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Canada balance fatigue, focus ahead of Gold Cup

TORONTO — There is no rest for the weary, and seemingly even less for the Canadian national team.

Like many other CONCACAF nations, Canada have had to deal with a shorter-than-usual break between the end of the European club seasons and the upcoming Gold Cup, leading to an abbreviated training camp ahead of the continental championship.

With last year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa delaying the start of many European leagues, players remained with their clubs later than usual. Add in those national teamers that are still in season both in Europe and North America, and the situation is less than ideal for Canucks coach Stephen Hart.

Canada open Gold Cup play next Tuesday against the United States at Ford Field in Detroit.

“We haven’t had a lot of time together — actually, basically none,” Hart told MLSsoccer.com. “So the [friendly vs. Ecuador on Wednesday night] would be a game where we would try to work on some things leading up toward the group games in the Gold Cup.”

When Hart’s training camp opened in Alliston, Ontario, late last week, only nine players were available, with others en route to Canada or still featuring for their clubs. By Monday morning, 17 of the 23 players named to Canada’s Gold Cup squad had arrived. The final six — which included European-based Lars Hirschfeld, Haidar Al-Shaibani and Issey Nakajima-Farran — joined the team late Monday and took part in Tuesday’s training session at BMO Field.

After a staggered start to the camp, Hart was pleased to finally have his full squad together.

“It's great to finally have everybody. I'm happy,” he said, stressing that it will take some time before everyone is on the same page. “We have to be realistic — it's more important to get our shape right and our ball movement right but that's going to take more than one one-hour session.”

While the situation is not ideal, the players acknowledged that they have to make the best of the time they have together.

“I’ve had 10 days off since I finished my last game in Europe,” said midfielder Atiba Hutchinson. “It’s tough. You’ve got to try to stay as fit as you can. … You have to find that balance. You just have to go out there and just focus on the tournament.”