Young newcomers Ashtone Morgan and Joseph Di Chiara are among six changes to the Canadian national team roster ahead of World Cup qualifying matches against St. Lucia and Puerto Rico next month.
Morgan, the 20-year-old Toronto FC Academy graduate who now features regularly for Toronto’s MLS side, impressed Canada coach Stephen Hart, with the coach mentioning the youngster’s most recent club match — a CONCACAF Champions League match between TFC and Mexican giants Pumas UNAM — as an example of his qualities.
“I flew into Toronto on Tuesday and watched him in the game where he was up against a very talented player on the Pumas team,” Hart told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. “I thought he did well defensively. Offensively, he gets forward [and] he delivers some nice crosses.”
Although Hart sees Morgan as one for the future, he believes the young left-footer can contribute to the national team right now.
“His game shows a maturity where he potentially could step into the team, or else I would have not brought him in,” the coach said.
The same could be said of Di Chiara, a 19-year-old central midfielder from the Toronto area who has broken into the first team of Russian Premier League side FC Krylia Sovetov Samara. Hart has been monitoring the teenager’s progress from afar, and felt that Di Chiara had done enough to warrant a closer look.
“I thought he did very well in the bits and pieces of the games that I saw him playing in,” Hart said. “He looked comfortable, he looked technically sound, he kept the ball moving through midfield and it was a situation where I thought I could bring him in to the camp for these games and I made that decision.”
With Di Chiara playing half a world away, it’s been tough for the Canadian coaching staff to keep tabs on him as closely as they’d like. It was his potential — cracking the starting lineup of a high-level club at such a young age — that convinced Hart to call him up despite Di Chiara having never previously participated in a national team camp at any level.
“It’s been difficult to get a lot of scouting reports on him,” Hart said. “We watched some DVDs when he did play. And again I had the opportunity to bring in a midfielder and I thought it would be a good chance to bring him in and work a bit closer with him and see what he has to offer.”
Joining Morgan and Di Chiara on the Canadian roster are returnees Nik Ledgerwood, Olivier Occean and Adam Straith, all of whom have missed recent national matches for various reasons. After a two-year absence, former Toronto FC goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos also rejoins the team.
Stalwarts Dwayne De Rosario, Kevin McKenna, Julian de Guzman and Josh Simpson are all once again present, while Atiba Hutchinson, Mike Klukowski, Marcel de Jong and Andre Hainault are the most prominent players absent from the 18-man squad.
Canada play at St. Lucia on Oct. 7 before taking on Puerto Rico at Toronto’s BMO Field on Oct. 11. The Canadians sit atop Group D in the second round of CONCACAF’s 2014 World Cup qualification tournament.
FULL CANADA SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS (2): Lars Hirschfeld (Vålerenga Fotball, Norway), Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK, Sweden)
DEFENDERS (6): Nik Ledgerwood (SV Wehen Wiesbaden, Germany), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Kevin McKenna (FC Köln, Germany), Adam Straith (FC Energie Cottbus, Germany), Ante Jazić (Chivas USA), David Edgar (Burnley FC, England)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC), Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake), Josh Simpson (Manisaspor, Turkey), Joseph Di Chiara (FC Krylia Sovetov Samara, Russia), Terry Dunfield (Toronto FC)
FORWARDS (5): Iain Hume (Preston North End, England), Tosaint Ricketts (FC Politehnica Timişoara, Romania), Simeon Jackson (Norwich City, England), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Olivier Occean (SpVgg Greuther Fürth, Germany)