Remember 8-1? Me neither. After all, that was way back in 2012. (By the way, that link is in the top 10 for the rather generic search term 8-1, if you're searching from Canada).
Despite not having critical Hex matches to play in 2013, the year ahead still promises to be an interesting one for the Canadian men's national team that I still (kind of) care about.
Here are 5 predictions for the year ahead for the team and some of its players.
1. The team will play 2 friendlies in January*
* Not actually a prediction.
This fact is something I would never have predicted. There is a FIFA international window in late January and the team has actually played during that break only three times since 2005: in 2010 at Jamaica, in 2008 at Martinique, and in 2006 against the USA.
It was surprising, then, to learn that Canada will be playing two international friendlies in January. The first to be announced was a date with Denmark in Tucson, AZ on January 26th. A few weeks later, a match with the USA was booked for January 29th in Houston.
A quick look at the squads for previous January matches should give you some idea of the kind of team that will be selected. These have often been a mix of out-of-season North American- and Scandinavian-based players and a mix of youngsters from reserve squads and the like. The USA will likely feature a similar mix, while Denmark will be able to bring a largely domestic squad, as the Danish Elite League has an extended winter break.
The fact that the CSA went about negotiating these friendlies is made all the more surprising by the fact that the team won't be playing any truly meaningful matches in 2013, and they don't have a coach (see #2).
2. The CSA will hire a new national team manager
Given that Stephen Hart exited stage left after the aforementioned 8-1, this one seems rather obvious. Yet on past form, it is hardly a certainty. Prior to earning the full-time gig Hart ran on the show for nearly a year (2006-2007) on an interim basis during the interregnum following Frank Yallop's term and prior to the hiring of Dale Mitchell (what a coaching murderer's row there!).
It has already been made known that the team will be under the guidance of an interim manager for the two January friendlies. Who that interim hand will be is difficult to decipher, especially as the most obvious candidate, Tony Fonseca, has been ruled out on account of his duties as technical director.
But the identity of the new full-time manager is even more of a mystery. The only rumours strong enough to have names attached to them were recently
Since this prediction is not high for degree of difficulty, let me narrow the window: the CSA will have a new coach on board prior to July's Gold Cup (see #3).
3. Canada will have a reasonable showing at the 2013 Gold Cup
This prediction does not come from any great confidence in the current group of players (8-1!) but rather the fact that the stiffest competition in the region will be focused on rather more important matches to be played this coming spring, summer, and fall. Those teams that do not bring weaker experimental teams will still (and rightly so) be using the tournament as preparation for the remaining WCQs later in 2013.
Canada's lineup may also include a number of younger and marginal players with an eye to 2015's more important Gold Cup which may serve as a qualifier for the Super Copa (Google it) and relevant WCQs beginning in 2016. But it still should include some of the team's current stars including Atiba Hutchinson and the long-awaited return of Josh Simpson.
The tournament may also serve as a stage from which several longtime team members will say their farewells (see #4).
4. Several prominent national team members will retire from international football
I already touched on this in a previous post. Skipper Kevin McKenna has retired from international football. Patrice Bernier said in an interview that he didn't expect to play a part in the team going forward. Other players who have likely taken their last kick for Canada or will do so in 2013 include Mike Klukowski, Dwayne De Rosario, Ante Jazic, Kenny Stamatopoulos, and Terry Dunfield (though in his case skill is much a deficiency as age).
Retirements or diminished participation by these players should provide opportunities for younger players but I need convincing that there are many of these that are in any way ready to take the reins. Expect to see a lot more of Ashtone Morgan and Lucas Cavallini, an even more prominent role for Will Johnson, lots of run for a snake-bitten Tosaint Ricketts, and many other more disappointing outcomes.
Despite his advanced age, I didn't include Julian de Guzman in the list of retirees. This is because, like Atiba Hutchinson, I think he has one good contract left (see #5).
5. Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman will both sign for teams in the 1.Bundesliga
This is probably the only prediction that requires any sort of chutzpah to make. After all, Julian de Guzman's reviews as a Toronto FC player ranged from "mediocre" to "not fit to tie Terry Dunfield's boots". He was better for FC Dallas, enough so that some fans would like him to re-sign there. But he is also looking at his options in Europe, especially in Germany where he has a child. If Julian's decline over the last 3 years is not purely the result of a permanent reduction in physical ability, then I think he can make a useful contribution to a lower- to mid-table side with a decent manager, a luxury he did not enjoy in his TFC days.
Atiba Hutchinson is also investigating his options. He has already announced he will not be re-signing with PSV, who will be Dutch Champions in 2013 (see how easily the predictions flow now?). He has stated an interest in playing in England, but the flow of transfers from Holland to Germany is greater and generally smoother.
What Hutchinson should be looking for is whichever deal will pay him the most, as this is likely his last big contract. Canadian fans should be hoping for him to land at a team where he is given the opportunity to play in his natural midfield position. Despite playing at right back at PSV for the better part of 2 years, where he displaced the team's only right-sided defender, Atiba consistently earns much better reviews when he is asked to deputize in midfield, as he did recently for a suspended (of course) Mark van Bommel. The main criticism of Dutch fans is that he kan niet echt voetballen which means he doesn't play in the desired Cruyff-y sort of way, but he is praised for never giving away the ball and for his strength and conditioning. Those attributes would serve him well in Germany.
What are your predictions for the team in 2013? Add them in the comments.