TORONTO — With Canada already through to next year’s semifinal round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying campaign, finding motivation for the final game of the current stage is not as tough as one might think.
“The preparation starts now for the next round,” midfielder Will Johnson said at national team training on Monday. “I think it would be a massive understatement to say that there’s nothing left to play for because it’s just frankly not the case.”
The Real Salt Lake stalwart was a starter for Canada in their most recent match, a 0-0 draw at St. Kitts and Nevis last Friday that left a sour taste in the mouths of the Canadians despite the fact that the result actually saw them clinch Group D with a game to spare.
Johnson said that last Friday’s scoreless draw was still on the minds of his teammates heading into Tuesday night’s rematch at BMO Field (7pm ET, Rogers Sportsnet One).
“The game the other night wasn’t the best, they caught us by surprise a little bit and we have to rectify that [Tuesday] night,” Johnson said. “We’ve got an opportunity to play in front of our fans here and put together one more effort to show that we are capable of getting out of the next group.”
It is with one eye towards next year’s tougher group stage -- featuring Cuba, Panama and Honduras -- that coach Stephen Hart and his staff are approaching Tuesday’s match. The Canadians will likely feature a different lineup from the team that failed to score in St. Kitts, as Hart continues to search for the right mix amongst his player pool.
“I think a number of players need to get the experience, [and] need to get a game in in front of the home crowd in particular, so there will be some changes,” Hart said.
One of those players could be Nana Attakora, who admitted he was surprised to get the call as an injury replacement given that he had struggled with his own fitness for much of the season.
Regardless, the San Jose Earthquakes defender said that he’ll be ready to play if selected and, like Johnson, he felt that the team as a whole has something to prove to both the fans and to themselves.
“We owe it to the fans to play with passion, because one thing you don’t want is for someone to question your passion,” Attakora said. “To some, it might be a meaningless game, but to the players here, it’s [something] to build on for the next group stage.”