As Canada enters the next phase of World Cup qualifying, midfielder Atiba Hutchinson is hoping his team will get off to a hot start.
It’s a busy June for the Canadian men’s soccer team, starting with Sunday at Toronto’s BMO Field when they face the U.S. in a friendly.
The 75th-ranked Canadians then travel to Havana to play No. 136 Cuba on June 8 and return to Toronto on June 12 to host 62nd-ranked Honduras.
“They’re huge,” Hutchinson said of the two qualifying matches. “It’s important for us to get off to a good start and also for the confidence. If you can have a good start and get wins in these first two games I think it will be huge for us.”
This round of qualifying has proved challenging for the Canadians in the past.
They failed to survive this stage for the 2010 World Cup after picking up just two of nine possible points at home and losing all three games on the road.
Canada (0-4-2) finished the stage tied with Suriname for lowest points total (2) among the 12 CONCACAF countries still involved.
The Canadian men also stumbled in the penultimate phase of regional qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. Canada (1-3-2, five points) managed just one point at home, collecting four more on the road.
Canada is in Group C with Honduras, Cuba and No. 52 Panama in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The top two teams in the group will advance to the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“There’s a lot of pride that comes with representing your country,” Hutchinson said Monday on a conference call from the team’s training camp in Sunrise, Fla. “It’s something that a lot of people don’t get a chance to do. I think everybody on the team is always delighted and happy to be playing for Canada.
“Now we just want a chance to play in a World Cup. We know it all starts now.”
Hutchinson says that the Canadians are focused on getting back on the same page after playing a season with their club teams.
“We’re just trying to get familiar with each other now, we haven’t played for a little bit of time, a couple of months, so we’re just getting used to each other’s tendencies,” said the 29-year-old from Brampton, Ont., who plays in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven. “We want to be a team that’s tough to break down.
“We want to be very organized and keep faith in the team and not concede goals easily.”
Canada will be playing without midfielder Josh Simpson, who broke his leg on May 23 while playing for BCS Young Boys against FC Basel in Switzerland.
“We all know how important Josh is to the team,” said Hutchinson. “He’s always willing to get in to the attack, create a lot of chances. It’s a shame what’s happened to him in the last week.
“We’ll miss him a little bit, but we just have to focus on what we have here and hopefully he has a quick recovery.”