Canada’s Gold Cup journey has taken it from Carson, Calif., to Columbus, Ohio, Miami and Philadelphia, picking up confidence along the way.
Canada is unbeaten in three games at the CONCACAF championship, with two clean sheets en route to Saturday’s quarter-final against Honduras at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
“I think we came together much better and much quicker than I anticipated,” interim head coach Stephen Hart said Wednesday after practice. “But all credit to the players. They’ve been full of concentration. They’ve been making it enjoyable. And they’re helping each other through it, which is a good sign.”
The players are also enjoying playing under Hart, who led Canada to the semifinals of the 2007 tournament in his first stint as interim coach.
“He’s been bringing good results, so I think he’s been doing a good job,” said striker Ali Gerba, who joins Toronto FC after the tournament.
Hart isn’t looking ahead.
“I’m just an interim but while I’m there, I’m enjoying it. I enjoy working with these players and I enjoy being on the field. It’s where I’m happiest. So, as long as it lasts, I’m going to ride this gravy train.”
With veterans like Dwayne De Rosario and Jim Brennan out of the squad, Hart summoned nine players who had never played in the Gold Cup before.
“It’s important to establish competition for places within the Canadian team,” he said. “In the past, I think we didn’t have that much depth and what happened maybe (was) a bit of complacency at times.”
“The new players . . . They’re not just happy to be here. They’re pushing for selection. I think that’s a healthy situation and one that’s enjoyable, for me anyway.”
Dejan Jakovic, a 24-year-old defender with D.C. United, has made two starts at the tournament to double his caps to four.
Marcel de Jong, a 22-year-old midfielder with Roda FC in the Netherlands, has made two starts, come on a substitute and scored his first goal for his country. Simeon Jackson, a 22-year-old midfielder with England’s Gillingham, has seen action in all three games to up his caps total to five.
Hart has asked questions of his squad, including the veterans.
“The challenge for the older players was to set the example both on and off the field, but to understand that they’re going to be challenged for their position and to keep it as healthy as possible. They’ve all been tremendous in that respect.”
Canada has an efficient midfield trio in Julian de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson and Patrice Bernier.
Up front, Gerba is on a roll with two goals at the tournament and five in his last five games for Canada.
“All credit to him,” said Hart. “He’s confident, he’s enjoying himself. That goes a long way into him getting the goals.”
The Canadians are trying to make the most of Gerba’s talents, avoiding the long ball and getting the ball to him via short passes near the penalty area.
Hart has also worked hard to have the Canadians improve ball possession and to use it to penetrate enemy territory.
“I’m sure at the end of this camp they’ll be tired of hearing me scream at them about that,” he said.
And he has stuck with Greg Sutton in goal. Sutton has been without a club since he was released by Toronto FC. Hart says his performance at the tournament has drawn attention.