Canada's loss means much more to U.S. soccer than initially imagined.
Last month, Teal Bunbury donned the diagonal stripe of the U.S. national team kit in a friendly against South Africa, giving the indication that Bunbury's time in the Canadian soccer program is over.
In January, the son of former Canadian international striker Alex Bunbury told CBC Sports, "For me, I was born in Canada, I have a lot of family members there, and it would feel wrong for me to play for the U.S."
Ten months later, he was suiting up for the first time with the Yanks.
For Bunbury, his chances of appearing in a World Cup increased by switching. For the U.S., the addition of Bunbury provides another option in attack, a position that proved shallow during the World Cup run last summer.
But even without very prolific striking options, U.S. soccer should not pillage the talent of their neighbors from the north. Instead, the U.S. would benefit in the long-haul from boosting the Canadian federation that has been stuck in the gutter for the last decade.
There is no direct connection between the two federations, but there is a strong link between the growth of Canadian soccer and U.S. soccer. Without Canada improving, U.S. soccer will continue to be stuck in a rut as one of the two best teams in a shallow qualifying region.
With Bunbury switching sides, it emphasizes that CONCACAF is a two-team confederation. As long as U.S. and Mexico are the only two big fish in a small pond, the worse off player development and the future of the sport in the region will be.
CONCACAF, and more specifically the USA, needs Canada to improve as a soccer team and federation. Canada is the third most populous country in the region. Soccer also has some popularity in the country as illustrated by the rabid support for Toronto FC.
Before the next World Cup, TFC will be joined by two more professional teams in MLS from north of the 49th. There are plenty of opportunities for Canadian players to improve their level of play, but the national team is still hindered by a seemingly incompetent administration.
For all intents and purposes, Canada should be a force to be reckoned with in the global game. At the very least, they should challenge the top teams in their region, something that has not happened since their last World Cup appearance in 1986. The drought will not be an easy sell to players like Bunbury who want grand stage glory.
Lowly Canada’s struggles are well versed and documented. They finished the 2010 year ranked 84 in the world according to FIFA, sandwiched between soccer powers Moldova and Malawi. Shockingly, Canada checks in 22 spots behind fellow CONCACAF member, Cuba.
The actual results are not much better. Last year, they only won one game out of a half dozen friendlies. During the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, the Canucks triumphed in one game out of six, registering five points out of a possible 18 in the preliminary qualifying campaign.
It has been a dark age for the Canadian national team program. With the pending loss of Bunbury, times don't appear to be getting any brighter.
And for as long as Canada is stuck in this slump, the U.S. will barely have to challenge itself to qualify for World Cups. The lack of competitive games will elongate the gap between the U.S. national team and the world soccer powers.
As illustrated in the summer of 2009, the American team responded well when faced against difficult opposition in the Confederations Cup. That high-level competition was invaluable experience for the Red, White, and Blue in South Africa the following summer. It was a small sample of how good competition can improve the level of play of a team.
And as America celebrates bullying fellow CONCACAF members for budding players, other countries vulture difference-makers from the U.S.'s grasp.
Bunbury may be a player added to the U.S. arsenal, but he's not a player who can claim a guaranteed spot on the team. He is not a Giuseppe Rossi or a Neven Subotic, two players who did not hold any interest in representing the Stars and Stripes at the international level even though they both have ties to the country.
Rossi and Subotic went on to represent Italy and Serbia at the international level, respectively, after time with U.S. youth national teams. The latter started for his country at the 2010 World Cup. Both were pieces Bob Bradley's coaching staff could have utilized in the U.S. starting XI in South Africa and in the future.
In this case, Canada's loss is not the United States' gain. Canada's loss is soccer's loss. The U.S. continues to play against only one competitive CONCACAF rival, Mexico, with any regularity.
This has brought frequent World Cup berths, but also complaints that the team cannot garner a seed once there. Those complaints ring hollow as long as the Yanks continue to pull players from the already shallow CONCACAF talent pool.
Unlike, say, Germany folding players who could have performed as Turks and Poles into their national squad, the U.S. doesn't have the same level of competition Europe offers in World Cup qualifying. This is compounded by a relatively weak Gold Cup roster and the lack of invitations to the Copa America. The U.S. needs quality opposition wherever it can be found.
Bunbury is still young, and could very well turn into a great player both at the club and international level. But even taking his game to another level will not help the U.S. as much as a competitive Canada would have in terms of national team development.
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