Coach Stephen Hart was a big reason why Canada was knocked out of World Cup qualifying by Honduras, but it is those who carelessly put him at the helm that deserve the blame.
It was the most important game of the last 20 years, and just one single point was all that Canada’s men’s national team needed against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday to progress to the final Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
The Hondurans were always going to be favorites to beat the Canadians, but no one expected them to win by as lopsided a margin as 8-1.
Head coach Stephen Hart didn’t have any excuses for the dismal manner in which his team played and told reporters in the post-game conference that despite having six months left on his contract, he doesn’t expect to continue with the national team.
“Personally, I did my best,” Hart stated. “But with this result, I don’t think the country’s fans will forgive me.”
In a way, it’s all a bit reminiscent of Italy’s display at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Not only did the Azzurri fail to qualify to the Round of 16, they too suffered humiliation by finishing last in their group.
Until this day, former head coach Marcello Lippi has yet to be forgiven by the majority of Italian fans for the fiasco, but he did, however, take the blame for severely underachieving.
"I take all responsibility, all responsibility for what happened," said Lippi following Italy’s elimination. "If a team turns up at such an important game like tonight with terror in their heart and their legs, and is unable to express its ability, it's because the coach didn't train the team as he should. I failed to train the team well enough; they weren't ready for such an important match.”
Hart may have given the best of himself, but his players certainly did not. They expected “hell” in San Pedro Sula, but they were not prepared for it.
Though Canada was terrible on Tuesday throughout the 90 minutes, the players that were on display aren’t actually as bad as they looked, for it was only last June when Canada played Honduras to a 0-0 draw at BMO field, and on that day, the Reds were the better group.
There isn’t a significant technical gap between the two countries -- if any at all -- and if Canada completely underperformed, it’s because its players weren’t at all ready for the challenge.
And that’s a coaching issue, just like Canada’s debacle at the Women’s World Cup in 2011 was a coaching issue, because it was only a year later, after Carolina Morace was replaced by John Herdman, that the team had a stellar Olympic tournament, winning the bronze medal.
But at the same time, you can’t blame Hart for the humiliation in Honduras. How much can you expect from a coach that came up through the ranks of Canada’s national soccer program, one that possesses relatively very little knowledge of the game? How much can you expect from a coach that has never even trained a professional soccer team in his life and that will likely never have the chance to do so in the future?
Certainly the problems surrounding Canada’s men’s national program go well beyond Hart’s evident managerial limitations. Canada doesn’t have a professional soccer league that it can call its own and although the academies of Toronto FC, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact will certainly help develop players, they won’t in any way suffice to produce a quality national side.
But although the current team probably wasn’t good enough to reach the World Cup, had it had just a little bit more it would have been able to get to the Hex – just one goal against Honduras at BMO Field would have put them through.
As poor or average as Canada’s national team may be, it's definitely not as bad as the 8-1 scoreline against Honduras would suggest, or at least, it really shouldn’t be.
Mexico and the USA are the cream of the crop in CONCACAF, but with the current players Canada has at its disposal, it should be able to, at the very least, compete with the likes of Honduras and Panama both at home and abroad.
If the Canadian Soccer Association wants to get serious about its men’s team, it has to put a competent head coach in place: a foreign coach with experience in the higher echelons of professional soccer and one who knows what is required to get the best out of his players when it matters most.
Even with a top-level coach, Canada will still struggle to make the World Cup if it doesn’t address its larger issues. But if Canada’s men’s national program is going to continue to participate in international competition, it should at least try and give itself the best possible chance of succeeding, or else, what’s the point of even taking part?
As attested to by the vast majority of the CSA's 100 year existence, carlessness doesn't get you to a World Cup.
And as for you Stephen Hart, you have my forgiveness, for you should never have been put in this position in the first place.