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Canada's Will Johnson celebrates after scoring past Mexico's goalie Guillermo Ochoa during the first round of the CONCACAF Men's Olympic qualifying soccer tournament in Carson, California March 12, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (LUCY NICHOLSON)
Canada's Will Johnson celebrates after scoring past Mexico's goalie Guillermo Ochoa during the first round of the CONCACAF Men's Olympic qualifying soccer tournament in Carson, California March 12, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (LUCY NICHOLSON)

James on Soccer

Canada's road to 2014 World Cup begins now Add to ...

If Canada does not qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil it should not necessarily mean a negative postmortem on whether Stephen Hart has done a good job as a national team coach. It would definitely help if they did get to Brazil (as facetious as it sounds) but for a country that has failed miserably on the last four attempts, most pundits are beginning to take the train of thought that a decent effort with plenty of vim and vigour will be palatable at this stage.

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And just maybe a nothing-to-lose attitude and approach, with some lowered expectations from fans and media, along with the thoroughness of well thought out preparations during the qualifying campaign, will pay some dividends.

Hart is a popular player choice as head coach, giving him the opportunity to go about his business without the unnecessary baggage of player revolt and disharmony that weighed down former coaches Holger Osieck and Dale Mitchell.

However making tough decisions, being rigorous with player guidelines and diplomatic when necessary, will be crucial for Hart.  The possibility, for example, of players being out in nightclubs during qualifying campaigns can be avoided through an appropriate disciplined approach from the national team leader.

So far Hart has proven very capable in player selections and his diplomatic approach with TFC in regards to potentially releasing players for their game versus Chicago is a positive and selfless gesture at the possible expense of his and Canada's ability to win an international game.

Fundamentally, international matches on FIFA calendar dates should not require negotiation with the clubs from the national team's perspective.  The players they select should arrive and stay for the duration of the national team camp.  Otherwise, what is the advantage of having the games in the first place?

In the past Canada has suffered from a lack of international game preparation. Now that the Canadian Soccer Association is impressively leading the way with providing the games, Hart will need to be rigorous with his demands for players.  In the case of TFC it is their issue to solve with Major League Soccer.  It should not be for Hart and the CSA to come begging or to be amenable.

The negotiating, from the CSA's perspective, should come on dates which FIFA has not sanctioned for the mandatory release of players.

When Canada played Argentina in May Stephen Hart did a good job in negotiating the release of players from TFC.  And to be fair to Mo Johnston, the club was accommodating.

That doesn't mean Canada should reciprocate the generosity on FIFA sanctioned dates.  It should not be a trade-off, otherwise Canada will never be able to build a team spirit and a cohesiveness needed to win regularly.  For FIFA sanctioned dates Hart should call his best players in. Then, for non-sanctioned dates, he should do his best to get as many of his top players but prepare the game as an opportunity to look at others.

All games Canada play from here on in contribute to the potential of our national team qualifying for Brazil in 2014.  Canada's winless streak of seven games has lead to a slide in the FIFA rankings to position # 101.  If this does not change it will continue to harm Canada's status within CONCACAF.  The unnecessary inclusion into a group of death come qualifying, for example, could be an unsavoury repercussion.

Canada's upcoming games versus Peru (Saturday Sept 4th 5.30 p.m. BMO

Field) and Honduras (Sept. 7th 7.30 p.m. Saputo Stadium) are therefore meaningful, not just from a showcase perspective of our players to the Canadian public but because they are must-win games.

 

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