Someday, those U-20s will be standing in these ladies' shoes. (CREDIT: Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
It all started out so well, only to have it end in failure. It's the same refrain that Canadian soccer supporters have been witnessing -- and despite all of our hopes, it happened again.
This time, it was in Japan, where the under-20 women's team led by Andrew Oliveri, crashed out after losing 2-1 to North Korea in their final Group C match on Monday morning, after taking the early 1-0 lead. This was a cookie-cutter result from the previous match, where the Canadians dropped a 2-1 decision to the Norwegians. All this came after an opening 6-0 thrashing of the Argentinians.
Many Canadians fans gleefully rose early or stayed up for these matches, some of them perhaps still buoyed by the excitement generated by the senior team's bronze medal win at the London Olympics. Some of them may feel righteously disappointed, nay, perhaps even outraged: and they may be correct -- the U-20 ladies did fail to capitalize on whatever momentum that the senior team may have had, or the goodwill of the Canadian sports fan.
Oh, wouldn't it have been a great story indeed: one underdog team, coming off their own Rudy story, inspiring a second to their own Cinderella ending. But alas, it was not to be after Rachel Melhado conceded the North Koreans' winning penalty. That sinking feeling that washed across the country, in those sleepy eyes...it's a feeling that we Canadians have been through before, and in front of our eyes, it was happening again.
But as some wiser heads have previously warned us before, this wasn't Canada's tournament to win. They had formidable opponents to contend with, and it would be a tall order for the U-20 ladies to clinch a spot in the knockout stages. Lack of cohesion and an inability to capitalize on chances ultimately sank the good ship Canada, but in the wreckage, there were gems that revealed themselves.
Before the tournament, who would have thought that Christabel Oduro would be an absolute rocket, or Christine Exeter's physicality would be so key? Names like Jenna Richardson, Sabrina D'Angelo, Adriana Leon and even the aformentioned Melhado, just to list a few -- these are some of the stars of the future. These will be the names that will likely dazzle us in three years' time when the actual Women's World Cup arrives in Canada -- they could even dazzle us in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, who knows? The sky is the limit.
There might not be a new Christine Sinclair that emerged (to expect that would be lunacy), and all of whatever good work there is may be clouded over by the team's inglorious exit -- but they are there for all to see. Some of them we may never see again, taken away by that dastardly devil known as life; but for those who have the talent to remain and continue to develop and flourish, these will be the ones who will put their hands up, to etch their names into the annals of Canadian glory.
As fellow writer Daniel Squizzato writes, there is still a lot of work to be done -- we as supporters still have to make sure we let the powers that be know that this was not acceptable. They may be teenagers, but they represented the best that our country has to offer. A chance, a goal was missed, and that is something we cannot let off the hook. Andrew Olivieri and John Herdman will need to have their feet constantly on the fire from supporters, as do Stephen Hart and the men's team staff.
If we want to be excellent, then we must demand excellence -- the heartbreaks are all too familiar to us, and it's only correct we demand that it be put to an end. But on the other hands, we must remember that there are brilliant spots too, and in time, those stars will become supernovas on their own. It might not have been now, but it will happen sooner or later -- and when it does, we will be in for one hell of a ride.