Friday, August 03, 2007

Canadian depth chart: Centre back

Like the goalkeeper position, the two spots available at centre back, assuming a 4-man back line, are largely up for grabs. Canada hasn't had a dominant centre back since Jason De Vos withdrew from national team consideration, and lack of organization in defence has been a consistent problem. Hopefully Dale Mitchell will be able to settle on a consistent pairing. He has several options.

Andrew Hainault (FK SIAD Most, Czech Republic)
21 years old / 7 caps
Andrew is a young player with lots of promise. He had success with many of Canada's youth teams, and took a big step signing last year with Most in the Czech league. He is relatively in experienced at the international level, but formed a solid pairing with Richard Hastings in June's Gold Cup. Mitchell may look for a player with more experience, but at the very least Hainault can provide solid cover.

Richard Hastings (Inverness CT, Scotland)
30 years old / 43 caps

Hastings is an experienced Canadian international and scored one of the most important goals in Canadian history in the 2000 Gold Cup, but has been on the periphery in recent years. And what action he has seen, in addition to his play with his club, has been at left back. However, he also played well with Hainault in Stephen Hart's unorthodox central pairing at the Gold Cup, and was named a tournament all star. Because of this, he needs to be considered, although he is not likely to be Mitchell's first choice at the position.

Kevin McKenna (1. FC Koeln, Germany)
27 years old / 36 caps
McKenna probably has the best professional pedigree of any of Canada's options, even with his recent transfer which dropped him to the 2. Bundesliga, but he hasn't always replicated that form with the MNT. He missed the Gold Cup with an injury but will probably be one of the first defenders Mitchell will call. In addition to his defensive prowess, McKenna is an aerial threat on set pieces and has seen time at forward for Canada.

Tam Nsaliwa (AEK Athens, Greece)
25 years old / 11 caps

Tam Nsaliwa first played for the MNT as a 19-year old under Holger Osieck, and was a regular roster player until 2003. He has only played one match since, a 2006 friendly against Hungary. However, he plays for one of the best teams in Greece, and apparently at the centre back position. His previous appearances for Canada had been at right back and in midfield, so it could take some getting used to, but he has the speed to handle CONCACAF's small, quick, strikers.

Mike Klukowski (FC Brugge, Belgium)
26 years old / 8 caps

Klukowski has had a few matches for Canada, but not recently. His club position is usually left back, a position where Canada has several options, but many think he would be a strong candidate in the middle as well. There could be commitment issues as he has only played in 2 matches since 2005, but I believe Mitchell can bring him into the fold.

Jim Brennan (Toronto FC, MLS)
30 years old / 43 caps

Throughout his career, with Canada and in England, Brennan has played exclusively at left mid and left back. But Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston needed to solve some defensive problems earlier this season and tried Brennan at centre back, where he was rock solid. He has since been moved to the left side, but perhaps not coincidentally, Toronto is being scored upon at will since the move.

Other North American options:
Other players in MLS that could fill the position include an out-of-form Marco Reda (Toronto FC, 6 caps), an aggressive tackling Adrian Serioux (Houston Dynamo, 9 caps) and Gabriel Gervais (Montreal Impact, 11 caps). None of these strike me as national team starters, although Serioux could have a role to play, perhaps as midfield destroyer.

The future:
David Edgar (Newcastle FC, England) has received a lot of hype, especially following his goal against Manchester United in a rare Premier League appearance last season. His performance at the U-20s left something to be desired, though. A patient approach is probably best.

Coaches' picks:
I looked over the starting lineups that Canada has trotted out over the last 2 years, 14 matches in all. Under coaches Frank Yallop and Stephen Hart (interim), there were 7 different central pairings. Hastings and Hainault, since they played together the entire 2007 Gold Cup, lead the way as a pair with 5 games. McKenna and Reda had 3 matches together, and McKenna and midfielder Atiba Hutchinson were paired together in late 2005. I did also forget that Nsaliwa had played at centre back before, in his appearance against Hungary in November 2006. Gabriel Gervais also had two starts, which hopefully are his last.

Date Opponent CB1 CB2
6/21/2007 USA Hastings Hainault
6/16/2007 Guatemala Hastings Hainault
6/11/2007 Haiti Hastings Hainault
6/9/2007 Guadeloupe Hastings Hainault
6/6/2007 Costa Rica Hastings Hainault
6/1/2007 Venezuela Hastings Gervais
3/25/2007 Bermuda McKenna Hainault
11/12/2006 Hungary Nsaliwa Hainault
10/8/2006 Jamaica McKenna Reda
9/4/2006 Jamaica McKenna Gervais
3/1/2006 Austria McKenna Reda
1/22/2006 USA Gervais Reda
11/16/2005 Luxembourg McKenna Hutchinson
9/3/2005 Spain McKenna Hutchinson

Here's how it breaks down: Hainault (7), Hastings (6), McKenna (6), Reda (4), Gervais (2), Hutchinson (2), Nsaliwa (1).

Despite the abundance of options listed above, the previous coaches for Canada have drawn upon a relatively small pool of players, especially considering Hutchinson is now exclusively a midfielder for Canada (I hope!), and Gervais only started as an injury replacement.

My top 5:
1. Kevin McKenna
2. Tam Nsaliwa
3. Andrew Hainault
4. Richard Hastings
5. Mike Klukowski

The picture at this position is so muddy and convoluted that those choices are not made with a great deal of certainty, and the order, besides McKenna at #1, pretty fluid. I also get the feeling I am overlooking someone important. That's where you can help me by letting me know.


F1 Wolf said...

Wow, I though Canada is all about ice hockey only :-) So you import Czech players to NHL and export your football players to Czech Republic now :-)

J said...

Depending on which media outlet you listen to, Canada IS about ice hockey only.

But there are some footballers in top leagues in Europe: the Premiership (Paul Stalteri), Primera Liga (Julian de Guzman), etc. And in the Czech Republic too.