Rudi Schuller: World Cup qualifying exit means changing of Canadian soccer guard

The veteran core of Canada's soccer team has tried, and failed, to lead the national side to prominence. Time and circumstance dictate an injection of new blood.
Tuesday's humiliating defeat in Honduras was a shock to the system, but the next shock may hit some of the Canadian players even worse.

"It hurts me just to know that we can't continue to enjoy this next stage with the fans," stalwart midfielder Julian de Guzman said immediately following Canada's crushing 8-1 loss in San Pedro Sula, which eliminated the team from contention for Brazil 2014. "It's something that they wanted. They were clearly there for us, we had everyone behind us and then we completely blew it in the end.

"On behalf of myself and everyone else on the team, we ask forgiveness from the fans and hopefully we find a way out of this and a solution for the next time."

That's the thing. For many familiar Canadian players, there likely won't be a next time.

De Guzman's generation is coming to an end. The 31-year-old has spent years playing alongside faithful soldiers like Dwayne De Rosario, Ante Jazic, Lars Hirschfeld, Atiba Hutchinson, Iain Hume, Josh Simpson, Olivier Occean, Patrice Bernier, Mike Klukowski and Kevin McKenna.

Most of those guys are nearing or already past the wrong side of 30, and to be quite frank, they've had their shot. Individually, they've all led pretty good careers, even if they couldn't put it together on the international stage.

De Guzman rose to prominence in La Liga after cutting his teeth in Germany and France, and for a while he was in the conversation for best player in CONCACAF.

Same with De Rosario, whose brilliance in Major League Soccer is well-documented and led to many fans continent-wide placing him on the region's Best XI lists year after year.

But all of that talk has long since silenced. De Guzman's disastrous foray into MLS with Toronto FC has taken almost all the shine off his once-sterling reputation on this side of the pond, although his influence on a resurgent FC Dallas side since his unceremonious move to Texas has breathed new life into his faded legend.

And De Rosario, though still very dangerous for D.C. United at 34 years of age, is no longer the top three league superstar he was just a couple of years ago.

It's a cold reality, that time will slow everyone down eventually. And while de Guzman, De Rosario and co. have had a good run with the Canadian side, the cruel fact is that they've failed to lead the national team out of the wilderness, despite multiple attempts.

With that in mind, it'd be foolish to think that these same guys, who failed to do the job internationally during their peaks, will be able to improve Canada's standing in CONCACAF with even more years added on to the proverbial odometer.

A stark reality check may have been in order, and perhaps that's the only way a humiliating 8-1 loss turns out to be a positive thing. That kind of drubbing gets players to ponder their futures.

"Whether you're young or old," McKenna said, "it's a game where you look back and you think, 'is it worth it any more?'

"I'm going to wait to make that decision and let it sink in a couple more weeks."


It's clear that Canada needs fresh blood. The next relevant competition for the Canadians is the 2013 Gold Cup, played during the Hexagonal that the team missed out on by a single point.

And while it would be hasty to completely clean house of the old guard ahead of that tournament - Hutchinson, Hirschfeld, and Hume look to have a few more years left in the tank - it would be a massive mistake if Stephen Hart's successor, whomever that may be, doesn't use the Gold Cup to blood the next generation of Canadian players.

The old guard deserves our respect. To a man, they've each sacrificed a lot to represent their nation to the best of their abilities.

And in some fleeting moments - the Gold Cup of 2007 springs immediately to mind - they've brought Canadian soccer back to the brink of success.

But ultimately, it wasn't enough.

It's time to move on.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Canada.