Canada vs. Bulgaria
Friday, May 23, 11:30 am ET
Sonnenseestadion, Ritzing, Austria
No TV coverage
While the soccer world is focusing its attention on the 32 nations that will be competing in next month’s big tournament down in Brazil, the reality for all of the teams that didn’t make the cut is that life must go on. That’s the case for Canada as they take on Bulgaria in a Friday friendly in Austria.
Canada’s dreams of reaching the 2014 World Cup were, of course, demolished back in October 2012 with a devastating 8-1 loss in Honduras, while Bulgaria’s hopes were alive until late 2013, when a fourth-place finish in Group B of UEFA qualifying sent them packing.
Canada are coming off a disastrous 2013 that has seen them slip to No. 110 in the FIFA rankings heading into their first international fixture of 2014. Bulgaria, meanwhile, sit at No. 73 in the world coming into their second international match of the year (their last contest was a 2-1 victory over Belarus on March 5).
Both sides will be looking to shore up their rosters and evaluate their depth ahead of respective continental championships in the not-too-distant future. Canada, in particular, have a wide collection of young, untested players in the roster who’ll be looking to make an impression on head coach Benito Floro.
Bulgaria’s road to qualifying for Euro 2016 begins this September, while Canada are looking ahead to both the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup (with a berth in 2016’s Copa América Centenario on the line) and – for many players on Friday’s roster – the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Canadian fans will be happy to know that Les Rouges have never lost to Bulgaria, or even conceded a goal. But, of course, that’s because the two teams have never met at the senior men’s international level.
The overriding hope is that a new year will bring new fortunes for the Canadian team, which has had a horrendous 18 months since its exit from World Cup qualifying – 13 games, zero wins and only one goal scored.
But if Canada are to end their 10-game goalscoring drought, they’ll need to do it without the likes of Dwayne De Rosario, Will Johnson and Issey Nakajima-Farran, as there’s no FIFA international break that would allow MLS players to join camp. Instead, Floro will run out a mostly European-based lineup that includes veterans such as Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman, as well as a liberal sprinkling of youngsters, including University of Connecticut striker Cyle Larin.
Larin, a 19-year-old from Brampton, Ontario, led the Huskies with 14 goals in 22 games as a freshman this past season, and will provide fresh hope for Canada as they look to end their agonizing goal drought.
Last year was a mixed bag for the Bulgarians – four wins, one draw and four losses in nine matches. But two of those losses came at the worst possible time: a pair of one-goal decisions against Armenia and the Czech Republic in their last two games of World Cup qualifying that ended their goal of reaching Brazil 2014.
Such an elimination generally calls for a changing of the guard for any national team, and indeed, Bulgaria have cast their net far and wide for this friendly: 13 of the 22 players named to the roster have fewer than 10 caps for the national team.
Experienced national-teamers such as Ivan Ivanov and Petar Zanev were left off the roster for this friendly, while veteran striker Dimitar Rangelov was ruled out due to injury. But twin defenders Yordan and Veselin Misev, 33, are on the roster, as is Ivelin Popov, who captained the squad through World Cup qualifying.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Keven Aleman
Aleman (pictured above) opened many eyes with his play for Canada’s youth teams in recent years, as the midfielder brought the type of attacking flair rarely seen by those representing the red and white.
As soon as Aleman began showing promise, though, worry emerged among Canada’s faithful that he would eventually choose to represent the land of his birth, Costa Rica. But Aleman readily accepted interim head coach Colin Miller’s call at last summer’s Gold Cup, and was officially cap-tied to Canada.
Now the 20-year-old, who spent time at the Toronto FC Academy, is back with the senior national team after spending his first season with Real Valladolid in Spain. He’s certainly a player who can make a massive impact if and when he gets on the field.
Bulgaria – Ivelin Popov
The attack-minded 26-year-old is captain for both his national team and his club side, Kuban Krasnodar in the Russian Premier League. With 47 caps for Bulgaria, he’s the most experienced national-team member to make the roster for Friday’s matchup.
He scored twice for Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying last year – one in a 6-0 rout of Malta in March and the other in a damaging 2-1 loss to Armenia in October – and will likely be a handful for a youthful Canadian backline.
GOALKEEPERS: Milan Borjan (unattached); Roberto Stillo (AC Perugia/Italy); Ricky Gomes (Uniao Mentamor/Portugal)
DEFENDERS: Nik Ledgerwood (MSV Duisburg/Germany); Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé (Montreal Impact); Andre Hainault (VfR Aalen/Germany); Adam Straith (Wehen Weisbaden/Germany); Daniel Stanese (FC Augsburg II/Germany); Manjrekar James (PMFC Matias/Hungary); David Edgar (Burnley/England); Luca Gasparotto (Rangers/Scotland); Jackson Farmer (Vancouver Whitecaps U-23)
MIDFIELDERS: Julian de Guzman (Skoda Xanthi/Greece); Pedro Pacheco (CD Santa Clara/Portugal); Samuel Piette (Fortuna Dusseldorf/Germany); Keven Aleman (Real Valladolid/Spain); Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas/Turkey); Bryce Alderson (Vancouver Whitecaps); Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Stuttgarter Kickers); Daniel Haber (Apollon Limassol), Ben Fisk (unattached)
FORWARDS: Tosaint Ricketts (Bucaspor/Turkey); Simeon Jackson (Millwall/England); Cyle Larin (University of Connecticut)
GOALKEEPERS: Vladislav Voyanov (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Ivan Cvorovic (Ludogorets Razgrad, Bulgaria); Georgi Kitanov (Chero More Varna/Bulgaria)
DEFENDERS: Nikolay Bodurov (Litex Lovech/Bulgaria); Veselin Minev (Botev Plovdiv/Bulgaria); Yordan Minev (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Iliya Milanov (Litex Lovech/Bulgaria); Yordan Hristov (Botev Plovdiv/Bulgaria); Georgi Terziev (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Aleksandar Aleksandrov (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Strahil Popov (Litex Lovech/Bulgaria)
MIDFIELDERS: Stanislav Manolev (Kuban Krasnodar/Russia); Georgi Milanov (CSKA Moscow/Russia); Svetoslav Dyakov (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Hristo Zlatinski (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Todor Nedelev (Mainz 05/Germany); Simeon Slavchev (Sporting CP/Portugal); Mihail Aleksandrov (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Ivaylo Chochev (CSKA Sofia/Bulgaria)
FORWARDS: Ivelin Popov (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Emil Gargorov (CSKA Sofia/Bulgaria); Andrey Galabinov (Avellino/Italy)