Atiba Hutchinson and Juan Agudelo.

Hutchinson: World Cup "would mean everything" to Canada

TORONTO — On the eve of Canada’s first step toward qualification for the 2014 World Cup, one of coach Stephen Hart’s on-field leaders is quietly confident about the side’s chances.

“I think it’s been going in the right direction,” Atiba Hutchinson said Wednesday of the team’s progress over the past year. “I think it’s developing. We’re getting more and more used to each other and finding the way we should play and want to play. I think that’s important.”

Hutchinson spoke to reporters at a press conference two days before the Canadians kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign against St. Lucia at BMO Field on Friday.

The 28-year-old midfielder, an unassuming character off the pitch, was stoical about Canada’s disappointing Gold Cup tournament this past June. The Canadians compiled a 1-1-1 record in the group stage of the regional championship, failing to advance to the knockout round despite a positive run of results in the months leading up to the tournament.

For the Brampton, Ontario, native, all that matters is the road ahead.

“In the Gold Cup, we played some good games,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get out of the group, but it’s something you have to leave in the past and kind of move on. We have [World Cup] qualifying and hopefully we’ll be ready right from the start.”

While mentally ready for the new qualification campaign, Hutchinson is still not completely physically fit from offseason surgery stemming from a leg injury suffered in the Gold Cup opener against the United States on June 7. He has recovered enough to have logged a full 90 minutes for club side PSV Eindhoven in their 5-0 Europa League qualification win over Austria’s SV Ried last week, however.

“I’m feeling good, day by day I get a little bit stronger and [more] confident,” Hutchinson said of the recovery process. “Sometimes you get a little bit of pain here and there, but it’s normal for such a short time.”

The former FC Copenhagen star hopes to play as much as he can on Friday against St. Lucia and on Sept. 6 when Canada travel to Puerto Rico for their second match of the round.

“I’ve been feeling well and I think it’s important that I get games,” he said, “and especially games like this -- important games.”

For Hutchinson, who will be embarking on his third World Cup qualifying cycle with the Canadians, getting his national team back into the biggest tournament on the planet is worth any pain and suffering he may be experiencing right now.

“For me, it would be a dream come true,” he explained. “It’s something you watch as a kid growing up and it’s pretty much the biggest stage. If we could get the chance to play in the World Cup, it would mean everything for all of us in the country. It would raise a lot of attention and everybody would get a lot more pumped for football — soccer — in Canada.”

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