Two of Canada’s most promising soccer prospects could soon make their national team debuts.
Toronto FC defender Ashtone Morgan on Thursday was named to coach Stephen Hart’s 18-man roster for Canada’s upcoming World Cup qualifying matches, paving the way for the talented youngster to earn his first cap next month.
Also earning his first national team call-up was midfielder Joseph Di Chiara, who plays professionally in Russia for FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.
Canada visits St. Lucia (Oct. 7) and hosts Puerto Rico (Oct. 11) at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Canada's World Cup route
Canada is competing in a second-round group that includes St. Lucia, Puerto Rico and St. Kitts and Nevis. Only the winner of the round robin advances.
If Canada wins its pool, it would compete in a third-round group with Honduras, Cuba and possibly Panama. Crucially, Canada would avoid CONCACAF heavyweights Mexico and the United States in the next round. The 12 teams in the third round will be divided into groups of four with the top two in each moving on.
The final and fourth round consists of the six remaining teams fighting it out in one round-robin group for three automatic World Cup berths.
The fourth-place team from CONCACAF will play a two-game, home-and-away playoff against the winner of the Oceania region in order to qualify.
The World Cup in Brazil, involving 32 countries playing 64 matches, will be held from June 12 to July 13, 2014.
Hart previously worked with Morgan with Canada’s under-23 team and has been impressed with his recent play in Major League Soccer.
Although limited to 11 MLS appearances this season, Morgan has won plaudits for his consistent and composed performances at left-back for the Reds.
A 20-year-old native of Toronto, Morgan joined TFC’s youth academy in 2008 before making his professional debut two years later in a CONCACAF Champions League match against Panama’s Arabe Unido. He soon graduated to the senior team and made his MLS debut on March 26, 2011, against the Portland Timbers.
"He’s been playing consistently for TFC and I thought it was a good time seeing that we need some sort of [depth] at that position to bring him in, give him the experience of being with the [national team] and seeing what we are about," Hart told reporters during a conference call.
Hart later added: "His game shows a maturity where he potentially could step into the team, else I would not have brought him in."
At just 19 years old, Di Chiara, from Thornhill, Ont., is the youngest player on the squad, and could become the first teenager to play for Canada in a FIFA World Cup qualifier since Jaime Peters in 2004.
"I thought [this] would be a good chance to bring him in, to work a bit closer with him and to see what he has to offer," Hart said
In total, Hart made six changes to his roster from the pair of qualifying games Canada played earlier this month.
Goalkeeper Milan Borjan is unavailable after picking up a minor injury. Kenny Stamatopoulos, who plays in Sweden, takes his place on the Canadian roster.
Also making their return for Canada are striker Olivier Occean, and defenders Adam Straith and Nik Ledgerwood.
One notable absence is midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, a midfielder with Dutch team PSV Eindhoven who is also the reigning Canadian player of the year.
Hutchinson underwent a knee operation on his knee in late June after injuring it while playing for Canada in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
He came back and played in Canada's 4-1 win over St. Lucia on Sept. 2 in Toronto, but didn't play in Canada's 3-0 victory at Puerto Rico four days later.
PSV Eindhoven stated Hutchinson would require another knee operation, but the Canadian is exploring his options.
"He’s seen another specialist since the last time he spoke to me and he’s going to get a second opinion on what is happening," Hart stated. "We’re just waiting on him to give us a full report of what’s happening."
D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, 33, is the most experienced player on the Canadian team. De Rosario needs two goals to surpass Dale Mitchell (19 goals) as Canada’s all-time scoring leader.
Hart’s team leads its qualifying section with six points, ahead of St. Kitts and Nevis (four points), Puerto Rico (one point) and winless St. Lucia.
After the October matches, Canada closes out group play with a home-and-away series against St. Kitts and Nevis (Nov. 11 and 15). Only the pool winner advances to the third stage of qualifying in CONCACAF, the region covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Looking ahead to these pair of qualifiers, Hart would like to see his team be more clinical in front of goal.
"We have to realize the game is played over 90 minutes. We have to show a little more patience when we play and we have to be very aware and very solid at the back, and how we recover the ball," Hart stated.
- Goalkeepers: Lars Hirschfeld, Kenny Stamatopoulos.
- Defenders: Nik Ledgerwood, Ashtone Morgan, Kevin McKenna, Adam Straith, Ante Jazic, David Edgar.
- Midfielders: Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson, Josh Simpson, Joseph Di Chiara, Terry Dunfield.
- Forwards: Iain Hume, Tosaint Ricketts, Simeon Jackson, Dwayne De Rosario, Olivier Occean.