Coach Stephen Hart has called up a strong squad for Canada's opening round of World Cup qualifiers, with a healthy Atiba Hutchinson back in the fold.
Hart had said earlier this month that the star midfielder, who plays in the Netherlands for PSV Eindhoven, might not be available after minor leg surgery.
But the 28-year-old from Brampton, Ont., played 20 minutes for his club on the weekend.
|Sept. 2||St. Lucia||Toronto|
|Sept. 6||Puerto Rico||Puerto Rico|
|Oct. 7||Puerto Rico||Toronto|
|Oct. 11||St. Lucia||St. Lucia|
|Nov. 11||St. Kitts and Nevis||St. Kitts and Nevis|
|Nov. 15||St. Kitts and Nevis||Toronto|
"PSV thinks that he can come and contribute," Hart told a conference call Thursday. "But we have to keep an eye on him and make sure that he's 100 per cent and we've promised to do so."
Canada skipped the first round of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Currently ranked 102nd in the world, Canada is in a second-round group with No. 184 St. Lucia, No. 144 Puerto Rico, and No. 122 St. Kitts and Nevis. Only the group winner will advance.
Canada's opponents may be better known as vacation destinations than for their soccer but Hart's squad signals that Canada is all in from the get-go, as befitting a country that has only qualified once (in 1986) for soccer's biggest showcase.
Hart intimated it would be gratifying to finally add to that attendance record and thus end references to Canada's string of qualifying failure.
"These individual players want to get a World Cup, be remembered for being a team that got there and hopefully they will do everything to achieve that," he said.
Hart's 19-man roster covers Canada's first two games of the round — against St. Lucia at Toronto's BMO Field on Sept. 2 and in Puerto Rico on Sept. 6.
The next two rounds of matches are in October and November.
The top six CONCACAF teams, which includes the U.S. and Mexico, will join the third round of qualifying.
The fourth round of CONCACAF competition will produce three World Cup finalists from the region. The fourth-place team will have a shot at joining them via playoff with a country from another region.
The Canadian roster includes 16 players from this summer's Gold Cup squad, which won just one game in the CONCACAF tournament before being knocked out in the first round.
Hart has chosen six MLS players including Toronto FC midfielders Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield.
Forward Olivier Occean (Greuther Fuerth, Germany) gets a recall while D.C. United attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario is in line for his 60th cap.
Midfielder-striker Simeon Jackson, whose Norwich City is now in England's Premier League, will also provide offence.
Hart has already faced a number of problems in the leadup to qualifying.
Three players on his roster — goalkeeper Milan Borjan, defender Mike Klukowski and midfielder Josh Simpson — play in Turkey where allegations of match-fixing have put the start of the league season on hold.
Hart says he will evaluate those players in training but noted they have been involved in a busy exhibition schedule.
Hart also acknowledged that it is difficult to get scouting reports on some of the teams Canada is facing. Plus the Canadians can expect to play in some less glamorous venues.
"Sometimes it could be a big equalizer, especially when our players come from such different playing environments," he said.
And while some of the smaller Caribbean countries may not come with a big reputation, their players have spent a lot of time playing together.
"That is going to be telling when we play those teams," he said.
In contrast, Hart is worried about lack of playing time for some of his players at their clubs.
"It remains a huge concern. it's unfortunate but that's the situation at the moment," he said. "They're in professional environments where they have to fight for selection, which is understood. And in many instances they're not playing as much as I'd like or even as much as they would like."
Goalkeepers: Lars Hirschfeld, Valerenga (Norway); Milan Borjan, Sivasspor (Turkey).
Defenders: Nik Ledgerwood, SV Wehen Wiesbaden (Germany); Kevin McKenna, FC Koeln (Germany); Andre Hainault, Houston Dynamo; Ante Jazic, Chivas USA; Dejan Jakovic, D.C. United; Jaime Peters, Ipswich Town (England).
Midfielders: Mike Klukowski, Manisaspor (Turkey); Julian de Guzman, Toronto FC; Terry Dunfield, Toronto FC; Will Johnson, Real Salt Lake; Simeon Jackson, Norwich City (England); Josh Simpson,
Manisaspor (Turkey); Atiba Hutchinson, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands).
Midfielders-Forwards: Tosaint Ricketts, FC Politehnica Timisoara (Romania); Iain Hume, Preston North End (England).
Forwards: Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United; Olivier Occean, SpVgg Greuther Fuerth, Germany.