Nothing ever really goes well for Canada, does it? Our men's national team is approaching a key friendly against the Greeks with hope in their hearts, a vote is upcoming in Ottawa which may finally set the Canadian Soccer Association on the path to reform, more Canadian players and more Canadian teams are playing at the highest levels than ever before, and of course the women's national team is heading towards the World Cup in Germany with both the confidence and the ability to make a deep run. A World Cup that we seem odds-on favourites to host in 2015. It's a good time, so of course something awful had to happen. As broken via the Score's Kristian Jack via Twitter and immediately seized upon by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Canadian Soccer News, women's head coach Carolina Morace will step down after the 2011 Women's World Cup.
This is one of the hottest stories in Canadian sports this morning, behind what James Reimer had for breakfast. Hey, now we know what it takes to get the women's team in the headlines.
We Canadian supporters are old hands at this, and when the memo being widely circulated as a statement on Morace's resignation mentioned a disagreement with the Canadian Soccer Association, opinions exploded. Black "Sack the CSA" shirts were dusted off, and the more inflamed of us (including me) leaped head-long into the blame game. Morace is, to put it bluntly, the most competent coach either the men or women's program have had at least since Holger Osieck and probably since Tony Waiters. Depending on who you ask, she may be the only decent coach working with a Canadian national team today. And she's pissed, so pissed that she's walking away from one of the best women's teams in the world in a country that supports their ladies like few others.
Of course opinions are flaring, particularly given that we know very little about the situation. When facts are scarce, speculation must suffice.
The most frequent interpretation, echoed by Duane Rollins in the post I linked to above, is that the dispute is about money. Presumably money being paid to the program rather than Morace (for most accounts suggest that Morace herself is very well-compensated indeed). Rollins raises the spectre of the prize money Canada received for winning the 2010 CONCACAF women's championship, which was put into the Canadian Soccer Association's general funds rather than distributed to the women's program.
If that is the problem, then I'm actually inclined to cut the CSA some slack. The CSA is guilty of many sins, but one of them is definitely not failing to support the women's program financially. As we write this, Canada is carrying a relatively light squad of eighteen players to a single away men's friendly against one of the top ten-ranked teams in the world because it's cheaper than flying twenty-one or twenty-three players into Greece. The men's team is infamous for its inability to book home friendlies because they can't pay the appearance fees with inevitable half-empty houses, and when a nation does come to town it's usually calculated to draw a big away-supporting crowd so the CSA can recoup what it can. Meanwhile, the women's team flies around the world, plays a massive number of games both at home and abroad against first-class opposition, enjoys frequent training camps at the senior and youth levels, and has wanted for nothing in terms of competition.
Obviously it's cheaper to bring the Chinese women's team into BMO Field than it is to bring the Chinese men's team. But airlines don't charge less to carry the women's team. Stadium rentals don't get any cheaper, physical training staff don't offer big discounts, and the whole infrastructure which builds up a competitive team physically and mentally is expensive regardless of gender. The women's program may have felt entitled to the prize money they earned, but the truth is that the CSA is just recouping the losses they'd already suffered getting Canada that far. If past behaviour is any indication, those general funds would largely have been re-invested into the women's program anyway, particularly with the 2011 World Cup coming up and a Canadian 2015 World Cup a strong possibility.
There are other fiscal possibilities. Maybe Morace wasn't being paid enough, in which case this is just a fairly standard pay dispute between employer and employee. Maybe Morace disagreed strategically with where the money was being spent, and in that case tough questions would have to be asked of the CSA and why they were so dismissive of advice from the expert they hired, at some expense, to run their program that she felt compelled to resign. There's a whole field of probabilities, running the gamut from "the CSA is not just incompetent but perfidious" to "Morace got a big head and thought she was bigger than the program."
People are already looking for connections with the hotly-contested vote this weekend that could kick off the reform process in the Canadian Soccer Association. Did some interested party leak the memo to try and swing the report one way or another? Is Morace's resignation somehow related to reform? Frankly, it's hard to see how. One can picture a pro-reform zealot trying to say "see? the hide-bound unreformed board is letting its talent escape again!" but the most likely reaction was always going to be, well, exactly what it's been: just general rage at the CSA without aiming it at anyone in particular. Gerry Dobson, for one, seems to just take it as read that the Morace camp got the announcement out itself, and Nigel Reed reports that Morace informed the team of her decision during the recent China tournament.
Blaming the CSA is always therapeutic and usually correct. This time, though, they may be innocent. As hard as it is to say for a coach of such obvious talent and who has brought us immense success, maybe 2011 is time for Morace to go. Let's just get her a World Cup on her way out the door.