Canadian soccer coach wants more fan support
Coach Stephen Hart is urging Canadian fans to get behind the national soccer team in its World Cup qualifying bid.
Canada drew 11,500 for its opening qualifying win over St. Lucia at Toronto's BMO Field earlier this month and Hart says the atmosphere was good that night. But he wants more.
His advice to Canadians: "Taste the soup."
"Come out and see what it's about, and sort of push the team along. If it's truly something you want to see — your team getting to a World Cup — you could be a big part of that and you could also probably have bragging rights to say 'I was there from the very beginning and not some sort of bandwagon-ist."'
Canada has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986.
The Canadian men, currently ranked No. 102 in the world, are 2-0 in qualifying after beating No. 184 St. Lucia and No. 144 Puerto Rico. Their next game is next month in St. Lucia.
Canada is currently in the midst of the second round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Two more stages await if Canada advances.
Hart acknowledged that excitement has yet to build at this stage of the qualifying campaign against lesser opposition.
"There's a certain apathy around the national team and the international sport in general in Canada," he told a media conference call Thursday. "It generates a lot of excitement for a lot of other countries.
"But in the games you're supposed to win, [the lack of excitement] is expected."
Canada's first three qualifying home games are scheduled for Toronto and Hart says it would be nice to move them around the country. But he acknowledges that would mean his European-based players crossing even more time zones.
"But Canada's football team, Canada's sporting teams belong to Canada. And it would be nice to be in a position to move the teams around. But you have to do what is necessary to qualify and we will always take that into consideration."
In assessing the qualifying run so far, Hart says his team suffered "a little bit of anxiety" in the first half of the opening game against St. Lucia but recovered for a 4-1 win. He said his players had some issue adjusting to the steamy conditions in a 3-0 win in Puerto Rico.
"We know where we need to improve," he said. "And I think you will see us building from game to game upon each performance."
Hart wants his team to be "a little more clinical, a little more composed."
The coach said he planned to bring new talent into the squad.
"I think you'll see changes," he said.
"There are a couple of positions where we know we need certain qualities and we'll keep looking for that," he added without elaborating.
"And also there's some positions that we also know that against probably a more aggressive opposition, we would need to tighten up."