Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Canadian depth chart: It starts at the back

I don't just care about silly pictures and ranking methodologies. I became a fan of international soccer during Canada's run to the 2000 Gold Cup, and despite an interest in Dutch national team and club soccer, Canada is where my loyalty remains.

With the 2007 U-20 World Cup in the past, it is time to focus on the group vying for entry into the big boys' tournament. A friendly in Iceland on August 22nd will be Dale Mitchell's first as head coach and he will probably leave some North American based players at home to look at European options. Still, it will be telling to see which players Dale calls up in his first few matches at the helm, and to figure out what he considers to be Canada's core players.

But since blogging is really all about idle speculation and high valuation of one's own opinions, I'll get it started.

Here are some of Canada's options for the goalkeeping position:

Lars Hirschfeld (Rosenborg BK, Norway)
190 cm / 28 years old / 19 caps

Of Canada's current options, Lars has the best professional resume. His club, Norwegian giants Rosenborg, are currently in the qualifying stages for Champions League and Lars is their first-choice keeper. His commitment to the MNT is somewhat uncertain, though it is not certain whether previous coach Frank Yallop was to blame.

Greg Sutton (Toronto FC, MLS)
198 cm / 30 years old / 10 caps

Until recently, Greg Sutton seemed to have a hold, albeit tenuous, on the #1 jersey, a position he also held with Canada's MLS franchise, Toronto FC. Unfortunately, a concussion suffered in training, and being rushed back to action soon after, in June's Gold Cup has shelved Sutton for the rest of the season. A return in 2008 to MLS action will likely put him back in the mix for Canada as well, because at 31, he will still be young in goaltending years.

Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo, MLS)
193 cm / 39 years old / 50 caps

Pat recently earned his 50th cap with the MNT, after it appeared his international footballing days were over. He performed admirably at the Gold Cup filling in for the injured Sutton and with Sutton's injury and Hirschfeld's commitment issues, he would surely be in the mix. His case is bolstered by his solid play with arguably the best team in the U.S. But his age counts against him, as WCQ's important matches are over a year away, when he will be nearing 41.

Kenny Stamatopoulos (Tromso IL, Norway, on loan to Toronto FC, MLS)
190 cm / 27 years old / 5 caps

Kenny was just today signed on loan by Toronto FC to replace Sutton for the rest of the season. He has played a few matches for Canada, including a strong performance in a friendly against Spain, but his club resume has included roles with several relegated teams. Just like his club side, Canada's goalie picture is unclear, so he may have a shot, but the above keepers form a higher tier.

Josh Wagenaar (ADO Den Haag, Netherlands)
183 cm / 22 years old / 1 cap

Unless I am mistaken, Josh makes up the last of this group of 5 which are the only active keepers with any caps for the national team side. Currently a backup with his club team, who were relegated from the Dutch top flight last season, Josh can expect to have a similar role, if any, with Canada's MNT in the near future. But Wagenaar should be looking at the longer term, as he is significantly younger than Hirschfeld, Sutton, Stama, and of course, Onstad.

The others
Canada's U-20 squad featured Asmir Begovic (Portsmouth, England) as a starter, with David Monsalve (Toronto FC) backing him up. Srdjan Djekanovic has also seen time for Toronto FC this year, but will be returning to university at UBC this fall. Begovic holds a lot of promise, while Djekanovic has looked solid for TFC. Monsalve, at 18 years old, showed flashes in his one Toronto FC start, but looks like he needs work. These may be options for the future, but I doubt for the next World Cup qualifying cycle.

The recent past
Over the last 14 matches (2 years), here are the keepers selected to start Canada's matches:
Date Opponent Keeper
6/21/2007 USA Onstad
6/16/2007 Guatemala Onstad
6/11/2007 Haiti Onstad
6/9/2007 Guadeloupe Sutton
6/6/2007 Costa Rica Onstad
6/1/2007 Venezuela Sutton
3/25/2007 Bermuda Hirschfeld
11/12/2006 Hungary Wagenaar
10/8/2006 Jamaica Stamatopoulos
9/4/2006 Jamaica Sutton
3/1/2006 Austria Stamatopoulos
1/22/2006 USA Sutton
11/16/2005 Luxembourg Stamatopoulos
9/3/2005 Spain Stamatopoulos

If you're scoring at home, that's Onstad, Stamatopolous and Sutton with 4 matches each, while Hirschfeld and Wagenaar each played once.

How do they stack up?
There are some quality goalkeepers here, but all of them have question marks surrounding them, for different reasons. Onstad's age, Hirschfeld's commitment, Sutton's injuries, Stama's quality, Wagenaar's youth. But if I were creating the depth chart the the 2010 WCQs (which is exactly the point of this exercise), I'd rank them as follows:

1. Lars Hirschfeld
2. Pat Onstad
3. Josh Wagenaar
4. Greg Sutton
5. Kenny Stamatopoulos

Getting Hirschfeld, in my opinion, on board will be one of the key tests of Mitchell's coaching tenure. He has the pedigree and quality, and if he shows the commitment, he could become this generation's Craig Forrest.

If you have a different view of things, or if I have overlooked someone, let me know in the comments section. Or, better yet, cast your vote using the poll in the sidebar (look up and to your right!)


Anonymous said...

Sutton is #1, just unlucky this year with an injury not to be taken lightly. You are out of touch.

Anonymous said...

Sutton is only #1 if you are happy to hope for a mediocrity to lead you to the WC. Sutton is not #1 if they want to field the best team, and hopefully for once they look to do that.

J said...

I think Sutton has shown himself this season (before the injury) to be what he always has been -- a top level USL goalie. However, in MLS play, and especially in international competitions, being a big fish in a second tier pond (and USL is a rather poor second tier in any case), just doesn't cut it.