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Developing Canadian Coaching: Why We Need Young Coaches in Our Academies

Nick Dasovic didn't do a bad job in Toronto but never got a real chance. We must do better.
Nick Dasovic didn't do a bad job in Toronto but never got a real chance. We must do better.

Much is made of how Canadian professional teams must develop Canadian players. With FC Edmonton's announcement of a nascent Residency program last month, all four professional clubs now have some sort of youth set-up in place. The Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC academies counted among the best and most ambitious on the continent.

What's always struck me, however, is that Canadian teams don't try developing Canadian coaches.

In the second division, Vancouver and the Montreal Impact were willing to give Canadians a chance: Carl Valentine, Dale Mitchell, Bob Lenarduzzi, Nick di Santis, Marc dos Santos, and I could go on. However, both teams have gone with foreigners in Major League Soccer. Montreal brought in American coach Jesse Marsch, while the Whitecaps have gone through Iceland's Teitur Thordarson, the United States's Tom Soehn, and finally Scotland's Martin Rennie.

I've written about the lack of Canadian coaches in MLS before. Since I wrote that article, things have gotten worse: Marsch has come into Montreal. Colin Miller has been fired as an assistant in Vancouver. Jason Bent moved up to Toronto FC's first team as an assistant coach but is no longer listed by the team. FC Edmonton at least broke even, replacing Canadian assistant coach Dave Randall with Canadian assistant coach Jeff Paulus.

Affirmative action for Canadian coaches is too much to ask. It's a good thing that our professional teams no longer need to scour the local community for anybody willing to coach on $10,000 a year, after all. However, it seems like our teams in MLS are preferring foreign accents for their own sake: Dasovic did a lovely job with Toronto but never got a fair shake there or anywhere else, although he has luckily re-emerged as coach of Canada's U-20 national team.

Our senior national team is currently coached by the former boss of Halifax King of Donair. Only one Canadian, Paul Peschisolido, has coached anything of note outside North America since I've been following soccer. The register of Canadian coaches is appalling, and if a Canadian professional team wants to make a difference to soccer in this country then that's where to start. We talk about exposing young players to a professional environment as quickly as possible: let's do the same with our coaches.

Toronto FC is leading the way, for what it's worth. Before becoming a first-team assistant, Jason Bent was head of Toronto's U-18 team. They have at least one Canadian in their youth ranks today, with Jim Brennan heading up their U-16 squad. None of Vancouver's Residency head coaches are Canadian (although U-16 head coach and U-18 assistant Craig Dalrymple, an Englishman who's been in Canada for 20 years, should probably count). Vancouver and Toronto also have Canadian assistants in the Residency program. Montreal at least has a Canadian assistant coach, Olivier Brett, in their academy, but their rather under-staffed crew is headed up by a Frenchman. FC Edmonton's academy will play on their reserve team to be coached by first-team assistant Paulus: you decide for yourself how much that counts.

Toronto, however, has adopted the approach of bringing in local legends. Bent is a long-time Canadian international from Scarborough, while Brennan was the club's first captain (their U-18 coach is Danny Dichio, in case their approach wasn't obvious enough). You'll look in vain for a Canadian MLS team chasing promising Canadian coaches rather than old players who can finagle a CSA license. When Montreal hired Marc dos Santos as their head coach in 2009, they were hiring a man who had moved up the ranks by good coaching, not a strong playing career. Obviously it was too good to last. (Incidentally, Dos Santos looks like he's landing on his feet, turning up in Brazil of all places with the Palmeiras youth academy.)

Recently, only FC Edmonton has been hiring Canadian coaches for their coaching credentials. Former assistant Dave Randall was a legend in Calgary community soccer. It didn't work out for him in Edmonton but his replacement, Jeff Paulus, has come up the hard way through St. Albert community soccer, the Prairies National Training Centre, and a successful head coaching gig at NAIT.

It's an approach more teams should try. Canadian soccer coaching is in a truly pathetic state, but those few coaches we have with some talent need to be grabbed and nurtured by qualified professionals.

Ideally these coaches could work their way up: start out as an assistant on the Whitecaps Residency, then run a team, then run the program, then run the Whitecaps. It's an approach familiar in Europe. However, even if these coaches don't wind up good enough to run an MLS team, the clubs would benefit. The coaches would go back into the community with knowledge and experience from first-class programs. They'd increase the level of coaching at their community clubs, both directly and by instructing other coaches. This would improve the calibre of players at those community clubs and improve the level of youth players the professional teams could draw upon.

If I were Richard Grootscholten, I'd be getting to know the coaches of the best British Columbia youth teams, or those at the British Columbia NTC, seeing which of them have good ideas and promising minds. Then I'd bring them into the Residency with the expectation that they'd learn as much as they'd teach. I'm not talking about the sort of Martin Nash on-the-staff-but-spending-a-bunch-of-time-on-a-TV-career: coaches who get there on merit and work with the players and the other coaches full-time. I would find those Jeff Paulus types, and I'd get them working with Grootscholten, with Dalrymple, and with Bart Choufour to develop the next generation of Canadian coaches at the same time I'm developing the next generation of Canadian players.

Canadians get an occasional chance on a small scale. But we need a structure to identify these coaches, train them, and either move them up through professional soccer or send them back into the community. The structure is being built for our players; we should make sure those who teach our players can meet the same standard.