There is a long list of reasons why Canada likely won’t qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Jonathan Osorio being left off the Reds’ roster for a pair of upcoming qualifying matches against Belize is not one of them. Even without the Toronto FC midfielder, Canada should be able to handle the tiny Central American nation.
Still, that’s not the point.
Osorio’s omission and the inclusion of Montreal Impact midfielder Kyle Bekker raise another red flag over Benito Floro, who’s made a number of questionable personnel and tactical decisions during his tenure as Canada’s national team coach.
All things considered, Floro has done a decent enough job since taking over the reins in 2013. Canada’s rather thin player pool means the Spaniard doesn’t have a great deal with which to work, so we can hardly be surprised by the side’s poor showing at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Of course, Floro didn’t help matters with some of his moves, namely giving a start to Bekker (more on him in a minute), and limiting the playing time of Osorio and Russell Teibert, two of Canada’s most dangerous attacking youngsters—this despite the absences of veterans Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson due to injury.
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Osorio has been, by all accounts, one of the best Canadians in MLS this season, with one goal and five assists in 21 appearances for Toronto. He’s been a consistent starter for TFC and routinely plays alongside players the calibre of Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco. Also of note, he has logged more minutes in MLS this season than any other Canadian.
And yet, he wasn’t named to Canada’s squad for the Belize games. Why?
“The only reason is because there are two players, thinking about Will and Atiba, who are in good condition to play. I consider them more experienced players, also,” Floro told reporters this week.
That’s rather like English manager Roy Hodgson deciding to leave Harry Kane at home because Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling are both fit.
Even with Hutchinson and Johnson back in the team, was there really no roster room to accommodate Osorio? Is Canada suddenly flush with genuine attacking options in midfield that it can afford to overlook Osorio, even for a seemingly easy series against Belize? Herculez Gomez, one of Osorio’s Toronto teammates, doesn’t believe so.
“I think he’s a hell of a young player. He’s got a [bright] future, and if you’re telling me he can’t be one of the best 23 Canadians to help you qualify, I’d be surprised. I don’t feel it’s an embarrassment of riches for Canada,” the U.S. international said.
Osorio confirmed to Sportsnet that Toronto FC did not block his recall to the national team, nor did he turn down an invitation. He also stressed that he had no personal issue with Floro: “I really like Benito as a coach, to be honest. I don’t know what the deal is other than he just simply didn’t want to select me for this camp.”
“I love playing for the national team, it’s always an honour, and when I don’t get called I’m not the happiest guy, but it’s not something I can dwell on,” Osorio said.
He later added: “Every player has their opinion, and of course, if you ask me I think I should be there. I think I deserve to be there. But in the end that doesn’t matter. You’re not the coach, I’m not the coach, Benito Floro is the coach and he selects the team. …. All I know is I did not get selected and life goes on.”
If Osorio’s omission is a head-scratcher then Bekker’s inclusion is even more puzzling.
While Osorio had a hand in setting up both goals in TFC’s 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact on the weekend, Bekker didn’t dress for the game even though traveled to Toronto. Bekker hasn’t played in an MLS game since June when he was still with FC Dallas—and the Texas club used him sparingly (and that’s being charitable) before trading him to Montreal in July. Bekker hasn’t played a single minute for the Impact, and has instead toiled with the side’s USL team.
After the Gold Cup, Floro bemoaned the fact that too many of his players don’t see regular first-team action for their pro clubs, and stated that was one of many obstacles he faces in rebuilding this program.
And yet Bekker still earned a recall by Floro, despite his lack of playing time in MLS and a less than impressive showing at the Gold Cup.
“I consider Bekker a very good player. … I believe in him,” Floro affirmed.
On the one hand it’s admirable that Floro is sticking by Bekker, but you do have to question what he sees in him. If Bekker were genuinely a player of quality, he’d be playing regularly in MLS.
The fact of the matter is that he hasn’t even come close to living up to expectations since TFC selected him third overall in the 2013 MLS draft.
As one former national team player and noted Canadian soccer insider recently told Sportsnet: “Bekker is simply not good enough at this level, be it in MLS or for Canada. He hasn’t significantly progressed since his college days.”
The Osorio-Bekker situation comes in the aftermath of Canada’s stalled Gold Cup campaign where Floro’s at-times conservative tactics saw the Reds crash out in the group stage when they failed to score a single goal.
After being grilled by journalists about his team’s lack of offence in the post-match press conference following a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, Floro turned the tables and asked the assembled media why they weren’t focusing on the fact Canada kept two clean sheets and conceded just one goal at the tournament?
“El Salvador 0, Canada 0. Jamaica 1, Canada 0, one goal in the last minute. Costa Rica 0, Canada 0,” Floro shot back. “Why aren’t you asking about those other teams not scoring?”
When Floro was reminded that Canada also didn’t score, he retorted: “But they didn’t score, either.”
Floro’s genuine incredulity over the line of questioning was a classic case of him not seeing the forest for the trees: Canada’s ability to prevent goals is not the issue—its inability to score them is the issue.
The bottom line is this: Floro has omitted one of this country’s best and most dynamic midfielders in Osario, while keeping faith with Bekker, who’s playing in the third division of U.S. soccer.
Belize or no Belize, Osorio should have been called up.
John Molinaro is Sportsnet’s chief soccer reporter. Follow him on Twitter