Adam Day doesn’t have an Olympic gold medal to hang around his neck, but he is able to bask in its amber glow.
The assistant coach for the Canadian women’s national soccer team is back at his Coquitlam home after a gruelling months-long journey that culminated Aug. 6 with the side’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Sweden in penalty kicks to win the Tokyo 2020 tournament that also included a similar heart-stopping win in the semifinal over its arch-rival, the United States.
With such a thrilling experience, you can excuse the smile etched permanently on Day’s face as he enjoys a refreshing drink in the backyard shade.
While some may characterize the triumph as a turning point for women’s soccer in Canada, Day says it’s more like a big rung in the ladder to grow the game that extends all the way down to the community level and could some day travel upwards to World Cup contention, not only for the women, but the men as well.
“We have the popularity, we have the fan base and we have the player pools,” Day said. “We have to make sure we keep ourselves ahead of the game.”
TOP OF THE PYRAMID
One way to do that would be the establishment of a professional women’s league — or at least a team — to complete the top of the pyramid to which those thousands and thousands of youth players at its base can aspire as they advance in the sport. Failure to do that, Day added, would be a lost opportunity.
“We don’t want to be scratching our heads in 15 years asking why is everyone else ahead of us. You want to be in the business end of big tournaments all the time.”
Day grew up in England, played there and coached at Charleton Athletic and served as academy director for Arsenal in the Premier League. He immigrated to Canada 15 years ago to work in youth and development programs with the Vancouver Whitecaps then got involved with Canada Soccer’s program to develop the sport in regional excel (REX) programs across the country. That’s where he first starting working with Bev Priestman who was in charge of the initiative.
When she was tapped last year as John Herdman’s successor to lead the national women’s program, Day was invited to join the staff in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, just months after he’d been appointed head coach of the men’s team at Capilano University.
“There’s no better position than working with the senior national team,” he said.
EYE IN THE SKY
Day’s specific responsibility during training is working with the offensive players, strikers, attacking mid-fielders and wingers. During matches, he’s perched high in the stands or the press box level to view the play from afar and communicate by radio to the coaches on the sidelines any faults that need to be corrected, adjustments that can be made.
That’s where he was at Yokohama’s International Stadium during much of the final match against Sweden. But as the clock ran down toward penalty kicks, he descended to the pitch and joined the rest of the coaching and support staff a couple of metres behind the players along the sideline.
Day said the atmosphere was “intense,” emotions ebbing and flowing with the run of play as Sweden pressed for victory, then Canada was able to counter.
“Everyone wants to try and win it, but we obviously also don’t want to lose it.”
When referee Anastasia Pustovoitova blew her whistle to end the extra time and send the match to penalty kicks, Day said an air of calm descended on the coaches and players. They’d prepared extensively for this during their weeks in Spain and Los Angeles prior to Tokyo. They’d already experienced the pressure cooker of the one-on-one showdowns between kickers and keepers against the United States in the semifinal and Brazil in the quarter-final.
Still, Day said, the next moments were an emotional rollercoaster: optimism when Canadian keeper Stephanie Labbé stopped Sweden’s first shot and Jessie Fleming countered with a goal and then desperation after Sweden scored twice and Canada missed its next three attempts. Hope reignited when Swedish captain Caroline Seger missed her shot and Canada’s Deanne Rose booted a sizzling strike past the Swedish keeper to get the score level again.
After another miss by Sweden’s Jonna Andersson, the ball was placed on the penalty spot for Canada’s Julia Grosso, whom Day has worked with since she was 11 years old.
“We can’t not take advantage of this now,” he thought. “When it went in, there was shock, surprise, raw emotion coming out. It was just unbelievable.”
Day said going into the Olympic tournament, everyone on Canada’s coaching staff knew their weeks and months of hard work and discipline sticking to their self-imposed bubble, and maintaining the players’ motivation, wouldn’t be rewarded with a shiny disc hanging from a silken ribbon; in the world’s biggest sports competition, it’s only the athletes who get the physical prize they can wear and display.
But after the podium ceremony, when the group gathered again to share their elation and some of the players let the coaches slip their medals over their heads, Day said the staff couldn’t help but have a singular thought, “We need one of these.”
Still, even as the jet lag from international travel has worn off, the satisfaction of a job well done, the enormity of their achievement, hasn’t yet fully sunk in, Day said. And already he’s had to shift gears to begin getting get his Capilano men’s team ready for its anticipated season after more than a year off because of the pandemic. In the weeks to come, he’ll have further discussions with Priestman about his future role with the national program, maybe even talk about ways they can leverage their Olympic success to move the game further up the ladder, put a peak on its pyramid.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey I’ll be forever grateful for,” Day said.