David Forsyth has been called the “father of Canadian soccer.” He founded the Dominion Football Association in 1878, a mere fifteen years after the codification of the Association Rules in London. He composed one of the earliest tactical guides in print, espousing the virtues of the then-in-vogue 2-3-5 formation. Forsyth helped organize and played in one of the first international friendlies outside the home nations, a 1-0 victory against the United States in 1885. In 1888, Forsyth arranged a tour in Great Britian of select Canadian players. They beat Middlesborough 3-2, and Lincoln City 3-1, and drew 1-1 against Sheffield. Canada also beat Newton Heath 2-0, the team now known Manchester United. They finished with a 9-5-9 record. The London Sporting Times wrote of the team at the time:
“…success [by Canada] against some of the best Irish, Scottish and English clubs had been greater than most of the followers of the association game at least expected and indeed, considering the formidable opponents they have met over here, they have made themselves a deservedly high name as all-around exponents of football.”
David Forsyth achieved all this over two decades before the formation of what is now known as the Canadian Soccer Association in 1912.
David Forsyth was also a high school math teacher.
Obviously the circumstances today are quite different from what they were when football was in its infancy, just beginning to break bonds with its amateur, school boy roots. Today, football is a multi-billion dollar global sport. The standard within elite soccer nations is the best it’s ever been, the result of long-established football cultures, serious government funding, and strict standards for coaching and education.
Canada, needless to say, is a bit behind.
After last night’s horrific 8-1 loss to Honduras, a result which sees Canada’s hopes to join a World Cup put off for another four years, the same old canards were trotted out across the Canadian soccersphere. Stephen Hart wasn’t up to the job. The CSA should be disbanded. Canada is terrible at football, always has been, always will be (meanwhile it should be noted how an odious European press, who had paid no attention to Canada or indeed any of the other non-Mexican/American sides until last night, chimed in one after another yesterday to express incredulity, which makes yesterday’s match a true national embarrassment).
Some took the slightly more measured route, pointing out this would all be moot had Kevin McKenna’s header hit the target when a limp Honduras side were in Toronto at BMO Field in June. They remarked at the significant progress since the last CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign. They pointed out there are still very talented players in the Canadian national team, but that finishing was inconsistent and away performances were poor.
In fact, while ostensibly charitable, this view is far more damning of Canada than the extreme (and useless) hyperbole emanating from the usual suspects. Because this issue is not Canada’s awfulness—it’s Canada’s inconsistency. You see it in how Canada can put in two dominant-if-fruitless performances against Panama and Honduras, only to fail to come together in the cauldron of a CONCACAF away fixture. You see it in the wild fluctuations in our rank within CONCACAF nations, while the US and Mexico remain perpetually at the top of the heap.
In a country with Canada’s participation numbers in football and our GDP relative to our rivals, that inconsistency is unacceptable. It reflects an ad hoc, messy approach to player development that is driven more by luck than by careful planning.
So where to begin fixing it?
The good news is some of the work towards answering that question has already been done. The CSA has already embraced the Long-Term Player Development guidelines, whose principles of education in youth soccer have been proven effective in nations like Spain and Germany. It has also recently approved recommendations from a recent study on the viability of a Division II league in Canada (full disclosure: I assisted in some of the work on said study), which in part calls for facilitating lower-tier U23 regional development leagues similar to the Canadian Hockey League model, building on existing clubs and instilling standards for education in coaching to bring this country in line with some of the best in the world (more on this in the weeks to come).
Despite these positive developments, checking your watch and waiting for the CSA to do all the work on these issues isn’t going to be enough.
Which brings me back to Forsyth, our intrepid high school math teacher. If one person can help give Canada “a deservedly high name as all-around exponents of football”, surely there is something you can do individually? It could be as simple as taking an LTPD coaching course. The CSA has a good reference available on the main website. Perhaps there’s a local club for which you can volunteer? Perhaps you could pressure the CSA to help implement a national player development strategy, rather than waiting for your provincial association to take the lead. And when the full study into recommendations for a U23 development league are released, why not give them a read, and try to determine what role you might play in helping the CSA to bring various small, regional leagues under a national umbrella?
Canada doesn’t need more angry op-eds, or black t-shirts, or shoulder shrugs. And, for better or for worse, we’re going to be stuck with the CSA, if not Stephen Hart, for the foreseeable future. Canada is currently without a national player development program. It simply doesn’t exist. Ask yourself: what can I do to help implement it?