Stephen Hart Resigns; Who Are the Canadian Candidates?

Canadian Soccer Association

This afternoon, the Canadian Soccer Association announced that they had accepted the resignation of men's head coach Stephen Hart. The immediate and obvious question is who within Canada can replace him?

So farewell then, Stephen Hart. The Canadian Soccer Association accepted Hart's resignation today, less than 48 hours after Hart led the Canadian men's national team crashing out of the World Cup with an 8-1 loss in Honduras.

The CSA has, as ever, been at some pains to spin Hart's run as a successful one: their article is full of glowing superlatives[1]. But I think it's fair to say nobody is fooled: Hart had a disappointing 2009 Gold Cup and failed spectacularly in 2011, was unable to take advantage of the easiest World Cup Qualifying third round group Canada ever had, and will leave literally with no achievements, nothing of any note, no glorious victories (unless you count the fluky late-free-kick win over Panama), a few morally uplifting but useless draws against the likes of Honduras, Ecuador, Ukraine, and the United States, and plenty of crushing losses. His historical record is inflated by playing the most games against F-grade opposition in Canadian history. The only question is whether Hart ranks behind or ahead of Dale Mitchell as the most disappointing coach in senior men's national team history; he's certainly ahead of Frank Yallop but behind the field.

I don't think the CSA is really fooled, either; they're playing the PR game but in the end they accepted the resignation promptly and ordered a conference call to tell everyone about it. Everyone knew Hart had to go. Now he has.

The CSA is set to announce a technical director in the coming weeks; apparently the man has already been hired and is known to a few selects in Canadian soccer circles (but not, sadly, to me). It is at least an expression of ambition, although the CSA has been ambitious but rubbish plenty of times in the past. There are many decent candidates for technical director, both inside Canada and outside, and I don't intend to dwell on them here.

If we count Hart, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago but lived most of his life in Canada, as a Canadian, the last foreign-born-and-bred coach to come into the Canadian men's program was the legendary Holger Osieck from 1999 to 2003; Osieck, Tony Waiters, and the long-forgotten Tony Taylor are the only non-Canadian head coaches the men's team has had since Waiters led the Canucks to the 1986 FIFA World Cup.

The CSA has recently brought in exotic foreign talents to the women's team: John Herdman, Carolina Morace, and Even Pellerud. But women's coaches come cheaper than men's coaches and there's less of a tradition of decent women's soccer coaching in Canada. The trouble is that there are just enough male candidates that the CSA could fool themselves into thinking one of them is appropriate. It's more than possible the CSA will take a foreign coach, of course, but their history suggests it's prudent to look at the Canadians first.

A few could-be Canadian coaches have ruled themselves out already. Television pundit and former Oakridge technical director Jason deVos has spent most of the afternoon telling people on Twitter he will be neither technical director nor head coach of the men's team[2][3]. Marc dos Santos, formerly of the Montreal Impact and now coaching professionally in Brazil, was reportedly on French-language television saying he didn't feel he was ready for the role and therefore wouldn't accept it.

The most likely candidates, like Hart and Mitchell, must come from within the CSA family. Tony Fonseca is a former Portuguese international who has lived in Canada and worked with the CSA for some years and was also briefly head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps. He was Hart's assistant with the men's senior team and head coach of the U-23 men's team attempting to qualify for the Olympics. He is a known quantity, probably at a known price. Those factors would make him appealing.

Also already within the CSA family is Nick Dasovic, current men's U-20 head coach, former Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC assistant coach, and former Toronto FC interim head coach. Dasovic is among the younger and less experienced of the prospective Canadians but is well-liked and respected. By all accounts he's been a breath of fresh air into what had been a stagnant U-20 program. My own feeling for Dasovic is that the time isn't yet right but I'm still keeping an eye on him.

Sean Fleming is a lesser-known manager but has been involved in Canadian youth coaching, including the U-17 team, and the prairie National Development Centre coaching ranks for years. As he is nominally inferior to the U-20 coach, Dasovic, Fleming being elevated would be a longshot. But as a reasonably successful, well-liked long-time coach, he deserves to be mentioned as well.

When I started discussing this on Twitter the name Marc Bircham came up a few times. Bircham is currently a youth coach at QPR, appointed in 2009[4], and has been a sort of all-purpose youth coach with the Canadian Soccer Association, first assisting Robert Gale with the U-18 team starting last year[5]. He seems, again, like a decent enough coach who's learning the ropes and moving up in the world but he has no experience running a first team.

As for the outsiders? John Limniatis has been getting buzz from fans. If you don't remember Limniatis, he is the former Montreal Impact head coach who led the Impact through their last successful USL seasons and on their great CONCACAF Champions League run. Limniatis was sacked in May 2009 after a poor start and the Impact's infamous choke at Santos Laguna, but prior to that his record had been impeccable including wins in tough countries like, for example, Honduras. On the other hand, Montreal was Limniatis's first head coaching job and his only one to date. Moving to the Canadian men's national team from there would be an enormous step.

Then there's Paul Peschisolido. He, like every other coach on this list, is relatively inexperienced, but he had an excellent run in his first coaching job at Burton Albion. I've supported him in this space before; suffice to say that Peschisolido was sacked as the victim of a cold streak but had previously been heavily overachieving with a Brewers team that really should have fallen out of the Football League his first year in charge[6].

He's no more experienced than Limniatis. But his experience is more recent, and while Limniatis took a favourite on to good things in the league (plus a miracle Champions League run), Peschisolido earned his bones working magic with a minnow; that experience seems much more relevant to Canada. Both, of course, know both Canada and CONCACAF, although one must give Limniatis the edge for both playing and coaching in North America. In addition, Peschisolido's family is well-entrenched in English soccer and he may have no desire to leave.

But of the domestic candidates who I have just made up, Peschisolido remains my favourite. Limniatis has been out of professional soccer for three years; not an eternity, but long enough. He has no great record developing youth, whereas Peschisolido has shown early promise. My order of preference is:

  1. Paul Peschisolido
  2. John Limniatis
  3. Nick Dasovic

[1] — "Canadian Soccer Association accepts national coach Hart's resignation." Canadian Soccer Association, October 18, 2012. Accessed October 18, 2012. http://www.canadasoccer.com/canadian-soccer-association-accepts-national-coach-hart-s-resignation-p152358.

[2] — deVos, Jason. "@Lord_Bob @kilowatt44 Sorry, Ben. Put as much as you want on me NOT being the next coach. That's free money." Via Twitter, October 18, 2012. Accessed October 18, 2012. https://twitter.com/jasondevos/status/259032285146411009.

[3] — deVos, Jason. "@DavidNormanSr @lord_bob @kilowatt44 Haha! It isn't me. The best role for me is doing what I'm doing right now. Someday though..." Via Twitter, October 18, 2012. Accessed October 18, 2012. https://twitter.com/jasondevos/status/259034461973409792.

[4] — "Staff Profiles." QPR.co.uk. Accessed October 18, 2012. http://www.qpr.co.uk/team/staff-profiles/.

[5] — "Canada sends youth development team to Costa Rica." CanadaSoccer.com, November 10, 2011. Accessed October 18, 2012. http://www.canadasoccer.com/canada-sends-youth-development-team-to-costa-rica-p145149.

[6] — Massey, Benjamin. "Bring Paul Peschisolido Home: Why Pesch Should Be the Choice for Canada." Eighty Six Forever, March 19, 2012. Accessed October 18, 2012. http://www.eightysixforever.com/2012/3/19/2885380/bring-paul-peschisolido-home-why-pesch-should-be-the-choice-for-canada.

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