February 2, 2009
Don't sack Mitchell ... now
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
It was a bad week for the Canadian Soccer Association.
First it was men's national team player of the year Julian de Guzman blasting the CSA as "amateur."
Then, the Canadian soccer supporters group, the Voyageurs, demanded the replacement of national team head coach Dale Mitchell.
Neither of the comments was particularly shocking -- CSA-bashing has become commonplace, even trendy.
When the CSA in the past was not operating up to par, the criticism was well-warranted.
But the CSA, still reeling from the disappointment of a miserable World Cup qualifying campaign, doesn't need or deserve any more bad press.
For soccer in Canada to go forward, the bickering and bad-mouthing needs to stop. Call it Public Relations 101: It's time for a shift in attitude when it comes to Canadian soccer.
The governance of soccer in this nation isn't yet where it needs to be. But it's a process, and the "new" CSA is moving in a far better direction.
The process of change is coming through general secretary Peter Montopoli, who has been running the show since last March.
It has been less than a year, but under Montopoli's leadership, the CSA has opened the door for positive communication with its players, set out organizational directives and goals for the coming years, while developing mutually beneficial relationships with Canada's professional teams.
These are small steps, but hurdles that have been overcome nonetheless.
Over the years, Canadian players repeatedly complained about inferior treatment from the CSA, whether it regarded travel, accommodations, schedules, etc.
Montopoli and the CSA moved to fix the problem last June in Montreal, meeting with their players. The players had carte blanche voicing their concerns, letting the CSA know what they required to succeed. The CSA obliged, with national team captain Paul Stalteri publicly saying the CSA went above and beyond during the qualifying campaign.
The CSA vows to continue making player-centric decisions going forward -- a step in the right direction.
Keeping the players happy is one thing, but the real way to silence critics is a consolidated effort focused solely on 2014 World Cup qualification. No disrespect to the 2009 Gold Cup, but all eyes must be on 2014.
And with that the case, the CSA's top priority should not be to immediately replace the head coach.
That doesn't mean Dale Mitchell is the right man to lead the side into 2014. His past results dictate otherwise -- in a result-driven industry, Mitchell failed.
But with the CSA negotiating for a head coach for the women's program, adding a men's coach to its shopping list isn't practical.
HE KNOWS THE KIDS
Regardless of the women's situation and despite Mitchell's failures with the men's or under-20 national teams, the fact remains that he knows the young players coming through the system.
And it's the players with whom he has experience, such as Asmir Begovic, David Edgar and Jamie Peters, to show whether they can make the jump to the next level. 2009 is all about a youth movement.
So right now, Mitchell may be the right man for the job by default. There aren't any other tangible and immediate replacements out there. The idea that Canada needs to bring in a foreign coach is all too obscure. Without names or concrete solutions (technical director Stephen Hart doesn't count, as he is still massively influential and well-placed in his current role), it would be change for the sake of change.
Let's see how Mitchell does with the kids with 2009.
On that note, more games will be announced in preparation for the Gold Cup in the coming months, including home dates for 2009.