INTERVIEW – Last Word on Soccer spoke to Sean Fleming, former U-17 CanMNT Head Coach on September 8, 2019.
Former U-17 CanMNT Head Coach – Sean Fleming: CPL is a Game Changer
1. You’re the founder of “Soccer is Everything” What is it and how crucial is it to develop the next generation of coaches in this country?
“You know truly It’s a company that I had during the national association [Canada Soccer] and now with FC Edmonton. What we do is help clubs whoever wish with their coaching development programs and we just try to enhance the good work that a lot of clubs are doing and line our professional expertise of our coaches and we do.
It’s something that I think just reinforces the good work that teams are already doing, Sometimes it helps them look at things and try things a little bit differently and be more effective in what they do.”
2. You worked with Canada Soccer for a decade, most notably as the U-17 Head Coach. I’m sure that’s something you’re very honoured to have been able to represent and worked for your country’s FA?
“Absolutely and I don’t wanna sound corny about it but I think I coached over 20 youth international games in different countries and I never had a home game ever, but you hear you’re anthem and the great country we have and I would get emotional every time.
It was never something I took for granted, great privilege and to see the Canadian kids and the Canadian pride; I always emphasized with them what the first three letters were: “CAN” – Cause we can put do anything we put our mind to and it was just a great privilege and honour.”
3. You’re family being from Scotland – my guess is that’s what influenced you the most to love the beautiful game?
“Very True, my father was a referee so we had a lot of good dinner discussions on things (laugh/chuckled). He had a great passion for Football; he was very successful in every aspect of football that he went into. Canada qualified — last time they did qualify in 1986 and he was president of the Canada Soccer Association at the time and then when he came back in his second term; Canada won the gold cup  when he was there.
Some people said lucky, but he probably did a lot of good things. That passion, that desire really did come from my father. He’s definitely the hard working [type person]. To really be true to give to the game as much as the game gives to you. With the Scottish roots, the hard working that I have. Although I’ve been in Canada for the vast majority of my life; but the combination of both is fantastic.”
4. What club were you forced to support at a young age?
“I still do a little bit of Celtic. But you know I can’t say it’s the most beautiful football out there as much as I try to look at the Scottish league as positive as i can. It’s a Certainly little bit of the heart for Celtic but there’s obviously a better standard of football out there.”
5. Have you ever attended the Old Firm Derby?
“Never been to the old Firm Derby but two years ago I saw a champions league game where it was Manchester City versus Celtic at Parkhead [Celtic’s stadium] and the atmosphere was unbelievable. It ended up being 3-3 Celtic tied man city there and it was an amazing experience.
Barcelona played there a few years back and Messi saying that’s one of the beat box atmosphere’s he’s played in and it is. It’s incredible. That’s one thing about their football is they’re passion.”
6. You coached a bunch of good players, many of them who have been talented but but fortunately have hit a dead end. This is what the CPL is trying to fix isn’t it?
“Absolutely, I remember going to the world cups were we qualified and doing the exit interviews with the kids and some of them would say ‘where can I go play Sean?’ And you know we’d try to find them a club through our contacts in Europe and such but this CPL is just such a game changer. It’s a league for Canadians by Canadians and it’s truly living up to that plus the standard is good.
The Canadian young players are just excellent. The opportunity now that we’re offering with this U-20 full-time program is great. You now there is just so much more opportunities with CPL. I think it’s gonna be more solid as the league grows. It’s just going to evolve as time goes on.”
7. Is it important to open up academies for the rest of the CPL clubs considering the youth national teams only include players from the three MLS clubs?
“Well the Canadian soccer association considers us one of the four professional academies in the country. We did have a player get looked at, he didn’t stick in the end but still to be considered as a grade on her as well.
Calgary is going to be doing another U-20 program as well and actually were gonna meet with them very soon about how we can help each other’s programs. Whatever they’re doing we’re gonna try and compete with their U-20 group as well. I do think they’re necessary, it’s a good step for the best of the best which is what we’re doing with our program.
When you have the top and competition and training a full time program that helps young players – and not all are gonna make first team football but it might help them in their university careers or whatever it may be. Still though, great opportunities through the academies.
But you know it’s a financial investment in the end that not all clubs may want to do. But I do believe it I’ll pay off in the end as you see how many academy players we have playing on our first team roster.”
8. The 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup was big for Canada. First soccer specific stadium was built, Toronto FC first joined the MLS prior to Vancouver and Montreal following suit. As well as building blocks for hosting experience for FIFA events.
“Yeah It was, and I was fortunate off to be on the staff with Dale Mitchell and Nick Dasovic. They were the coaches for sure, they just brought me along to experience that World Cup here. Playing Chile which was their golden generation of [Alexis] Sanchez, [Arturo] Vidal and all of them – that was a schooling of football. It really did as you say, started with BMO Field, It was such a great first piece of the puzzle of soccer moving in Canada. It was wonderful to be a part of that”
9. The U-17 team just qualified to the World Cup which takes place in Brazil in October. You have been to two already – in 2011 and 2013. Back to back. In the group stage they play against the hosts, Angola and New Zealand. What’s your prediction and can this team be the newest feel-good story of Canadian soccer? Can this group of kids surprise some people?
“For sure. I remember we qualified, we hadn’t qualified in over 20 years. We had a staff meeting – we talked about it, I did some research and we had taken some results in the chin with some of the previous U-17 teams that had gone in; seven, eight goals and such.
I’m not criticizing those teams because they’re preparations were very poor and I gotta give CSA credit for the 2011 World Cup team. We had great preparation – But Anyway in the first meeting we said we’re going to go and park the bus and make sure we keep the score respectable. That lasted about five minutes, we said no. We believe in our kids and we wanna go, we wanna play. I think knowing Andrew Olivieri he’ll take the same approach. It’s not easy, but I do believe.
I’ve played Brazil, I’ve played Argentina, I’ve played them all and we honestly went and tried to play. Even the first game we should’ve beat Uruguay, we had chances and we just didn’t finish. That’s what it comes down to in those games. You’re not gonna get a ton of chances against those quality teams.
So I couldn’t tell you the prediction, I don’t know this current Canadian team or the others that well to be completely honest with you. But for sure – Knowing Andrew, knowing the philosophy, I know he’ll go for it and could surprise teams.”
10. To finish off, let’s talk about the Canadian sports landscape. Hockey, Football lead the way, Baseball as well. Rugby has made some noise. Basketball and Tennis is now on the Rise. 2026 seems to be our moment. With the current group right now lead by Alphonso Davies, do you see a chance of us making it to Qatar 2022 realistically?
“The new qualifying process is very complicated, very difficult. CONCACAF is CONCACAF. Although words improve dramatically I’ll tell you from the very first time I was involved in 1994 – it was interesting times back then. Anyhow it’s difficult, not impossible.
My last national team camp I had Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies in Mexico and I’d never seen quite a combination, quite a talent. The chemistry between the two was so natural and I think it’s just a great time for the number of young players playing. At this time who knows, the possibilities are there, really the potential is endless. It could be a great chance for us to do the business and I hope they do.”