Hart to steer Canada toward 2014 qualification

STEVEN SANDOR, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:07 PM ET

The interim tag has been removed from Stephen Hart.

Monday, the Canadian Soccer Association announced in Toronto that the interim head coach of the national senior men’s soccer program would be the coach looking forward to the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup.

In two stints as the interim coach, Hart led Canada on impressive runs in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where on both occasions it was eliminated with help from some questionable officials’ calls.

In between Hart’s interim stints, Dale Mitchell steered Canada through a poor World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign which saw Canada go winless in six group-stage matches.

Canada has won 50% of the games in which Hart has coached, giving him the best winning percentage of any national team coach in the country’s history.

But, with the interim tag removed, Hart knows he moves onto the hot seat. Frank Yallop won MLS Cups with San Jose before leading Canada to a last-place group-stage finish in CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. Mitchell was turfed after the miserable 2010 campaign. The job has been a coach-killer.

“I have no illusions,” said Hart. “This hasn’t ended well for anybody in recent history.”

Hart said the plan will be to be get a team ready for qualification for Brazil 2014 — and that all tournaments leading to that point, even the Gold Cup, will be used to tinker with the lineup.

“I have no qualms about experimenting,” he said.

“We obviously have to give a lot of our youth playing experience at the international level and at CONCACAF.”

And, even though Hart spoke to the importance of youth, he won’t shut the door on veterans who have decided to turn down invites from the Canadian program in the past. Players like Toronto FC’s Dwayne De Rosario or even Jim Brennan, who haven’t played recently for Canada, won’t find the door shut in their faces.

“The first thing is that I want players who want to play for Canada,” said Hart. “Only then, when you have made that decision, can we move forward and see what comes afterwards... My hand is extended. Take it if you want it and commit to playing for Canada.”

Canada has lost impressive young talent suchas Jonathan De Guzman, younger brother of Julian De Guzman, who has suited up for the Netherlands but could still come back and play for Canada. The country also recently lost talented youth Jacob Lensky, who decided to pledge allegiance to the Czech Republic rather than Canada.

And, with young stars like Blackburn Rovers David Hoilett, his brother Janeil at FSV Mainz and NCAA top prospect Teal Bunbury not receiving their senior caps, there are plenty of youth options for Hart to get into the squad if those players decide to represent Canada at the senior level.

The rebuilding job will begin soon. Canadian Soccer Association general secretary Peter Montopoli said Monday that both the Canadian men’s and women’s team will host multiple international friendlies in 2010, according to the FIFA approved international matchday calendar.


Videos

Photos