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Will Johnson, Canada, CONCACAF Cup
Jamie Sabau


Team Overview: Canada's struggles at the international level are well-documented, as the team's failure to qualify for a World Cup since 1986 is an ugly reminder of the lack of progress that's befallen Les Rouges.

When talking about Canadian soccer in the last decade, it's impossible not to mention the players that could have worn's Canada's colors internationally, but chose not to. Owen Hargreaves picked England, Jonathan de Guzmán chose Holland, Asmir Begovic went with Bosnia and, most recently, Teal Bunbury decided to represent the United States. Had two or three of those players made a different decision, we could be talking about Canada as a real CONCACAF power on par with the United States, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica.

With that doom and gloom out of the way, the Gold Cup has actually been a pretty successful tournament for the Canadians over the past decade. They won the entire thing in 2000, defeating Colombia 2-0 in the final. Canada advanced to the semifinals in 2002 and 2007, both times losing to the United States. In 2009, Canada topped its group ahead of Costa Rica before falling 1-0 to Honduras in the quarterfinals.

This year, head coach Stephen Hart has selected an experienced squad for the Gold Cup with several names that will be familiar to Major League Soccer followers. After some speculation about his tournament status, New York Red Bulls midfielder Dwayne De Rosario committed to his national side, and will pull the strings in the attacking midfield.

Toronto FC Designated Player Julian de Guzman will slot into his usual defensive midfield role, and Real Salt Lake's Will Johnson will see time in the midfield as well. Meanwhile, Dejan Jakovic of D.C. United and Andre Hainault of the Houston Dynamo will be counted on to shore up the back line.

Canada will also count on a handful of names that many American fans won't immediately recognize. Its biggest attacking threat may be 24 year-old Simeon Jackson, who led English Championship side Norwich City to promotion to the Premier League with his heroics down this season's home stretch. The forward scored nine times in the Canaries' final eight matches.


Jackson| Helped Norwich City to the Premier League next season


Projected Lineup:


Stephen Hart prefers a variation of the 4-5-1 with 6-foot-5 target man Rob Friend as the lone striker. Josh Simpson, De Rosario, Jackson, Atiba Hutchinson, de Guzman, Marcel de Jong, Hainault, Kevin McKenna, Dejan Jakovic and goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld round out the starting XI.
                   
Star Player: Hutchinson. After an outstanding run with Danish giant FC Copenhagen, which culminated in being named the 2010 Superliga player of the year, Hutchinson moved to Dutch power PSV, where he's slotted in at both defense and midfield. The 28-year-old's versatility and skill on the ball have been a huge asset to both club and country.

Key Strengths: Canada's strength is clearly in the middle of the pitch, which is why Stephen Hart prefers to stack his midfield with five men. With the aforementioned Hutchinson and de Guzman in defensive roles, it opens up the attack for creative players like De Rosario and Jackson. Though used as a striker at the club level, Hart will likely deploy Jackson out wide to start for Canada.

Key Weaknesses: The main question mark for Les Rouges will be at the back. The team's likely captain and starting center back Kevin McKenna had a rough season with FC Cologne in the Bundesliga, as he fell out of favor and suffered through injuries, resulting in him only starting three games the entire season. Jakovic and Hainault are solid enough defenders in MLS, but they might be overextended when defending quality international-level strikers.


Jakovic | D.C. United defender will be tested

Canada Will Win The Tournament If: The planets all align: Jackson continues his red-hot goalscoring form, De Rosario is at his creative best, Hutchinson and de Guzman solidify the center of the park, and goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld stands on his head.

Realistic Outlook: The Canadians will likely be battling for second place in Group C. Any result in their first match against the United States would be a huge bonus, but they'll likely have to defeat Guadeloupe in their second match, setting up a winner-take-all final group match against Panama. Advancement to the knockout stages would make this tournament a success. Anything less would be a big disappointment.

-Seth Vertelney

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