For whatever reason, hardcore soccer fans in this country tend to turn up their nose at the Gold Cup.
There are very valid reasons for any established soccer-loving country to do that, but this is Canada. And, frankly, we’re barely on the beautiful game’s radar right now.
Tournaments like this can help that. In 2000, when Canada shocked Mexico in the quarter-finals and beat Columbia 2-0 in the final, the soccer world sat up and took notice — as did the sporting public here. Canada jumped to 63rd on the world FIFA rankings and earned a berth in the Confederations Cup. We were at least on the world stage — even if it was in an extra’s role.
There are plenty of reasons to take an interest in this year’s Gold Cup, but here are the top 5:
1. Ali Gerba. In Gerba you have a pure goal scorer who can brood up and down the pitch for 80 minutes, before turning on a dime and scoring a goal that will have you out of your seat singing his name (applicable even if you’re watching the game by yourself). The half-volley he took out of the air, giving Canada the win over Jamaica Friday, was simply world class.
2. Julian De Guzman is the kind of player who is easy to miss if you’re not looking for his contribution. The stalwart defensive-midfielder closes down passing lanes and creates counter-attacking opportunities with a Bob Marley-like calm. He’s perhaps the best player to ever come out of the Canadian system.
3. Stephen Hart-style soccer. Unlike some (Dale Mitchell) who have tried to force a style of play on a team (Dale Mitchell), Hart is confident enough to trust his players to a style that suits them. His free-flowing game is highly entertaining. Unlike some.
4. The proximity to home makes travelling support possible. Hosted by the Americans, both the semifinals and final will be in Chicago. As well, Canada plays El Salvador at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow. Red looks great in Crew stadium and best of all, Columbus is now sporting a police force that has been Taser free for 99 days. Here’s hoping it can make it to 100.
5. It’s a tournament we can win. And that’s not something Canadians can lay claim to very often. The World Cup qualifying in 2008 is now a bad memory. Putting some titles to Canada’s name over the next few years would make 2008 more of a drunken blur — which, in a way, is less painful.