Veterans Kevin McKenna and Atiba Hutchinson are raring to go ahead of Canada's World Cup qualifier versus Panama.TORONTO - For many of Canada's veteran players, the current World Cup qualification tournament represents their last chance at soccer's ultimate glory. While some of the names on the roster have changed over the years, the Canadian core has remained largely familiar over the past couple of qualifying cycles.
Veterans like captain Kevin McKenna, Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman, Patrice Bernier, and Lars Hirschfeld have all been to battle in previous campaigns, and they know that there are less chances ahead of them than behind.
It's an extra motivation factor for a group of players who have tasted disappointment far more often than success, at least on the international stage. And with Canada having a realistic shot at advancing to the final qualification round for the first time in 16 years, the team's veterans are hoping that momentum will finally be on their side.
"I think Canada's making that step forward," McKenna told reporters after the team's training session on Thursday. "I would love to play in a World Cup some day, and I only see this chance and this chance only."
Of course, the Canadians are still several steps away from the big dance, and starting Friday they face a very good Panama side in a home-and-away series that could make or break their qualification campaign.
Despite McKenna's bigger dream, he knows that he and his teammates need to remain focused on the more immediate task at hand.
"We got a decent start in the group right now, but whether we're a good team or not, only time will tell," the 32-year-old defender said. "The next two games for us are huge, and especially tomorrow night.
"It's probably the biggest game I've played in with the national team."
Like McKenna, 29-year-old midfielder Atiba Hutchinson has also taken part in mulitple failed World Cup qualifying tournaments, and he also feels that the current squad has a more realistic chance of getting to the next phase than previous teams he's been on.
"We've always had a good collective group, we've always worked hard together as a team and hopefully this is the chance that we'll be able to take," Hutchinson said. "Of course, we don't want to look too far."
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The first step comes Friday night in Toronto against Panama, a game that - according to the Canadian Soccer Association - will draw the biggest home crowd since a 1-1 draw with Jamaica at BMO Field four years ago.
While the fans may be champing at the bit for the match to kick off, McKenna said that the feeling of anticipation may even be stronger in the players.
"As a player ... you're on edge a bit," McKenna explained. "I think it's one of those ones where you want the game to come now as quick as possible. From now until tomorrow night everyone's just gonna get focused and hopefully be ready."