The Canadian Men's under 23 team quest to join the women's team at the Olympics in London this year got underway with a game against El Salvador tonight, and given how tightly packed the schedule is, from the looks of tonight's performance, it could all be over within the week.
I somehow managed to miss the first 20 minutes or so, during which time he made two very good saves to keep it at 0-0, but even after that, goalie Michal Misiewicz was by far the best player in the white of Canada. He made good saves, very timely interceptions and cleaned up dodgy backpasses as, especially in the second half, El Salvador were by far the more fluent team. As well as Misiewicz's great play, El Salvador didn't help themselves with some very wasteful finishing, and, curiously given how they were the only team likely to score at the end, some of your usual Central American timewasting.
Before the game, Canadian coach Tony Fonseca said about El Salvador that he didn't really know much, that they'd seen them a few times and they were a competitive team. For the love of football and country, I'm hoping that that was just Fonseca playing coy with the media, but it summed up my knowledge of the El Salvador team (well, aside from the "seen them a few times" bit). I went in figuring they'd probably be ok, roughly at Canada's level, and our main opponents for that second place in the group behind the US team that was clearly going to be the class of the group. A win for either side would have put them in an almost unassailable position. A 0-0 tie? Well that means, and the USA -Cuba match I'm watching as I write this just reinforces this thought, it's going to come down to who can pile on the goals against Cuba, and who can avoid a massacre against the states. My money's on El Salvador.
It's not that Canada has a bad team by any means, there's obviously a big gap to the US team boasting players such as Brek Shea, Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo and more, but that's probably the case for all the teams not named Mexico, in and of itself that's not what's going to stop Canada from making at least the semi finals. There were definitely some curious lineup decisions though, best exemplified by the full backs, Matt Stinson at Right Back, which to be fair he played quite a few times last year and apparently impressed Stephen Hart in that position, and Russell Tiebert at Left Back. Neither player was particularly bad, and the defence as a whole wasn't really that bad either, but it was in midfield where Canada really struggled, Stinson's drive and Tiebert's creativity could both have really helped out.
It was a typical Canada performance really, with a real lack of cutting edge displayed. Marcus Haber, one of the few players with experience with the full men's team, as well as one of the few getting playing time at a decent level (St Johnstone of the Scottish premier league) was a non factor, rarely getting the ball in any kind of advanced position.
All in all, it was ugly to watch, and 0-0 was a very good result. They're still alive, and still with a chance of getting to the semi finals, but things will have to improve.That's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Going in to the tournament, Canada got very little time together, so probably have the most room for improvement of all the teams as far as chemistry goes, this game will have helped, as will the game against the US on Saturday.
On the evidence of today, that should be a very tough game, the US team have more talent, had a vastly better preparation with training camps and practice games, and seem very focused. The commentators in the US Cuba game quoted US coach Caleb Porter as saying to his team "We are starting this tournament as the Under 23 Men's national team, we are going to finish it as the US olympic team." All the brash confidence you'd expect from an American team, and not really the sort of thing you could imagine the Canadian coach or players saying. Going by today's game, it's also tough to imagine them finishing the tournament as anything other than simply the Canadian Under 23 team.