TORONTO - Canadian head coach Stephen Hart admittedly knows little about tonight’s FIFA World Cup qualifying opponent.
With an almost entirely unknown — if not amateur — roster, St. Lucia is something of a mystery ahead of tonight’s match in Toronto.
“I don’t know about (St. Lucia’s) preparation,” Hart said.
Ranked at the bottom of the FIFA World Rankings, just a handful of St. Lucians compete in non-domestic professional leagues. The few who have managed professional contracts away from St. Lucia play in Trinidad and Tobago — a small step up from the St. Lucian top division.
“This is a big opportunity for them,” Hart said. “In the opening games there’s going to be a lot of enthusiasm and this is where it’s going to be the most dangerous.”
And with expectations high, Canada’s second-year manager reiterated that his side is focusing on consistency rather than “being overwhelming favourites.” He insisted Canada’s preparation this week “has been all business.”
St. Lucia is expected to be nothing more than a local island squad consisting of players that compete regularly within the country. Although Canada is expected to run away with its second-round group, the coaches and players fully expect the visitors to compete with passion tonight at BMO Field.
“We’re in no position to overlook any team right now,” Dwayne De Rosario said. “We’re not doing well right now ourselves.”
Sitting among a cluster of Caribbean countries just north of Venezuela, the island nation of roughly 200,000 enters the second stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the second time in its history.
After dispatching Aruba on penalties in the first round, they enter Group D alongside St. Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico and Canada.
“The most important thing right now is winning at home and really dominating,” De Rosario said. “It’s about creating a winning environment where teams come (to Canada) and it’s like a fortress.”
But aside from a few decent showings in Europe, the results haven’t come as of late. For the first time since 2005, Canada failed to advance from its group at the 2011 Gold Cup.
Seemingly disjointed and disorganized throughout the tournament, after being held scoreless by the U.S. and settling for a draw against Panama, Canada needed a De Rosario penalty to manage its only Gold Cup win — a narrow 1-0 victory over Guadeloupe.
Most troubling is the fact the team failed to score during the run of play in three matches.
As goal differential is the first tie-breaker should the team stumble, so it’s important Canada gets on track offensively while registering big wins in the process.
“Hopefully these games create an environment where we can start getting familiar with each other in front of goal and building our confidence going forward,” De Rosario said.
Coming off an injury he sustained at the Gold Cup in June, Atiba Hutchinson said Canada’s second-round qualifiers will serve as an opportunity to continue improving ahead the more difficult rounds
“We’ve been going in the right direction and we’re developing,” Hutchinson said. “We’re getting more and more used to each other and finding the way we should play. We have to move on.”
Canada heads to the Caribbean following tonight’s qualifier for a crucial Group D away match in Puerto Rico Tuesday.
Billed as Canada’s sternest test of the current round, the Puerto Ricans are by far the strongest of the three island nations Canada will face over the next three months.
Canada wraps up CONCACAF’s six-game second stage with a pair of matches in both October and November.
The top finisher in Group D advances to the region’s semifinal stage next summer.