Canada Names Roster for Armenia Friendly: Young, Old, Mediocre, and Short-Handed

Samuel Piette at the CONCACAF U-17 championship. (Canadian Soccer Association)

This is Samuel Piette. I've heard of him, but I won't blame you if you haven't: he's an 18-year-old midfielder/right back who trains with FC Metz in the French second division. He was one of Canada's key players at the FIFA U-17 World Cup last year and finished third in last year's Canadian U-17 Player of the Year voting (with the disadvantage of being a European-based all-round midfielder as opposed to a domestic like Bryce Alderson and a flashy potential defector with Toronto connections like Keven Aleman).

Piette's a fine young player; one of the top Canadian U-20s anywhere in the world. While not a sure thing and nowhere near the Metz first team, he had a tremendous U-17 World Cup and has a good chance to get there someday. He played as a central midfield with Canada, sort of acting as Alderson's offensive conscience, and cameoed a bit at right back. I liked him. In the big games I thought he was more effective than the famous Aleman. Keep your eyes on Samuel Piette for the future.

Having established my pro-Piette bona fides, the fact that he's on this senior Canadian roster is a terrifying sign.

Canadian boss and Halifax King of Donair alum Stephen Hart named Canada's roster for next week's friendly in Cyprus against Armenia. He named seventeen players, because all first-class soccer nations bring less than a full eighteen-man roster to important international friendlies. One of them is Piette, who will be playing at by far the highest level of his life if he gets onto the field.

This is a weak roster against a largely irrelevant, if decent, opponent on neutral ground. Of course any game is better than no game... but this one is testing me.

Canadian Roster v. Armenia
GK Milan Borjan 1987 5 0
GK Kenny Stamatopoulos 1979 7 0
LB Mike Klukowski 1981 33 0
CB Nana Attakora 1989 2 0
CB David Edgar 1987 7 0
CB Kevin McKenna 1980 55 10
CB Adam Straith 1990 10 0
RB Nikolas Ledgerwood 1985 14 0
CM Julian de Guzman 1981 52 4
CM Atiba Hutchinson 1983 55 4
CM Pedro Pacheco 1984 5 0
CM Samuel Piette 1994 0 0
LW/FW Josh Simpson 1983 42 4
RW/FW Iain Hume 1983 33 5
RW/FW Simeon Jackson 1987 25 6
FW Marcus Haber 1989 2 0
FW Tosaint Ricketts 1987 9 3

I've been told that Canada bringing only seventeen players isn't a big deal, since we're only playing one game. I disagree. Getting the national team together means far more than just 90 minutes against a team we've never played before and will probably never play again: it means training, familiarity, getting to know the coaching staff and getting to know each other. Days of practice, of introductions, and education followed by one match. You want to get as many players into that environment as possible, not less than a match's worth.

No doubt a few players politely asked Stephen Hart if they could skip this one. Jaime Peters might be sick of sitting on the bench for Hart and would prefer to try and get into Ipswich Town's good graces, for example. Randy Edwini-Bonsu is also trying to establish himself with a new club.

But forward Riley O'Neill, to pick a name, had a good first year with MyPa in Finland. Midfielder/forward Andrew Ornoch is off to a decent start with Telstar in the Eerste Divisie; he's hardly a leading star but couldn't be worse than an empty seat. In Russia, midfielder Joseph di Chiara might not have been available due to preseason training but one hopes Hart at least called. Fellows like Luca Bellisomo or Igor Pisanjuk, looking for new clubs after good years in decent leagues, could use the attention. And if it's youth you want how about Julien Latendresse-Levesque, Luca Gasparotto, or Ethan Gage? And it's a mystery to me why, say, Ali Gerba wasn't called; it's not like the Impact wouldn't have let him go and getting him into shape and with a club should be one of Canada's top priorities.

What I don't get is Hart's reluctance to call any North American players. This seems like artificially limiting the use of your own friendly. De Guzman is here because he's suspended for the CONCACAF Champions League but he'll still be missing training time. There's no reason to bring him but ignore other North American-based Canadians. Let's suppose you don't want to annoy the MLS clubs; well, then, grab some NASL players like Mozzi Gyorio or any FC Edmonton youngster that deserves a shot. NASL clubs don't view international call-ups as a chore, they view them as marketing! Particularly when their season starts a bit later, so the players will miss less important training sessions and no games while practicing and hopefully playing at a higher level.

It reeks of cheapness by the Canadian Soccer Association or short-sightedness by Hart, and either of those are terrible.

It's not like we need to worry about watering down a terrifyingly strong roster. These 17 players have scored a total of 33 international goals. With only two players born in 1990 or later it's hardly a developmental roster; just not an impressive one.

It'll be interesting to see what role some of these players take. Simeon Jackson is dangerous for Paul Lambert in Norwich but less so for Canada. Marcus Haber, an old whipping boy of mine, has actually done quite well with St. Johnstone playing withdrawn and holding the ball up, but Canadians seem to expect a big target man. A central midfield of de Guzman, Hutchinson, Pacheco, and Piette is awfully short of attacking ideas if Hutchinson isn't fully fit: Pacheco is a fringe guy, Piette is a long way from being ready, and de Guzman has been washed up at this level for a couple years now. At the back, the biggest question will be if anyone can come close to dislodging McKenna, who has also been looking old since the 2011 Gold Cup. Klukowski has some work to do reclaiming his old throne as a high-end CONCACAF player, as fitness problems meant 2011 was a write-off for him in national terms.

A few of the less-capped players, such as Edgar, Straith, and Ricketts, have gotten very good results for Canada in a small number of games. Here's hoping Hart rides them like horses. Otherwise, a friendly with mediocre players and not enough blood in Cyprus in late February seems like a bit of a waste.

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