The rise and fall of Canada’s soccer program
Watch above: Gord Steinke sits down with FC Edmonton Head Coach Colin Miller on the Early News Thursday, July 10, 2014.
EDMONTON – It was a turning point in Canadian soccer — after years of playing second fiddle to the giants of CONCACAF, Canada earned a spot in the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
What should have been the start of a golden generation turned into decades of frustration and disappointment. It has been 28 years and counting since Canada last played on the world’s biggest stage.
The closest they’ve come was back in 1994, when they lost to Australia in a World Cup Qualifying playoff. So why is it that a nation like ours — with a population of over 34 million — has struggled to find success in a sport while smaller nations like Ghana and Switzerland are consistently there.
FC Edmonton Head Coach Colin Miller has a theory.
“The guys in ’94 – the vast majority of our team were playing first team football and that’s how close we came to do that.”
Miller is well versed on the rise and fall of Canada’s soccer program. He represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup, came close in 1994 and has since had two spells as interim coach of the national team.
Miller is a firm believer that a lack of first team soccer is a big reason why Canada is falling behind against the likes of Honduras and Costa Rica. He experienced it firsthand when he coached Canada at the 2013 Gold Cup.
“In some cases, the only first team football those players played last year was with me, with the Canadian National Team.”
He points to a 1-0 loss to Martinique (pop. 400,000) at the 2013 Gold Cup as a prime example.
“People snickered at us losing against Martinique. My understanding is that 90 per cent of those players from Martinique are playing in the French second division. So you put those two things in perspective there and it just gives you an idea of the work that we have.”
It’s a double-edged sword: on one hand, the players get the playing experience needed to help advance the national team. On the other, it showcases their skill on the world stage, which in theory shouldn’t be a bad thing, but it has backfired against Canada on many occasions.
When it comes to soccer, Canada has an identity problem. We live in such a great country where we can be proud of being Canadian and proud of our family heritage. Many people identify themselves as Canadian and Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish – the list goes on and on. So on a few occasions, some of our best talent has gone overseas, played well and have been snatched up the national teams of their family’s heritage.
From Calgary’s Owen Hargreaves (England) to Scarborough’s Jonathan de Guzman (Netherlands) and Edmonton’s Asmir Begovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Canada has lost out on some pretty talented players.
Miller says Canadians need to stop focusing on the past.
“I’ve always said with Hargreaves and de Guzman, as soon as they opt to go to these other countries – and good luck to them, we wish them well – I think that’s the last publicity we should give them. Let’s focus on the guys who are committed to playing for our country.”
Which, to Miller, means focusing on getting them regular playing time against top notch competition.
“Our Canadian players have to get a chance whether it’s in the NASL or the MLS and as soon as we get these guys into first team football, we’ll be in a good place.”
Canada’s next big international competition will be the 2015 Gold Cup. You can listen to Colin Miller’s full interview below:
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