As World Cup participants rolled out their preliminary rosters this week, Canada also got in on the action Friday.
The Canadian Soccer Association announced the 24-man roster for the national team’s upcoming South America tour of friendlies that will see 63rd-ranked Canada face two-time World Cup champion Argentina on May 24 in Buenos Aires and Venezuela on May 29 in Mérida.
As expected, the roster includes mainstays in Toronto FC’s Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman, but also six players that could receive their first cap for Canada.
The latter is part of Canada manager Stephen Hart’s plan to not only identify talent for the 2014 World Cup qualifying squad, but also stem the departure of Canadian players to other countries given the defections of midfielder Owen Hargreaves to England and, more recently, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Among those earning their first call-ups are goalkeeper Haidar Al-Shaïbani (Nimes Olympique, France) 26; center back Adam Straith (Energie Cottbus, Germany), 19; and midfielder Pedro Pacheco (CD Nacional, Portugal), 25.
All three are available for Argentina, while midfielders Terry Dunfield (Shrewsbury Town FC, England), 28; Gavin McCallum (Hereford United, England), 22; and Gianluca Zavarise (VfL Bochum, Germany), 23, could face the 49th-ranked Venezuelans.
Noteworthy by their absence are some of the country’s top European-based players. Midfielders Atiba Hutchinson, Patrice Bernier, Marcel de Jong and former D.C. United defender Dejan Jakovic will miss the country’s first match against the No. 7-ranked Argentines.
Scheduling also proved to be problematic. Since both games fall outside the FIFA calendar, some players were not available due to club commitments.
Also notable by their absence are Toronto FC defenders Nana Attakora, Adrian Cann and Gabe Gala, who were victims of the club-vs.-country conundrum. TFC have five Canadian internationals, and Hart decided against depleting the Reds of their core during the busiest stretch of the season.
“It was very, very difficult for me to go to one club and ask them for four or five players especially since they have games on the dates that we play,” said Hart in a conference call. “So it was a sort of a compromise and, hopefully, next game around, I can ask for different players and they agree to release them.”
According to TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston, the club feels the need to be accommodating, at least for its high-profile duo.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both these players,” said Johnston of De Rosario and de Guzman. “The chance to compete for your country against one of the best teams in the world is an honor. We wish them all the best, and look forward to having them back against San Jose [on May 29].”
Five players from MLS rosters made the cut, with Real Salt Lake’s Will Johnson and Houston duo Andre Hainault and Pat Onstad joining De Rosario and de Guzman. If Onstad gets into the Argentina game, he’ll break Craig Forrest’s Canadian record for most career appearances by a goalkeeper (56).
Of the 24 players, 19 will be available against Argentina, while 16 will take part against Venezuela. Eleven players will be available for both matches. Hart, who plans to add additional players for the Venezuela game, admitted the selection was a difficult task.
“Putting together the roster for these two matches was a challenge because of injuries and unforeseen player commitments," said Hart in a statement released by the CSA. "Most of the clubs, however, have been co-operative and I thank them for their understanding and support.”