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Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

First Person View - Canada – Progression, Perspective, Patience, and Positivity

     Many words have been written on Canada’s World Cup campaign thus far. Some are optimistic, a few more are not; all thought Canada underperformed. Some saw value, others were disappointed in the players, the coach, the support; anything you could point a finger at really.

    Let’s break it down a bit and see how to make sense of all the noise surrounding the six matches played, and how things are shaping up for the next round due next summer and fall.

Progression

    Canada is through. At the beginning of this restructured second round of qualifying the conversation concerned whether this extra round was an embarrassment or a blessing. The national team gets paltry few chances to assemble as a side and despite that unfamiliarity they performed quite well. Undefeated in the round, five straight clean-sheets, and approaching an all-time shutout streak record is not a bad way to get through.

    True there were two disappointing scoreless draws; the first at home versus a Puerto Rico side who celebrated the result despite it meaning their chance of progression was ended; the second slightly more concerning was that underwhelming performance in St. Kitts and Nevis where Canada were outplayed, but still could well have stolen a result with a golden chance for Simeon Jackson at the end.

    But those hiccups will occur in any campaign, it’s best to get them out of the way early and survive with very little damage. Lessons on how to break down bunkering opponents must be learned, and the parametres of playing in CONCACAF – bumpy pitches, difficult travel, and the lack of available data to properly prepare for the opposition – have all be re-encountered, and must be moved past.     

Perspective

    It should not be overlooked that this round was fraught with peril. There were potential pitfalls spread through the six groups. El Salvador, Panama, and Guatemala coasted through their groups, but were given trouble by Dominican Republic (3-2 & 1-2), Nicaragua (1-2 & 5-1), and Belize (1-2 & 3-1) respectively.

    Canada allowed the fewest goals against in the round (one goal), even though Panama played two fewer matches – Bahamas withdrew from their group – and had the second best goal differential (plus-seventeen) behind only Antigua and Barbuda, who were truly in a group of minnows.  One other supposed favourites – Trinidad and Tobago - were upset outright, not progressing through their group.

    This was not the round to excel and play one’s best. It was a chance to get the side assembled, get some much needed time on the field, and build positive momentum into the true test, the third round.

    Do not forget that Canada was unable to field a full strength side. Several important – and depth – players -  namely, Atiba Hutchinson, Kevin McKenna, Dejan Jaković, Adrian Cann, Iain Hume, and Andre Hainault - were unavailable for various matches. Considering the youth, inexperience, and lack of cohesion of the backline it was impressive how staunch they were in the end and good that they got the minutes they did.

    Along the way Canada made additions to the squad - youngsters Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson, welcomed the returns of Nana Attakora and David Edgar into the fold, and scored some much needed confidence building goals for Jackson, Will Johnson, Josh Simpson, Tosaint Ricketts, Olivier Occean, and Dwayne De Rosario – who closed down Dale Mitchell to tie the record for most by a national team player.

Patience

    Building up the national team will be an exercise in patience. It is important that good results keep coming, and that the crowds and media awareness grow alongside the team. A good run of strong, pro-Canadian crowds, especially in the final match even with some inclement weather was positive.

    The number of voices chiming in on the team is a plus, television coverage has been front and centre, and made available whenever possible. The voyageurs have – in Toronto and across the nation at viewing parties – come together to cheer and hope, to discuss and analyze.

    Both the players and fans have enjoyed their time together. There’s even a shiny, new website and phone app to cherish and enjoy.

Positivity

    We now have a couple of months to reflect on both the good and bad of the second round. The third, though daunting, looms large and there is possibility in it. Canada was placed in an acceptable group, with Honduras, Cuba and Panama. On paper - according to FIFA ranks for what they’re worth – Canada’s group is the lowest-ranked on average by all measurable statistics and it is the tightest of the groups too. Honduras and Cuba were the best draws from pots one and two respectively, and though Panama was the highest ranked side in pot three, you can’t have all the luck.

    That the group is the lowest-ranked is inconsequential, it’s the tightness that is of interest. The maximum, total, and - most importantly and markedly – average spreads are smaller than the other two groups. A mixed blessing; some argue that having a dominant team who snags all available point is a bonus as Canada can rely solely on their own results to progress. Others would say that having no true power allows the smaller teams to steal a result and vault themselves into good stead come the end of play. Either way max home points and a positive result or two on the road would go a long way towards progression to the hex.

    On top of that good fortune, Canada got what could prove to be a very favourable schedule. The first matchday will be difficult - away to Cuba then home to Honduras - but should my working theory on home/away splits prove correct, matchdays two and three - which see Canada at home to Panama and Cuba, before travelling to Panama and Honduras respectively - could be advantageous. Central America in the fall is slightly more comfortable than in the height of summer, and June in Cuba – though hot – should be a mouth-watering prospect to the players and fans alike. Save the cigars and rum for post-match please boys.

    Upon researching those matchday splits – dating back to qualifying for the 1994 World Cup - there was far too little information to make any real conclusions – too small of a sample size and inconsistent strength, both of Canada and their opposition - but it is still something to keep an eye on.

    I’ll leave you with this PSA courtesy of Canada Soccer - Soccer. Pass It On. To be added soon, awaiting permission, in the meantime follow this link.

    Very sad to hear news of the passing of Stephen Hart’s father, I assume that is the personal matter that prevented Coach Hart from speaking to the media at the beginning of November; my condolences to Mr. Hart and his family for their loss.


Raw Data for Third Round

Team/System
Concacaf
Fifa

Concacaf
Fifa

Concacaf
Fifa
USA
2
34
Mexico
1
22
Honduras
5
57
Jamaica
3
50
Costa Rica
6
62
Cuba
13
100
Guatemala
12
99
El Salvador
8
82
Canada
9
83
Antigua & Barbuda
10
90
Guyana
11
97
Panama
4
53









Sums
27
273

26
263

31
293
Average
6.75
68.25

6.5
65.75

7.75
73.25









Max Spread
10
65

10
75

9
47
Total Spread
37
235

32
245

31
167
Average Spread
9.25
58.75

8
61.25

7.75
41.75

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