Stephen Hart has always been very candid with the Canadian media and open to admitting where things need to improve. He does have a few secrets up his sleeve though when it comes to preparation for Canada's final match of this round of World Cup Qualifying.
Canada's spot in the hex will come down to them needing a result of some kind in Honduras (depending on the results of the game against Cuba and Honduras' game in Panama, that could be anywhere from a win, to a sufficiently narrow defeat) which means they can not have a repeat of what took place in Panama. There, the Canadians lost 2-0 in a match where the story lines had more to do with things outside of the game than the match itself. Hart was not willing to put the blame on the distractions for the result though. He was not willing to point to the first half blackout in the stadium for the result but did joke that the fourth official told him that if the lights did not come back on, they would have just played the game with only half the stadium's lights working.
What Hart did point to was the disturbances that took place down in Panama and how the team's preparations to deal with them were not good enough. They have looked at what took place though and put plans in place to make sure the sleep patterns of the players are not disturbed when they go to Honduras. To do that they have focused on the things that they can control which does not include what goes on in the streets. In Panama, the police and the army stood by while fire works went off and the hotel was not able to do anything to break up the party. Hart noted that he had never seen anything like that before and that may have played a role in their lack of preparedness for dealing with the disturbances. It sounds like they are now prepared to deal with any sort of occurrence in Honduras to make sure there is no repeat. Hart obviously wanted to keep his plans under wraps but hopefully this time around it includes more than just noise cancelling headphones.
Hart also looked back on the injury to Dwayne De Rosario and how it impacted the way that the team was set up and how they were looking to attack in Panama. The team had trained to play with De Ro working in behind the forward and then have Marcel de Jong providing the width down the left but when De Ro was injured early on they never got to implement what they trained. With De Rosario and Simpson both on the shelf for quite a while yet Hart will be looking to de Jong to fill the void on the left side of the midfield now that he has returned from his own injury.
Hart is hopeful that he will have the rest of his roster available when he names his roster next week for the October matches. He has spoken to Olivier Occean and Lars Hirschfeld about their injuries and is hopeful that both will be recovered in time to feature this weekend for their club teams and then be available for international duty.
The other issue for Hart besides fitness worries is that some players have been lacking playing time at their club. Hart confirmed that Tosaint Ricketts is still waiting for his transfer to Valerenga to be completed with FIFA before he can play in competitive matches for the club. He has been involved in exhibitions and training for the club so he remains available for selection despite having not played in a league game since last spring. He also commented that Iain Hume is back in the picture as well now that he is playing and training with Doncaster Rovers in England. That is timely news for Canada given the lack of options at forward.
When asked about looking for ways to bring more attacking options for the match against Cuba Hart remarked that the options that they have are the ones that he has been using in games. Hume is available now to provide another option along with Occean, Ricketts, and Simeon Jackson but the selection remains limited. Hart was not willing to confirm if he is looking at any of the younger players as a potential call up to add more attacking options. He also pointed to the fact that he has never told the team to play defensively, and does not plan to change much for that match.
Hart was certainly not looking past the Cuba game either even though they have already been eliminated from qualifying and do not have much to play for. He expects them to bring a strong roster and use the match as part of their preparation for the Caribbean qualifying for the Gold Cup and to show that they are better than their results have shown so far. He expects them to provide a tough opposition as they will still be playing with a lot of pride.
It sounds like Hart is totally focused on the task at hand for the October matches. He is not getting carried away with thoughts of a place in the Hex but is looking to just keep doing his job. He was hired to try and lead the team through each round of qualification and have a chance to try and qualify for the World Cup and that is what he is focused on doing, and he knows that they are in a good position to advance.
The roster is expected to be announced next Thursday, October 4th, and Canada will host Cuba at BMO Field on Friday October 12th before heading to Honduras for the last game of the qualifying round on the 16th.