VANCOUVER - Canada's men's soccer team coach Stephen Hart chose experience over youth for the next World Cup qualifiers.
Hart unveiled a veteran-laden roster Thursday for Canada's upcoming World Cup qualifying series against Panama. All players listed have experience in World Cup qualifiers.
"I tried as much as possible to go with the players that are playing (with their club teams) and look to where we may need the most reinforcement and just go from there," said Hart on a conference call with reporters.
Canada opens a two-game, total-goals series against Panama at BMO Field in Toronto on Sept. 7. The return match takes place in Panama City on Sept. 11.
The 21-player list includes MLS veterans Dwayne DeRosario of D.C. United, Julian de Guzman of FC Dallas, Patrice Bernier of the Montreal Impact and Terry Dunfield of Toronto FC. Dunfield earned a recall after he was left off the squad for the qualifiers' second round in June but stood out in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago earlier this month in Florida.
"He was left out of the last round because... Well, one, he was not playing consistently and, two, I just felt that I had an over-abundance of midfielders," said Hart. "But he's done very well for his club and he did well in particular in the second half of the Trinidad game. It's a matter of him working his way back into the squad."
Bernier was also called back to the squad after being left off the roster in June. Goalkeeper Lars Hirschfield of Edmonton, currently playing in Norway, is expected to start both games against Panama.
For the Trinidad and Tobago match, Hart had called up some young players with Canada's under-23 team, including Lucas Cavallini, who is playing in Uruguay, and Russell Teibert of the Vancouver Whitecaps. For the games that count, the coach decided to stick with experience.
"When you go through the exhibition games, you're always experimenting (and) working on things," said Hart. "You have some sort of theme that you want the players to focus on. But when you get into the competitive phase of the games, you're playing to win and trying to put everything that you've done together."
Canada is looking to build on a road win over Cuba and a draw with Honduras in June. After two of three rounds, Panama leads the four-team group with six points followed by Canada with four points. Honduras (one point) and Cuba (no points) are third and fourth, respectively. The top two teams qualify for the 2013 CONCACAF zone finals.
In previous games, said Hart, players showed good spirit and attitude while appearing more comfortable with their roles in the team as well as in their competition for spots in the squad.
"If I look at the games we've played, we've played with a lot of discipline," said Hart. "We've created a number of chances during the game and off the set pieces. It's just a matter of finishing off that sort of end-of-the-game. And I have no doubt that that will come."
Canada has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986. Hart is urging his players to focus on short-term goals rather than the big picture.
"You have to get through this phase to go to the next phase before you can even think about World Cup," said Hart. "When we sit down as a team, all we talk about is the phase we're in and the next game that we have to play and what we need to do."