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Canada's World Cup Coach Struggles to Put Together a Winning Soccer Team

May 11, 1986|United Press International

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Tony Waiters was putting the finishing touches on Canada's World Cup training schedule in late January when more bad news arrived.

The Major Indoor Soccer League was refusing to release 10 key Canadians for World Cup tuneup games.

"Well, that's just business as usual for Canada, isn't it?" said Waiters, the national coach whose philosophical bearing has served him well. "Maybe it's a good omen. Things like this have become the usual thing with the Canadian team. We've been to the Olympic quarterfinals and won our way to the World Cup under these sort of circumstances."

For Waiters, whose system is based on teamwork and training, the MISL decision hurt. It meant key players would not be available until May when the MISL season concludes.

"It will give us a chance to look at some of our so-called fringe players," Waiters said. "I'd say a lot of players now have a much better chance (of going to Mexico) than they did 24 hours ago."

There have been endless problems for Waiters to overcome during his three years as coach:

--Meeting quality opponents on a continent that has none.

--Finding grass fields in a country buried under snow.

--Obtaining financing from sponsors uninterested in soccer.

In 1983, Waiters accepted the awesome task of coaching Canada to its first World Cup berth. At the time, there were virtually no other North American outlets for a coach in outdoor soccer.

Waiters, 50, had just resigned his job as coach and general manager of the doomed Vancouver Whitecaps as the North American Soccer League crumbled around him. He has since amassed a 10-2-7 record in Olympic and World Cup play.

During his six years with the Whitecaps, he won a league championship and his team's record of winning two-thirds of its games was second best among NASL coaches.

His roots lie in British soccer. Between 1957 and 1969, he played goal for Blackpool and made five appearances for England. After a two-year stint with Burnley, he coached England's Youth Team in 1973. Waiters then lifted Plymouth Argyle from the Third to Second Division in the English League in 1974-75.

Waiters has given his Canadian squad a British flavor, emphasizing a two-striker attack with a heavy reliance on midfield support and defense. But his greatest contribution has been forging a team spirit to offset the lack of individual skills.

"The team that tried to qualify for the World Cup wasn't really a team," striker Dale Mitchell said. "It was just a group of individuals trying to go their own way. Tony's changed all that. He's got the team to play together."

Waiters' plans are uncertain. A group of Canadian soccer fans and financiers hope to snare him for a leading role in the next North American attempt at a professional soccer league.

But Waiters, after watching the messy demise of the NASL, has serious doubts about the future of pro soccer in Canada. Perhaps success in Mexico could take him back to England.

One thing is certain, however. Waiters plans to retire as Canada's coach at the end of the World Cup.

"I think three years is enough," he said. "Don't you?"

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