Misguided low blow

GARETH WHEELER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

A good old game of "he said, she said" is playing out between the men's and women's soccer circles in this country.

Usually united in the cause of demanding more support from the Canadian Soccer Association, a former national men's team member turned broadcaster and Canada's most recognizable women's player have caused a stir in gender relations.

CBC Sports soccer colour commentator Jason de Vos has openly questioned the tactics of departing women's team head coach Even Pellerud following Canada's elimination in the quarterfinal round at the Beijing Games.

De Vos was critical of the team's kick-and-run style, and suggested that more ball possession would be beneficial. This isn't the first time the women's team's style has been publicly questioned, but this time may have been the loudest.

Cue women's team captain Christine Sinclair who, instead of taking aim at the comment, went after its source, bringing de Vos' national team pedigree into the equation.

"The men's team is not at the Olympics," Sinclair said. "It's a shame to hear men's players saying that when they are nowhere."

You didn't just go there, Christine, did you?

Give her credit. Sinclair remained true to her coach, but to a fault. Sticking up for Pellerud is one thing. Taking a shot at the men's team is another.

De Vos' criticism was fair.

The Canadian women's team's biggest failure was its inability to hold up the ball in the midfield and provide any kind of decent service to Sinclair and the other striking options.

The problem was the same in China a year ago at the Women's World Cup.

The old-school kick-and-run mode does not work in the modern game.

Pellerud and Sinclair can justify their unattractive style of play by pointing to their winning record, but it really doesn't hold water.

For all Pellerud did for women's soccer in Canada, he was a tactical nightmare.

But this argument isn't about Pellerud. It's about why the Canadian women were in Beijing and the men weren't.

First off, the qualifying road for the women to major international tournaments is far easier than the men's. The women's game is nowhere near as competitive as the men's game in terms of countries with legitimate soccer programs.

Women's soccer, internationally, isn't as lacking as women's hockey, where only two nations essentially compete for the world championship. But at this point, there are only half a dozen women's soccer sides on the planet of any kind of quality.

Strong footballing nations, particularly in Europe, still make their men's programs their priority, leaving few resources for the women.

As for Olympic qualifying in CONCACAF, the talent pool is even thinner for the women, with no nation outside of the U.S., Mexico and Canada having a chance of competing.

Such is not the case for the men. Not only are there more strong sides than qualifying spots available, but our men regularly deal with a half-assed commitment from the CSA and, in turn, an ambivalent response from the Canadian public.

Not to suggest things are perfect on the funding front on the women's side, but the men always seem to be treated as an after-thought.

A strong men's national program would be far better for soccer in this nation than a strong women's program. Financially, there is little to be gained through sponsorship, ticket sales, and television deals for the women's game.

Yet, the point that a strong men's team can be much more profitable often is ignored. Instead, critics dwell on the fact the women are rated higher in FIFA's rankings and conveniently brush aside the men by using the played-out excuse that our soccer fans cheer for their homeland instead of Canada.

Quite frankly, the women have hit their ceiling and, as other women's programs develop, will face tougher competition.

Meanwhile, our men continue to develop despite the odds. This current Canadian men's side is the most talented this country has ever seen. They play an attractive, attacking brand of football. And, with players such as Dwayne de Rosario and Julien de Guzman soon to be household names, they have a legitimate shot at qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

They are the ones that need our support.


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