Beefing up soccer a challenge

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:59 AM ET

Canada went to the under-20 men's world soccer championship recently with high expectations.

It never made it past the preliminary round.

Canada's national men's team flamed out in World Cup qualifying and then went to the Gold Cup tournament hoping to do well.

It, too, failed to make it past the preliminary round.

It was another in a long string of disappointments.

While soccer ranks well down the list of priority sports in this country, there are many here who love the game. While they feed their habit on televised games from other countries, they would love to support a successful Canadian program that would both guarantee more exposure for the sport and speed the development of a domestic program.

For those who don't believe there is that burning desire to see a successful soccer program, flash back to three years ago when Canada's under-19 women's team attracted huge crowds in Edmonton during its world tournament.

The man who has been entrusted to bring the senior national men's program back to respectability is Frank Yallop. A former national team player, Yallop has begun a revamping of the team.

Familiar faces such as longtime national team member Jason de Vos of Appin have likely seen their last cap for Canada.

"Frank has to get on with players who are going to be playing five years down the road, not just this year," de Vos said.

But rebuilding a team is not easy, especially when resources and talent aren't readily available. After coaching in the Gold Cup and attending the under-20 tournament, Yallop addressed the results.

"It's reality -- you can't pretend you're really good when you're not," he said.

Despite a baker's dozen of top international players, Yallop is brutally honest when asked if we are developing enough good players and he lays some of the blame on coaching.

"No we aren't," he said. "The pool of players needs to get bigger. They need to be more rounded, more talented. Every person that touches a player has something to do with the game, whether the child is six, 16 or 25 when I get them. . . . We all influence these players. I challenge all coaches in this country, is he doing the best he can with the players he has? I want all the coaches to get certified if they can."

Development must go much farther than that. Yallop's song is the same one sung year after year.

"We've got to decide what we want to do. Do we want to go for it?" he asked. "It's going to take money and time. I'm hoping soon they'll announce that MLS (Major League Soccer) is coming to Canada. At least you've got a full-time professional team in our country. It's not a slight at the United Soccer League at all, but it's a six-month season. A MLS team would give young players in this country something to drive for.

"There's so many factors, it makes it difficult to pinpoint. Is it the development of players, no stadium, no league? Is it the coaching which isn't good enough? You need a vision. Look at the U.S. We can't be as big as them, but we're in the same boat as they are. We can compete but we always seem to just miss out."

For years, soccer success has been just around the corner. It seems a never-ending corner.


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