So earlier today we got the official release of Canada's roster for the final two matches in the second stage of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. For Canada the job is almost done as a single point from either match will be enough to see them move on to the next round as everyone was expecting they would. The painful memory of the Gold Cup this summer is starting to fade into the distance and there is the growing feeling that Canada is slowly moving towards a new era in men's soccer. The confidence gained from getting wins in competitive games, regardless of the opposition, is a positive that Canada will need to continue to build on if they want to be at a level next year where they are capable of making it to the Hex.
For now though these matches will be another chance for the team to learn how they want to play as a team, get more comfortable playing with each other, and will allow Coach Stephen Hart one more chance to evaluate the resources he has going forward. So what were the biggest surprises of the roster that coach Hart named today?
The first name that jumps off the page for TFC fans has to be the slightly surprising inclusion of Matt Stinson. The Toronto FC player was given a spot in the 18 man roster ahead of Terry Dunfield and this is a move that I am 100% excited about. Stinson is capable of playing a similar role to Terry but the difference is that he has all kinds of upside. If you call Terry in you get a good player but you also already know exactly what he brings to the table so you really gain nothing by seeing him play for Canada again. He already has been called into Hart's previous three squads so leaving him out this time should be seen less as a slight to Dunfield and more as Hart giving the chance to a younger player. By calling in Stinson, Hart and the rest of the coaching staff will be able to get a better look at what he has to offer but unlike Di Chiara last time around they have seen Stinson play, so it is reasonable to expect that he has been called with the intention of actually giving him a shot to get into a game. Of couse, like Hart always says, he will have to earn his playing time in practice. If Stinson does get the chance to play it will mark the second TFC Academy product getting a cap which would be huge for an academy that is still fairly new on the scene.
Stinson will be joined in the squad by Ashtone Morgan who earned a recall after doing well with the team last time around. His call in October was more due to injuries and a lack of depth at his position but the young TFC left back seems to have made the most of his chance. Hopefully this time around he is given a bit more time on the field and can continue to impress and develop as the left back spot in Canada is one that is still very much up for grabs as the team continues in its qualification efforts. The third member of TFC that was called in comes as no surprise as Julian De Guzman will again play a key part in Hart's midfield.
The other chances and possible surprises come from the fact that Patrice Bernier has earned a recall to the squad and Will Johnson was named in the 18 man roster. Bernier missed out on being in Hart's earlier squads as he was out of club football and injured for a while but now that he is playing regular minutes at Lingby BK he has earned the right to rejoin the national team. The return of Bernier is a real boost for the squad as he not only provides increased depth in the midfield he is also capable of providing a lot of quality in that area. Once Hutchinson returns from his injury this is one of the strongest areas for Canada going forward.
The inclusion of Johnson is only a surprise due to the fact that his club team Real Salt Lake are still alive in the playoffs and even if they do have that weekend off they will still be unlikely to want their player to risk injury. He may yet end up being withdrawn from the squad but at least for now it is nice to see that he is willing to answer the call of his country regardless of his club situation unlike say Andrew Hainault who is again absent from the squad because he seems to think games with Houston are more important.
The names that dropped off the list include Iain Hume, Atiba Hutchinson, Joseph di Chiara, and Milan Borjan for various reasons. It would appear that Hume is still recovering from a slight injury and the decision was made to give him the time to rest while Borjan is still out injured and the same is true for Atiba Hutchinson who is out long term. Di Chiara on the other hand was left out after failing get any playing time last month. He is one for the future and hopefully Hart saw enough in the young midfielder to ensure he gets capped down the road.
This squad may raise the eyebrows of the people who felt these final two games should be used as a chance to cap tie as many young players as the coaching staff can. That is clearly not what is going on as Hart is taking these games as serious as any. If the team does get the job done down in St. Kitts we may see a bit of lineup juggling for the game in Toronto on the 15th which could be exciting for TFC fans with the possibility of seeing Morgan and Stinson both playing for Canada. I for one am happy that Hart has named a fairly strong squad as he needs to continue to evaluate the resources that he has and then decide who he wants to include in his plans for the tougher games that lie ahead in the third round next year.