Time to do Canadian soccer proud

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

With Toronto FC hitting the road, BMO Field transforms into our National Soccer Stadium for the week.

Let's get excited about seeing the Red and White of our Canadian men's national team in Toronto Saturday against Peru. It will be the team's first game in Toronto since its 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign kicked off with a devastating 1-1 draw with Jamaica.

Goalkeeper Pat Onstad putting the ball into his own net still gives me chills.

That was two years ago. A new head coach and some young blood later, this is the start of a new generation of Canadian soccer.

It's hard to find a person not impressed with head coach Stephen Hart and his refreshing approach to his young side. Hart has seen 43 players in action under his watch in 2010. And despite notable absentees from his announced roster for the Peru and Honduras games in the coming fortnight, evidence of a program in growth is starting to rear its head.

Paul Stalteri, 32, is the elder statesman of the squad and will break Randy Samuel's record of 82 national team appearances if he features in both games for Canada. It's an outstanding accomplishment for a guy who always has been committed to the Canadian national program.

Now it's time for the younger generation of Canadian soccer players to follow Stalteri's lead and step up and answer the call.

Hearing Hart's frustration last week in conference call about his inability to bring certain players into his team is yet another chapter in a tired story where players let outside influences and politics dictate decisions instead of logic.

Somewhere along the line, between Canadian Soccer Association politics and Canada failing to perform internationally, it became unfashionable to play for Canada. The CSA certainly isn't free of blame for the current state of affairs. But the past is the past and the only way for a brighter future is to start winning and gaining credibility.

Here's a concept: Step up and play for your country.

Excuses about not being ready to commit to Canada or instead focusing on club over country are cowardly and tired. It's nonsense. It's selfish.

Not answering the call in this time of transition is a coward's way out. And not willing to make sacrifices for the good of soccer in this country is a massive character flaw:

Unfortunately, Hart and the CSA can ill-afford to tell those who turn their back on Canada to take a hike. A lack of depth in the Canadian talent pool dictates as much.

Let's be straight: Canada has every chance to make a legitimate push for the 2014 World Cup. Mexico and the United States will always be one-two in the CONCACAF pecking order, but there's no reason Canada shouldn't be consistently competitive for the third World Cup birth.

That building process starts now. The young players must put ego and perception aside and wear the Red and White.

David (Junior) Hoilett is a key player for Canada's future, yet he's reluctant to commit. The 20-year-old continues to gradually earn time at Blackburn and maintains that's where his focus lay. The lingering issue is Hoilett is also eligible to play for Jamaica. Once Hoilett and his family decide to commit to Canada, it could very well set the tone for other young players to also commit their futures, David's younger brother Janiel included.

Congratulations to Jonathan de Guzman for his La Liga debut start with Mallorca against Real Madrid. No apologies though suggesting you should re-think your plan to represent the Netherlands instead of Canada. Julian's younger brother is fantastically talented, but it honesty, will be hard pressed to ever make an impact in the Dutch national side. This is by no means disrespect to Jonathan, rather the competition for spots in the team may even be above the kid. In Canada, he would be a star. Having not yet been capped by the Dutch senior side, de Guzman is still eligible to play with his brother for Canada.

From David Edgar being M.I.A., to Teal Bunbury needing more experience, this list goes on and on of players who remain on the outside looking in. This trend of must stop.

So hats off to Simeon Jackson, Dwayne De Rosario, and all the other lads representing Canada over the next 10 days. You're doing Canada proud.

GARETH.WHEELER@SUNTV.CANOE.CA


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