Saturday, January 19, 2013

Get to know your Canadian national team

The players gathered together for the CSA's semi-regular January camps often represent a fairly haphazard blend of out-of-season North American and Scandinavian-based veterans, former national U20 and U23 youths being given a longer look, and the occasional out-of-left-field flyer taken on a guy of only tenuous Canadian nationality (hey there, Pedro Pacheco!)

The squad interim manager Colin Miller has cobbled together this week (though word is many of the selections were made prior to him taking on the job) might be the most extreme case  we've seen in some time. Like he surely will be over the next ten days, let's get to know your Canadian national soccer team:

Player Pos. Team League Age Caps Gls
Lars Hirschfeld GK VĂ¥lerenga Norway 34 45 0
Roberto Stillo GK Genoa Italy 21 0 0
Simon Thomas GK unattached N/A 22 0 0
Nana Attakora D Haka Finland 23 3 0
Andres Fresenga D Racing Club Uruguay 20 0 0
Doneil Henry D Toronto FC MLS 19 1 0
Dejan Jakovic D DC United MLS 27 12 0
Ashtone Morgan D Toronto FC MLS 20 2 0
Mason Trafford D IFK Mariehamn Finland 26 0 0
Jonathan Bourgault M unattached N/A 24 7 0
Kyle Bekker M Toronto FC MLS 22 0 0
Philippe Davies M Richmond Kickers USL 22 0 0
Dwayne De Rosario M DC United MLS 34 71 20
Terry Dunfield M Toronto FC MLS 30 10 1
Manny Gomez M CA Griffa Argentina 25 0 0
Nikolas Ledgerwood M Hammarby IF Sweden 28 22 0
Russell Teibert M Vancouver Whitecaps MLS 20 1 0
Matt Stinson M Toronto FC MLS 20 0 0
Evan James F unattached N/A 22 0 0
Frank Jonke F Jaro Finland 27 0 0
Kyle Porter F FC Edmonton NASL 23 0 0
Tossaint Ricketts F Sandnes Ulf Norway 27 18 5

Averages 24.36 8.73 1.18

A good portion of these names will be familiar only to the dedicated fan of the various Canadian programs, and even the diehards I commune with on twitter were having some trouble to place the rather generically named Emmanuel "Manny" Gomez (most first confused him with a former TFC player from Gambia).

In order to get to know this squad better, I've come up with a few helpful categories.

Despite my reservations about his selfish style of play Dwayne De Rosario has been one of the first names on the team-sheet for the last decade of Canada managers. And while he hasn't lived up to his promise, nor has he come close to filling the shoes of his predecessor Craig Forrest, Lars Hirschfeld is Canada's #1 goalkeeper until someone takes the title from him. 

Unfortunately for Lars, the man who gave up 8 goals in his last match for Canada may be largely helpless to prevent a repeat result, given the strength of Canada's next two opponents, USA and Denmark, and the inexperience of the team in front of him.

After Hirschfeld and De Rosario, there are only 4 other players in the team with 10 or more caps for Canada. Of this group, Tosaint Ricketts and Nik Ledgerwood both played a relatively prominent role in the recent WCQs, probably larger than one would have hoped, due to injuries in the team. It is telling of their future role for Canada that both players are already in their late 20s yet neither has laid claim to a regular first team spot, and both now ply their trade in a Scandinavian second division.

Dejan Jakovic struggled with injuries in 2012 but even when healthy was unlikely to be in the starting central pairing. With Kevin McKenna retiring from international duty, he'll be in the mix with Andre Hainault, David Edgar, and a host of younger players for the job. Terry Dunfield (he of the gut) is the most surprising inclusion. He had a decent season for TFC in 2012, but at 30 years old and possessing few top-level skills, he doesn't have much of a future for Canada.

Like the North American leagues, Norway, Sweden and Finland operate a summer season, so players based there are often given an opportunity during these January gatherings. Mason Trafford is a central defender who couldn't make the leap to MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps, but was a fixture in the team during several years in the NASL. Frank Jonke has spent the last five years as a target forward for a variety of Finnish teams. Nana Attakora is only 23, so journeyman might be an unfair label, but after a great deal of promise in his first Toronto FC season, he is still looking to find his footing. His career has taken him to Haka in the Finnish second division.

Arguably the most experienced of the new generation of MLS-trained players in this team is Toronto left-back Ashtone Morgan who played in 30 MLS matches last season, and earned his first cap for Canada in August. Central defender Doneil Henry has also had a few matches for TFC, mostly out of position, and should get more action this season. Russell Teibert is a tremendously skilled winger, as the highlights from his lone Canada appearance will show you, and will hope to see more action for Vancouver under Martin Rennie than he did in 2012 (he had more minutes as an 18-year old in 2011). Bryce Alderson, an 18-year old teammate, was also selected but had to withdraw due to injury. Matt Stinson, a 22-year old, saw a fair bit of action for Toronto in 2011 but was largely out the picture last season.  And recent #3 overall draft pick, Kyle Bekker, will get a chance to join some of his new Toronto FC teammates in Tucson before he joins the MLS side's training camp.

Winger Kyle Porter is part of a strong Canadian contingent at Colin Miller's FC Edmonton. It is curious that he was the only one selected; there is a case to be made for others including goalkeepers John Smits and David Monsalve, defenders Antonio Rago and Paul Hamilton, and midfielder Shaun Saiko. Midfielder Philippe Davies spent several years up to 2011 with the Whitecaps but was never able to crack the MLS lineup. Despite his extensive North American experience he is still only 22 (the same age as Bekker). Forward Evan James was part of last year's U23 team and was recently released by the Montreal Impact. Word is he is trying to catch on with the Whitecaps. Simon Thomas has guarded the net for the Whitecaps at the youth levels and is surely looking to be signed as the team's third keeper.

I had expected last year's new man, Lucas Cavallini, to be called from Uruguay. Instead another young player, Andres Fresenga, a defender, was called. If he shows promise he has a shot at Canada's wide-open right back spot. Manny Gomez plays in the Argentinian fourth tier and has also represented Canada at youth levels, but half a decade ago, and only in two official matches.

He lost his job in the German 3rd division. I'm not sure what his future plans are.

He's a young keeper at a Serie A team. He is also in line behind 4 or 5 other guys for the starting job. I'd like to see him get some minutes against Denmark.

And there you have it. 

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