With a massive summer ahead of them, Canada might be about to get a goalscoring boost from the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year.
According to Canadian head coach Benito Floro, FC Dallas striker Tesho Akindele is "99.9 percent" committed to representing the land of his birth in international play.
Last November, Floro called the 23-year-old Calgary native into camp ahead of a friendly against Panama. But after initially accepting Floro’s offer, Akindele then changed his mind after interest came from the United States, for whom he is also eligible to play.
“He needed to choose and I think he committed a mistake, because he [first] agreed to attend our camp,” Floro told reporters on Tuesday.
Akindele – who has two goals in six games thus far in his sophomore season – didn’t crack the US squad on that occasion, and remains eligible for both nations. With Canada jumping into World Cup qualifying in June and contesting the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, Floro could certainly use Akindele’s goalscoring punch – but first, he had to know the player’s heart was in the right place.
“I decided to take two, three, four months to [determine] if Akindele is absolutely sure to play with Canada,” said Floro. “Most important [for any player is] to have a good feeling for Canada.”
While some might want Floro to call Akindele up for the 2018 World Cup qualifying series against Dominica in June, simply in order to permanently cap-tie him to Canada, it’s unlikely the well-travelled Spaniard will make his roster decisions based purely on such considerations.
“We are going to call the best players, who we consider are in the best moment, the best condition, to play,” he said. “It’s true that maybe, for the Gold Cup, we need to make some changes in the roster. But first, we are going to call for the Dominica games the best 23 players.”
But getting his preferred squad for the Gold Cup could prove difficult. MLS will be playing through the tournament, and teams won’t necessarily be overly excited about losing key players for several weeks. Floro, who has coached clubs all over the world over the past 35 years, knows what goes through the minds of many managers.
“Coaches from clubs don’t like to release players to play in national teams,” he said. “It means to break training with their clubs, maybe to be injured and so on.”
He said, however, that the past year has proven especially troublesome on that front.
“The last year, we have had a lot of problems because [coaches] don’t consider it important for Canada to use friendly games to practice and to increase our level,” said Floro. “We always are trying to have a good balance, but it is true that Canada needs more attention from the clubs, at least at the same level as the United States or Mexico or others, because if we have a problem, we have no [domestic] league.”
But before worrying about the Gold Cup, Floro will be focused on World Cup qualifying in June. Canada will compete in a home-and-away against Dominica and it was confirmed on Tuesday that the second leg will be played at Toronto’s BMO Field on June 16 [the date and venue of the away leg are yet to be determined].
That stadium, which has hosted Canada’s last six World Cup qualifiers, has slowly evolved into somewhat of a fortress for the national team. But if Canada reaches the next round, to be played later this year, there is a chance that streak will end.
Floro suggested that there was a “problem” that may preclude his team from using BMO Field – which will also host Gold Cup games – after this summer. While Floro didn’t elaborate, he did say that senior Canadian Soccer Association officials had proposed other potential venues for men’s national team games.
Floro, who ultimately decides where the men’s national team plays, said that playing on natural grass is of vital importance. But with Canada boasting only two natural-grass professional soccer stadiums (BMO Field and Montreal’s Stade Saputo), he wouldn’t appear to have a surplus of options.
However, Floro isn’t closing the door on stadiums with artificial surfaces.
“If artificial grass is the [latest] generation, no problem, if the social matter is important,” said Floro. “If there is an important city or an important province in Canada in which it’s necessary, it’s important to play a game … because we need to offer the national team for all the provinces.
“But if the game is very, very important to qualify, to achieve an important aim, we need to choose the best grass, if we want to win the game.”