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Simpson and Klukowski face their most challenging seasons

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Josh Simpson in the stripes of Manisaspor
Despite being jet-lagged and exhausted, Canadian national teamer Josh Simpson scored the equalizer for Turkish club side, Manisaspor, in its home opener this past weekend.

Not only did it feel good to get the goal that gave his club a draw against a Trabzonspor team that shocked Inter Milan in Champions League action on Wednesday, but it showed the coaches that he can cope with what’s going to be a brutal schedule of Turkish League games and World Cup qualifying matches.

“It smoothed things over for the next two trips to North America for qualifying over the next two months,” said Simpson in a conference call with Canadian soccer journalists.

After playing St. Lucia in a qualifier Sept. 2 in Toronto — in which Simpson scored twice, he flew to Puerto Rico with the team to play in a Sept. 6 qualifier, a Tuesday night. By the Thursday, he and Manisaspor teammate Mike Klukowski were in a hotel, prepping for the Turkish league opener.

“It’s very difficult,” said Simpson. “Door-to-door, it’s no less than 24 hours travel time. The CSA has done well with the travel arrangements, flying us in business class; the idea is that we get some sleep on the plane.”

But, there’s no escaping the jet lag, which can take a week to shake off.

So, when Manisaspor faced Trabzonspor, Klukowski was good for the full 90, but Simpson, who admitted he “felt terrible” going into the match, was only available for 45 minutes. But it was enough time for him to score a key goal.

And the hectic schedule promises to get worse. The Turkish season was delayed by six weeks as officials sorted through a match-fixing scandal that cost disgraced champs Fenerbahce its place in the Champions League. Now, to make up the time, the season has been compressed, with many midweek games and a push to play through the winter break.

“Turkish fans are going to forget about (the scandal) in three or four weeks,” said Simpson. “But it’s been difficult. For five or six weeks you are training to get into perfect condition, and then you find out there’s a delay of five weeks. And, the clubs don’t pay players until the first game, so many players went an extra six weeks without getting paid.”

And while normalcy has returned to Turkish football and, finally, training camp has given way to meaningful games, the compressed schedule combined with Canada’s World Cup qualifying schedule — Canada’s next game is Oct. 7 at St. Lucia — will be stressful on both Simpson and Klukowski.

“The midweek games are going to be tough on us, and you add to that the qualifying games,” said Simpson.

When Klukowski found himself out of contract after he didn’t get paid by his previous Turkish club, Simpson recommended his fellow Canadian to Manisaspor management. Now, they play together on the left side, and can bring that cohesion to the Canadian camp.

“It’s big to have a friend here, another Canadian,” said Simpson. “To be able to communicate with a guy I’ve played with for 10 years.”

Now, all Klukowski and Simpson have to do is survive what promises to be the most grueling season each have ever played.

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