Canadian women eyeing Olympic soccer qualifier
The Canadian Soccer Association hopes Canada's failed campaign at the Women's World Cup will produce some positives. A post-mortem is planned this month, with an eye to making necessary changes in time for Olympic qualifying.
But there is little time. The women are supposed to reconvene in September with the Olympic qualifying tournament slated for January in Vancouver.
And, like the World Cup, there is no room for error.
Only two teams will make it to the 2012 Games in London out of CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. There were three CONCACAF representatives at the Women's World Cup, with Mexico and the U.S. joining Canada.
Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, says Canada's disappointing early World Cup exit is not a body blow to the sport.
"No, I don't think it's going to hurt the sport. What I do believe [is] it's a tremendously missed opportunity," he told The Canadian Press. "Because I think everything was set and all the stars were aligned, probably like never before . . . And because of that maybe there was extensive and high expectations.
"If they were delivered, I think everybody, the sport in general, would really have reaped all the benefits."
Anne Merklinger, director of summer sports for Own The Podium, says the World Cup showing will not affect its share of funding for the women's program.
The women's team has been identified by OTP as one of two Canadian squads with medal potential for London — women's water polo is the other.
But even if the soccer team doesn't qualify for 2012, it doesn't mean the funding will dry up. OTP also has a longer-term plan for summer team sports.
"There's no guarantee that they would be included in that mix of sports," said Merklinger, "but given the improved performance over the last couple of years — it would all be dependent on the plan that they presented for 2016 and beyond.
"But yes, the [Olympic] qualifier is a critical piece."
Since the Canadians' World Cup exit, the issue of how effective their pre-tournament residency camp in Italy has been raised.
Merklinger notes that if the Canadians had made it to the second round, "no one would have questioned that."
Montopoli, for his part, said the team got what it asked for.
"There was a plan submitted by the staff in November of 2010 to the CSA and OTP which was approved," he said. "That's really what we're still going with. The plan built in the residency program and it was approved by both sides.
"We all believed it was in the best interests of the program to move forward in that direction — and thought we gave our players and coaches the best chance to be successful as to what they said was important for them in order to prepare. . . . I think we all felt comfortable in terms of what was provided.
That blueprint included the World Cup and the Olympics.
Merklinger says the plan, however, did not fire on all cylinders until this spring. That's when there was full approval for all the plan's financial resources.
"The team I think was comfortable in moving forward and implementing the plan but there was some friction and struggles that needed to be worked through," she said.
The struggles involved the team's battle for a compensation package and Morace's ongoing dispute with the CSA over program strategy.
But Merklinger suggested little good would come of premature speculation over what went wrong.
"The important piece is we take a step back and we analyse fully and evaluate fully everything that was involved leading up to the World Cup."
Montopoli said whatever the debrief produces, Morace — whose contract runs through the 2012 Games — remains at the helm.
"She is the coach," he said.
"We believe in the program itself, with Carolina as the head coach," he said. "We're moving forward so we can learn what we need to learn out of that whole process of leading up to the World Cup so we don't repeat it again."
Montopoli said, historically, the CSA has taken its lumps over preparing teams. This time it is not justified.
"I think we would say in this case there was certainly adequate preparation. And certainly the coaching staff had full opportunity to prepare that program to the best of their abilities."
Montopoli also pointed to the number of internationals played in the leadup to the World Cup.
After Morace was hired in early 2009, the Canadian women played 42 matches before the 2011 World Cup. The American women played 37 games over the same time period.
Montopoli also noted that Canada had qualified teams for three of six FIFA World Cups in 2010 and 2011 (the women's World Cup and U-17 World Cup and the men's U17 World Cup).
That ties for 13th among the 208 FIFA members, he added. Argentina, Spain, Ghana and Uruguay also sent teams to three of the six — the only countries to qualify for all six were Brazil, North Korea and Mexico.
"I guess I'm not saying that everything's wonderful . . . But I guess what we're saying is our emphasis has been on qualification and now we have to move not only from qualification to moving out of the group stage and being competitive, so it's part of the stepping stone."
Montopoli appears to be working hard not to point fingers, saying there is disappointment all round in Canada's 0-3 showing in Germany, especially considering the work put in by players and coaches in reaching a career-high world ranking of sixth going into the tournament.
"I feel terrible for them but we have to move out of this, we do have to move forward," he said.
The "debrief period" will include coaches, players and representatives of Own The Podium.
Canada, the reigning CONCACAF women's champion, will be joined at the Olympic qualifying tournament by the U.S., Mexico, Haiti and two other teams from the Caribbean and two from Central America in the Jan. 19-29 qualifying event.
Montopoli, president Dominique Maestracci and several other association officials, meanwhile, are headed to Germany for some reconnaissance work for Canada as 2015 World Cup tournament host.