For a footballer, the decision to answer the Canada call can't be easy. For starters, you risk an injury that could blow up your club career. The club career that serves up a cheque each month. Secondly, once you don the Canada shirt, nobody beyond a few hundred hardcores huddled in pubs across the country knows or cares who you are. And lastly, Canada rarely gets results.
But what of the 17 to 18 rotating warm bodies that do show up when Stephen Hart calls? Beyond a simple sense of patriotic duty maybe there are motivating benefits to the Canada gig. Does playing internationally spark an otherwise smouldering club situation? Or does it snuff it out completely? Using a highly unscientific sample of one Canada friendly, let's find out.
Against Greece, Josh Simpson was the only Canadian player whose touch gave the sense that maybe, just perhaps, a goal may occur in the not-so distant future. In Turkey he picked up immediately where he left off with Canada, scoring for Mansisaspor on Sunday as they downed Antalyaspor 4-1. That’s Simpson’s 12th goal in all competitions this season and 10th in the Turkish top flight, good for fifth in the scoring race.
Olivier Occean ran hither and yonder as target man for the first 45 minutes against Greece. He participated in some useful buildup play, if we apply the most liberal definition possible to the word "useful." At least someone noted on a supporters board that he did knock down and flick on more passes than his replacement Rob Friend did in the second half.
When a target man gets no chances on goal, it’s generally because he didn’t get any “service.” Well someone serviced him nicely over the weekend in Germany because he returned to Kickers Offenbach and scored his 11th third division goal this season in a 2-0 win over Jahn Regensburg. Although by Tuesday he was red-carded out of a 2-0 loss to Saarbrücken.
Hee-ya! All-Canadian midfielder Pedro Miguel Salgadinho Pacheco de Melo started for Portuguese second-division outfit Santa Clara on Sunday. By the time the announcers had breathlessly finished pronouncing his full name in the 70th minute, Pacheco had potted the match winner. His first goal of the season and a sign his injury woes are behind him.
Issey Nakajima-Farran didn't play for Canada against Greece, but he is a solid cog in the revolving cast of nearly 50 players who are occasionally drafted into Canada duty. He scored his third goal in 16 appearances for Denmark's Horsens in a 2-1 loss to Nordsjælland.
Those were the high notes, now the lows.
Canada's English Championship contingent took it worst. Jamie Peters sat on the bench for Ipswich Town on the weekend against Barnsley and was a late sub on Tuesday in a 6-0 win over Doncaster. Simeon Jackson sat on the bench for Norwich on Saturday in a 2-1 win over Reading, while David Edgar was an unused sub for Swansea (which makes sense considering an errant period means he isn't actually a Swansea player). Iain Hume, for his part, hasn't played anywhere since the first of February due to a groin pull.
You wouldn't think that Adam Straith's unsteady Canada showing would endear him to his club manager in Germany, and you'd be right. Young Straith sat on the bench yet again, stuck at four appearances this year.
Hertha Berlin manager Michael Preetz saw Rob Friend miss a gaping net with a free header as the minutes ticked away against Greece. He swiveled in his chair, looked out the window and thought to himself, "No, this man won't help my team score six goals against Karlsruher on Sunday." His decision proved astute, as Hertha beat Karlsruher 6-2 and Friend watched the entire show from the bench.
Canada's two target men Occean and Friend may actually provide the perfect answer to Long Balls' original question. Both players turned in equally ineffective performances for Canada mid-week. One manager rewarded his striker with a start and he scored, while another manager sat his Canada striker and watched his team score the most goals they've managed all season.
So what have we found out? Absolutely nothing.