Head coach Andrew Olivieri is ready for the challenge of trying to win a World Cup on home soil. He was a player in the Canadian program for many years. He knows the hard work and dedication required to make a national team. He also understands the pride of wearing the maple leaf and hearing O Canada play before a match. All of these feelings will be amplified tenfold on August 5th, when the 33-year-old coach and his U-20 squad hit the pitch at Toronto’s BMO Field for their opening game.
Andrew has been director of the U-20 Women’s Excel Program since 2012. Kadeisha Buchanan, Sura Yekka and Ashley Lawrence are just some of the players he’s helped make the jump from youth soccer to the senior team. He’s in constant communication with John Herdman, as the entire women’s program strives to improve the quality of soccer in the country, while identifying new talent across Canada.
The Road to Canada 2014 interview series concludes with head coach Andrew Olivieri:
How do you approach coaching the U-20s? Is there something you do differently or is there a certain frame of mind when working with this particular age group?
The first thing is trying to develop a system. In Canada right now, we’re working to change the mindset a little bit. We don’t see this as a U-20 team. We see this as a basic range for players from 18 to 20 years of age. So that means any player that’s done U-17s and when that cycle is over, they come into our 18 to 20 age group. You’ll notice, if you have a look at the roster, we’ve brought in a lot of young players, 16, 17, 18 years of age, and this keeps them going in the system. If they are good enough, they are old enough. We just want to work with our most talented players.
Talking to many of the players on your roster, they all say you’re a tight-knit group off and on the pitch. As a coaching staff, how do you achieve that camaraderie?
It’s just part of our culture. We’re really clear that in the Women’s Excel Program that it’s not just tactics and the kind of player you are. As a staff, we look at ourselves as the team behind the team. We’re not just working for the players, we’re working for each other as well. We try to get the most out of ourselves. It’s one group representing Canada and it’s up to all of us to get the most out of one another. That means it comes across the team and the players both socially and emotionally, or whether it’s tactical or technical. We’re all just trying to maximize one another’s potential.
You’re coaching a World Cup in your home country, an opportunity of a lifetime. What are your expectations?
Expectations is a tough word. What are my objectives? My objective is to take the players as far through the tournament as they can go. I need to give them as much tournament expertise, so they can be better players in the future. The more games they play on the world stage, the better it is. To be honest, the objective is going to be to win a quarterfinal. That would allow us to play all the way to the last day of the tournament, meaning a bronze medal match or the final. That’s the most experience we can give these girls and that’s going to be our target.
How is the team dealing with the extra pressure of hosting this tournament?
We have good people on staff and good people around us. We are conscious of all of the factors. That’s the biggest part of being a professional. We understand it’s rare you get to play at home in a World Cup or Olympics at any level. With that said, it’s part of the learning process. We know next year marks the Women’s World Cup, the biggest women’s sporting event in the world, and some of these young girls are going to be there. We know the Kadeisha Buchanans and Ashley Lawrences have a great opportunity to be there, but we also think there are one or two other girls. So, it’s our responsibility to get them ready for that. For the staff, it’s dealing with all of the outside factors like the expectations and the scrutiny. That’s just all part of it.
What style of play are you trying to implement with this particular group?
If you’ve heard U-17 coach, Bev Priestman, speak or if you’ve heard John Herdman speak, you’ll hear the exact thing from me. It’s not about the team; it’s about the system. We want to develop players and we just want to change the DNA of soccer in our country. We’ve always been very organized, very strong defensively, very powerful, but at the same time, you need to develop players that are actually able to control the game, control the ball and possess the ball a little bit more. Then, there’s just something with the precision element of the game that is part of our DNA somewhat. The idea and intention of going forward is being quite direct. It’s something that we need to grow a little bit more.
What do you know about the three opponents (Ghana, Finland, North Korea) with Canada in Group A?
I’m expecting the absolute best from them. Ghana won a bronze medal at the 2012 U-17s and that’s the bulk of this team. They also have a large number of returning players from the previous U-20 Women’s World Cup. They are going to be very, very tough. You have to know you’re going to get a quality team in North Korea. They’re one of the best teams in women’s football at the youth level. They lost the final to France at the previous U-17s. So there you go, we have two top sides. And with Finland, any team that comes out of Europe, we’re going to see quality there. This is exactly what we like for a development process. We have three different styles of teams we’ll be facing and it poses three different kinds of problems for the girls to learn and solve. I’m really excited about that.
What kind of legacy do you and the girls want to leave for Canada and for soccer?
We want everyone to see that the future is extremely bright. We want to inspire a nation, whether it’s inspiring them to learn about players or inspiring them through the direction we’re starting to move with the women’s program. The type of football we play, the type of people we have going through the system, I think that’ll be the biggest thing. At the end of the day, if everyone’s excited about Canadian soccer, then we’ve done our job.
A big thank you to Andrew for being so generous with his time. Best of luck to him, his entire coaching staff and the 21-players on his team, as they embark on this incredible journey.
You can follow the latest on the U-20 squad through the CSA twitter feed.