The on-again, off-again relationship between Carolina Morace and the Canadian Soccer Association is now off again following the Italian's resignation as coach of the Canadian women's team.
The CSA confirmed Friday that Morace has stepped down from the post she first assumed in February 2009. An international search for a new coach has already begun, with the CSA looking to name Morace's replacement by the fall, if not sooner.
Morace's departure comes on the heels of Canada's last-place showing at the 16-team FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany earlier this month. Her side entered the competition to great fanfare as the sixth-ranked team in the world, but bowed out in the first round with three consecutive losses.
Morace told the CSA of her decision Wednesday during the organization's formal debriefing following the conclusion of the Women's World Cup. Peter Montopoli, the CSA's general secretary, said he was caught off-guard by Morace's resignation, and that the organization was planning to move forward with her as coach.
"We planned the debrief and we were surprised by [Morace's decision] but in saying that we are prepared as an organization to move forward in our search for a new coach," Montopoli told CBCSports.ca.
Montopoli said the Italian did not give a reason for her resignation.
"I'm extremely disappointed. I have nothing bad to say about her," stated veteran defender Emily Zurrer. "She was an amazing coach and she brought us to a whole new level tactically and technically. Although we didn't show it at the World Cup, we really have improved enormously since she took over."
Morace informed the players of her decision to quit via email soon after she told the CSA.
"You could tell in the email she was extremely upset and it wasn't an easy decision for her," offered midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. "It's a huge loss for us."
Friday's announcement ends a long, dramatic saga between Morace and the CSA.
The 47-year-old native of Venice originally submitted her resignation on Feb. 4, citing differences with the CSA over the long-term strategy of the women's program. As a result, members of the Canadian women's team 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. Talks between the two sides continued in person and over the phone in the ensuing months, until an agreement was reached in June, whereby Morace agreed to stay on as coach through to the 2012 London Olympics.
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. Under Morace, the Canadian team played a more stylish and technical game that stressed possession and one-touch soccer.
"The legacy that she brought was the style of play that everybody wanted in our country. They were playing that style up until the World Cup and playing it successfully. I think that's a real credit to her," Montopoli said.
Zurrer echoed Montopoli's sentiments.
"She was our leader and we trusted and respected her. She made us a better team. We have to thank her for that but now we have to [move forward] and hopefully we'll get a new coach that will be able to do what she did for us and bring us to an even higher level," Zurrer stated.
The Canadian team responded by rising to sixth in the FIFA world rankings, its highest position since the ranking system was introduced in 2003, and winning the CONCACAF championship last November for the first time in 12 years.
That led to great expectations of the team ahead of the World Cup, but the team suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss to France and was eliminated from the competition after two games.
"We were disappointed because, and this is a credit to Carolina, of all the work that she put in with the players in order to get to that point where there was hope they would do well in Germany," Montopoli said.
Morace accepted some of the blame for Canada's poor showing in Germany, but also stated that she did not receive the proper support from the CSA.
Her critics point out that the CSA, Canadian soccer's governing body, allowed her to relocate the team to Rome for a residency and training camp to prepare for the World Cup.
"It wasn't always picture perfect between her and the CSA," said Zurrer.
With Morace gone, the CSA must now quickly find a new coach.
Time is of the essence because the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics takes place in Vancouver from Jan. 19-29. Two nations from the eight-team competition, which includes the United States and Mexico, will advance to the Games.
Montopoli said the CSA has already come up with a short list of possible candidates.
"[We're looking for] someone who has international experience, international success, and wishes to build a program and a team based on the successes that has already been in play," Montopoli stated.
Montopoli added: "Our program is perceived very highly within FIFA, and I am sure it will attract numerous coaches who would be interested to be part of what we are trying to build."
Morace's coaching staff, including assistants Elisabetta Bavagnoli and Andrea Neil, also quit.