Christmas comes early for Canadian soccer supporters

The setting of the scene was all too perfect for anyone familiar with the way the news usually is in Canadian soccer.

The CSA calls a big press conference and, as it happens, on the exact same day, Toronto’s unseasonably pleasant skies open up for the first time… the snow begins to fall, and we’re all ripped away from our daydreaming and reminded of the cold, wretched drudgery ahead. Usually, that’d be a fitting backdrop for an end-of-year Canadian soccer presser.

But not today. Today we learned we have a full-time head coach of our men’s national team (a terribly-kept secret, considering Rollins called it a month ago) in Stephen Hart. We learned that the men’s national team will play at least two games on Canadian soil in 2010 (mirroring the women’s national team, who’ll also play at least two home dates). And we learned that at the CSA’s Board of Directors meeting, they discussed a new governance model for their organization which will introduce new levels of “efficiency, accountability and transparency” (according to general secretary Peter Montopoli… the real one, not the fake one who comments on this blog all the time).

No, today I can smile at the snow (even if some people can’t) knowing that once the hard, frostbitten months ahead have subsided, there is actually sunshine on the horizon in Canadian soccer. I know this because some of the comments made by Hart — while seemingly obvious and self-evident — are still good to hear from the man who’s been entrusted to lead our national team into the next World Cup qualifying cycle.

In his opening remarks at the press conference, Hart spoke of his previous service as interim head coach with the men’s national team at the 2007 and 2009 Gold Cup tournaments, his eyes widening in self-awareness as he said that this experience gave him “perspective on what is required and needed” in the men’s national team program.

Specifically, what is required, as explicitly said by Montopoli, is a national team head coach with strong technical knowledge, respect within the national soccer community and, perhaps most of all, familiarity with CONCACAF. Hart has these three qualities, as well as the precisely correct attitude when it comes to the men’s national team:

Qualify for the World Cup. Nothing else fucking matters.

These are my words, not his (of course), but he did make this sentiment pretty clear, saying on numerous occasions that the main goal of the squad is to qualify for the big tourney. This means playing as many games as possible, focusing on CONCACAF competition and trying to peak at the right moment (during WCQ). Winning the Gold Cup would be nice, of course, but as Hart mentioned during the scrums, we won the Gold Cup in 2000 but crashed out of qualifying for 2002 World Cup. How did that happen? Misplaced focus, maybe.

By contrast, he has “no qualms” about experimenting at the Gold Cup if it will help prepare the team for World Cup qualifying. “It’s no secret,” he said, “we lack depth in many positions” — so it’s important to give young players an opportunity to prove themselves. At the same time, though, he’s said he “doesn’t care” about players’ ages, and will continue selecting players who prove that they can contribute.

As for one of the big questions — defections and keeping players loyal to Canada — Hart rightly said that Canada isn’t the only country that has players defect to other teams (nor are we the hardest hit), but that part of his job is “to convince players that they have a role with the Canadian system and are wanted.” He says he “wants players who want to play for Canada” but he can only extend his hand to them — they have to grab it. A good way to increase loyalty would be to establish “some kind of league” in Canada, even if it wasn’t fully coast-to-coast. As Hart said, “we’re probably the only nation in the world trying to compete without a national league.”

He also made it clear that he will remind players that they “are responsible for putting Canada on the map” in world soccer. Methinks Mr. Hart will not acquiesce to being thrown under the bus by the players like his predecessor was.

In all, he gets it. And that’s a good thing. We’ll be looking at Hart’s selection, his focus and the prospects for the men’s national team going forward in more depth in the days and weeks ahead.

But for now, some other tidbits on the day:

  • The men’s national team is slated to play its two home friendlies during FIFA international dates in September. Locations and opponents are yet to be confirmed, but you’ve got to think that at least one (possibly both) of those games will be played on the new grass at Toronto’s BMO Field (what with it being our “national soccer stadium” and all).
  • The women’s national team will play their friendlies in the spring; again, with locations and opponents TBA, but with a strong chance that BMO Field will see at least one of those matchups (based solely on common sense).
  • The CSA tells me that Nevio Pizzolitto of the Montreal Impact is, incredibly, running second in the voting in the Fans’ Choices poll for men’s national team. It’s especially incredible since he’s, y’know, not on the men’s national team. You’ll get our picks for player of the year later this week.

10 Responses to “Christmas comes early for Canadian soccer supporters”

  1. Geez you guys beat Rollins to the punch on this one. He has only tweeted it so far, you’ve actually managed to put it into semi-coherent paragraphs, and a bulleted list to boot! Fancy shmancy

  2. All credit goes to Squizz here. He attended the press conference and wrote the post while Jamie was at work and I was sitting around in Winnipeg with my cock in my hands.

  3. mulliganl Says:

    C’mon Grant, why don’t you tell the people what you were really doing…

  4. A little dissapointed that it’s only 2 home games. I mean wasn’t the goal 33 between now and 2014?

    • Thirty-three total friendlies between all programs, not thirty-three home men’s friendlies.

    • At the conference today it was confirmed Canada would play two home friendlies in 2010… but there will probably be away friendlies as well, and no one definitely said there *wouldn’t* be more home friendlies (though any such talk is pure speculation on my part at this point).

  5. We will need to have more than 2 home matches per year to ever be successful. I am sure SH knows that and hopefully with his intimate knowledge of the CSA, he can be more persuasive and give our fans a chance to really know the players we cheer for.

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