(Great!) expectations - Sportsnet

Ryan Johnston

It took one phrase from Canadian men's national team coach Dale Mitchell to understand just how far soccer has come in our country.

"We all understand the expectations this year," Mitchell said Wednesday during a conference call. "All players and staff are focused on 2010."

Until now, discussing Canadian soccer in the context of World Cup qualifying attracted words like 'perhaps', 'hopefully' or 'how cute'. But now, arguably for the first time since 1986, there is nothing cute about the fact that expectations surrounding 2010 exist.

But in a cordially Canadian way, Mitchell was quick to ride the brakes for a spell.

"We also understand the process," Mitchell said. "We can't look past the series. Two games; you got to get it right or you're done."

Look past a series? Never! Can it be?

The last half-decade of Canadian men's soccer has been filled with conference calls set up to encourage the media that we can beat the upcoming, let alone the team which lay beyond.

But the reality of fielding one of the more talented squads CONCACAF has to offer means that Mitchell must remind the 19 players selected to participate in a two-game set with St. Vincent and the Grenadines that the clichés matter; and looking ahead to the next stage in the fall is a mistake.

But it is still refreshing to hear such bravado, even if it is for a fleeting moment. And the undying patience shown by supporters of the Canadian game may catch a break in the form of timing. Mitchell pointed out during the call that the CONCACAF poles are shifting, and the minnows of a decade ago are in many cases better (and faster) than the big fish.

"Island teams are improving," Mitchell explained. "They have good athletes and at home they are dangerous."

He's right; the dynamic in CONCACAF is changing. Toronto FC supporters are seeing why Honduras is No. 3 in the region behind the US and Mexico, respectively.

Gone are the days when beating Mexico meant the US in the final, and the next up nations of Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago have fallen from grace.

"The team we have now will compete well with US and Mexico," Mitchell said without hesitation.

(The winner of St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Canada series advances to Stage 3 of qualifying in the fall in the CONCACAF zone, which will send three or four teams to South Africa.)

NOTES: Julian De Guzman is progressing from an Achilles' injury that forced him out of the recent friendly with Brazil... "(Julian) has been training on his own," Mitchell said. "(Wednesday) he did a little bit more and feel good about it, and we feel good about his situation. We're hopeful that come Sunday he will be fit and ready to help us"... The selection of Ugo Ihemelu is an interesting story. Ihemelu holds both American and Canadian passports, but in an unprecedented move, sees his future on the international scene in Canada. "He was excited about the opportunity," Mitchell said. "He has been involved with the US training camp, but he saw the chance for a little longer career and more experience with Canada, and not the US"... Four MLS teams represented on the Canadian roster is great PR for the North American league, but the name Adrian Cann gives well-deserved credence to the underrated USL. The 27-year-old was named Whitecaps' Most Outstanding Defender in 2007… Cann is an athletic centre back," Mitchell said. "It is his first camp with European players and MLS players, and maybe he is lacking international experience … but he has a lot of playing experience."

Full squad:
Greg Sutton (Toronto FC); Jim Brennan (Toronto FC); Mike Klukowski (Club Brugge KV); André Hainault (Sparta Praha on loan from FK SIAD Most); Adrian Serioux (FC Dallas); Julian de Guzman (Deportivo La Coruna); Paul Stalteri (Fulham FC on loan from Tottenham Hotspur); Marcel de Jong (Roda JC); Tomasz Radzinski (Skoda Xanthi); Ali Gerba (FC Ingolstadt); Richard Hastings (Inverness CT); Issey Nakajima-Farran (FC Nordsjælland); Atiba Hutchinson (F.C. København); Dwayne De Rosario (Houston Dynamo); Patrice Bernier (FC Kaiserslautern); Rob Friend (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Ugo Ihemelu (Colorado Rapids); Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo); Adrian Cann (Vancouver Whitecaps)