Why are Canada so Poor Away From Home?
In the comfort of their home stadium, BMO Field in Toronto, the Canadian National Men’s soccer team is quickly becoming one of the best teams in the region of CONCACAF. Since September 7th, 2010 Canada has not lost a game at home, starting with a 2-1 victory over Honduras, then considered one of the best teams in the region. Canada has followed that match with more impressive results including a 2-2 draw with Ecuador, a 0-0 draw with the United States and most recently a 1-0 victory over Panama. In between these games Canada has managed to string an impressive streak of eight matches unbeaten, a streak that has carried into a their recent World Cup qualification cycle in which they have not lost at BMO Field.
However, when Canada is in the left column of the score sheet and have to travel away from home things change completely. In the same period of two years in which Canada have gone 4-4-0 at home they have only won twice in a meaningful road tie (aka not against a tiny island), those victories came in a friendly against Belarus and earlier this year World Cup Qualifying against Cuba (who could be considered a tiny island). While Canada have been able to get some results against top teams on the road in the past the majority of the time they have struggled to put together the same kind of effort demonstrated while playing in their home and native land. Part of this is tied down to home field advantage which has been a big advantage for BMO teams in the past, until recently when Toronto FC decided they don’t know how to win anywhere.
Probably the best example of the two faces of the Canadian Men’s National team has come in their most recent fixtures as part of the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In the first third of the cycle Canada began their conquest against Cuba. Cuba was the source of a lot of excitement from Canadian supporters when Canada drew them into their group for the third round of World Cup qualifiers. This is because while Cuba are ranked as one of the top six teams in CONCACAF they have done very little in recent memory to prove that ranking. Canada’s 1-0 victory over Cuba to begin the round was seen as a huge success considering the sweltering heat and overall quality of the Cuban pitch. However, the overall performance was not very impressive and a team that Canada should have beaten handily, they struggled the full 90 minutes to finally come out on top.
Fast-forward to this week and the second of three international breaks that decide this third round of CONCACAF qualification. Canada are playing Panama at BMO Field in a must win game with plenty of reason to be confident. They have had plenty of success recently on their home grounds including a 0-0 draw with the United States in their Centennial match. That success continued as Canada not only out-played the best team in their group, but were also able to hold them without a goal winning 1-0 and providing plenty of hope for the historic pro-Canadian crowd of just under 18,000. It was a monumental occasion for Canadian soccer that also included a ceremony celebrating the success of the Canadian Women’s National Team at the London Olympics.
Just three days later the result seemed almost forgotten. September the 11th, after the success Canada had on the 7th was supposed to be a sort of coming-out party for the sport in Canada. The match would be broadcasted on City TV coast-to-coast and would give all Canadians an opportunity to tune in. Not only that but the match was also getting widespread coverage from top Canadian media outlets especially because of antics of Panamanian supporters who had attempted to disturb the Canadian team’s sleep prior to the match. Canada had an opportunity to show to a record audience that they were no longer a team that the majority of Canadians considered to be of comically poor quality.
However, during the match itself Canada would do very little to prove any different. Panama’s supporters may have done their job of keeping the Canadians up late into the night. Panama dominated the entire match after a delay caused by a power outage within the stadium lighting. After the delay it became apparent the hero of the home tie, Dwayne De Rosario, could not continue. Canada looked entirely different from the previous match as their confidence was reduced to hopeful longballs, which were easily picked off by the Panamanian defense. Furthermore, the defense that had looked almost impossible to break in recent memory, was responsible for both Panamanian goals in the 2-0 Canadian loss.
So why can Canada dominate almost anyone and home but look poor and unorganized on the road? A large part of it has to do with confidence. Canada just does not seem to play the same style away from home opting for long balls and little possession versus the possession based passing game they seem to have adapted at home. It does not make sense that the hostility of playing away from home in CONCACAF could be any different from some of these players playing away from home in the European leagues in which they play their club football. Away ties are very difficult in CONCACAF, but it often seems that Canada are making them out to be harder than they should be.
This is a phenomenon that cannot continue for Canada at any level of competition. If Canada makes the Hex (the fourth and final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers) they will need at least one, maybe two victories away from BMO Field in order to have any chance at stepping into any one of the three and a half World Cup births in the region. Moreover, the opposition is not going to get any easier. Currently primed to advance to the Hex are Panama, Mexico, El Salvador, The United States and Guatemala, all of whom provide incredibly difficult venues to attempt to gather away points. If Canada cannot win away to a team like Panama there is no chance they get any sort of compensation for an away match in Mexico.
If Canada ever want to be considered a major team in International football, or even in the region of CONCACAF for that matter, they must become more confident when playing away from home. Dropped points on the road against Honduras in October could end what was at times a very promising qualifying cycle for Canada. If the country wants to go anywhere with this program that fate cannot, must not, be realized.