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  • Canadian women invading Sweden -- and it's a good thing


    ccs-3097-140264010131_thumb.jpgFollowing Canada's disastrous run at the Women's World Cup last month, anyone who'd ever seen a soccer ball or set foot on a grass surface suddenly had a can't-miss solution for how to "fix" things. Better player development! A domestic league! Human cloning!

    But from where I'm sitting, one of the best short-term ways of avoiding a similar embarrassment on home soil in 2015 is to get the members of Big Red playing consistently at as high a level as possible.

    So it's been great to be able to confirm that, over the past couple of weeks, no fewer than four members of our national team have joined club teams in Sweden (who, as you'll recall, won bronze at WWC2011): Midfielder Carmelina Moscato and striker Melissa Tancredi are now part of Piteå IF, while goalkeeper Erin McLeod and defender Emily Zurrer have joined Dalsjöfors GoIF.

    "It is really exciting knowing Carm and Melissa are coming to Piteå," said Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, who also plays in the northeastern Swedish town. "I know how much I have developed as a player here, playing for Piteå, and I can only hope Carm and Melissa can get the same out of it that I have."


    Supporters in this country surely have similar hopes, even if the situations that the Canadians are entering are less than ideal: the two teams were just promoted to the Damallsvenskan (first division) this season, but either (or both) could be poised for relegation, as Piteå sits 10th of 12 teams, while Dalsjöfors is in last place.

    But for now, it's about development, not trophies.

    "The basic standard of soccer is much higher in Europe (than North America)," said Moscato, who has also played in Italy. "From what I've seen, it seems like players think the game here and solve more with their brains and not raw athletic ability."

    As mentioned by many, Canada's downfall at the World Cup (particularly in the game against France) was largley due to an inability to adapt to the situation, and a reversion to the now-obsolete boot-and-chase style that, one would imagine, wouldn't be tolerated in a top-flight European league.

    Moscato believes more Canadians getting experience in a more cerebral league would have carryover benefits for the national team, while Labbe says there are also advantages for individual players.

    "Playing in Europe has been the best thing I have ever done for my career," said the 24-year-old Labbe, who featured prominently for Canada in World Cup qualifying, but suffered a leg injury and didn't play during the tournament. "Being able to play and make enough money to not just survive, but to live happily, is great. That way it's easy to put all your focus into your soccer, to be able to put in extra sessions, extra workouts and not have to worry about working a second job to make more money."

    Stability is the key. While a number of Canadians ply their trade in WPS, to call that league shaky is akin to calling the Pacific Ocean "big". Plenty of others play in the W-League, but it simply doesn't provide the level of competition necessary to prepare players for success on the international stage.

    A top-flight domestic league, where Canadian players could grow and play together, would be a good situation -- but even the players admit that it isn't realistic in the short term. Getting playing time is the key in preparing for 2015, at as high a level as possible. For now, that's in Europe. If Canadians can all be in the same league (or even on the same teams), hey, bonus.

    "Until we (have a domestic league), we need to put ourselves in the best environment, and I believe that is to play with and against different players and learn different systems/styles of play to help round ourselves as players," said Labbe.

    Moscato agrees: "Playing more games in general will help us all. The biggest part of the game we need to improve on is speed of play and speed of thought, and this only comes through playing regularly at high levels."

    It's yet to be seen what role Moscato (27 years old, an unused substitute in three WWC games) and Tancredi (29 years old) will play with the Canadian team four years from now, when the world comes to our backyard. But McLeod (28-year-old goalkeeper), Labbe (24) and Zurrer (24) will all likely factor into the mix. Their presence in Sweden could also help establish a beachhead for other young Canadians looking to get jobs in Europe; Moscato suggested that Labbe's presence at Piteå helped her gain a foothold with the team.

    It's not a long-term panacea, of course. But for the time being, these new signings are good news for the future of our national team, and our chances of turning things around in time for Canada 2015. We'll keep our eyes open for any more developments.

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