Searching for the soccer answer in Canada, CSA to release new blueprint

Canada's national women's soccer team head coach John Herdman watches his players warm up before an international friendly soccer game against Mexico in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday November 24, 2013. Canada has gone through more than a few soccer blueprints in the past with a mixed bag of results.On Thursday, the Canadian Soccer Association unveils its latest road map — a strategic vision for 2014-2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

TORONTO - Canada has gone through more than a few soccer blueprints in the past with a mixed bag of results.

On Thursday, the Canadian Soccer Association unveils its latest road map — a strategic vision for 2014-2018. And while there have been recent successes on the soccer field, the failure of the national men's program remains a sore issue.

Still CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli, who says the new plan "is for the long-term," sees positives on the Canadian soccer landscape.

"I feel very good about the foundation that we've placed here over the last number of years for the CSA," he said in an interview. "So while a lot of people talk about the end result — if we were to say that would be, let's say, the men's national team — I think we've laid a solid foundation to move forward for the sport in our country."

That includes restructuring the association's governance, the success of the national women's program, retaining women's coach John Herdman in the face of rival offers, success at the men's under-17 level and hiring a veteran respected coach in Benito Floro for the senior men's squad, among other healthy developments.

As the official governing body for soccer in Canada, the CSA oversees everyone from kids kicking a ball around to top pros.

But many judge the association on the performance of the men's national squad, seen as the flagship team — and for many, the face of Canadian soccer around the world.

The Canadian men are currently stuck on a bumpy road that stretches back to the 8-1 humiliation in Honduras in October 2012 that knocked them out of World Cup qualifying.

Stephen Hart threw himself on his sword in the wake of that lopsided defeat, resigning as manager. His overseers continued at the helm.

CSA president Victor Montagliani and Nick Bontis, board member and chair of the strategic committee, will join Montopoli on Thursday in unveiling the new plan.

Montopoli says there are many sides to soccer in Canada.

"It should not be lost on people that we're doing well in terms of where we are with a lot of other things," he said, pointing to player registration and the fact Canada ranks in the top five per cent of qualifying for FIFA competitions.

Still, the Canadian men have not won since being knocked out of World Cup qualifying.

A 2-0 loss to Slovenia on Nov. 19 in Celje stretched the Canadian men's winless streak to 14 games.

Canada is 0-11-3 over the streak and hasn't scored in 10 games. The winless run has seen the Canadian men outscored 27-2.

Canada has not won since a 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Cuba in Toronto four days before the Honduras debacle.

In the national team's defence, Canada has played tough opposition in Australia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Slovenia and the U.S.

And Floro has looked to young talent since taking over the squad last summer.

The Canadian men were No. 112 in the world, prior to Thursday's new rankings. That put them 11th in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Canada was ranked 86th in January 2009 at the start of the last blueprint. Its highest position since was No. 53 in October 2009; the lowest was No. 114 (an all-time worst) in November 2013.

But some may have forgotten that while Canada went unbeaten 15 games straight during Holger Osieck's 46-game tenure as coach — a streak that including the 2000 Gold Cup win — Canada was also shut out 16 times under the German.

The CSA was hit and miss on the "major 2013 milestones" identified in its Strategic Plan 2009-2013.

It succeeded on a medal by the senior women at a World Cup or Olympics (2010 Olympic bronze). And it came through on its goal of hosting the 2015 Women's World Cup.

But it failed on World Cup qualification by the men, taking its annual budget past the $25-million mark and has yet to surpass one million registered players in Canada.

In 2009, the association budget was $12 million or $13 million. It went on to top $20 million some years but did not make $25 million.

The current association budget is around $20 million.

As for player registration, the number has come close to 900,000. But the latest figures for 2013 are not yet in.

The Canadian senior women are currently ranked seventh in the world as they prepare for the 2015 World Cup. Canada is also hosting the 2014 FIFA-20 Women's World Cup.

Montopoli says the CSA is running "one of largest women's budgets worldwide" and looking after the men's youth programs.

"There's no shortcuts taken on the men's youth side or on the women's entire program."

Montopoli said it was hard to compare men's and women's senior budgets given the different stages the teams face during the quadrennial cycle.

Asked if the women were better bankrolled than the men, he replied: "In certain years the answer would be yes."

While the CSA is "putting a lot of emphasis" on the women, it is not "shortchanging the men's senior or youth programs, Montopoli said.

He pointed to the fact the men played 13 games during 2013, when in the past the senior program has but all been shuttered the year after a failed World Cup qualification.

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