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Canadian coach calls up two for World Cup qualifying

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The Canadian Press
9/29/2011 5:25:20 PM
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TORONTO -- Joseph Di Chiara's route to the Canadian national soccer team took him from Toronto to Russia via Cypress and Turkey.

And it largely went unnoticed.

On Thursday, Canadian coach Stephen Hart took many by surprise by naming the unheralded 19-year-old midfielder from Thornhill, Ont., to his squad for upcoming World Cup qualifying matches against St. Lucia and Puerto Rico.

The callup -- Di Chiara has not appeared in a Canada camp at any level -- comes after some eyeballing from afar by the Canadian braintrust.

"It's been difficult to get a lot of scouting reports on him, we got a verbal report and watched some DVDs when he did play (with his Russian club team)," Hart told a media conference call Thursday.

"I had the opportunity to bring in a midfielder and I thought it would be a good chance to bring him in and to work a bit closer with him and see what he has to offer."

Yuri Studin knows all about Di Chiara, having worked with the player since he was six.

Studin is president and technical director of the Toronto-area Spartacus Soccer Club, which was long home to Di Chiara.

Alex Sikov coached Di Chiara at the club and looked to help the player find opportunities outside of Canada. There was a tryout in Germany with Hertha Berlin and then, though locals here with contacts in Russia, some workouts with clubs in Moscow.

Di Chiara did not get a contract but the tall holding midfielder did enough to make an impression.

"He's a beast," said Studin.

FC Krylia Sovetov Samara, known as the Soviet Wings, invited him to camp in Cypress early this year. He stuck with the club and survived two more camps with the club in Turkey.

"Obviously he had more in him than simply skill," Studin said. "He had guts ... perseverance and wanting to survive, without knowing a word of Russian."

The coach took a shine to Di Chiara and signed him. He started in the reserves but made his first team debut in June. A minor operation sidelined him, however, and the coach was fired as the team struggled.

Di Chiara regained his fitness and rejoined the team, which currently stands 14th in the 16-team Russian league.

"I thought he did very well in the bits and pieces of the games that i saw him playing in," said Hart. "He looked composed, he looked technically sound. He kept the ball moving through midfield."

The young Canadian had a different career path planned, according to Studin. Di Chiara accepted a scholarship to Howard University but left late last year because he wanted a higher level of soccer.

"He left his scholarship, he took a chance," Studin said.

After Howard, Di Chiara then started his Russian team journey.

Should he play in the upcoming matches, Di Chiara will be the first teenager to appear for Canada in a World Cup qualifier since Jaime Peters played in a 1-0 win over Guatemala in 2004.

Hart also called up 20-year-old Toronto FC fullback Ashtone Morgan, who has impressed since being given playing time by Toronto coach Aron Winter. Morgan's crosses from the left flank have helped make goals for big Dutch striker Danny Koevermans.

Morgan was born in Toronto but is also eligible to play for Jamaica through his father. Hart said the youngster would have to earn his playing time, denying there was any intent to get him on the field in an official game so his playing future was committed to Canada.

"If he deserves to play, he will play," the coach said.

Striker Olivier Occean, defenders Adam Straith and Nik Ledgerwood, and goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos return to the squad.

Midfielder Atiba Hutchinson and goalie Milan Borjan are unavailable due to injury.

Mike Klukowski, Andre Hainault, Dejan Jakovic and Jaime Peters do not figure in this squad.

Canada is 2-0 after winning its opening two matches in the second stage of CONCACAF qualifying.

The Canadian men, ranked 87th in the world, play at No. 185 St. Lucia on Oct. 7 before hosting No. 145 Puerto Rico at BMO Field in Toronto on Oct. 11.

The winner of the four-team pool, which also includes No. 123 St. Kitts and Nevis, advances to the next stage of qualifying in the region covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Stephen Hart (Photo: CanadaSoccer.com)

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(Photo: CanadaSoccer.com)
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