The opening weekend of NWSL action saw the majority of Canadians in the league take the pitch. Although most of the attention, as always, was focused on Christine Sinclair (who, as always, found the back of the net for Portland, this time on a penalty kick) the consensus was that it was another Canadian that stood out.
Desiree Scott had people talking across the league with her efforts in keeping the big guns from attacking-rich Portland at bay. Her play was a revelation to many in the United States, who had little knowledge of the player prior to her start last weekend.
It was another example of Scott surprising. No player in the Canadian camp has stepped up her game under John Herdman as much as Scott, who was a fringe player under previous manager Carolina Morace.
Part of that was age. Morace favoured older players and Scott was just 23 at the end of the Italian’s time, but it also illustrated a fundamental difference in philosophy between the two managers. Herdman wants to look under every rock for potential treasure, whereas Morace liked to surround herself with a small core of players that she trusted.
In fairness, it wasn’t like Scott had a playing resume that stood out. She didn’t even play in the NCAA, instead going to college at home in Winnipeg.
Canadian university (CIS) players rarely get a look at the national team. Part of that has to do with the quality of CIS – there is little doubt that a top 25 NCAA D1 program is much stronger than all CIS programs. However, part of it is also faulty perception – beyond the top programs, CIS teams are competitive. Certainly, they offer a good chance to play a high level of soccer for athletes that wish to remain in Canada.
The problem is that there is nowhere for the players to go after their college career ends and even the best players at the CIS are unlikely to get a look at a higher level.
About two years ago I had a conversation with two CIS players immediately following the national championship tournament – one had just been named an All-Canadian for the second straight season. I asked them what their future playing plans were. They answered with a shrug – they were playing in the top level of amateur soccer in the region, but both found it a frustrating experience. Other players on the team simply lacked the same ambition as they did.
Two years later I now play in the same men’s beer league with the All-Canadian. Her talents are wasted.
Scott is the exception: her skill and tenacity got her a spot on the national team and in the NWSL. However, her story also required a great deal of luck and illustrates a major problem in the Canadian system – there is little talent identification. Who knows how many Scott’s have fallen through the cracks through the years?
The 16 NWSL spots Canadians are guaranteed are a wonderful first step in giving Canadians a chance, but it’s just that – a first step. If the country is to take a step to the next level it needs to find a way to have more young players playing longer.
After all, you never know when or where the next Scott will appear.
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