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Saturday 8 September 2012

Upon First Glance – Canada vs. Panama

    Last night in Toronto at BMO Field, Canada defeated Panama 1-0 on quickly taken free kick from Atiba Hutchinson after Simeon Jackson had been fouled on the right-side of the pitch. Hutchinson picked out Dwayne De Rosario, sharply placed onside in the six-yard box for a simple, but ever so important, finish into the unguarded net.

    The goal held special meaning; both for what it means to Canada’s chances of progressing to the hex and for De Rosario himself, who now takes over the all-time goal-scoring lead for the country, his twentieth overtaking Dale Mitchell on that list.

    More on the details of the match will be dissected in a follow-up piece; but a moment to reflect on the magnitude of the night.

    To say qualification is assured is to stretch the truth, but a step has been taken. After four points in their first two matches – with a win in Cuba and a draw at home to Honduras – Canada currently sits atop the group with seven points – Panama has six, Honduras four, and Cuba zero.

    The road to Brazil is one of many steps; Canada has thus far shown itself a willing participant in the journey, rallying a harmonious maturity against the flakiness of youth, one that has steeled their wills, strengthened their resolve.

    Goal-scoring has been a concern, but the defense has been stubborn, stoic in their resolve to maintain the possibility of a result. Kevin McKenna has been a rock; worthy of the armband. His celebration upon the final blast of the whistle was one of those rare moments when the emotion on the pitch syncs perfectly with that in the stands.

    The decision to stage all three home matches – and the three from the previous round – in Toronto raised the ire of pockets of support not located in the centre of the universe. Some pundits – nudge, nudge; wink, wink – proclaimed the merit of the decision would be found in the proof of the results.

    So far, so good on that account.

    Much of the post-match chatter – pairing with that from prior to kickoff, proclaiming the meeting as the most important match in a generation - has heralded the dawn of a new age for Canadian soccer.

    Hyperbole aside, it was indeed a great night; the Women’s team, Bronze medalists in London were honoured, Canada picked up a valuable three points to currently sit atop the table, and a good night was had by all.

    Note the use of the word currently in that sentence; come Wednesday of next week - heaven forbid - Canada loses in Panama and Honduras beats Cuba and the Canadians will find themselves in third place on goal difference, tied on points with the Hondurans.

    That’s not to pour cold water on the revelry, hopefully everyone enjoyed themselves last night – and truth be told, fans in Toronto needed a night like that after another passion-sapping disappointment of a season.

    But the task is not done; many more steps wait. It was a great night, the sort that doesn’t come along too often; that should be celebrated, but not at risk of losing sight of the goal.

    The sun has risen, today is a new day; back to work.

The Call and the Response

    A note of thanks to the many Panamanian fans that filled the North Stand and dotted around the ground. At times the away support has been a thorn in the side of the home fans, but last night their passion only added to what was a great occasion.

    There was none of the malice that has plagued the peculiarity of Canada’s position as the second favourites in their own home. Perhaps the result - and that it was largely a pro-Canadian crowd - assisted to some degree; but the Panamanians comported themselves with a class than several other groups of supporters would have done well to adopt.

    They cheered for their team, they enjoyed the occasion, and they brought a healthy spirit of rivalry to the affair. At times, looking up and seeing them rippling across the way was astonishing, serving only to encourage the home fans to be even louder in response.

    There was none of the petty sniping that at times reduces the purity of the fight. Despite the result, hopefully they enjoyed their night and, for those that reside nearby, when Canada next plays they return, having seen something in the local side that will draw them back, again dressed in Red.

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