Over the years, watching the Canadian men’s soccer team was akin to being a Vancouver Canucks fan in the mid-90’s: The flag in your hands waved a little less enthusiastically and the tears flowed more bitterly as you watched the team you love endure countless defeats, leaving you to remember more glorious days gone by.
However, much like the Canucks, the Canadian soccer program has grown and blossomed under increased funding and development, all of which came together as an eye-opening re-introduction to eager fans everywhere. While the 180th ranked Belize national soccer team hardly resemble an imposing challenge to the Canadian squad that faced them Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night, one couldn?t help but feel that their defeat at the hands of the Canadians was an exciting window into things to come for this nation?s soccer hopes–not to mention an encouraging first step towards World Cup qualifying, something which Canada hasn?t experienced for a very long time.
Coming off of two successful championship years coaching the San Jose Earthquake in the U.S. professional league, Frank Yallop has provided the vision for positive change in the team, changing the focus from stingy defense to explosive and aggressive offence. And, with a combined eight goals over the two-game qualifying round, the new strategy has already begun to pay off.
Every vision needs its catalyst, and Tomasz Radzinski proved to be just that. Making his first appearance on the team Canada squad in over seven years, Radzinski left a successful run with Everton of the U.K. Premier League for what may be his last push for World Cup qualifying–one which he is eager to make. His play reflects this urgency, as his speed and aggression coming off of the right side have resulted in two well-placed goals, and countless near-misses. He has been a danger every moment he gets the ball, a trait which has rubbed off on his line mates. Dwayne De Rosario, a relatively tame forward in past matches, has fed off of Radzinsky’s energy and has proven to be a viable threat, leading Canada with two excellent goals Wednesday night, utterly crushing the spirits of the Belize players. Even Paul Peschisolido, coming off of an injury that kept him from last year’s team, has tallied a goal in this back-to-back series, and seems rejuvenated coming up the middle. In total, this new and improved offence outshot Belize 30-10, maintaining possession for over 70% of the time.
Despite the hunger for scoring, defense hasn?t been neglected. A Scrooge-like defense core led by returning veterans Jason deVos and Tony Menezes, played aggressively in their own end and limited Belize to only a handful of legitimate chances, all of which were either hurried off of a post or crossbar, or stopped by the Canadian goaltender. A once passive and porous backfield squad has come back to life, participating in each play and creating scoring chances almost every time they turn the ball up field.
“Everyone in CONCACAF is looking at our result and saying ‘wow, 8-0′” says Yallop, “[but] we can play a lot better.”
This time, and for the first time in many years, there is reason to believe it.