Hanson Boakai is forced to live up to the unrealistic expectations Canadian fans have placed on him

FC Edmonton March 13, 2015

FC Edmonton March 13, 2015

When it comes to youth soccer, are Canadian soccer supporters the worst?

We’ve seen this over and over. A young players come up through our system, and then our small-but-oh-so-loud Canadian soccer community gives the kid way too much praise, way too much hype. It’s understandable, we’re so desparate for a saviour, an instant solution to decades worth of soccer rot, that we latch on to 17-year-old after 17-year-old. The message boards fill up with dreams of big moves to big clubs. And whether your name is Aleman, Alderson or Teibert, the overreaction to some early career successes puts you on a path to meet expectations that can’t possibly be met.

Young soccer stars don’t hit the mainstream, but within our insular soccer community, we can pump up tires like no one else. And it puts them on a crash course to disappoint.

Of course, the belt of “next one” is currently being held by Hanson Boakai, the kid who came up with FC Edmonton and has had some head-turning performances for the U-17 and U-20 national teams, as well as one very magical run in the Amway Canadian Championship. Boakai is out of contract, though FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller confirmed there is an offer on the table. The rumour mill went nuts back in November, linking him to a move to Toronto FC. Now, comes news that Boakai will go to the Hajduk Split’s B side, and will get the chance to play his way towards the senior team.

Now, the best thing for a teenager like Boakai is to go in quietly and try to impress the coaches. But, previous trials at Fortuna Dusseldorf and Deportivo La Coruna were anything but quiet; Boakai’s youthful exuberance was partly to blame for it, as he gave his followers regular Twitter updates on his progress.

His term in Split will see him put under even more pressure. Already, the Croatian version of Goal.com hailed him in the headline as the “Canadian Messi, or Maradona?” (CLICK HERE) And why did the Croats go with such hyperbole? They simply picked up on the kind of things Canadians fans have been saying about the kid, in our desperate hope that he becomes our soccer messiah.

The Croats posted a Canadian-made YouTube video of Boakai referring to him as the Canadian Messi, which splices together the best moments of his best games. There’s also another Canadian-made video that compares him to, you guessed it, Maradona.

Of course, none of these videos mention that Boakai has got into hot water with FC Edmonton in the past for different team-rules violations. It doesn’t mention that the kid played just 328 minutes of NASL soccer last year. The hype is all about expectations, and not the reality. And in the long run, it’s so unfair on the player, because he is expected to live up to a rose-coloured version of himself.

This is the honest truth: Even the best, best, best player we’ve ever seen play for Canada at the U-17 level will have a very difficult time sticking in Europe. Ask any Canadian player who’s ever trialed with a European club of note; you don’t just have to impress, you have to stick out to the point where the coach can’t possibly ignore you. Break one team rule or show one slight sign that you might be difficult to coach, and your Canadian passport means you’re no longer worth the risk. They might be willing to take some eccentricities from a kid with an EU passport, but not from a Canadian.

As a Canadian, I want Hanson Boakai to succeed. I want Keven Aleman to succeed. I want every player called into any Canadian camp to get the chance to play professionally and improve. I want national-team coach Benito Floro’s roster selection to be an awful process, not because of the dearth of players, but because he’s three or four deep at every position. But our very Canadian habit of pumping up the teens has got to stop, or at least be tempered. Let’s be real about our expectations. Because our hyperbole has already given Hanson Boakai way too much to live up to.

PLASTIC PITCH 8 IS NOW OUT — FEATURING OUR LOOK AT CONCUSSIONS IN SOCCER, AND WHERE CANADA STANDS WHEN IT COMES TO YOUNG PLAYERS HEADING THE BALL. SUBSCRIBE VIA OUR SHOPIFY STORE!

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.