Rudi Schuller: The Canadian dream can't end yet

Heading into Tuesday's must-not-lose game in Honduras, Canada has momentum - and a growing legion of supporters - on its side.
It was an increasingly familiar scene: Canada had just wrapped up a dominant-yet-not-completely satisfying 3-0 win over undermanned Cuba, and the entire team had migrated towards the south east corner of BMO Field.

It is in that area of the Toronto stadium that the hardest of the hardcore supporters stand, sing, cheer, and generally go crazy for their national side, and immediately following each home game in this cycle of World Cup qualifying, the players would head over to that corner - arm-in-arm - to salute the growing throng.

Friday night was no different, with the victorious Canucks once again showing thanks to the raucous crowd. And amid the throbbing horde of red-clad humanity, a sign was unfurled.

It simply stated, "This Can't End."

The message was loud and clear. Canadian fans have gotten a taste of (limited) success and they don't want the party to be over.

It's been something of a watershed year for Canadian soccer. Led by the trailblazing women's team that captured the hearts of the nation at this past summer's Olympic Games, the country's soccer program has soared into the public consciousness in ways never thought imaginable.

Long-time servants of the women's team like Diana Matheson, Karina LeBlanc, and - biggest of all - Christine Sinclair have become household names, thanks largely to a single game watched by millions.

Now admittedly, the men aren't under the same intense spotlight that that women's Olympic semi-final drew. Not yet, at least.

But if the men can take anything away from the women's successes this year, it's that Canada will get behind a winner. And this Canada team has been, for the most part, a winner so far in World Cup qualifying.

The men did not concede a single goal at home this year, which includes three qualifiers and a high-profile friendly with the United States. In fact, the team hasn't given up a goal in qualification since the Sept. 2011, when an ambitious strike by a St. Lucian evaded everyone and gave the islanders false hope (Canada would win that game 4-1, and the reverse fixture in St. Lucia by a 7-0 scoreline).

Since then, Canada has played some superb team defense both at home and away, Panama City notwithstanding. Stephen Hart's side has conceded just three times in 11 qualifying matches thus far, a stingy record that has put the Canadians in a position to advance to the final hexagonal for the first time in 16 years.

And people are starting to notice. The crowds at BMO Field have gotten progressively larger - and louder - with each step, and television ratings have crept up in kind.

Corporate Canada has also gotten in on the act (no doubt helped along by the women's profile, of course). Telecom giant Bell Canada has joined several multinationals as a top level sponsor of the Canadian Soccer Association, funneling more money into the CSA's cash-starved coffers than ever before.

Needless to say, a lot hinges on Tuesday afternoon's result in Honduras.

If Canada can earn at least a draw in its biggest match in over a decade, the floodgates of support for Canadian soccer may finally be opened. This is already a nation that loves the world's game, but it prefers the exotic mistresses of Europe and South America to the sensible, unsexy choice at home.

That can change with a single point earned, albeit in one of the toughest venues in the hemisphere.


A draw or a win would thrust Canada back into the Hexagonal at a time when soccer acceptance is at an all time high. The local pro clubs already bring in tens of thousands of spectators into the stadiums every week. Futbol from around the world can be found on the most mainstream of channels these days, sports-oriented and otherwise. A positive result in Honduras would help continue that trend.

It would also allow the growing masses at BMO Field to continue their impressive rate of expansion, to the point where walk-up crowds would be a thing of the past.

Simply, it would put soccer on the map. For good.

It all rests of the shoulders of 11 men in red, in the sweltering mid-afternoon Central American sun, surrounded by 41,000 locals all screaming for them to lose. No easy task, but not impossible, either.

As the sign said, this can't end. Not yet.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Canada.