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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Can We Play You Every Week? Canada vs. the USA – A Burgeoning Rivalry

    On the eve of another friendly between the Canadians and their neighbours to the south, the Americans, it seems the perfect time to ponder why these two countries do not make use of their proximity more often.

    International football, with its compressed and strictly timed player release procedures, and massive distances between club and country locations, can be difficult for players to find their footing and for a side to gel into a function unit.

    Carlos Quiroz, currently in charge of the Iranian national side, in an interview with BBC World Football, stated that the international calendar and FIFA rules are not designed to help the smaller teams, and is pointed towards the interests of the big, established nations.

    It is a disparity that Quiroz, a member of that European fraternity, has experienced since taking the helm of the Asian side in 2011 – he mentions it previously in an earlier interview – as part of a larger scope - with ESPN.

    Official FIFA matches require clubs to grant players a four or five-day release period, for friendly matches that window shrinks to a mere forty-eight hours.

    For any players with more travel than the typically small European distances, such limitations make scheduling training sessions with the entire squad nearly impossible.

    The US’ traditional January camp, affectionately known as Camp Cupcake, is only possible because the players are out of season, thus limiting any conflict with their clubs, and that is one of the reasons that the current Canadian side called to the camp in Arizona was so limited in its choices.

    Weather conditions between the two nations are similar; travel, facility quality, flight availability and hotel accommodations are equally reliable, and a measure of comfort within each other’s backyards should be reasonably achieved allowing the focus of the group to shift towards making use of the small window of time allowed.

    With both Canada and the US featuring a mix of domestic and internationally based players, such creature comforts should not be overlooked.

    By scheduling regular matches against one’s nearest competition, each nation will benefit by maximizing the usefulness of having the squad assembled in one place for a longer stretch of time, rather than having to wait for the players to assemble and then travelling to the location of the match.

    The convenience for the travelling fans with so many border crossings located at intervals near major cities on each side across the breadth of the counties should not be overlooked and will encourage vocal support on both sides of the divide in a somewhat friendly environment.

    Hopefully last summer’s CSA Centenary Match in Toronto was the start of a new, modern partnership between the two nations.

    The series stretches way back to a first meeting in 1925 and though it has been rather one-sided of late – Canada has not won a match since 1985, if one discounts the meeting with an American B-side in 1990 at the Corona Three-Nations Cup - as the sport strengthens its foothold in Canada, the value of such matches and the spirit of the rivalry will only increase.

    It will never reach the level of the distaste that permeates the American clashes with Mexico, their neighbours to the south, but give it enough time, and few more matches like the hard-fought 2007 Gold Cup Semifinal in Chicago – and the lore that has built around Benito Archundia’s controversial decision to disallow a last-minute Atiba Hutchinson equalizer, not to mention Michael Bradley’s tackle on Julian de Guzman – and before one knows it, there will be some bad blood boiling.

    Adding a dimension to any rivalry will be MLS and its cross-border evolution: club teammates will find themselves on opposite sides, fans on each side will face the prospect of having to root against one of their own club players, now wearing the colours of the opposition. 

    Even if the squads called to such a friendly are not the first choice groups, as with tonight’s meeting, it will serve to give fringe players a taste of what it means to play for the national team and can only benefit each program in the long run.

    Interestingly, this match will mark the commencement of the USSF own Centenary Celebrations; hopefully such camaraderie will continue off the pitch, if definitely not on it.

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