If you have watched any of the Olympics — and judging by the ratings, you have — then you noticed the spots which congratulated Canada's women's soccer team for inspiring a generation of players. You also noticed there were already ads teasing the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
[Slideshow: Canadian medal winners in London]
Of course, selling an event and sustained development of a sport should never be taken for one and the same. After 3.8 million Canadians watched the semifinal vs. the U.S., there is reason to believe the event will have a wide appeal. Canada can always step up for a one-off event. Witness Vancouver 2010. One bronze medal shouldn't do a memory wipe on criticisms of Canada's soccer culture that were raised after the same squad with the same players, but a different coach, collapsed at the 2011 WWC. The squad is going to have higher expectations, but it can be posited that this bronze might be a ceiling, not a benchmark unless Canada does more to hone raw talent and support the current pros
Youth soccer in this country works a lot like hockey: the best kids get stratified on to travel teams, with the others being told in not so many words they're not good enough. It starts at far too early an age to know (a) who will develop the body to be a world-class player and (b) who really plays for the love of it and who is following along after her/his parents or older siblings. Even in the hazy, sleep-deprived afterglow of Canada 1-France nil, there was acknowledgement the pipeline is a little dry.
From Jeff Blair:
"The standard's improved every time there's a World Cup or an Olympic Games," said Canadian coach John Herdman, who overhauled New Zealand's women's program before salvaging the Canadian program after the 2011 World Cup. "Tactics are more refined, and technically the players become more superior."
That has Herdman fearful for the future of the women's team in Canada. As he looked to the left at a bleary-eyed news conference on Friday, he saw 29-year-old [Christine] Sinclair and 28-year-old Diana Matheson, the last-minute, goal-scoring hero of Thursday's 1-0 win over France. To his right were 30-year-old Marie-Eve Nault and 30-year-old Rhian Wilkinson. Canada is the host nation for the 2015 World Cup.
"There is a whole raft of work that has to be done below this group," Herdman said. "Our talent structure is not strong enough to be the world's best. We're very lucky we've got some unbelievably gifted players at this point, but we're falling behind in the 12-17 age group, and the Japanese are showing they're leading the way.
"Sixty per cent of our players will be over 30 in the 2015 World Cup, and research will tell you don't win World Cups with that average age." (Globe & Mail)
Then there's the absence of a professional league in North America, notwithstanding some vague announcements. That affects Team USA too. At this writing, it doesn't seem likely there will be a pro women's team in Canada any time before 2015.
From Duane Rollins:
Without pro options in Canada, the amount of roster spots would be limited for the Canucks. Sinclair will be fine (although it would be nice to see her try to land in Europe somewhere in a more established and stable league), but the Brittany Timkos of the team would be faced with difficult financial choices to make if they are to stick around until 2015.
That would be different if there was a fully pro option in Canada. Sadly, the three MLS teams have no desire to make that happen. Vancouver has a W-League team, but has shown limited to no interest in moving to a professional set-up and TFC has point blank told [Canadian Soccer News] it's uninterested. Montreal's interest is less known, but there has not been any public chatter about it.
So, where else might a pro team emerge from? The most likely place would be Ottawa, where the Fury just captured its first championship earlier this month. By all accounts the Fury are a professional operation that is truly first class in all ways. But, they aren't a professional team.
It would seem like this would be a good time for the Fury to take a risk and change that. A WPS team in Canada would provide a natural home to many of the national team players and would be the biggest single factor in taking the program to the next level.
Apparently, the Fury are already on record saying that they are uninterested. It's always easy to spend other people's money, but that's a shame. (Canadian Soccer News)
The Ottawa Fury, to be fair, are amateur for reasons beyond the purely financial. The W-League relies fairly heavily on players who are on NCAA scholarships, who must not be paid to play or play with professionals in order to keep their eligibility. The Fury pick up housing costs, some meals and players are paid to work and coach in youth camps.
That adds up to a catch-22. Would that the lot of established women's players it is a similar story in women's basketball, just ask Shona Thorburn — could be improved without affecting the generation coming up. Would that there was more interest in these sportswomen outside of major international tournaments.
The current footy framework is not necessarily a recipe for surefire success. No amount of hype for Canada 2015 will override that. Please keep in mind that a 24-team Cup, twice the size of the Olympic tournament, ought to offer plenty of emerging women's soccer teams who could knock off the Canucks.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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