De Guzman named to Canadian roster
John Molinaro February 23, 2012
Spare a thought for Stephen Hart.
The Canadian national men's team coach was forced to scramble to put together his roster for next Wednesday's international friendly against Armenia in Limassol, Cyprus.
The game takes place on Feb. 29, the first FIFA International Date of the 2012 calendar year. The neutral site match will be the first meeting between the two nations.
Programming alert: Watch Canada vs Armenia live on Sportsnet, starting with our pre-game show at 11:30 am ET on February 29
Hart announced his 17-man roster Thursday, a squad that features 15 European-based players and one from Major League Soccer: Toronto FC midfielder Julian de Guzman.
Ideally, Hart would not have picked de Guzman, as he previously stated he was trying to avoid selecting MLS players because they are in the middle of their pre-season training camps. But Hart's hand was forced due to injuries and because several European clubs refused to allow their players to play in the exhibition match. By contrast, Armenia has 31 players in camp ahead of the game against Canada.
"Putting this team together was extremely difficult. Injuries are one thing and having to deal with some clubs, because they are involved in promotion fight -- it's been very difficult," Hart told reporters during a Thursday conference call.
"There were one or two players that received a lot of pressure from their club and it made it very difficult for them."
Hart received so much resistance that the European teams badgered him to find out the exact time of the Canada-Armenia match -- FIFA rules stipulate that clubs are required to release their players for international duty 48 hours before the match kicks off.
With forward Olivier Occean (foot) and defender Marcel de Jong (ankle) sidelined with serious injuries, combined with the hard time he was getting from European teams, Hart had to get a little creative in building his squad for the Armenia game.
Hardly a surprise then that he selected de Guzman, and defender Nana Attakora, who is currently out of contract with the San Jose Earthquakes and who recently trained with Scottish club Hibs.
"It's a situation where I needed somebody that can play centre back or right back. Nana was in Scotland training on a daily basis and from all reports was doing quite well. So it was a situation where I felt I could bring him in and once again give him the opportunity to show himself," Hart said.
Like Attakora, Samuel Piette also benefitted from the current player shortage.
The 17-year-old midfielder, who plays for FC Metz in France's second division, received his first call-up to the national team after previously playing for Canada's under-17 team, including at last summer's FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
Hart was impressed with Piette's work when he recently participated in a training camp with Canada's under-20 side.
"At the time I said to myself if I do get the opportunity I'd like to bring him in with the senior players and see how he settles into the midfield. This seems to be a good opportunity to bring him in. … It will give me a good gauge for him," Hart explained.
On a positive note, returning to the national team fold is star midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, widely regarded as Canada's best player.
Hutchinson hasn't played for Canada since aggravating a knee injury during a World Cup qualifier against St. Lucia last September. He had surgery on the knee and underwent a demanding physical rehabilitation regime before recently returning to action for his pro club, Dutch outfit PSV Eindhoven.
Hart said that PSV did not put up any kind of resistance with regards to allowing Hutchinson to make the trip to Cyprus. On the contrary.
"The club was actually pleased that I decided to bring him in because he needs some games. Of course, we're going to monitor how well he does and be sensible about this, but (PSV was) very supportive," Hart stated.
Although it failed to earn a tournament berth, Armenia posted an impressive 5-2-3 record in Euro 2012 qualifying, finishing third in its group behind Russia and Ireland. Armenia currently sits 41st in the FIFA world rankings, compared to 71st-place Canada
Armenia plays Serbia, ranked 25th in the world, the day before its encounter with Canada in Cyprus. Serbia also plays Cyprus on Feb 29.
With Serbia already in the country for a pair of games, the Canadian Soccer Association looked into the possibility of setting up a friendly for Canada against the Serbs. But Hart said that idea was quickly put to rest when European teams denied his request to release their players a bit earlier.
"There was no way we were going to get the players for an extra day or two," Hart admitted.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Kenny Stamatopoulos
Defenders: Nana Attakora, David Edgar, Mike Klukowski, Nik Ledgerwood, Kevin McKenna, Adam Straith
Midfielders: Julian de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson, Pedro Pacheco, Samuel Piette, Josh Simpson
Forwards: Marcus Haber, Iain Hume, Simeon Jackson, Tosaint Ricketts