Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New event would be great for Canada

A soccer match made in heaven

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Earlier this week the governing body that oversees soccer in South America met in Buenos Aires to discuss the minutiae of sponsorship deals and pose for a series of sleepy-eyed group photos.

They also released a post-meeting story, published on CONMEBOL's official website, which included nothing of interest for most Canadian soccer fans until the very, very bottom.

It seems the grey-hairs had been discussing the idea of a unified North-South America tournament in 2016, to be held in the United States, and their brainstorming session, however brief, somehow found its way onto the publicized version of their meeting minutes for all the world to see.

Nevermind that CONCACAF -- the administrators of the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean -- suggested the following day that their South American counterparts' announcement was slightly premature. For all we know the phone in the New York City office might have been ringing for days with no one there to pick it up.

The fact of the matter is this: a unified tournament (it's tentatively being called the "Centennial Copa America") would be a win-win for both regions, and for Canada in particular.

Without it, our men's national team would have only the 2018 World Cup to target following their disgraceful exit from 2014 qualifying earlier this month.

With it, they'd be able to focus on a major tournament that would be taking place two years sooner, with the 2015 Gold Cup serving as qualification.

Here's how the thing would work:

All 10 CONMEBOL members would be given automatic berths to the group stage along with the United States and Mexico. The four remaining participants would be determined by their placing in the 2015 Gold Cup and would conceivably include Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica and, hopefully, Canada. Play would begin in July, shortly after the conclusion of Euro 2016 in France.

This sort of competition has been talked about for years, and for good reason. It just makes sense.

Currently, the biennial Gold Cup generates precious little interest outside the hardcore support in Canada and the United States and the Latin populations of the host cities.

Matches are played in half-filled (if that) NFL stadiums unless Mexico happens to be on the marquee, and the television footprint is next to non-existent.

South America's Copa America, held whenever CONMEBOL feels like it, isn't much better off.

Yes, there is obviously significant interest on the continent, itself, but what the Copa has always craved is to be a world class competition with a world class roster of sponsors and rights-holders to match.

That, and a few more countries so as not to be required to invite the likes of Mexico and Japan to boost the tournament roster to a more workable 12.

Both the Gold Cup and Copa America have needs, and as it turns out the satisfaction of those needs can be found in each other.

South America has the talent base to lend the North some credibility; North America has access to the type of sponsors the South, until now, has only been able to dream about.

Talk about a match made in soccer heaven.


Spot kicks


-- The spectre of a major tournament in 2016 could end up having something to do with how the Canadian Soccer Association goes about its search for a new manager. If qualification for the 2018 World Cup was the sole target, a case could be made that a company man versed in the language of Long-Term Player Development such as Tony Fonseca, might be the optimal choice. But a competition two years sooner would require the national team being whipped into competitive shape by the 2015 Gold Cup, in which case a more experienced coach, likely from outside Canada, would be a more attractive option.

-- National women's team captain and iconic striker Christine Sinclair has been shortlisted for FIFA's World Player of the Year award. Twitter @peterssoccer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 C7

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