Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Canadian depth chart: Forwards

I've been dragging my feet a bit on making my next post in my "Canadian depth chart" series because, at least where Canada is concerned, midfielders and forwards is where it all gets a little nebulous. For example, is a player like Iain Hume a winger or a striker? But despite these obvious gray areas, I will soldier on, and some way or another I'll try to make mention of every player that deserves consideration to be part of Canada's team.

One person, not a player, who won't be part of Canada's team is Colin Linford, now ex-President of the Canadian Soccer Association board, who resigned because of lack of support from said board. This should be an interesting story to follow.

But it has also been interesting following Canada's lineups over the past couple of years, and which players are favoured in the attacking positions. Because Canada has favoured a 4-5-1 formation that morphs rather seamlessly into a 4-3-3, I won't tally who has had the most starts at striker. Instead, I'll simply list the players that I expect to challenge for the forward spots under Dale Mitchell.

Rob Friend (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Germany)
26 years old / 12 caps / 1 goal

Of all Canada's options at this position, Friend is the most traditional target forward. He's a big lad who is strong in the air, and good with his feet, holding up the ball while midfielders come forward to support the attack. While he has had a decent strike rate in his professional career (40 goals in just over 100 matches in Norway, Holland and now Germany), he has not been able to translate that success to the international scene, with only 1 goal from his 12 appearances for Canada. While he was effective for Canada at the Gold Cup, he couldn't match the success of Ali Gerba who found the net while subbing fo Friend, who missed time at the tournament due to injury and his own wedding.

Ali Gerba (IFK Gothenburg, Sweden)
25 years old / 13 caps / 5 goals

The artist formerly known as "Ali Ngon", and who should now perhaps be known as "Ali G" opened a lot of eyes with his performance in June's Gold Cup tournament. Watch him finish one of the better team goals Canada has scored in recent memory:

He is a powerful and fast player, but one who has had an unsettled club career, competing with 10 clubs over the last 7 years. He has the size and strength to play as a lone target forward, but also the skills to work in partnership with another striker.

Olivier Occean (Lillestrom, Norway)
25 years old / 13 caps / 2 goals

Currently the second leading scorer in Norway, Occean is in good form right now. He came off the bench and scored Canada's only goal in their recent 1-1 friendly draw in Iceland. With Gerba and Friend, he is Canada's "other" pure striker (meaning I can't imagine him playing in any other position). Like Friend, he is another player who has had trouble translating his club success to goals for Canada, although he did have a goal famously disallowed in the last round of World Cup Qualifying by the scoundrel Benito Archundia, the first of two times the latter has screwed us (here's the second).

Now, for the smaller, faster, speedier types.

Iain Hume
(Leicester City, England)
23 years old / 20 caps / 2 goals

Hume's role with Canada has typically been as a super-sub, coming off the bench in the 2nd half with a fresh pair of legs. He scored a brilliant goal in Canada's Gold Cup semi-final against the U.S., but has scored only one other time for Canada, against Luxembourg. He has been used just as often as a wide player as in the striking position, but he is an option. Hume seems to have been around the team for a long time, but he is still very young.

Tomasz Radzinski (Xanthi, Greece)
33 years old / 34 caps / 9 goals

While he played as a left-sided midfield in Canada's last match, Radzinski has seen time at the striker position for Canada. He has loads of speed and some playmaking ability as well. Unfortunately, he has failed to catch on with any time after his contract with EPL side Fulham ended this summer. Expect him to catch on in a second-tier European league like Belgium sometime soon. While he is in the twilight of his career, I feel he still has something to offer for Canada.

Update: I am assured that this article means that Radzinski has just signed with Xanthi of the Greek Super League.

Issey Nakajima-Farran (FC Nordsjaelland, Denmark)
23 years old / 7 caps / 0 goals

In my mind, Nakajima-Farran is a very similar player to Iain Hume. Both can play as a forward or on the right side of midfield. Both have a great deal of speed, and are probably best used as substitutes for any match where Canada has its best squad. Issey is off to a hot start with his new team in Denmark (he transferred after his old side were relegated last spring) and hopefully that success will come to his play for Canada as well.

Unlike the other positions I have looked at (goalkeeper, centre back, fullbacks), there is no viable options for Canada currently playing at Toronto FC. Andrea Lombardo is there, but he is struggling finding the net and looks years away right now. Other options include Stephen Ademolu (Tromso, 2 caps), but he is a big step down in quality from those listed.

Dwayne De Rosario is Canada's most prolific active player with 11 goals, but he has moved from striker to midfield over the last couple of years, for club and for country. So while fans are waiting for one of the aforementioned men to take the bull by the horns and become Canada's first choice striker, it is good to know that goals can come from elsewhere on the pitch.

Because the choice of striker depends so much on formation, and because there is no clear No. 1 at this point, I leave the ranking of Canada's options as an exercise to the reader (I don't think I am being uncharitable to myself by using the singular here).

1 comment:

Majority_Rulez said...

This was a great discovery, coming across your blog. Keep it up.

I feel like making a comment on this particular post in regards to Ali Gerba. While he may have the size and strength to play as a lone target forward it isn't what he's suited for as he can't hold the ball up very well, not as well as Friend anyway. I became very frustrated with Dobson and Forrest calling him a target striker during the Gold Cup. He's more of the prototypical striker, making runs, taking on defenders, and finding space in the box. Prior to the Gold Cup I was puzzled as to how he was a national level player be the above things I mentioned he did and did very well. Target player no, in my opinion, but quality striking option yes.

I'll ask you this question because I don't have much time to research this, but what happened to Josh Simpson? Is there a reason he doesn't seem to be in the fold recently?

I don't blog about soccer much but I did make some rather random comments around the time of the Gold Cup. I look forward to continuing to read your blog.