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Team Canada head coach Carolina Morace stands at her team's bench before their women's international friendly soccer game against Team USA in Toronto May 25, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

Mike Cassese/Reuters

Cracking the whip and bossing around players in the testosterone-fuelled, mad-fan Italian men's soccer league is not for the meek.

But that's where Carolina Morace, current coach of the Canadian women's soccer team, found herself early in her career, thrown in at the deep end as the world's first female coach of a professional men's soccer team. In 1999, she took the reins of a club in Viterbo, just north of Rome, in the third tier of Italian soccer.

Morace had grown up playing what has largely been considered a men's sport, and had dominated throughout much of her career, scoring 105 goals in 153 games after making her debut for the Italian national team at 14.

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Though her trailblazing appearance at Viterbo stirred instant reaction - "The first match when I coached the men's team, a big part of the stadium was pink as though it was saying to me, 'Welcome,'" she recalled - it didn't last long. Just three months and two league games into her appointment, she quit, citing interference by the team's owner, who fired Morace's assistant coach, Elisabetta Bavagnoli (who works with Morace to this day), and a team trainer.

"This is an indirect attack on me," Morace said at the time. "It shows lack of faith in me."

Sounds familiar. Despite leading Canada into this summer's World Cup on the back of a 5-0 record at the qualifying event last November, Morace announced in February that she would be stepping down after the tournament in July. The reason? Her frustration with the Canadian Soccer Association, which she said does not support the way she wants to do things.

Stephen Hart, coach of the Canadian men's soccer team, describes Morace as "straightforward" and "all business." Clearly, she is not one for empty gestures. A qualified, and at one point practising, lawyer despite her time-consuming commitments to her sport, she counts Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and André Gide among her favourite authors. Though she has softened her stand on resigning, admitting there is still a chance she will lead her team into the 2012 London Olympics, she does not regret standing up for better conditions for her players, despite the media storm it invoked just months before the World Cup.

"My job is to bring out the best of all the players who represent the country," said Morace, who is in negotiations with the CSA. "Of course, it's not just to bring out the best inside the players, but also to create the conditions where the players can give the maximum. If the players are worried about something, they can't perform at a maximal level."

Despite her players trying to get by on shoestring budgets - they receive $18,000 annually, tax free, from the federal government - Morace is unsure their concerns aren't more than simply financial, so she is happy she can take the players to Rome for the pretournament camp that started this week.

"I don't know if it's just about money, it's about the future, the environment that's important for them," she said. "For example, I think the players are happier here in Italy because [at]the camp, it's just about soccer [and]there are Serie A teams training here."

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Having led Canada to an all-time high of sixth in the FIFA world rankings in March, Morace's influence is undeniable, and with a bit of luck, her squad can surpass its best World Cup finish of fourth, in 2003. In the two years since her appointment in February of 2009, the Italian has transformed the long-ball style so prevalent under her predecessor, Evan Pellerud, into a more possession-based system, something akin to the revolution that Aron Winter is trying to instill at Toronto FC.

"We improve month by month," Morace said. "I think we will play well in Germany and we are working to do our job in the best way and I've received a lot of congratulations about the team so I don't think that in Germany we can do bad.

"In Italy," she added, "there are many, many coaches that I invited to see the team and all of them are excited because they say that the team has good movement and we play like a [true]team. For example, [the amount]of possession that we have is rare to find in a women's side. We don't have to feel pressure, just to enjoy the game."

Looking beyond the World Cup, though, Morace, 47, is keen to leave a legacy. Just last Sunday she was appointed to the CONCACAF executive committee as a non-voting member with a mandate to represent the interests of women's soccer throughout the region.

Closer to home, Morace wishes more Canadian coaches would take her up on the open invitation to watch and learn from her methods of coaching, and though she has enormous faith in Canadian assistant Andrea Neil, who just last year received her UEFA A licence from Italy's Coverciano - "the best school of soccer in the world," Morace said - it may end up being her players who carry the greatest message.

"They know exactly my philosophy, my methodology and they know everything and how I can build a team," Morace said. "They always take notes and write down all my training sessions. I hope that when they finish playing, they will start to coach in high-level soccer."

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