TORONTO – Well, here we aren’t again.
Another World Cup. Another occasion for 32 teams to celebrate on the sport’s grandest stage, while we Canucks sit at home, sucking back the maple-syrup-covered poutine to drown out the sorrow of falling short for the seventh straight time in qualifying.
Another chance for a combination of the well-meaning-but-ignorant and the incorrigible trolls to trot out the same tired quadrennial queries:
“Is Canada in the World Cup?”
“Why isn’t Canada in the World Cup?”
“Does Canada even have a soccer team?” (Hold for laughter, which never comes.)
There actually is a deceptively simple answer to that second question, one I will explore in a few weeks' time.
But for now, the focus is on the action down in Brazil and the profound sense of ambivalence that diehard supporters of the Canadian team must face once again.
On the one hand, we’re soccer fans. The World Cup is the most exciting showcase the sport has to offer, and like fans in every country around the world, we’re anxiously waiting to see which stars will step up, which new heroes will emerge, which underdogs will surprise, which superpowers will fall and, ultimately, which nation will emerge as world champion.
On the other, it can be excruciating. The local news stories tell us we should be happy for former Canadians now representing other countries. We’re meant to simply pick a new team to support during the tournament, which is like picking a new kid to house and feed from the Grade 6 class, even though your kid got held back in Grade 4. (That’s “sixth grade” and “fourth grade” for you Yanks.)
And yes, the unavoidable bombardment of coverage from our southern neighbors as their squad prepares to compete in the Group of Death (with an actual chance of escaping, no less!) only serves as an ongoing, knife-twisting reminder of how far ahead of us the Americans have gotten.
Like I said, mixed emotions.
But on the eve of this World Cup, my hope is that my fellow Canadian supporters will try to find some inner peace, difficult as it may seem.
Yeah, 8-1 happened. But we’re still here. Let’s own it and move on. At least there’s no possible way our qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 could end any worse, right? (Please, soccer gods, tell me there isn’t.)
Yeah, the streets are filled with people waving flags and professing their love for the nations of their ancestors, even if those folks were nowhere near the stadium or their televisions when Canada was still in qualifying. But the key isn’t to deride them for supporting other nations once Canada’s gone; the key is to convince them to channel their passion toward Canada while we’re still in it.
And yeah, some people will still be trolls. But hey, you’re surfing the Internet. You should know by now how to best deal with trolls (hint: ignore them).
So yes, fans of the Canadian men’s national team, you are fully within your rights to treat Brazil 2014 with a mix of bitterness, anger and Schadenfreude at the failings of the teams you feel have done us wrong (*cough* Honduras).
Or you can enjoy the competition as a neutral fan (or, heck, cheer for the land of your ancestral heritage, if they’re in it), get sucked into the compelling storylines and revel in one of the few sporting events that truly brings all the world together in a shared celebration.
After all, the psychological trauma we willingly endure as Canada fans only makes sense if we consider the World Cup to be something worth striving toward, right?