Sorry, I missed it yesterday. Anyway, I once again want to wish our northern neighbors a happy birthday. We’ll be making two trips there this year (both for weddings, actually), including my first-ever visit to Montreal. Toronto, whatever, it’s a nice city, but sort of like combining the North Side of Chicago with Minneapolis ... not all that special. Even the G-20 riots were kind of boring. (Which is in fact a good thing, speaking as a veteran of non-boring riots in Mar de Plata and La Paz.) But Montreal! That sounds different.
Please, suggestions for things to do or see on either trip!
Anyway, my only pity for Canada on this birthday comes from the extreme unlikeliness that the country will ever qualify for a World Cup, let alone have a shot at winning. National teams do well based pretty much on a few variables: population, GDP per capita, and number of years playing at the international level. Canada only does well on the second. Moreover, like the United States, its athletes are quickly diverted into the real national sports: hockey, baseball, basketball, and gridiron football. (13 Canadians play in the NFL, and as most of you know, the country has its own professional league, using slightly different rules.)
Hockey is a good game, but like soccer, it’s an acquired taste. My entire family in Miami seems to have been converted to the sport by the unlikely arrival of the Florida Panthers to the western reaches of Fort Lauderdale. Season tickets, the whole bit. Yet, well, I can barely watch the sport ... I barely managed to pay attention to the Olympic games. That is not because hockey is a bad game! Sit me down with an expert and I would enjoy it; repeat five or six times and I would be a fan. But it is not a game conducive to enjoyment if you don’t understand it. AFAIK, basketball is the only game regularly enjoyed by people with only the foggiest idea of the rules and tactical subtleties. (I would be one of those people.)
Moreover, if Canada does start to generate world-class players, it will face a catch-22: the best of the best will probably qualify for American or European passports and play for those teams rather than hitch themselves to a losing Canadian team. FIFA rules discourage team-swapping, so the current crop of Canadian players is locked in, but future ones may want to keep their options open. As a nationalist myself, I would be stupid to discount national pride in making those decisions ... but if the U.S. was a no-hoper, then I wouldn’t blame an American for pulling out that old passport from grandma.
Yes, I spent a good chunk of the U.S.-Algeria game mocking the Algeria fans across the street for fielding a team full of Frenchmen. No hypocrisy: that sort of thing is the point of international soccer. You should see what Aldo and Jude and I write on each other’s Facebook pages.
In short, given that Canada is a power in an international sport with high barriers to entry (hockey), a very powerful player in an international sport with low barriers (baseball), and is unlikely to host a World Cup in the near-future, it probably won’t be going anywhere in soccer anytime ever.
My advice to Canadians? Root for the U.S., or if pride won’t allow that, Mexico. See picture above. Best victory since 1862, that was!