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!