When he made his Canada debut against Trinidad and Tobago in 2000, Kevin McKenna was seen as one of the country’s brightest young attacking talents. Since then, he has moved back into a more defensive role, but he remains a vitally important member of the side, not to mention the proud wearer of the captain’s armband.
He has picked up 56 caps in his international career, which has brought major alterations to his style of play to go with his new position on the pitch. Despite those changes, however, his overriding dream of representing the Canucks at a FIFA World Cup™ has not faded one bit.
"This is my last chance to appear in a World Cup,” McKenna explained to FIFA.com. “We’re halfway through the qualifiers and we have some difficult matches to come. For the more experienced players among us, every match has become vital. As a child, I was already dreaming of qualifying for the World Cup and nothing’s changed since then.”
Starting in mid-June, Canada’s campaign will continue in Group C of the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying, with Cuba, Panama and Honduras all hoping to trip them up. And McKenna has no doubt that he and his team-mates will have to treat their rivals with respect.
“If we want to go to Brazil, we’re going to have to get past these three tough teams,” he said. “In the last few years, we’ve sometimes lacked confidence in ourselves. Plus, we’ve also lacked a little cohesion. That’s all changed recently and that’s why I’ll go into those games with confidence.”
The 32-year-old defender is likewise conscious of having additional responsibilities on the road to Brazil 2014, given his status as a senior figure in the side: “It means a lot to me to wear the captain’s armband of the national team. I’ve always been a leader and I’ve always been very proud of the role I’ve been given on the pitch. Along with a few other players, I now have to take on even more responsibility.”
Whereas some might balk at the added pressure, McKenna clearly revels in it. For example, he needed no prompting to outline exactly how important Canada’s bid to reach the FIFA World Cup is to him personally. “There’s definitely pressure there on an individual level,” he said, hoping his third campaign will prove the decisive one. “If we don’t manage to qualify for Brazil, there’s a very good chance I’ll retire from international football. It would be a very painful decision.”
Canada’s last appearance at a FIFA World Cup came at Mexico 1986, and McKenna still harbours fond memories of following their group-stage matches aged six. Since then, the Canucks have had to content themselves with intermittently bright performances on the continental stage, winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000 and finishing third two years later. More recently, they reached the semi-finals in 2007, but in 2011 – McKenna’s first edition as captain – they were left packing their bags after the first round.
“I think our country hasn’t been able to develop,” explained McKenna, speaking honestly about his side’s struggle to leave a lasting impact. “We didn’t really go anywhere for a long time, but things have started to change. The presence of three teams in the MLS (Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact) has had a lot to do with that. That’s important for the future. On top of that, our coach Stephen Hart demands real commitment from everyone involved with the national team.”
The former Cologne player has obviously been impressed with the 52-year-old Trinidadian tactician, who took over the first-team reins in 2009. “He was an assistant coach before, he knows the squad well and he’s got everyone’s respect,” said McKenna. “He’s an excellent coach and he knows football like the back of his hand. He puts everything into his work and we’re all very keen to offer him something in exchange.”
That said, Canada’s chances of reaching their first global showcase in 28 years will depend on more than the dedication of their coach and captain. They will need solidity throughout their ranks, and exactly the same togetherness that helped them eliminate Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia in the previous round.
“If we want to make our dream come true, we have to be solid as a group and play for each other,” said McKenna.