Bottjer on Canada: Canadian content in Europe

As the 2012 MLS season has progressed along, soccer fans have been able to watch how some of the core players in Canada’s national team have been performing on a weekly basis.

While Will Johnson, Dwayne De Rosario, Ante Jazic and Andre Hainault continue to play well consistently for their clubs, midfielder Patrice Bernier hasn’t only been one of the hottest players in Montreal in recent weeks, he has been one of the top players in the league.

Toronto FC’s Terry Dunfield has been in resurgent form since Paul Mariner took over as coach, and Ashtone Morgan has continued his ascension as one of the top young players available to Canadian national team coach Stephen Hart.

But what about Canada’s European contingent? After a very short summer break, the majority of the Canadian players who ply their trade in Europe are now back in pre-season action ahead of their 2012-13 league campaigns and there are certainly some intriguing storylines to follow.

Striker Simeon Jackson is preparing for his second season with Norwich City and he will certainly be looking to build upon a solid first year in the English Premiership. That said, with Paul Lambert recently leaving Norwich to manage Aston Villa, Jackson will have to win over new manager Chris Hughton. How Jackson adjusts to the new coaching situation will likely play a major role in how much he plays in the EPL in the coming months, as well as how in form he will be when Canada plays World Cup qualifying matches in September and October.

Another Canadian veteran of English football, Iain Hume, was recently cut loose by Preston North End and is currently a free agent. With the 28-year-old striker having been one of the most consistent Canadian scorers at the club level over the last couple of years, Hart is likely to be keeping his fingers crossed that Hume will be able to find a club.

In terms of Canadian defenders in England, David Edgar established himself as a core player with Championship side Burnley last year and it is expected that the 25-year-old centre back will again be a fixture in the starting eleven for the upcoming campaign, as the Clarets aim for promotion to the EPL.

Moving on to mainland Europe, no player is considered more important to Canada’s chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup than Olivier Occean. The forward recently transferred from newly promoted Bundesliga side Greuther Furth to Eintracht Frankurt.

Occean led Germany’s second division in scoring in the previous campaign and played a vital role in Furth gaining promotion to the Bundesliga. If Occean can both earn a starting position with his new club and continue his torrid scoring pace in the Bundesliga, he will undoubtedly give the Canadian squad a top class option up top for the four remaining World Cup qualifiers. However, if he falls down the depth chart with Eintracht, it could end being a real blow to the Canadian side.

Edmonton-born forward Tosaint Ricketts recently completed a successful trial with German club Dynamo Dresden and he has now signed on with the second division side. Ricketts will be aiming to continue his upward career trajectory after playing in Finland and Romania over the last couple of years and follow Occean’s recent path as a player who has taken German football by storm.

In a similar boat to Ricketts, lightning quick forward Randy Edwini-Bonsu is entering his first full season on Germany’s second tier with Eintracht Braunschweig. He will be looking to establish himself and to continue his development after earning a contract with Braunschweig based on a very impressive sixteen goals scored in twenty games with Finnish side AC Oulu in 2011. The former Vancouver Whitecaps residency product has displayed exceptional fortitude and ability since making the move to Europe and he is a player who could play a role for Canada in upcoming matches should he play regularly and continues to score goals at a higher level in Germany.

Samuel Piette, 17, recently earned considerable notice for earning his first cap with Canada while still a teenager and the talented midfielder is considered by many to be one of the top young Canadian players. After developing his game over the last couple of years via the famed FC Metz youth academy in France, Piette has also made the move to Germany and he will continue his development with the Fortuna Dusseldorf U-23 squad this season.

Left back Marcel de Jong struggled with injuries during his previous campaign with Bundesliga side FC Augsburg and was unable to play for Canada in the recent World Cup qualifiers. However, he did very well at the club level when he was fit and he played a positive role in Augsburg staying up in the German top flight. If de Jong can stay healthy and continue to deliver high quality performances in the Bundesliga, he will be a sure fire call-up for Canada.

Last but not least on the list of Canadians to watch in Germany is Adam Straith. The 22-year-old defender was unable to play in Canada’s recent matches in June due to injury, but he impressed in his previous national team performances. The Victoria native is currently playing with FC Saarbrucken in Germany’s third division and the hope among many is that a move down from the German second tier will allow him to play regularly as he continues to develop into a front line defender in the mold of Kevin McKenna and Jason de Vos.

Of course there are prominent Canadians who are playing outside of England and Germany. Midfielder Nik Ledgerwood recently signed with Swedish side Hammarby IF after spending his entire professional career in Germany. He has become an important squad player for Hart and it is vital that he continues to compete week in, week out at a high level in Sweden.

And arguably Canada’s most talented player, Atiba Hutchinson, is again in pre-season with top Dutch side PSV. Given that he has struggled with a recurring knee issue over the last year, it will be vital that he staves off injury and is 100 per cent match fit for Canada’s upcoming matches.

Hopefully goalkeepers Lars Hirschfeld and Milan Borjan will continue to play regularly and excel in Norway and Turkey respectively. Hirschfeld’s recent red card against Cuba and subsequent suspension for the World Cup qualifier against Honduras only reinforced how important it will be to have both of the top two ‘keepers in the Canadian squad playing regularly with their clubs.

Lastly, Canadian soccer fans will be praying that national team stalwart Josh Simpson will be able to return from a serious leg injury at some point in the latter stages of the upcoming European campaign and resume his career in Switzerland.

So while there are Canadian players plying their trade all across Europe, it does appear that the professional leagues in Germany and England could play a very major role in the fortunes of the Canadian national team. If the aforementioned players can stay healthy and feature regularly with their clubs, along with a few players enjoying breakthrough seasons, Canada will be in a very competitive state as it hopefully moves forward to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.

Interestingly, there is another prominent Canadian player who would likely bear watching in either Germany or England over the coming months: Junior Hoilett. With Blackburn Rovers recently relegated to the English second division, it is expected that the prodigiously talented Hoilett will sign with a club in either the English Premier League or the German top flight. Everton, Newcastle, Queens Park Rangers and Borussia Monchengladbach have all been recently rumoured as possible destinations.

One can only hope that the signing of a lucrative long-term deal with one of these clubs will finally spur the uber-talented Hoilett to commit his international future to Canada.

Steve Bottjer is a Toronto-based writer, podcaster and editor for RedNation Online, on online magazine covering all aspects of Canadian soccer. Follow RedNation Online on Twitter.

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