November 9, 2009
Local talent lost in shuffle
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
Gabe Gala scored a goal against Real Madrid but couldn't score against the University of Western Ontario.
Sounds funny, doesn't it?
Gala, a student at the University of Toronto while playing as a developmental player with Toronto FC, was in action this past weekend, helping the Varsity Blues clinch a birth at this year's CIS national championship by beating Western 3-2 in a penalty shootout in one semi.
Gala, 20, could have ended it in regulation. Tied 1-1 in the 83rd minute, Gala was sent in alone on a breakaway.
For someone who scored on Champions League winner Jerzy Dudek of Real Madrid, Gala didn't have the same luck against Mustangs goalkeeper Andrew Murdoch. Gala tried to play the ball low into the left-hand corner, but was robbed by Murdoch, diving to his right.
After the teams traded goals in overtime, Gala redeemed himself in penalties, clinically putting it past Murdoch, as U of T survived. The Varsity Blues weren't so lucky in penalties yesterday, losing to McMaster in the final.
While the OUA championship was going on, the Seneca Sting played host and won the CCAA crown.
With so many of Canada's finest young soccer players in the city on the weekend, it's worth questioning who was noticing?
Obviously, the mainstream media is in no position to do the tournaments justice. And the interest from the general public is simply not there.
But the soccer community, both from a developmental and common interest perspective, fail to fully support its own.
And because of the lack of interest, standout performances and players worthy of a look for developmental purposes are lost in our system. And that's the point -- the infrastructure isn't in place to find and/or develop our best young players.
There is no hockey-like OHL system for soccer in this province, or this country for that matter. There is no means for a player to ensure himself a future in pro soccer.
Playing while getting an education is the preferred or chosen path for most. But choosing education shouldn't mean closing the door on a future in pro soccer, especially when the quality is there.
Take Gala for example. He is the rare case where professional ambition can be balanced with educational goals. That's because Gala was in the Canadian soccer set-up to begin with, representing Canada at youth levels.
Players who have taken an alternative path to playing university ball and who end up shining at that high level of play, simply get lost in the system. This isn't right and doesn't bode well for finding Canada's best players from within.
And the quality is there. Gala's quality stood out throughout the weekend, but no more or no less than a handful of other players. This isn't an indictment on Gala, but a credit to the quality of players in university soccer in Canada.
The fact remains, OUA athletes are overlooked all too often, soccer included.
The improvement in play and set-up of university soccer over the past decade is substantial. And the player pool is becoming hard to ignore at the professional level.
At last year's CIS coaches meeting at the national championship in Ottawa, the idea of a showcase game featuring the country's best players was discussed, but not completely defined.
Representatives of Toronto FC and the Ontario Soccer Association were present at the meetings.
With Vancouver joining Major League Soccer in 2011 and Montreal on the radar, more Canadian players will be needed to fill the Canadian quota on these rosters. Or MLS will have to loosen its quota restrictions or consider changing the rule altogether.
Regardless what MLS decides, it makes sense for certain CIS players to be considered for the MLS SuperDraft.