Rob Friend's back. Who's excited?
Canada's 2012 journey, which will hopefully end triumphantly with qualification for the Hex, begins today when a makeshift, rather desperately thrown together squad takes on what will probably be a surprisingly tough Armenia squad, in Cyprus for some reason. Catch the game on Sportsnet One at 12:00, coverage starts at 11:30.
Armenia are better than you might think, and came very close to qualifying for Euro 2012, but they've also arranged a friendly game against Serbia, played on Tuesday which they lost 2-0. According to reports though, they played a weakened team against the Serbs and will have a stronger lineup out against Canada, which doesn't make much sense to me, but there you go. I'll not pretend to know all that much about the Armenian players, instead I'll direct you to this article at Red Nation Online that, as part of their always magnificently thorough Canmnt coverage (check here for interviews with Hart and a bunch of players), goes into detail of some of the players to look out for, though 1 of the 5 played against Serbia so will be missing.
Even if Canada were playing against a B team, it wouldn't be all that easy though as Canada are also fielding what is far from their first team. With Stephen Hart sensibly allowing his North American based players to remain with their clubs during pre-season, it's a European based squad, and only the late addition of Rob Friend took it to the 18 men necessary to put out a full team and bench. With Olivier Occean out due to a sore foot (albeit one that allowed him to play 90 minutes on Saturday) Friend is a very good bet to get another chance to show he can do the job as the Centre Forward in Canada's 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation. Last February against Greece, he missed a wide open header that would have secured a draw, and then played a very minor part in the Gold Cup and didn't appear in any of the World Cup Qualification games played in 2011. Unfortunately, none of the players tried in that spot really made it their own, so that position remains very much up for grabs, with Marcus Haber as another option for this game.
Behind whoever plays up front, Canada should be relatively strong. Simeon jackson has been in good form for Norwich City recently and will hope to continue that form here. Atiba Hutchinson and Josh Simpson will definitely be in midfield, as will Toronto FC's Julian de Guzman in the holding position. There's a real lack of options within the bare bones squad, with no Will Johnson or Dwayne de Rosario, so I'd guess that Iain Hume will take one of the attacking midfield spots, probably behind the centre Forward with Jackson out on the Right Wing.
In defence, there's more options available, but I'd guess that as reward for his good play in the WCQ's, David Edgar will get the start at Centre Back alongside Kevin McKenna, who Stephen Hart has said will be Captain tomorrow, with Nik Ledgerwood and Mike Klukowski as full backs.
With the goal of not pissing off the players' club teams by tiring them all out, expect to see plenty of substitutions, with Hart saying there's a chance 17 year old Samuel Piette will make an appearance. He specifically mentioned the goalie position as one are to expect a sub, saying both kenny Stamatopoulos and Milan Borjan would see some action.
One of the interesting things to see will be how the team performs without Dwayne de Rosario. It's been a pet theory of mine for a while now that the team just seems to perform without De Ro, picking up impressive results in the last couple of years against a few different teams, while never seeming to really get the attack going with him as one of the attacking midfielders. If they can put in another good performance here, it might hopefully lead to De Rosario moving to the bench when the important games start up, though more than likely it'll just increase my frustration later on in the year, as I'm fairly certain he'll be back in the first team come June.
Whatever happens, it'll be difficult to draw conclusions about the team as a whole given the amount of players missing, but it's a chance for individual players to stake a claim, or solidify one, for a starting place, and really, a game's a game and Canada need all the practice they can get at this stage.