Tuesday night’s Canada v El Salvador game hadn’t even finished before the post mortem into the Canadian campaign was well underway online.
To be fair, it’s been a debate that’s been raging on for months after Canada’s qualification hopes were hit hard by two poor performances in a pair of losses to Mexico, on the back of a disappointing scoreless draw in El Salvador.
Where did it all go wrong? Why weren’t Canada good enough? And not so much when should Canadian head coach Benito Floro be replaced, but when and by whom?
When it became fairly obvious that Canada were set to get eliminated and once again fail to reach the Hex, a mythical six-headed beast that Canadian fans haven’t experienced first hand since 1997, the debate and the anti-Floro feeling ramped up.
Floro’s contract is up at the end of this current World Cup qualifying cycle. Basically now, as the situation stands. By all accounts his contact was quite a hefty one dollar-wise, in the grand Canadian scheme of things, The general presumption is that it will not be renewed and Floro will soon be replaced.
The 64-year-old Spaniard wouldn’t be drawn too much on the inevitable questions surrounding his future, which started within minutes of Canada’s exit.
“This is not the moment to talk about that,” Floro told reporters in his post game press conference on Tuesday night. “We are finishing the elimination of this game. This is a matter for another moment, not now.
He was pushed on the matter, something which in itself he was clearly not happy about, before adding, “We have a contract. We have a good relation. I suppose it is normal that the President must think about everything. The structure, the plan, and make a decision. It’s normal.”
There were some excellent and some very valid points being made amongst all the chatter in the aftermath of Canada’s exit. Although you can’t help but feel that certain people, from certain quarters, were only all too happy to put the knife into the CSA, Floro, and pretty much anyone involved in the off the pitch decision making around the team.
That’s football. And if I’ve learned anything about Canadian soccer in my nine years now over here, it’s that the game in this country is held back by a multitude of problems, or “a thousand impediments” to use Floro’s words.
Floro took over the national team in July 2013. It was something of a left field appointment. He’d managed 18 clubs sides in a career spanning 34 years, but had been fairly inactive for much of the past ten years of that and was coming to Canada from last managing Moroccan side Wydad al Ouma from Casablanca.
The standout job in his resume, as media never tired of mentioning, was two seasons in charge of Real Madrid. But his actual honours at club level were few – winning one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup with Madrid in 1993, and winning that European competition that no-one cares about, the Intertoto Cup, with Villareal in 2004.
When he came to the Canadian job, the national team was in another rut after failing to qualify for the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup by a single point. That may sound familiar.
Like him or loathe him, Floro did bring some much needed international experience to the Canadian team and you can argue just how much tactical nuance.
The defence certainly improved, but the attacking aspect left a lot to be desired when it came to actually putting the ball in the back of the net, something that’s still haunting them.
He also managed to get the likes of Junior Hoilett and Scott Arfield to buy into his plan and commit their international futures to Canada.
It all may have resulted in some horrible, and at times, head scratching performances, but the team has improved in many ways in Floro’s three years at the helm, and he thanks his squad for their support.
“It is very difficult for us because Canada always has more impediments than the other teams,” Floro said. “A thousand impediments. I am very proud of my players because to fight till the end with a chance to qualify is to say thank you very much to the players because you are honest and during three years, they are trying to do things perfectly.
“I am very proud of them for the first day to the last. Why? Because everything I propose, they try to do. In training and in games.”
Floro didn’t want to go into too many details about what development he’s seen in the Canadian program these past three years but continued to express his frustrations at certain aspects of the game here.
“I consider, in my opinion, that players are increasing their level,” Floro said. “But not enough to go with Honduras or Mexico. When I arrived here, the similar level was good. But it is difficult to [improve] that without a league.
“With a lot of [our] players around the world, the majority of them are not starters. Some are important but they have no club. So this is a lot of impediments you put in our hands.”
After the World Cup qualifying campaign that’s just ended, you can certainly question Floro’s tactics, his formations, his substitutions, and his often bizarre squad selections. They’ve left supporters, former players, and media pundits scratching their heads, but the senior players speak very highly as to what he has brought to the national team and to them personally, especially with regards to tactical matters.
One thing you certainly can’t question Floro on is his commitment to improving not just the national team, but Canadian soccer in general, from the grassroots up.
He’s been an unwavering supporter for Canada to set up its own domestic league, and even in the freshness of disappointment and defeat on Tuesday, it was a topic he harked back to in his post-game press conference when I asked him what the national team needed to do now to take that next step up the ladder in international football and qualify for the Hex once again.
“It’s not a difficult question, but a question that needs a lot of time to explain,” Floro said. “There are two important matters. One of them is that there is not a league. A Canadian league where the majority of the players in these teams are Canadian players. So it is the big problem.
“The other is that if we don’t have a good league, first division, second division, third division, it means that players don’t have the habit to make a strong pressing. To do things like immediately recover the possession of the ball. This is a level of competitiveness. This is not the problem of the CSA. It’s Canada does not have a league.
“The only way to increase the level in this situation is continuing to join all the teams in the same way. Players continuing to adapt to the system of play. This is progress.”
A particular frustration for Floro has been the inability to get all his players together for training camps, with players scattered at clubs around the world.
Whilst you can argue that going overseas and carving out a footballing career is often the best way to aid a Canadian player’s development, and a sign of their quality, it makes non-FIFA international dates a constant challenge when trying to work with his key players.
Floro feels it puts Canada at a disadvantage to other CONCACAF nations and he would love nothing more than to see more players play prominent roles domestically.
“El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, can have camps with players who are playing [there],” Floro said. “They can make clinics between weeks. With our team, it’s impossible to do that. Impossible, because there is no league, Canadian league. The teams outside Canada are not going to allow us to make a [camp] three days between Sunday and Sunday.
“This is very important when the coach can teach players how to do a very good free kick, a very good corner, a tactical matter. But in Canada, it is impossible. They arrive for the FIFA days, they have two days of training, but it’s not enough to progress more or faster. So it is very difficult for Canada, but I consider for that, our players, the CSA, are doing everything.”
To highlight the problems Canada face in this regard, Floro held up the example of the Canadian U23 side that failed to qualify for this year’s Olympics in Rio. As far as he’s concerned, the failure to qualify did not come down to on the pitch reasons, but more so outside factors.
“The Canadian Olympic team, for me, is a very good team,” Floro said. “But one of them is playing at a university in the United States, and they don’t allow us to have the player. [Cyle] Larin is playing in MLS and they don’t allow us to have him.
“We have at least six players, starting players, that were not possible to have them to the play the Olympics. If we had all the players, I can assure you we’d have been in Rio. It’s a lot of impediments, but this demonstrates that the way is slowly, but this is the way. Look for a Canadian league. It’s important. The most important.”
There’s no doubting the omission of some key players hurt Canada. It’s a situation that hits a lot of countries though and it’s hard to really see a Canadian league being the answer to that one, as the top players are still unlikely to want to play in it and will have their eyes on the bigger leagues elsewhere.
Anyone thinking otherwise is deluded. The CSA may want it to be a D1/D2 style league, but it’s hardly going to attract senior national team players with the other options out there. It’s hard to see it being more than a development league for young, up and coming Canadian talent. At least it gives them minutes, but it’s going to be several years before we start seeing any real results internationally from it, if at all.
There’s never going to be a solution to the club v country tug of wars unless FIFA designate more dates outwith tournaments and qualifiers as officially international dates. But the current system does certainly makes it harder for Canada to have the development time they need with their core group of guys.
“We played the Gold Cup without five starting players,” Floro added. “Five. There is, we can say, 30 players in which we can go ahead, but always, if six of them, the most important, are always in the team. But it is impossible, very impossible.
“The only way of developing in this situation is developing the camp with all the team. But [their coach says] are you going to the friendly game? Then you are not a player for my team. It’s a big problem. We need to keep them reminding their club. It is very important. Now Junior is without a team. A very important player. This is difficult.”
Floro highlighted the recent friendly performances from Canada against Colombia and Iceland as the progress the team has made in the past few years, and feels that they’re no longer pushovers on the world stage.
“It’s not easy to play against Canada,” Floro said. “But we need one step.”
The murmurs this week seem to indicate that the one step that Floro so badly desires, a Canadian league, will be coming in 2018.
Too late to save this World Cup qualifying campaign. Too late to save the next one as well?
We’ll all just have to wait and see for the answer to that one, but at least it’s a small, right step forward for Canadian soccer. It’s a start, but it needs so much more beyond a league that is far from going to be the catalyst moment for Canadian success. That goes much. much deeper and is for another time.
After being one of the biggest advocates for a high level domestic league in the country, it’s highly unlikely that Floro will still be around the Canadian game to see it come to fruition. But likes us all, I’m sure he’ll be watching for the success of it with a keen eye.