Canada will use mostly players from Europe in soccer friendly against Cyprus
by Jim Morris, May 23
Canada will use a lineup of mostly European-based players when Stephen Hart coaches his first match with the national soccer team in a May 30 friendly against Cyprus.
Hart, named the national team's interim coach last month, says he's looking forward to the chance to evaluate some of the young players who could play for Canada at the upcoming Gold Cup tournament, and even help in the next round of World Cup qualifying.
"It's a good opportunity for me to see some players that we have not seen before in international competition and give them the opportunity to show they can fight for selection," he said during a telephone conference call Friday.
But Hart, who replaced the fired Dale Mitchell, was more evasive when asked if he'd like to drop the interim title and take over the head coaching duties.
"I would like to have an opportunity to sit down and speak to players on a one-on-one basis, see how they feel and what kind of reaction I get performance wise from the players," said Hart, who is also the Canadian Soccer Association's technical director.
"There are a lot of things to go into a final decision if I should throw my name into the hat."
Included on the 17-man roster for next weekend's match in Larnaca, Cyprus, are two players with a chance to play their first game for the national team.
Tosaint Ricketts, 21, of Edmonton, currently plays for Myllykosken Pallo -47 in Finland. Simeon Jackson, 22, of Mississauga, Ont., scored both goals to help Gillingham defeat Rochdale 2-1 and put his side through to Saturday's League Two playoff final at Wembley.
"He's on fire at the moment," said Hart. "He is a young player we'd love to see in the future."
Hart did not select any players currently on Major League Soccer clubs. That means national team veterans like Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Serioux, both with Toronto FC, were left off the roster.
Since the game does not fall on a FIFA calendar date, some players were unavailable because of club commitments.
Of those named, Marcel de Jong, of Roda JC in the Netherlands, and Paul Stalteri, with Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, may not be available, depending on their club's results this weekend.
If he plays, Stalteri would be the most experienced player with 73 international appearances. Richard Hastings (53) and Kevin McKenna (38) are the next two in terms of experience.
Selected as goalkeepers are Lars Hirschfeld, who is currently playing in Romania, and Kenny Stamatopoulos, who is playing for FC Lyn Oslo in Norway.
"Lars was part of the setup before," said Hart. "He has shown consistency. We will give him the opportunity.
"Really and truthfully, we have not seen Kenny for a while. It gives me the opportunity to look at him and then I can make a decision on the goalkeeper for the Gold Cup."
The Cyprus match will serves as a warmup as Canada scrambles to prepare for the Gold Cup, which determines the championship for CONCACAF, the football association representing North and Central American and the Caribbean.
Hart admits this year's competition won't have the same energy at the 2007 championship, which was won by the U.S.
"The players knew there was World Cup qualifying coming around," he said. "My approach to the team (this year) will basically be one of we are going there to compete and do the best we can.
"I think for the young players who get included, it will be a great opportunity or them to play a couple of international games, hopefully more than just a couple, and prove themselves."
Canada, ranked 89th in the world, has been drawn in Group A at the Gold Cup with No. 41 Costa Rica, No. 70 Jamaica and No. 102 El Salvador.
The Canadians will kick off the tournament, which is being held at a record 13 venues across the U.S., against Jamaica on July 3 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. They continue with games against El Salvador on July 7 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, and Costa Rica on July 10 at Florida International University Stadium in Miami.
Mitchell was fired March 27, more than five months after the Canadians bowed out in World Cup qualifying with a dismal 0-4-2 record.
Hart was the interim coach at the 2007 Gold Cup when Mitchell was tied up with the under-20 team at the world championships, and led the Canadians to a spot in the semifinals.
He hopes to use the next several months to plan a strategy leading to the next round of World Cup qualifying.
"I'm going to be very patient and look at the scenarios that lead to a long run," Hart said. "We are basically talking three or maybe four years down the road."