This afternoon Stephen Hart, coach of Canada, held a conference call with some of the media members. There was really no earth shattering stuff to come out of the call but it's still worth running over the highlights of the call.
When asked about only having two friendlies to prepare Hart remarked that it was far from ideal to only be able to stage two matches but his hands are tied by the FIFA International dates. He and his staff have discussed adding a closed door friendly to prepare for the games in June but that has not gotten any further than discussion so far. This builds on his remarks last week that they would like to add a closed door friendly and some scrimmages against teams based in the Florida area where their camp will be held.
Hart commented that Canada has played their best when the teams key players are getting consistent action with their club teams. He pointed to Simeon Jackson and Marcel DeJong who are now getting increased playing time and showing improved form because of it, as well as Kevin McKenna and Atiba Hutchinson who are coming back from long term injuries and could be playing regularly by the spring. He commented on Iain Hume as well and that it is worrying that he has now been out for five weeks.
Hart was once again forced to answer the questions about Jonathan De Guzman, that they are working on it but there are still a lot of obstacles to be overcome. The Junior Hoillet question also came up, this time specifically referring to a potential move to Bayern Munich. Hart basically gave the same answer that he always does about the player wanting to be settled first, but added that such a move would settle his club situation for sure, opening up the discussions again.Hart addressed the issue that often comes up with players missing qualifiers for league action but he is hopeful that most of them will be available. He plans on giving the European players a short break and then bringing them in to camp to keep them on form for the three matches in June. For the Armenia friendly Hart plans on using as many European players as possible and staying away from the MLS players who have just begun their preseason. He may bring them if he is forced to and is really stuck for players in certain positions. That makes it unlikely that young players like Matt Stinson or Ashtone Morgan will be called but Hart did say that he could bring in a couple of new players for that game. He did not name any names he is thinking about but two of the players he wanted to invite currently have slight injuries.
The coach looked back on the last round of matches, commenting that the team held the ball well and moved it well but he wants to see them speed things up and be a bit more dynamic in the attack in the coming round of games. Hart is planning to bring in a smaller group of players for the spring camp, 24 or 25, which he would then bring down to the number that he needs for the exhibition game and the qualifiers. This camp likely is set to take place in Florida to get the team used to playing in the kind of heat they will face in Cuba.
Hart was asked about Issey Nakajima-Faran who he remarked is doing very well in Australia but is someone that he is going to keep monitoring. He did add that his location makes it difficult to see him and bring him in for a friendly. The player chat continued with Hart addressing Josh Simpson's new club, Young Boys, of Switzerland. He feels that things are going well for Simpson there and he should be available for the Armenian friendly.
Hart was then asked about the Olympic team, which he is not the coach of, but he had little to say as Tony Fonseca is in charge of that side. Hart said he would offer his two cents worth on selection and that clubs do not have to release players for this tournament which will be a big obstacle.
The coach commented that he does have a good idea of how he would like to play and who he would ideally like to have in the squad but it all depends on who is fit and playing regular minutes. He did say that there are a couple of positions still up for grabs which is where the friendlies are going to be useful. Based on his players current form Hart feels that they are in position to be competitive in their group this year. Hart was not willing to expand on which positions are up for grabs and who he had his eye on as he sees that as a dressing room thing rather than something to discuss with the media.
Hart then addressed Canada's first opponent in Cuba. He feels they are much more difficult to play at home because of pitch conditions and the home crowd as well as the fact that they do not bring their best squad on the road most times. He will have his eyes on their upcoming pair of friendlies against Jamaica to scout them and prepare for this game.
The match against the US was addressed as Hart was asked why the Americans made a good choice of opponent for the centennial match. He felt it was a good choice because they are a CONCACAF team, have not played on Canadian soil or a while, and it fit with Canada's historic match. On the whole he saw it as a good preparation for the qualifiers as well as fitting in with being a celebration of the CSA's 100th year.
The call would not have been complete without someone asking about the choice of Toronto. We got all the same answers about artificial surfaces, the travel making better sense from Toronto and all that. He did add that they looked at another location on the East Coast which would have added the difficulty of the Canadian players not being familiar with the pitch or their surroundings. With the team being in and out, with no time to acclimatize, it is important to minimize flight time which is what Toronto did, as well as the fact that the facilities there feel like home.
And on a random note someone audibly swore about Gareth Wheeler or TSN being an idiot for his questions about the success of the Women's team and tournament in BC. So that was fun.
If you want to hear the audio of the call Kurt Larson of the Sun has it up on his blog, here.