TORONTO — On the surface, Dale Mitchell leaves the Canadian men’s soccer team where he found it — ranked 94th in the world.
Only the neighbours have changed. In May 2007, the Canadians were sandwiched between Libya and Ethiopia. Today, it is Mozambique and the Congo Democratic Republic.
Mitchell’s firing Friday leaves the men’s team rudderless — once again. And the Canadian Soccer Association presumably with less money to spend on the pitch, with Mitchell’s contract running through 2010.
There was no immediate word on Mitchell’s replacement. CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli said an interim coach could be appointed, perhaps leaving the door open for assistant coach Stephen Hart to lead the team at this summer’s Gold Cup — as he did two years ago when Mitchell was tied up with the under-20 team at the world championships.
“We felt in the best interests of the program it was time to move forward, in maybe a different direction,” Montopoli told The Canadian Press.
“And going into 2009, this seemed to be the most appropriate timing.”
Some might have wondered if the timing would have been better if the move was made in November, when the Canadian men ended a dismal 0-4-2 round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying that saw them bow out prior to the final round in the confederation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. The men’s team has not played since.
Asked why Mitchell had not been fired immediately after the failed World Cup campaign, Montopoli said the association wanted to review “the whole scenario.”
Mitchell’s departure is not unexpected. There had been rumblings of change for several weeks, with Montopoli offering half-hearted denials or deflections. Mitchell was left hanging in the wind.
Mitchell, 50, leaves with a record of 3-7-5 at the national helm and a trail of disgruntled players in his wake since his appointment May 17, 2007. Jim Brennan, Dwayne De Rosario, Greg Sutton and Julian de Guzman have all complained about various aspects of the Canadian setup, with some pointing the finger at coaching.
But Canadian captain Paul Stalteri refused to condemn his coach.
“At the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign, as players we can only speak on behalf of what we did, and what we did wasn’t good enough in the six games, particularly the games at home when we lost a total of seven points from three games . . . I think most of us will come to the conclusion that we weren’t good enough ourselves and the only ones to blame are the players,” he added bluntly.
A proud man with a distinguished record as a player, Mitchell came into the job with an asterisk thanks to the way his hiring was handled.
Then association president Colin Linford wanted to make a splash with a big name import as coach. But the board of directors nixed big-ticket Brazilian Rene Simoes. The other final candidates from the CSA’s selection committee were Mitchell, Hart (then under-17 coach) and Argentine Ozzie Ardiles, who was dropped from the list before the association board made its choice. Mitchell was chosen over Hart, but had to give the keys to the team to Hart for the Gold Cup that summer because he was tied up with the FIFA U-20 World Championships.
Hart led the senior side to the semifinals, earning praise from the players, while a toothless under-20 team, failing to score in three losses, underperformed for Mitchell at home.