With the announcement of Canada’s squad ahead of September 7th and 10th dates against Cuba, we once again rank the squad by “Surprise Rating”
With Canada’s crucial pair of fixtures against Cuba now less than a week from kicking off, John Herdman’s 23 man squad was released this past week. Ahead of those Cuba matches, Canada has a lot to play for, as it also technically kicks off the start of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. With only 1 appearance at the world’s biggest football party, Canada will look to make some noise in the qualifiers this time around, as they try to erase the ghosts of campaigns past. Their long road to 2022 is not without flaws, as we have touched upon here, but luckily for Canada, their path to Qatar is clearly laid out, now it’s time for them to deliver upon the hype and hurrah surrounding this golden generation of offensive talent in this country.
Ahead of this pair of pivotal matches, we will be aiming to provide coverage as the road to 2022 kicks off. For any national team in any sport, qualifiers to a World Cup is an experience worth fighting through, sometimes proving to be more rewarding than the actual tournament itself. To kick off that coverage, we will be doing what has become a bit of a tradition now, which is to rate Herdman’s squad by surprise rating, which we did back in March as well as ahead of the Gold Cup. In this exercise, we take a look at all 23 players called up and provide a rating from 1-10, with 1 being “I didn’t look for his name on this list because I have come to expect it” and 10 being “I completely forgot that he existed”. So with that in mind, let’s kick things off.
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
How could you not call up Borjan? After a rough end to the Gold Cup, all he has done since is put up great performances, helping lead Red Star back to the Champions League yet again, and at 31, he doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. While he is no longer the automatic, without a doubt number 1 (more on that later), he still is the main man in goal, and he has done nothing that would suggest the contrary. If he continues to perform at a level like this, Canada will have little to worry about in goal.
GK- Marco Carducci | CAN / Cavalry FC (Calgary)
The only thing stopping this from being a 10 is that the 3rd goalkeeper spot on 23 man squads are often full of surprises, as they are very unlikely to get any minutes no matter how good they are. But, despite that, this call came as an especially huge surprise, but it is certainly a welcome one, as Carducci becomes the first-ever Canadian Premier League player to make the Canadian National Team. And he certainly deserves it. In large part to his big presence in their goal, Cavalry won the inaugural CPL spring season, are in the hunt to win the fall season as well, and they upset the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Voyageurs Cup, as they have stormed out the gates in their first CPL campaign. With Carducci playing as he is, it seems like it won’t be long before he keeps goal for a Montreal Impact or a Toronto FC, and that’s if he doesn’t go straight to Europe before that happens.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
The only reason Borjan isn’t considered the automatic starter, Crepeau has had a great campaign over on the West Coast. After Crepeau had a productive 2018 with the Ottawa Fury in the USL, Vancouver was smart to trade for the former Montreal man, as he has locked down the fort for the Caps. With 5 clean sheets in 24 MLS games, to go along with 1 clean sheet in the Voyageurs Cup, he has proven himself to be a borderline top 5 goalkeeper in MLS, and at only 25, he has the inside track on becoming Canada’s next starter when Borjan decides to move on. After his play this season, many are clamouring for that time to come now, so it’ll be interesting to see if Crepeau gets any of these 2 games this window, possibly giving people a look into that future.
CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Cornelius’s move to MLS continues to pay dividends for him, as he has taken a big step forward in his development. Only 21, he has only played centre back for 3 years, so to see the growth he has made in each of his 14 appearances for the Caps this season has been massive, especially for Canada, who’s lack of depth at the position is well documented. If he continues to put up man of the match performances like the one he did a couple of weeks ago against DC United in MLS play, the only question will be who to slide in beside him in Canada’s best starting 11.
CB- Doneil Henry | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Henry has had a resurgent campaign for Vancouver, as he finally appears to have put his major injury woes behind him, giving him a chance to meet the lofty potential that once earned him a move over to England’s West Ham United. While he has had a few injuries this campaign, he has still played in 21 of the Whitecaps 30 games, as well as both of their Voyageurs Cup games, which represents the most games he has played in a season since 2014. He has brought it on both ends of the pitch, scoring 3 goals, as well as playing a role in helping keep 6 clean sheets (all comps), as he has been top 10 in MLS in interceptions per game, clearances per game and blocks per game. For now, Cornelius and Henry appear to be the core of the Canadian backline, and at 21 and 26, they should continue to be for the considerable future.
CB- Adam Straith | GER / FC Hansa Rostock
Only 28, the return of Straith to the fold makes sense, it’s just very surprising after Herdman decided to take only 3 centre backs last time around, choosing to load up offensively. It backfired, with Doneil Henry struggling with injury, leaving Atiba Hutchinson to drop back into a centre back role, and Herdman has appeared to have learned from his mistake, this time bringing 5 into the squad. Straith has played 4 of Hansa’s 7 first games so far in their 3.Liga campaign, as they currently find themselves 13th out of 20 in the table, paving the way for Straith to return to Canada’s national fold for the first time since 2017. With David Edgar and Manjrekar James left at home, the decision to bring Straith is a bit of a shock, but doing so gives Herdman a chance to evaluate his backline ahead of the pivotal US matches, ones that will likely decide their World Cup qualifying fate.
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
Much like Straith, Vitoria, a former Portuguese youth international, has seemingly been forgotten for the past while, with his last call-up also coming in 2017. After plying his trade for a couple of seasons at Polish side Lechia Gdansk, he made the move to Moreinese this summer, a side currently playing in the Premiera Liga, the first division of Portuguese football. They’re also off to a strong start, finding themselves in 6th place after 4 matches, 1 point off of the Europa League spots, making Vitoria’s inclusion less surprising, as he has been a key cog in keeping clean sheets in 3 of those 4 games. At 32, he’s still in his prime for a centre back, so bringing him back into the squad does make some sense, especially while he continues to play at a decent level.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
After a mysterious absence right before the Gold Cup, forcing him to miss out on the tournament, Adekugbe returned to the Valerenga starting 11 in June, and he has been hard to displace since, going the full 90 minutes in 9 of the last 10 games. While Valerenga looks unlikely to compete for a Europa League spot, 11 points off as of the break, they are comfortably midtable, 9 points off of relegation. With 3 assists so far this season, Adekugbe has been dangerous going forward, and with the Alphonso Davies at full-back experiment likely coming to an end for Canada, he would be a strong option to consider as Herdman’s first-choice left-back.
FB- Juan Córdova | CHI / CD Huachipato
After featuring in a pair of friendlies back in 2017, this call-up presents an opportunity for Canada to cap-tie the 24-year-old Chilean-born right back, who has been immense for Huachipito in Chile’s first division. With 3 assists in 12 appearances, he has played a big role in their push to qualify for a Copa Libertadores spot, as they find themselves 4 points off of a guaranteed spot with 9 games to go, as well as only being 2 points behind a qualifying spot. After a strange offseason where it seemed inevitable that he would join the Vancouver Whitecaps, even making an appearance on local Vancouver radio ahead of this supposed move, he has returned to Chile and has left his mark, becoming the regular right-back for his side. Having featured in 11 of their last 12 games, he comes into this one in good form, so he looks likely to slot in for one of these two Cuba clashes.
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
Laryea earns his first call up to Canada for these matches, and it is certainly merited, as he has solidified himself as Toronto’s starting right-back this season. After rotating in and out of Orlando City’s squad the last few years, the trade to TFC has given Laryea a chance to shine, and he has taken it with both hands, featuring in 20 matches (all comps), adding 1 goal and 4 assists, good totals for a full back. With Zachary Brault Guillard continuing to grab minutes in MLS, as well as Cordova shining down in Chile, not to mention Gold Cup 2019 starter Marcus Godinho, Canada has a lot of options at right-back, with left-back remaining the bigger question mark for now.
FB- Kamal Miller | USA / Orlando City SC
Despite being a centre back for most of his career, Miller has found a spot as a left-back for Orlando, going the full 90 in the position during Orlando’s last 5 games. With Orlando 4 points out of a playoff spot heading into the stretch run, he looks to fill that role for the next considerable future. A left-footed centre back, he does provide value for Canada, as he can both slot in as a centre back and as a left-back, giving Herdman options at both spots. Only 22, he is very young for a defender, so he looks to be a big part of the Canadian backline’s future, and he should be feeling confident after getting his feet wet at this summer’s Gold Cup.
M- Liam Fraser | CAN / Toronto FC
After missing out on the Gold Cup after TFC bargained with Canada to keep him, sending the young Noble Okello instead, Fraser claws back into Herdman’s squad. He hasn’t played much since all of Toronto’s midfielders returned from their various national team stints this summer, as they are pretty stacked at the position, but the run of games he got while they were gone gave him some good confidence. A talented midfielder, he has a lot of room to grow at only 21, so it would be good to see him get minutes, but he’ll be in tough, as the midfield is one position where Canada does have a lot of good options to consider.
M- Will Johnson | USA / Orlando City SC
The call-up of Johnson once again surprises, but he has a good relationship with Herdman and brings good experience to a young squad, making his inclusion less of a shock. He has continued to play for Orlando, appearing in 20 outings (all comps), all in the centre of the park, a far cry from last season, where he featured primarily as a right-back while Orlando struggled. While he is unlikely to play much in Canada’s run to qualify for the World Cup, he’s a good veteran presence to keep around.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
Kaye has had an explosive rise over the last few years, going from a USL youngster to becoming one of the best midfielders in MLS, being a key cog on a dominant LAFC side. With 4 goals and 8 assists, he has helped LAFC score 74 (!!) goals this season, a full 20 more than second-place Philadelphia. Defensively, he has been sound as well, pacing the way with 2.1 tackles per game, 1.3 interceptions per game and 0.6 clearances, all solid rates for a box-to-box midfielder. With his height, he can be a presence on set-pieces both offensively and defensively, and his passing is sterling, as he averages 1.6 key passes a game and completes an average of 60 passes a game at an 84% rate, helping LAFC play their attractive style of game. Basically, if Kaye isn’t a regular starter in midfield for Canada now, it would be borderline criminal. The left-back experiment earlier this year was an interesting one, but after his play this season, he should now be marshalling the middle of the park for Les Rouges, especially if Canada is to have any hopes for 2022.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
Osorio has had an up and down campaign, as he recovered from a major hernia surgery this past offseason. Despite that, he started this year strong, featuring in the first 12 games for TFC, adding 3 goals and 3 assists, but since the summer Gold Cup break, he has had a tougher time producing, only adding 1 assist in his last 8 games. He is a dynamic offensive player and can add a lot to teams offence both as a 10 or as an 8, but he just needs to find a way out of this rut, as both Canada and TFC, who are in a tight playoff race, could use the impact Osorio can provide. With Scott Arfield and Lucas Cavallini out of this squad for personal reasons, Osorio will certainly get a chance to contribute in these 2 games, so maybe this will be the push he needs to finish 2019 on a high note.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / Impact de Montréal
It’s a surprise Piette was healed in time for these matches, as an adductor strain looked like it would possibly derail his chances at this call-up, but ultimately Piette made his way back in time for Montreal’s last two matches, much to the relief of Canadian fans. An absolute workhorse in the midfield, he will be perfect to replace the ageing Atiba Hutchinson as a 6, as he can run for days, will tackle everything in his sight, while still adding offensive value via good forward passing. Canada’s best midfield options may be to play Piette in a defensive pivot with Kaye, as they are both solid defensively and move the ball forward well, with Kaye being especially strong offensively, allowing them to compliment both the attacking players and the defenders with their styles of play.
M- Russell Teibert | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Another year, another coach in Vancouver, and despite all the change, Teibert remains a constant amongst their squad, having featured in 23 of their 30 MLS matches, as well as adding 1 Voyageurs Cup appearance. A workhorse midfielder, he has improved massively in all areas of his game, becoming a good passer, leading Vancouver with 3 assists, a good total for a player that is more relied on to press and shore up the midfield. He is a good depth option for Herdman to have, and with his work ethic, he’s the kind of player you want to have around on teams, as it has shown to be contagious. He might not play much, but when he does, he earns it, fighting for every inch he can get.
M- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC
This is the 4th call-up to Les Rouges for the Scottish born Wotherspoon, who still awaits his first Cap for Canada. After featuring as an unused substitute in all of those occasions, he will be looking to aid Herdman’s crew this time around, but it’s unsure if he will yet, with Canada having good winger depth. He has yet to feature this year for St Johnstone, a usually mid-table Scottish side, but he had a decent last season, finding 2 goals and 3 assist as a main wide option for them as they finished 7th. At 29, he looks unlikely to be a huge game-breaker for Canada, but he can bring a veteran head to a younger squad, instilling valuable lessons of hard work and overseas experience.
F- Tesho Akindele | USA / Orlando City SC
After only playing in 20 minutes in 3 call-ups for Canada across 2017, 2018 and 2019, Akindele returns in scorching form, having scored 10 goals (all comps) for Orlando this season, a career-high for him. In and out of the squad in his time at Dallas, he has established himself as a regular for Orlando, featuring in 28 games this season(all comps), including 23 starts. With Cavallini out for these matches, Akindele should feature in at least one of the Cuba games, as he has certainly earned a chance in doing so. While Canada has good attacking depth, making his future with the country murky, he will always be ready to fill in on spot duty like this if the opportunity presents itself.
F- Liam Millar | SCO / Kilmarnock FC
Millar was originally left behind when the squad was announced, but with Cavallini missing out, the Liverpool product now gets his chance to slide back in. Only 19, he continues to grow, and this second loan to Kilmarnock should give him plenty of opportunities to polish his game. After tearing things apart with the Liverpool U23s last year, it was time to get some pro minutes, and with Liverpool’s first-team having a stacked front three, going on loan was the logical option to find those minutes. If he continues to grow as he has, he should be a good rotation player for Liverpool in the next couple of years, but if not, making regular appearances at a mid-table English side would also be good. With 1 assist in 3 games so far this season in Scotland, he looks like he’ll take another big step this year, but with Alphonso Davies, Lucas Cavallini, Jonathan David and Junior Hoilett all producing at good levels ahead of him, Millar will not be rushed.
F- Jonathan David | BEL / KAA Gent
Along with Davies, he has become the face of Canadian soccer, scoring goals at all levels. With 10 goals in 8 senior Caps for Canada, he is already only 12 behind Dwayne De Rosario to become Canada’s all-time co-leading goalscorer, and with David only 19, it’s not inconceivable to imagine that happening soon. After scoring 14 goals and adding 5 assists in 43 games last season across the Belgian Division and Europa League qualifiers, he has continued where he left off, adding 6 goals and 4 assists in 11 matches so far, helping Gent reach the Europa League group stages, while grabbing 11 points from their first 5 games in the league. Against a Cuba side which he scored 3 goals against back in the Gold Cup, it seems likely that he adds to those lofty totals this coming week, especially considering he scored 2 key goals to help Gent beat Cercle Brugge this past weekend.
F- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
Davies continues to establish himself at the Bavarian giants, finding his way into 2 of their 3 games in the Bundesliga so far this season, while playing 1 for their second team, who currently play in the 3rd division. He had a strong preseason, earning Niko Kovac’s trust, as he has played at both left-back and on both wings, with Kovac helping him become more defensively responsible. After experimenting with Davies as a left-back during the Gold Cup, Herdman should shift Davies further up the field, as he has shown to be one of Canada’s best offensive players, with his speed and skill causing fits for full-backs. He and David have great chemistry, so when Cavallini returns, a front three of Davies-Cavallini-David should certainly have fans excited, as it gives Canada credible attacking credit in CONCACAF, with 2 of the last Gold Cup Golden boot winners being David and Davies, not to mention Cavallini, who scored one less than David (who won with 6 goals) this summer.
F- David Junior Hoilett | WAL / Cardiff City FC
It was a bit disappointing that Hoilett’s Cardiff was relegated this past year, but he has continued to play so far, adding 1 goal and 1 assist in 5 appearances in the Championship this season. The 29-year-old presents an interesting conundrum for Herdman, as he is one of Canada’s most talented players, but because of Davies, David, Cavallini and Scott Arfield, it’s hard to find space for him in the lineup. One way to include him was to put Davies at left-back, but the benefit Davies offers at wings seems to outweigh forcing both Hoilett and Davies on at once, so something will have to give there. With Arfield and Cavallini out this round, Hoilett should be able to play at left wing, with David starting up top and Davies out right, but when everyone is back, it will be interesting to see how he fits in.
F- Cyle Larin | BEL / SV Zulte Waregem
Larin continues his tour of Europe, this time joining Belgian side Zulte Waregem. After an up and down tenure with Besiktas, he joined Waregem on loan this summer, and he has started well for them, adding 3 assists in 6 games. While he is clearly behind Cavallini in Herdman’s pecking order for now, he is still a good striker, and at 24, he still has room to grow. With Cavallini gone, he will get a chance to prove himself this window, and no matter how he does, having both him and Cavallini as the main options is certainly a luxury Canada has not been afforded in the past. With rumours of an MLS move lingering all summer, it’s good to see him continue in Europe, as it will allow him to grow and become more complete, in turn adding value to the national side.
On the Cusp
GK- Alessandro Busti | ? / ? (last played with TFC II in a friendly)
GK- Simon Thomas | NOR / Kongsvinger IL
GK- Jayson Leutwiler | ENG / Blackburn Rovers
CB- Manjrekar James | DEN / FC Mitjylland
CB- David Edgar | CAN / Forge
FB- Brett Levis | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
FB- Ashtone Morgan | CAN / Toronto FC
FB- Marcus Godinho | GER / FC Zwickau
FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | CAN / Impact de Montréal
M- Noble Okello | CAN / Toronto FC
M- Scott Arfield | SCO / Glasgow Rangers FC
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
M- Raheem Edwards | USA / Chicago Fire
F- Tosaint Ricketts | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
F- Lucas Cavallini | MEX / Puebla FC
F- Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla | CAN / Impact de Montreal
The big surprises to miss out on this squad are regulars Arfield, Cavallini and Hutchinson, but they all remained out voluntarily, with Arfield needing some maintenance time to himself, Cavallini welcoming a new baby and Hutchinson mulling his future. With the US looming next window, Arfield and Cavallini should play a huge role for Canada in that, and if Hutchinson is willing, he would be a good option to have as well. Some other big surprises are the pair of Montreal teammates, Ballou Tabla and Zachary Brault-Guillard, but with Tabla still getting his feet under him after a year without much playing time, and with Herdman testing out other right-backs other than ZBG, it means they are both to sit out for this one. It is possible they return for the US, but for now, they will need to continue to fight for minutes on a desperate Montreal side.
The last of the big surprises are centre backs David Edgar and Manjrekar James, as they miss out on the side once again. Edgar has played a big role since returning to Canada to join Forge, and his experience surely would have been valuable for this squad, but Vitoria and Straith are wise heads that should fill in for the experience left at home with Edgar’s absence. James’s absence from the fold remains a question mark, as he has yet to feature in 2019, which is surprising because for his age (26) and his level (Denmark 1st division), he should be a key part of this side. While his playing time has been sporadic in Denmark, he has started to play more as of late, so maybe he’ll make his return before the end of 2019, but for now, his absence remains a mystery.
Canada trains in Toronto this week ahead of the first of the matches, a September 7th affair at home against Cuba, before heading out to the Cayman Islands for the return leg the 10th. These first two matches are important for Canada, as a pair of wins will boost their FIFA Ranking (huge for 2022 aspirations), as well as provide a good goal difference ahead of the US games. While that will only matter if they beat the US at least once, if not tie both games, which are going to be very hard outcomes to come by, Canada will want to get things off of on the front foot, with this being a great chance to get to the Hex for the first time since the calendar turned to the 2000s. If they can get out of this group, reaching the final 4, they should get a leg up on their quest to 6th in CONCACAF for next year’s FIFA rankings, and if they can put together the right schedule of friendlies, things will be looking very positive for them in their “Road to 2022”.
Canada vs Cuba, Saturday, September 7th, 2019, 17:00 PST (BMO Field, Toronto)
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Alex is a soccer journalist who covers the Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada’s National Teams and the Canadian Premier League at large. He’s also a third-year student at Ryerson University in Toronto, after having attended Simon Fraser University in Vancouver for his first year. You can find him on twitter at @AlexGangueRuzic. View all posts by Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic