A green Canadian soccer team gets to gauge its talent against an equally young Denmark side Saturday in a friendly in Tucson.
The game is the first for the Canadian men's program since a humiliating 8-1 loss last October that knocked Canada out of World Cup qualifying. Only three starters from that game — goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld, winger Nik Ledgerwood and striker Tosaint Ricketts are expected to be in the starting 11 Saturday as the Canadian Soccer Association opted for young, largely developmental squad at its Arizona camp.
The Danes have done the same, since the game does not fall on a FIFA international date — meaning top players are hard to pry away from their clubs.
Canada is ranked 64th in the world compared to No. 23 for Denmark, but those numbers mean little given the makeup of the squads.
Still interim coach Colin Miller knows the size of the challenge that awaits his young team and has been managing expectations all week.
"Absolutely massive. An enormous task given the group that we have," he said of facing Denmark. "Even if we had our full team it would still be an enormous task."
After the game, the Canadians leave Sunday for Houston and a friendly Tuesday against a largely domestic U.S. side. The Danes meet Mexico on Wednesday in Phoenix.
Miller says the Canadian camp has already been a success, given that it has welcomed new players into the national team fold while adding to the depth of the program.
"I've taken the pressure off the guys. A result [Saturday] and Tuesday is secondary," said Miller, whose steady hand has been in evidence all week. "Let's see if we can get something that we can really get our teeth into and build for the future.
"Out last result was, unfortunately, an 8-1 defeat. If we can try to get a positive performance and hopefully a good result [Saturday], that sort of pushes that to the background and now we continue to look forward."
Of course, another shellacking would not help the program's image.
"It can happen at any level of football," said Miller, who recalls a 6-0 Scottish Cup loss to Glasgow Rangers while he was managing Hamilton Academical in Scotland.
Young starting core
Miller has not announced his lineup but his likely starting 11 Saturday will feature Hirschfeld in goal behind a backline of Ashtone Morgan, Dejan Jakovic, Nana Attakora and Doneil Henry. Ledgerwood and Russell Teibert will be on the wings with Terry Dunfield and Kyle Bekker in central midfield. Former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario and Ricketts will play up front.
Dunfield, whose no-holds-barred approach to the game exemplifies Miller's work ethic, is likely to lead the team out at the 11,000-seat Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
"The players, I'm very happy with the work they've done," Miller said after practice Friday before the team headed by bus to Tucson. "They go across the white line [Saturday] and we'll see where the cards fall.
"The group is in a very good space at the moment and that's I think all the [Canadian Soccer] Association wanted from me."
The CSA is currently searching for a permanent replacement for Stephen Hart, who stepped down after the Honduras beating.
Miller has spent the week trying to establish a defensive framework for a 22-man squad that features 11 players born in the '90s.
"I haven't spoke about Denmark all week," he said. "Because if the guys aren't aware of the qualities they (the Danes) will bring [Saturday], then there's something seriously wrong.
"We've focused solely on what our jobs are."
Miller has preached discipline to his team, keeping the ball in front of them and making the easy pass over the complicated. At times, he has had to rein in his young charges who have tended to lose shape in their enthusiasm.
Canada is missing the likes of Kevin McKenna, Atiba Hutchinson, Julian de Guzman, Patrice Bernier, Will Johnson, Ante Jazic, Andre Hainault, Iain Hume, Simeon Jackson, David Edgar and Oliver Occean.
Denmark is without star striker Nicklas Bendtner (the Arsenal player on loan to Juventus is injured) and Liverpool defender Daniel Agger, among a host of others.
Michael Silberbauer, Lars Jacobsen and Dennis Rommedahl are the only starters from Denmark's last World Cup qualifying game, a 3-1 loss to 10-man Italy last October, who are in the touring squad. Six others — Jores Okore, Kasper Lorentzen, Jesper Hansen, Casper Sloth, Emil Larsen and Steffen Rasmussen — were on the bench that day.
Rommedahl's resume includes stops at Ajax, Charlton Athletic, PSV Eindhoven, Olympiakos and now Brondby IF. The 34-year-old winger is a former Danish Footballer of the Year.
Twenty-four of Denmark's 32-man touring squad were born in the 1990s led by forward Andreas Cornelius, who doesn't turn 20 until mid-March. He has been turning heads at FC Copenhagen where he has 16 goals in 20 appearances this season.
The Danes (0-1-2) currently stand fifth in a tough World Cup qualifying group that also features Italy, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Armenia and Malta.
They resume World Cup qualifying play in March against the Czechs and Bulgaria.
Canadian fullback Andres Fresenga and forward Frank Jonke have both been hampered by injuries in the leadup to the Denmark game.
Both are expected to be included on the bench to get a taste of the action. Miller is allowed six substitutions and is likely to use all of them, giving several players their first cap.