Canadian fans, patience!
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Colin Miller about his experience coaching Canada’s two friendlies at the end of January. I asked him about the camp, and about his opinion on where the Canadian program is heading.
The two friendlies produced very different results, the first, a 4-0 thumping by Denmark in Arizona, and the second, a 0-0 draw against the U.S. in Houston.
Here are the highlights of our discussion:
How important was it for the morale of team Canada to tie against the US following the Denmark game?
I think it was massive Shawn, in all honesty, it was important for a number of reasons. First of all, being a bit selfish, it was my first game as the interim head coach, so it took a little bit of pressure off myself and, it was important to bounce back from a poor defensive display against Denmark. The guys responded very well to the work that we did in between the Denmark game and obviously playing against the U.S. side on the Tuesday night in Houston. Their attitude wasn’t a problem on the Saturday, but it was just a very good Denmark side, as well as poor defending from our side, but the combination of the correct attitude towards defending and being committed to the cause, those were really important and for the young players going forward it was massive for them, cause now they can look and say well, you know I deserve to be at this level of football.
What were your expectations for the camp, and for the two games?
The expectations were to try to get two very good performances, and we managed to achieve one and a bit good performances cause it wasn’t all bad against Denmark by any means, we created about four, five very good chances against Denmark and actually should have been a goal up before Denmark scored.
Of the young players in camp, who impressed you the most?
I don’t always like to single players out, but I thought Kyle Bekker was a real pleasant surprise. The young lad just came out of college system in the US, and was thrown in the deep end, against a very good Denmark side and then against a good US side not having played a professional game in his life. I thought he was terrific in both games, and his commitment to the situation was excellent, so I was very very pleased with him. I thought Nana Attakora played well and unfortunately, I had to bring Nana off in the US game because he was tightening up a little bit with a hamstring injury.
Do you think it’s important that Kyle Bekker now be playing for a Canadian-based team?
I think it’s important that he plays Shawn in all honesty, I don’t care if he’s playing for an American MLS side or whether it’s a Canadian MLS side. He put in two terrific performances, shown a great aptitude, a great ability on the ball, sure there are weakness in his game that he’s gotten away with at the college level, but he certainly won’t get away with at the professional level. Once he addresses those things, he will be a terrific MLS player. He’s got a great engine, and he can go box to box, he’s comfortable on the ball, he makes good decisions very consistently in possession, and I think he’d be a good addition to any MLS side.
Do you think that the CSA should be pressing for an increase in the number of Canadian spots on MLS teams in Canada?
I can’t speak on behalf of the CSA, but, I would love to see more players play consistently. I’m a big advocate of pushing our young guys forward. If we don’t give them a chance, you’ll never know if they’re good enough. You know, and I was fortunate enough to play for a manager by the name of Bob Houghton at the Toronto Blizzard, and he believed in young Canadian players and that young group went on to have good careers you know and, I was part of a terrific club that was very proactive in giving Canadian guys a chance. I’d like to see that. I’d love to see more Canadian players playing in the MLS teams.
Will you be coaching Canada in Qatar for the Japan game in March?
The subject hasn’t been brought up, my mandate was just to take the two games and see where things go from there. They have other people in mind, and who knows, they may even be close to making a decision with a head coach, a full time head coach, so, that bridge hasn’t even been crossed yet and I haven’t really thought too much about taking the national team in Qatar. I can’t be kidded, you know these opportunities don’t come along very often in people’s lives, and for me, it’s always a privilege and a honour to be in charge of your national team, and it was the same case when I was playing in all 61 of the appearances I had for our country. You know I loved every minute of it. I didn’t enjoy too much the defeat obviously against Denmark.
Do you know if the CSA has been able schedule another game for the March window?
I know they’re trying to get two games during that actual window, I don’t know if has been sorted out or not. I know that when we were all together in the camp, I knew that they were trying to get something another game of some sort.
Should the CSA schedule friendlies with other CONCACAF opponents or do you think that any high ranking nation is useful in preparing for the next qualifying cycle?
You know a game is a game. So if we’ve got a top quality European opposition that we can play, or certainly the Japanese which is a fantastic opposition. What an opportunity that is to pit yourself against one of the technically best countries in the world. You just can’t buy that experience for the some of the younger players. If we could play some CONCACAF countries, I’d also love to be able to do that because we need to see what’s going on in these other countries. You know this is ultimately who we’ll be getting against you know, but from now, an opportunity to play against a top quality European side we’d be foolish not to. I guess finances determine a lot of what we’re talking about here because a number of our players are based in Europe already, so financially it’s probably much cheaper to fly the guys in from Europe, or within Europe than it is to try and get something in Central America.
How important do you think this summer’s Gold Cup is? Do you think it’s primarily a chance to develop younger players, or do you think it’s necessary to try and rebound a little bit from the last qualifying cycle?
I think it’s a bit of both in all honesty. I think if we’ve got a core of quality senior guys, and I don’t mean in their late 30s, I mean good, quality senior pros, and if we can blend that with some of these young, hungry players, I think we’ll build up for the future at that point, I think if we throw too many young guys into the Gold Cup would be a mistake. If you can get the balance right between the youth and the senior guys, then that for me would be the way to go.
How important is a player like Dwayne De Rosario? How involved was he in helping the younger players at camp?
Dwayne was excellent. I took Dwayne, Terry Dunfield, and Lars Hirschfeld aside at different occasions, and I said what a major role that they will have to play in helping these young guys out. And I don’t mean being a cheerleader, I just mean helping them out on the pitch, communicating positive information to them. Dwayne De Rosario has been one of the best MLS players that the North American scene has produced for years. Whenever he gets on the ball, you can hear the crowd sort of come to life a little bit because that they know that the lad is capable of creating something. I still felt that he still had something to offer football wise, but I also thought that he would be a good influence for our young front players, to see how he trains and his movements that he had off the ball, and I was very very pleased with Dwayne’s attitude, I made him captain against the US in Houston. He still has a lot to offer, you know, he’s capable of scoring goals, and some of our best chances over the two games fell to Dwayne, and it’s no coincidence that he’s in the right space, at the right time. Sometimes you can’t coach that, sometimes that’s just a natural instinct. I still think he has a role to play with helping the young guys and how much playing time he’s going to see, who knows? Hopefully he gets off to a good start with DC, and he’s fit as a fiddle, he looks after himself anyways, so hopefully he’s still got a couple of years to go in him.
Do you think the NASL is also part of the solution for helping develop Canadian players now that there’s going to be a second team in Ottawa in a year?
I think it’s massive, in fact, I would almost as go as far to say that the Edmonton and Ottawa could be the flagship of developing Canadian players. But here’s the key to everything Shawn, we can talk about playing Canadians till we’re blue in the face, if that young Canadian player is not at the level yet, then, you know I’ve got a wife and two kids to support. Will I get enough time to work on that young guy to give him enough experience working with the first team? Who knows, our owner can tell you that, but that’s the vision, you know. We have to get as many young Canadian players into this full-time football environment as quickly as we can, and it has to be a challenging environment working with good pros around about them, so they learn the business, you know the older players that were regulars last season for FC Edmonton as an example that won’t be regulars this season, but they’ll be amongst players that were better than what we had last season, in my opinion, and so they’ll obviously become better, so perhaps it might be a step backwards it’s one step backwards, but hopefully with a view of going two forward so, you know there, it takes a bit of patience, it takes a bit of understanding from people that Colin actually has an idea of what he’s trying to do here, he has a vision for what he’s doing, he’s not throwing the Canadian players out, but what he’s doing is wanting the Canadian players to develop more of a streetwise mentality of what goes on at the professional level. And some of the guys that we’re bringing in this season are well established NASL players, and in some cases, possibly MLS established players, so our young Canadian guys are going to learn from this because we’re not going to separate, you know it’s not going to be the young guys training in an entirely different world and never seeing the first team. I will be at almost every training session along with my assistant, watching what the reserves are doing, watching what the young guys are doing, educating our coaches to what is required for those players to be on the first team, and that’s how you make a club in my opinion, everybody’s pushing from the bottom all the way through to the first team.
Sound like a lot of work. Did you at least get to enjoy yourself when you were with team Canada, or was there too much work to do?
It was, I loved every minute of it, I have to say that, being brought up in Scotland, I know the importance of being your national team head coach, I know what’s involved, and I know what responsibility is with that. So I, absolutely loved every second of it. I was also on the phone on a daily basis making sure that things were going along well with FC Edmonton. But, I didn’t get a lot of time for rest, and that’s the way it is in football management, it’s 24/7, and it’s just never stopping. So at one point, you know over a year ago my dad passed away, and I had lost my job with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and we wondered, are you ever going to get a break, and now I’ve been given this break, and I’m loving every minute of it, that’s for sure.
Were Edmonton’s owners supportive when they heard that you were going to be coaching Canada for the two games?
Well that was the key thing, that Tom Fath, our owner, was 100% behind it. He thought it was a win-win situation for everybody. You know, I don’t think he would have been pleased had we lost 4-0 against the US, I think thankfully it worked out well, and we got a positive result and performance from the Canadian team against the US, but Tom was very very supportive and that was a key part in me joining the National team. You know, who knows what’s around the corner, but he’s been great, Tom to work with, very supportive, very understanding, and I think he’s in for the long haul, which is great. So, we’re very fortunate in Canada, to have some terrific owners of our professional clubs and again you know Ottawa coming in the following season with terrific owners as well. Ownership wise we’re in good shape so the longer that continues.
And finally, what message do you have for the hardcore fans who were so disappointed that Canada didn’t make it to the final round of qualifying?
I would to say just to be patient here now, you know, we’ve now got a spell where’s the no pressure on anybody. What we really should be focusing on is the future. We’ve got some young, talented players with our under 17 team, and young talented players with our under 20 group. And, I think the future is looking good to the national team program. We’ve got a core of guys that are coming into their prime, MLS wise, that are playing with a group of players that are playing in good levels in Europe. I think we throw this all in the mix Shawn, and I think we can be very positive and optimistic about what’s going to take place here. But the key for me is to be patient. There will be hiccups along the way, there will be 4-0 defeats, there will be wins, there will be draws. The important thing is that we time it right now for the next world cup qualifying.
Well thank you very much and best of luck against Vancouver this year, I guess revenge would be sweet if you could beat them in the Canadian Championship?
That’s an understatement, that’s for sure, but, we’ve got important league games to go before we get to the Whitecaps. But, you can be rest assured that the FC Edmonton players will be totally committed to everything we’re doing in the CONCACAF Championships.
I get the sense that Colin Miller is very interested in the future of our National team, and will be an asset whether he continues to coach the team, or helps to develop young players that can one day play for the National team.
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