Out with the old and in with the new — the motto could not be any simpler for Canada’s national team.
The time has come for the better majority of the present Canadian squad to bow out gracefully and accept their fate. International retirement is never easy for any player, but the current situation calls for change.
It is a fairly ambitious concept. The transition will be swift and not without obvious growing pains. Realistically the road to Russia in 2018 might be a little premature for the next group, but the kids of today have the added benefit of professional academies at their disposal that was virtually non-existent for the previous generation.
Within the last five years, an adequate structure wasn’t in place for Canadian kids to succeed in soccer. Is it any wonder the talent pool has suffered, and why most of our best and brightest opt out of playing for their country of birth? Can you really blame Jonathan De Guzman and David Hoilett for their hesitance to play for Canada? Both had to leave the country as teenagers on their parents’ dime to develop the necessary skills warranted at the professional level. Why should Canada reap the benefits of all their hard work and dedication?
That is where the problem lies, and the disconnection between Canada’s most played sport and the national team begins. Patriotism is not enough. Loyalty has to be earned.
Another failed World Cup bid has left Canadians wondering what might have been, only missing out of the Hex by a single point. Improvements from the 2010 campaign are evident; Canada finished bottom of their group with a measly two points, but the disastrous performance went largely unnoticed by a hockey-crazed nation. However, things were different this time around. Optimism was growing and the entire country slowly got behind the team, with supporters coming out in full force at BMO Field to finally provide the home-field atmosphere that was severely lacking in years past and desperately needed. Where did it all go wrong?
A gutless performance in the 8-1 loss to Honduras in front of a national audience killed off any momentum gained.
Are we as Canadians too nice? Do we lack the focus needed to succeed at the highest levels of the game and fight through adversity? Both theories are debatable, considering that our players do play in Europe and have to deal with hostile atmospheres and the pressures that arise at club level. It’s difficult to believe similar situations at the international level can be any different, yet history proves otherwise and we continue to analyze why things go wrong for Canada.
Getting it right at grassroots level
In order to be the best, one must play against the best. If we as a nation want to produce players capable of chasing the World Cup dream, the road begins at the grassroots level. The wheels have been set in motion, and having three professional Major League Soccer academies has helped to bridge the gap from amateur to the pros, but clearly more needs to be done. The league’s three domestic player minimum has proven to be of little help to get our country’s best playing regularly, and the reserve sides release more Canadians than they promote to the first team.
The Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact have backtracked considerably since joining the league, choosing to import the services of foreign players from South America and Europe rather than promote from within. B.C. soccer has been the leader in youth development in this country, yet the Whitecaps are promoting fewer prospects from their academy into the senior side.
Toronto FC has done a better job of giving homegrown players an opportunity, though, the club isn’t a model of success. Asthone Morgan has become a regular name on the team sheet, and to a lesser extent Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson — all three made their initial stride in the academy. Unfortunately, for the better majority of hopefuls, the dream ends just as quickly as it began, the consensus being the talent pool is too shallow and unable to churn out quality professionals and potential internationals.
Ontario has made a step in the right direction with the announcement of a much needed change to the province’s Player Development League (OPDL), enforcing new criteria to make sure club coaches possess the proper qualifications essential to youth development. It is one of many changes that will assist in raising the bar and boost the standard of competition.
There is a growing concern that kids are set up to fail, seemingly lacking the basic fundamentals to be successful. To say that the coaches in this country are at fault is an easy cop out. The system is to blame, and the responsibility rests with the Canadian Soccer Association. The numbers of kids enrolled to play soccer in Canada are enormous, far more than there are in hockey, though the standards in nurturing and development between the two sports couldn’t be further apart. It’s hard to imagine how many talented players have fallen through the cracks over the years, never able to fully realize their potential due to an inept system that was void of the ability to progress its players to the next level.
The United States went through their soccer revolution in the early 90s, using the euphoria of hosting the World Cup as the launch pad. It didn’t happen overnight, but the ripple effect has stretched beyond its borders, with American representation in some of the best leagues around the world highlighting why the U.S. is a regular World Cup participant. Canada has the potential to achieve similar success, despite having one-tenth the population, but first we need to keep hold of our own and make sure they have the tools necessary to succeed. Owen Hargreaves was the first high profile Canadian to deny the call-up and rethink his international options, with Hoilett and the younger of the two De Guzman’s following suit. Hopefully, they will be the last.
Canada’s under-20 coach Nick Dasovic is receiving plenty of praise for his work with the new breed of Canucks. The former TFC academy head coach and first team interim manager has put together a strong collection of talent that is determined to qualify for the 2013 FIFA U20 World Cup in Turkey next summer. Should they realize their ambition, it will be the first time Canada has qualified in six years. The road begins in February with the CONCACAF U20 Championships, and it will give a small glimpse into the future and the players who might suit up for the senior team when the next round of World Cup qualifying begins in 2015.
Veterans should step down
The days of Dwayne De Rosario, Julian De Guzman, and Lars Hirschfeld are over. Their loyal service and hard work through the years did not go unnoticed, but anyone over 30 at this point should make room for the new wave, even though it’s difficult to see Dero go. Only veterans Atiba Hutchinson and Iain Hume, both 29, should keep their place to provide the necessary leadership which will be critical in the transition phase.
It all begins with the hiring of Tony Fonseca as technical director by the CSA. The former Portuguese international was previously an assistant coach under Stephen Hart and was on the bench during Canada’s darkest night in Honduras. The reactions have been mixed, but the job ahead is enormous. I’m holding my judgement on the decision and giving Fonseca the opportunity to make a believer out of me. Charting the course of Canadian soccer won’t be easy. His vision for the national soccer program begins now.
The next chapter begins at the end of January in Arizona, as a quality World Cup opponent in Denmark will be Canada’s first test in a friendly. The prospect of a full time manager being in place by then is highly unlikely, as the CSA is rumoured to be assessing their options and holding out until the current qualifying campaign ends.
Representing your country is the ultimate achievement for every athlete. Canadian soccer might receive a small minority of the nation’s attention, but it does have its fair share of legends, giving hope to every kid that aspires to equal or surpass the names on this exclusive list.
Craig Forrest is one of these men, and without a doubt the best goalkeeper in Canadian history. Another standout is Alex Bunbury, who unlike his Canadian teammate started his career in the old Canadian Soccer League, before earning his greatest success with Maritimo in Portugal. Both are model professionals and perfect examples of the talent within our borders — forever loyal and ambassadors to the growth of the sport in this country.
Finishing off the trio of legends is former striker Paul Peschisolido, a name synonymous with Canadian soccer. News of his interest in taking over the vacant manager’s job has been slowly been making the rounds. Peschisolido is not without coaching experience either, having managed Burton Albion for two and a half seasons in the fourth-tier of English football following his retirement. He enjoyed a successful professional career that spanned 20 years, 16 of those spent in the English Football League, most notably with Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Sheffield United and Derby County.
The 41 year-old is the only Canadian to manage in Europe, and a viable option for the CSA. It’s not like they have a mob of quality managers kicking down their door interested in the job, so why not take a chance on Pesch?
Change at every level is imminent, and it could not come soon enough. The wound is still fresh, and the disgraceful performance in San Pedro Sula against Honduras should be used as motivation for every Canadian who earns the call-up.
The slate has been wiped clean. Time will tell how the CSA responds to the blank canvas.