Stephen Hart said in his press conference on Friday that the time for experimentation is over, that now it's about getting the first team out there and giving them time together to gel before the all important games against Cuba and Honduras.
Any game against the US is of course a bit more than just a friendly, while Hart and US coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke respctfully about the rivalry, Simeon Jackson talked about wanting to beat the neighbours, while Stephen Cherundolo wants to stick it to his old teammate Julian de Guzman. There is of course all the extra pomp and meaning that the CSA's 100th birthday will bring to things, though as the last game before their own qualifiers get underway, the US will be in no mood to be gracious guests and go easy on us. For the fans of course, any success against the US would be gleefully accepted, especially if we've had to stand through the forecasted rain, and really that will be the secondary storyline from this game, just what sort of crowd will come out for this one.
Attendance figures never really improved over the course of the games at BMO Field last year, and when it was announced that Toronto would get all 4 games this year, reaction in the rest of the country ranged from hostile to warily accepting that this was what the team wanted, with the caveat that Toronto fans had better earn it by making sure it would be a home crowd. Reports so far suggest underwhelming numbers, probably about 15,000 and though the Honduras game next Tuesday is the important one, it's not a good sign. A good result against the US, on Sportsnet could hopefully get people's attention and bring in more of the casual crowd so it's not just the Voyageurs in the south stand.
The third storyline, well it's one that I'd normally roll my eyes at and say it doesn't need to be this way, but given injury problems, well let's face it Canada does actually need him this time, and that's Dwayne de Rosario.
De Ro is of course currently tied with Dale Mitchell for the all time lead for goals scored for Canada, so if and when he gets that goal, it will be kind of a big deal. Of course in the past 4 years now he has only ever scored penalties, so hasn't really brought much to the team in that regard, and in the past I've argued that Canada has looked better without him in the team. I'd never have dropped him entirely from the team, but I would have been happy to see him dropped to the bench, and been quite amused if he'd ended his career close to but still behind Mitchell.
Josh Simpson's injury meant that he was going to have a more important role play, and now with Atiba Huitchinson not participating fully in practice and looking doubtful, well we flat out need De Ro now. So I'll swallow my distaste, hope he can rise to the occasion like he did for the Miracle in Montreal, try and forget the times he's not helped or even hindered TFC or Canada and be very happy if by the end of the next week and a half he stands alone above all others in the Canadian scoring charts, like a corn-rowed self important Colossus.
It should be interesting to see exactly what Stephen Hart does to make up for the absence of Simpson and Hutchinson. I was at the open practice on Friday, and after a couple of windy rainy laps around the pitch (which Hutchinson did participate in) they were forced to the smaller inside pitches and worked a couple of drills focused on maintaining possession, and pressuring to win possession. It was only 9 a side, and it's unwise to read too much into this sort of thing at the best of times, but there was what looked a first team out there, and De Rosario was out on the left wing of that team, with Olivier Occean at centre forward and Tosaint Ricketts out on the right. I think it's safe to say Simeon Jackson will be out there on Sunday, which brings up the intriguing possibility that with the midfield hit by losing it's best 2 players, Hart may opt instead to use more of his forwards, suddenly a deeper pool than the midfield, and switch to a 4-4-2 with Occean and Rickets up front, supported by Jackson and de Rosario on the wings.
Given Hart's talk of this being no time for experimenting, it's admittedly unlikely, and instead we'll probably see Pedro Pacheco or Issey Nakajima Farran taking up one of the attacking midfield positions. Sitting between them and the defence, I think you can pretty much nail down that you'll see Will Johnson alongside Julian de Guzman, and in defence, well if practice on Friday was any indication, and it seems very very plausible to me, you'll see, from right to left, David Edgar, Kevin McKenna, Andre Hainault and Ante Jazic, and Hart confirmed that Lars Hirschfeld will once again be making us all hold out breath with his erratic play in goal.
This is by far the least important of the games over the next ten days, and that's a good thing as it certainly presents the biggest mismatch. While Stephen Hart wrestles with the slightly underwhelming choices mentioned above, Jurgen Klinsmann has the likes of Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez and Landon Donovan to choose from up front. The difference in preparation has been almost as stark. While Canada got a game in against a local team down in Florida then has this game as their only warmup against international opposition, the States are coming off of a through stuffing of Scotland, and a 4-1 defeat by Brazil.
Hart of course recognised the mismatch, and suggested he'd be more than happy with a good performance, no matter the result in this game. While he's definitely right, I'd happily take an absolute thrashing here if it could somehow guarantee even 4 points from the 2 games that count, and I'm hoping for signs that Canada will be able to overcome the injury absences more than anything, a result would be good. From a marketing perspective, a win over the big bad US of A and the hometown boy becoming the all time top scorer, that'd do more to get Canadian bums in seats when it counts against Honduras than all the see thee rise commercials that have been put out there recently.