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Rudi Schuller: Can Canada's aging core succeed in World Cup qualifying?

Rudi Schuller: Can Canada's aging core succeed in World Cup qualifying?

J. Meric

Canada's roster for the upcoming World Cup qualification matches includes a number of core players at or past the age of 30.

After a quick glance at the most recent Canadian national team roster, something jumps out almost immediately.

The team is getting old.

Of the 22 players called in by Stephen Hart for next week's training camp in Florida, eight are already over the age of 30. Another three - Josh Simpson, Atiba Hutchinson, and Iain Hume - are on the cusp of becoming thirtysomethings.

Of course, any manager will look to blend in experience with youth, and Hart has certainly called in a number of players who would be considered at or close to entering their primes. But the concerning thing for Canadian fans has to be that the core of the national side - Hutchinson, Simpson, De Rosario, Julian de Guzman, Kevin McKenna, Lars Hirschfeld, Olivier Occean, et al. - are all at or near the generally accepted downside of a soccer player's career.

That these players are the ones who will be relied upon by Hart to do much of the heavy lifting in what will hopefully be a long and exhaustive qualification campaign has to be cause for concern in the Canadian camp.

Can De Rosario, who just turned 34, still be counted upon to be a main offensive catalyst of a team that really doesn't have all that many of those types of players? Will Olivier Occean, who at 30 years old just completed his best season as a professional, be able to replicate that form for up to two more years in a national team jersey? Does 32-year-old captain Kevin McKenna, coming off a brutal Bundesliga campaign in which his side was relegated, still have enough left in the tank for another - final - shot at football's ultimate party?

These are questions that will only get louder and more frequent as the qualification goes on, especially if Canada gets to the final hexagonal for the first time in 16 years.

CONCACAF has some of the most brutal away venues in the world, and, along with the travel burdens placed on the aging legs of some of the European-based players, it will take a huge toll on the older members of the team. If Canada advances to the Hex, that'll mean 10 more matches crammed into an already jam-packed fixture list, half of which would be in famously inhospitable venues like Mexico's Estadio Azteca and the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The only solution, says Hart, is to hope that a younger generation of Canadian players can come along in short order. Until then, it's up to the likes of De Rosario and company to hold the fort.

"It's a situation, unfortunately, that you have to hope that the younger players coming through get more consistent playing time [with their club teams]," Hart said in a conference call on Thursday. "But at the moment, these are the players that are available and that are playing quite well, and they warrant selection at the moment."

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Perhaps the best thing that can happen for Hart's side is the continued - and mildly surprising - rise of younger players like 21-year-old Toronto FC defender Ashtone Morgan, who got called into his third national team camp after cementing a starting spot in MLS over the past year.

Along with the guys stepping into their prime in this cycle - the likes of Will Johnson, Simeon Jackson, David Edgar, André Hainault, and the injured Marcel de Jong - Canada will need more Ashtone Morgans to step up out of relative obscurity, and quickly, in order to challenge and replace the aging core.

The addition of Jonathan de Guzman and EPL starlet Junior Hoilett would help, too, but that's a discussion for another time.

If more youngsters don't develop quickly enough, Canada will be relying on older legs to try to outpace the young stallions of CONCACAF for a spot in Brazil. It's not a particularly appealing prospect for long-suffering Canadian supporters desperately hoping that this time will finally be different.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Goal.com Canada.

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