL, right?

While the Canadian game was frustrating, it’s a different sort of frustration from Vancouver. The Voyageurs Cup was an apocalypse, our own little Hiroshima. The continued incompetence of the Canadian men’s national team is just, well, the continued incompetence of the Canadian men’s national team. There was no risk of them making any noise at the Gold Cup, we all knew it, and it was nice to see my prejudices confirmed on so many levels. It was equally nice to see Canada back playing on the prairies, a gesture so important it canceled out any result.

Soccer is the worst sport in the world.

[1] — McColl, Michael. “Voyageurs Cup Final Report and Reaction: Camara gives Montreal picture perfect moment.” Away from the Numbers, May 29, 2013. Accessed May 31, 2013.

[2] — Canadian Soccer Association. “Canada announces preliminary roster for Gold Cup.”, May 31, 2013. Accessed May 31, 2013.

[3] — Sandor, Steven. “Whitecaps loan goalkeeper Simon Thomas to FC Edmonton.”, May 31, 2013. Accessed May 31, 2013.

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