For a column taking a look at all aspects of Canadian soccer, one of the logical places to start is at the top. The Canadian Soccer Association has been subject to plenty of criticism over the years, and most of it has been deserved. In 2007, I wrote about how it was probably a good thing that Canada’s bid for the 2011 Women’s World Cup was passed over in favour of Germany’s. At that point, the CSA, the body that oversees amateur, professional and national soccer in Canada, was without a president, technical director, or chief operating officer. There were reports that they’d lost money on the 2007 U-20 World Cup despite setting attendance records, and they’d just come off the sad Fred Nykamp saga, where president Colin Linford hired Nykamp from Canada Basketball as their new COO, but had the hire later shot down the CSA board after Nykamp had already left his previous job. That led to Linford’s departure, a lawsuit and an undisclosed settlement with Nykamp, a “Sack The CSA” protest [Michael Coroneos, Pitch Invasion] and a general sense that Canadian soccer was in ruins at the highest levels.
A surprising turnaround followed, though. The CSA found capable leadership [Ben Knight, Onward Soccer] in general secretary Peter Montopoli, men’s head coach Stephen Hart and women’s head coach Carolina Morace, the embarrassing stories came out less frequently. The organization appeared to demonstrate a willingness to change both its governance model and its approach to overseeing Canadian soccer. Much of the actual success that’s come in Canadian soccer since then was thanks to the efforts of clubs like Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps, but the CSA by and large helped rather than hindered. For long-time observers of the national scene, that was a refreshing development.
Disturbing signs in the last few months suggest that the battle is far from over, however. The CSA’s core issues have generally been thanks to an inherent conflict of interest; many of their responsibilities are on the national level, but their organization has been set up as a collection of provincial governing bodies that often want to do what’s in their own best interests. The positive developments came while the national focus was more prevalent, but provincialism never went away, and it has recently again reared its ugly head.
The first flare-up came over the Soccer Academies Association of Canada [Duane Rollins, The 24th Minute] late last fall, an effort towards a more effective national system of developing players that annoyed some provincial and amateur-focused officials. More troubling yet was the ugly Alberta power struggle Rollins wrote about in May, where a provincial federation found itself divided over governance changes that might diminish some of its power. That issue has continued to simmer, and it led to the detailed piece former Canadian international and current CBC analyst Jason de Vos wrote this week on CBC’s site and later discussed on Norman James‘ radio show, The Hook. You can find the podcast of it here; it’s near the start of Hour 2 of the July 30 show.
de Vos laid out the details of the ongoing provincial versus national battle that again threatens Canadian soccer, and it’s not a pretty sight for observers of the Canadian game. The governance committee’s recommendations, which would reinforce the goal of a national organization rather than a provincial one, appear in danger thanks to provincial bodies’ desires to hang on to their existing power. The CSA has come a long way over the past several years, but it looks in danger of perhaps losing all that progress if provincial interests again triumph over national ones. It’s a critical time in Canadian soccer, and it’s going to be interesting to watch.
Around the country:
─The Vancouver Whitecaps women fell 3-1 to the Buffalo Flash [Marc Weber, The Province] in the W-League final. It was an impressive run for the women’s team, though, as they advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2006 and beat the Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues [Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun] 3-1 to advance to the final.
─Toronto FC fell 1-0 [Paul James, The Globe and Mail] to the Kansas City Wizards Saturday. Oddly enough, it was Canadian-born (and potential Canadian international) Teal Bunbury who notched the only goal. Toronto remains third in the MLS Eastern Conference.
─The Montreal Impact drew 1-1 [TSN] with Crystal Palace Baltimore Saturday night. Tony Donatelli scored for the Impact before Gary Brooks responded for Baltimore. The Impact remain third in the NASL Conference of the USSF Division II league.
─The Vancouver Whitecaps continued their long road trip with a 2-2 tie against the Carolina RailHawks [Simon Fudge, WhitecapsFC.com] Saturday. Martin Nash scored on an early penalty and Phillippe Davies doubled Vancouver’s lead in the 15th minute, but Mark Schulte and Josh Gardner struck back for Carolina. Vancouver remains at the top of the NASL Conference, with Carolina in second. They also won a crucial coin toss against Portland [Constantineau] at the MLS All-Star Game Wednesday to earn the choice of top priority in the eight player acquisition systems MLS uses. They’ll likely either take the top pick in the SuperDraft or the Expansion Draft.
─Hamilton and Ottawa have formalized bids [Ben Rycroft, Metro] for NASL franchises in the coming years. There are still questions around each bid, but with Edmonton and the three-soon-to-be MLS franchises, we could have six high-level professional clubs [Some Canadian Guys] north of the border in the coming years. That seems to sum up the current state of Canadian soccer quite nicely; there are plenty of concerns, but there are also plenty of bright spots.