deVos: Numbers don't look good for Canada's men's team

Jason deVos

10/17/2013 12:28:37 AM

Three hundred-and-sixty-five days. That is how long it has been since Canada's men's national team were humiliated 8-1 in their final World Cup qualifying match in Honduras.

Since that embarrassing defeat, the men's team has played 11 competitive games. The stats from those 11 games read as follows: zero wins, eight losses, three draws, one goal scored and sixteen goals conceded.

It is impossible to put a positive spin on that.

The grim reality is that our fortunes at the international level are not going to improve any time soon. Until we have a larger pool of players getting regular minutes at their respective professional clubs, we will never be able to compete at the international level. We just don't have the depth of talent needed to do so.

A case in point: Toronto FC midfielder Kyle Bekker has played more games for Canada's men's national team in 2013 than he has for Toronto FC.

In no successful soccer nation in the world does this happen. Yet because we have so few professional players from which to select our national team, we are left with no choice.

If new head coach Benito Floro didn't know what he was getting himself into when he took the job, he surely does now. Experimental lineups against Mauritania (twice) and Australia yielded no goals, one draw and two losses. In those three games, he utilized virtually every eligible player at his disposal with a few exceptions (like Montreal Impact midfielder, Patrice Bernier, or Real Salt Lake skipper, Will Johnson.)

There isn't a pipeline of young players being churned out by the three Canadian MLS clubs. Young players like Bekker can't even get a game at their club team, so how can Floro rely on them to deliver at the unforgiving international level?

It's very simple - he can't.

So what option does Floro have? Well, he isn't going to turn our men's team into free-flowing masters of tiki-taka football overnight. In fact, he's never going to have that effect on our team. We are what we are and, if Floro were wise, he will look to the past to see a way to bridge to the future.

Canada's men's teams have always been extremely disciplined and well-organized. They have always had strong goalkeepers, resilient and reliable defenders, and hard-working midfielders. The current lack of goal-scoring punch is simply the status quo - we have never developed especially prolific goal scorers - and that isn't going to change. But where Floro can really impact the current group is on the defensive side of the game.

The goals that were conceded against Australia were very poor by international standards. Moving forward, it is essential for Floro to spend what little time he has with his players working on their defensive understanding. You simply cannot win games when you concede sloppy goals and Canada must get back to being hard to play against.

From there, Canada needs to employ a strategy that utilizes quick transitions - both from defending to attacking and vice-versa. The influence of players like Johnson and Atiba Hutchinson cannot be underestimated in this area; both are vital components of the spine of Floro's team.

Johnson has blossomed into an all-star in Major League Soccer, leading the Portland Timbers to the top of the Western Conference standings. He is an agitator in midfield, but is also capable of getting his fair share of goals - he has eight this season, a career best.
Hutchinson is Canada's best player. Currently playing for Besiktas in Turkey, Hutchinson has grown as a player since moving to Europe in 2003. Now, with 10 years of top flight football under his belt, Hutchinson must play a major role in Floro's future plans.

These two players should be the central midfield fulcrum around which Floro's team is built. At 26 (Johnson) and 30 (Hutchinson,) they are in the prime years of their careers and will thrive in roles of responsibility.

At the back, David Edgar should be first choice at central defense and finding him a consistent partner must be a priority. While he still has a ways to go, I have always believed that Adam Straith could one day develop into that player. Doneil Henry is still very raw and making the mistakes at the club level that every 20-year-old makes, so rushing him before he is ready would be a mistake.

A solid spine is essential in any well-organized team, and these four positions are crucial to Floro's chances of turning things in the right direction. It is by no means the finished article  and there are a number of holes that Floro will need to address if the team is to find success during his tenure. But with no wins in eleven games and only one goal over that span, Floro needs to start somewhere.