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Olympics2012Canadian soccer must capitalize on Olympic success

Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 | 12:32 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Canada's Olympic bronze medallists in women's soccer soak up the applause at City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry, England, following a 1-0 victory over France on Thursday. (Stanley Chou/Getty Images) Canada's Olympic bronze medallists in women's soccer soak up the applause at City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry, England, following a 1-0 victory over France on Thursday. (Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

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Canada's bronze-medal win, its first for in a (summer) team sport since 1936, will focus attention on women's soccer like never before and that comes with big responsibilities, especially for head coach John Herdman and the Canadian Soccer Association.

With a last-minute goal by Diana Matheson to secure a bronze-medal win for the Canadian women's soccer team, all the talk today will be about redemption, luck and karma.

And given that its opponent France, a technically proficient team, rattled several shots off the bar and looked like it wouldn't be able to hit the broad side of a barn for most of the game, perhaps there was a little karma at play.

If you believe in such things as the football gods, they certainly were smiling on this Canadian side that, a year ago, was run out of the World Cup by this same French side and, earlier this week, was devastatingly robbed of a chance to play for a gold medal by some poor officiating.

And while this is a redemption story of sorts and it will chase away the mental demons that have haunted this squad, the real focus of today's win should be squarely placed on the work head coach John Herdman has done with his squad and the work still left to do.

Over the past year, Herdman has taken what was essentially a mentally and emotionally crippled team, one which struggled to string two passes together, and turned it into a unit that has fully bought into his system of mental and technical preparation. Where they were once easily broken, now the Canadians can play on the backfoot for 90 minutes -- which let's admit it, they did against France -- and still find a way to get the result. And when you see Matheson, moments after scoring the clinching goal, being mobbed by teammates and kissing the Canadian crest with tears in her eyes, it's an enduring moment that will stand as a testament to work the staff has done to bring this team back from the dead.   

With the bronze-medal win -- the first for Canada in a (summer) team sport since 1936 -- there will be attention on women's soccer like never before and that comes with big responsibilities, especially for Herdman and the Canadian Soccer Association.

First, the CSA has an obligation to market this team up and down. The squad, or at least members of it, should be paraded out at Canadian MLS games and given the hero's welcome they deserve. Television appearances, radio, print interviews -- their faces need to be out there once they get back. Like most Olympians, they make great financial sacrifices by taking time off work and putting careers on hold to chase glory for their country. The exposure alone will help to bring in sponsorship money for the individuals and for the program in general. The philosophy has long been held that corporate Canada would not embrace the game here until they had a winner. Well, given that this team's ascendance to the podium has easily been the story of the Olympics for Canadians, you'll never find a better moment.

Second, and most importantly, with Canada hosting the Women's World Cup in 2015, there needs to be a priority given to investing in Big Red and ensuring the team can show a repeat performance on home soil. It's not an easy ask. After this Olympic glow wears off, a hard reality will set in for a number of players. With the Women's Professional Soccer league now defunct, few Canadian players have a professional club that they can call theirs. To show well on home soil in three years, Herdman needs his players to be playing and training full time. The biggest countries in the world, like Germany, France and Japan, have their players either competing together regularly or in a professional environment year round. It's what sets those countries apart as the upper crust of women's soccer and, if Canada hopes to be able to duplicate London's joyous moments, it'll need to find a way to do the same.

Equally, for this program to continue its upward trajectory, Herdman and his technical squad need to do what former head coach Carolina Morace refused to -- take an interest in the U-20 team. Canada has a wealth of talented players coming through and, by the time 2015 rolls around, the senior program will be one of the oldest at the tournament. New blood needs to find its way into the system so they, too, can bleed for Big Red.

It's been a long time since Canadian soccer on both the men and women's side has been able to trumpet this kind of international success. You probably have to go back to 2000, when the Canadian men won the Gold Cup, or to 1986, when they qualified for the World Cup, to find something of the like. Both times, with the uptick in exposure that came in those moments, Canada failed to capitalize on that newfound interest.

The CSA and Herdman owe it to the team today that gave so much to win bronze to ensure that their success and accomplishment is carried forward into next generation of soccer players in this country.

Now, with all of that said, all in favour of Christine Sinclair as Canada's flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies say "Aye."

"Aye."

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