Canada starts World Cup quest

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Stephen Hart announced the 19 players who begin the journey along the qualification road for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as Canada’s men’s team.

In the most recent past, it’s been a short trip.

Predicting how much longer the trip will be this time around would merely be an exercise in frustration.

A better picture may emerge as Canada begins the second round of CONCACAF qualifying in a group with Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis. The group winner, one of six groups, moves on to Round 3 of qualifying.

The roster announcement is for the group’s first two games, against St. Lucia next Friday in Toronto and Sept. 6 in Puerto Rico.

Sixteen of the 19 players Hart named to the squad were part of Canada’s disastrous Gold Cup tournament team. Canada crashed out after the first round.

No one expects Canada to suffer the same fate against some of the world’s soccer minnows, but the pressure of qualifying for a World Cup makes strange things happen to a country whose confidence at the international level is fragile at best.

“In theory, you should win the games; unfortunately, the games are not played theoretically,” the coach said. “You have to go into the games and be mentally prepared to do your best. And you have to understand that a lot of things that aren’t in your control and could disrupt what you would like to do.

“. . . When you come to a World Cup qualifier, everything becomes a little bit magnified. We need to keep our heads and not panic.”

Panic has been one of the national program’s downfalls over the years. When things begin to go badly, they usually spiral out of control. It’s happened in previous qualifiers. Canada has blown leads late in games and then never recovered.

“We will remind the players of those situations,” Hart said. “But it happens to teams with way more experience than us. Italy 2010 comes to mind (didn’t get past the first round of the South Africa World Cup). We will remind the players that this is not one- or two- or a three-game situation and it is over.”

Hart has several Major Soccer League players on the roster. He has a problem in that while MSL is nearing the end of its season, many of the players he has named play in countries such as Turkey that have yet to begin their seasons.

“This squad had its own complications,” Hart said. “I wanted to pick players who were playing but it didn’t work out because a number of positions could not be filled. Those (players) who were available, we got the best possible squad together.

“I considered bringing in some young players but overall I’m happy with the squad that’s here.”

The squad sees the inclusion of Iain Hume and the exclusion of two players expected to be named, Rob Friend and Marcel de Jong.

“Rob Friend has a injury situation and (both) have a family situation,” Hart said. “It was complicated to bring them in and then had to return home emergency wise.”

Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis don’t play many national team games so Hart hasn’t had much of a chance to watch them. He believes Canada’s biggest challenge will be when it plays on the road.

“From all accounts, the fields are not the best. That is the equalizer in that respect,” he said.

Canada’s home games will be played in Toronto at BMO Field.

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