Peru 2 – Canada 0

They just stood there, gawking at us in wild-eyed bewilderment.

There were mere minutes left in the 90. The ostensible home team was down by a pair of goals, having never really appeared ready to seize control of the match. The weather matched the performance — dreary and gray, save for the occasional hint of potential brilliance or complete catastrophe.

Yet our loud, loyal section fervently belted out O Canada as the men’s national team whittled away the final minutes of its disappointing 2-0 loss to Peru at BMO Field.

And there the group of dozens of Peru supporters stood, several sections over, staring in confusion. Perhaps they couldn’t understand how we could be so upbeat, having seen our team thoroughly defeated. Perhaps they were a little surprised to hear us belt out the tune for the third time in the same match.

Perhaps these folks — who I’m guessing will head to a Canadian emergency room the next time they face a medical emergency — just had no idea what song we were singing.

But as a colleague mentioned to me at the post-game pub, the people in the Canada supporters sections yesterday got it. Those who were there understood that the onus on the supporters is to be supporters, not merely to sing when we’re winning (which is distressingly rare, come to think of it).

It’s especially important for supporters of Canada, considering the uphill climb we face. Historically we’ve been horribly outnumbered, even on home soil (yesterday was a prime example). The coach and players — such as Patrice Bernier and Julian de Guzman — came out in the past week with “well, it sucks, but what are you gonna do?” approaches to the preponderance of away supporters that swarm into our stadiums whenever there’s international soccer being played.

Not to mention, the team gets close to zero marketing, and… well… they just don’t win a whole lot. Whether that has anything to do with the lack of a home crowd, or if it’s due to plain-old deficiencies in tactics or skill, the reality is, it’s difficult to become (and stay) emotionally invested in a team that, let’s be honest with ourselves, generally offers very little in return.

But that’s why what we do is so important.

I’m not going to pretend that cheering for any sports team is particularly noble or admirable (these labels should be applied to actual heroic deeds, such as saving people from disaster zones)… nor am I over-emphasizing the importance of something with which I’m involved, merely for the sake of self-back-patting… but for the Voyageurs to continually take a beating from all corners — the team, their fellow Canadians, even their fellow Canadian soccer fans — and not only continue to exist, but to grow in numbers and in power… that is impressive.

It helps that there is common rallying point, of course: Mission 2014.

If you dropped by the pre-game get-together yesterday, you’d have had a chance to make your mark on the banner that will follow the men’s national team on the road to the next World Cup. The first step along that road was a shaky one, no doubt. And if the team turns in a similar performance against Honduras on Tuesday, chances are that the second step will be just as awkward as the first.

One thing’s for sure about that game. Stade Saputo will be full of Hondurans. Sorry, improper usage of the word “full” — of however many people choose to attend, the overwhelming majority will surely be supporting a country they or their family chose to leave, rather than the one in which they live.

I will surely get just as angry at them as I did at the Peruvians yesterday, and as angry as I did at the Honduran fans in Montreal almost exactly two years ago. I’ll surely punch the seat in front of me if Honduras scores, feel nauseated as I see the blue-and-white delirium around me, and probably see myself on the verge of initiating a drunken fistfight at some point.

Then I’ll slink onto a bus a little after midnight, attempt to get six hours of fitful sleep on the road, wake up angry, frustrated and with various physical problems, and then drag myself into work.

Why the hell would I do this? Why would anyone?

Because we believe that this team matters. The Mission 2014 banner is meant to provide a visual reminder to the players of their focus in the coming years. But its more important function, I believe, is as a tangible connection between the supporters of the team, scattered throughout this country. Yesterday I got the chance to meet many people who I’d previously known only by Internet pseudonyms… such as the Voyageur who flew in from Saskatoon to catch Canada’s two friendlies, and the long-time supporter who saw Canada qualify for the World Cup first-hand, in St. John’s, Newfoundland back in 1985.

Were we outnumbered down at BMO Field yesterday? Absolutely. But the situation was more encouraging than the previous friendly held there in 2007, and much more encouraging than any prior home matches. And as the connections between individual fans continue to multiply, and those individual fans do their part to spread the word, the tide will continue to turn.

Some would suggest that “The Peruvians, nor the fans (lack thereof), nor banners are the story. The team’s performance IS the story.”

When you get right down to it, of course the team’s performance is what matters. The Mission 2014 banner could collect 33 million signatures, but it won’t mean jack shit unless the players on the field actually do what they need to do to get into that tournament. But to disregard what’s going on — slowly — in the stands, is to miss the point entirely, because it entirely ignores the role that support can play in shaping the outcome of a game.

In every sport, at every level, much is made of how well a team can play on the road. It’s universally accepted that it’s more difficult for teams to play away games. Whether there’s any actual big-picture empirical proof of this I’m not sure. But if you’re going to analyze the performance of the Canadian men’s national soccer team, you simply cannot ignore the reality that, at present, every game they play is an away game.

That’s why I’ll be getting on a bus Tuesday morning for a one-day trip to Montreal. Not because I’m anticipating a Canadian win, necessarily. Not because the game, when you get down to it, has particularly huge implications. Not even because I think the game will, in any objective way, make me happy (as I’ve already said, I’m predicting quite the opposite).

I’m going because to me, and to other supporters of this team, the opportunity to sing O Canada — as a bunch of nitwits a few sections over stare, dumbfounded — with a small group of similarly batty red-clad folks is meaningful. It is gratifying. It is an opportunity for each of us, in our own small way, to feel that we are helping to finally push the sport of soccer over the proverbial hump in this country.

And because, to be perfectly honest, I feel — as I’m sure many Voyageurs do — that when the day comes that we finally do qualify for the World Cup yet again, we will have earned the right to feel extra vindicated. We will hopefully be able to stand in a sold-out home stadium, surrounded by thousands of Canadians to whom supporting the men’s national soccer team is seen not as a quirky idiosyncrasy, but as a perfectly legitimate expression of patriotism.

For now, a few dozen (hundred?) of us will embark to Stade Saputo on Tuesday, knowing full well we’ll be enclosed by a mesh fence and hordes of Honduran assholes, ready to hurl bottles and invective in our direction. Yeah, OK, I’ll admit: there is something alluring about being able to play the maligned underdog. But it does grate on a person after a while.

So that’s why we do it… so that some day, we won’t have to. And then we’ll we get to see what the Canadian team is truly capable of.


11 Responses to “Peru 2 – Canada 0”

  1. Wow. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog and feel the need to comment even if I don’t really know what to add.

    I noticed when watching the game, that there seemed to be more Peruvian support than I would’ve suspected. I didn’t even know Canada/Toronto had a very significant Peruvian population :S Did they really outnumber Canadian supporters? That’d be a sad statistic indeed. The home game really is incredibly important in sports and for some reason, this seems to be even truer with soccer. Just ask ANY Toronto FC fan, lol.

    The interesting part is that while I sympathize with your frustrations and would be equally upset if there were actually more visiting supporters than home supporters… I am, at first, an Italian national soccer team fan. I do not fully understand why it is, but Italy will always come first for me in soccer only. I will cheer for Canada in all other sports, Olympics, etc. but for some odd emotional reason I cannot explain, Italy is my team. This may simply be because I have the pleasure of watching them at major competitions. Or it may be because it’s hard to have any respect for the Canadian Soccer Association and anything they touch is tainted. I honestly have no idea.

    • Thanks for the comment, Diego. I can assure you there were many more Peruvians than Canadians at the game. But this isn’t exactly new. In fact, it’s pretty much the status quo. When Canada played Jamaica at BMO Field in 2008, and the crowd was (mostly – I’d say 65%, maybe) in red and white (as opposed to yellow and green), it was regarded as a groundbreaking event.

      As you say — a sad statistic indeed.

      I’m curious though… when you say you’re a fan of the Italian national team first, does that mean first and only? I don’t foresee any situation in the immediate future where Canada would play directly against Italy… so would/do you cheer for the Canadian men’s national team as well? And if not, why not?

      • Of I definitely do cheer for Canada as well. I do not know as much about the national team as I would hope but I just started following MLS soccer this year and so it was a natural progression. I’m hoping with the expansion of MLS soccer in Canada, it will help to improve the Canadian men’s national side and that’s likely to happen (and has arguably happened already).

        As to the question of who I’d cheer for in a hypothetical Canada-Italy game… that’s a tough one. If it was a friendly, I’d go with Canada simply because it would mean much more to them to have that win and could do great things for team confidence and even marketing in future, more important games. However, if it was somehow in the world cup knockout stages… I’d probably go with Italy. This may be because they would have a viable shot of actually winning the tournament.

  2. Thanks, great blog – have a great trip to Montreal.

  3. I am a soccer nut. I read futbol blogs regularly, watch games from a variety of leagues, and am ecstatic of the growing Canadian presence in MLS. I also remember being a 10-year-old boy in 1986 and cheering on the boys in Red as they played in the World Cup in Mexico.

    Flash forward 24 years, however, and I must admit that I can’t get too excited about the Canadian national team. This lack of enthusiasm was confirmed when I saw Canada get killed by Argentina earlier this year, and then taken apart by a very weak Peru on September 5.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Canada qualify for the World Cup, and would even travel abroad to see them play. At the same time, however, I don’t want to act like a Leafs fan, i.e. cheer unconditionally for a team that is dysfunctional.

    Speaking about the Leafs, I just finished reading a book by Al Strachan called, “Why the Leafs Suck, and How they can be Fixed.” The book chronicles how a combination of incompetent management, terrible scouting and a series of coaching blunders made Toronto the laughingstock of the hockey world. I feel that similar lessons can be drawn for Canada’s mens national soccer team.

    Without a doubt, there is a large fanbase for soccer in Canada (see Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact). In fact, I believe that soccer could very well become Canada’s #2 sport, behind hockey. At the same time, however, Canadians are not going to cheer en masse for a team that has been terribly mismanaged.

    In short, unlike the Leafs, Canadian soccer fans will not support the national team unconditionally, especially if they are seen as a perennial loser. (In fact, I think Toronto hockey fans are the only fans in the world to do so). So until things start turning around on the pitch, I can’t see things improving in regard to support. That said, if Canada were ever to get better result, then I can easily see a large amount of support appearing across the country.

  4. Great post šŸ™‚

    I feel like I could write a whole piece on my experience at the game on Saturday plus how I feel about the whole situation in general. What hit me like a ton of bricks in what you wrote was this: “every game they play is an away game.” Really think about that. It’s awful and our guys deserve more than that.

    As for Canadians who choose to support another country for another reason, at the very least, could you not show up to actively root against Canada? That seems reasonable to me. I will never understand why a person would do it, but cheer your team when they are not playing Canada, please.

    • That seems like a fairly reasonable request. If I was a Peruvian supporter, I’d be happy to see my team play and would probably go. But it would seem a little heartless to cheer against your own nation’s team. So instead, it would seem logical just to go and hope for a great game of soccer. I’d rather the stadium have one more neutral fan than an empty seat.

      I really can’t understand the Peru group though. It has no basis in logic. The reason most people have gravitated as fans to teams besides Canada in soccer is because they like success. They wanted to be able to cheer on a team at the biggest event in sports in the world and Canada made this a near impossibility so they went elsewhere. But Peru? Really? At least with Honduras tomorrow, one can say that they made the world cup this summer. But Peru? They haven’t made a World Cup since 1982. For those paying attention, Canada actually BEATS that. I am rather confused.

  5. Gabriel Bonilla Says:

    Hey, i was at the game. I’m Peruvian. i was wearing a peruvian jersey waving a canadian flag on the stands. im from both countries. i sang both anthems respectfully, but i will always be more passionate on peruvian soccer then canada simply because im more passionate about south american soccer then canada. Peru just got a new coach and got their best players back who were banned from playing international, hence why we made it 10th place in the qualifying. so im just excited to see peru doing better with a good fresh start. hell when i was in peru watching a club game over there i was waving a canadian flag, no joke, ill even show u the video LOL!

    • Thanks for the comment, Gabriel. I realize that questions of national allegiance aren’t black and white, especially since pretty much every country in the world has a more entrenched passion for soccer than Canada does.

      But the next time Canada plays at BMO Field — presumably, not against Peru — I hope you’ll be there, still waving your Canadian flag.

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