Our players must be challenged

John
John Browne
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Are we on the train to success, or waving from the station?

A Mount Pearl/That Pro Look/Molson player (left) competes against a member of the St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians in Challenge Cup playoff action last fall in St. Lawrence. — Telegram file photo

Part 2: The future —

 

Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association (NLSA) technical director Dragan Mirkovic has seen the future, and it involves giving our best players a shot at a higher level of competition.

“In my opinion, if there is no senior team from the Atlantic region involved with Canadian Soccer League (CSL) over the next three or four years, competitive soccer in the Atlantic will be dead and probably will never recover,” said Mirkovic.

“If the best young and old Atlantic players are not competing in this environment, how can you expect any 18, 19 or 20–year old to be considered for professional teams, their academies or national age-group teams?” asks Mirkovic.

The CSL is comprised of 14 teams from Ontario and Quebec and Mirkovic believes an Atlantic team, probably based out of Halifax, would be tremendous incentive for our most skilled players to develop their game and move on to a higher level in the sport.     

“Next year, there will be three teams from Canada (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) playing in Major League Soccer (MLS). These teams can’t afford to buy players from Europe or South America. They have to look at the Canadian talent and that talent initially could be as much in St. John’s or St. Lawrence as in any other place in Canada,” Mirkovic said.

The three MLS teams will also need a steady stream of players for their academy programs.

Mirkovic also pointed out there are several semi-pro leagues in just about every part of the country, and these leagues and teams are always looking for home-grown talent.

“Only in the Atlantic Canada,” he said, “there is no movement which means that there will be no professionalization for coaches, administrators and referees and no chance for our local talent to develop.

“Now if you want to keep everything at the amateur level, that’s fine,” said Mirkovic. “But then amateur soccer and the way it is set up can be expensive as hell.

“So these are choices for the future,” he said, “and this process is not reversible. Soccer will become a huge sport in North America and who is going to be on the train and who is going to be waving from the station will be interesting to see.”

On the local amateur level, despite the province’s less than stellar performance at the national level of the game in recent years and questions about how the provincial minor system should be operated, there is some reason for optimism, according to Mirkovic and NLSA senior men’s vice-president Gord Dunphy.

“At the moment, or at least judging by the results the past few years, we are better than Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and almost equal to Nova Scotia. It’s a little unrealistic for us to catch up with the bigger provinces,” said Mirkovic.

“We’ve been finishing just behind the big four (Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta) in recent years at certain levels. While you always want to push for more, one has to say, under the circumstances, these are tremendous achievements.”

Holy Cross of St. John’s won the province’s only national soccer title in 1988. The Crusaders also won silver in 1989 and bronze in 1981.

St. Lawrence Laurentians have won three national silver medals and two bronze, the last coming in 2007.

“We’ve been able to reach those levels because we have managed to retain players and coaches in the system which is a very important building block for long term success,” Mirkovic added.

“In my opinion, if there is no senior team from the Atlantic region involved with Canadian Soccer League (CSL) over the next three or four years, competitive soccer in the Atlantic will be dead and probably will never recover.” Dragan Mirkovic

 

While the province will soon boast four outdoor FieldTurf facilities and has one indoor artificial turf surface, Mirkovic says it will take time to reap the rewards you might expect from such infrastructure.

“We’ve only had the indoor soccer centre for a year, so we need wait at least two or three years to see results from having that facility,” he said.

Mirkovic sees the switch to a Team Atlantic at the under-15 and under-16 national all-star levels of youth soccer as a step forward in terms of elite athletes in the region.

There will be an Atlantic tournament this summer and the best players from the four provinces will combine to compete at the Canadian championships as an Atlantic all-star team.

However, are we prepared to handle the obligations of developing the game to produce Atlantic all-stars and possibly higher-level talent?

“I would be the first to admit that the NLSA has assembled a great technical team and we are certainly continuing to increase our technical knowledge of the game,” says Dunphy.

“However, while I do see more knowledgeable players and coaches, players are becoming too robotic in nature and as a result they are not developing their individual talent or skill level to their full potential.”

Dunphy sees Holy Cross men’s team, despite its 10th place finish at the nationals last year, competing for the gold medal in two or three years.

“Their record last year (0-3-1) was not indicative of how well they played,” said Dunphy, who also pointed out the Cup winners from Prince Edward Island included five players from New Brunswick.

Dunphy would like to see some changes in how we operate our minor system this province.

“I feel as a province, we need to loosen up our with our own in-house rules. We shouldn’t create one single provincial rule that will hurt or impede our chances when competing at a national level,” said Dunphy.

“We need to carry on with our development and put more focus at the grass-roots level of the game. I feel we are paying too big of a price in trying to accommodate national and regional elite and all star programs.

“Nowadays, if a kid is not from a fairly well-to-do family, financially he could be out the door. I know for a fact if this was the case when I was growing up, a lot of great players would have never kicked a soccer ball.”

While Dunphy says it’s great to have and develop new soccer facilities, the financial burden of these facilities should fall on the backs of the elected municipal and provincial and federal officials, “not on the backs of the kids.”

In summing up, Dunphy said the bottom line is, “We need to get back to the club level of soccer and the rest will take care of itself.”

As Mirkovic sees it, “At the end of the day, it’s all about guts. You need guts to make some tough decisions and guts to carry it through.

“I think the lack of guts should never be associated with Newfoundland and Labrador in any shape or form or under any circumstances,” said Mirkovic, “that’s why I am optimistic about soccer future in our province.” 

 

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association, Canadian Soccer League, Major League Soccer Team Atlantic

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec Halifax Toronto Vancouver Montreal Europe South America Prince Edward Island North America New Brunswick Nova Scotia British Columbia Alberta Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Kent
    May 16, 2011 - 13:49

    Does that $8 million dollar indoor soccer facility in Pleasantville actually make any money? did ACOA or some other quasi governemnt agency fund of subsidize that place? Just curious because I can't just can't see a facility like that make any kind of money. But if it does; then great.

  • Jordan O'Flynn
    May 16, 2011 - 13:49

    Brian, your comment basically shows why soccer in NL is declining. Ignorance. First of all, just because you are a great player, doesn't mean you can coach. I can cite many examples of coaching failures, but maybe a decent example is Roy Keane (whom btw Cobh developed along with Stephen Ireland --he currently plays for Aston Villa). Second, I actually played League of Ireland ball when Cobh got first elected to the league in 1985, and played Irish League (Northern Ireland until '92). The pace of the game is 100x faster than here. You have no time to decide where your next ball goes as soon as you get it because there is a man on you...even though I have seen guys whip a ball faster across a grass pitch than anyone here on astroturf. I knew a guy who played Irish League for a top team and he was ripping up an Alberta Senior League in scoring consistently in his late 30's. That tells you something. No disrespect intended, but I highly doubt any of the current players here would even get a sniff playing 3rd division ball over there. As for the Johnny Breen reference, I have never seen him play, so cant comment there. You seem content with the status quo. Let me ask you something. Are you satisfied with who we have to do well on the national scene? Do you think we are doing good enough? A lot of people do not think so, including myself. I'm just offering an unbiased opinion based on what I have experienced. Why don't I help? It's because of the old boys mentality, particularly displayed by guys like you. NL Turf - I have 0 affiliation to PEI what-so-ever. Heck, I havent even been there. But I'll tell you this. PEI last year: Won Men's nationals, Women's came third, U-18 Boys came 4th, U-18 girls came 7th. Pretty good for a place that has a total population of 140,000...

  • NL TURF
    May 15, 2011 - 21:28

    Jordan, PEI will always be the sad sack of National soccer, just like NFLD will be always, just ahead of you!! I bet you will never win another National Championship in 25 yrs. Boast, when you can produce soccer players, like the small community of St. Lawrence has produced, over the yrs. Coaching is nothing, dedication is everything!!!

  • Dave
    May 15, 2011 - 08:30

    If you want an example of how the NLSA is behind the times, check their web page. The Jubilee Trophy supposedly started last weekend and the Challenge Cup season started on Friday yet there is one item on their page that refers to this season. Everything else is still 2010.

  • Jordan O'Flynn
    May 14, 2011 - 13:06

    I was going to hold my judgement after seeing Messers Dunphy and Mirkovic speak, and this article demonstrates that while both mean well. They don't know what they are talking about. Particularly the latter. Mirkovic is citing that the key to development is to put in a team in a joke league (known as the CSL...which isnt really Canadian anyway as it is confined to Ontario and Montreal). The quality of the league is awful, it's not much better than the Nova Scotia Senior League. Not only that, there has been rumblings of match fixing going on in the CSL. Don't think you'd want to be involved with a league like that. This place needs better coaches. Seriously. Yes, they go through these qualification courses and crap. But these coaches are in it for themselves and not the players. Mr. Mirkovic uses the "we have a small population" excuse (along with a lot of others). Hello? Didn't Prince Edward Island win nationals last year? Their population is HALF the size of St. John's. PEI used to be the whipping boys of soccer in Canada until a man named Lewis Page came along. UPEI puts out a good team every year, they won Senior Nationals last year, their U-18s have done very well at nationals too. We need coaches like Mr. Page. Ones like him who do not constantly think of excuses as to why we are not doing well...and set out to fix what is wrong. The results are there. All we need to do is change the top and work down. Good luck to NL, I wish I could have played football or even coached....but injuries and a lack of time have consumed it. Jordan O'Flynn Formerly of Cobh Ramblers FC

    • Neil
      May 14, 2011 - 19:29

      I feel that there is too much emphasis put on all star teams to compete at the Atlantic and National Levels. I remember watching club matches on the Burin Peninsula and those teams actually played like teams. They were made up of a few great players and alot of good players. Placing too much emphasis on all star teams also limits what talented players living in a lower income bracket can accomplish. There are great players who just can't drive to St. John's for tryout camps. Even if some of the great players could get in for tryouts, most chose not to because the all star teams are largely picked before tryouts.

    • Brian O'Grady
      May 15, 2011 - 14:56

      I don't know who you are Mr. O'Flynn, but you definitely don't have a clue what you are saying and also your comments about coaches in Newfoundland just speaks of ignorance on your part. I think it is you who don't know what you are talking about. I have watched games in the CSL, and the quality of play is very good with some of the players legitimately good enough to play in the MSL if given a shot and a good work ethic. As far as better coaches, you need to get your head examined either here in Nfld. or go back to Ireland and get one of your doctor buddies to have a look at you for that comment. Gord Dunphy, Dragon Mirkovic, Donald Mackey, and Johnny Breen are excellent coaches with great resumes, Dunphy has coached St. Lawrence to a number of provincial titles and top 3 national placements. Mirkovic was at one time involved with the Yugoslavian national side. Donald Mackey is a former player in the senior and old first division leagues but has really made a name for himself coaching young kids to reach their potential and to further their soccer goals. Johnny Breen is probably one of the best if not the best(maybe his brothers) soccer players Nfld. ever produced and played with the Canadian national program; as a matter of fact I would say along with others if Johnny grew up in Ireland(where is ancestors are from) he probably would have not only played with the Irish national team but also would have played professionally. Johhny has also coached provincial teams at the age group level and you damn well know that they are prepared to the best of their ability. We don't need your good luck and if you were so passionate about Nfld. soccer you would make the time to help in some capacity instead of sitting on the sidelines taking shots. Brian O'Grady