FRIGATE BAY, SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS – Nana Attakora never saw it coming.
When Attakora recently picked up the phone and heard Stephen Hart’s voice on the line, he was completely caught off guard when he was invited by the Canadian national team coach to play in a pair of upcoming World Cup qualifying matches.
Attakora was, after all, coming off a 2011 Major League Soccer campaign blighted by injury and personal issues at the start of the year. This year also saw him fall out of favour with Toronto FC coach Aron Winter, and then suffer another injury later in the season that cut his comeback short.
A 22-year-old native of Toronto, Attakora was limited to just six appearances for the San Jose Earthquakes after a summer trade from TFC, as he sat out injured the last four games of the campaign. All of which makes his inclusion on Canada’s roster for Friday’s contest against St. Kitts, and the return leg next Tuesday back in Toronto, all the more surprising.
Attakora is grateful for the chance to play for his country again – his lone cap came in a friendly against Jamaica in January 2010 – and he views these two games as an opportunity to get a leg up on next season.
“Obviously this year wasn’t the best for me, so it’s good to get back into training, especially before pre-season,” Attakora told Sportsnet on Wednesday. “When I got the call I was on my way to see my agent, so it came at a good time. This will allow me to keep myself fit and get my head back where it should be.”
Matt Stinson was originally named to Hart’s 18-man roster, but when the young midfielder picked up an injury while training with Toronto FC, the door swung open for Attakora to take his spot on the team.
Hart has a long-standing policy of picking only players for national team duty who see regular action for their pro clubs. Stinson’s injury forced Hart’s hand to take a bit of a gamble on Attakora, who last played for his MLS club on Sept. 24.
Despite Attakora’s lack of playing time, Hart offered the San Jose defender words of encouragement.
“Steve is a straight forward coach,” Attakora said.
“This year I wasn’t playing. I spent a lot of time on the sidelines due to different reasons. Not to be called into this camp at first wasn’t a surprise but when I did get the call, Stephen just told me to keep fit, keep playing and keep developing, and that my time would come.”
Attakora was one of TFC’s most consistent players in 2010, but 2011 was a different matter entirely. He cites a loss of confidence as the reason behind his uneven performances for the Reds early on in the campaign, and eventually he asked to be traded.
He claims the change of scenery has resulted in him finally being in a good mental place.
“As a young player you’re going to lose confidence. In the first half of last season it was as though my confidence wasn’t there at all,” Attakora admitted. “But when I got to San Jose, to be around new guys and focus on new things, it picked right back up.”
He also feels a great deal of sympathy for Stinson, a 19-year-old native of Toronto, who was pegged to make his debut for Canada in one of the games against St. Kitts.
“It’s very tough for him. I know how that feels, to lose out because of an injury. Being that young age, he must be really disappointed,” Attakora said of his former TFC teammate.
As for the immediate future, Canada needs one point from these two matches to move on to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers. Even though Canada, ranked No. 83 in the world, is expected to run roughshod over the 109th-ranked St. Kitts, Attakora insists the Reds are taking nothing for granted.
“The players are all confident. We don’t feel any tension at all and the coaching staff is very relaxed,” Attakora stated. “But everybody is taking it very seriously. … We want to pick up the win and go back to Toronto next week with this wrapped up. We expect to pick up the three points on Friday.”