By RON FANFAIR
The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) is going back to the formula that worked for them the last time the national men’s team enjoyed success nearly two years ago.
Trinidad-born Stephen Hart, who led the team to the regional Gold Cup semi-finals in 2007, was last week named interim coach for the rest of the year.
“I have been asked to step in on an interim basis and to look after the team for the Gold Cup and whatever other projects there are for 2009,” he said in a conference call last week after being selected to replace former national player-turned coach, Dale Mitchell, who was fired last month with a year remaining on his contract.
Hart has just one match – a friendly international against Cyprus in Larnaca on May 30 – to work with the team before the Gold Cup and he recognizes that a lack of match practice could hamper the team’s preparation. Canada won the tournament in 2000.
“The last time I had six games to get ready, so it’s going to be quite a challenge to put something together,” he says. “You can look at it two ways. We can go in with the best possible squad or you can have a mixture of experience and young players. At this point, I couldn’t answer one way or another because I haven’t had time to think about it.”
Canada begins play in this year’s Gold Cup series against Jamaica in California on July 3. The team will face El Salvador four days later in Ohio before heading to Miami for its final first round game against Costa Rica on July 10.
Hart took the team to the last Gold Cup tournament while Mitchell, who was appointed the national men’s coach in May 2007, was charged with the responsibility of preparing the Canadian juniors for the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) World Cup in Canada in the summer of that year.
After reaching the Gold Cup semi-final, interim coach Hart handed over the team to Mitchell whose junior side lacked creativity and imagination and failed to score in all three of its losses. The writing was on the wall then that his tenure with the senior team was going to be disastrous.
Canada won three of its 12 contests in the past two years and failed to advance to the final round of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football (CONCACAF) World Cup qualifying competition this year. Several players, including Toronto FC’s Jim Brennan and Dwayne DeRosario expressed dissatisfaction with Mitchell’s leadership.
An assistant to the fired Mitchell, Hart will continue to serve as the CSA’s technical director. He assumed the position in March 2008 to steer the association’s long-term player development plan.
Prior to being named the men’s senior team interim coach, Hart served as Canada’s Under-17 men’s coach, technical director for Soccer Nova Scotia and director of the Atlantic Region National Training Centre in Halifax. He is also the holder of a CSA “A” license and an instructor in the association’s coaching development program since 1992.
Hart played for Texaco in the Trinidad National Soccer League and for San Fernando Strikers in the local premier league and was selected to the national squad in 1980 before moving to Canada that same year to attend St. Mary’s University in Halifax.