In the unpredictable world of international soccer, Stephen Hart knows it's always good to have a solid backup plan.
The Canadian men's soccer coach said he's using Wednesday's upcoming friendly against Trinidad and Tobago to see if any players catch his eye before two crucial World Cup qualifiers against Panama next month. While Hart says his roster for the qualifiers is pretty much set, he needs a Plan B in case he needs to replace a projected starter due to injury or poor form.
"I know the squad I would like [against Panama] — let's put it that way," Hart said after his team's final training session before Wednesday's game. "But there are too many outside factors for me to be thinking about that at the moment.
"I think [the friendly is] an opportunity for those players who didn't get in the recent international games to get into the squad."
Canada, second place in its World Cup qualifying group, is looking to build on a road win over Cuba and a draw with Honduras in June. A top-two finish will move Canada onto the final round qualifying.
Panama currently sits first in the group. Two good results in the next qualifiers would propel Canada to top spot, while two losses could prove fatal.
The squad that's been assembled in Florida is made up largely of North American-based players. Foreign-based players like Simeon Jackson, Olivier Occean and Atiba Hutchinson have remained with their clubs as most of the biggest leagues in Europe are about to open new seasons.
That has opened the door for veteran midfielders Terry Dunfield (Toronto FC) and Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), who were left off the roster in June, as well as some members of the under-23 team that came within one game of qualifying for the London Olympics before losing out to eventual gold medallist Mexico.
"I was in the stands for the Honduras game and I was one of the fans yelling 'come on boys just stick it away' but we had three or four good chances," Dunfield said of the 0-0 draw with Honduras. "The boys did fantastic last month and if anything were a little bit unlucky not to come away with the six points."
Forward Lucas Cavallini turned a few heads in the Olympic qualifying tournament. When Canada pulled off a 2-0 win over the favoured United States in Nashville, Cavallini, currently based in Uruguay, scored Canada's second goal of the night.
Given Canada's continuing struggles putting away chances, a fresh face on offence could be worth a look.
"The key thing for me as a striker is to score and if you keep scoring and keep scoring then they keep calling," said the 19-year-old Cavallini. "For me that's the main objective."
Hart was the assistant coach for Canada in Olympic qualifying and was impressed with what he saw in Cavallini. He says the young striker could possibly find his way into the lineup against Panama if he looks sharp against Trinidad and Tobago, ranked one spot behind No. 79 Canada by FIFA.
"If a young man comes in and gets a run and has a good performance it will boost his confidence and it might just sway the selection," Hart said.
The team trained on Tuesday in hot and humid conditions nearing 40 degrees. While the weather isn't likely to be as punishing next month for the first of the games at BMO Field, Hart's still hoping they can get some of that hot weather that Southern Ontario has enjoyed for most of the summer.
"The reality is it will be better if there is some heat in Toronto because it will prepare us better for Panama," he said. "I don't think it will be cold enough to affect Panama. We'll take whatever comes. We know it's going to be hot in Panama. There's no getting away from that but we'll be prepared for that."