Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carolina Morace resigns as head coach of the women's team

The happy marriage gone sour between Carolina Morace and the CSA has ended in an unexpected divorce. 

Wednesday afternoon during the CSA's formal debriefing, Morace announced she'll no longer coach the women's program. 

"We planned the debrief and we were surprised by [Morace's decision] but in saying that we are prepared as an organization to move forward in our search for a new coach," Peter Montopoli, the CSA's general secretary CBCSports.ca

She informed her players via email right after she told the CSA her decision.

"I'm extremely disappointed. I have nothing bad to say about her," stated veteran defender Emily Zurrer. "She was an amazing coach and she brought us to a whole new level tactically and technically. Although we didn't show it at the World Cup, we really have improved enormously since she took over."

Just weeks before the World Cup began, everything was smooth sailing between Morace and the CSA. They both came to an agreement (details disclosed) and Morace would remain with the program until after the Olympics in 2012. The players even settled their differences with the CSA by negotiating terms for a set compensation - something the women's program has never had.

Leading up to the World Cup, Canada was on a high. They won 2 Cyprus Cup titles, CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Four Nations Tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They also placed 6th in the world rankings - the programs' highest ever ranking. The "dark horse" is what people called them going into Germany.

Then Germany happened.

Canada's run at the World Cup can only be described as disastrous. They unexpectedly left Germany with 3 shots on goal, 1 goal and 0 points - finishing dead last in the tournament. After the loss against France, ultimately eliminating them from the World Cup, the debate, the tough questions immediately arose.

Should Morace be fired? Was it worth it to invest so much time and finances on the women's program? Who's to blame?

Well, not that Carolina is gone, those questions are basically irrelevant. It's time to move on from Morace and what happened in Germany and look onward to the future of this program.

What should be asked now is What does this country need to do to ensure a brighter future in the sport? Who will replace Morace? How does a struggling team move forward? Will they have enough time to prepare for Olympic qualifiers? The debate resumes.

What ever the answers are, the CSA needs to move quick. The Olympic qualifying tournament runs from January 19-29 in Vancouver. Should Canada fail to qualify it will only serve as yet another set back for soccer in Canada. 

"She was our leader and we trusted and respected her. She made us a better team. We have to thank her for that but now we have to [move forward] and hopefully we'll get a new coach that will be able to do what she did for us and bring us to an even higher level," Zurrer stated.

The CSA hopes to find a new full time coach with international experience by fall 2011. 

All quotes courtesy of John Molinaro from CBC

Friday, July 8, 2011

What went wrong?

Canadian soccer fans had high hopes for the women’s national team. The women themselves had high hopes for going far in the World Cup. Team Canada beamed with confidence going into Germany and rightly so. They won four of their last five tournaments before the World Cup and they climbed to 6th in the world – their highest ranking ever. It was clear that this team was the best women’s team Canada has ever put together.

Then they arrived in Germany.

They lost to Germany 2:1, which was expected. What wasn’t expected was a 4:0 blowout defeat from the French team – ultimately eliminating Team Canada from the tournament. What no one could have expected was losing their last group match to Nigeria, exiting Germany with 3 shots on goal, 1 goal and 0 points – the programs' worse ever showing at a World Cup.

For a team who was projected by the media, star players, and fans across the country as the “dark horse” of the World Cup they didn’t even earn a single point, one has to ask: what went wrong?

It’s hard to put a finger on one specific thing. There are a lot of reasons that lead to Canada’s disappointing showing.

Firstly I don’t think training in Rome was the best idea. While I think it’s a great to have a team spend as much time together leading up to major tournament, being together did them more bad than good. Athletes need balance in their life. Training while having some home time, a familiar place to look is key. Going into Germany, I think he women were mentally, emotionally drained.

However, it was the best situation given the circumstance. A team that’s going through a technical transition needs to test their progress in matches. Should Canada have trained in Canada they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play as much friendlies as they did training in Rome. How can we change that so Team Canada can train in Canada while playing in preparation matches? More money? More support from the CSA? I don't have the answer for you but it's something that needs to be fixed. Quick. 

Secondly, plain and simple, they underperformed. Yes, I understand that’s the easy answer and essentially making an excuse for other teams being technically better than they are. But if you’ve followed this team in the two years prior to the World Cup, probably more evident in the past eight months, you’d know Canada has the ability to compete with the best in the world. When they got to Germany, the Canada we knew didn’t show up.

When things didn’t go their way and they got scored on, they panicked and as a result they resorted to old habits, playing Even Pellerud’s long ball system and forgetting everything Morace’s taught them in the past two years.

Maybe it was the pressure, the high expectations they put on themselves. But I think it’s the way these women have been developed as youth players. In Canada we teach kids to punt and chase the ball then when they graduate to the higher ranks, coaches teach them to play a passing game, the possession style of play. It should be the other way. Teach kids early on how to dribble, use both feet, pass, and find space so when they get older they’ll be more comfortable on the ball.

However I do believe with more time and Carolina Morace leading the way these women can become more comfortable with the technical, possession game. It takes time.

For the future, long-term player development needs to be applied now so down the road we can avoid situations Canada was faced in at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Carolina Morace: not the problem

Well in the bigger picture, she's not the one to blame.

When Canada lost to France on Thursday, ultimately eliminating them from the Women's World Cup, naturally finger pointing began and Canadian soccer supporters engaged in the blame game.

Much of the blame went to Italian head coach, Carolina Morace and rightly so. She's the leader of this team. The one who decides everything this team does and how they play directly reflects how she runs this program. The players, however, have a responsibility too. They must take what Carolina has taught them and bring it to every match.

That didn't happen.

Instead, Canada got out-played and out-classed by their opponents. They panicked and resorted to old habits, playing a one dimensional style of play, the long ball system, that may have worked for them in the past but the women's game is quickly moving forward, leaving Canada a step behind.

Sacking Morace isn't the right way to go about fixing soccer in Canada. This program needs Carolina. Have we all forgotten what she's brought to this team? Aside from all the controversy, (which for the most part was a good thing)  Morace has turned this pool of players from athletes into soccer players. Since her arrival in 2009, Carolina has completely revamped the women's team. She'es changed everything from the coaching staff, to the way they eat, think and play - and for the most part it's worked. She's helped them win their third Cyprus Cup in four years, win their first CONCACAF Gold Cup title ever, tied Brazil twice in one week eventually winning the Torneio Internacional Cidade de São Paulo and reaching 6th in the world - the program's highest ever ranking. By looking at the team's accomplishments since Carolina Morace arrived in Canada, it's clear she is not the problem.

The problem is how these players have been developed growing up playing in Canada. As Joson de Vos brilliantly pointed out in his blog, the players simply aren't used to a possession style of play. It doesn't come naturally to them like it does for France or Japan. But I won't be quick to dismiss these players and their ability to learn and perfect the new style that's flourishing in women's soccer. Carolina has brought them this far in just two years - imagine what she can do with more time. 

Carolina criticized the CSA saying Canada needs a domestic league in which she can have a deeper selection of players and keep an eye on her teams progress. Although that would solve a lot of problems, I don't see that happening any time soon. There's not even a men's domestic league in Canada and with the WPS struggling to survive there's no way a league will succeed in Canada - yet. For now Canada will have to get creative in their development. Players will have to take advantage of NCAA scouting opportunities, try to get noticed and player overseas once their collegiate years are over.

As Duane Rollins put it - Canada's failure is a blessing in disguise.

Despite the disappointment of Canada's under-performance at the World Cup, this could be the very thing that helps grow the sport in Canada. Weird, I know, but let me explain. In the past we may have ignored and accepted Canada's failure because the women's program has been somewhat successful but now with Canada's worst ever performance at a World Cup, this is a wake up call. Things need to change and it needs to start at the grassroots level. Teach our young players to control the ball, become comfortable with the ball on both feet instead of relying on their athleticism and size. Teach the them fundamentals first and then win instead of promoting winning and failing to teach then the basics of the game. It's clear the way soccer in Canada has been developing, for years now, won't work anymore.  

In order for Canada to have a fighting chance in competing with the best teams in the world in both the men's and women's we need to apply this now. The world is rapidly moving onward and Canada's being left behind.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Playing for pride

There may have been critics stating Canada shouldn’t be over hyped and probably won’t make it far in Germany but no one predicted Canada would be victim of the first blowout of the World Cup, the first team eliminated. No one. 

Canada put themselves on a pedestal, confidently predicting they’d make a deep run in Germany. They put their lives on hold, leaving family and friends behind, stepping away from their club teams to live in Rome and focus on preparations for the big dance.

No one expected them to win their opening match against the two time reigning World Cup champions, Germany but they kept the score tight. With their passion, determination, heart and Christine Sinclair’s heroics, Canada only lost to the host nation 2:1.

Against France, they showed none of their signature characteristics. Canada came out flat-footed and once French striker, Gaetane Thiney scored the opening goal Canada panicked and never recovered. They failed to play as a unit and as a result, they resorted to old habits playing a one dimensional, long-ball system rather than the possession style of play Carolina Morace has instilled in them since she arrived in Canada.

Harsh, but in short, Canada choked.

To say Canada had an off day seems like the easy answer as to what went down in Bochum. All credit to France who playing a near perfect match but one can’t help but wonder if Canada had played to their full potential, the match would have been different than a 4:0 defeat. Unfortunately the World Cup doesn’t accept “ifs, ands or buts.” Canada needed to perform and win but didn’t show up.

Now the team must forget about Thursday’s match (for now at least). They must wash the awful taste from their mouths and focus on leaving Germany with something to hold on to.

27th ranked Nigeria won’t be an easy task, by any means. The African team is very physical. Their athleticism has always been apparent and their defending has been very effective in this tournament thus far – holding off France and Germany to a one goal game. If Canada wants to leave Germany on a good note, have a little bit of confidence heading into Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver, they can’t hold anything back and leave everything on the pitch. Win this game and prove not only to the world but most importantly themselves they can do more than what they’ve performed so far. 

Canada takes on Nigeria in their final group match on Tuesday July 5th at 2:30pm EST on CBC. Streamed live on cbcsports.ca. Replay will be at 7pm local also on CBC. 

Possible starting XI:          
                      Nault, Zurrer, Champan, Wilkinson
                              Schmidt, Matheson, Kyle        
                              Sinclair, Tancredi, Filigno