Canadian friendly good prep for Gold Cup
Ecuador an ideal opponent, says coach Stephen Hart
Coach Stephen Hart hopes to gaze into the future Wednesday night when the Canadian national team hosts Ecuador at Toronto's BMO Field.
The international friendly will be the Canadians' lone exhibition match before it participates at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June in the United States. Canada plays the U.S. (June 7), Guadeloupe (June 11) and Panama (June 14) at the 12-nation tournament.
Ecuador is the ideal Gold Cup preparation for Canada, according to Hart.
"We specifically went out and tried to get a South American team," Hart stated. "We thought Ecuador physically, besides their style of play, would [closely resemble] the sort of opposition we would have to play [at the Gold Cup] — all hard-running, physical teams, and of course, they have [great] technical abilities as well."
Canada's last match was in March when it defeated Belarus 1-0 in another friendly. With the majority of European league seasons now over, Canadian players returned home last week for the start of Gold Cup training camp.
Canadian fans shouldn't read too much into the Ecuador match, as Hart said it will have little bearing on who he decides will start in the Gold Cup opener against the U.S. in Detroit.
Trying to gel
"The game against Ecuador is an opportunity for us to put some ideas together and try to gel as a team. But the training camp will determine who plays against the United States," Hart explained.
Hart indicated he will use the Ecuador match and the Gold Cup as an opportunity to fine tune some things on the field ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, namely to sharpen his team's collective attacking instincts.
"In the last few games we've played, our approach play could be better. We have a tendency to rush the final pass or [our play] in the attacking phase, and sometimes our buildup is too slow," Hart admitted.
"Things of that nature, we will continue to plug away at. … It's not in our nature to go forward and we've been trying to change that a lot."
Wednesday's match is the team's first on Canadian soil since a 2-1 win over Honduras last September in Montreal.
Atiba Hutchinson, a 27-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., is looking forward to playing before the hometown spectators.
"It's always exciting to come back and play in front our home fans and to play against Ecuador, we should expect a tough game. It's good preparation for us for the next couple of months," said Hutchinson, a star midfielder with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.
Like coach Hart, Hutchinson believes Ecuador will present a stern test.
"They're a good possession team. [They] have good passing and possession, so we'll have to be aware of that. We'll also have to be organized and tough to break down," said Hutchinson.
"But we also we want to go out there and express ourselves and play the way we've been trying to play lately."
Ecuador, too, is looking ahead.
It is slated to play in the Copa America — the South American championship — in Argentina that begins on July 1. The friendly game against Canada provides the Ecuadorians, who have called up Toronto FC star Joao Plata for the match, with a chance to do a little fine tuning itself.
"It's a privilege to play against Canada. It's been a long time since we played against them. This is a great opportunity to grow as a team as we get ready for the Copa America," said midfielder Luis Saritama.
Ecuador defeated Canada 2-0 the last time the two sides met, back in 2002.