No possible factor can mitigate the pain or the stain of the 8-1 defeat in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday afternoon.
Forget about the conditions, the injuries and the missing players. They don't justify the complete and utter disintegration at the first sign of adversity. Not after drawing 0-0 with the same team in June and meriting more than one point for the performance at BMO Field on that night. Not after a series of committed defensive outings during this round in venues not located in Central America. Not with a precious berth in the Hexagonal on the line. Not with the admittedly fanciful prospect of a trip to Brazil still hanging in the balance.
Every coach and player involved will bear the weight of that terrible day at the office for the foreseeable future. Stephen Hart will probably lose his job because of it. It will hurt. Just as it stung everyone donning the red and white and dreaming of Rio at home.
But the dearth of excuses for the display does not rule out the possibility of an explanation for it. And, in this case, the root causes extend well past the coach who organized the efforts and the players who took the field. The issues start at the top of the Canadian Soccer Association and trickle all the way down to the lowest levels of youth soccer.
Canada has a talent problem. It relies on a small allotment of good players, a modest number of average ones and a plethora of others that do not meet the grade. It doesn't have an established, top-level star capable of converting reliably in front of goal or deciding tight affairs against better sides. It doesn't have the strength in depth to compensate when Dwayne De Rosario gets hurt, Olivier Occéan picks up a ban or Jonathan de Guzman and Junior Hoilett show continued indifference to the national team setup. It doesn't have a deep pool filled with players capable of contributing to a polished team.
Many nations possess those same issues. Some find a way to alter the status quo and punch above their weight. Some muddle through. Others, like Canada, do their best with what they have, grab any any success they can find and ignore the fundamental issues at hand because they are unable or unwilling to address the problem.
The best way to address a talent problem is to find a way to cultivate it. Canada actually should fare better than most countries in this situation because it possesses the financial and the human resources to change the situation substantially if it chooses to do so. It just hasn't yet.
Much of the blame lays with the rudderless CSA and the fiefdoms that comprise it. Progress can start from the grassroots levels, but it must receive support from the top in order to flourish. Perhaps the pieces are now in place to finally condemn the usual gridlock to the past. It will take more than promises and speeches to wipe away the inadequate measures that contributed to the pressing situation at hand.
Now is the time to develop and implement the ideas and the structures necessary to prove this regime isn't more of the same.
It will require a coherent vision implemented by a talented figure to fill the currently vacant role of technical director. It will require significant investment in terms of money and time. It will require some difficult assessments and some hard decisions about future priorities. It will require better youth competitions and better youth coaches for the ample number of players interested in the game. It will require finding a way to ensure that the fine professional academies in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver aren't the only domestic finishing schools available to promising young Canadians capable of playing at a high level. Most importantly, it will require accepting the notion that what is happening now isn't good enough in light of what Canada could be at the international level.
None of this will come easily. There are genuine concerns about the financial resources available to fund such an ambitious project and the logistical hurdles associated with a large nation that spans the vast distance from St. John's to Vancouver. There are endless hours to spend forging the foundation required before launching such a massive effort. Every minute spent is worth it. It might not pay off now, but it will do so in the future if the necessary commitment is behind it.
The present reinforces some harsh truths. Canada will see its 26-year World Cup drought extended through the middle of this decade. The streak is continued by a team that finished third in its semifinal group behind two more talented sides. That point does not offer a reprieve for the inexcusable way Tuesday afternoon unfolded. It merely serves as a means to explain why heartache reigns yet again and why change must come to avoid such indignities in the future.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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