TORONTO – Stephen Hart feels no pressure to select players simply to keep them in the Canadian program.
Canada’s national-team head coach addressed the issue of players with multiple international options last week, saying that he will not use the CONCACAF Gold Cup or other competitions to cap-tie certain players — as in, select them so they are committed to the national team — but that those he does select will be chosen for competitive reasons only.
“The decision to simply cap a player to play for Canada in terms of picking a team, I will not do,” Hart told reporters. “If the player can contribute, and we definitely think he can contribute, he will be invited.”
Hart’s comments come on the heels of a string of defections by players who could have represented Canada but chose to play for other countries. The highest-profile defector is Calgary native Owen Hargreaves, the Manchester United midfielder who has donned England’s jersey 42 times over the past decade, including matches in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Since Hargreaves’ decision to forgo his birth nation for that of his father, several other players have also spurned the Canadian program. Jonathan de Guzman, the younger brother of Toronto FC and Canada midfielder Julian de Guzman, has represented Holland at the U-21 and U-23 levels. Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic actually played for Canada at the FIFA U-20 World Cup before making himself available for Bosnia, with whom he has earned four senior caps.
Jacob Lensky (Czech Republic), Teal Bunbury (USA), Daniel Fernandes and Steven Vitória (Portugal) have all pledged their soccer allegiances to other countries.
With all of those defections in mind, Canadian fans have become anxious whenever a young Canuck-born players hedges against declaring for Canada at the first opportunity. When Blackburn Rovers starlet David “Junior” Hoilett spurned the chance to play for his native country, talk immediately began about the possibility of him representing Jamaica (his parents’ birth country) or even England.
Hart said that he was in regular contact with Hoilett and reconfirmed his interest in the 20-year-old striker in a face-to-face meeting in England earlier this month.
“He knows he’s wanted,” Hart said. “The door is open and it’s his decision.”
Hart’s dealings with Hoilett are consistent with his philosophy to only bring in players that want to play for Canada.
“I can only open the door, show them where they fit in the program, their importance to the program and country,” he said. “But in the end, it’s their decision.”
One player who has chosen Canada over other options is 23-year-old goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who was born in the former Yugoslavia but moved to southern Ontario when he was a teenager. Borjan actually rejected interest from Serbia — where he now plays professionally for FK Rad — to represent his adopted country, although his two Canada caps have come in friendlies, leaving the door open for him to switch.
However, Borjan has already established himself as a legitimate challenger to veteran Lars Hirschfeld for the number one spot and he will likely see action in the Gold Cup this summer.