Photo credit to: Chris McPhee https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrismcphee/
With the Canadian men’s national team convening in Vancouver for the last of their 4 Nations League and Gold Cup qualifiers, coach John Herdman has released his list of 23 players that will face French Guiana in that pivotal last match. Despite taking all 9 points from their first 3 matches, racking up an impressive +14 goal differential, this match remains a must-win as there is all to still play for this last matchday. A Gold Cup spot, which would require finishing in a top 10 spot, is pretty much all but assured at this point, but what they have still to play for is remaining in the top 6, which would allow them to play in the top league for the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League in the fall. That would allow them to play more competitive matches as they look to build towards a possible 2022 World Cup qualification and a guaranteed place in the 2026 edition. For a nation looking to establish themselves as the next big thing in international football, it would go a long way to consistently play the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico and the US in a competitive set-up.
In this piece, we will take a look at the 23 players that will be making the trip to Vancouver for the match on the 24th, taking a look at everyone and a few that missed out. We will be ranking how surprised we are of their inclusion, ranking from a 0 (pulse does not register, a walk in the park) to a 10 (did he dress in a Lionel Messi costume to get here?). Without further ado, we shall begin.
The Call-Ups (Listed in order of Canada Soccer Website)
GK- Milan Borjan | Red Star Belgrade
No surprises here as Borjan will continue to be the starter for the next few years, showing no signs of slowing down at 31. He had a pretty good performance in this seasons UEFA Champions League, picking up 2 clean sheets in 6 matches despite being drawn in the group of death alongside European powerhouses Paris Saint Germain, Napoli and Liverpool. Red Star is currently 4 points ahead atop of the Serbian league, thanks partly to Borjan’s 9 clean sheets in 19 matches he’s played.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | Vancouver Whitecaps FC
An initial look at this one brought some surprise, but considering he’s been a regular call-up to Canada despite never being an MLS starter, his play so far this year in his first few matches as a starter has more than earned him the chance to be called up once again. Only 24, he appears to be the heir to Borjans throne, as Alessandro Busti is still a while away at the young age of 18. In a position where experience is important, Crepeau has the leg up on Busti for now.
GK- Simon Thomas | Kongsvinger IL
Not much of a surprise here, as Thomas has been the veteran backup for many years now, with a pretty decent wealth of experience having bounced around various countries and tiers in European football. He is currently at a second division Norweigan club, where he was yet to play that much, but he’s always a trusty option to call to fill that 3rd keeper spot, leaving Busti the chance to stay at home and get minutes for his club.
CB- Derek Cornelius | Vancouver Whitecaps FC
For a country that has always been starving for centre back depth, there is no surprise that Cornelius gets the call. His transfer to the Whitecaps was seen as a smart move, despite not having the great start for them. He has all the useful attributes for a defender, and has a lot of room to grow, which should allow him to be a regular starter for his club and country soon. He did well in his few matches for Canada last season.
CB- David Edgar | Hartlepool United FC
One of the first big shocks looking at the list is the inclusion of David Edgar. A solid defender, he has not played much the last few years, after a devastating car accident derailed a solid start to his MLS career after transferring to the Whitecaps. He just signed for Hartepool, a club in the 5th(!!!!!) tier of the English Pyramid, as he looks to regain his legs at the age of 32. A surprise call-up considering his age and his recent history, this must be a move to help him regain fitness as Herdman has only brought 3 central defenders as they chase a big result.
CB- Doneil Henry | Vancouver Whitecaps FC
A regular for the last few years, Henry comes in after a solid start to his Whitecaps season. Yet to keep a clean sheet, it has not been because of the play of Henry, who has been taking some steps forward as a defender. The move to West Ham may have been too early in his career, but he is starting to use the tools that made him such a tantalizing prospect at the time. He has formed a strong partnership with Erik Godoy and will continue to start a lot of games this season.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | Vålerenga Fotball
Adekugbe has done pretty well for himself since leaving Vancouver, playing a part of Brighton’s promotion to the Premier League as well as playing at the top level in Sweden and now Norway. He is still only 24, so there is still room to grow has he potentially chases a move to a bigger club. Surprisingly only has 7 caps for Canada, so he’s due for some more here in the near future. Only question mark right now surrounding him would be his fitness, as his club doesn’t start their season until 2 weeks from now.
FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | Impact de Montréal
Another young fullback, albeit one 4 years younger than Adekugbe at the ripe age of 20, he is one of the newer recruits brought in by Herdman. He has a lot of potential, but his parent club Lyon doesn’t have much room for him at the moment, enabling his loan out to Montreal. Lyon rates him pretty highly, as evidenced by the fact that he was captaining their B team, but are giving him a chance to get minutes in a pretty good league now in MLS before he can get the chance to crack the main lineup.
FB- Marcus Godinho | Heart of Midlothian FC
Another young full-back, Godinho has been doing pretty well over in the Scottish Premiership, getting game time for one of the bigger teams in the country. His surprise score is pretty high based primarily on the who dis? Rating, but he is a solid call-up for a team lacking in full back depth after the injury of Marcel De Jong and the considering the lack of minutes that Ashton Morgane receives. Godinho is someone that can impress in the near future for this country.
M- Scott Arfield | Glasgow Rangers FC
Another one of the no-brainers, Arfield has had a pretty good season so far, helping lead the Rangers resurgence as they look to regain relevance against their bitter rivals Celtic. He has 6 goals and 7 assists, playing a big role as the guy underneath the striker for Steven Gerrard’s Rangers. They had a good run in Europa League, just failing to get out of their group and look sure to qualify for next year’s edition. Arfield has left no doubt for those questioning his move from English Premier League side Burnley, joining a team that suits his style more than the Brexit-Ball that Sean Dyche has been serving up on Burnley the last few seasons.
M- Atiba Hutchinson | Beşiktaş JK
Another easy one, as Hutchinson will continue to receive call-ups as long as he wants to come over and play.Still bossing it at the age of 36 over in the top flight in Turkish football, he continues to be a fan favourite for a pretty big club. While Besiktas did not make it to Champions League football as they usually do, they still had a run in Europa League and sit 3rd in their league, with Hutchinson playing a big role. His long legs and a heart of a lion make him intimidating defensively as he covers a lot of ground in a defensive role, but he still is solid going forward, picking up 3 goals this season. Will be key for this team in this match and in the Gold Cup, and hopefully, he is able to stick around beyond that.
M- Will Johnson | Orlando City SC
Always a solid player throughout his MLS career, it is very surprising to see the 32-year-old included after a pretty shocking campaign last season in Orlando. He was part of a historically bad defence, getting a lot of minutes at right back after spending most of his career as a midfielder. He has gone through a lot in his career, including breaking his leg a few years ago and dealing with some off-field controversy, so good on him to continue getting minutes at the MLS level, but his call-up remains a huge surprise. The only reason I could see is his versatility, giving Herdman some more options for lineups, but surprised he did not opt with other names that missed out such as Micheal Petrasso, David Wotherspoon or Raheem Edwards.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye |Los Angeles FC
After suffering a fractured ankle that ended a first promising campaign for him in MLS, Kaye is back and playing for Bob Bradley’s outfit down in LA. A solid box-to-box midfielder, he has done well in MLS, playing a key role in the expansion sides success. They could have definitely used him in the playoffs last year, where they suffered an upset at the hands of Real Salt Lake. Kaye will be a big player for the upcoming World Cup cycle and likely the one after, as Hutchinson at most will make it to 2022, where he will be pushing 39.
M- Jonathan Osorio |Toronto FC
Like Kaye, Osorio ended his season with an injury, as he had Sports Hernia surgery as soon as a disappointing 2018 campaign for Toronto wrapped up. Despite Toronto falling off the map after a treble winning season, Osorio had a breakthrough campaign, notching 10 goals and 7 assists, as well as winning the CONCACAF Champions League Golden Boot as Toronto fell in dramatic fashion during the final. The only question mark for him here was fitness as he came back from that injury, but as soon as he started the Champions League match a few weeks ago it was never really in doubt for this call-up. Hopefully, he can get back to that level he had found a year ago.
M- Samuel Piette | Impact de Montréal
Piette has done very well for himself since bursting onto the Canada Soccer scene at 18, picking up 40 caps despite only being 24. After bouncing around Europe for a bit, he has come back to Montreal and has become a mainstay in their lineup, being a defensive shield that allows players like Nacho Piatti and Saphir Taider space to roam. He is a pure defensive midfielder that has a pretty decent passing range, who can help out this offensive Canada side. The only surprise would be the number of midfielders brought by Herdman, but many of them are very versatile and having suffiecent midfield depth never hurts no matter the situation.
M- Russell Teibert | Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Teibert has really done well over the last year, picking up a lot of minutes for the Whitecaps last season and having some impressive performances for Canada under Herdman. His tenacity and grit allow him to be really versatile, and his much improved offensive game allows him to help the play going forward. He has yet to feature in any of the 8 Whitecaps preseason and regular season matches so far, as he is coming off an ankle injury, but the training in this camp will likely do him well. He is unlikely to play, but is a fair inclusion considering he does not have to commute to participate, which was a good reason to pick him over potential replacement David Wotherspoon, who would have come a long way just to toil on the bench.
F- Lucas Cavallini | Puebla FC
Cavallini has done really well over the last season, establishing himself as a regular on a decent Liga MX team in Puebla. He scored roughly 1 goal every 3 games, with some beauties coming out on his highlight reel. He stepped ahead of Cyle Larin on the striker depth chart for Canada, starting most of the matches played at the end of last year, showing how much Herdman has appreciated his growth and performance. His form is looking good coming into this one, fresh off a goal that allowed his side to win 1-0 with Pumas.
F- Jonathan David | KAA Gent
The young attacker burst onto the scene in 2018, scoring goals at a prolific rate to begin his career at Belgian side Gent, mostly as a sub. He became a bit of a folk hero as he scored 6 goals in a span of 3 weeks, with 2 of them coming in Europa League qualifying. What was most impressive about that feat was that it was accomplished with less than 2 matches of total game time, coming on late in most matches combined with one start. While he obviously isn’t scoring at the same rate as before, he has progressed immensely, as evidenced by his rising playtime. He has been starting regularly since December, scoring some goals and helping Gent to a playoff spot as they chase a title and potentially a UEFA Champions League or Europa League berth.
F- Cyle Larin | Beşiktaş JK
His spot was never in doubt, but the surprise rating is a little higher due to the whirlwind of a time he is having at Turkish giants Besiktas. Having joined over a year ago now, he struggled to get into the team as he adapted to the new league. He established himself as the season ended, getting into a few matches and scoring a hat-trick in the last match of 2017/2018. He started the season strong as well, including a hat-trick in Europa League qualifying. After that, he kind of fell of the radar, and there were some strong rumours that he would return to MLS, with the Whitecaps listed as a possibility. He hit the reset button in January, however, scoring goals with ease during a Besiktas winter training camp and reestablishing himself in the lineup, where he started a few matches. Since then, he is back on the bench, not having come on his last 6 matches. Hopefully if he gets some minutes in this call-up he can get some confidence back and get back into matches for the Turkish giants as they chase a title and European ambitions.
W- Alphonso Davies | FC Bayern München
A no-brainer, Davies has been a revelation since his breakout performance at the 2017 Gold Cup for Canada. A stellar last campaign in MLS was punctuated by a record transfer to European giants Bayern Munich. Ever since transferring there, playing time has been sporadic, but his improvement has been immense as he remains under the tutelage of offensive superstars such as Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman, David Alaba and Thiago Alcantara. He did not feature in any of their Champions League matches as they got eliminated by Liverpool, but he achieved a significant milestone recently, scoring his first goal for the club. He will be huge for this Country and hopefully his club going forward, so look for his name to be in the teamsheets for a long time.
W- David Junior Hoilett | Cardiff City FC
The experienced Premier League veteran will be relied on as he continues to do well for Cardiff. His numbers haven’t always been there, but playing in a side deep in a relegation battle doesn’t always get wingers on the ball in the most favourable situations. He is trusted by veteran manager Neil Warnock, starting most matches and helping out defensively as his team looks to build out from the back. For a team most predicted to go down due to a lack of signings after their promotion season, being 2 points off survival with a game in hand is no small feat. Hoilett will be huge for this match and the Gold Cup going forward.
W- Liam Millar | Kilmarnock FC
Another one of the many young prospects Canada has started to amass, Millar is finding his feet as he made a winter loan move to Scottish side Kilmarnock. He was doing well for the Liverpool reserves, so this move will be good to test his professionalism and give him playing time in a good league, boosting his confidence as he looks to crack a very tough Liverpool side. He has one goal in 5 matches (only 52 minutes) in Scotland, but it will take a bit to adapt from a U-23 set-up to a proper league. Like Jonathan David, he will be huge going forward as they look to establish themselves in CONCACAF.
W- Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla | Albacete Balompié
A very talented player, his move last year to Barcelona B left many Canada fans excited. Tabla was able to train with the first team, gaining experience from top players such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique. His commital to Canada was a pivotal moment, as he can also play at midfield, providing another dangerous young threat to the impressive array that they have assembled on the national team. There have been some questions about his maturity, but a move to Segunda side should deflate his head a little as he gets a reality check of the European game. He should be key for Herdman in this match and going forward.
Of the guys missing, the only surprise was Manjrekar James, a talented defender who made his first appearance for first-division Danish side Mityjland over the weekend. Especially with the inclusion of Edgar, it seems curious to see the defender miss out, as it would have been a good chance to continue and improve with his national teammates. Herdman likely dropped him in favour of some attackers, which is understandable as they chase a big result, but hopefully this was a one-off thing and not a sign of things to come for a country thin at the back. Most of the other players were on the fringe, such as Micheal Petrasso, David Wotherspoon, Tosaint Ricketts and Tesho Akindele, so they aren’t missing too much based on who they have brought along. They can fill in if needed, but for now the 23 brought along looks solid for the most part.
Hopefully, new acquisition Stephen Eustaquio can play a role after the Gold Cup, as the prized midfielder is recovering from an ACL injury, but for now there is a lot of potential for a country that has traditionally underperformed its sized as they enter a new era of their football. John Herdman has done a lot of good for the Women’s team in this country and making the Gold Cup and League A for Nations League would be a huge step for the Men as they try and establish an identity going forward.
We will have more coverage coming out throughout the week, including a pre-match report and a post-game review, with hopefully some other articles as well. Exciting week ahead!