This is the Canadian national team’s last chance in 2013.
Tuesday’s friendly against Slovenia (noon ET, Sportsnet One) represents their last chance to break a few ugly streaks – 13 games without a win, nine without a goal – before the calendar year is done.
After starting his first team against the Czech Republic on Friday, a 2-0 loss for Les Rouges, head coach Benito Floro is expected to experiment with some of the younger players at his disposal against Slovenia – a group that includes the likes of Kyle Bekker, Russell Teibert (below, right) and Karl Ouimette.
This year has been all about experimentation for Canada, as the program tries to rebuild and reshape itself in the wake of another disastrous exit from World Cup qualifying. But rather than trying out new players and approaches against regional minnows, the Canadians have repeatedly tested themselves in friendlies against difficult opposition.
The latest test will be against Slovenia, ranked No. 30 in the world, in their first match since being eliminated from World Cup qualifying last month. While the Slovenians will also be using the match to test the depth of their player pool, they hold a strong advantage – on paper – against the No. 111-ranked Canadians.
There’s little evidence to suggest Canada will end their winless slide against a Slovenian side motivated to recover from its own recent heartbreak. But for Canadian fans that have already endured the team’s worst year in memory, hope remains that the national team will end 2013 with something more than a whimper.
This will be the first-ever meeting between Canada and Slovenia, who joined FIFA as an independent nation in 1992.
The numbers are quickly becoming seared into the minds of Canadian soccer followers: no wins in 12 games so far in 2013, and only one goal scored. It’s been 852 minutes of play since Canada’s last goal, by Marcus Haber back on March 22.
All-time leading scorer Dwayne De Rosario nearly broke that streak on Friday, when he earned a penalty kick against the Czech Republic, but a diving save from Petr Cech ensured that the crisis-level goal drought would continue looming over the team against Slovenia.
Young striker Caleb Clarke, who earned his first national-team cap against the Czech Republic on Friday, has returned to his club in Germany due to illness.
After making it to the 2010 FIFA World Cup (and benefitting from a famous phantom call against the United States’ Maurice Edu), Slovenia fell painfully short in their quest to reach Brazil 2014.
While they’ve posted five wins against four losses in 2013, their most recent game was the cruelest dagger of all – a 1-0 loss to Switzerland on the final day of World Cup qualifying group-stage play in UEFA (Oct. 15) that left Slovenia in third place in Group E, behind the Swiss and Iceland.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Kyle Porter: The 23-year-old striker (at right) enjoyed a breakout year in 2013, establishing himself at D.C. United after several years with FC Edmonton in the NASL, earning his first call-ups to the senior national team.
He entered the game against the Czech Republic in the first half after Simeon Jackson was injured. With Clarke also leaving the team, there’s a good chance Porter will get a start against Slovenia in the hopes that he can be the man to end Canada’s ugly goal drought.
Slovenia – Valter Birsa: Despite some skepticism about his move to AC Milan earlier this year, the 27-year-old midfielder (above, right) has thus far made the most of his time with the star-studded club, scoring twice in seven appearances.
The so-called “Maradona of Nova Gorica” is a mainstay for his national team, having earned 64 caps since 2005, including starting all three games for Slovenia at South Africa 2010. If Canada have designs on controlling the midfield on Tuesday, Birsa will be a man they’ll need to get control of.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Lars Hirschfeld (Valerenga, Norway); Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK, Sweden).
DEFENDERS (8): Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby, Sweden); Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Andre Hainault (VfR Aalen, Germany); Adam Straith (Wehen Weisbaden, Germany); Nana Attakora (San Jose Earthquakes); Doneil Henry (Toronto FC); Marcel de Jong (Augsburg, Germany); Karl Ouimette (Montreal Impact).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Pedro Pacheco (Santa Clara, Portugal); Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC); Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps); Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC); Stefan Cebara (unattached); Issey Nakajima-Farran (unattached); Terry Dunfield (unattached)
STRIKERS (4): Tosaint Ricketts (Bucaspor, Turkey); Simeon Jackson (Eintracht Braunschweig, Germany); Kyle Porter (D.C. United); Dwayne De Rosario (unattached).
GOALKEEPERS (3): Samir Handanovic (Inter Milan, Italy); Jasmin Handanovic (Maribor, Slovenia); Jan Oblak (Benfica, Portugal).
DEFENDERS (7): Bostjan Cesar (Chievo, Italy); Gregor Balazic (Karpaty Lyiv, Ukraine); Miso Brecko (Koln, Germany); Branko Ilic (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel); Andraz Struna (PAS Giannina, Greece); Miral Samardzic (Sheriff, Moldova); Martin Milec (Maribor, Slovenia).
MIDFIELDERS (9): Andraz Kirm (Groningen, Netherlands); Nejc Pecnik (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia); Valter Birsa (AC Milan, Italy); Jasmin Kurtic (Sassuolo, Italy); Kevin Kampl (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria); Ales Mertelj (Maribor, Slovenia); Dejan Lazarevic (Chievo, Italy); Zeljko Filipovic (Maribor, Slovenia); Dalibor Stevanovic (Slask Wroclaw, Poland).
STRIKERS (3): Robert Beric (Sturm Graz, Austria); Zlatko Dedic (Dynamo Dresden, Germany); Roman Bezjak (Ludogorets Razgrad, Bulgaria).