Friday, March 27, 2009

Soccer: Dale Mitchell is out

Duane called it a while ago, but it's official now. Dale Mitchell has been fired as head coach of the Canadian men's soccer team, according to a Canadian Press report (via The Globe and Mail). Read on for more details and analysis.

The CSA pretty much had to make this move. The dismal failure of last year's World Cup qualifying run was one thing and led to plenty of criticism of Mitchell by the fans, pundits and observers. On its own, that might not have been enough, though; there have been plenty of protests before that haven't changed much, and firing a coach mid-contract while you're facing tough economic times and budget cutbacks is never the easiest thing to do. The public criticism of Mitchell by Canada's top stars was what pushed the momentum for this change over the edge.

Soccer is becoming a larger player on the Canadian sports landscape, but it's the players that are making it happen. Coaches and press releases are one thing, but for the national teams, it's the players that draw much of the media and viewer interest. Enough recognizable players went after Mitchell and refused to don the Canadian colours while he held the reins, and that was what stoked the building outrage against him.

There's no word yet on who will replace Mitchell, but Stephen Hart is the forerunner for at least the interim job. Hart has had success with the national team before, most notably in the Gold Cup, and is apparently well-liked by the players. More importantly, he's already within the CSA and thus can be shunted over to a new role quickly and easily (and probably without significant added costs). The view from this corner is that he'll do a good job, but the proof is always in the pudding. Nevertheless, this move shows that the CSA is continuing to pay at least some heed to its critics. It's been a long time coming, but they seem headed in the right direction.

One final thing; let's not be too hard on Mitchell on his way out the door. The man has contributed a lot to Canadian soccer over the years, both as a player and in various coaching roles. Yes, his recent stint at the top was anything but successful and his U-20 team performed well below everyone's expectations in the World Cup, but coaching is a difficult job. Any observer of sports knows that there are plenty of factors that go into every game, including coaching techniques and strategies, the skill of the players, the chemistry of the team and pure, simple, unadulterated luck. Those factors didn't mesh successfully during Mitchell's term, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's all his fault.

Mitchell certainly deserves a share of the blame, but even with that, keep in mind the level of play involved. It can't be easy to try and coach at a high level, especially given the competition, the various players involved and the budget and facility problems that are a reality in Canada. I spoke with Mitchell a couple of times back in 2007 when he was still coaching the U20 team, and I was impressed with his soccer knowledge and his sense of the game. He was anything but successful at the highest level, but I'm quite certain he still has forgotten more about top-level soccer than I'll probably ever know. It's worthwhile to remember that the man devoted a lot of his life to Canadian soccer and accomplished some important things along the way. It's unfortunate things didn't work out any better for him.

(Cross-posted to The 24th Minute.)

No comments: