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Cricket pitch could present problems for Canada’s soccer team

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The members of the Canadian national men’s team who will take the field for a World Cup qualifier Friday in St. Lucia will have to make some interesting footwear choices.

Should they go with longer blades or shorter studs?

The stadium in which they’ll play was constructed for the World Cup — the 2007 Cricket World Cup, that is. In the middle of the makeshift soccer field is a cricket pitch.

“The pitch itself in the middle of the field is extra hard. The players’ cleats will go from a nice grass surface to that’s something as hard as concrete,” said Canada’s head coach, Stephen Hart.

Hart said the grass is nice and lush through much of the field; but the middle of the park is rock-hard. That’s where the cricketers bowl — and the surface has to be firm so the bounces are true. But it will present a bit of a problem for the players, because it creates two unique surfaces on the same field.

The Beausejour Stadium in St. Lucia was a Cricket World Cup venue in 2007. PHOTO: TIM BARTON

Canada is atop its first-round qualifying group — and included in its first two wins was a 4-1 triumph over St. Lucia at BMO Field. But, Canada was criticized for not being all that convincing in that match. Even with the wonky pitch and what will be a makeshift back four due to injuries, Canada will be expected to win this one going away.

Hart said he expects his team to “be in control of the match in those situations where we are supposed to be in control.”

Against the St. Lucians — Canadian fans would expect those situations to arise throughout the 90 minutes.

Hart blames a sluggish start against St. Lucia in their first encounter to the nerves of the Canadian players; it was their first World Cup qualifier of the campaign and he thinks the nervous energy on display kept Canada from playing at its best through the early stages of that game.

But there are challenges; veteran defender Kevin McKenna is out with a foot injury, and he was replaced by Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault on the squad. Hart was mum about his defensive choices for the match, stating that he didn’t want to help the opposition scout his side.

It could mean an opportunity for Toronto FC left back Ashtone Morgan; the TFC Academy product has the chance to make his Canadian senior debut Friday, as does teenage midfield Joseph Di Chiara.

But, because this is a World Cup qualifier — with the need to get maximum points out of the match — and not a friendly, Hart won’t feel obligated to play anyone. If Di Chiara, who plays in the Russian Premier League, and Morgan get into the game, it’s because “they earned it.”

But Hart did say that, if neither of those players start, they could come into the game if Canada gets out to a healthy lead. If Canada is “comfortable,” then Hart can start thinking about the needs of his players over the needs of the team. And in this case, it could be to get the youngsters some experience.

They’ll all just have to watch their steps on the Beausejour pitch.

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