EDMONTON - If there is a sudden spike in Canadian international soccer, a wave of players good enough to take on the world, Nick Dasovic and Sean Fleming will be the first to see it.
Unfortunately, they might also be the last to see it.
That’s the way the system works here. As coaches of the U-17 and U-20 national teams, Fleming and Dasovic are always face-to-face with the players of tomorrow, knowing full well that there usually is no tomorrow when the kid hits 20.
“It’s like, ‘Sorry, thanks for coming, thanks for spending your whole youth as a player, but off you go,’ ” said Dasovic, who watched it first hand after the 2003 U-20 World Cup in Dubai.
Canada finished eight, an all-time high, but that success didn’t move on to the senior team.
“That’s because a lot of those guys have quit playing football. That’s the age (20) where it’s precarious, because where do you go?
“Guys are tired of going to Europe and not making it, and there are no jobs in their back yard, so they end up quitting. So that’s what we have to do as a country — give them the exposure and a place to play.”
Fleming and Dasovic, working as guest coaches this week at the Strive For Excellence Camp in Sherwood Park, say the grass-roots level has never been better in Canada.
“The game has come a long, long way in the last five or 10 years,” said Fleming. “We have a Wellness to World Cup Plan, the Long Term Player Development Plan, and seeing how it’s been embraced from coast to coast is fantastic.”
There is definite progress. Last year Fleming took Canada to its first U-17 World Cup since 1995.
“I think that shows the great efforts of the whole country, working together, starting with to the national training centres to local clubs and districts across the country,” he said. “Coaches and players are being motivated to stay in and we’re starting to see the end product.”
The end product is actually the men’s national team, which is currently ranked 69th in the world and has only qualified for one World Cup (1986) in its history.
Canada’s kids are fine, our teens are competitive, but the barren wasteland at 20 and up is killing us.
“How many countries in the world make the World Cup without having a professional league of their own?” said Dasovic. “None. All the Hondurans are playing in Honduras, except for the very best ones who are playing in Europe. All the Mexicans are playing in Mexico. They all have somewhere to play. And they all have about three divisions.”
Canada has a handful of players on MLS rosters and one NASL team.
So when a soccer player hits 20 in Canada he might as well be at the edge of a gorge, and if he can’t jump across to elite level pro right then and there, he falls into an abyss.
“Look at the infrastructure in hockey,” said Dasovic. “You not only have the NHL, but you have the AHL, the IHL, the WHL...
“We need a second division in Canada where (over 20s) players can get in games because that’s where we’re losing them. We’re very competitive at 17 and 20, very competitive, then we start to fall off.”
It’s a battle, but at least they’re winning it at the grass-roots level.
With hockey quickly pricing itself out of the market, both financially and time-wise, soccer is getting more of Canada’s better athletes. Immigration has also deepened the talent pool.
Camps like the one being hosted by the Sherwood Park District Soccer Association are planting seeds that might one day change soccer’s landscape.
“When it comes down to who’s responsible for getting us top Canadian players, it’s camps like these, it’s all the clubs that are bringing up these kids,” said Dasovic. “It starts at the grass roots. You can see these kids are at a decent level, and they’re here to learn, not joke around.
“These things help. They’re small and they’re dense, but they’ll make a difference going forward.”
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