DETROIT — The Canadian national team is unified. No doubt about that.
On the eve of their 2011 Gold Cup opener against the USA, coach Stephen Hart put the Canadians through a short, sharp training here at Ford Field. Afterward the players, to a man, kept to the script, emphasizing the need to “stick to the game plan.” They all seemed calm, confident and looking forward to facing their neighbors to the south.
“We couldn’t ask for a better way to start this tournament than against our top rivals,” midfielder Julian de Guzman said. “We have a lot of guys who are coming from positive clubs and seasons. We’ve come together in the camp in Toronto, and now, just before the US game, we’re feeling a lot of confidence.”
Tuesday will mark the first meeting between the Canadians and Americans since a controversial Gold Cup semifinal in 2007 that the US won 2-1. In that game, Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson appeared to score a stoppage-time equalizer that was nullified by an offside called. Replays showed it was a mistaken decision by the assistant referee.
Is the disappointment of that result a motivating factor?
“No, that’s in the past,” attacker Dwayne De Rosario said. “We can’t let our emotions get the best of us. That’s when you get exposed because you’re trying to do too much. So it’s very important that we keep composed, we stick to our game plan and we play the way we know how to play.”
How they play remains to be seen. De Guzman mentioned the need to stay compact defensively and suggested they will concentrate more on keeping a clean sheet than on attacking. It is understandable, considering a few defensive lapses in a 2-2 draw in a friendly with Ecuador last week at BMO Field in Toronto. The Canadians needed a last-minute goal off an opportunistic set piece to eke out the result.
“[The players] are starting to get accustomed to each other,” Hart said. “We’re not a country that play a lot of international games. We’ve had some games back-to-back-to-back, and I think that [makes a] difference. The more you play, the more you get accustomed to each other.”
Since the loss in 2007, the Canadian team has continued to bring in new players. Only eight of the players from the 2007 squad are on this year’s roster.
But regardless of who suits up, getting a result against their "top rivals" means more than a good start to their Gold Cup campaign.
“It’s a big deal not only to the team, but to the country,” De Rosario said. “It’s a healthy rivalry. US against Canada always has a little bit of an edge, and it won’t be any different tomorrow.”