TORONTO — Veteran midfielders Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson are back in the Canadian fold for a World Cup qualifying series against Belize.
Hutchinson, arguably Canada's best player, missed out on the Gold Cup in July through injury. Johnson, returning to action after a longterm absence due to a badly broken leg, elected not to take part in the CONCACAF championship because of the travel and congested schedule.
Hutchinson plays for Besiktas in Turkey while Johnson captains the MLS Portland Timbers.
Goalkeeper Milan Borjan is also back after missing the Gold Cup because of commitments with his Bulgarian club Ludogorets, which had Champions League qualifying games in July.
Julian de Guzman is missing from coach Benito Floro's 22-man roster but that could change if the veteran midfielder recovers from injury in time.
Canada, ranked No. 101 in the world, hosts No. 123 Belize on Sept. 4 at Toronto's BMO Field before heading south for the Sept. 8 return match in Belpoman, Belize's capital.
"We need to maintain our concentration against Belize," Floro said in a statement. "It is very important to score goals and continue our strong play at the back. We consider that this is a good team and we must treat them with respect because in eliminatory games like this there are no small teams.'
Canada is 2-0 against Belize, winning a World Cup qualifying series 8-0 on aggregate in 2004. Both games were held in Kingston, Ont., because Belize did not have a suitable stadium at the time.
The Canadian men, who had a bye in the first round of CONCACAF qualifying, advanced to the third round via a 6-0 aggregate victory over No. 173 Dominica. Belize beat the No. 189 Cayman Islands on the away goals rule after their first-round series ended tied 1-1 before dispatching the No. 129 Dominican Republic 5-1 on aggregate.
The Canada-Belize winner will become part of CONCACAF Group A in the fourth round. That pool will feature No. 26 Mexico, No. 81 Honduras and either No. 110 El Salvador or No. 148 Curacao with only the top two advancing after round-robin play.
The top two teams in each of the three fourth-round groups advance to the final hexagonal competition, to be played from November 2016 to October 2017. The top three will qualify for the 2018 World Cup while the fourth-place team will meet the fifth-place Asian squad in a playoff to decide who joins them.
Floro's roster features nine MLS players but none from Toronto FC. The Montreal Impact are represented by goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and midfielder Kyle Bekker while defender Samuel Adekugbe and midfielder Russell Teibert carry the Vancouver Whitecaps colours.
Former Toronto FC and Montreal midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran, now playing in Malaysia, is recalled to the team.
Perhaps with an eye to the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, Floro's squad includes seven under-23 players.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria); Maxime Crepeau, Montreal Impact; Kenny Stamatopoulos, AIK (Sweden).
Defenders: Samuel Adekugbe, Vancouver Whitecaps; Luca Gasparotto, Greenock Morton (Scotland); Manjrekar James, Diosgyori VTK (Hungary); Karl W. Ouimette, New York Red Bulls.
Defender/Midfielder: Marcel de Jong, Sporting Kansas City; David Edgar, Sheffield United (England); Nik Ledgerwood, Energie Cottbus (Germany); Adam Straith, Fredrikstad (Norway).
Midfielders: Tesho Akindele, FC Dallas; Kyle Bekker, Montreal Impact; Atiba Hutchinson, Besiktas (Turkey); Will Johnson, Portland Timbers; Issey Nakajima-Farran, Terengganu (Malaysia); Michael Petrasso, Queens Park Rangers (England); Samuel Piette, Racing de Ferrol (Spain); Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps.
Midfielder/Forward: Tosaint Ricketts, Boluspor (Turkey).
Forwards: Marcus Haber, Crewe Alexandra (England); Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press