Toronto FC’s loss has proved to be Canada’s gain.
Through an accumulation of yellow cards, Toronto midfielder Julian de Guzman is suspended for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final against the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 7.
That frees the TFC designated player for Canada duty against Armenia on Wednesday in Limassol, Cyprus.
De Guzman, the only North American-based player in the squad, said Toronto coach Aron Winter gave Canadian coach Stephen Hart his blessing.
“They were OK with it and it made sense for both sides, so me coming out here doesn’t affect anybody really, which is also important,” he said after practice Tuesday.
While he’s missing what he calls “the biggest game in TFC history,” de Guzman says being able to take part in a rare Canadian team camp is also important in a year that includes key World Cup qualifying games.
“This will help me continue to work on my pre-season mode and then get a game under my belt going back to Toronto preparing myself for the second leg (of the CONCACAF Champions league quarter-final),” he said.
With just a tight window to gather for camp before the game, the Canadian team was only able to assemble for two brief training sessions in the village of Parekklesia, near Limassol.
Tuesday’s training session was only 45 minutes long but the side had to endure just about everything nature could throw at them.
The start of training was delayed when heavy rain and hail left the training pitch waterlogged.
And when the team got on the field, there were only brief moments of clear skies interspersed with cloud, wind, heavy rain and hail.
“I think it was the first time the bus driver said he had ever seen hail in Cyprus,” joked Hart.
“It’s very wet today but I thought the session was very good. The players looked sharp, they were buzzing about. It’s a short session because we play (Wednesday) so it’s just a 45-minute session.”
Hart had his full squad of 18 training Tuesday, with Rob Friend, Atiba Hutchinson, Pedro Pacheco and Simeon Jackson arriving Monday night. All four played for their club teams Sunday.
Wednesday’s game will take place at Tsirion Stadium, which is the home of club side AEL Limassol of the Cypriot First Division.
Armenia is ranked 41st in the world, compared to No. 71 for Canada. It failed to quality for Euro 2012 but still managed a 5-3-2 record in finishing third in its group behind Russia and Ireland. And the Armenians led the group in scoring with 22 goals.
Hart says the European side is similar to a Latin American side in that they play quickly with good passing and movement.
Armenia brought 31 players to their Cyprus camp and is expected to use a more experienced lineup against Canada than the one that lost 2-0 to No. 25 Serbia on Tuesday.
Hart saw that game and said Armenia put Serbia under a lot of pressure in the second half.
The Canadian coach said he hopes to use all his players Wednesday, which could mean a debut for 17-year-old midfielder Samel Piette.
“He hasn’t show any fear, he’s mixed it up and I like his attitude,” said Hart.
That would also mean a chance for both goalies – Milan Borjan and Kenny Stamatopoulos – to see action.
NOTES – Veteran defender Kevin McKenna will captain Canada ... The two teams will each be able to use a maximum of six substitutions in Wednesday’s game.