Canada's men's national team came away with a respectable 0-0 draw against the United States on Tuesday night in Houston, Texas. It was Canada's second game in a week, coming off the back of a 4-0 loss to Denmark on Saturday.
Admittedly, the U.S. lineup was missing many of its star players, with the likes of Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey all absent. But it was a morale-boosting result for Canada's players, after a dismal performance against Denmark.
After the 4-0 loss to the Danes, it would have been easy to turn on the team, picking apart every mistake that was made along the way. It was clear that a number of players were not up to the standard required for the international level. But micro-analyzing one game, or even a series of games, fails to fully address the problems we face in Canada.
With many of Canada's first-choice players unavailable for these two games, the depth of talent available to interim head coach Colin Miller was exposed as woefully inadequate. Which begs the question: Why do we have so few players capable of competing at the international level?
The list of answers is a lengthy one.
For starters, the youth development structure in Canada is a broken mess, forcing talented youngsters to find their own way through the system, without any guidance. Until there is a clearly defined development pathway that is based on technical development standards, rather than the current win-at-all-costs pyramid, we will continue to do a disservice to those who show promise at a young age.
From there, our talented teenaged players stagnate in their development because they do not have a league in which they can challenge themselves. While many consider winning a trophy to be an achievement for an 'elite' player, the reality is that our best teens should be challenged to achieve more than just competing against players their own age. Where the Canadian Hockey League exists for talented 16-20 years olds to push their development on towards the professional level, there exists a void in soccer – there is no corresponding league for Canada's best teens to play in.
The very few who do manage to move past this to sign on with a professional club, either in Canada or abroad, face an uphill struggle to get playing time. Players like Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps), Matt Stinson and Doneil Henry (both Toronto FC) do not feature regularly for their MLS teams. All are at an age where they need to play to continue their education – if they don't, their promise will never be fulfilled.
Being charitable, one could argue that Canada's squad for the two recent friendlies was a 'B' squad – younger players needing experience sprinkled in with a few veterans to provide leadership. However, when one considers that multiple players that were called in for these games are not even under contract to a professional club, one sees just how shallow Canada's pool of talent is.
While it was good experience for the young players to play two competitive international games, it is worrying that so few of them feature regularly at a decent professional level. The notion that a player can step in and play well internationally without playing regularly at the professional level is a complete fallacy, and relying on those players to turn around the fortunes of a men's national team program in years to come would be a mistake.