The latest Canadian men's national team squad is a mish-mash of youthful projects, exposing the stark lack of international experience available.No one said it was going to be easy.
In the course of rebuilding Canada's men's national team program following its unceremonious exit from World Cup qualifying late last year, it's been accepted that there will be a lot of turnover as the departing generation makes way for the young blood.
And, given the relatively shallow pool of professional players from which to choose, a January camp -- without a FIFA-mandated international date to release players from their clubs -- was always going to be a tough challenge.
Still, when interim coach Colin Miller's roster for Canada's upcoming friendlies against Denmark and the United States was announced on Friday afternoon, reaction amongst fans online ranged from "very pleased to see [Player X] called in" to "who the heck is [Player Y]??"
It says a lot when message board regulars are caught completely unaware of a player at the full international level, but such is the current state of the game in Canada.
After losing 8-1 in Honduras, it was assured that a major overhaul needed to take place between now and the next time Canada plays a World Cup qualifying game (likely in two years' time). And kudos to the Canadian Soccer Association for acting quickly to arrange two games in January, plus another friendly versus Japan in Qatar in March.
Now that we have the games, someone's gotta play 'em.
While the Japan friendly will likely see much more of an 'A' side given that it falls on a FIFA date (as much as Canada has an 'A' side these days), the January games will be seen much more as a trial by fire for several promising youngsters who could have an impact when the matches start to count for real again.
Names like new MLS darling Kyle Bekker, Doneil Henry, Russell Teibert, and Genoa goalkeeping prospect Roberto Stillo are being pencilled into Canada's projected lineup for years to come, and with good reason. All of these players have demonstrated -- at the youth levels, at least -- that they are standout talents that should develop into solid mainstays.
Mix them in with a few experienced guys -- players who have been around the block like Dwayne De Rosario, Dejan Jakovic and Lars Hirschfeld -- and you've got the makings of a good core of players around which you can start to re-build a struggling program.
And if Friday's roster announcement was made up entirely of blue-chippers like Bekker alongside grizzled old-heads like DeRo, Canadian fans would likely feel easier about the upcoming matches than they do. But when an ostensible 'B' roster features players listed as 'unattached' or toiling along in the fifth tier of a country's professional pyramid, even if that country is Argentina, it gives ample reason for pause.
Things look even bleaker when a quick look is taken at the American roster. Also considered a 'B' camp featuring fringe national teamers and promising youngsters -- and also limited to players currently on offseason break -- the United States can still boast an MLS All-Star calibre squad.
Of course, it's no secret that Canada is well behind its southerly neighbour in just about every aspect of the game, but the contrast is still stark.
This is not to say that the Canadian kids are retreads or never-will-bes. Quite the contrary. This particular camp features some of the brightest young stars to come along in years, and it says here that many of Miller's neophytes will go on to long and properous careers.
Still, it speaks to a massive talent gap between the first choice squad -- most of whom have been together at the national team level for over a decade -- and the rest of Canada's player pool that almost an entire generation of players (those who would be in their mid 20s now) has been bypassed in favour of some highly touted youngsters with almost no professional experience to speak of.
In an ideal situation, only a handful of players born after 1990 would be sprinkled into the upcoming camp's roster, eased along by the guiding hands of veterans looking to pass on their experience while still possessing much to offer on the pitch.
Instead, we'll see a squad full of players either still in their teens or barely past that stage thrown to the fire in a sink-or-swim scenario against far more experienced pros. It could bring out the best in a highly talented young group, or it could all go sideways.
Either way, it'll probably still be better than 8-1.