Man with a plan

DAVE CAMERON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

His accent gives it away, but clearly Even Pellerud is not from this country.

It's not how he says it, but what he says.

Pellerud has an idea that money isn't the answer to elevate the game of soccer in Canada. Make a plan first, says Pellerud, then pour dollars into it.

"There's no need to talk about money before we have a vision," said the coach of the women's national team, who came to Canada in 2000 after coaching Norway's national team.

"I always refer back to what we did in the Norwegian soccer association in the early '90s. Because we were in the same spot - soccer was big and growing, but we had no results at the top end.

"We had meetings and we prioritized what we wanted to do. We came up with three or four priorities and we sold those ideas by going out to the big clubs and to the provinces.

TRAVELLING, SELLING THE IDEAS

"We spent two years travelling, selling the ideas, the vision we had. When they were all on-board, we just ran it.

"Two, three years later the program took off, and through the '90s the women's World Cup team was ranked No. 1 and the men's World Cup team was top-10 ranked. That is good from a small nation like Norway.

"It tells you that things are possible if you have a plan - and there are people to run the plan.

"I think our daily soccer life is not at the needed standards. We don't have the year-round leagues as they have in Europe or South America. So that really hurts us," Pellerud says.

"When I put the team together, I have to pull them from all over the place, from different clubs, universities, different programs, and try to get them to change their heads to our approach to the game.

"While in Europe, a German club, or a German league, they all play the same way as the national team."

The logistics of a country as large as Canada makes it more difficult, but not impossible, Pellerud says.

"It is practically harder, but as an idea, as a thought process, not harder. It is doable."

Andrea Neil has been with the national program since 1991. The Vancouver native was honoured at Thursday's game in her hometown for passing 100 caps for Canada. She's witnessed the game's growth.

"There's been a constant evolution. And to keep up with it has been a constant challenge. There's been a few of the old guard - Charmaine Hooper, myself, Isabelle Morneau - that in a given year would only pick up a few caps, a few international performances. As soon as Even came, to create more of a year-round program, to get together on a more consistent basis, to allow us to play the Germanys, the U.S.'s, it has helped us. You can see the gap closing.

"There was time when the soccer athletes used to be very technically skilled or natural athletes, rarely a blending of the two. And now you see the Christine Sinclairs out there, the Kara Langs."

THE RISING STAR

Lang arrived as one of Canada's rising hopes as a 15-year- old at the spectacularly successful world Under-19 tourney at Commonwealth Stadium in 2002. She's gone on to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps and is now starting at the U.S. college level for UCLA in Los Angeles.

Lang is an example of the opportunities women now have to advance. The success of the U.S. women's program, and the stars it created, like Mia Hamm and Brandy Chastain, have brought women's soccer to another level.

"The rise in popularity of women's soccer here in the U.S. is directly related to the continued success of their national team," Lang said from UCLA campus. "Canada's coming along, but for us to reach the level you see here, it will take an Olympic gold medal or a World Cup win.

"Money and funding will always be an issue when it comes to women's sports. There is no doubt we have the talent in Canada, but the facilities are definitely lacking.

"However, I do agree with Even, in the sense that it won't matter how much money we have until we know what to do with it."


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