Canadians face the end of an era - The Star (Toronto)

DAVE FESCHUK
SHANGHAI

Stung by defeat and pelted by drizzle, Christine Sinclair, like many among Canada's women's soccer team, lingered long on the pitch at Shanghai Stadium yesterday.

Sinclair, the striker from Vancouver, had just seen her team's hope of playing for a medal at these Games evaporate. She had just watched what must have looked to her like a tired old re-run, the U.S. celebrating a stake-in-the-heart goal in the Canadian goalmouth, a Nathasha Kai header in the 101st minute that made it a 2-1 final.

And if Sinclair belaboured her exit from under the stadium lights, understand that the end of her team's first Olympic tournament was also the end of an era.

Coach Even Pellerud, who had announced earlier this summer his intention to step down after the Olympics, had just presided over the final game of his nine-year tenure.

"He has done so much for this program and has changed all of our lives," Sinclair said of her coach. "It's a shame to see him leaving. We wanted him to leave this program with a medal.

"We came up a bit short."

Pellerud's career had seen more triumphant moments, to be sure. He made his name coaching his native Norway to victory at the 1995 women's World Cup, and he had left a Games with a medal around his neck before, a bronze with Norway in Atlanta in 1996.

But he never reached those lofty heights since taking over Canada's woeful national team in 1999.

Still, though yesterday marked yet another loss to the world No.1 Americans – it is coming up on eight years since Canada last beat the U.S. – Pellerud was lauded by his players for helping build a more credible program.

With Greg Kerfoot, the wealthy owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps, writing the cheques, Pellerud oversaw a residency program that allowed the team to train together in Vancouver in the lead-up to the World Cup and these Olympics.

"The money that (Pellerud) has gotten for us and because of Greg Kerfoot, we've been able to have a full-time job with this team," said Erin McLeod, the Canadian goalie. "(Pellerud) really paved the way for the next coach."

That next coach will be up to a Canadian Soccer Association search committee to find, although Pellerud said he has made clear his choice for a successor.

Pellerud, for his part, will be remembered in part for clashing with some players, among them former captain Charmaine Hooper, whom Pellerud suspended with two teammates in the lead-up to the last World Cup after a public squabble. And there are those who called his long-ball running game outdated.

"Some people disagree with how Even had us playing, but it's gotten us results," said Sinclair. "It's gotten us into the Olympics for the first time. We seemed to be doing okay. We finished fourth in the World Cup under him."

Though they came back from a 1-0 deficit yesterday, with Sinclair tying the rain-interrupted game in the 30th minute, Pellerud said his players "couldn't find the stamina to go on."

In the red-eyed moments in the game's drawn-out wake, Sinclair said she'll forge ahead with the national team. Though roster turnover is expected and the residency program has run its course, she's only 25.

Pellerud, uncertain what lies ahead for him, took a moment to look back.

"It has been a wonderful nine years for me and my family and the program," said Pellerud, who was, like the players who wandered the rainy pitch for many long moments yesterday, finding it hard to find the bright side.

"It's more genuine disappointment in not playing a better game. I think we should have beaten the U.S.A. I think we played so well before this game, and I feel we had more in us, but I don't know ... the players looked more tired."

Toronto Star