photo courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadasoccer
Huge game on Tuesday, Canada could get through to the Hex! Sounds good, but it's still a long way from the World Cup. It's unlikely Canada would make it through the hex, but securing those 10 games would be huge for the future.
So, on Tuesday Canada could clinch qualification to the Hex, for the first time since 1997. But it's not like that's the World Cup, what's the big deal, why the excitement and so much nerves?
Obviously it's one step closer to all that. Finish in the top 3 and we're going to Brazil (clap, clap), finish 4th and at the very least we're going to New Zealand for a playoff. I go back and forth on that possibility, from thinking 'that's totally unrealistic, look at Canada's records against the top teams, the level of teams who'd be in that group and it's really not good.' to thinking maybe, just maybe they do have a chance.
More than likely it would be the end of the road, the last step that Canada isn't quite good enough to get past yet. But merely getting there would be a very good achievement, worth celebrating and one that would really help build on the minor, still fragile but definitely noticeable momentum the national team is slowly gathering.
Things are getting better, Canada are getting closer. That momentum, fuelled in large part by the extra attention brought to the sport by Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps will eventually start paying off. There's the obvious ways those clubs will help in the form of players coming through their academies and residencies, but there'll also be talented kids choosing to stick with soccer rather than other sports, and talented footballers with options, your Hargreaves, Begovic, Bunbury, de Guzman, Hoillet and more choosing to stick with Canada rather than go with other countries.
These things are already happening, and I'm very confident that by 2022 and onwards Canada will be a regular qualifier for the World Cup. I don't think we'd get out of the Hex this time around, but just being there would be a huge help for getting through in 2018. Why? Well it's all about experience, playing in the big games in hostile environments. Qualify and Canada could have itself 10 important games against quality opposition next year, on top of at least 3 games at the Gold Cup.
What's the alternative? Well there'd still be the Gold Cup of course, but aside from that it'd just be a few friendlies, and with the best concacaf teams, and most countries around the world involved in World Cup qualifiers, there won't be a lot of quality opposition available, we'd basically be stuck waiting for 2016 to come around for some truly important and competitive games again.
Here's what Canada has played in the last few years, since it last competed in the Hex in 1997. GC = Gold Cup, WCQ = World Cup qualifiers CC = Confederations Cup
1998 - 1 friendly - Macedonia
1999 - 3 GC, 7 friendlies (Northern Ireland, Guatemala x2, Iran, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica)
2000 - 5 GC, 8 WCQ, 4 friendlies (Trinidad & Tobago x2, Bermuda, Cuba)
2001 - 3 CC, 3 friendlies (Egypt, Iran, Malta)
2002 - 5 GC, 2 friendlies (Switzerland, Scotland)
2003 - 2 GC, 7 friendlies (USA, Libya, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland)
2004 - 8 WCQ, 2 friendlies (Barbados, Wales)
2005 - 3 GC, 5 friendlies (Northern Ireland, Portugal, Honduras, Spain, Luxembourg)
2006 - 5 friendlies (USA, Austria, Jamaica x2, Hungary)
2007 - 5 GC, 5 friendlies (Bermuda, Venezuela, Iceland, Costaa Rica, South Africa)
2008 - 8 WCQ, 4 friendlies (Martinique, Estonia, Brazil, Panama)
2009 - 4 GC, 4 friendlies (Cyprus, Guatemala, Macedonia, Poland)
2010 - 6 friendlies (Jamaica, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras, Ukraine)
2011 - 6 WCQ, 3 GC, 3 friendlies (Greece, Belarus, Ecuador)
2012 - 6 WCQ, 3 friendlies (Armenia, USA, Trinidad & Tobago
61 friendlies over the last 15 years, just over 4 per year. Obviously some years are busier than others with the Gold Cup and World Cup, but let's go back in 4 year periods for the equivalent of a World Cup-less 2013 may look like. 4 friendlies in 09, 5 in 05, 3 in 01. There will of course be a Gold Cup next year as well, but compare that sort of schedule to 10 games, 10 games that really matter, playing against the opposition's best players, when everyone's trying and the fans really care.
The experience gained from those games is the real prize this time around. Actually qualifying would be a miraculously fantastic bonus, but even without it, getting to the Hex would make this round of qualifying a success, and be a huge boost to our chances of doing better next time around.