|Canada men's soccer coach Stephen Hart will have to get his team ready for a World Cup qualifier against Cuba without much live-game preparation. (QMI Agency file photo)
TORONTO - Logistical excuses remain ever-present in terms of explaining why the Canadian men’s team will play its second-to-last exhibition this month before CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying kicks off in June.
While an underwhelming friendly slate will undoubtedly obstruct Canada’s preparation, head coach Stephen Hart reiterated Wednesday that the Canadian Soccer Association had little choice in the matter ahead of a crucial third-round match in Cuba this summer.
“If you look at when the seasons are finishing for a lot of players and then the MLS in full swing, you can only operate as per FIFA regulations… It’s the best we can do,” Hart said, when asked about Canada’s paltry friendly schedule during a teleconference Wednesday afternoon.
“We have discussed as a staff potentially playing a closed door game,” he continued. “But that’s it because the numbers in camp are going to be sort of split in two and limited.”
As it stands, a largely European-based collection of Canadian players will travel to Cyprus Feb. 29 to take on a serviceable Armenian side. But between that fixture and a date with the U.S. in Toronto on June 3, Canada won’t be tested ahead of what would seem to be its biggest match dating back to the previous cycle.
While reasonable on the surface, the explanation falls short of explaining why a host of other nations within the region had the ability to book three and four meaningful friendlies in the weeks leading up to such a pivotal date.
Before traveling to BMO Field, the U.S. will host Scotland and Brazil a week in advance. Similarly, the Mexicans will host Wales and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the days leading up to World Cup qualifying.
Although a pair of soccer powerhouses have the player pools — both domestic and foreign — to choose from, there’s no excuse for Canada failing to schedule additional preparation at the end of May, just before its friendly with the U.S. and a critical game in Cuba.
NATIONAL TEAM NOTES
According to Hart, the Cubans present a puzzling problem for nations that visit Havana — a Jekyll and Hyde squad. Canada’s bench boss believes the islanders are far better at home than when on the road. The reason? “Sometimes the entire team doesn’t travel outside of Cuba,” he said — a small observation that makes it difficult to scout a complex country … Hart confirmed the team will train in Florida before departing for Cuba in an effort to replicate the Caribbean climate. He also pointed to improvements his side must make if they’re to move beyond the current stage. “I think we have to work on speeding up our attack — a little more precision with our final pass,” he said … In an interesting side, Hart fielded a question regarding the CSA’s decision to host all of Canada’s matches in Toronto by indicating the association was looking at other options farther east. But he made it clear that the players were only comfortable on natural surfaces and had to both know the pitch and be “familiar with the surroundings.” … With a host of European-based players beginning to find their form across the pond, Canada’s coach stated that the players realize a couple of positions remain “up for grabs” heading into the team’s final exhibitions.
ON THE REDS
Stating last week he would look to a number of young players to play against Armenia, TFC’s Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson will not be given an opportunity to impress before Canada meets the Americans. “I’m trying to stay away from any of the MLS players,” Hart said, after being asked if Toronto’s academy products were in consideration. “They have only just begun their preseason and it will be very difficult for them to fly all the way to Cyrpus and play a game. The only way I’ll use players from the MLS is if I’m really stumped for players.” … To sign any additional players currently outside TFC’s preseason makeup would take an “extraordinary” occurrence, according to what one TFC official told the Sun this week. Director of team and player operations Earl Cochrane said he would be “surprised if anything earth-shattering happened between now and the start of March.” He continued by saying the Reds could do something within the league over the next few months but are happy with the club’s offseason … The Reds will continue training through this week before heading to Orlando on Feb. 13 for a cluster of friendlies. Toronto will continue preseason against the North American third-tier’s Orlando City, Sweden’s BK Hacken and FC Dallas.
The Montreal Impact dropped its first preseason match Wednesday, falling to the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in Carson, California. Colin Clark and Cam Weaver scored for the Orange while the story for Montreal was forward Justin Braun hobbling off injured in the second half. It should be noted that Houston’s Tyler Deric and Warren Creavalle, who assisted on Weaver’s clincher, were arrested over the weekend for what the Houston Chronicle said was assaulting a public servant and interfering with public duties.