Today Ante Jazic is helping groom the next generation of Canadian soccer players. The 38-year-old Halifax native is one of several former Canadian internationals who have been enlisted by Canadian Soccer Association technical director Tony Fonseca to share their skills.
"I love it, I really enjoy it," Jazic, head coach of the Canadian under-15 team, said of his new duties. "I love all that's involved behind the scenes.
"As a player you don't realize how much planning goes into everything — planing a session, trying to feature the right players, getting the group together, the right squad, the mix, the balance. I've actually really enjoyed that and I'm learning on the job every day.
"It's something I'm passionate about, especially with Canadian soccer and identifying talent and building the youth teams. And hopefully identifying talent that will help our future men's national team."
Jazic, who won 35 caps for Canada from 1998 to 2012, is currently assisting under-20 coach Rob Gale at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica.
The former fullback has plenty to offer on and off the field. After a year playing at Dalhousie University, he began his pro career in Croatia in 1997 — securing a tryout while visiting relatives there. He played for Hrvatski Dragovoljac and Hajduk Split before moving to Rapid Vienna in Austria and then Kuban Kraznodar in Russia.
He signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2006, moving down the hall three years later to join Chivas USA. He retired after the 2012 season with Chivas — now defunct — facing an uncertain future and Canada having flamed out in World Cup qualifying.
"I had to battle through and make a career for myself against the odds," he said. "I've learned a lot from different coaches. I've been blessed to have coaches that have coached national teams in Croatia, Austria. There's the human element where I've experienced these things that these kids want to experience, so I can shed some light on that.
"For me just being on the pitch with these kids, identifying talent and honestly seeing the talent that we have in Canada, I'm really enjoying it. And the future looks bright."
The kids are being taught from one Canadian soccer songbook as they graduate through the ranks starting with the fledgling under-15 program.
"We're all on the same page," said Jazic, who worked on his coaching certificates while playing in MLS. "Obviously it just started so we're not quite sure when we're going to see the benefits of the program. But definitely down the road, in a few years, we should see some results."
Consistency is an issue at this tender age. A player can excel at one camp and look like a different player at another.
Jazic and former Canadian captain Paul Stalteri, an under-15 coach, have held camps to find talent outside the MLS teams' academies. Not all will progress through the national age-group system but they will still get help advancing their soccer career.
The youngsters will also get to play at a CONCACAF under-15 tournament.
Jazic spends much of the time on the road but makes his home in Little Rock, Ark., which is where his wife comes from.
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