Toronto FC's youth policy has got another vote of confidence from Stephen Hart.
The national team coach called up Toronto FC teenager Matt Stinson on Thursday for Canada's next two World Cup soccer qualifiers against St. Kitts and Nevis. The 19-year-old midfielder joins 20-year-old club teammate Ashtone Morgan, who retains his place after being summoned for matches last month.
“It's been a pleasant surprise, seeing two young players playing at that level,” Canadian assistant coach Tony Fonseca, citing the youngsters' “desire and passion,” told a media conference call.
“Over time, they will be a great asset for our team.”
The two Toronto FC Academy graduates have already proved to be bargains for their MLS team, with each making the league minimum of US$32,600 this season. The two rookies made a combined 27 appearances for TFC.
“Matt and Ashtone have grown in the Toronto FC system and were important members of the first team this season,” Toronto FC coach Aron Winter was quoted on the club website. “They have both done well with the opportunities, Toronto FC has given them.”
The two youngsters will join up with TFC midfielder Julian de Guzman on the national team.
The Canadians (3-0-1) play in St. Kitts (1-0-3) on Nov. 11 and then return home for a Nov. 15 game at Toronto's BMO Field. Canada needs only one point to advance to the next round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region.
St. Kitts and Nevis, ranked 109th in the world to Canada's No. 83, are four points behind the Canadians in their group. Only the pool winner advances to the next round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Morgan made his debut off the bench, coming on with 19 minutes remaining in Canada's 7-0 win in St. Lucia on Oct. 7. The young fullback did not see action in the ensuing 0-0 draw with Puerto Rico in Toronto on Oct. 11.
Fonseca says the young players will learn from their time with the national team.
“Right now it's just give them the exposure necessary. Make them feel comfortable and learn how to play at that stage,” said Fonseca, pinch-hitting for Hart who was away on a personal matter.
“As you can imagine, a young player coming in, it's quite a challenge. It's a completely different dynamic. But we're trying to do that slowly but surely, give them the tools necessary to perform.”
So far, Canada has outscored its modest opposition 14-1 and taken 10 points out of a possible 12. But the Canadians could do no better than a scoreless draw with visiting Puerto Rico last time out and have had some trouble breaking down its defensive-minding opponents.
Fonseca acknowledged the team has been “a little bit nervous on the final pass.” He cited opposition tactics.
“Obviously Canadian teams are not used to playing against teams, that just sit on top of the (penalty) box and defend, defend. They're not too comfortable doing that. So it's something that we are trying to address and slowly but surely I think we're going to overcome that challenge.”
Of course, the standard of competition will rise in the next round of qualifying.
“Every game is a different game,' Fonseca replied.
“As they get exposed to different types of scenarios, I think they will get better and improve,” he added.
If Canada gets past the preliminary round, it will join No. 57 Honduras, No. 100 Cuba, and another qualifier in the next group phase. The top two teams in that pool will advance to the final round of qualifying which will see three CONCACAF teams book their ticket to the 2014 World Cup and another have a chance at joining them via a playoff.
Hart has also recalled veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier for the home and away games against St. Kitts. Fullback Mike Klukowski and defender-midfielder Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault also return to the squad.
Veteran defender Kevin McKenna and forward Iain Hume are dealing with injuries, Fonseca said, although McKenna could still rejoin the team health permitting.
Hart elected not to summon midfielders Terry Dunfield and Joseph Di Chiara, who were in the last squad.
Houston Dynamo defender Andre Hainault, who turned down an invitation for the last two Canada games to stick with his MLS team, was not asked this time.
St. Kitts and Nevis are located in the Caribbean Sea, about one-third of the way from Puerto Rico to Trinidad and Tobago. The country, whose two islands cover 261 square kilometres, has a population of about 50,000 and sports a brown pelican as its national symbol.
While Hart's team will sing “O Canada,” their opponents will sing “Oh Land of Beauty!” before the game kicks off in the capital of Basseterre.
Fonseca said the Canadians are expecting a challenge against a physical St. Kitts team on a bumpy pitch.
“They have a couple of good players up front that we have to take into consideration.”
The Canadian squad features players from clubs in Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Turkey and the U.S.
Goalkeepers — Lars Hirschfeld, Valerenga Fotball (Norway); Kenny Stamatopoulos, AIK Fotbol (Sweden).
Defenders — Nik Ledgerwood, SV Wehen Wiesbaden (Germany); Mike Klukowski, Manisaspor (Turkey); Adam Straith, FC Energie Cottbus (Germany); Ante Jazic, Chivas USA (MLS); David Edgar, Burnley (England); Ashtone Morgan, Toronto FC (MLS).
Midfielders — Julian de Guzman, Toronto FC (MLS); Matt Stinson, Toronto FC (MLS); Will Johnson, Real Salt Lake (MLS); Josh Simpson, Manisaspor (Turkey); Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, SC Preussen Muenster (Germany); Patrice Bernier, Lyngby Boldklub (Denmark).
Forwards — Tosaint Ricketts, FC Politehnica Timisoara (Romania); Simeon Jackson, Norwich City (England); Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United (MLS); Olivier Occean, SpVgg Greuther Fuerth (Germany).