Head coach Stephen Hart says his team knows the massive importance of Friday's World Cup qualifier against the Panamanians, but he wants his team to view the game like any other.TORONTO - It's obvious to anyone who follows Canadian soccer: Friday's World Cup qualifier versus Panama is massive.
With the Panamanians just ahead of Canada in Group C, and with always-dangerous Hondurans lurking in third place, a result for Stephen Hart's side would represent a huge step towards advancement into the fourth and final round of CONCACAF qualification.
Despite that, Hart and his players are trying to keep things in perspective.
"Do we really have to talk about the importance of the game?" Hart asked with a smile after training on Wednesday afternoon. "You have four games [remaining in the round] and you have to look at it that way, but you can't play one game before it comes.
"The game at home against arguably the best team in the group is extremely important."
That Hart referred to Panama as the best team in Group C speaks volumes about the respect he and his squad have for the ever-improving Central American side. And yet the Canadian coach warned that his side will be approaching the game just as it does any other, lest it gets too caught up in the magnitude of a game that could see Canada go to the top of the group.
"In the past when we've had games that were very important to Canada's program and to the [end] result, I think we wanted it too bad," he explained. "At times we played in such a way that we tried to win the game in the first half or the first 10 minutes or whatever."
Playing a physical, athletic team like Panama requires patience, and the experienced nature of the Canadian side - Hart has called in 11 players with 25 caps or more - should help in that regard, said captain Kevin McKenna.
"I think it's one of the biggest games of all time for Canadian soccer," McKenna said. "We know how important the game is. For a lot of our senior players we know it's probably our last chance to qualify for a World Cup. The biggest thing is that we need to do is stay calm."
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McKenna's attitude is shared by the younger players on the team, said 25-year-old striker Simeon Jackson.
"I don't want to say anything about it," the Norwich City attacker said of the importance of the match. "Everyone knows how important it is, especially the first one at home. So we just have to make sure we're prepared and come out with a result."
Canada takes on Panama at BMO Field on Friday night before meeting the same team four days later in Panama City.