National team coach Stephen Hart doesn't want an underdog taking a bite out of Canada's hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
The Canadians are ranked higher than the three teams they face in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying. But Hart doesn't want his players thinking too far ahead to the next round.
"If you look at some of the results in the past, especially when you go away from home, for lots of teams the games have been tighter than people expected,'' Hart said Thursday on a conference call.
"In our preparation, in our discussion with players, there is no such thing as an underdog. It's more let's get the business done and make it as difficult as possible for the opposition.''
Canada will play St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, and St. Kitts and Nevis in a home-and-home series. The winner of the group advances to the third round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Canada received a bye in the first round of CONCACAF qualifying. Canada, which hasn't qualified for a World Cup since 1986, currently holds the No. 105 position in the FIFA rankings. It's the lowest position since FIFA introduced its rankings in 1993.
St. Kitts and Nevis is No. 122, Puerto Rico is No. 141 and St. Lucia is well back at No. 183.
Despite the rankings, Hart believes Puerto Rico could be the most difficult team Canada will face in the group.
"I think of all the teams ... Puerto Rico will probably be the team that has spent the most time together,'' he said. "They can be difficult.''
Any advantage in skill one team holds over another can be eliminated in a road game, Hart said.
"The main thing with playing these teams is when you travel into their environment, the quality of the pitch, the climate, it sometimes becomes an equalizer,'' he said.
"As I have been explaining to al the players, don't look beyond any of the games and keep your focus on what needs to be done.''
Hart likes the idea of Canada playing all three of its home qualifying games at Toronto's BMO Field. He says playing in one venue makes travel easier and allows the players to become familiar with the pitch.
"If you look at the whole CONCACAF situation, with the announcement of when the games are scheduled, we ended up with one month to start preparation and where we had to go and play,'' he said.
"They were left so late that already we are having difficulty just getting the entire squad on one plane to travel. We are familiar with the surroundings in Toronto. For now it was the most logical thing to do.''
The Canadian men will host St. Lucia on Sept. 2, Puerto Rico on Oct. 11 and St. Kitts and Nevis on Nov. 15. Canada's away games are Sept. 6 in Puerto Rico, Oct. 7 in St. Lucia, and Nov. 11 in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Tickets for the matches, ranging in price from $20 to $75, will go on sale Monday, the Canadian Soccer Association said in a release.
As usual, Hart faces a two-pronged task in assembling his team. First, he must convince some players trying to land jobs with professional teams in Europe to come play for their country.
He also has to ask clubs to release the players he wants.
"It's always a fight when the players have to cross the pond,'' Hart sighed. "It's one we are accustomed too.
"We have been very flexible in the past. Hopefully now that it's World Cup qualifying there are not too many issues.''
A knee injury will keep midfielder Atiba Hutchinson out of Canada's lineup for at least the first three games of qualifying. Forward Rob Friend is also limping.
National team veteran Paul Stalteri is questionable after undergoing surgery.
"There's a health issue and a club issue,'' said Hart. "If he gets playing, and he is playing well, then he is eligible for selection.''
A player unlikely to be available is David (Junior) Hoilett, a rising star in the English Premier League for Blackburn Rovers. Born in Canada, Hoilett also can play for Jamaica.