The roster the Canadian Soccer Association has announced for the May friendlies against Argentina and Venezuela is one of the most interesting selections Canada has seen for some time. On a non-FIFA date against two marquee opponents, Canada has still managed to pull in many of its premier players such as Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman for the Argentina game. Yet the Venezuela match in particular will see a few relative scrubs and a couple absolute, Dominic Imhof-style non-entities. Such a roster is bound to provoke discussion, and I am only too happy to join in with the crowd and discuss it:
- Terry Dunfield got his first ever senior call-up for the Venezuela game. He is 28 years old and starts for mid-table League Two side Shrewsbury Town. He is also the former captain of our U-20 team and a product of the Manchester City youth system. A cautionary tale about the European school of player development, Dunfield has just fallen further and further down the depth charts in his professional career. In 2001, when Dunfield was Paul James's darling and in the same discussion as Owen Hargreaves, nobody would have imagined nine years would pass before he'd even get a sniff at the senior team. But that's football. It's nice to see him get the opportunity and yet it's sad it had to come this way.
- Also showing up from League Two is young Gavin McCallum, a 22-year-old attacking midfielder out of Hereford United. He is the polar opposite of Dunfield, showing up from nowhere but beginning to claw his way up the Football League. This season was his first in league football since his teenage days and he impressed, bagging eight goals and working his way into the starting lineup after arriving on a free transfer from an Isthmian Premier side. He's supposed to be deadly off of set pieces and pretty quick; sort of a Martin Nash type. Venezuela is above his skill level but he still deserves a look on the national team.
- Daniel Imhof is back! Yes, it is Daniel, not Dominic, making his return to the national team for the first time since the 2008 Estonia friendly. He's thirty-two years old and a shadow of his prime self in the Bundesliga: an assassin of a defensive midfielder who was a match for anybody in CONCACAF. He turns out these days for FC St. Gallen, a mid-table side in the Swiss first division who attained promotion last year. Speaking sentimentally, it's good to see him back in the international saddle, but let's not pretend he's going to be much more than a speed bag for the Argentine attack.
- According to Ed on the Voyageurs board, the acknowledged resident expert on all things German, Massih Wassey is on the roster in spite of his absence in the press release.
- Pat Onstad is on the Argentina squad. He is forty-two years old. You have to think that it's between him and Haidar Al-Shaïbani to get the start in Argentina, and Onstad is the favourite. If he does get his fifty-seventh career cap in Buenos Aires, he will be as far as I can tell the oldest player ever to appear for Canada in a full international.
- No Ali Gerba? What the hell? Yes, Canada is turning out a strong selection of strikers in Simeon Jackson and Rob Friend. But Stephen Ademolu is a 27-year-old playing in Lithuania and he's on the team! I know Gerba is without a club, but he was without a club in the 2009 Gold Cup too and he was our best player by a country mile. If Stephen Hart has already forgotten what Gerba did for Canada and for him last year... I don't even know what to say about that. Neglecting your best striker because he's without a club when he's already proven the ability to produce in quantity while without a club is just absurd.
- David Edgar and Kevin McKenna couldn't come to the friendly for "personal reasons". McKenna's personal reason is probably that he's suffering from a knee injury, whereas Edgar has yet again begged off an appearance for the full national team. He may have genuine personal problems or he may have the increasingly common affliction of doesn't-want-to-play-for-Canada-itis. How many of our matches has he skipped now?
- Finally, the question that's on everyone's mind: who is John Galt Pedro Pacheco? I'm working on that one.
What sort of team has Stephen Hart gotten us? We're missing our best goalkeeper in Lars Hirschfeld, our best defender in Dejan Jakovic, and our best striker in Ali Gerba. We've got as good a midfield as we're ever going to have until World Cup qualifying season rolls around again but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's not as good as Argentina's. Plus, once the MLS guys head back to their clubs after the Argentina game, the lineup for Venezuela is going to rely a little too much on the likes of Issey Nakajima-Farran and Gianluca Zavarise. But given that this is a non-FIFA date, we were never going to get our best eleven together and I'm both stunned and impressed Hart got as many of our core players as he did. For reasons a later post will hopefully make clear, I'm excited that we might be seeing more of Pedro Pacheco in the future.
But there are too many Gavin McCallums, Haidar Al-Shaïbanis, and Adam Straiths who have seen too few winters, as well as too many Pat Onstads, Daniel Imhofs, and Paul Stalteris who have seen too many. Even an Argentina B lineup will make minced meat of us unless the Canadian team comes out rearing to go, in better form than we've ever seen this generation, with nothing to lose and everything to win as we try to spring the mother of all upsets on one of the greatest soccer powers the world has known.
I can't help it. I'm looking forward to this.