As the 2010 FIFA World Cup is underway I can’t help but notice many Canadians waving the flags of the respective country they are cheering for. I am often asked “what country are you cheering for.” Like many Canadians we are cheering for the country where we have family connections. This could be grandparents or even first generation parents that have immigrated to Canada. There is no harm in any of this patriotism that Canadians feel towards other nations. But wouldn’t it be great to channel this patriotism and cheer for Canada at the World Cup? With that being said question must be asked: when will Canada quality for the World Cup?
When one takes a closer look, it’s not so much a time game. We could wait another 10, 20 or 30 years before qualifying for the World Cup and nothing will change from today. The reality is Canada needs to focus on developing better players starting at the youth level because we simply do not have the quality at this time to compete at the international level.
Here’s a little background information: Canada plays in the CONCACAF division. CONCACAF stands for the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. Only three nations from CONCACAF qualify for the world cup. Historically speaking it has been the United States, Mexico and most recently Honduras. The United States and Mexico are decades ahead of Canadian soccer which means Canada needs to look at gaining that last spot.
Some soccer experts say that within 10-15 years Canada will qualify for the World Cup. However, there are no hard facts behind the system we are using today that will give any indication of what the future will bring for soccer in Canada. The reality is the steps Canada soccer makes today will be felt years from now.
There are many youth soccer teams in Canada but they are more about having fun and introducing kids to the game of soccer. Other teams focus solely on winning their game the following weekend. The development of quality players is largely dropped.
Canada needs to develop a youth system that develops young players who are capable of playing any position in the game. Ajax from Amsterdam, Netherlands, is known worldwide for their youth system. They will sacrifice a victory in order to develop the best possible players. Players learn from a young age the fundamentals of the game and how to play in any position on the field.
I remember when I was twelve years old my soccer coach would only play me as a central defender. His vision/mindset was all short term. There was no effort to teach players on our team new positions and how to become the best possible player. This type of coaching hurts the development of players, especially at that young age when they should be soaking up soccer knowledge like a sponge. Unfortunately, this type of coaching still exists more than 10 years later which begs the question: how much further have we come?
Youth hockey in Canada has many leagues and divisions for young players growing up. For instance, once players reach the ages of 15-21 they can play in junior hockey leagues where there is Junior A, Junior B, Junior C and Junior D. There are many leagues below this level for younger and more amateur players. Once players are old enough they are eligible for the National Hockey League. If they are not good enough to make the NHL then there is the AHL, American Hockey League and the ECHL, East Coast Hockey League. There are even MORE hockey leagues than this throughout Canada and the United States for different age groups and skill levels. The point being there are many options for a young hockey player growing up to learn a great deal about the game and create opportunities to play at a higher level.
In England, the soccer system has a hierarchical format with promotion and relegation between leagues at different levels. This allows even the smallest club the possibility of ultimately rising to the very top of the system. There are more than 140 leagues, containing more than 480 divisions. Canada needs to develop a similar system.
What Canada Needs to do: Canada needs to develop more youth academies and a pyramid system where nationwide the leagues are interconnected allowing for promotion and relegation. There needs to be a greater emphasis on developing better young players. These academies need to be coached by the best managers around and there are many immigrants in Canada who have the knowledge to help raise the quality of players we have.
A positive sign is that the sport of soccer is growing in North America. Now this popularity needs to be harnessed and players need to be have a system in place where they can continue to grow and develop as players. Unfortunately, what is happening today is soccer players in Canada often abandon their soccer dreams of playing at a higher level because there aren’t enough options. This often happens at a young age.
There are not enough soccer leagues, professional clubs with funnel systems or money for players to continue to play and develop, unlike hockey in North America. This needs to change if we are to are to have any hope of playing in the World Cup (and no, hosting the World Cup and automatically qualifying does not count). The changes we make now will be felt for years to come. The sooner we develop more youth academies and opportunities for players to dream here in Canada, the sooner we will see the positive effects and maybe, just maybe, we will find a spot at the World Cup.