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Saanich News: Waiting for the Call

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Waiting for the call


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Greater Victoria striker Josh Simpson is busy playing for his club-side in England’s Championship League and wasn’t called to represent Canada against the U.S.

By Thomas Winterhoff

Saanich News

Jan 11 2006

When Canada’s senior men’s soccer team takes to the field against the United States in an international friendly Jan. 22, fans of “the beautiful game” won’t see any local players suiting up.

Despite a very strong soccer community on Vancouver Island and the fact that several B.C. players have a relatively high profile on the world stage, only Rob Friend of Kelowna made the cut this time around.

Part of the reason for the apparent dearth of local players is that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA – the sport’s global governing body) hasn’t declared Jan. 22 an “international” competition day, meaning that club teams from around the world aren’t required to make any of their Canadian players available for national team duties. Therefore, top Canadian internationals like Paul Stalteri, Iain Hume, Tomasz Radzinski, Julian de Guzman, Daniel Imhof, Jim Brennan, Olivier Occean and Kevin McKenna won’t be playing against their American counterparts.

Greater Victoria’s own Josh Simpson – who signed with Millwall of England’s Championship League after impressing Millwall’s coaches during the club’s 2004 Canadian tour – is one player who might have seen action next week in San Diego.

So where are the emerging British Columbia players who conceivably could have taken their places? The roster for the U.S. friendly (and the accompanying training camp in California) is currently loaded up with six players from the Montreal Impact of the United Soccer Leagues (USL), as well as players from Scandinavian leagues who will be on the customary winter break in their schedules. But there’s no sign of any up-and-coming local professionals, such as Geordie Lyall of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Canadian senior men’s head coach Frank Yallop told the News that his final roster selections are largely based on which players have the necessary skills to benefit the national side at that particular point in time.

“All I basically do is select players whom I think are going to play well for Canada,” he explained. “I don’t really look at what province they’re from.”

The players also have to be able to fit into Yallop’s system of play, which he feels has become more aggressive and more focused on ball possession since he took over the program from former head coach Holger Osieck in December 2003. He said it’s a playing style that is more suited to the FIFA region that Canada plays in: the Confederation of North Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). The group features perennial powerhouses Mexico and the United States, as well as several strong Central American countries.

“I’d like to think that we are completely changing our style to suit the region,” Yallop explained. “When you’re down in Mexico City or (where) it’s a very hot and humid climate, you can’t be giving the ball to the opposition. It’s going to end up wearing you down and then you’re not going to get a result. I felt that we needed to possess the ball better (and) be very good on the counterattack.”

Yallop coached the San Jose Earthquakes to a second Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2003 and he wants to bring a similar mix of innovative offensive play and tough defensive strategy to the Canadian national side.

“I think we’ve got to that point where we’re pretty good at that. Now we’ve got to start building (by) creating more quality chances for our strikers and then (have) our strikers take those chances that do come along,” said Yallop.

So far, he added, the Canadian men’s team is “on the right track” and he feels that he’s now assembling a team with the “building blocks” to make a serious run at qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Canada was bounced out of CONCACAF’s semi-final qualifying round for the 2006 World Cup in November 2004, which some observers put down to a combination of inexperience and questionable officiating in the final games. Yallop had been on the job for less than a year at that point and was still adjusting to the CONCACAF competition.

“I learned a lot from that round and if you look at the way we played in the six to eight games we did have in qualifying, I think we played well at times (but) we couldn’t score goals when we needed to-” said Yallop. “The odd sloppy goal here or there cost us, but if you’re scoring goals at the other end, you can allow yourself to give up some goals.”

After being eliminated from contention for the 2006 World Cup, Yallop and his coaching staff had to focus on what it would take to strengthen Canada’s chances of qualifying for the 2010 competition. That meant taking a closer look at players who have performed well in the national under-20 program and who are now ready to play at the senior level.

“I also look at players who have done well with their clubs and I select certain players who I think can help me down the line when I go into (World Cup) qualifying in two or three years’ time,” Yallop explained, adding that some of the players who have earned international caps under his tenure fit into that category. They include midfielders Atiba Hutchinson (playing with Helsingborg of Sweden) and Patrice Bernier (with Tromso of the Norwegian Premier league).

Veteran Dwayne De Rosario, a versatile midfielder/forward, is currently with the Earthquakes of the MLS (after the team recently moved from California to Houston, Texas), but he played for Yallop for years during their days in San Jose.

“He’s one that will probably lead the pack a little bit,” said Yallop.

Canada will also play a friendly against Austria on March 1, a day when Canada’s more high-profile international players should be available. It’s difficult to guess how different the national men’s roster will look for that game – or whether additional B.C. players will be given their shot at the big time.

Vancouver Whitecaps director of soccer operations Bob Lenarduzzi represented Canada in the 1984 Olympics and the 1986 World Cup. He doesn’t feel the lack of B.C. players on the current roster is indicative of a problem with the province’s development programs, pointing to the tremendous success experienced by B.C.’s women soccer players at the national level.

“I think the other provinces have done (a) very good job with their player development – especially Quebec-” said Lenarduzzi. “I’m not so sure whether we’ve done a bad job or whether the others have gotten better. Sometimes this process is cyclical; you get a lot of players from one of the stronger provinces and then all of a sudden there seems to be a bit of a tapering off. I don’t know if I could put my finger on any one reason why it’s happened, but it’s a good observation.”

Dave Dew is a former head coach of the Whitecaps women’s team and was also heavily involved in the national women’s U-16 and U-17 programs. He agrees that the Canadian senior men’s coaching staff should be selecting the best players regardless of where they’re from, but he also thinks that some talented B.C. players might have been overlooked this time around.

“They wouldn’t really care if a player was from Cortes Island, Spuzzum or Pump Handle, Saskatchewan. If he’s good enough, they’re going to take him,” Dew said. “But I was quite shocked when I saw that Rob Friend was the only B.C. player selected - I know that the international players aren’t available to (Yallop) so he hasn’t selected guys like Josh Simpson, (but) he hasn’t looked at any of the younger ones like Geordie Lyall or anybody like that.”

Lyall played for UVic and is now with the Whitecaps team that made the playoffs last season, but Dew acknowledged that there are few local players playing at a level comparable to that of Simpson.

“Right now, for players at that standard – outside of Simpson – (there really aren’t) any players at this point that I would look at and say: ‘Ya, they should be on the World Cup team.’ ”

However, there are a few other B.C. players he thinks could make the grade in the future. Spectrum and Gorge FC alumni Tyler Hughes is reportedly recovering from a broken leg, but he played in Canada’s final World Cup qualifying game against Guatemala in 2004. Manny Gomez is another talented youngster who is playing overseas with River Plate’s junior program in Argentina and Dew expects he will be named to Canada’s next U-20 squad.

Dew felt that Yallop would give any qualified B.C. player a fair shot when it comes to representing their country on the international stage.

“To give credit to Frank, I know that he has people looking all over for him and he’s one of those guys who’s wide open to giving everybody an opportunity.”

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