Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Challenges Ahead

Today's FIFA announcements offer unparalleled opportunities for Canadian soccer.

FIFA as expected today made two announcements important to the future of the game here in Canada. The first dealt with the hosting of the 2015 Women's World Cup and by default the 2014 U20 Women's World Cup, the second the announcement concerning the allotment of confederation spaces for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The first was easy and as expected with the withdrawal Zimbabwe as the only other contender for hosting of 2015 Canada was named host. The main challenge here will be finding a way for Toronto to be involved and ensuring that we as a nation are left with a legacy as far as improved facilities and infrastructure for the sport.

The second announcement was important if not disappointing for many as it was hoped that a fourth place for CONCACAF would open the door a bit further for countries from the region and would improve Canada's chances of qualification.

The reality is CONCACAF has not, yet, earned an additional spot at the world stage. Currently we are as many say a "two nation" confederation - Mexico and the U.S. - with everyone else scrambling for third. To take away another confederation's spot at this time to give another to our region would have been a stretch even for FIFA who are well known for their sometimes quirky decisions.

The final spots for Brazil will be decided in a play-off featuring South America's fifth-placed team, CONCACAF's fourth-placed, Asia's fifth-placed and Oceania's qualification winner. Play-off match-ups will be determined by a draw.

So in essence for CONCACAF nothing changes. The top three are in and the fourth faces a two game showdown for one of the final spots instead of automatically qualifying.

What we have to realize as a soccer nation that to get that spot we have to earn it and not hope that the door continues to swing further open via political machinations but that we are part of the movement to push the door open with results on the field.

Canada - with the right approach and application should be challenging for that third CONCACAF spot on a regular basis and need to do so if hope this game is ever going to move beyond a predominantly recreational activity in this country.

We are seeing signs of change. Canada's recent success of our U17 men who qualified for their own World Cup later this year in Mexico with a roster dominated by players from the countries three professional club academies showed the most likely path moving forward.

Professional standards and development are the way forward. What is needed to support these and further developing elite programs is a grassroots focus on technical development delivered by all coaches and clubs across the country.

The challenge for soccer people at all levels is to get the masses involved, to buy in and support the proposed Long Term Player Development model. The people at all levels of the game have to begin to understand that we are a major component of developing players in this country. This country succeeds or fails because of what we are doing at the developmental level and we need to do a better job.

The opportunity, here and now, for the Canadian Soccer Association is to develop and deliver a national curriculum (in quick order) that supports the LTPD and provides leadership to a constituency that is starving for leadership, a plan and vision.

A national curriculum would provide national guidance to an integrated and consistent approach to the development of players and coaches throughout the country and ensure that we are kicking doors down not begging for someone to open them.

The time is right - the gauntlet has been laid down - let's not just accept the challenge let's take it up with passion and intent.

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