Benito Floro continues his rebuilding of the Canadian men’s team with a healthy mix of youth and experience.
The Spanish coach on Thursday unveiled his 24-man roster for Canada’s friendly against Jamaica on Sept. 9 at Toronto’s BMO Field, and among the names selected for duty were veterans Atiba Hutchinson, Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman, Patrice Bernier and Dejan Jakovic.
Floro has also called in a number of younger players for his first home game in charge of Canada, most notably Toronto FC centre-back Doneil Henry, Montreal Impact defenders Karl W. Ouimette and Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, and forward Randy Edwini-Bonsu, who plays in the German third division with Stuttgarter Kickers.
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Notable omissions include midfield veteran Will Johnson and 22-year-old prospect Tesho Akindele who has represented Canada at the U-17 level but has yet to be capped by the senior side. Johnson’s wife is expecting a baby, while Floro talked to Oscar Pareja, Akindele’s coach at FC Dallas, and they agreed that it would be better for the youngster’s development to stay with his MLS club and be available to play in its games during this Canadian camp.
“If I had called him up he might not have played a lot of minutes, so it was best for all parties for him to remain with his club until a camp in October or November,” Floro explained.
Born in Calgary, Akindele is eligible to play for Nigeria through his father. He also told MLSsoccer.com that he will soon receive his American citizenship, which would make him eligible to be called up by the U.S. national team.
“We are following him closely and he is someone who is in our plans,” Floro affirmed.
These are very tough times for the Spaniard, as he tries to rebuild a national team program still haunted by that horrific 8-1 loss to Honduras that ended Canada’s dreams of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Canada hasn’t tasted victory since a 3-0 decision over Cuba in a World Cup qualifier on Oct. 12, 2012 when coach Stephen Hart was still in charge. In 2013, the Canadian team scored just one goal in 13 games (with 10 losses) and drew its only two games this year back in May.
Floro, who once coached Real Madrid, said last week that he has completed the first stage of his rebuild—evaluating the Canadian talent pool—and now he is trying to “define the 18 most important players” to the national team in order to gain positive results on the field.
“The Jamaica game is a very important game for us for two reasons,” Floro stated. “First, we now need to field the best team every time we play. Secondly, our CONCACAF ranking is not very good, so we need to win the match while at the same time playing well.”
“Both the result and how we play is very important for us, but the most important thing at this moment is that we have defined 18 important players,” Floro added. “We need to consider the game against Jamaica as an official game and not as a friendly. The mentality of the players must change because it is a very important game for us.”
That’s music to the ears of De Rosario, a long-time member of the national team and Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 20 goals in 77 appearances.
“Our mentality has to change. Our mentality has to be that we’re going to win in every game. I don’t care if we’re playing in Mexico, I don’t care if we’re playing in Honduras or Costa Rica or the U.S.—we have to go into each game thinking we’re going to win and do it by any means necessary because those teams have that mentality. I think we’re too complacent and [being happy in] just participating,” De Rosario told Sportsnet.
He later added: “I’m sick and tired of having that notion hanging over our heads that we’re a Third World nation when it comes to soccer. As of right now we are, but we have to get over that and starting turning this into a First World soccer country. There’s no reason why we can’t. We have the resources to do it, and with Benito in place he wants to lead the charge.”
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De Rosario has played under a number of coaches since making his debut for Canada in 1998. He’s been impressed in what he’s seen from Floro since the Spaniard was named coach of the Canadian side in July, 2013.
“I think it’s a great time for the young guys to be a part of the national team because they’re learning so much in terms of their positional play, and their tactical awareness. Benito brings a high level of understanding and knowledge of the game, and if you’re a young guy you just soak it up,” De Rosario said.
“For me, it’s refreshing to know that we’re building towards something that has the potential to be great, provided everyone buys into it.”
De Rosario isn’t getting much playing time with Toronto FC this season, but Floro still thinks the former Major League Soccer MVP brings value to the Canadian side in terms of his athleticism, his passion, and his mentoring of the team’s younger players.
“Benito respects me for that and I think the young guys look up to me for that. That’s what I want them to understand—regardless of who we’re playing or what the game situation is, as soon as you put on the Canadian jersey, it’s all about passion, it’s all about pride and it’s a must-win game every time,” De Rosario stated.
Floro’s roster features five members of Toronto FC, and four players from the Montreal Impact, but none from the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Canadian team will open its training camp on Aug. 31 in Alliston, Ontario.
Canada has a second friendly scheduled against Panama in Panama City on Nov. 18.
Goalkeepers: Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden), Milan Borjan (unattached) and Quillan Roberts (Toronto FC).
Defenders: Nik Ledgerwood (Energie Cottbus/Germany), Andre Hainault (VfR Aalen/Germany), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC), Dejan Jakovic (Shimizu S-Pulse/Japan), Adam Straith (unattached), Karl W. Ouimette (Montreal Impact), Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare (Montreal Impact), David Edgar (Birmingham City/England), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC).
Midfielders: Julian de Guzman (unattached), Pedro Pacheco (Santa Clara/Portugal), Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC), Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas/Turkey), Marcel de Jong (Augsburg/Germany), Issey Nakajima-Farran (Montreal Impact), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact).
Forwards: Tosaint Ricketts (Hapoel Haifa/Israel), Simeon Jackson (Coventry City/England), Marcus Haber (Crewe Alexandra/England), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Stuttgarter Kickers/Germany), Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC)