Sutton stays with Impact
By BILL BEACON
Montreal Impact goalie Greg Sutton celebrates with Gabriel Gervois and Adam Braz after beating the Seattle Sounders 2-0 in Montreal last September. (CP PHOTO/Andre Pichette)
MONTREAL (CP) - While Canada's national team plays soccer giant Spain on Saturday, goalkeeper Greg Sutton will be getting ready to face the modest Minnesota Thunder.
The six-foot-six Sutton has become Canada's No 1 'keeper, but the Montreal Impact convinced national coach Frank Yallop to leave him behind for a key stretch of matches in their bid to nail down first place in the United Soccer Leagues first division.
"Obviously I'm disappointed about not getting an opportunity to play a game like Spain, but I'm not upset with anyone," Sutton said this week. "I know this is my job as well.
"Staying in Montreal was just as important."
He added that Yallop assured him his status with the national side for future internationals would not change.
Sutton, the league MVP in 2004, was in goal for a 2-0 victory over second-place Rochester on Sunday that clinched a bye into the playoff semifinals for the defending league champion Impact.
And he had another shutout Wednesday night as Montreal clinched first place with a 1-0 home win over the third-place Vancouver Whitecaps. The Impact play host to the 10th-place Thunder on Sunday.
Yallop was left scrambling for a goalkeeper as Lars Hirschfeld, Sutton's rival for the No. 1 job, elected to stay with his new club Tromso in Norway. And Whitecaps 'keeper Mike Franks is injured.
Canada called in Kenny Stamatopoulos, who played once for Canada against Malta in 2001, from the Boden club in Sweden and brought in national under-20 'keeper Josh Wagenaar as backup.
While Saturday's match in Santander is only a friendly, Spain is a marquee opponent for Canada.
The Canadian men are ranked 84th in the world, while Spain is No. 8 and boasts such international stars as Raul.
"Any time we get to play a high-level team like that it's great for us," said Sutton. "We gain confidence.
"We know we can play against these teams. We proved it against the U.S. in the Gold Cup. Even though we lost 2-0, it was close. We had opportunities. We're there, it's just that we don't have the funding or preparation or the chance to get together that other countries do."
Or the luck with scheduling in Sutton's case.
"I wanted to play against a high-level team like Spain and Frank wanted me there, too," he added. "Unfortunately, with the scheduling, Montreal wanted me to stay behind.
"The decision was made between the two and Canada agreed I would stay."
Impact coach Nick de Santis is a former national team player who normally doesn't hesitate to release players to the Canadian team.
For the Gold Cup tournament in July, Sutton and five other Impact players, turned out for Canada, forcing Montreal to call in minor leaguers to complete its bench for one mid-season match.
This time, fullback Adam Braz is the lone Impact player who will play in Spain.
"We have a good understanding with the national team," said de Santis. "Frank was good enough this time that we could keep Greg here.
"He understood our position. The game is not a (World Cup) qualifier and he understood the games we were facing were near the end of the season and it was probably more important for him to be here. We're trying to work together."
And de Santis does not appear to be left with an unhappy goalkeeper.
"Greg will have a lot more opportunities with the national team," he said.
After Spain, Canada plays a friendly against Luxembourg on Nov. 16, well after the USL playoffs.