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Backup goalie puts Canada on path to Cup


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Backup goalie puts Canada on path to Cup

Headed To Semis; U.S. the next test in CONCACAF championships

Sean Fitz-Gerald, National Post

Published: Monday, June 18, 2007

A 39-year-old former gym teacher from Vancouver has helped Canada reach the semi-final round of an international soccer tournament, posting two shutouts and three wins despite being called to national duty as an emergency goalkeeper just four days before the opening game.

Pat Onstad has been in net for every Canadian victory at the Gold Cup, a 12-team event being staged in the United States, and there is a chance he could appear between the pipes again this Thursday as Canada faces the host country for the right to play in the championship.

"Obviously, they are a very good team and are playing on their home soil, but we have nothing to fear," he said yesterday.

If we go out and play the same way we have this tournament, we've got just as much of a right to be in this park as they do."

Having Onstad on the field at all has come as a bit of a surprise.

He was a star with Canada's youth team in 1986, but walked away from the club game a decade later to teach full-time in Vancouver.

An indoor soccer team in Edmonton lured him out of retirement and he has spent the last five seasons in Major League Soccer -- where, as a member of the defending champion Houston Dynamo, he holds the distinction of being the league's oldest active player.

Onstad had not played for Canada in almost three years before the national team called him earlier this month.

Back spasms had sidelined one goalkeeper, Joshua Wagenaar, and a concussion had left the other, Greg Sutton, unable to play.

The Canadian Soccer Association announced Onstad had joined the team on June 5.

On June 6, he was in goal for Canada's 2-1 win over Costa Rica.

Sutton was back in net for a 2-1 upset loss to Guadeloupe, but Onstad returned for a 2-0 win over Haiti to round out the group stage.

He collected his second shutout in a 3-0 romp over Guatemala in the quarter-final round on Saturday, setting up this week's showdown with the U.S. in Chicago.

He was asked yesterday how the last-minute notice might have affected how he prepared for the tournament.

"Well, I didn't really," he said with a chuckle.

"I don't think I had time to. I was asked the Sunday before the tournament if I would be willing to be a No. 3 in case of emergency, and the next thing I know, I'm getting a call the next day in the afternoon to hop on an evening flight."

He said he didn't know whether head coach Stephen Hart planned to use him again on Thursday.

Onstad flew to Chicago with the rest of the team yesterday.

If he plays, he will earn the 50th cap of his career.

"That means a lot to me personally," Onstad said. "I've always enjoyed representing my country, and it certainly was a goal I set a few years back.

"I never thought it was going to happen -- certainly not in the last three years -- but here we are."

Canada's success at the Gold Cup helped the national men's side leap 38 spots in FIFA's latest world ranking.

The monthly list was released last week and had Canada pegged at No. 56 in the world, up from 94th.

The tournament, a FIFA sanctioned event staged by the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, isn't as highly regarded as other global competitions because of a comparatively shallow talent pool.

Canada won in 2000, but the title usually sways between Mexico and the U.S.

Some have argued that elite-level soccer has been making headway in the U.S. since English star David Beckham agreed to join the Los Angeles Galaxy. And the threat of that momentum translating to a successful national program has alarmed at least one English writer.

"Why are we scared? Because as a nation we have a desperate need to feel superior to the vibrant barbarian culture that's replaced us as top global ass-kicker," Steven Wells wrote in a blog for The Guardian last week.

Face it, feeling superior to Americans is about all we've got left. But the list of things we actually do better than the Yanks is slim and getting slimmer.

"Did you know that the bastards even brew decent beer these days?"

Canadians also like beer, and many also seem to approve of soccer.

Toronto FC had to cap sea-son-ticket sales at 14,000 long before it opened its inaugural campaign earlier this spring, and more than 750,000 tickets have been sold for FIFA's Under-20 World Cup, which opens in Montreal and Ottawa later this month.

A win over the U.S. this week -- while a long shot -- could make for the beginnings of a memorable summer for Canadian soccer.

"The [Americans have] been rotating a huge squad, so they'll probably be better rested," Hart said.

"We know what we'll be up against."


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