With less than a month until Canada kick off their CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign with a huge match against the hosts USA, head coach Stephen Hart has sent out the invitations to the players he feels have made the cut.
The Canadians will be looking to make a statement in this year’s tourney. They will be hoping to show the rest of the region that they are ready to compete, not only in the continental championship, but also in World Cup qualifying (which starts for Canada later this year).
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who should get the call, and why.
Goalkeeper: Milan Borjan
The relative newcomer to the program has injected fresh blood at a position in which Canada are very thin. With stalwart Lars Hirschfeld looking likely to miss the Gold Cup beacuse of club commitments with Vålerenga, Borjan should own the No. 1 jersey in June.
Defense: Kevin McKenna, Marcel de Jong, Andre Hainault, Dejan Jakovic
McKenna is the grizzled vet and captain material and is always there when called upon. Hainault is enjoying a great season with the Houston Dynamo and has partnered McKenna in the center of defense in the past. His ability to play as a full back increases his value, as well. Jakovic has seen his fair share of struggles with D.C. United, but his play elevates with the national team.
Left back de Jong has been a rock for his club FC Augsburg during their run to promotion to the German Bundesliga this season. His ability to move the ball out of the back, plus his delivery on crosses and set pieces, prove valuable assets.
Midfield: Atiba Hutchinson, Josh Simpson, Will Johnson, Julian de Guzman
Hutchinson has been stellar for PSV Eindhoven in his first season in the Eredivisie.
Simpson started his club season in Turkey on a torrid pace and, although his production has slowed in 2011, he’s the biggest scoring threat out of the Canadian midfield. Simpson’s confidence on the ball is infectious and will keep opposing defenders on their toes.
MLS fans are familiar with both Johnson and de Guzman. Johnson has grown into a key cog of Real Salt Lake’s dynamic midfield, while de Guzman is the much-maligned Toronto FC Designated Player who this year has shown increasing flashes of what he can do in a system that plays to his strengths. JDG was also the 2007 Gold Cup MVP.
Forwards: Simeon Jackson, Rob Friend
Jackson just about single-handedly dragged Norwich City into the Premier League with his goal-scoring exploits over the final month of the season and, while he has been employed as a winger for Canada in recent matches, Hart has hinted that we may see the 24-year-old used as an out-and-out striker come Gold Cup time.
Another striker whose club gained promotion to the top tier, Hertha BSC’s Friend was less of a factor for his club, but his massive 6-foot-5 frame causes all sorts of problems for CONCACAF defenses.
Goalkeeper: Greg Sutton
The New York Red Bulls ‘keeper has battled with concussion problems for much of the year, but he looks to be recovered and ready to serve as backup to Borjan.
Should Hirschfeld be available to play, Sutton will probably drop to third string (or may not be called at all).
Defense: Mike Klukowski, Adam Straith, Jaime Peters
If the Gold Cup were a few months earlier, Klukowski would have been a lock. The left-sided player can play as a full back, in the midfield, and — in a pinch — in the center of defense, but his club situation has deteriorated to the point that he asked for his release from Turkish side Ankaragucu. Therefore, lack of playing time may be an issue.
Twenty-year-old Straith is one for the future and has shown glimpses of composure well beyond his years.
Peters’ speed and tenacity add a dimension to the Canadian back line that is not abundant, although his lack of playing time with club Ipswich Town is cause for concern.
Midfield: Dwayne De Rosario, Issey Nakajima-Farran, Patrice Bernier
DeRo is DeRo, and while he may not be an automatic starter for Canada these days, he’s still one of the most dangerous weapons at coach Hart’s disposal.
Like De Rosario, Nakajima-Farran and Bernier are both veterans of the national program who have been through this before. Bernier’s steady influence and Nakajima-Farran’s attacking flair will both be relied upon in certain situations of what Canada hope is a long run through the tournament.
Forwards: Iain Hume, Tosaint Ricketts
Hume’s Herculean form to finish the club season was not enough to keep Preston North End in the English Championship. Regardless, he’s been scoring in buckets lately, a fact that is hard to ignore.
Ricketts is another newcomer to the national program, with speed to burn. If called, look for the Edmonton native to be a late-game sub, running at tired defenders.
UP FOR GRABS
With just three spots left, and one more goalkeeper spot to fill, things get interesting.
Canada’s depth in goal has been a sore spot for years and, in 2011, things are no different. Haidar Al-Shaïbani, Kenny Stamatopoulos and Josh Wagenaar have all taken part in national camps recently.
Our guess: Al-Shaïbani
That leaves just two more spots for outfield players.
Defenders Paul Stalteri, Adrian Cann, and David Edgar are all in the mix here. Portugal-based Pedro Pacheco along with Vancouver Whitecaps duo Terry Dunfield and Russel Teibert have earned consideration with their strong play, while Montreal’s Ali Gerba is always a possibility up top.
Our guess: Edgar, Pacheco
Final squad: Borjan, Sutton, Al-Shaïbani, McKenna, de Jong, Hainault, Jakovic, Klukowski, Straith, Peters, Edgar, Hutchinson, Simpson, Johnson, de Guzman, De Rosario, Nakajima-Farran, Bernier, Pacheco, Jackson, Friend, Hume, Ricketts