Rudi Schuller: Canada must learn from harrowing Panamanian experience

Canada needs to learn from its eye-opening stay in Panama earlier this month and take more drastic measures to ensure its players are rested and ready to go against Honduras.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Never before has that old saying had more meaning for Canadian soccer than it does now.

Two weeks ago in Panama, the men's national team was reminded about just how seriously most of this region takes its fútbol. For each of the two nights leading up to a World Cup qualifier in Panama City, the locals held a street party featuring drums of all sizes, loud music, revved up motorcycle engines, and fireworks, all in an attempt to disrupt the peace and quiet of the Canadians ahead of the crucial match.

And, although the players wouldn't say so, the tactics seemed to work, with Canada playing a lackadaisical, lethargic game against an energized home side in front of a ravenous crowd. The result was predictable: a rousing 2-0 victory for Panama and a lot of questions from the growing Canadian footy faithful about why nothing was done to counteract the fan actions, which weren't exactly groundbreaking or unexpected.

The truth is that the Canadian Soccer Association did quite a lot in anticipation of the rude reception the team received in Central America. A jet was chartered to avoid travel woes, earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones were distributed to the players, and hotel rooms were reportedly changed after the first night's disturbance, putting the team at the back of the downtown building instead of in rooms that faced the raucous street party below.

Yet, despite all of those measures, Canada still looked like a team that had lost a lot of sleep during its stay in Panama. There's only so much that can be done to muffle the sounds (and vibrations) of live explosives being deployed mere metres from the hotel, after all.

It is with that in mind that the CSA should look to more extreme measures the next time the men have to play in Central America. Canada next plays in the region on Oct. 16 in Honduras, a match that is increasingly looking like it will be one in which the Canadians will need to grab a result to advance.

With such high stakes, and with the CSA's increased willingness to spend a little bit more on its top two teams in recent years, perhaps those in charge should look to what its opposition is doing.

The Hondurans, who are in a slightly worse spot than Canada in that they have to first travel to Panama and try to get a result before hosting the Canucks, have learned from the hapless Canadians' plight from earlier in the month and have reportedly booked themselves into a Panamanian resort outside of the city.

It's not unreasonable to suggest that the CSA should be looking into similar accomodations for the trip to Honduras. A gated resort, with private security and acres of space between the suites and public roads, could be the answer. Add in the fact that most resorts are away from urban centres, and that distance is a good deterrent for even the most ardent supporters, and perhaps a few days at an all-inclusive may not be the worst of ideas.

If the resort option isn't in the cards, perhaps a little trickery could be employed. The CSA is sponsored by a major international hotel chain called IHG, which has multiple brand names in its portfolio. Perhaps Canada should look into booking rooms at numerous local hotels, leaking the location of one while actually staying in another.


It's a bit of a costly proposal, and one that the hotels may not be on board with (for various reasons), but what harm could there be in exploring the possibility, especially when the willingness to spend on things like chartered flights has now entered the conversation?

Now is the time to think outside of the box. The Canadians got a rude reminder of how the world works in a burgeoning soccer culture like Panama - where local support will do everything in its power to own its status as the 12th man on and off the pitch - and things will only ramp up in a do-or-die situation in football-crazed Honduras.

With a berth in the final round of CONCACAF's marathon World Cup qualification tournament a very real possibility, Canada will need to do whatever it takes to gain any small advantage it can get.

It all starts with a good night's sleep.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Canada.