PASADENA, Calif. – Miller and his players entered the Gold Cup with little hope of replicating the magical run to the title 13 years ago. They started this altogether different journey with a scathing reminder of their evident shortcomings in this 1-0 defeat.
If this tournament offers a glimpse into the future given some of the younger players included in this squad, then the frustrated Canadians – still traumatized by the 8-1 thrashing in Honduras with a Hexagonal place on the line last year – must wonder how exactly they can extricate themselves from their seemingly perpetual nightmares.
This latest incident in a long line of affronts – an undermanned squad comprehensively outplayed by a side without a previous Gold Cup win to its credit – left Miller to correctly suggest that the concerns extend well beyond the instant issues created by Fabrice Reuperne's stunning stoppage-time winner.
“What happened today is not just because what happened over the last week to 10 days,” Miller said. “It is a combination of a lot of different things that have gone on over the years in Canada. It's a massive rebuilding process at the moment. It'll be some time before we get to fix it. But we have to be better in possession of the ball. We have to make better decisions in possession of the ball. And we have to show a bit more belief when we go forward.”
Executing simple, fundamental functions proved too difficult for Canada on this day. There were flickers of competency here and there, but this performance lacked any semblance of conviction or quality on the whole. It instead reinforced the fears that this group – hindered by selection issues and stripped of veteran figures like Patrice Bernier, Dwayne De Rosario and Atiba Hutchinson for logistical (Hutchinson's contractual status) and practical (Bernier and De Rosario's advancing age) considerations – possessed few of the characteristics required to succeed in this tournament.
Not that players themselves – always willing, if only intermittently able – deserve every last bit of the scorn inevitably headed their way. Will Johnson gritted through the first half after falling ill during the week. Four of his teammates linked up with the squad without a contract in place for next season. Several more sacrificed a portion of their summer break to fight this losing battle instead of protecting their club futures. And Miller and the assembled coaching staff even pushed aside their own duties elsewhere to guide this group through its Gold Cup excursion.
All of them waded into this thicket with eyes wide open when others would have abandoned the cause. The problems here – inconsistency from back to front, poor and reluctant movement going forward and the presence of several players simply incapable of playing international football for a decent side – aren't new. But they still incite deserved criticism and inflict damage every time they crop up, particularly when they do so in such galling fashion with coach-in-waiting Benito Floro observing intently.
“If you give the ball away at any level of football, you will struggle,” Miller said. “We got into some good areas. The final ball was not at this level. I'm a wee bit lost for words here. Take nothing away from Martinique. They did well. They looked dangerous. But I think we are going through a real transition phase.”
It will not conclude by the time Canada takes the field against Mexico in Seattle on Thursday night. Mexico faces some of the same problems in the wake of its 2-1 defeat to Panama in the nightcap, but it also boasts more tools to rectify them. Miller and his staff must approach the next match with a rather more limited set of options and a massive task to repair morale after this shattering defeat.
“We'll do our best as a staff to be positive,” Miller said. “We'll go through bits and pieces that we didn't do so well today, but we can't do anything about what has happened. We have to build. We have to be positive. We have to move forward to Thursday night.”
Looking back won't help much. In fact, it might sting even more. But the next few matches won't point the way forward or provide the desired solutions, either. And that stasis leaves Miller and his players hamstrung by circumstance as they attempt to mitigate their current concerns and restore their pride as the tournament progresses.