As Canada gets set to take on the US in a pivotal CONCACAF Nations League matchup on October 15th, we break down the squad of players Canada will be expected to rely on for that game, giving each player a “Surprise Rating”.
Earlier this week, Canada Soccer announced the 23-man squad that their Men’s National team have called up ahead of their Nations League clash with the US at BMO Field on October 15th. It was a much-awaited announcement, as it now gives an idea of who Canada will lean on ahead of that pivotal US match, one that has massive World Cup Qualifying implications for Les Rouges.
Now that we know who is going to be making the trek to Toronto next week, it gives us a chance to analyze the selections, as there are always surprises with these kinds of announcements. With that in mind, we will once again kick off what has become a tradition for us, and that is to break down this squad by “surprise ranking”.
We first started the tradition back in March, before continuing it ahead of the Gold Cup and doing it ahead of last month’s games as well. In this exercise, we take a look at all 23 players called up by John Herdman, and give them a ranking from 1-10, with 1 being “I would have bet my kidney on him making it” to “I thought that guy had committed to Trinidad and Tobago or something.” With that in mind, let’s kick things off once again.
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
The main man in goal, Borjan continues to shine in Serbia, as he continues to remain at the top of his game at the ripe age of 31. Domestically, Red Star sits 1 point off first in the Serbian league with a 9W-1L-0D record despite having 2 games in hand on 1st place, while in European competition they sit 2nd in their Champions League group with a win and a loss so far. While it was unsure how much Borjan was going to play against Cuba last time around, with Maxime Crepeau making a strong push for minutes, he ended up playing all 180 minutes as Crepeau withdrew from the squad with injury. Heading into these US games, Borjan is the without a doubt #1 goalkeeper for Canada and given his recent performances for club and country, it gives Canadian fans a reason to feel confident.
We also had the pleasure of interviewing Borjan last window, so check that out as well, as he gave some insight into his interesting career and what’s to come next for him.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Canada’s main backup, Crepeau continues to shine for Vancouver, even recently winning their team MVP award earlier this month. After moving to the Whitecaps on the cheap, he has been on an excellent upward trajectory, one that will likely see him become Canada’s next shot-stopper when Borjan moves on. It was hoped that he could have seen the field last time around, with Herdman even saying straight up to reporters that Crepeau was going to play in one of the Cuba clashes, but unfortunately for Crepeau, he picked up a minor knock, derailing that possibility. He is unlikely to feature in these US games, as Borjan is the without a doubt #1, but if Crepeau does need to get called upon for whatever reason, expect him to grab on to that chance by the horns.
GK- Jayson Leutwiler | ENG / Blackburn Rovers
A bit of a surprise here as Leutwiler returns to the fold, especially given the inclusion of Marco Carducci last time around, but Leutwiler is still a good pick as the 3rd keeper. With Carducci’s Cavalry playing some games during the window, it would be a bit redundant to bring him along anyways, especially since Leutwiler provides them with a good alternative. While he has only played 2 games this year for Blackburn, both in the Carabao Cup, he brings a veteran head to a younger squad and given his tight relationship with several of the players, it’s the kind of steadying hand that Herdman can lean on in the room.
CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Cornelius has put up a strong second half of the year with the Whitecaps, as he continues his smooth adaptation to MLS. He has been one of the best defenders in MLS this year in clearances and shot-blocking numbers, while also showing strong intercepting chops, which all compliments his good passing skills nicely. With his usual running mate Doneil Henry unavailable for selection ahead of this match due to suspension, it’s unclear who exactly he’ll play with, but either way, he has definitely established himself as a regular centre back for Canada for now. Still only 21, it’s not hard to imagine him continuing his growth, as it’s easy to forget he hasn’t even played this position for that long, only picking it up when he was around 18 years old.
CB- Amer Didić | CAN / FC Edmonton
To anyone watching him in Edmonton this season, it definitely did not come as a surprise, but it’s still a shock to see the first-ever Canadian Premier League outfield player included in this squad. And even more surprising, he has completely earned it, as he has put in some excellent performances on an inconsistent Edmonton side. Despite having the second-worst offence in the league, they have the 3rd best defensive record in the league, only behind the dominant Cavalry and Forge, who they surprisingly aren’t that far off from. Didic has played a big role in that, with his 6’4’’ frame making life difficult for opposing attackers all year long, as he combines his height was decent athleticism. Given his young age, as he is only 24, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a move to a new team soon, as there will certainly be interest after this season. With this also being his second call-up to the senior national team fold (his last one coming when he was in the USL back in 2017), it’s not hard to see him part of this national team fold more consistently in the future.
CB- Doneil Henry | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Despite being a regular starter at centre back for Canada, this call-up comes as a massive surprise, as Henry is currently suspended for this game against the US. It makes sense to bring him into the camp, as he is a leader of this team, but it seems curious that they didn’t just parachute him in as a practice player, making space for another call-up to happen. Performance-wise, he has continued to put up strong performances for Vancouver, helping them finish the season strong despite an early elimination from playoff contention, so he’ll definitely be relied upon in the future for Canada. For now? Canada will have to take out the US without him, as the clumsy red card he received in the second of the Cuba games looms large.
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
Luckily for Canada, it appears they have a capable replacement for Henry at hand, as Vitoria continues to get regular minutes in the first division of Portuguese football. While his Moreirense isn’t doing as hot as they did to start the campaign, where they shot up the Primeira Liga table, they are still in a good position, sitting firmly midtable, only 5 points from the Europa League qualification round spots. At 32, Vitoria is not the most athletic centre back in the world, but his smarts more than make up for that. With Canada likely expected to defend in a mid to low block against the Americans, Vitoria should be comfortable in the Canadian set-up, giving he and Cornelius a chance to use some of their best skills. After falling out of the national team picture for a bit, it’s good to see him back in the fold and playing regularly, as Canada continues to try and build up its defensive depth.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
Likely the starting left-back for Canada against the US, Adekugbe continues to get minutes in Norway, as he has done well to establish himself as a regular in Valerenga. While they have slipped up as of late, falling back into the middle of the pack in the league, the regular minutes for Adekugbe remains as a positive. With his astute attacking instincts, he will compliment Alphonso Davies well down that left-hand side, with Davies loving to occupy the middle, which should in turn leave plenty of room for Adekugbe to overlap into. Only 24, he still has lots of room to grow, making him an exciting player to monitor in the future. With many folks bemoaning the lack of quality left-back on Canada’s squad, Adkegugbe should quell those notions, as a 24-year-old left back starting regularly for a team that flirts with Europa League spots is nothing to scoff at.
We also spoke to Adekugbe last window, and he gave a lot of interesting insight on a couple of national and club team subjects, so definitely check that one out if you get the time.
FB- Juan Córdova | CHI / CD Huachipato
A newer inclusion into the fold, Cordova has kept on plugging away in Chile, firmly established as Huachipato’s starting right back. As their quest for a Copa Libertadores spot carries on, he will likely be relied on heavily in that journey, as they still have a handful of games to go this year. A quality attacking right back, he has given Canada good depth at the position, with Richie Laryea, Zachary Brault-Guillard and Marcus Godinho all capable of filling in and providing a good level. While Laryea leads the way in the pecking order, for now, don’t be surprised if Cordova gets some games in the near future, with his performances in Chile hard to ignore. Only 2 points off the Libertadores spots in the Chilean league, it’ll be fun to keep an eye on Huachipato as they look to make the continent’s biggest club footballing party, with Cordova looking to add to his already decent 3 assist in 15 game ratio.
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
Laryea has been one of Canada Soccer’s biggest success stories this year, as he has established himself as a star right-back this year in MLS. After playing primarily as a midfielder with a lowly Orlando side, he scored himself a trade to Toronto this year, where manager Greg Vanney decided to push him out to a right back. And all Laryea has done since is shine, featuring in 24 games in all competitions, including 20 in MLS, adding 1 goal and 3 assists. With one more game still to go, as they take on Columbus on Sunday, October 6th as part of decision day, it gives Laryea a chance to match his total number of MLS games with Orlando across 2 seasons. With his speed, smarts and keen defensive ability, he will provide Canada with a dangerous overlapping threat up that right side for the near future.
FB- Kamal Miller | USA / Orlando City SC
Another success story, this time from within Orlando, Miller has stepped up big in his rookie year in MLS. A 2019 MLS Super Draft pick, he has integrated himself well into Orlando’s lineup, filling in both at centre back and left-back. It’s the former of the two positions that he will be leaned on in for Canada, as he has played 6 of his last games out at left-back with Orlando, and put in a good shift for Les Rouges in the home leg against Cuba. More of a defensive presence, given his experience through the middle, he would give Canada defensive solidity if he were to start against the US. With both Adekugbe and him putting in great performances in their auditions last month, it’ll be interesting to see which way Herdman leans, as both players offer good but different approaches. While Adekugbe looks the frontrunner based on pedigree and experience, his team has been on a slump as of late, which could factor into the final decision. Either way, Miller will be valuable to have, as his multi-positional strengths could also lend themselves to be handy if anything were to happen to any of the current centre backs.
M- Scott Arfield | SCO / Glasgow Rangers FC
Canada’s captain returns to the fold just in time for this huge game, as he missed out during the last window due to some nagging injuries. He returns at a pivotal time for Canada, as his offensive presence will give them a huge attacking boost through the middle, with Canada noticeably struggling at doing so against Cuba. With Rangers currently sitting 2nd place in the Scottish Premiership, only 1 point behind big rivals Celtic, while also finding themselves in a 4-way tie with 3 points in their tough group after 2 Europa League matchdays, Arfield comes into the camp in good form. While he has an unusually low 2 goals and 1 assist so far, his hard work and attacking talent will be a boost for Canada, either as a starter or off the bench.
M- Stephen Eustáquio | MEX / Cruz Azul FC
After suffering a bad knee injury earlier this year, Eustaquio finally makes his way into the Canadian fold, something fans have been waiting for all year. While he has yet to play a game with Cruz Azul’s first team yet, as his rehab has only limited him to appearances with their second team, this call-up signifies a strong boost of confidence from Herdman, giving his prized midfielder a chance to integrate into the squad. And even though he is a longshot to play during this window, he might be good to go when November rolls around, just in time for Canada’s second date with the US. After his call-up this week, we took the time to profile Eustaquio, so check that out if you want to learn more about the man expected to anchor Canada’s midfield in the near future.
M- Liam Fraser | CAN / Toronto FC
A late addition to the squad, Fraser was announced as a replacement for Will Johnson on Saturday, October 5th, as Johnson is forced to miss out for family reasons. Fraser is a good like-for-like replacement for Johnson, as he is a talented deep-lying midfielder, but he comes into this one with an interesting club situation. Giving how stacked his Toronto midfield is, he has not played much this year, mostly relegated to a bench role. He is too good for Toronto’s USL League 1 affiliate, TFC II, only having played 2 games there, leaving him in a bit of a soccer purgatory as he sits at a perch between both teams. Only 21, it’s not the end of the world, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him grab a lot more minutes next year, either with Toronto or somewhere else, as he has certainly earned the chance for a bigger role. Given that Fraser plays for Toronto, he gives Herdman an easy but capable name to fill in for Johnson in training, while giving the youngster the experience of sitting on the bench and immersing himself in what should be a good atmosphere at BMO Field on the 15th.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
Arguably Canada’s most in-form midfielder at the moment, Kaye will play a huge role against the US, having all but locked up a spot in the midfield thanks to his strong performances both with LA and with Canada. He has a diverse skill set, which makes him so valuable for this team, as he will be expected to help Canada at both ends of the field. Offensively, he is a supremely talented passer of the ball, he dribbles the ball forward well and he has shown to be a good shooter when the opportunity presents itself. Defensively, he is a threat aerially, he tackles strongly and he has shown to read the game well. Even though LA has slipped up a bit as of late, finding a lot of draws instead of the victories they found in bunches earlier in the year, they still locked up the MLS Supporters Shield in easy fashion, with Kaye playing a huge part in that success. Look for him to be as equally valuable to Herdman, with the Canadian skipper showering the big midfielder with a lot of praise last window, as Kaye continues his meteoric rise at only 24 years of age.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
Another key piece in the middle of the pitch for Canada, Osorio has picked things up as of late with TFC, as he recovered nicely from a tough mid-summer swoon. After becoming a substitute in a good chunk of games, he has returned to his more usual starting role, scoring 1 goal and adding an assist in 5 games since the last international break. With Toronto locking up a playoff spot in MLS play, while only falling to Montreal at the Voyageurs Cup on penalties, it’s been a good month for the 27-year-old midfielder. He won’t be playing as big of a role as he did against Cuba, with the return of Arfield likely meaning that Osorio returns to being a super-sub, but it’s not so bad as it’s a job he can do very well in international play. Especially given that he has found regular minutes in Toronto once again, expect him to give Canada a spark when called upon, no matter the circumstances of the game.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / Impact de Montréal
Back from injury, he has returned to his usual spot in the Montreal lineup, where he continues to do excellent things in the heart of their midfield. A quiet, unassuming player on the field, he does his job efficiently, breaking up tackles and intercepting passes, while pushing the ball forward when in possession. Against the US, he’ll be relied upon to do just that, with longtime defensive midfielder Atiba Hutchinson yet to return to the fold. With Piette enjoying his first-ever professional trophy a few weeks ago, with his Montreal Impact lifting the Voyageurs Cup for the first time since 2014, he’ll come into this one in good form. While their MLS campaign has not gone as envisioned, as they are already out of a playoff spot heading into the last game, it has been a good return to action for Piette after his summer injury woes.
M- Russell Teibert | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
It’s hard to imagine a Canada squad without the inclusion of Teibert, who can’t find a way to work himself out of contention, as he continues to rack up minutes in the heart of Vancouver’s midfield. And that’s exactly what makes the 26-year-old so valuable, as he has continued to fight for MLS playing time, sticking around in starting 11s despite enduring the many changes Vancouver has made to their coaching staff since his debut. While he has not played much as of late for Canada, with their squad being noticeably stacked through the midfield, he has proved to be an integral part of their set-up, with his hard work and improving skills giving Herdman another option off the bench. Having played 26 of Vancouver’s games so far this year, he will be ready if called into action for Canada, providing Herdman with a good option heading into the latter stages of that game.
F- Lucas Cavallini | MEX / Puebla FC
The affectionately named “Air Canada” returns for this window, giving Canada a huge offensive boost, as he missed out during the last window due to his wife being pregnant. He returns in sparkling form once again, as he has continued to score goals at a good rate for Puebla, including a big 1-0 winner in the 83rd minute against Mexican giants Tigres not long ago, as Cavallini did his damage as a substitute there. After dealing with a minor nagging injury, which had forced him into that substitute role for a couple of games, he has returned to his starting spot the past few games, leading the line for Puebla once more. Against the US, he will likely do the same for Canada, as he, Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies have shown some good chemistry in their time playing together so far. A deadly finisher, don’t be surprised if he bags one against the US, as he continues his strong 2019 campaign for both club and country.
F- Jonathan David | BEL / KAA Gent
Arguably Canada’s most in-form forward at the moment, he comes in with 10 goals and 5 assists in 16 games as of October 5th, as all he has done so far this season is produce offence. It doesn’t matter the competition, either, as he has 6 goals in 8 league games to go along with 2 goals in 2 Europa League affairs. Fresh off breaking Canada’s Men’s National team record for most goals in a calendar year with 8, he’ll be expected to do some more damage against the US, it’s just unsure where he’ll do so on the field. He is deadly anywhere across the forward line, operating well as both a winger and a striker, but he has done a lot of damage for Gent this year as a #10, making things interesting for Canada. Given that fellow winger Junior Hoilett has done so well for Canada this year, and that he would likely slot in at right-wing based on last window’s set-up, does Herdman try to instead stick David at the #10? It seems like a foreign concept to drop Arfield from the lineup, given his status as the captain and his strong performances, but given David’s familiarity with the role and the strong play of Hoilett, it certainly opens up the discussion ahead of the game.
Either way, Herdman should have confidence in either direction he decides to take, with David being the exact kind of versatile star teams benefit from. After a stunning year for both club and country, he’ll be itching to do some damage against the US, a place that surely holds a special place in his heart given that he was born in Brooklyn, New York.
F- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
Davies continues to plug away at one of the biggest clubs in the world, doing a good job to establish himself among the 18 best players in the club week in and week out. While he does not have a start yet under his belt, and his appearances off the bench can be periodic, he is growing in a great environment at a huge club. Given that he is still only 18, it puts him way ahead of the curve compared to other kids his age from Canada, and he will benefit massively from it. While it would be great if he were tearing up a smaller league as David has, it also reflects well on Davies that he is even in this position, as he has earned this role after hard work in the summer and a good preseason. Had he not had that, he would have probably been sent out on loan anyways, so hat-tip to Davies for that. Especially considering that he gets minutes with Bayern’s second team every couple of weekends anyways, and without mentioning that training daily with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Thiago Alacantara and so many other gifted offensive talents gives Davies lots to learn about, it has put him in a good position as a young player. Having been in the fold for a few years now, he is surely itching to play in big games like this for Canada, so expect him to come out flying against the US.
F- David Junior Hoilett | WAL / Cardiff City FC
While Cardiff’s relegation down to the Championship could have certainly made things tougher on Hoilett, as he had a pretty decent return to the English Premier League last year, but he has stuck with it well down in England’s second-tier. He remains a trusted lieutenant of veteran coach Neil Warnock, as he has started to get reinserted into the starting 11 more often lately, after starting the year mostly as a substitute as he recovered from a short summer due to the Gold Cup. It’ll be interesting to see what role he plays for Canada this window, as he had a strong performance in his lone game against Cuba last time out, scoring a hometown hat trick before missing the return game as he returned home due to a family matter. He hasn’t found much offence this year yet with Cardiff, only scoring 1 goal and adding 1 assist in 10 games (only 388 minutes to be fair), but his performances with Canada will make him hard to leave out as a starter. Either way, be it as a starter or off the bench, look for the 29-year-old to give Herdman plenty of offensive juice to add to an already strong attacking group.
F- Liam Millar | SCO / Kilmarnock FC
After being a late inclusion last time around, filling in for the absent Cavallini, Millar returns to the squad this time as one of Herdman’s original call-ups. And it’s certainly a merited one, as Millar has appeared to have found a good landing spot in Kilmarnock, as he returned there on loan from Liverpool. After finishing the season strongly with them last season on loan, it was unsure if he were going to return to Scotland, but he ended up doing so, and so far it’s been good returns for both he and his team. With 1 goal and 1 assist so far in 7 games, he has played regularly and taken the most of his chance, inserting himself as a starter so far this year as Kilmarnock pushes to finish top 6 and make the championship round. Only 20, it’s not hard to imagine him continue trending upwards, and while it’s unsure if he’ll ever suit up for Liverpool’s first team, he can certainly become a good mid-level Premier League player, if not more. Which for Canada, it will only be more good news for them if that happens, as they continue to revel in their newfound offensive talent and depth.
On the Cusp:
GK- Alessandro Busti | ITA / Belluno (1/10)
GK- Marco Carducci | CAN / Cavalry FC (Calgary) (6/10)
GK- Simon Thomas | NOR / Kongsvinger IL (3/10)
CB- Manjrekar James | DEN / FC Mitjylland (5/10)
CB- Adam Straith | GER / FC Hansa Rostock (3/10)
CB- David Edgar | CAN / Forge (8/10)
FB- Brett Levis | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1/10)
FB- Ashtone Morgan | CAN / Toronto FC (2/10)
FB- Marcus Godinho | GER / FC Zwickau (2/10)
FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | CAN / Impact de Montréal (5/10)
M- Will Johnson | USA / Orlando City SC (5/10)
M- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC (3/10)
M- Noble Okello | CAN / Toronto FC (1/10)
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK (8/10)
M- Raheem Edwards | USA / Chicago Fire (2/10)
F- Tosaint Ricketts | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2/10)
F- Tesho Akindele | USA / Orlando City SC (5/10)
F- Cyle Larin | BEL / SV Zulte Waregem (8/10)
F- Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla | CAN / Impact de Montreal (3/10)
The biggest exclusions this time around are Atiba Hutchinson, Marco Carducci, David Edgar and Cyle Larin, all players from different phases of the pitch. Hutchinson’s absence is easily explained, as he doesn’t quite find himself at the fitness level to return yet, but the exclusion of the other names is quite surprising.
Edgar continues to get minutes for a strong Forge team, one that plays less than 2 hours away from BMO Field, which makes it surprising that he wasn’t called up in place of Henry, who can’t even play. Even if Edgar didn’t play, which would likely have been the case, he is still a trusted veteran member of the squad, and having him around could prove to be beneficial.
For Carducci, it does seem a bit strange at the surface to be so surprised about a recent first-time call-up missing out, but he has been that good for Cavalry this season. With Leutwiler not playing much at Blackburn, it seems a bit curious he returns, but given that they would both fill in as the third goalkeeper anyways, leaving Carducci in Calgary as his team plays some big games ahead of the CPL final might be the best idea.
Lastly, it’s Larin, who did not impress last time out against Cuba but is someone who has found some great form at the club level lately. As he continues to rack up goals and assists for Zulte Waregem, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next for him, as he has clearly fallen way behind Lucas Cavallini in the pecking order. Not saying that he should pass him, either, but they could both provide an intriguing starter/substitute 1-2 punch at striker, giving Canada depth they’ve never really had up top.
Besides those 4, no real big surprises, as most players either don’t play regularly enough to work themselves in, or don’t find themselves at a high enough level to justify moving out some of the names called-up. Given the importance of this game for Canada, that’s exactly what they needed to have, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare when they take on the US in a week’s time.
The game is still a good distance away, with a week and a half still to go before things get going at BMO Field. With the US playing Cuba later this week, Canada will get a good chance to scout them in a game-setting, but besides that, it’s a waiting game until October 15th.
Until then, we will continue to preview this affair, with a couple of pieces planned, including part 2 of our in-depth preview series we have started ahead of then. With the next part being a tactical review of both teams, you’ll definitely want to stay tuned for that, as we prepare for what both sides are expected to offer in just over a week’s time. With the “Road to 2022” now in full swing, it’s an exciting time for Canadian soccer, and it’s going to be a fun time to follow along as they continue their journey to break a nearly 40 year World Cup drought in this country.
All stats as of Saturday, October 5th.
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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