Canadian coach Stephen Hart says teamwork key in World Cup qualifying
Coach Stephen Hart says Canada's success in World Cup qualifying will come down to teamwork.
No pie-in-the-sky coach, Hart knows the talent pool in Canada is thin.
"So if you have key players that are not at their best or, like the last campaign, get injured early in the campaign, you could be in trouble," Hart said Thursday as the Canadian Soccer Association unveiled its centennial team uniform at BMO Field.
Hence the need to play as a team, hopefully one whose talents are greater than the sum of its parts.
"That might sound very cliche-ish, but we do not have or have yet to produce the one or two individuals that a lot of countries or clubs have that can make a difference if all things are equal," he added.
Canada, currently ranked 75th in the world, opens the next round of qualifying play June 8 in No. 136 Cuba. The other teams in the Canadian group are No. 52 Panama and No. 62 Honduras.
The top two teams in the group will advance to the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"If Canada plays as a team and play effectively, we can get results," Hart said. "We can get results away from home, because in a lot of instances we are a little more comfortable playing away from home. And we can get results at home."
Hart's optimism for the team on the road will be welcome, since dropped points at home have cost Canada in the past.
The Canadian men failed to survive this stage of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup after picking up just two of nine possible points at home and losing all three games on the road.
Canada (0-4-2) finished the stage tied with Suriname for lowest points total (two) among the 12 CONCACAF countries still involved.
The Canadian men also stumbled in the penultimate phase of regional qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. Canada (1-3-2, five points) managed just one point at home, collecting four more on the road.
In 2002 qualifying, Canada (1-3-2, five points) also failed to reach the final stage of qualifying but did manage a win and tie at home.
Hart believes that Canada has become "more relaxed" on the road in recent years.
"I don't know why that is. Maybe it's because we always seem to be on the road because of traditional fan support [for the visiting team at home Canada games]," he said with a laugh.
And when Canadian teams play at home, there is what he calls "an eagerness to please."
"Home field advantage is really about being comfortable with the dressing room, the surroundings, the pitch etc. ... But sometimes the crowd can put you under pressure if they're not behind you 100 per cent so it's a double-edged sword sometimes."
Preparing the team
Hart plans to start bringing his players together for a camp in Florida on May 21. He hopes the Florida heat will help prepare the team for the 2 p.m. kickoff in Cuba.
MLS players will join the squad after their May 26 games.
Canada will host the U.S. in a friendly at BMO Field on June 3 before playing Cuba in Havana on June 8 and Honduras in Toronto on June 12.
Defender-midfielder Marcel de Jong and midfielder Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault have already been ruled out by injury.
"We're awaiting medical reports on two other players," Hart added, declined to identify the two in question.
Hart had little new to offer about the status of Blackburn Rovers forward Junior Hoilett or Villarreal midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, both of whom have yet to commit to Canada.
"You will have to speak to them directly. Nothing's changed."
Pressed on the issue, Hart acknowledged not having such talent at his disposal was disappointing.
"But for me, I have a whole bigger group that wants to play for Canada, are eager, are ready to go into camp and that for me is more pleasing."
Hart joked that his goal out of the six qualifying games was the maximum 18 points. But he said a more realistic total to safely move on was 12, noting Jamaica failed to advance with 10.