Sunday, September 05, 2004

CANADIAN SOCCER

As Canada's national hockey team continued to rock the World Cup competition with an impressive 3-1 victory over Russia last night, another Canadian national team was also in action.

At Edmonton's Commonwealth stadium the Canadian notional soccer team took on Honduras in a World Cup qualifying match. Almost everything about the match indicated the extent to which soccer in Canada and CONCACAF (North America and Caribbean division) lags behind most of the rest of the world.

The Pitch: The field at Commonwealth stadium was in awful condition and really should not have been played on. The atrocious conditions were the result of trying to play soccer on field that is regularly used for (Canadian) football. This simply can not be done. It happens all the time for the amateur games that I officiate but there is no excuse for this occurring at a World Cup qualifyer. Football playing rips apart the well groomed grass that is required for playing world class soccer. Embarassingly, the grounds officials where forced to make last minute repairs prior to the game when the officials announced that the pitch was unsuitable for play. The officials should not have allowed the game to be played on sucha pitch, even after the efforts of the grounds crew. Not until the CSA is embarrassed by having its world class games post-poned and moved are conditions going to change. However, it is not just Canadian fields that fall into such states of disrepair. I have seen other qualifying games played in Jamaica, Honduras and Guatemala over the years in conditions that would be unacceptable in most other parts of the world.

The Play: Uninspiring at best. Both teams showed particular instances of decent movement and ball play but neither were capable of producing even flashes of brilliance. From the outset, Honduras was clearly satisfied with a tie but played to it with none of the grace or finesse that most teams from Europe, South America and Africa are capable of. Like so many CONCACAF qualifying matches I have seen the game degenearted by the end into a frantic scramble, with the Hondurans diving about attempting to run out the clock and the Canadians sucumbing to their level with undisciplined play and penalties, which ultimately cost them the game and likely their entire qualifying campaign.

The Officiating: As a soccer referee who officiates at a fairly competitive level and has intentions of advancing in my qualifications I, like most other referees, am reluctant to ever openly criticize a fellow official, even when I'm a relative nobody and the official in question is FIFA qualified. Nevertheless, the officiating team led by Mexican referee Benito Archundia got off to a bad start by even allowing the game to be played and didn't improve much from there. Archundia called a penalty against Canada late in the game that would have been supremely difficult to construe as a foul from any angle on the pitch. Minutes later the whistle was blown against Canada again just as they were putting the ball in the back of the Honduran net for a harmless bit of contact against a Honduran player. Given that the haphazard play of the last ten minutes had seen pushing, ankle clipping and outright body checks, calling THIS 'foul' was questionable at best.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Canada now facing a near impossible road to qualification.

The cause of all of these problems of course is the lack of interest soccer generates in North America, which in turn leads to the lack of any skilled professional league (the MLS doesn't count). Even in Central America, where soccer is clearly popular, can the professional systems keep up with Europe, South America or even Asia. All of this leads to a lack of development of both world class players and officials.

The hope is that most of the children currently flooding the enrolment lists of local soccer clubs across North America will not lose interest in the sport as they grow up. Given that North America is really only in its first generation of widespread youth soccer participation I think that there is still hope.

Meanwhile, at least the hockey team is still winning.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:05 AM