Canada overcoming obstacles

JERRAD PETERS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

They have an out-of-work goalkeeper, a captain who barely played a competitive match all season and an interim coach who will likely be replaced before the autumn. They also have seven points from three matches and a quarterfinal berth in a continental championship.

The success of Canada's national men's soccer team is one of the surprise storylines at the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Having failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, nothing much was expected from Canada at this tournament.

The protracted holdouts of Adrian Serioux, Jim Brennan and Dwayne De Rosario seemed to make the players' heads hang even lower, as did the mystifying search for a successor to former head coach Dale Mitchell.

Then the team was drawn into the competition's Group of Death alongside Jamaica, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

With the script revealing one complication after another, Canada's appearance in the Gold Cup wasn't shaping up to be a long one.

Turns out not one of them read the script. Instead, they bought into coach Stephen Hart's philosophy of cautious, collective soccer and knocked off Jamaica and El Salvador in succession before earning a 2-2 draw against pre-tournament favourites Costa Rica. They will now play Honduras on Friday with a place in the semifinals at stake. What a turn of events.

Hart deserves significant credit for convincing his squad to buy into his system and believe in themselves, but to single out one person for plaudits would be grossly unfair to the rest of the side. Ali Gerba, for one, scored both goals in the pair of 1-0 victories over Jamaica and El Salvador and used his big frame to persistently menace the opposing defence.

Julian de Guzman was immense in both wins as well, going head-to-head with the adversary's creative forces and shutting them down on each occasion. He was rested against Costa Rica, which only allowed Marcel De Jong to emerge as one of this country's most promising young internationals. His goal in the 27th minute against the Ticos -- a screamer from 25 yards -- was technically precise and confidently taken, attributes too often lacking in a Canadian national team.

Against Honduras, Canada will come up against a rival on a confidence kick of its own. Los Catrachos fired four goals past Grenada on Saturday and beat Canada twice in World Cup qualifying, outscoring the Canucks 5-2. Carlos Costly scored one of those goals and has two in the Gold Cup so far. He'll be one to look out for, as will Kansas City Wizards midfielder Roger Espinoza.

History -- like so many of the other pre-tournament talking points -- is not in Canada's favour. But they don't seem to care. This side is making a name for itself by simply tossing the script.

LOCAL FOOTY

A pair of FIFA-certified soccer fields will be installed at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex, thanks to nearly $1.2 million in funding from all three levels of government. The announcement was made Friday by representatives from city hall and both federal and provincial governments.

Half of the funding will be provided by the Recreational Infrastructure Canada program and the Province of Manitoba. "The new fields will be a welcome addition for soccer players in this city and province and will promote healthy lifestyles," said Manitoba healthy living minister Kerri Irvin-Ross.

Keith Ferbers, chair of the Winnipeg Soccer Federation, hailed the initiative and thanked the three levels of government for financing the project. "This undertaking will benefit soccer players of all ages across the province," he said.

jerradpeters@gmail.com


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