Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To get to South Africa you have to turn right at the CN Tower

Distracted by the Olympics and the big playoff push by the Blue Jays (*cough*), you might be forgiven for not realizing that the World Cup returns to Canada tomorrow as Canada takes on Jamaica in the first game of CONCACAF semi-final qualifying at BMO Field.

It’s a must win. A must, must win. No, really. MUST. The last cycle Canada was eliminated before it really got going by only taking one point out of two home games off the top. Once again our Canuck heroes open up the campaign with back to back home dates (Sept. 6 in against Honduras in Montreal is next) and to suggest that two wins are imperative is to point out that breathing is important. Drawn into an insanely hard group (by CONCACAF standards) any team that fails to take care of its home games is going to be in trouble.

Below the jump Canada’s line-up and a preview. If you have an hour to spare, or room on your iPod, you can listen to me ramble on about some of the same things on The Score’s The Footy Show podcast. And no, I don’t know why I wasn’t sitting closer to the mic.

Canada has called up a predictable line-up for the game, made up of many of its best European based players. Relying on players from Europe is always a bit risky as you never know what their professional clubs (who tolerate European World Cup qualifying, but view CONCACAF qualifying to an affront of their sensibilities) will do to the player once they return and you are always dealing with players that are jumping off a plane to compete. In that line, Jamaica has named a team that is missing some of its top guys. Instead it is going with a lot of relatively untested domestic players.

There are pros and cons to both approaches (having players that are familiar with each other is always a good thing), but in a hyper competitive group it does seem a bit odd that a team wouldn’t want to bring its best. In the last cycle, Canadian manager Frank Yallop went outside the box with some of his selections and it was a bloody disaster. And the Jamaican league is likely worse than the USL, which is where Yallop went for his bizzaro selections.

The Canadian line-up, with projected starters indicated (* indicates that starting position is unclear. ** indicates a late injury):

GK- Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo – MLS)*
D - Mike Klukowski (Club Brugge – Belgium)
D - Kevin McKenna (FC Köln – Germany)
D/M - Adrian Serioux (FC Dallas - MLS)*
D/M - Paul Stalteri (Tottenham – EPL)
M - Julian de Guzman (Deportivo La Coruna – Spain)
M - Issey Nakajima-Farran (FC Nordsjælland – Denmark)
M/F Tomasz Radzinski (Skoda Xanthi – Greece)
M - Atiba Hutchinson (F.C. København – Denmark)
M/F - Dwayne De Rosario (Houston Dynamo – MLS)
F - Rob Friend (Borussia Mönchengladbach – Germany)

F - Ali Gerba (MK Dons – England, league 1)
D - Richard Hastings (Inverness CT – Scotland)
D/M Daniel Imhof | (VfL Bochum – Germany)**
D/M - Jim Brennan (Toronto FC- MLS)
M - Patrice Bernier (FC Nordsjælland – Denmark)
F - Iain Hume (Barnsley – England, Championship)
GK - Greg Sutton (Toronto FC - MLS)

There are three main questions about the Canadian set-up. The first is in goal where it is a battle between the veteran Pat Onstad, 40, and the younger, but more inconsistent Greg Sutton (There is a third keeper in the mix, Lars Hirschfeld, who is likely the most talented but who is struggling to get playing time at his club in Romania. That, and that Sutton and Onstad are in season, is why he’s been left off for this call-up). Although it remains unlikely that Onstad will feature if Canada actually makes it to the World Cup, he’s likely the best choice here based on both his experience and his form in big games (he’s been the starting keeper for Houston the last two years as it has captured back-to-back MLS titles).

In the midfield Canada will go with five men. An argument can be made that the Canucks have the best midfield in the region, with Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson providing a spectacular offensive touch. Normally the choice here would be whether to line-up in an attacking stance, which would see De Rosario placed up top and given a sort of rover role, or to play with a holding player to help with the centrebacks. When they play the less aggressive formation, it would be likely that Daniel Imhof that would get the start ahead of Issey Nakajima-Farran. But, he's hurt for this one. However, look for that type of line-up once Canada hits the road.

I mixed up my injured midfielders...Imhof is in, Kakajima-Farran out...

What causes Canada fans to wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat is the middle of the back line. Kevin McKenna appears to be the best of a weak bunch, but his utter lack of pace is petrifying. Richard Hastings , who, God love him, scored the golden goal that propelled the red and white to the 2000 Gold Cup win, is even slower than McKenna. So, that leaves Adrian Serioux, who is likely the least talented of Canada’s starting XI, to likely fill in beside McKenna. Since Jamaica will probably play a counter game it’s important to keep as much speed on the pitch as possible, so it seems unlikely that Hastings and McKenna will be on together.

Meanwhile, many Canadian fans are attempting to do their part by contributing to a positive home field advantage for Canada (which isn’t always the case). Through the efforts of several individuals (notably Mississauga’s Dino Rossi who bought literally thousands of tickets himself to distribute to Canadian fans) and with some historic assistance from the CSA it appears that there will be loud, vocal support for Canada in each of the four corners of the stadium.

A unified march to the stadium is also planned, timed to arrive at the stadium at about 7 p.m. (it’sa 7:30 p.m. kick-off). The march will leave the Rhino (Queen and Dufferin), where the North End Elite and the Voyageurs will be, at 6:30 p.m., before traveling south down Dufferin to King to meet U-Sector at the Dufferin Gate, then east along King to Shoeless Joe’s where the Red Patch Boys will join up. From there, the march will zigzag through the Liberty Village area before crossing the CN tracks through the Go Train tunnel at Exhibition. All (wearing red) are welcome.

Type rest of the post here


Tyler King said...

"as Canada takes on Jamaica in the first game of CONCACAF semi-final qualifying at BMO Field."

GASP! It's National Soccer Stadium! Dear god, man!

How dare you forget the varying identities of Toronto's answer to Andy Kaufman & Tony Clifton.

eyebleaf said...

is this game being televised? please tell me it's being televised.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

That's hilarious that it's a guy named Dino Rossi who's distributing the free tickets... a guy with the same name is running for governor of Washington State this fall, so I've seen a zillion campaign ads for him lately. If it's the same guy, it would make more sense for him to give away Sounders tickets...

Also, I agree with your concerns about the defense, Duane. Given the weak bunch we have at the back, I'd like to see Canada use a 3-5-2 instead, with Stalteri or perhaps Brennan as a holding player at the back, Radzinski, Hume or Gerba joining Friend as an outright striker, and DeRo as an attacking midfielder. For a 4-5-1 setup to work, you have to be confident that your defense won't allow much past them, and I don't have that much faith in the Canadian defence.

Duane Rollins said...

@ eyebeleaf

Sportsnet West & Pacific (Live), Sportsnet Ontario (Tape delay - 11:00pm ET).

@ Tyler

It says BMO Field on my ticket.

@ Andrew

If we lose it will be because of a ugly counter goal set-up by strong pace upfront by the Jamaicans.

And Dino is the guy that fronted the money for the black t-shirts last fall.

Duane Rollins said...

Sportsnet is now streaming the game live: