TORONTO — In the final days leading up to the Gold Cup, Canada coach Stephen Hart has made it clear that no player’s position on the field is guaranteed.
Hart said he feels his team will thrive on the internal competition for spots, and perhaps the biggest battle of them all is taking place at the back.
Incumbent starting goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld (pictured above, at right), set to return to the continental championship for the first time in eight years, may see his playing time usurped by upstart Canadian international Milan Borjan.
Borjan burst onto the scene in February, making his debut for Canada in a 1-0 loss to Greece. The 23-year-old netminder showed well in that match, instantly fitting in with his teammates and commanding the back line with the confidence of a grizzled veteran.
The Serbian-born goalkeeper was also an instant hit with Canadian supporters as he elected to represent his adopted homeland over his birthplace — to “say thank you” to Canada for accepting his family during turbulent times in the Balkan region — despite garnering interest from the Serbian federation.
With the recent retirement of Pat Onstad — and Greg Sutton’s on-again, off-again club career a constant source of uncertainty — the national team starter’s role had fallen to Hirschfeld nearly by default. Borjan’s emergence, however, has provided Canada with a genuine challenger.
Canada open up Gold Cup group play against the United States on June 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.
“Between now and the [World Cup] qualification I will sort of make that decision as to who takes No. 1,” Hart told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “I’ve spoken to the ‘keepers. They know it’s like any other position on the field, and come that bridge I’ll cross it at World Cup qualification.”
While both keepers obviously covet the starting job, Borjan said that he and Hirschfeld only want what’s best for the team regardless of who plays. To that extent, the older vet has taken the talented youngster under his wing.
“[Hirschfeld]’s been showing me some stuff because I’m still a young goalkeeper and he has experience,” Borjan said. “I’m just happy to have him on my side to help me out so I can learn more.”
Although Borjan played all 90 minutes of Canada’s 2-2 draw with Ecuador Wednesday night, Hart maintained in his post-match comments that he is still undecided about his team for the Gold Cup.
“You never know,” Borjan said. “It all depends on the coaches, who they’re going to put [on the field], and who they see [is more ready] for that game.