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Butler: Stalteri is a man for all seasons

Noel Butler
10/12/2012 11:52:41 AM
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As certain unmentionable Canadian-born footballers who ply their craft in some of the top leagues world football has to offer idly sit through yet another international break waiting for a supposed higher calling they might do themselves a favor during this particular recess to look over the example set by the man who holds the record as the most capped international player in our 100-year history.

You know the chap. Never once turned down opportunity to leave the rarified air of the Bundesliga or the Premier League to jump on a plane like he did back in Spring 2004 shortly after helping Werder Bremen clinch the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal to play a World Cup qualifier against Belize.

Remind me again how many Canadians have won a domestic double in one of Europe's top flight leagues?

That particular qualifier eight years ago was played in Kingston in front of a very sparse crowd that chatted amongst themselves. Glass half full the ale will be flowing tonight as Canada play in front of a soccer sophisticated and emotionally connected crowd that if the stars align could approach 20,000.

Paul Stalteri will number amongst them.

Having now made a full recovery from an injury that cost him the entire 2011-2012 campaign, Stalteri will take his seat in the BMO Field stands this evening just like he's done through this entire current phase of qualification.

Since opening its doors back in Spring 2007, Stalteri adores the fact BMO Field has evolved into a proper football stadium. "It's slowly building a decent momentum," he told TSN.ca. "I was at the match against Panama, we took the lead late on and the stadium erupted. Fantastic atmosphere. I think it is exactly what the team needs and what they were looking for."

It wasn't long before the player in him surfaced when the question of playing all the matches in Toronto and for someone who certainly hasn't been shy to voice his opinion to the governing body when things weren't to his or the teams likening Stalteri stands four square, 100 per cent behind this decision.
 
"The CSA has had their critics from people in different parts of the country making the decision to play all the games in Toronto but what you do on the positive side is you do build a momentum, you do build a familiarity with the players," he said. "And importantly the players with the fans and I think that's starting to show in the home games."

It definitely showed in the stands against Panama where it was 90 per cent pro Canadian support and once the goal went in the stadium erupted. It was brilliant for the players really."

Stalteri was over at the opening of training camp in Alliston earlier in the week and came away with a very good feeling. "The boys looked very good, very sharp," he said. "Lot of goals been scored. Everyone looked confident."

"I was there for one of the sessions before the Panama game, a very similar type session. Hopefully that continues for the similar result they got against Panama and they can get the first part of the job done."

Stalteri's words though came laced with a cautious warning especially for those who have got ahead of themselves as they focus on next Tuesday's dual in the late afternoon heat of San Pedro Sula.

"You can't look past Cuba that's for sure," he said. "You need to get that victory one way or another. If it's an ugly victory you take it. If it's one where you can get 1 or 2 more goals you take it."

"First and foremost you've get to get that first goal, defend the lead and you take those three points. I think there's no doubt the players, the country, the association, the coaching staff would all take the result before looking further to the Honduras game or anything."

Lurking below the surface Stalteri remains quietly confident. "I can't see them not getting the result," he said. "If you look at the two games they need four points from both of them which guarantees it."

A win tonight must be accompanied by avoiding defeat in Honduras. Traditionally Canada does not travel well. Especially so against the teams that they need to secure points against - a short month ago the perfect illustration.

Much was made of the hostile reception and immense disruption caused in Panama City, maybe too much. Hostile environments are not a recent phenomenon. Having featured in three previous campaigns Stalteri who made his World Cup qualifying debut in Havana 12 years ago has experienced all the hostility Central America offers.

To him Panama tops the list. "When we played there in 2000 the match was played in the middle of the summer, kicked off in the afternoon the stadium was sold out and filled hours before the kick off," he said. "It was pretty hostile back then without a doubt."

That particular match played in late July 2000 ended scoreless – a rare and priceless away point. What we'd give for that very same outcome Tuesday.

Our last World cup qualifying campaign also passed through San Pedro Sula. A city and stadium that features on Stalteri's Central American podiums. "Outside Panama for hostility next comes Honduras without a doubt," he said. "It's a close knit stadium. Not the best conditions inside. As you walk out the tunnel the fans are basically hovering right over you. It's basically not a very pleasant atmosphere, extremely hostile."

"Given what's at stake in Tuesday's match most likely the winner will advance. Canada will need a point, maybe a win. Making it even more hostile, more difficult. But in saying that I don't think the Honduran team is as strong as they were 4 years ago and I think we have the momentum."

"Get a good result Friday first and foremost and you go in there for the Honduras match with the confidence to get something out of the away match and get yourselves into the next round."

Having sat out last season as he recuperated from successful hip surgery Stalteri is now back home in the Toronto area. A family decision very much based on the kids schooling. He is methodically assessing his options before making a decision on the final chapter of a highly successful professional career.

"My fitness is back to 100 percent I'm keeping myself fit. I haven't sat down and made a definite decision on my future," he said. "I'm still in talks in deciding what's going to be the next best step for me in football and we'll have to you know hopefully come up with a decision one way or another. But right now we're still to decide for the immediate future."

Stalteri's career has spanned 15 years. It all started in Toronto with the Lynx. How fitting it could be if the team in MLS that's leaked almost two goals a game all season long and appear in desperate need of defensive help and guidance on and off the pitch reach out.

Perhaps for all we know they already have.

After all you don't need to have been born in a country that houses Europe's top leagues to end your career in football's new found frontier playing the mentor off the pitch. Stalteri spent a total of 14 years living and working in Germany and England's top flights.

Nicknamed Diesel Stalteri is of the belief there's still gas in the Canada tank. "Yeh of course." This is fuelled in part by what he's witnessed first hand over the spring and summer months.

"Once you're inside the stadium especially for the last game and you see the atmosphere if you're not as a player who has played for Canada - I loved it more than anything. You see the buzz inside the stadium, you see the buzz around the stadium you realize how much you do miss it. Those are the evenings you play for and train for.

"Hopefully the boys can get the same kind of feeling, same kind of atmosphere going against Cuba and get the same kind of result."

The Cubans have reserved their best displays for Panama City and San Pedro Sula. Tonight will be no different - Stalteri though and without a hint of bias in his voice foresees the 3 points.

"Two-nil. McKenna set piece, and Simeon Jackson."

Canada vs. Cuba is available live on Bell Mobile TV – Kickoff  at 7:45pm et /4:45pm pt.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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