Canadian Soccer Association to choose Montagliani’s successor

Victor Montagliani, president of CONCACAF and former president of the Canadian Soccer Association, speaks at a press conference in 2016. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

An election Saturday will decide which of three candidates will succeed Victor Montagliani and run Canadian soccer.

Montagliani was elected president of the Canadian Soccer Association in 2012 and 2016. But he had to relinquish the presidency early after taking over CONCACAF in May 2016.

As head of the confederation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, as well as a FIFA vice-president, Montagliani occupies a seat in the inner circle of world soccer. But he has not endorsed any of the three running for the CSA presidency as the 97th Annual Meeting of the Members on Saturday in Whistler, B.C. — at least not publicly.

It is seen as a two-man race between CSA vice-president Steve Reed and four-term Ontario Soccer Association president Ron Smale. The wild card is Quebec’s Florin Buturca, who has a refereeing background.

Voting is based on numbers of registered players in regions across the country.

Reed, who has been a member of the CSA board in various capacities since 2006, sees two key issues looming in the future — the joint 2026 bid to host the men’s World Cup and the formation of the Canadian Premier League.

A former head of the B.C. Soccer Association, the 60-year-old Reed heads up Manning Elliott’s tax department. First elected to the CSA board in 2009 as treasurer, he has served as vice-president for five years and been chair of the audit and finance committee for eight years.

For Reed, Canadian soccer is facing two "watershed moments" with the 2026 World Cup bid and the planned Canadian Premier League.

"There’s a tremendous amount of work to still be done in order to successfully bid to become a host country," he said.

The CPL, meanwhile, is needed to get Canadians playing time, as well as providing experience for domestic coaches, officials and administrators.

Smale spent three years on the CSA board before it was restructured, denying automatic access to provincial association presidents.

Like Reed, he sees the world Cup bid and CPL as two pillars of the future. He’d also like to see some tweaking of the association’s governance, to improve communication and ensure the provinces are a bigger part of the decision-making process.

He’d like to organize a soccer summit in the fall to "bring the family together."

Smale also cites declining registrations, especially among 14- to 16-year-old girls, as a problem that needs to be addressed.

The 66-year-old Smale spent more than 30 years as a superintendent at the Toronto Transit Commission, with a lot of his time spent in human relations.

The three candidates have big shoes to fill. While Montagliani — like many before him — was unable to solve the problem of the national men’s team, the Canadian women went from strength to strength under his tenure and Canada earned kudos for hosting a successful Women’s World Cup in 2015.

The men’s side of the program remains a question mark. Canadian youth teams continue to struggle in the competitive CONCACAF world and the senior side, ranked 108th in the world, is trying to avoid sliding into irrelevancy.

Bringing former Canada captain Jason deVos on board as director of development, plus installing Octavio Zambrano as head coach of the entire men’s national team program, offers some hope for the future.

Reed is hoping to follow the footsteps of Montagliani, who moved up from vice-president (three terms) to president.

Montagliani’s star continues to shine. Over the last year, he has been able to restore some lustre to CONCACAF, although the bar for running the scandal-ridden confederation was very low.

Two others board positions will be decided Saturday.

John Tzanis is running against incumbent Nick Bontis for an Ontario position on the board while Kevin Dick is taking on Don Story for the Saskatchewan-Manitoba-Nunavut opening.