By Nigel Reed
The question was brief and to the point.
"Why Canada?" I inquired of Benito Floro during his introduction as Head Coach of Canada's men's national program.
The answer came without hesitation.
"Why not?" began the veteran Spaniard, who boasts a coaching resume spanning four decades and four continents.
"Their (the Canadian Soccer Association) vision is my vision", he continued, in broken, but perfectly comprehensible English.
Presumably that vision sees Canada competing at a future World Cup. Not the next one of course - it's already too late for that, but possibly - just possibly - the one after that. Russia 2018 must be the goal, otherwise Floro's hiring on a long-term contract makes no sense.
The road to Russia effectively begins this weekend. It is never too early to start preparations and Canada needs all the competitive practice it can get. Floro doesn't officially start work until August 1, but his orientation with the unfamiliar world of North American soccer starts right here.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is not a major tournament for many teams. Nations preoccupied with World Cup qualifying have bigger fish to fry and send what amounts to B squads to the regional competition. Mexico, the USA and others are understandably more focused on being in Brazil next year than winning the Gold Cup this summer.
Not so for Canada. It must play meaningful football every chance it gets. This team needs help, encouragement and experience wherever and whenever it can. It has to test itself and be tested by its international neighbours and rivals - the very teams it must clamber over if it is ever to return to the World Cup itself.
Floro will maintain a watching brief. Hopefully the CSA has issued him with a thick notebook and a pen with plenty of ink. He will do nothing more than "observe" Canada at close quarters for the first time while interim coach Colin Miller leads Canada at the Gold Cup.
This is a Canada in transition. It has an intelligent, combative new captain and Will Johnson is relishing the task. The Portland midfielder tells me the responsibility of leadership makes him a better player and at age 26, Johnson's best years lie ahead of him.
His desire for improvement is an example some of the new faces would do well to follow. While Johnson anchors the midfield, young, speedy Canadians are beginning to make their presence felt - eager to prove their international credentials.
Russell Teibert is enjoying a breakout year with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The 20-year-old winger has caught the eye with a series of impactful performances, while 21-year-old attacking midfielder Jonathan Osorio has forced his way into the Toronto FC starting line-up.
There is a nucleus of young talent emerging. Throw in MLS rookie Kyle Bekker plus the European based duo of teenagers Keven Aleman and Sam Piette and Miller has real competition for places. All these players have genuine talent but are red-raw at this level. The Gold Cup offers some of them that invaluable international experience.
The makeover may not be attractive at first glance. It will take time to get used to the new lay out but Canada has time on its side. It must be used creatively to build a sense of belonging as the new generation takes its first tentative steps on the international stage.
Floro's arrival is right on cue. He won't see Canada win the Gold Cup, but he will get an idea what he has to work with. From a discreet distance he will be able to assess the players at his disposal and plan accordingly. Tactically, Floro's job is to implement a system, which the players can execute on a game to game basis.
His most telling contribution, though, will be off the field.
Floro must use his vast experience to get inside the players' heads. Over time he has to make them mentally tough enough to compete against their CONCACAF rivals. Floro must make them believe they are not second class citizens in a football sense and convince them that the Mexicans, the Americans and others are not unbeatable.
The first job for Canada is to regain its self-respect. The world of international football is dog-eat-dog where the winners get stronger and the losers are seen as easy meat.
Results equal respect. For Canada, that process can start at the Gold Cup.
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