Sunday, 18 December 2016

Russian Bathhouse

One of the final events I attended in my Canadian National Teams Goalkeeper Coach was the 2006 FIFA U20 World Youth Championships held in Russia. I had already experienced the 2000 U19 World Youth Championships in Canada and the 2004 World Youth Championships in Thailand. Our team had finished second at the tournament in Canada. We were knocked out in the quarter-final in Thailand and we did not advance from the round-robin in Russia.

There was a steady decline in funding, which made it difficult to remain competitive with the other countries who were investing in the game. China. Germany. USA. Japan. The sad reality of International Competition is that athletes, teams and coaches require both training and competition, all of which comes at a cost. If I am not mistaken, when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics I am fairly certain that our country won the most medals they have ever achieved at the same time the host country (Canada) had created a program called "Own the Podium" which provided the financial resources and opportunities for coach, athlete and teams to prepare in an equitable fashion to others.

Our team had the priviledge of visiting both St. Petersburg and Moscow on this trip, and to this day I feel very lucky to have been able to see this part of the world.

St Petersburg was fantastic. I remember the Czars Castles which lined the causeway across the street from our hotel, built on the backs of communism that featured massive walls with historic structures inside, a divide between rich and poor was clearly visible. The city was filled with these monuments scattered along the causeway which outlined a water canal. Moscow was even more daunting. I remember walking down the most dramatic combination of stairs and escalators to reach the subway, which, when hundreds of feet beneath the ground there were these marble statues built to recognize important moments in time for the Russian culture. These will remain some of the steepest stairs/escalators I have ever been on. Then there were the "Seven Sisters," which is a series of building (all matching) built all around the city, which were visible at all times from all angles as you traveled throughout the capital. These building were massive, they appeared to reach into the sky and all I could think about was how did they build these at a time when modern technology did not exist? The feeling of walking into and around "Red Square" was simply amazing! You could feel the bloodshed and historical battles in the air as you walked through and around this historical monument. There was no simply way to describe the "spooky" feeling I had being there- so much of this culture had been defined by conflict.

Conversely, when we participated in the 2004 World Youth Championships in Thailand it was the exact opposite. I have come to love and respect Thai culture for many reasons. The people. The food. The glorious combination of nature and Buddhism.

Our team initially spent time in Phuket prior to the start of the tournament. We stayed in a beautiful hotel on the beach and enjoyed each and every minute of our stay. I can assure you this was not the norm traveling with the Canadian National Team Program. There have been some beauties along the way- staying in the University of Prince Edward Island one summer in rooms without air conditioning and then there were the dorms we stayed in when we participated in the Pan-Am Games in Santo Domingo in the Domenican Republic-both of these were the exact opposite of the luxury we were able to experience in Phuket. The team played our last exhibition game here in a stadium which was directly across from the beach. I remember when the game was over the first thing the girls asked was "if they could go swimming in the ocean!" It was brilliant to see them crossing the road in their sweat soaked uniforms heading for a cool down on a glorious Thai beach.

It was also in Phuket that the staff enjoyed their first experience with a Thai Tailor. To this day, I still cannot fit into the set of Canadian Natioanal Team Suits we had made, however, I am pretty sure that Ian Bridge still has his collection of silk shirts. We all took turns having clothes made, which involved choosing a fabric, selecting a style, being sized and returning several days later to be fitted.

I still recall to this very day the feeling of putting on my first custom made silk dress shirt- WOW!

Ian was so excited he walked back to the turn-style with the variety of colors in the silk fabric and said "I will take one of those, one of those, one of those and one of those!"

It was priceless.

The team was fairly competitive in the tournament for which we were then based out of Bangkok. However, we were knocked out in the 1/4 final in a loss to China which I will never forget. From the opening kick-off we played the ball wide and forward only to somehow see the opponent quickly counter and find the Chinese striker moving toward our goal one on one with goalkeeper Stacey VanBoxmeeer. Stacey closed down the player in exceptional fashion only to see the player dive and tumble over the top of her while making the breakaway save followed by the whistle, red card and ensuing penalty shot given by the official.

Just like that we were down to 10-players as the back-up goalie (Steph Labbe) was sent in to try and save the penalty-shot.

We lost 1-0 (scored on the pk) and were eliminated from the tournament. It was traumatic siting in the hotel lobby the day after the game thinking about all the hard work and effort that had gone into the event only to see it so quickly disappear. Mind you, there were some funny moments along the way. Each evening at the end of the day the staff would meet to discuss the days events and plan the ensuing day or days. It was a common ocurance to walk into Bridgie's room and find him wearing a different colored tailored silk shirt with his black adidas polyester track pants! In fact, one evening the staff stepped out to see a movie, which is really cool in Thailand.

We were able to pay for luxury recliners in the back of the movie theater and stretch out completely in the most comfortable seats I have ever enjoyed watching a movie. Importantly, as we left the hotel to walk down the busy corridor or street we had become familiar with this very evening, we noticed Ian was walking ahead of us neatly dressed in a lime green silk shirt and a pair of kakky pants. From across the street we could hear someone calling "Handsome Man!" It was intended for Ian and it came from one of the Lady-Boys who hung out in front of a local bar dancing beside the street morning, day and night.

It was hilarious!

We used to take our team bus each and everyday down this very road from the hotel to the main highway en route for training. On this one particular day the bus we were provided with had an upstairs and downstairs seating arrangement. The upstairs would be the more traditional seating we are familiar with on a bus where the team sat. The downstairs might have been where the luggage was traditionally placed, however, in its place was a huge table and bench which outlined its circumference that the staff sat down at. While stopped at the stop sign waiting for the traffic flow to ease, we peared out the window only to see the same Lady-Boy, now mid-day dancing in the very spot we had seen them the night before. Of course, we were all waving and laughing, but the look on her face when she recognized the "Handsome Man" was remarkable!

A short 50 meter stroll from the hotel lobby I came across "Mr Tippy" who to this day remains my one and only Thai Tailor. We all had more clothes made, this time fitting much better than the first attempt in Phuket. Mr Tippy made a suit for me that would travel all over the world for years, never wrinkle and receive all kinds of positive comments when I wore it. I would revisit Mr Tippy several years later when Paola and I returned to Bangkok on  a holiday and have clothes made for the two of us. I will look forward to the next time we meet and hopefully have something made for Isabella.

There was always time for fun,  the team ventured out to a local bowling alley for a fun-filled evening, many in costume to see which randomly selected pair from the players and staff would become the prize winning team! I do not remember if we won or lost, however, I do remember how much fun it was shopping for costumes for my partner Veronique Miranda and myself in Bangkok!

So many great memories!

I did in fact stay behind when the team returned to Canada for an extended holiday, which in fact took me back to Phuket. It was lovely. I rented a moped, cruised around and found some lovely spots.

I had befriended the local hotel manager from when our team stayed together and was advised to visit Ko Rang. I toured on my moped 30 minutes from Phuket with my travel pack and ventured to the boat dock. When I figured out the situation, I bought my ticket, parked the moped and had time for lunch seated on a bamboo deck overlooking the beautiful bay we were located in. The lunch was spectacular, as were all Thai meals. I recall watching monkeys climb through the trees on shore while I waited for the boat to come in. To my surprise when it was time to leave I noticed my moped being loaded onto a different boat that the one I was seated on!

As we pulled away from the dock I remember trying to communicate with one of the locals that my moped was "over there!" They said it was ok, that the boat would be right behind us. Well, after several moments the boats started to travel in seperate directions- I was certain that would be the last time I would see my rented moped. When we managed to cross the bay and arrive at Ko Rang I walked off the foot passenger ferry service (aka decommissioned Thai wood fishing vessel) and jumped on the back of a "moped-taxi" asking to be taken the the other side of the island where I was informed my moped would be waiting.

Thankfully it was! I spent days, felt like weeks, wish it was months whipping around the island, exploring, savoring the sights, sounds, scenery and people. It was an absolutely fantastic experience! I watched the final with a family I had been staying with inside a thatched roof Thai Hut and could not believe that the referee who had officiated our game was also in charge of the final! Such is life!

Interestingly, upon my return to Canada I made my way to Denman Island, as it was the holiday season. I left Thailand for Canada on December 20, 2004 and remember listening to the radio at the red cabin the day after Christmas to hear about the devastation from the Tsunami which hit the area I had been visiting! It was mind-numbing on a personal note to imagine that I had walked on those very beaches, even worse to learn over time the devastation and toll on human existence this natural disaster would cause.

So, about the Russian Bathhouse. Once we were eliminated from the tournament all be it so early, we had a day or two to pass before returning the Canada. I had noticed an advert for an old fashioned Russian Bathhouse. I canvassed the staff to see if anyone would care to join me, but there were no takers. I sequestered a taxi from our hotel and was dropped off at the front door. I walked up the stairs and around a corner to these beautiful glass doors and entered. It was an old boys club from the early 1900's. There were chubby old Russian men scattered across the lounge sitting with white towels wrapped around their wastes, some smoking, others talking and others relaxing.

Once inside I figured out how to pay and was shown to a locker. I took off my clothes and wrapped myself in the traditional white towel and made my way to the shower stall, water room or massive area that you entered before entertaining the sauna. There were so many varities of showers, soaker tubs and massage tables in this area that was meant for you to cleanse between visits to the sauna. The sauna was massive, two stories. In here men sat with these silly little hats that folded down to cover the top of your ears and whipped one another with water soaked eucalyptus branches. It was a brilliant afternoon spent relaxing, observing and unwinding. To this very day, I severely regret not going to a Japanese Bathhouse when visiting Tokyo.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Voice

Each fall we start watching "The Voice." In fact this past year we came to realize that we have been enjoying the show for a total of eleven seasons. It it a weekly ritual for Paola and myself to watch the episodes the day after the televised version on the internet from the comfort of our home on Denman Island.

Why do I love watching "The Voice?"

In fact, we do not have TV and have not had TV for years. This may be the only show we watch in the house, excluding our Netflix habit which is a story for another day.

I love watching "The Voice"because it is a show about coaching. The series begins with "Blind Auditions" in which the contestants sing on an open stage to convince one of the four internationally renowned singers to turn a chair and entertain the opportunity to become their mentor/coach.

From the very moment these blind auditions start you can sense and feel the amazement of the amateur singers when a chair is turned and they are recognized for their talent. It is such an inspiring moment to see a chair turn, the hear the coaches plea for their acceptance and build their respective team.

Sound familiar?

Each year we process through the VIPL Riptide U14-U18 Youth Soccer Trials in which more than 160+ players will seek selection for a place on one of our eight teams in the franchise. The "Blind Audition" for the players starts with a series of training sessions in which they hope to draw the attention of one of the coaches selecting the respective team. Once they have been selected and accept the invitation to play the mentoring process begins.

Perhaps this is why "The Voice" means so much - the mentoring process.

I am brought to tears on a regular basis as the show progresses and the number of singers is slowly reduced. Today, there are four singers left from forty. The simple fact that as the season winds on each year, the coaches spend more time with the singers, which in turn deepens their respective relationship with one another.

Relationships are a huge part of any successful coach.

There have been so many healthy and positive relationships for me in the game of soccer through the years. First as a player. Second as a Coach. Third as a Technical Director.

As a player, some of my first memories in the game comes from playing with the Lansdowne Evening Optimists (1974 Victoria) coached by John Rudball (to this day, John makes an effort to stop by and say hello each summer when he and his wife visit Denman Island). The team wore royal blue polyester jerseys with two yellow stripes down one side of the jersey. Matching polyester royal blue shorts and socks (also with two yellow stripes which circled the top of each sock when folded over). My first goalkeeper jersey was yellow polyester. My first pair of goalkeeper gloves were a soft cotton mix with green rubberized material for grip (the same material found on ping pong paddles). My first pair of boots were more plastic than leather. My teen years were spent playing for the Gorge Magpies (coaches Dunc McCaig and Ron McClure). This is where I would meet friends who I still see to this very day. In fact, we played school soccer together and grew up both on and off the field.

Interestingly, when I think of my youth soccer coaches there is warmth, encouragement, positivity and motivation coming from all angles. Each of these people would not only support us on the field, they would remain a strong part of all of our lives through the years off the field - and that is what coaching is about! Sure, there are defining moments which are performance based, but I learned early on in life the definitive role of "the Coach" is the lasting impact you can have on people's lives.

Hence my love for The Voice. I sit hear writing this listening to the final four sing for the opportunity to win the season and receive a recording contract. I also enjoy the stories between the coaches and their singers, how they enjoy being able to help their students improve and learn about themselves. These internationally acclaimed artists take time out of their own lives to help the next generation of singers to become famous.

Sound familiar?

There have been so many positive mentors in my life through the years. Grant Darley. Gord Reading. John Baretta. Jerry Knuttsen. I have also had the priviledge to mentor hundreds of athletes and help to develop some very special coaches. Raegyn Hall. Big Daddy Denman. Sian Bagshae. Geoff Hackett. 

There have been a select few athletes who I was able to mentor and develop deep and meaningful relationships with. Taryn Swiatek. Erin McLeod. Nicole Wright. Stephanie Labbe. Erin McNulty. Stacey VanBoxmeer. All of which I was lucky enough to invest time working with as a part ofthe Canadian Women's National Team Program.

Then there are my peers. Lewis Page. Bryan Rosenfeld. Stuart Neely. Ian Bridge. Even Pellerud. Ken Garraway.

Each and every one of these people have made a positive impact on my life and will always contribute to the person I have become.

As this episode wears down, I am finding satisfaction in knowing full well that only one person will be crowned the "winner of season eleven!"

Importantly, each of these final four candidates has grown and developed under the influence of their respective coach and accomplished more than enough on their individual journey to be considered a winner! The coaches push and pull the singers to make themselves more and more unique, pushing themselves to remain strong, confident and determined as they perform each and every week- knowing full well the audience selects who moves on each week in the competition.

Hard work is what is all about as a performer. As an athlete. I have always drawn reference to my travels all over the world as a player, coach or technician to that of a musical performer. Both are welcomed by one and all with open arms. One for the songs they may sing or play. Another for the simple fact that the game of soccer is global- it is appreciated by one and all the entire world over.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Circle of Life

Several weeks ago I was taking the ferry to Powell River in order to run training for the 18 players based there who play for the VIPL Riptide. It was on the ferry that I came to realize how lucky I am to be travelling to the same community I have been visiting for more than 30 years, now in my capacity as the Technical Director for the Riptide.

One of my first memories of being in Powell River for soccer was watching my father play goal for the London Boxing Club (1970's). I then recall playing both youth soccer games and high school or junior high school soccer events up there in the early '80's and of course the legendary matches against the mighty Villa in the VISL quite possibly in the later portion of the '80's and early '90's.

Each and every time I make the trip to Powell River I reflect on these experiences, and the people I have been fortunate enough to meet. Both Tyler Laing and Carly Carson were exceptional goalies who grew up in the community and were introduced to me by Paul Likness when I was running Island Keeper Clinics (est 1993). Carly managed to make her way into the Canadian Youth National Team Program and Tyler and I have remained lifelong friends thanks to his mom's antipasto.

There was one time when he visited us in Victoria to attend a goalkeeper training program and ended up staying with our family (which was a fairly common routine) and his parting gift was a jar of mom's antipasto.

To this day, if and when we see one another, if he does not bring a jar we certainly talk about it- it has been 20 years since the first time we met.

I have now just returned from a trip to Port Hardy to train the 12 players we have based out of this remote community who travel 3 hours each way for training (once weekly) and games. The games are often in Victoria, which means a 7-hour drive one way to compete.

During my time in Port Hardy I had the priveledge of reconnecting the dots with several Native friends.

K'odi and I have know one another for more than 20 years, we first met when I drove him out to play in the Canadian Soccer League for the Winnipeg Fury in 1993. He was just a baby and I recall his mother Tidi Nelson's parting words "take care of my boy!" You see, I had experience playing with Kevin Wasden, who like K'odi grew up in Alert Bay. Kevin was the first professional First Nations Aboriginal Soccer Player since Terry Felix played for the Vancouver Whitecaps circa 1975. Kevin and I first played together for the Victoria Vistas in 1989-1990 and then in 1990 for the Nova Scotia Clippers in the Canadian Soccer League. We also travelled together once to Scotland to train with Dunfermline Athletic Club and the Tacoma Stars in the US in the winter months.

Kevin and I often spoke about returning to the Bay to run soccer camps for the kids in the community, but we were never able to make this journey together.

Kevin's life was  tragically taken in his early twenties driving home from Port Alberni to see his girlfriend in Alert Bay.

Sadly, my first visit to the Bay was for his funeral. It was a memorable experience.

We were welcomed into their family with open arms, and by family I literally mean hundreds of First Nations Aboriginals.

In the years to follow Kevin's passing we started the Ha-et tla las Memorial Soccer School in memory of Kevin. These were some remarkable experiences. I can remember running camps with 100+ kids and having the time of my life. The passion for the game in the First Nations Aboriginal Community is contagious. I was able to observe so many young and talented individuals, some as young as ten years old who had the game in their blood.

Soccer has a lengthy history in these communities scattered up and down Vancouver Island. If I am not mistaken,  one of my first camps might have been in and around 1995. The camps were a combination of soccer instruction, fun and learning about life. Each and every single day brought laughter and happiness to all who were involved. The way these little soccer players eyes would light up each and every day we came together to train, play games and have fun was inspiring.

To this day, I will always recall those special moments plying my trade in the remote Native Village of Alert Bay. These soccer camps allowed my to get closer to Kevin's family, as well as K'odi's family, both of which have always been massive supporters of any and every effort we have made to promote the game and provide opportunity for the children in the Bay.

One such special opportunity came when the U19 Canadian Women's National Team visited the community and played an exhibition game against a local select team. Ian Bride and I had both been connected to the Bay through Kevin, so it was an emotional event for the two of us bringing the team here. I recall talking to the girls in the living area of the hostel we were staying in, both Ian and myself in tears giving them the background on the Bay and why we felt it was special to bring the team here.

As always, we were treated like absolute GOLD by the community,  who have always made me, my family, my friends and anybody else I knew that visited the Bay feel WELCOME!

I cannot specifically recall the first time I attended the annual June Sports Soccer Tournament, however, I can tell you that after travelling the world over coming back to the Bay to play in this annual event (held in June) was astonishing! This would be the first time on the west-coast I had experienced the passion for the game I had enjoyed in my travels in European Cultures. I played for the Cormorants several times through the years, playing as a right back or central defender rather than my traditional role of goalkeeper.

The first year I played we made it through to the final in which I recall the first time the ball went out of bounds behind our goal a fan yelled at the top if his lungs "who is the white girl playing centre back" and stared right at me. It was moving- I quickly grabbed the ball, realized there were several layers of people gathered on the sidelines dressed in Black or White (for the Cormorants) and Red and Black (for the Reds). Two cross-town rivalries which had been battling for the annual championship for years.

We were victorious and it was a memorable celebration.

First there was the parade of Champions, in which were were all loaded into a long line of cars as we drove up and down the main drag hooting and hollering singing the "Tlubani Song" (which still brings tingles as I write)! Second, we stopped along the way to march into and through the Nimpkish Hotel, which was the local watering hole and proceeded back to Emma and Crow's for what would turn out to be a what felt like a 2-3 day party! When the singing and dancing finally came to and end, I remember crawling home to find the door locked at Tidi and Bugsey's who I had been staying with.  Luckily, there was a tent in the front yard which I crawled into to sleep off the victory celebration and wait for someone to open the door.

To this very day, each and every time I return to visit the Bay one of the first things that Tidi will note "is that if they new I was coming they would have set-up my tent in the front yard!"

On this most recent trip to Port Hardy I was able to spend a few moments with K'odi at his school in which he is the Cultural Teacher. He took me on a quick walk-about to show me around the school and get a chance to see what they do with the kids. The first thing I noticed was the way which he treated these young children- stopping to hug, hold and/or say "hello" to each and every little one that crossed our path. It was a defining moment for me, knowing full well the impact of having a positive role model such as K'odi in these young kids lives.

On this day he was teaching them how to smoke fish and was in the midst of a multi-day project in which the kids cleaned the fish, light the fire and tended to the smokehouse.

Invaluable cultural traditions being passed on from one generation to the next.

I find myself enjoying the opportunity to revisit each and every one of these communities, as there are so many wonderful memories!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

“Welcome to Canada, eh you hoser!”

I had the priviledge of seeing the 2016 MLS Cup Final between TFC and the Seattle Sounders live at BMO Stadium on Saturday, December 10, 2016. The game kicked off at 8 pm eastern, the temperature was a balmy -2 and the stadium atmosphere was electric. The fly-over at the end of the Canadian National Anthem set the stage for an exciting evening in which at times, the event took over for the quality of the game being played. TFC got off to a great start with an opening scoring chance in the 4th minute, followed by several glorious chances to score as the match played out and into overtime. The two greatest chances to score being a header from Altidore which Stefan Frei made a remarkable save off of and a glaring miss from inside the penalty area by Ricketts (both of these coming in the overtime portion of the game). The set-up for the crossed ball by Ricketts was remarkable, as he was able to get past Torres (one of the rare occasions) and float a delicious ball into the box with the awareness for a streaking Altidore- as the ball floated in the direction of the TFC striker he took several powerful strides before leaping into the air and at his maximum height attempting to head the ball down and into the goal Stefan Frei was minding. The ball was just an inch or two high for Altidore to achieve full power on the header (which would have likely been the game changer) and floated off the top of his head toward to top left corner of the goal (top left from the goalkeeper perspective) for us all to watch in amazement as Stefan Frei made a world class save with the bottom left hand to deflect the ball out and around the post for a corner kick.

It was sensational, seeing this remarkable moment LIVE!

The Sounders went on to win the game and played an excellent game defensively, both as a team, and as individuals.

The last time I sat with Stefan Frei in BMO was back in the 2012, when we would sit in the player’s box and discuss the “good old days” he had originally experienced with TFC. 2012 was a difficult season for both the team and Stefan Frei. At the start of the season we ventured to Florida for the pre-season training camp to play in the Disney Classic.

My first call of duty as the ‘Performane Analyst” was to sit-up in a high tower and video tape the training sessions in the Florida sun 4-5 hours/day. It took about three days for me to get sun-stroke and suffer the consequences of being exposed to the sun at an elevation of about 100 feet above the training grounds.

The pre-season training also included matches against some of the MLS teams also visiting the area to participate in the event. In fact, we played a local college team in a friendly or two along the way also.

It was then that I started to admire Stefan Frei, as he had spent time in the off-season training with Liverpool FC and came into the training camp extremely sharp and motivated.

Interestingly, when I think about this motivating forces, I think he shares a common thread with Erin McLeod, another great goalkeeper in her time- who also prided herself by being both physically and mentally prepared for each and every movement they made as an investment to become the best they could be. Stefan saved our bacon time and time again in the preseason games against local College Teams and/or MLS teams while we were in Florida.

Upon our return to Canada and the ensuing start of the MLS Season we were due to play the LA Galaxy in the quarter-final of the CONCACAF Champions League, which was a hold-over from the competition TFC had played in the prior season. If I am not mistaken, Stefan played the first leg at home in Toronto when we defeated the Galaxy in front of 45,000 when the game was played in the Skydome. The second leg was played by Milos Kosic, when the team qualified for the semi-final of the CONCACAF Champions League by defeating the LA Galaxy in a two game series.

To this day, the team celebration was legendary and will be one of the many highlights I experienced working for TFC. The coaches had decided to split the games between the goalkeepers to give each an opportunity to prove themselves, which, in hindsight, seemed rather odd, as Stefan Frei had proved himself worthy time and time again during the preseason. Importantly, he soldiered on, which is an invaluable lesson to all up and coming goalkeepers. When things don’t go your way you have choices to make, whether you agree or disagree with the decisions of your coach you have to find ways to keep focused and move forwards. Stefan continued to shine in training, working his butt off to earn the number one spot with the team for the 2012 MLS Season.

Sadly, during one of the final sessions in preparation for the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League Stefan suffered a broken leg which would disrupt his campaign and severely affect the outcome to the start of his season. I did not see the situation unfold, as I was in the stadium at the time, only picked up on the commotion once the training staff had been able to support him where he lay injured on the stadium field in which we were training.

The timing was horrible, here he was, performing at or near his peak for the start of the season, working his butt off to earn and keep the starting spot and engaged in a debate about who should or should not be the number one starting goalkeeper for the team. He deserved so much better, it was heart breaking to see all of his hard work in the off season not be rewarded.  In the ensuing months we would spend time together in the players box on game days at BMO. I remember one conversation in which we were sitting above the crowd, watching the team play in the middle of the CNE. The stadium was more than half empty, as you could see the Canadian Flag painted on the bleachers in white because there were so few people in the crowd. The CNE appeared in the background which presented a “Carnival Atmosphere” fitting to the season, as TFC spiraled downward once again. 

The coaches who hired me to work as the Performance Analyst in January of 2012 (Aron Winter and Bob DeKlerk)  were let go and replaced part way through the season. The replacement coach Paul Mariner would then be fired at the end of that season. So would Ryan Nelson who replaced Paul for the 2013 season. A pattern was well established. Stefan and I sat watching the team prepare to play a likely meaningless game, if they were not already eliminated from the play-offs, they were very close. He told me that when he first started playing for TFC the stadium would be filled with passionate fans 60 minutes before the game. Cheering. Singing and celebrating their LOVE and PRIDE for TFC. It was a very low moment for the team, who knows, perhaps for the franchise.

Stefan Frei would earn his way back into the team the following season and experience a broken nose in the first days of his comeback, once again, setting him back in her personal quest for the starting position with TFC.

I am so very grateful to return to BMO for the 2016 MLS Cup Final between TFC and the Seattle Sounders. Thanks to a former colleague and special friend, Stuart Neely we were able to secure two tickets to the game. I flew out the day before spending my time with Joe Nucifora and his family. It was a remarkable atmosphere in the stadium on game day, which, now residing on Denman Island and living a rural lifestyle I rarely experience. The energy of a stadium on “game day” is electric and overwhelming. Seeing and feeling the intensity of the game, being a part of the energy and enthusiasm of the hometown crowd and seeing familiar faces is a wonderful and rare opportunity. The seats we enjoyed allowed me access to the same hallways I had walked when I worked with the team. I came across Jason Bent, who is now the TFC2 Head Coach and former colleague at TFC. We had a brief chat and acknowledged how times had changed.

“It took Toronto FC 10 seasons, nine coaches, 324 regular-season and six playoff games to finally get to the championship game. Some 3.49 million fans went through the turnstiles before the 36,045 lucky ones Saturday night.”

I simply cannot imagine the number of players the team had chewed through in the 10 seasons as well. It was an honor to be able to sit with my friend Joe Nucifora for the game. We first met 15+ years ago when I was working the Canadian Soccer Association the National Teams Goalkeeper Coach when he attended a GK Clinic put on by Ken McGuinness from Delta Sports at Etobikoe Stadium (the very same venue I had played for the Nova Scotia Clippers in the CSL from my playing days). Joe was a goalkeeper enthusiast who also worked for “Joe’s Hot Sauce” at the time if I am not mistaken. We have been friends ever since. I am fairly certain this would be not the first nor the last time he invited me back to his house for dinner to sample some of his Mom’s home cooking.

If there is one things I learned over the years from my professional travels it was never to turn down an offer to experience a home cooked Italian meal. I had several families adopt me along the way, starting with Mama Maria when I played in Winnipeg in the CSL. She took care of myself and Henry Nelson for the season. To this day I still recall a family dinner in which we were invited and she had made from scratch home-made lasagna noodles, the sauce (with her own tomatoes) and of course the main course to follow. The slice of lasagna covered more than my plate was so delicious. I have to thank the Coppetti family also located in Toronto, actually North York for all the years they fed me an introduced me to “spiducci!” The Pagliaro family. The Bellisimo family, who while playing for the North York Rockets took us in like extended family, myself, Kevin Wasden and often Nic Dasovic to fill our bellies and welcome us into their families.

Joe and I were seated in section 124A, we were seated in the wheelchair section as he has Stage Four Brain Cancer. We are the exact same age. It is awful to see a close friend and colleague fight this terrible sickness, but a priveledge to be able to share this time and special event together. Several weeks prior to the final I had decided to fly out and pay him a visit. I had heard that he might be in a wheelchair. I had known from a conversation during the summer that he preferred to text rather than talk, as talking was more of a challenge that texting. I knew he was sick, but I did not know how sick until my first visit. Stage Four Brain Cancer is not good. But he is fighting with an incredibly positive attitude and not letting on that there is anything negative that would be of any concern to him. This is who he is. Loyal. Compassionate and Selfless.

Our first visit was spent watching all four quarter-final games in the MLS play-offs in one day on TV, after which I promised to return if TFC made the final (which they did) and so off I went. Thanks to the generosity of Stuart Neely, whom we had both known in different ways through the years we were able to secure seats the final which sold out in 3-minutes. 

Joe’s cousin Sal arranged a wheelchair specific taxi to the game which took us right up to the stadium and picked us up right on front immediately after. Sol has a humongous heart and domineering personality- the moment he walked into the door before the game you could hear his thunderous roar as he delivered a newer more comfortable wheelchair for Joe to use for the game. 

When we took our seats in the stadium for the game we were able to watch the Seattle Sounder warm-up. It was time to take some photos to send to my compadres in Port Angeles Washington who I knew would be cheering for the Sounders. 

As we were watching the teams warm-up Robyn Gayle crossed our path, a current member of the Canadian Women’s National Team who we both knew. Joe had worked with her in the OSA Provincial Teams Program and I had met Robin in the Canadian Women’s National Youth Team Program many years ago. She took the time to say hello, ask how were doing and introduce us to her nephew who was 6-years old that she took to the game. Robin has always been a person with a warm heart and lovely smile. 

To this day, she is exactly the same, taking time to say hello and make time for us two “old guys!” 

As the game wore on the crowd and atmosphere were fantastic. TFC had several chances to score, but were thwarted on multiple occasions. 

Seattle played an excellent defensive game and adjusted to playing away from home in a spectacular fashion. TFC carried the majority of the play, often through Michael Bradley who dropped deeper and deeper to collect the ball and initiate their attack with his swift and accurate passing. Michael Bradley is also in incredibly hard working defensive midfielder. Giovinco was drawing fouls and pressure from the Sounders all over the attacking portion of the pitch. 

The referee was in control, but not influencing the game in a negative way, leaving the game to be decided by the player’s o the pitch. Tactically both teams made changes to impact the match in the latter stages of both 90 minutes of regulation time, and eventually into the 120 minutes including the overtime periods. It came down to penalties and you had to favor Stefan Frei. Stefan had looked sharp and motivated in the warm-up. He was fired up to play and had soft hands. This was one thing we both noticed when we sat down to enjoy the show. He was kept on his toes and tested several times during the match. Clint Irwin, the TFC goalkeeper hardly touched the ball in 120 minutes in play.

"The Sounders’ zero shots on target and three total shots were both MLS Cup records."

Going into the penalty shoot-out a friend, former colleague and former Seattle Sounder Ian Bridge texted me to ask who I favored in the shoot-out. Hands down, it was going to be Stefan Frei. As much as I wanted TFC to win, for the city of Toronto, for the organization, for the simple fact that I could strut out next summer during the annual Denman Island 7-Aside Showdown when the Damn Yankees come to town in my bright red TFC toque, scarf, pullover, shorts, socks, shoes and blanket. However, this was not to be. The sixth and final shooter for the Reds Justin Morrow hit an awkward ball that hit the crossbar in the center of the goal setting up the Sounders Sixth Shooter Torres, or “Star-Man” to seal the deal.

All game long there were several somewhat intoxicated TFC fans behind us who kept calling him “Star-Man” every time he touched the ball (apparently it was in reference to a local Rapper who had released a hit single in recent months) which was rather annoying. Well,  “Star-Man” delivered. His sixth and final shot won the 2016 MLS Cup for the Seattle Sounders and simply silenced the crowd and emptied the stadium at the exact same time. It is very rare that 36,000 + screaming fans go dead quiet and vacate the premises is such a fashion. However, I do recall TFC emptying BC Place earlier this season when they snuck a last minute victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps to declare the Amway Cup for the 2016 Season. It was priceless, 4-minutes to go, Vancouver was doing everything they could to delay the game and hold on for the win, when out of nowhere in a desperate effort at the final play of the game TFC scored! That was also one stadium that emptied on impact leaving nobody to see TFC celebrate their victory!

Oddly, we were is Seattle a couple of weeks attending a Showcase Event (where the Sounders train) with the 2000-1999 Riptide Girls Team. The only player I saw the entire weekend from the Sounders at the training facility while the tournament was being played was the Panamanian Central Defender. Perhaps this was an omen! Never in a million years did I dream of it ending this way. TFC endured 120 minutes of play at home in front of a sea of red only to lose in the final by penalty shots. Not many of us did. Congrats to the Sounders. You successfully employed a well-executed game plan and did what you had to when it mattered most. Congrats to Stefan Frei for the MVP Award for the game, I simply cannot imagine how powerful that moment was for you. Congrats to my homies in Port Angeles, I will gladly buy your dinners, provide you with the jerseys and be your whipping boy for time immoral.

However, as we left the stadium in the wheelchair designed taxi I came to realize how powerful and lasting these moments were going to be. I could not hide how hungry I was (after not eating since lunch- it was now 11:30 pm) and asked that we forewarn Mama Nooch that we were coming home hungry. We had a 30-minute drive in the taxi from the stadium to the house, which was just enough time for Joe’s 80- year old mom to fry up those delicious thin breaded pork chops in time for our arrival. The game was over, we were disappointed in the loss but grateful for the time together. We shared Mama Nooch’s pork chops, peas and wine as we savored the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company. The game has always been special that way, bringing together family and friends who share a common passion.

Joe and I hugged this morning to say good-bye, hoping to see each other again. I have no words to describe my feelings. I had a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.

Will we see one another again?

In my heart I have enjoyed the friendship of a loyal, loving kind man. In these recent two trips I have come to learn the same about his family. I hope to come back and share more memories regardless of circumstance. I am grateful for the generosity you have all offered along the way.

All of you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Note to Self

I left the National Team Program in 2006 amidst preparations for the 2007 Olympics in China. I had spent 6-years of my life traveling all over the world with the Canadian Soccer Association as the National Teams Goalkeeper Coach and have always wondered when and if I would ever be able to recall how far we traveled and how many places we have been. When I started with the program in 2000, I was brought into the youth team system and introduced to Gerry Knuttsen who was a Norwegian Goalkeeper Coach working with the Canadian Women's Senior National Team. He and Even Pellerud had won the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup together while coaching Norway, and now, with Even in charge of the Canadian Women's National Team Program he brought Gerry over. It was an honor, a privilidge and a challenge all at once.

I had been a goalkeeper since the age of 4-years, at least those were my earliest memories. My father had been a legendary local amateur goalkeeper. My passion for the game grew as I pulled away from all other conflicting sports until the age of 14 when I was solely committed to the journey of becoming a professional soccer player. Out went competitive school sports in basketball, volleyball, plus baseball and lacrosse. The only sport I continued to play and enjoy to this very day is tennis, and believe me when I play tennis I play for fun.

So, in doing some research recently I came across a list with many of the events I had participated in while working for the Canadian Soccer Association as the National Teams Goalkeeper Coach. Before I get to this, let me continue forward from my earliest experiences and memories with the Women's Program starting in 2000. After meeting and working with Jerry, I was left in charge of the goalkeepers for the various youth national teams we had running at the time. To this day, I still recall the first training camp in which Erin McLeod attended. It was in Victoria, we were staying at the Tally-Ho Hotel and did some training at Blanshard Field, the very field I would have watching my father train and play at in my youth. I still remember the first time Erin was training, her passion for learning, for asking questions, for improving, for working hard- it was painfully evident in her eyes that there was something special.

Gerry was an excellent mentor for me at the time, he was fun loving and full of life. I learned how to challenge the individual and motivate from within. This was the key- open and close communication plus hard work with the goalkeepers. We spent hours digesting the glorious position of goalkeeper, traveling together and learning about the Women's International Game. It was a glorious time. When Gerry stepped away after a couple of years I was brought in as his replacement to the Women's National Team Program and never looked back.

I am now able to look back on this portion of my career and think more specifically of all the events and places we have been: Australia, Russia, Thailand, China, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Finland, Brazil, Sweden, Norway and all across both Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, PEI, Nova Scotia) and the USA (Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Oregon, California, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina). All of the events from CONCACAF Qualifying for Olympics, to the FIFA Women's World Cup, the Pan-American Games and the FIFA Women's Youth World Cups. It often feels like an entirely different lifetime now that I am settled into remote living, raising a beautiful family in a lovely part of the country.

Then there are the friends.

I recently made a quick trip out east to visit a close friend I have known for 15 years who lives in Toronto. While visiting we ventured to the CIS Conference Finals in which I ran into coaches whom I had not seen or played with since 1993. I came across players, one in particular who was playing and is the third generation of his family to have passed through our goalkeeper development programs that have been running since 1993 where he grew up in Victoria. I had dinner with the legendary Alex the Goalie who is a lovely young man from the Comox Valley whom I have had the pleasure of mentoring for the past ten years who is attending Queen's University and netminding for the soccer team. Oddly enough while having dinner at the Keg in downtown Toronto we were approached by a familiar face in the restaurant by the name of Scott Glanville, who used to have a soccer show called Direct Kicks that was around during my days with the Women's National Team Program. I also found time to have a quick lunch with Cathy Campbell, who is the sweetest and most sincere team doctor anyone could have (ok a close second to Dr. Rudy Gittens), however, the Doc and I spent many years working together and traveling all over the world with the Canadian Women's National Team Program.

It was an interesting experience running into all of these people and the returning home to Denman island, where we live and continue coaching in the Comox Valley. There are times when I forget about the history I have enjoyed in the game and all of the familiar faces there are scattered across the globe. In fact, the last time I attended a live game was the World Cup Qualifier in Vancouver between Canada and Honduras. It was remarkable, as I left the Concourse in BC Place for my seat I could see a familiar face in the distance waving back at me- it was Lewis Page from PEI and we had not seen one another in years! We were able to watch the game and reminisce while watching the Canadian Team Play. The first time I met Lewis was playing for the Nova Scotia Clippers in 1990 and we have been friends ever since. We worked together for many years in the Women's Program, the highlight being our second place finish at the 2002 FIFA U20 Women's World Championships held in Canada. To this day, once of my favorite photos and memories is the three of us- Head Coach Ian Bridge, Assistant Coach Lewis Page and Goalkeeper Coach Shel Brodsgaard standing arm in arm in front of a sold-out Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton singing the Canadian National Anthem before the final.


There are so many memories...


This past spring we ventured to Spain for a 10-day tour with one of our local boys teams aged U16. They were a relatively successful local team, making it to the A-Cup Provincials two years in a row, all the while training twice each week as a team for 6-7 months of the year and playing a game each weekend (the season is generally 20 games long plus another 10 games for the run to the provincials). All in all a relatively committed group of players who would also do extra training in an academy type setting and then of course play school soccer.  The trip to Spain was timely as we came across a highly competitive event which featured the top U18 youth teams from across Europe plus a few guest teams from other parts. The pleasure on watching these top youth team play in 60 minute games, was that we came to realize

A. Spanish Football will remain strong for a very, very, very long time

B. We in Canada are at best 100 years behind!

The feeling was overwhelming after watching 5-6 games daily when you observed the individual skill/technique, overall team tactics and shape, as well as the speed at which the players executed technique. We were in awe! How these 16-17 year old players were developing was beyond any of the local calibre we had seen in recent years. In fact, the following summer I recall sitting at a Whitecaps game with about 100 of our kids from the local community and thinking to myself that there was something missing.  It took me a few moments, however, I came to realize the impression the youth tournament had on me from our trip to Spain compromised my view and/or experience watching the MLS.

Fast forward to the MLS Play-Off Semi-Final played in Montreal at the Big O between the Impact and TFC. I honestly feel the ground shake beneath my feet as the game in our country leaped forward by 20-years. I tuned into the game from a stormy live feed on Denman Island. I recalled times gone by when used to kill time at the cabin during the winter months listening to the NHL on the radio, in fact, listening to Montreal play Toronto live (crica 1980's). It got me too thinking how far we have come. The build up to the game, the hype leaving one of these two teams to play in the MLS Cup Final. The simple fact that 61,000 + packed the stadium to watch the game live and more than 1,000,000 tuned in live. Now we are moving forwards. Sure, there can be arguments made that the league favors US born players even with the Canadian Franchises. Sure, the argument can be made there were few Canadians playing for the Canadian Teams. However, the simple fact that we are hosting two top teams in the most competitive league available with country wide awareness moves me.

On an personal note, I have enjoyed many professional soccer experiences in Montreal through the decades. My first trip to Montreal for soccer would have been to play in the Canadian Soccer League circa 1986 for the Victoria Vistas against the Montreal Impact. I had several amazing experiences with the Canadian Women's National Team in training camps and playing International Friendlies in Montreal (we beat Brazil in the final game before the 2003 Women's World Cup here). I have always been awestruck by the passion for the game and the commitment the Montreal Impact ownership has made to professional soccer in the city. I have also been a part of the coaching staff for an MLS Game in the Big O back in 2012 when TFC played the Impact during the start of the season and then again in the new stadium designed specifically for soccer beside the Big O.

The 2016 MLS Semi-Final First Leg brought me closer to friends all over North America, as we all follow the teams we support in Montreal, Toronto and Seattle.

The game got off to a great start (if you are an Impact fan). Patrice Bernier made an excellent pass to set-up the first goal for the Impact. Then suddenly we were down 2-0 and eventually 3-0. I felt like digging a really BIG hole as a TFC fan and hiding in it. But then something wacky happened. We scored to make it 3-1. The 3-2 (with away goals counting for double in the aggregate). Now we are back to Toronto for the second leg in which both teams have a fighting chance to make the final. Which brings me back to how exciting it is to see soccer on the map and people all across Canada tuning in. There are some brilliant players playing for both teams from all over the world.

I have always felt that when people ask you why we are so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to discussing soccer in Canada, I have always said "time." The most successful countries in the world have been playing the game for up to and beyond 100 years and have tremendous history in the game of soccer (take a tour through the stadium in Barcelona to observe some of the history of this remarkable  club).  I sincerely feel that we took one giant step forward last night embracing the MLS Semi-Final which was played between Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.  I look forward to the second leg and also find myself pulling for Seattle (who is on the other side of the draw). This is the second year in a row they have made the conference semi-final if I am not mistaken, losing out last year to the LA Galaxy.

Importantly, there is always a reference to hockey when it comes to discussing professional sport in Canada. I grew up a soccer player. I played many other sports in my youth, but hockey was not one of them. I have always been aware of the passion for the game in our country. However, I find it fascinating that the age old rivalries between Victoria and Portland, Portland and Seattle, Vancouver and Portland all have some resemblance of hockey roots (WHL) in the same fashion I grew-up listening to games with rivalries from the NHL we now face with the MLS. The winds of change are upon us and I certainly look forward to seeing more progress!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

"Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard!"

We were playing against the Vancouver 86ers in Swanguard Stadium located in Burnaby. They had a direct free kick from 20 meters out, towards the right hand side of the goal if you were taking the shot, or towards my left (from the goalkeeper's angle). Dale Mitchell was lined up to take the free-kick, he was once of Canada's most renowned goal scorers of the era, in addition to Domeninc Mobilio who also would have been playing for the 86ers at the time. Mitchell strikes a right footed shot bending around the outside of the wall towards the top corner of the goal. I read/anticipated this very shot and took off, a quick step or two to my left and then leaping into the air (because of the way the defensive wall was set-up I lost sight of the ball momentarily while diving to cover as much of the goal as possible). Suddenly, the ball came into view and it was massive. The size of a beach ball. I had the majority of the area of the goal he was shooting for covered by my body/arms/hands and was lucky enough to make the save and prevent the goal.

"Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard!"

Vic Rauder and Graham Legget were tele-commentating the game, and it has to be one of the most memorable saves of my playing career shown live on TSN. That was a long time ago, in fact the VHS tape with the highlight reel used to be a show-stopper for some of the kids/coaches who I have come in contact with over the years at camps. However, I am not even sure where to find a VCR these days. There have been other great saves.  Through the years there has been a lot of training for myself, as well as training a lot of younger goalkeepers who also shared the same aspiration- to fly through the air and prevent the opponent from scoring.

I have been commuting to Powell River for many years to serve many different capacities with regard to the game of soccer. I used to watch my dad play back in the '70's. We played the Junior High Island Soccer Championships there in the '80's. I played there in the '90's as a goalkeeper with the Gorge Molson's in the VISL. I have run and continue to run coaching clinics and training sessions in the community to this day. But, let's rewind the clock to a Jackson Cup Semi-Final in which the Gorge Molson's were playing Powell River Villa to advance to the prestigious Jackson Cup Final. In fact, my father had played goal in the Jackson Cup Final in his prime, which added even more reason for us to defeat the mighty Villa. Playing Powell River at home was always tough. First there was the road trip, having to travel from Victoria and take the ferry to play the game. Then there was the crowd. The atmosphere around the field. The fans chanting and doing everything they can to help the home team gain an advantage. On this particular day, the game was undecided at the end of overtime. I was young, late teens. The game was going to penalty-shots. The home crowd circled the goal at which the penalty shots were going to be taken at. People in front, beside and behind- all around you cheering for the mighty Villa! It was a glorious atmosphere. It was one of those days in which before the final shot was taken I knew we were going to be victorious because I had a feeling that we were going to walk away winners!

We cycled through the first five shooters and went to sudden death. It was our turn first the shooter scored. The Villa player stepped up, the crowd was chanting and I was totally focused. As he stepped up to strike the ball with the right foot to my right hand side. I left a moment before the ball was struck and fully extended myself to tip the ball outside of the goal with my fingertips. It was over. The crowd was silenced. Too this day, I still recall walking into the clubhouse and seeing the look on all those faces- shocked and silenced.

While on the topic of the Jackson Cup and great saves, this would be a good time to speak about one of the best saves I never made. We were playing against the Victoria Athletics in the Jackson Cup Final, perhaps it was the game after we defeated the mighty Villa, however, it was a long time ago. So, we are playing at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria where I have been chasing balls and eating hot dogs since I was a young boy. The game goes into penalty shots and the following situation unveils itself

  • the goalkeeper playing for the A's that day was a call-up, which means that the regular goalkeeper was injured for the cup final, so they brought up a goalkeeper from the 4th division team
  • the penalty shot shoot out went all the way to the 11th shooter from each team, which means the goalkeeper was going to shoot last from the Victoria Athletics
  • the goalkeeper steps up, having played a lot less soccer than most of us playing in the 1st division and tries to strike the ball towards the goal, which sadly, dribbles over the goal line closer to the corner flag than the goalpost when he attempts to score the goal
  • this would simply be on of the best saves I never made!

There have been other moments. The art of goalkeeping is exactly that- a form of art that takes many, many years to master. I recall a save at the age of 25 years, playing in a game after a professional career in North America, a little experience in both Europe and with the Canadian national team in which I came to realize that I had been doing it all wrong with regard to one versus one situations.  On this particular day, by accident I deducted how to perform the technique and/or execution entirely different than I had been doing all through the years. The key moment of learning came when I closed down a player one versus one in a very direct and intimate manner. The key to success for this action versus the hundreds of times I had made the exact exact same save before, was a combination of how much closer I was to the player before  committing to the ground, the fact that I was solely focused on the lower half of the body and of course the ball and the fact that I was going in hard and clean. It was an out-of-body-experience coming away with the ball and cleanly challenging the attacker in a one versus one situation.

In more recent years, during one of our annual 7-aside summer soccer tournaments on Denman Island I may have made one of my last memories playing in goal. We were playing a game against a talented, much younger, stronger and healthier crew from Powell River called "The Beavers." In goal for the Beavers was a close friend, a young lad whom I had coached many years prior who also had an absolutely massive afro. It was a sight to see him tending goal in the pink muscle shirt, large afro and goalkeeper gloves the size of Mickey Mouse's hands. Anyhow, they were clobbering us in the final of the 19 + Division on this given day, younger, stronger and faster...however, I was able to walk away with one personal highlight. There was a ball floated into the penalty box which I was able to collect untested. As I landed carrying forward momentum from the catch I decided to roll the ball out of the penalty area and progress towards the opponents goal. One touch then two. Suddenly, it came to me there was no defensive pressure coming from this youthful side. So, I took another touch, crossed the halfway line and decided to go for goal. The ball was driven hard and low to the  back post and directly into the goal. We lost 6-1. I still recall the look on the goalkeeper's face to this day having realized the ball was in the back of the net.

One of my favorite memories coaching goalkeepers was the game Taryn Swiatek played against China in the 1/4 final of the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup. The game was played in Portland, Oregon. It was a day where she was unbeatable on the ground. In the air. One versus one. In fact, it was such a thrilling experience to walk-up to her on the field at the end of the game and see the smile on her face. It was HUGE! Sure, she was thrilled to be going into the World Cup 1/2 final, but I know somewhere in there she was just as excited to know that she realized that she had played the best game of her life at the precise moment that she needed to. In fact, there are other memories related to goalkeeper's from this event. One that is not about making a save, training or playing games.

In each game at the international level three-subs are allowed to be made by each team. It is very rare that a goalkeeper will be one of these subs. So, being a back-up goalkeeper can be a very demanding role mentally. It was during the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup that I recall a very special moment. We had just beaten Japan in the third game of the first round to qualify for the 1/4 finals. While rewatching the game with the coaching staff several hours later that same evening I noticed something very special. Erin McLoed burst onto the field when the referee blew the final whistle and ran straight to the starting goalkeeper Taryn Swiatek to embrace her, congratulate her and share in the moment that we had just created. It was amazing to see the back-up goalkeeper so enthused, so pure, so engaged in celebrating the success of our team by acknowledging the success of the player playing the position I know she wanted to be in.

There was in fact another rather significant game which presented a rather important teaching moment for the back-up goalkeeper in my national team coaching career. We were playing in the 1/4 final of the 2004 FIFA Women's Youth World Championships in Thailand. The game kicked off and we had possession of the ball (we played the ball forward from the opening kick-off into the opponents half- from which they countered and for some reason there is a lone Chinese player heading to our goal all alone in literally the first or second minute in the match). The Canadian Goalkeeper approaches the player in a one versus one situation, goes to the ground to collect the ball and while making the save the player flies over top of the goalkeeper and tumbles to the ground in a heap. Penalty-shot and red card for the young Canadian goalkeeper in the first moments of the game. Oh @#$^! My initial thoughts are not to protest the call, but does the back-up goalkeeper have their gloves ready to go, shinpads on and realize exactly what has occurred? Into the game goes the back-up goalkeeper with little time for a warm-up as people scramble on our sideline to help her get ready.  She is inserted into the game and will directly face a penalty-shot in the 1/4 final of a Youth World Cup Final. WOW! What a moment! To this day I have not rewatched the game to see how badly the player was or was not taken down by our goalkeeper to produce the red-card and penalty shot. However, I sure would like to know what ran through the back-up goalkeepers mind the moment she was getting called into the action.

Years ago I was approached by a friend who thought I might like to be involved with the making of a beer commercial. Sadly, there was no beer involved in the transaction, however, I do recall being paid rather handsomely for the days work. The days work consisted of making the same save over and over and over and over for the photographer to capture the right shot. In fact, on this day, I probably threw myself into the air, to the right side, diving at full extension to make the same save 50+ times and landing on hard ground. At first we tried to have the ball served into the air, however, as I was the lone soccer player at the shoot, I had to rely on the camera person's assistant to toss the ball into the air for me to save which did not work out very well. The ball would have to be served into a precise location in order for the photographer to catch a fully extended goalkeeper about to make an amazing save. The next step was for me to hold the ball myself and pretend to be making the save while floating through the air holding the ball in my hands from start to finish. In the end they got the shot they needed and I have a brilliant photo that was displayed on billboard out east promoting Carlsberg beer.

These days, my body is run down. I am so sore after trying to recapture my youth. It was a lot of fun flying through the air in training and games. However, I get really excited when I see kids, of all ages stepping forwards into their goalkeeping career and making great saves. Flying through the air. getting up of the ground with huge smiles and a great feeling after stopping the ball from going into the goal.