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Saturday 2 June 2012

First Person View – Canada-USA Build-Up – Day One – Canada Training Session

    Lovely weather welcomed the Canadian National Team back home to Toronto. Howling winds and slashing rains, less than comforting conditions especially given it was a return from an extended warm-weather acclimatization camp in Florida in preparation for the midday match in Cuba next Friday.

    Arriving at Downsview Park, already soaked from the inclement weather, the place was disturbingly quiet. No sign of the squad, gradually media members began to converge, waiting in their respective vehicles in an attempt to avoid the inevitable for as long as possible.

    Luckily for me, Waking the Red’s Duncan Fletcher had decided to drive and so I was afford a spell of respite from the elements, lest I catch one of those rare summer colds.

    A moment before hope was lost and ten minutes or so after the prescribed start time, the team bus appeared and the players scampered to a nearby pitch for a light jog. Barely had the balls been let out of the bag before the decision was made to move the session indoors - into the nearby Hangar facility.

    It was slightly unnerving at first, being so close to these professional footballers I had largely only seen on television. Even with those I had watched play extensively in the flesh it was strange.

    At matches you can see the player, but the likelihood of him looking back at you in the crowd and noticing anything is rare; here it was an entirely different relationship.

    That being said the sensation of it all quickly faded as they got to work in the dark – the lights had yet to be turned on – cavernous structure, with the wind slamming the plastic windows that shielded us from the torrents of rains that continued to pour down.

    First order of the day was that keep-away, possession-based circle game footballers so often play. Samuel Piette and Ashtone Morgan began as the chasers in the ring closest to me, the cost of being the youngest members I suppose.

    The players were all in good spirits as far as I could tell. Milan Borjan is without doubt the loudest of the bunch, though he was a good distance away, his joyous exclamation after he nutmegged goalkeeping coach Paul Dolan with a back-heel – from what I saw out of the corner of my eye – followed by a lap of victory around the continuing game, brought an air of excitement to what was otherwise a very low-key morning.

    After the warm-up the goalkeepers went their separate way, to focus on their own specific training – just the usual stuff really: positioning, tracking the movement of the ball, and that one where they lay prone and have to reposition quickly as a means of simulating recovering from an initial shot to deal with a rebound.

    The outfield players split into two groups of nine, as reported elsewhere Atiba Hutchinson was held out as a precaution – the indoor surface was not a forgiving one.

    Tony Fonseca took control of a drill that I found elegant in its simplicity. Rolling the ball out from the goalkeeper’s position, Canada’s back four – consisting of Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault flanked by David Edgar and Ante Jazic on one end; Dejan Jakovic and Mike Klukowski flanked by Piette and Morgan at the other – would move it around amongst them, before Fonseca would call for the forwards to pressure the ball.

    The defenders would then attempt to move around that pressure and find the outlet passes to their midfield teammates and them correspondingly up to the forwards. Each side had a pair of midfielders and three forwards – Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson, Dwayne De Rosario, Olivier Occean and Tosaint Ricketts were teamed with McKenna’s group, while Pedro Pacheco, Nik Ledgerwood, Simeon Jackson, Iain Hume, and Issey Nakajima-Farran paired with Jakovic’s back-four.

    It was an interesting drill that allowed Canada to work on both its pressing and ball possession at the back. It was curious that Piette was lined-up to mark De Rosario - he looked a little shaky at first, but soon showed his class. Of some concern was that Hume and Jackson seemed to have difficulty linking up in attack, twice placing passes one way with the runner going the other. Given both play in the English style it is odd that they would have such trouble, but that will come with time.

    The drill then changed slightly, instead of the direct application of pressure the defending forwards were to hold off and let the ball move around the back, while clogging the passing lanes to the midfield outlets and stifling the opponent.

    The speed at which this all took place from no more than a yard or two away was astonishing. I was a little fearful that a misplaced ball would fly at me and force me to look the fool as I cowered at its presence, but luckily for me Jazic had the sideline on lock down and any potential blushes were spared. One camera did take such a bashing from a Hume shot, once a pylon had been placed on the sidelines of the midfield as a target for scoring in the final phase of the exercise, but the equipment was pronounced fine after the impact.

    The session wound-down with some keepy-uppies, some of which got quite animated, as several individuals were called upon for one-on-one interviews. I don’t quite understand the whole interview/quote obsession that has taken over sports media. Granted a few words relayed from the first-hand can help emphasize a point, but too often the same generic one-liners emerge and fade into one big cliché, a wall of sound that obscures any relevant theory or discussion. But perhaps that's only my view on the matter; I’ve been wrong before. 
    Tosaint Ricketts came by and shook everyone’s hand before departing for the bus, a nice gesture indeed.

    It’s always good to meet several other members of the media that I haven’t had the pleasure of before: Gavin Day and Steve Bottjer were both quite affable.

    Craig Forrest said hello in passing, calling me Paul – whether he knew my middle name or had mistaken me for someone else, it was nice to be acknowledged; to be honest he can call me whatever he likes – I had met him once before, if one can call gawking from across a crowded bar a meeting, but this was several years ago at a past employment. I then spent the next hour telling all my co-workers who he was, but no one seemed as excited as I was.

    Seeing three of Canada’s past keepers – Dick Howard, Forrest, and Dolan - sharing a conversation and a laugh at the end of the session was enjoyable. I hope someone snapped a picture of that for posterity.

    Check out Red Nation’s preview of the match for interviews with Samuel Piette, Julian de Guzman, Olivier Occean, and David Edgar or subscribe to their Youtube channel – seriously, do it, one of the best resources around; GolTV Canada had a number of interviews from the session on the most recent episode of Football Today, but I haven’t been able to find them online as yet.

    I’m off to the American training session shortly – theirs yesterday was rearranged due to the conditions and subsequently close to the media; further discussion of the press conference will have to wait until later tonight.

    Match tickets are still available, and word is the sales have been disappointing. What are you waiting for?

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