When you’ve had a year as dire as the Canada men’s national team, it makes perfect sense to focus on the future.
And in the opinion of Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani, the future is looking bright.
“The amount of youth camps and experience that we’ve given to our players this year is probably the most we’ve done in over a decade, if not more,” Montagliani told MLSsoccer.com recently. “We’re starting to see some of the benefits of that, even in the early stages, on the men’s side.”
Indeed, 2013 saw Canada qualify for their second straight FIFA Under-17 World Cup (after snapping a 16-year absence from the competition in 2011) and also saw several homegrown teenagers – Michael Petrasso, Dylan Carreiro and Keven Aleman (above) – sign professional contracts in Europe.
It was also a year in which the rosters of Canada’s U-17 and U-20 teams were dominated by pro academy products from Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal – a relatively new and novel scenario for Canadian soccer.
“You have to give [the academies] credit for their investment,” Montagliani said.
Still, he said the MLS and NASL academies are just one part of the equation. He points to high-performance leagues in provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario and the ongoing implementation of the CSA’s long-term player development plan within community clubs as crucial pieces of the player development puzzle.
“We need to start aligning all these things because there is no silver bullet,” Montagliani said referring to the senior team’s struggles. “[We need to make sure] our clubs beneath our pro clubs are doing the things they need to do to push the players forward. And then once they get to the pro academies, that our professional clubs are doing what they need to do.”
Also important, from Montagliani’s perspective, is ensuring that standout Canadian players have a fair opportunity to earn top-level playing time. The CSA president said negotiations with MLS commissioner Don Garber are ongoing.
“It’s something that we continue to address with [MLS],” Montagliani said. “I’m hoping that at the end of the day, the better players we develop, the less this becomes an issue. But in the short term, I think it’s something between [the CSA and USSF] and the league [that] needs to be addressed.”
Even with that situation in flux, academy products such as Doneil Henry and Russell Teibert were able to establish themselves for club and country in 2013, while other youngsters – including Sam Adekugbe and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé – got their first call-ups to the senior national team.
So while everyone, Montagliani included, can agree that 2013 was a difficult year for the senior team (winless in 13 games, while scoring just once), he hopes that everyone in the Canadian soccer community – from grassroots up to pro clubs – can agree on something else in the years ahead when it comes to developing the next generation of players.
“We’re all in it together, and I think there’s a realization, for once, in this country that we’re only going to be good [when we] combine our efforts together.”