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Butler: Move over CSI, here comes the CSA

Noel Butler
9/14/2012 2:39:51 PM
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Time will tell if the loss of Dwayne de Rosario will be more keenly felt than Canada's loss in Panama City on Tuesday night.

Hardly fatal, but the events from the Estadio Rommel Fernandez quite literally were both a body and mind blow to Canada's chances of qualifying for the final round of CONCACAF qualification - since we last reached the Hex during qualification for France 1998.

So for its part, the Canadian Soccer Association - in conjunction with team management, medical staff and the players - are in the midst of a post mortem of the most rigorous proportions.

"Right now we're going through a whole autopsy of what went wrong," Stephen Hart disclosed to TSN Radio. "We're looking at how we prepared and all we did. We're going over things with the medical staff and everybody just trying to figure out what we need to do for the next time."

"The mood in the camp was high, the camaraderie was excellent our spirits were good. We trained really, really well the night before. Then come game day we couldn't put it together."

All been conducted with the hope we can unearth the root causes of an abysmal performance that when measured against how well the team had performed up to this point results wise that even Sherlock Holmes would be mystified to properly explain.

What part events around the hotel played in the 48-hour period the team was on the ground in Panama City has to be part of that intensive process.

Dismissing it out of hand as simply part and parcel of Central American football culture is foolhardy at best. There is cause and there was an effect.

"I've never seen a situation like that I've been through a bit you always go through similar situations but nothing like that." Hart explained.

Having spoken with a number of sources within the traveling delegation, what Hart refers to is a considerable and measured ramp up to the intensity of the intimidation factor between Sunday's dress rehearsal and to Monday's main event.

Sunday night by around 9:00pm, the police had dispersed the small crowd that had congregated outside of the team hotel. That was not the case Monday.

Where nighttime quickly turned into Tuesday morning then with daybreak approaching, there was still no let up to the relentless noise and disturbance outside and immediately surrounding the hotel.

Fireworks played their part and shook the very hotel itself. So much for the standard issue noise reducing ear plugs.

"It's a fact that many of the players didn't get much sleep," said Hart. "Maybe two, three hours at best. But I don't want to use that as an excuse."

When factoring in the training preparation, it makes Tuesday night's performance even more perplexing. "We felt the training session the day before the game was energetic, everybody was in a good spirits, a good frame of mind," said Hart. 

One of the crucial matters discovered in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night's final whistle and what certainly needs to be fully explained over the next fortnight are the physical complaints the players voiced.

"Even for the players who didn't play 90 minutes that started the game they said they felt very heavy legged," said Hart. "It's the same complaint of all the players they said they felt a little leg weary."

What will be more challenging to discover in the interim deals with the psychological and the linkage between the physical and the mental. "One of the things that can't be measured is the emotional state of players," said Hart. "It was a highly emotional game in Toronto a lot of mental energy was used up."

"Other than that that's the only real thing I can think about. Because the players were confined to the hotel, their recovery was what we usually do. Right now I couldn't answer why so many of them felt so heavy legged."

On Thursday evening, CONCACAF announced the setting up of an Integrity Committee that will look into such matters as transparency, good governance, accountability and reform.

Let's hope that they thoroughly investigate the cause of the power outage that led to the match been delayed for an extended period of time - occurring at almost the exact time as the incident that led to De Rosario's injury.

What part did the floodlights going off play? Who did it unsettle the most? Obviously the Canadians if we look at it from the result sense. Were other parts of the stadium affected or even the surrounding area?

It was oddly coincidental if the outage was just contained to part of the floodlighting. The CSA needs answers and only the Panamanian authorities can provide them.

CONCACAF needs to ensure the CSA receive a comprehensive report that is both transparent and quantifiable from a third party. We certainly don't want to hear down the road of something less than honorable (FIFA preferring the euphemism Fair Play!).

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that no one country should have any advantage over another. Whether that advantage be a comparative or an absolute one. 

While Canada kicks off against Cuba on Oct. 12 at 7:45pm, it's rather convenient for both Panama and Honduras their match that day kicks off at the rather late and peculiar time of 10:05pm.

So even if BMO Field suffers a temporary power outage on October 12, by the time Panama and Honduras take to the pitch they will be fully aware of Canada's result. What a wonderful advantage for our Central American football friends.

Then come Oct. 16, surely both matches will be played simultaneously? Well, no. Cuba is scheduled to entertain Panama in the middle of the Havana afternoon, whilst the kick off in Honduras is 9:30pm.

We all know the team has had to dig deep to grind out some of the victories since beginning the qualification cycle back last spring, but unlike other times this go round and just like at BMO Field a week ago that scarce goal was scored and with it came the valuable three points.

The two matches in mid-October will not only define the destiny of our men's national team but in the cases of veteran players like De Rosario, McKenna, Bernier and de Guzman the matches will go a long way to define their legacy wearing the national team jersey.

It is imperative that with the odds off the pitch stacking against us that the CSA from the logistical and preparation sense are as near perfect in the planning as they have ever been in their 100-year history.

It's time to gather round the Canadian Soccer campfire and make all resources available to the men's national team. With our women on hiatus until the new year, whatever resources they have medical or otherwise should be made available for our men.

Following last Friday night's pivotal victory against Panama, the team stayed in Toronto until chartering out to Panama City on Sunday afternoon. Next time, charter out immediately after the Cuba match.

The match in Honduras will not take place in the capital – Tegucigalpa is located in the centre of the country but up along the northwest coast in San Pedro Sula. Here's a plan instead of chartering straight into San Pedro Sula acclimatize in Belize for 48 hours to soak up the hoped for and needed Cuban victory.

We all know that with whatever greeted the team in Panama City will be on a level never witnessed before when the team arrives in San Pedro Sula (A city in 2011 that was the most violent on earth when measured by murders per capita).

This will not be the first time Canada will be in such a hostile environment. Two decades ago, El Salvador was in the grips of civil war. Our players were issued bullet proof vests.

Bring some of them players along to Honduras! Reach out to the man who has accumulated the most caps of any player. I'm sure Paul Stalteri has faced utmost hostility during his career playing in some of the best leagues world football has to offer.

We're on the verge of something quite extraordinary soccer wise in this country.

Momentum behind the game is at levels no one could have dared to imagine. Just four years ago during the previous World Cup cycle we witnessed a very Honduran blue Saputo Stadium. That would not happen today. 

Our three MLS clubs and (although our performances to date exclude a playoff experience in terms of economics) the pulling power of our MLS stadiums is on very healthy feet because of us. Who knows where the league would be today without its Canadian content?

Forget qualifying for the World Cup - we secure passage to the Hex in the year our governing body celebrates its centenary then we are in for the most enjoyable soccer hangovers in 2013.

We cannot contemplate the alternative. Do it for the Gipper? Do it for Dwayne!

The Full Chat With Stephen Hart is available as a podcast at TSN.ca/Montreal.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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