Canada needs a good boot

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, FREE PRESS SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

It's well past midnight on a Wednesday night and any soccer fan who stayed up to watch Spain beat Brazil 4-2 it in the FIFA under-20 World Cup in Burnaby, B.C., could only marvel at the beauty of the sport played well.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Soccer Association is planning yet another comprehensive review of Canada's dismal, embarrassing, regressive, mind-numbing, eye-glazing (insert word here) performance as the host nation. No wins, no goals, no excitement.

As for a review, no mas, no more. There's no need for it. The problem is simple and it has nothing to do with the players. Stop blaming the players. It has everything to do with the selection process.

The easy thing to do is to blame the players. Even coach Dale Mitchell is doing it

". . . We're disappointed that we didn't get out of the group," Mitchell was quoted as saying. "We had good preparation, we put everything we could into it. But at the end of the day, we are not good enough for this level."

Talk about a cop out. That's been the problem with the inner circle that's run soccer in this country for far too long. It's never about the system, it's always about the players.

Granted, if the players we saw represent Canada at the under-20 level are the best we have to offer, then fans probably should despair. Rarely has the game been as painful to watch as when the Canadians played in this tournament.

But it wouldn't take more than a few trips outside of B.C., Alberta, Quebec and Toronto to realize this country has more than enough quality young players to compete with some of the countries Mitchell claims are simply better than Canada. It's a matter of identifying those players.

"The simple answer is yes, we've regressed when it comes to selecting players," said Geoff Painter, well known in London and Ontario for his development of programs and players, particularly women.

Painter has won several Ontario and Canadian championships. His focus has always been on athletic ability, quickness and individual skill development.

"When I look at some of the players in this area, don't tell me that players like Haris Cekic, Michael Pereira, Todd Rutledge aren't as good as some of those players. But it's the same old story . . . unless you play on a provincial team, you have no chance of getting looked at. The pool of provincial players is very small and there is no serious process to expand it."

Those young players Painter mentioned are local. But there are numerous other players in other communities who don't get a sniff because they either aren't in major soccer areas or don't have the means to participate in the provincial program, which involves travelling to Toronto most weekends to train without compensation.

Once more players have been identified. the question becomes what and how are they being taught.

The players on this under-20 national team may have had some athletic ability and quickness but they "haven't been able to elevate their play.

"When training is 'routinized,' the same thing over and over again, players don't learn," Painter said.

And why wouldn't the system be "routinized?" Routinely, the same individuals coach and select in the system.

The Canadian Soccer Association can take some of the blame as well. Why wouldn't the association wait to name a new coach for their senior team until the plethora of soccer events concludes? The recent Gold Cup saw Canada's national team perform as well as they have in years. Not only did they win some games, they showed a frightening tendency toward inventiveness, creativity and flow. It must have come as a shock to the pedantic, kick-the-ball-long-and-run system.

But by the time interim national team coach and under-17 coach Stephen Hart had served up his more pleasing brand of football, Dale Mitchell had already been hired. It's a guarantee if the job were still open, Mitchell wouldn't be filling it.

Save the time and money of having to reinvent soccer again. Put your resources into better scouting, take a risk and travel west of Kitchener.

Oh, and while you're at it, invest in a tape of the Spain/Brazil game. It's a cheap resource in figuring out how the game should be played.


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