Calling friendlies is hard.
The Macedonian and Canadian teams have a lot in common, after all. Both call most of their players from the world's second-tier leagues, with a few stars checking in here and there. Both finished fourth in their World Cup qualifying groups, although admittedly the context is a bit different. They both have weird damned goaltenders: Macedonia's probable starter is 27-year-old Tome Pacovski of Germinal Beerschot in the Belgian first division. Pacovski is Belgium's usual second choice goalkeeper and only recently caught on with Beerschot after a domestic career in Macedonia and some time wandering the wilds on trial after trial.
Canada, meanwhile, will probably counter with Lars Hirschfeld, dragged out of the wooden case in which he is kept between Canadian internationals, proud owner of a single glorious club appearance this year with his new club Energie Cottbus. The idea was that Hirschfeld would replace Cottbus's veteran Gerhardt Tremmel when Tremmel was inevitably transferred out after Cottbus's relegation to the 2.Bundesliga last season. However, Tremmel has shown an annoying inability to agree to a transfer elsewhere and so Cottbus quite sensibly plays their superior goalkeeper as it appears he will be in for the long haul. Such is the life of Lars Hirschfeld, our Littlest Football Hobo: maybe tomorrow he'll want to settle down, until tomorrow he'll just keep moving on.
Both lineups, too, are stocked with an odd mixture of veteran journeymen plying their trades all around the footballing world. Macedonia's leading cap getter is defender Goce Sedloski, who could make his ninety-sixth appearance for his country tomorrow. Sedloski plays for SV Mattersburg in the Austrian first division after a career that's sent him bouncing through several of Europe's not-quite-first-rate divisions. Another defender, Igor Mitreski, is allegedly a teammate of Hirschfeld's at Cottbus but is currently on loan to Germinal Beerschot where he instead plays with the other starting goalkeeper in this game. It's that sort of roster. The Macedonian league contributes five players, all under twenty-five, to this roster, while only Toronto FC's Julian De Guzman represents Canada domestically.
It's not as bad as it looks, really. Stephen Hart has repeatedly stated that he wanted a European-based squad. He took De Guzman because he was training in Europe anyway (you hear that, Jonathan?), and he took Dejan Jakovic out of DC United because he had no centrebacks. Had Hart been more ambitious, he would certainly have added Ali Gerba and Dwayne De Rosario and possibly Nana Attakora. Had Macedonia boss Mirsad Jonuz been more ambitious, he might not have taken any of the youths from his own league, none of whom have more than four caps and two of whom haven't even debuted yet. Canada's only débutante is defensive midfielder-cum-reserve goalkeeper Jonathan Bourgault.
On paper, Macedonia and Canada are fairly well-matched except for one factor. The Macedonians have Goran Pandev, and we don't.
Pandev is on the outs from Serie A club Lazio and may not be in game shape, but he's still the sort of supremely talented European player that Canadians just don't face. There's nobody anything like Pandev anywhere in the world except the elite leagues of Europe. Trying to contain Jeff Cunningham on the plastic of BMO Field is a far cry from trying to hold down a man with Pandev's deadly combination of speed and perfect touch. Paul Stalteri has faced those players before, when he was in the Premier League and very occasionally in the 1.Bundesliga but that was a long time ago. Julian De Guzman, of course, had extensive experience in his La Liga days. Kevin McKenna, to the extent that FC Koln gives him the opportunity to face those sorts of players. Who else on this roster has seen strikers like that except on television?
Okay, so Pandev's a little doughy thanks to his standoff with Lazio, who have pulled a John Carver and confined Pandev to training with the reserves. He's also got a need to prove himself again after the Lazio brass referred to him as a "rebel" and condemned him to the rubbish tip, and he's always played his heart out for his country in any event. And Canadians simply don't know how to handle a player of his talent. Even a fat Pandev might end up running riot on the inexperienced Canadians. What chance, really, would Jonathan Bourgault or the husk of a player that used to be Richard Hastings have against Pandev storming down the centre?
If we contain Pandev, we can win. But even if he plays half an hour and has a beer belly, he might still light us up.
My prediction: Macedonia 2, Canada 1