3 games, 1 win and 2 ties, 5 points, second place and still in with a chance. One game against Mexico for the prize of a trip to London for the Olympics. 3 days ago, any Canada fan would have snapped your hand off if you'd offered them that scenario. Let's face it, there's probably a decent portion of fans who if offered the scenario of not qualifying out of the group stage, but winning the game against the US, would have taken that as well. We actually have both of them, the points, the place in the semi finals and the one off "win or stay home" game, and we beat the US along the way to that. Fantastic stuff! And yet. And yet.
There's a quote from the movie clockwise that has proven appropriate many times over as a TFC and Canada supporter. "It's not the despair Laura, I can handle the despair, it's the hope I can't stand"
Time and time again, promising situations have been thrown away at the last gasp. Ties snatched from the jaws of victory, disappointment snatched from the jaws of playoff qualification, hopes have been raised just to be dashed at the death. Today, it was a one off game against Mexico snatched from the jaws of a still tough but much more favourable game against Honduras.
A game like TFC's shambles against San Jose is depressing in it's own way, but it doesn't give you the emotional kick in the nuts that a late game changing goal conceded can, and this was just the latest in a long line of those for Canada.
Going into the game, most fans including myself were fairly confident. After all Cuba had looked pretty hopeless so far, surely the Honduras game is where it would all go wrong. The lineup seemed fairly confident as well, whether to rest players in what was the 3rd game in 5 days, or to avoid potential second yellows and suspensions for the semi final, there were changes made. Captain Nana Attakora and the man who set up both goals on Saturday Phillipe Davies both started this game on the bench, and combined with the absence of the injured Babayele Sodade and Randy Edwini-Bonsu, there was definite B+/A- feel to the team.
After a rough start, Canada eventually asserted themselves and by the time Evan James scored, they were already well on top and looking good. As the game progressed though and went deep in the second half without a second goal, a Russell Teibert free kick tipped over the bar was the closest they came, nervousness became the order of the day. Cuba didn't really look like scoring, but Canada was dropping further and further back and becoming more and more careful, and the ending was inevitable really. A free kick deep in Canada's half knocked into the box and poorly defended allowed the equaliser in the 91st minute.
After getting what looked like an ugly point against El Salvador (but in retrospect now looks a very creditable result) and a surprising win over the U.S, it could have been so much better, it could have been first place and a game against Honduras, but once again Canada conspired to throw away an opportunity and make things harder for themselves. I also thought that it had denied us the prospect of a mouthwatering do or die game between Mexico and the U.S in the other semi final, assuming the US would shake off their loss to canada and beat El Salvador to take first in the group.
It was all very disheartening, but I tried to convince myself it wasn't all that bad, I'd have happily been one of the Canadian fans accepting the offer of 2nd in the table, that if it wasn't for the temporary hope of better things, I wouldn't even be looking at this as something to despair about. It got a lot easier to convince myself of that after the second match.
It was a wildly entertaining affair, the US taking an early lead. El Salvador scoring two quick goals to take a 2-1 lead into the second half. Freddy Adu inspired a comeback and two quick goals of their own gave the US a 3-2 lead they took into injury time, past the 4 minutes that had been indicated. Since going behind, El Salvador had resorted to all sorts of dirty tactics, punching players behind the refs back, and 'accidentally' falling on top of the goalie, then right at the death, Jaime Alas launched a long shot that was misjudged horribly by Sean Johnson, bouncing off his hands and looping slowly into the net behind him.
Just like that, El Salvador were in top spot, and the hometown team, Brek Shea, Freddy Adu and all the rest of the talented and hyped US team were in 3rd, cancelling their travel arrangements, and very much remaining merely the United States Men's Under 23 team. And though El Salvador and Jaime Alas delivered the final blow, it was that loss to Canada that really killed off their hopes.
Yes, Canada have made things more difficult than they needed to be, and it's unlikely they'll get much joy from Mexico, but all of a sudden, 2nd place doesn't seem so bad does it.