Problems start at the top

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

The problem with soccer in Canada is this: The soccer ball is round, but it is being used by squarehead executives.

How do I know?

Well, FIFA -- the world's top soccer organization -- told me so by ranking Canada 55th behind such world soccer powers as Mali, Moldova, Honduras and Slovakia.

Not to be alone in this assessment, I contacted Dick Howard, a former star goalkeeper in these parts, member of FIFA's Technical Committee, chairman of Ontario's Technical Committee and respected television analyst.

"I think the problem with soccer in Canada is the fact that at the present time the Canadian Soccer Association is not showing leadership," Howard said. "The departure of Kevan Pipe (director general) and Colin Linford (president), left a vacuum in the CSA.

"We had a chance of getting England's Dick Bate, one of the world's top technical directors, but once he found out the situation, he decided to join Watford in England, something he probably wanted to do, anyway. The problem is that in Canadian soccer the people are not working together. Indeed, the provinces are battling each other and it comes at the wrong time."

What do you mean by wrong time, I asked.

"You see, in CONCACAF we are not facing the U.S. and Mexico alone. Other countries, such as Jamaica and Honduras have greatly improved. What we need is leadership, which we don't have. We don't even have a president. We have an interim president from Quebec -- Dominik Maestracci -- who'll serve until the next annual general meting in the summer."

Howard is not overly concerned with Canada's ranking. He believes it's much more important to prepare for the World Cup qualifiers. In his opinion, Canada has a good chance of getting past St. Vincent & The Grenadines in the first round, but would have to finish in the top two when meeting the trio of Mexico, Honduras and Jamaica.

"This is a critical situation," Howard said. " If (coach) Dale Mitchell organizes a proper preparation for these matches, we have a shot of advancing to the next challenge. I can only say that it is time for all CSA executives to start pulling in the same direction."

With 19 directors, including 11 provincial and territorial directors fighting each other, as well as a budget of some $13 million to grab at, it might be difficult.

Why not make Dick Howard one of the top executives?

PICK OF THE CROP

Julian de Guzman of Scarboro, the MVP of the last Gold Cup, is one of the candidates to be selected as Canada's Player of the Year. Other possible candidates are Paul Stalteri of Etobicoke and goalie Pat Onstead of Vancouver.

On the women's side, the challengers are Christine Sinclair of Burnaby, B.C., Erin McLeod of St. Albert, Alta., and Kristina Kiss of Ottawa.

OFF THE GOAL POST

Canada's national men's team finished the 2007 season in fourth place of the CONCACAF rankings with 576 points, behind Mexico (982), USA (876) and Honduras (578) ... Sammy Cox, the ol' Glasgow Ranger, Canadian and Ontario all-star, turned 86 and is living in Stratford. He is an honoured member of the Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club. Hang in there, Sammy, old pal ... Mo Johnston, who played in 38 internationals for Scotland, returned recently from a scouting trip to South America and Europe on behalf of Toronto FC and is keeping his lips sealed. His boss, MLSEL senior executive vice-president and COO, Tom Anselmi, is just as secretive, and probably thinking of making a big splash with a player of David Beckham's quality. Or with one who's, perhaps, even better.


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