Canadian soccer received a major boost with the news that Carolina Morace has agreed to stay on as coach of Canada's women's team through to the 2012 London Olympics.
Thursday's development brings an end to a lengthy dispute between the Italian and the Canadian Soccer Association, soccer's governing body in Canada. Morace, a 47-year-old native of Venice, threatened to quit her post following this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany over her growing frustrations with the CSA.
Canada begins play at the World Cup against Germany in Berlin on June 26.
Morace said Thursday that her issues have been resolved, and she is happy with a new level of commitment and resources from the CSA that she feels will help Canada reach its goal of becoming one of the top five teams in women's soccer.
"Now we are on the same page. Now we know we can compete with the best teams in the world," Morace told reporters on a conference call.
She later added: "Now we know we can compete with the best teams in the world. It's important we clarify what is the target for everybody. The target for everybody is to be the best for the team and for the country."
Morace will also continue as coach of the Canada's under-20 team, and she didn't rule out staying on in charge of the senior team at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup scheduled to take place in Canada.
"There is nothing that closes the door for us to be together in 2015," Morace said.
Morace, who took over the coaching reins in early 2009, submitted her resignation letter on Feb. 4, citing differences with the CSA over the long-term strategy of the women's program. As a result, the players voted unanimously to go on strike, vowing not to play an international game until the issue with Morace was resolved.
The players later backed off after CSA officials flew to Rome and met with the coach in February. Talks between the CSA and Morace continued in person and over the phone in the ensuing months, said CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli.
Montopoli on Thursday lauded Morace for changing her mind, saying that the agreement between the two sides is "evidence that the CSA is deeply committed to the women's program."
One of the reasons why Morace earned the respect of her players is the Italian whipped the Canadian team into shape, instilling the virtues of maintaining possession and playing one-touch soccer.
"Carolina is a world class coach and has helped our team reach an increasingly higher potential by adding knowledge, tools and tactics to our game that we had never tapped into before," defender Emily Zurrer told CBCSports.ca.
"She has completely changed the way we view and play the game, making us faster, stronger and smarter on the pitch. The future of female soccer in Canada is extremely bright, and we are proud and excited to have her as our leader until at least 2012."
Midfielder Kaylyn Kyle echoed Zurrer's sentiments.
"You've heard it time and time again. It's incredible to see what she's done with the program, not only changing the way we play [but also] our mind set, our confidence in ourselves, our confidence in our individual abilities. She's turned this team around. We're very lucky to have her," Kyle said.
Morace's arrival marked a distinct tactical switch for the Canadian women's team. Previous coach Even Pellerud preached a one-dimensional style of play that emphasized the long ball, physical strength and endurance.
But under Morace, the Canadian team played a more stylish, technical and direct brand of soccer. Not only that, Canada has risen to sixth in the most recent FIFA world rankings, the team's highest position since the ranking system was introduced in 2003.
A change in playing style was only half the story behind the Canadian team's renaissance. Morace also changed the team's training methodology, and demanded her players be faster and more physically fit.
Star forward Christine Sinclair, in particular, benefited from the changes in training regime. Not exactly a slow player under Pellerud, the 27-year-old forward from Burnaby, B.C., dropped weight and picked up an extra touch of speed since Morace took over as coach.
Also on Thursday, Montopoli confirmed to Thursday that the CSA is still negotiating with members of the women's team over an ongoing pay dispute.
The players had retained legal counsel and threatened to file a suit for binding arbitration with the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. But Montopoli said the case hasn't gone to arbitration and he is hopeful the two sides will be able to announce an agreement sometime before the start of the World Cup.