On October 16, 2012 Canada lost to Honduras 8-1 to eliminate themselves from a chance at next month's World Cup in Brazil. At the time, many said that the loss would setback the program a number of years, possibly even indefinitely. So far, that analysis appears to be correct: since the loss Canada has a record of 0-10-3 with only one goal scored. In that time they have dropped to a FIFA ranking of 110.
But as 2014 starts Canada are hoping that they can stop the bleeding well short of most expert's predictions, at just 19 months. The bandaging has already started, with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria in their first match of 2014, bringing an end to the long goalless streak. While scoring against, but not beating, a team ranked 73rd in the world certainly isn't going to earn the team many headlines, it was an important step for the team back into positivity.
"It was a good result," said defender Luca Gasparotto. He then underlined the importance of the draw for players like himself and his young teammates: "We played very well yesterday with a more experienced team. We have a bunch of young guys here that can learn from these experienced players just by watching them and being around them. But I mean it was very positive getting a result against a decent team."
Gasparetto, a 19 year old who plays his club football for Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, is a good example of the type of young player manager Benito Floro has been trying to integrate into the roster. Several players from the academies of Canada's three MLS clubs have made appearances and impressed, and many of them are included in this camp as well.
On the other hand, experience is something that Canada has not seen much of since the disappointment in Honduras, preferring instead to develop their younger talent and throwing the program into full transition mode. But against Bulgaria, with few European club commitments to worry about as opposed a full slate of MLS games being played, Canada returned to many of their old faithful: Milan Borjan, Andre Hainault, David Edgar, Atiba Hutchinson, Julian De Guzman, Pedro Pacheco, Nik Ledgerwood and Tosaint Ricketts were all in the starting lineup.
This return of veteran presence likely means that after a year of developing young talent and trying to get a functional system in place, what Floro referred to as the first stage of his time here, Canada is now once again focused on results and trying to improve their FIFA ranking while preparing for the upcoming Gold Cup, with the seemingly lofty goal of reaching the semi finals.
Gasparotto outlined this when he was asked what would constitute a successful year for the men's national team program.
"Well obviously success, and being successful, is winning games," explained Gasparotto. "It's important to play well and to keep progressing, but if we win a couple of those games it's a plus."
He continued on to say that winning was the goal "especially towards the end of the year", when the team's main players have had time to play together consistently.
But just straight results is not entirely the focus for the program in 2014, according to Gasporotto. The team wants to change the manner in which they play, and therefore the level of respect they earn from their opposition.
"We want to make our squad a bit tougher to play against," said Gasporotto of the team's main goal in 2014. "You can see other countries, they think they can walk all over us. We want to make it tough for them."
Personally, this camp is all about the learning experience for Gasporotto, as it is for many of the other players in his age group. Getting playing time in matches is only a secondary goal.
"My personal goal is just to stick in the squad. I'm young, I'm only 19 and this is my second men's camp. Obviously I'm looking forward to getting more [camps], and learning from these older players... that's my main focus right now and if I get game time that's a bonus."
Canada concludes their first camp of the year with a game against Moldova tomorrow, where they will look for their first international win since October 12, 2012 against Cuba.