De Rosario sensing urgency
THE CANADIAN PRESS May 31, 2011
TORONTO -- After more than a decade with Canada's national soccer team, Kevin McKenna and Dwayne De Rosario have come to know disappointment all too well.
They're mainstays with the Canadian team, but neither has reached the World Cup.
And the 31-year-old McKenna and 33-year-old De Rosario know time is running out.
"I think it will be my last shot at a World Cup qualifying. There is a bit (of urgency), I'm not 21 anymore," said McKenna, a central defender for FC Koln in Germany. "It's always been a dream of mine as a kid and if we were to make it, it would definitely really be a highlight to my career.
"I think we have the group of guys to do it, but we say that every year. We have to go out on the pitch and prove it and show our qualities."
The Canadians have gathered for camp in Toronto ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, the start of a busy season that includes the start of World Cup qualifying in September. They host Ecuador in a friendly Wednesday at BMO Field.
But their focus through the Gold Cup and the months to follow is firmly set on their World Cup quest. Canada has made just one World Cup appearance -- in 1986 -- failing to win a game or score a goal.
"I've had that feeling (of urgency) from a long time ago, that's one of my dreams, to make the World Cup," De Rosario said. "We really think we have the team."
McKenna, a Calgary native, has 49 caps and 10 goals for Canada and made his national team debut in 2000. Toronto's De Rosario has 56 caps and 15 goals since making his debut in 1998.
The biggest change they've seen over their long tenure with the team is the increase in Canadians playing at a high level abroad.
"That's very important for a national program going forward -- guys not only playing for good clubs, but playing. That's going to help us tremendously," said De Rosario.
Simeon Jackson is one example of a Canadian who's shone this season on one of the sport's biggest stages.
Jackson's header against Portsmouth a few weeks ago propelled Norwich City into the vaunted English Premier League. That goal was just one of an outburst that saw the 22-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., score nine times in seven games.
"All the Canadian guys that are there doing well, we're very proud, 100 per cent," De Rosario said. "They're living their dreams, and a lot of them are living our dreams that we had as well.
"Especially Simeon, he has the opportunity to play in the Premiership, and it benefits not only our national team but the whole of Canada to see one of our own products go over to Europe and make it at that level. Hopefully kids can look at that and they can be inspired to do the same."
McKenna, who will make his fifth Gold Cup appearance, said it's a pleasure to line up alongside this edition of the Canadian team.
"I like to see good players coming through, and I think we have good players," McKenna said. "We have Julian (de Guzman) and Atiba (Hutchinson) in our midfield -- for me, two of the best players who have ever played for Canada.
"It's a privilege to play with these players. I'm hoping their qualities will shine through in this time and bring the team through to World Cup qualifying."
De Rosario was back at BMO Field for the first time since Toronto FC traded its captain and all-time leading scorer to the New York Red Bulls on April 1.
"It's nice, I've got some good memories on this field, especially when you're walking in with the national team, it's always an honour to represent your national team," said De Rosario, who will make his fourth Gold Cup appearance.
Canada opens the Gold Cup on Tuesday at Detroit's Ford Field against an American side that includes two of De Rosario's Red Bulls teammates: forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream. The rivalry has made for some good-natured ribbing.
"Back and forth, you take it, you give it," he said, laughing. "We've been having some friendly banter back and forth."
Canada hasn't played together since a 1-0 win over Belarus in March, and coach Stephen Hart finally had a full team to practise with Tuesday as he put his squad through an hour-long session at BMO Field.
"It's great to finally have everybody, I'm happy," the coach said.
Hart is approaching the next few months as building momentum toward World Cup qualifying, so practice was more of a chance for players to get reacquainted than anything else.
"We have to be realistic, it's more important to get our shape right and our ball movement right but that's going to take more than one one-hour session," Hart said. "We keep talking to the players, we know what we want, but it's a time thing, it just doesn't happen overnight."
Ecuador, which is coming off a 1-1 tie with Mexico in a friendly, will have Toronto FC forward Joao Plata in its lineup for the match.
Canada is currently ranked 76th in the world, compared to No. 64 for Ecuador.
Ecuador beat Canada 2-0 the last time the teams met, in 2002.