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  • Canada's Gold Cup squad: 11 burning questions


    ccs-3097-140264009164_thumb.jpgWhile many Canadians were hazily dragging themselves out of bed at the tail end of a long weekend on Monday, men's national team head coach Stephen Hart was busy announcing the 23-man roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup. Thankfully, his announcement cleared up any and all uncertainty surrounding the team and its members going forward. Oh, no, wait, what I mean is that it raised plenty of questions (as these announcements invariably do). Here are some of them:

    Who's the starting keeper for the Gold Cup, Hirschfeld or Borjan?

    Based on his tenure with the national team (33 caps), you'd have to expect that the 32-year-old Hirschfeld comes in as the No. 1. He's earned that spot, after competing for it for years with the likes of Pat Onstad and Greg Sutton. For what it's worth, he did win Gold Cup 'keeper of the tournament in 2002, and is the most experienced 'keeper currently in our worryingly shallow depth pool.

    But since Borjan was unearthed by Hart last year and pledged his allegiance to the Canadian team, the Croatian-born 23-year-old has won over plenty of Canadian supporters, not just for his fealty to Les Rouges, but for raising our hopes (with his strong performances for FK Rad of the Serbian league) that Canada may have found a former-Yugoslavia-born keeper of the future to replace the one that went away.


    While the urge is strong to anoint Borjan as the saviour and give him the starter's job now, the reality is that Canada simply can't afford to alienate Hirschfeld at this point. So expect Lars to start against the U.S. -- but, Borjan needs to get a start in the tournament, not only to give him a first taste of representing Canada in a major international tournament, but -- if we're being totally cynical about it -- to cap-tie him.

    Was al-Shaibani the best choice as a third keeper?

    I'm sure Haidar's a nice guy, but no. Sure, being the third goalkeeper almost always means sitting around scratching one's shins, possibly retrieving water bottles for teammates during the games. But the 27-year-old, who won his first and only cap for Canada last year, has played exactly 12 games for his club -- Nimes Olympique of France's Ligue 2 -- over the past three seasons. Yes, goalkeepers have a much longer shelf life than other players, so it's unfair to write him off already.

    But with Canada's 'keeper pool being as shallow as it is, there would have been some benefit to bringing in one of our really young pups -- think Julian Latendresse-Levesque, Roberto Stillo, maybe even David Monsalve -- just to give them some exposure and time with the national team.

    How will Simeon Jackson be utilized?

    The final two months of Norwich City's ascension to the Premiership showed that Jackson, when he's hot, can be a fantastic goal poacher. Right now, he's hot. Canada, always, needs goals. So you'd think Jacko starts as an out-and-out striker, right?

    Well, Hart seems pretty enamoured of this little system he's cooked up, with Jackson and Josh Simpson out on the wings, flanking a single forward (usually Rob Friend). When asked recently, both Hart and Jackson seemed to suggest this would be the case for the foreseeable future. If that seems, to you, like a monstrous waste of the lightning-in-a-bottle that Jackson has captured, there may be hope: the inclusion of Tosaint Ricketts on the roster.

    Ricketts's speed could mean that he slots into the right-side winger role that Jackson's been filling as of late, allowing Jackson to poach to his heart's content. That's what could happen. What probably will happen? Jackson and Simpson on the wings, flanking Friend/Gerba up top with DeRo as a withdrawn striker. Here's hoping it works.

    Who wears the captain's armband?

    With Paul Stalteri (predictably and rightly) being left off the roster, it seems as though this Gold Cup will see the coronation of a new "full-time" captain. If the armband goes to anyone other than Kevin McKenna, I'll be surprised. If it goes to anyone other than Kevin McKenna who isn't named Atiba Hutchinson, I'll be positively flabbergasted.

    Will Ali Gerba continue his assault on Canada's all-time goals record?

    Damn, I hope so. Big Gerbs, 29, has six Gold Cup goals in his career and 15 overall for Canada, just four short of Dale Mitchell's all-time record. All fat jokes aside, Gerba has caught fire since joining the Montreal Impact for a fourth time (not a typo) last year. He turned down a callup for Canada against Belarus earlier this year in order to focus on the start of the NASL season which -- given his tumultuous (to put it mildly) club career -- is actually a good sign, indicative (hopefully) of a renewed sense of dedication and purpose.

    All signs point to Ali adding to his Canadian goal total at this year's tournament -- but of course, it's still up to him to put the ball in the back of the net.

    Which Dwayne De Rosario will show up?

    One with neat hair, I hope. The final remaining veteran of the nation's Gold Cup triumph in 2000, DeRo has seen (and been in the middle of) plenty over the course of his 55 caps with Canada. Whatever animus existed following the disastrous World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign seems to have dissipated, as DeRosario looked fully willing to buy into Hart's system during an admirable performance in a friendly against Greece earlier this year.

    But he hasn't earned the pejorative nickname "MeRo" for nothing. TFC fans needn't be reminded of the "cheque-signing" motion of 2010, and he's often taken it upon himself (sometimes to his team's detriment) to try and win games all on his own. While no one's denying his talent and dynamism, it's critical for Canada's chances of success in the Gold Cup (and 2014 qualifying campaign?) that De Rosario continue buying what Hart is selling, and utilize his talents to the maximum benefit of the entire squad.

    Where's Iain Hume?

    Good question. Humey -- who's authored the sort of feel-good comeback story that'd make Don Cherry weep -- had 12 goals in 31 appearances for Preston North End of the English Championship this season, including a bushel of them in the campaign's final weeks as PNE fought (unsuccessfully) to avoid relegation. The 27-year-old has two goals in 29 appearances for Canada.

    Rob Friend, interestingly, has the exact same strike rate for the Canadian men's national team over his career. This past year, he scored five times in 25 appearances for Hertha Berlin in their (successful) quest to gain promotion to the 1.Bundesliga. He's also three years older than Hume.

    So who do you go with, their Canada scoring records being equal? The younger, on-hotter-form striker who'll be in the English third division next year? Or the always-seemingly-snakebitten-for-Canada striker whose team will be in the German first division? If you take the sentimental aspect of Hume's recovery out of the mix, it's not as easy a decision as it may seem. But if Friend struggles at the tournament, you can expect plenty of anger about Hume's exclusion.

    Where's David Edgar?

    Is that an actual inquiry as to his location? Because it's tough to know for sure sometimes. After seemingly, finally, nudging his way onto the national team roster earlier this year, the 24-year-old Burnley defender won't be at the Gold Cup. This has upset some fans, especially those who are still stuck in a time warp wherein he's a full-of-potential 20-year-old playing for Newcastle in the Premiership. In the actual current reality, though, he's barely played first-team minutes anywhere for the past three years, which has made it tough for him to remain in top form.

    It's unfortunate that Edgar's career has crumbled the way it has; but if you believe he deserved a spot on Canada's roster, then tell me: Whose spot should he have taken?

    How mad are the managers of seven North American squads right now?

    Probably plenty, but I don't give a damn. TFC fans will grouse (or maybe they won't) about the loss of de Guzman, Whitecaps fans will grouse about the loss of Dunfield, Impact fans will grouse about the loss of Gerba. Meanwhile fans in D.C., Houston, Salt Lake and New York will also have cause to grouse about the loss of Canadian players. Officials and fans in every MLS market will probably have something to bitch about. But their scorn should be directed not at Stephen Hart or Bob Bradley or any other CONCACAF manager; rather, send it to Don Garber, whose league continues to defy logic by refusing to break for the continental tournament.

    Is there any hope Junior Hoilett will ever join the Canadian team?

    Sure, if his England ambitions don't pan out. Those who follow the program somewhat closely didn't really think the Blackburn striker would turn out for the nation of his birth at this tournament; still, it would have been a nice little surprise. Until he turns up in one national team kit or another, people will keep asking the question, and Hart will have to keep providing the same answer he's surely gotten sick of providing by now.

    But one thing's for sure: no one should bank on David Hoilett ever suiting up for Canada. The delusional, idealistic supporter in me still holds out faint hope (this same voice tells me Jonathan de Guzman may come back someday, too), but no amount of speculating, hoping or wishing will change anything. This kid's international future is in his own hands -- and more likely than not, it's in a country that ain't Canada.

    How well can this team do at the tournament?

    Well, there's the $64,000 question, eh? No matter what squad was named, Canada was always going to be in tough against (i.e. probably lose to) the United States, hopefully beat Guadeloupe and have the Panama matchup as the decider of its fate. The Panama game is the third one of the group stage, which will hopefully mean the players have had enough time (well, 180 minutes) to create some cohesion and momentum.

    Trouble is, squeaking out of the group stage would most likely set up a quarterfinal showdown with Mexico (eep) or Honduras (ugh). I've said all along that my expectation for this tournament is a similar fate as 2009: an appearance in the quarterfinals (though hopefully not another 1-0 loss to Honduras on a bullshit penalty call). Anything beyond that is gravy.

    The real purpose of this tournament is to get these players some more games under their belts in the Canada kit, and beside one another, in preparation for World Cup qualifying getting underway later this year. That's when the real big questions will be asked... and answered.

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