By RON FANFAIR
Canada’s most successful men’s senior team soccer coach now has the job full-time.
Stephen Hart, whose teams have won 50 per cent of its games in two stints with him as interim head coach, was last week unveiled as Canada’s 14th full-time coach (Bruce Wilson, Bruce Twamley, Colin Miller and Hart held the position on an interim basis).
In 18 games, Hart’s teams posted nine wins, two draws and seven losses. His ratio of wins to games is the highest in Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) history, ahead of Barrie Clarke and Tony Taylor who each won six of 14 games for a 43 per cent ratio. In addition, Hart’s teams averaged 1.33 goals a game and 0.94 goals allowed and he led Canada to the 2007 Gold Cup semi-final and the tournament’s quarter-final last summer.
Hart’s hiring received unanimous approval from the CSA Board of Directors.
“Following the success of the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football) Gold Cup in 2009, I think it was just working through the process with Stephen to get the right timing which is right now following the FIFA (International Soccer Federation) World Cup draw,” said CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli.
“Stephen has strong leadership skills and technical knowledge and he has earned the respect of those in the Canadian soccer community. I think there is no one better and with the familiarity of CONCACAF to lead our national team.”
Hart said he is fully aware of the expectations and looks forward to the challenges of building a team for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and beyond.
“I am quite aware that coaching a team for a tournament such as the Gold Cup is very different than attempting to qualify out of CONCACAF,” said Hart. “It’s two different scenarios. However, at the end of the day, my role will be to assemble a staff and to present a team that is not only competitive, but understands what is required from all levels and to make players understand that they are the ones that are responsible for putting Canada on the map. That basically will be my role and responsibility.
“We have several camps planned for 2010 and I want to make it clear that it will be our objective to focus on the CONCACAF qualification in 2010. I have no qualms about experimenting and about using the CONCACAF Gold Cup competition to prepare for this.”
Hart said he and his scouting staff will seek to recruit talented Canadian players competing at home, the United States and the rest of the world. In the past, several Canadians competing at American universities have voiced concern at being overlooked for provincial tournaments and national team tryouts.
“I will work to convince players that they have a role with the Canadian program and that they are wanted,” Hart said. “I can’t make the decision for them. They will make the decision based on what they think is best for them…What I am interested in right now is players that are competing on a consistent level and in a high standard of the game. I don’t care about age. If they can contribute, then they will be selected. We do not need to give a lot of young players experience at the international level and in CONCACAF. It’s no secret that we lack depth in many positions and the objective will be to try and find those players and give them the opportunity to prove to me that they should be selected.
“As a big part of the youth program and as technical director, I have always been beating the bush looking for talent and I will continue to do so…We are aware of a lot of players competing in leagues and universities in the U.S. However, with the national team, you have a limited amount of games so it will be a matter of prioritizing what needs to be done and how to go about … generating a pool of players to compete.”
Hart served as Canada’s Under-17 coach, Soccer Nova Scotia’s technical director and director of the Atlantic Region National Training Centre in Halifax prior to assuming the post of CSA technical director in March 2008. In that role, he oversaw the association’s long-term player development program and was responsible for directing and monitoring the national development teams, the coaching education program, the National Training Centres and the sports medicine program.
Jamaica’s 1982 Soccer Player of the Year and former Pickering Soccer Club coach, Junior Groves, said Hart is the right man for the job.
“I think it’s good for somebody like Stephen who is really passionate about Canada and Canadian soccer,” said Groves, who is the head coach and technical director with the locally based Shooting Stars Soccer Academy. “Moving forward, he needs to surround himself with coaches who have been exposed to the sport at the world level so that he can be successful. In order to do that, the CSA has to step up and provide funding.
“Canadian soccer has not seen the best players. They have fallen by the wayside because of the current structure that allows for the focus to be on the money that can be obtained from parents for their children to perform instead of the focus being on the players. In every other soccer nation where the level of the game is high, the players come first. The assistant coaches could help Stephen to fix that system so we can get good players into the national pool.”
The CSA will hire a technical director to replace Hart next year.