Dream-Chasing: How Canada Soccer's January games affect their Olympic squad and Hex hopes

With Canada Soccer releasing their squad for the upcoming January Men’s National Team friendlies, which now include a pair of clashes against Barbados, we look at how those games affect their Hex chances, and how this camp will be important for Olympic qualifiers, which are later in 2020.

It promises to be a busy start to the new year for Canada Soccer.

After news came out on Monday that Canada’s Men’s National Team had confirmed a friendly with European foes, Iceland, more news came out this Friday, as Canada’s official squad was released. Along with the announcement that Canada would be playing a pair of friendlies against Barbados, pushing their total January games to 3, it’s made for a busy start to the new year, with the camp already less than a week away.

While we won’t dive into the squad too deeply here, as we save that for our usual ‘Surprise Ranking’ exercise, there is still a lot to dissect in this latest news release, especially in terms of how it affects Canada’s Olympic qualifying aspirations, their Hexagonal hopes and the competition for playing time throughout the squad.

After a rough end to 2019, with the US loss looming large, it’s given Canada some life heading into the new year, as their Hex hopes remain very much alive, with these friendlies playing a big part in that. Even though these games don’t present much of a chance to overturn the 15 point deficit quite yet, if things shape up the way they could, they can make a big dent in that deficit, which can give them some confidence heading into the official FIFA windows in March and June.

Hex Update

In our article this week, we took a look at some possible scenarios for Canada to make up the gap between them and El Salvador, but it appears that our math was a bit off. With these new games announced, however, we do have updated numbers, so here is how everything could shape up for the Reds.

Canada currently sits at 1331 points, 15 points behind El Salvador, who have 1346. The 1st chart represents Canada’s games, and how things can swing for them, while the 2nd chart represents how things can shape up for El Salvador. The 3rd chart represents the possible swings between both teams.

*Thanks to Kyle Haydenluck for helping us with the formula, as he reached out to us after the article this week!

MatchupCanada winOpponent Win
Canada vs Barbados1.13-3.87
Barbados vs Canada1.13-3.87
Canada vs Iceland3.11-1.89
Scenarios:5.37 (1336)-9.63 (1323)

MatchupEl Salvador winIceland Win
El Salvador vs Iceland~3~-2
Scenarios:+3 (1349)-2 (1344)

If Canada and El Salvador both win everythingEl Salvador (1349), 13 points ahead of Canada (1336)
If Canada wins everything, but El Salvador losesEl Salvador (1344), 8 points ahead of Canada (1336)
If Canada beats Barbados twice, but loses to Iceland, and El Salvador winsEl Salvador (1349), 18 points ahead of Canada (1331)
If Canada beats Barbados twice, and both El Salvador and Canada lose to IcelandEl Salvador (1344), 13 points ahead of Canada (1331)
If both teams lose all their gamesEl Salvador (1344), 21 points ahead of Canada (1323)

There are many other scenarios, but as you can see, the gap can stand to widen by up to 21 points, but it can also whittle down to as little as 8. For Canada, the goal will be to win all 3 games, which at the very least narrows the gap to 13, while hoping El Salvador slips up against Iceland, narrowing the gap to 8. 

If the gap were to reduce to 8, things would then get very interesting in March and June, as friendlies in those windows have a 1.0 multiplier, instead of this slim 0.5 one, which would allow Canada to really make up the deficit.

With an 8 point gap, all of a sudden a Canada win and an El Salvador loss in March could put Canada ahead, which throws the race wide open again. If El Salvador were to remain idle in March, avoiding risking points, 2 Canada wins against decent opposition also overturns the gap, which is why narrowing that spread to 8 could make things fun the next 2 windows.

On the other hand, if Canada allows the gap to widen more than it is, you’d have to think their dream is over. At 18-21 points, El Salvador can play weak opposition 4 times in the 2 official windows available, and even if Canada beats France 4 times, they’d still come short. But with 4-8 point swings possible in official friendly windows, anything less than 15 heading into March should mean for a race down to the wire for both teams Hex dreams.

So for this window, Canada will need all 3 victories, and then see from there how things shape up. With rumours swirling that El Salvador could turn their friendly against Iceland to a ‘training match’, Canada winning all 3 narrows the gap to 10, and even if El Salvador does play against Iceland in an official scenario, the worst-case scenario would be the gap sitting at 13. 

If that gap narrows, it also will affect March and June matchups, as the more narrow the gap, the easier competition Canada can play, while El Salvador will need to find themselves decent opposition. Considering the struggles of the Central American side versus small sides such as the Dominican Republic and Montserrat in Nations League B play, that’s a scenario that benefits Canada massively.

Olympic Audition

After a strong CPL season, Tristan Borges gets a chance to show off his skills for Canada this camp (Keveren Guillou)

While there was no explicit announcement explaining some of these decisions as such, it was also quickly inferred that based on the addition of the Barbados games, on top of the youthful nature of this squad, that this camp will also be used as an Olympic team audition, with qualifiers for that tournament getting underway in March/April. Out of the 26 players called up, 13 are eligible for the qualifiers, which means that these games should have plenty of opportunities for young talent to shine.

To be fair, some of Canada’s regulars are eligible, such as Derek Cornelius, Kamal Miller and Liam Fraser, who were all called in, but there are some fresh faces, a bulk of which should be expected to make up that eventual Olympic squad. Of course, Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies are also both technically eligible, but considering the timing of the qualifying tournament, the chance of them playing is non-existent, so we leave them out of these discussions.

So keep an eye on some of those youngsters, such as Tristan Borges, Theo Bair, Shamit Shome, Jayden Nelson, Noble Okello and James Pantemis, who all look to be promising future players for the national team. Borges is fresh off an MVP-winning campaign in the CPL, while Bair impressed in his MLS rookie season, and Shome was a revelation in the heart of the Montreal midfield. Along with young Toronto FC products Nelson and Okello, and the promising Impact goalkeeper, Pantemis, there is no shortage of young, domestic talent itching to make a difference in January. 

There are also some other promising youngsters that caught the attention immediately, Zorhan Bassong and and Charles-Andreas Brym, who are a pair of 20-somethings (20 and 21, respectively) playing in Europe, who both earn their first-ever call to senior action. Bassong is a young full-back in the Brugges system, while Brym is a forward in Portuguese side Beleneses system, with both youngsters slowly working up the ranks at their respective clubs. 

Given the lack of opportunities to scout these guys in certain environments, as they’re both yet to crack their respective first-team lineups, calling them in for these games gives them a great chance to audition for Canada, as they could easily both end up playing a big role in Olympic qualifiers. Especially since both players are dual-citizens, showing this early interest and giving them a call-up shows a sign of intent from the part of Canada, which may prove to go a long way to securing their allegiances in the future. 

As for the camp itself, the two games against Barbados will now likely look to be Olympic audition games, given the massive ranking disparity with Canada (89 spots), which will allow them to play a younger lineup in a less risky environment. While losing would not be ideal, given that it could cost them 3+ points, they should be expected to win rather comfortably, even with a younger squad, which should mean for some more experimental lineups, ahead of the big Iceland game, where they’ll really want to go for it.

And at the same time, a good handful of the potential Olympians already play for the senior side, so putting them in won’t be as risky, so all things considered, don’t be surprised if Canada goes U23 heavy for both Barbados clashes. No doubt, the games are risky, especially given the mathematical implications, but with the calibre of opponent chosen, it appears that Canada has set themselves up to smartly use those first 2 games as U23 evaluation time, before the bigger fish set themselves up to battle their European foes, Iceland.

Looking Forward:

It’s shaping up to be an interesting month for the Canadian Men, who’s quest for the Hex only seems to get more interesting by each passing day, and these announcements are no exception. It’ll be great to see ‘Camp Poutine’ make a return, allowing for an integration of some of these fresh faces to the fold, but at the same time, it’s good to see that these games will be competitive, given the importance that winning them can bring Canada.

With all the top European players staying home, while the likes of Lucas Cavallini and Mark Anthony Kaye also sit out for undisclosed reasons, there should be a lot of interesting storylines at play, as the Hex and Olympic aspirations intertwine to make this camp interesting. With World Cup qualifiers starting in the fall, Hex or no Hex, it’ll also be a good chance for some of the fringe players of the regular squad, who have to compete with some of the bigger European names for minutes, to impress Herdman for more playing time in the future. 

So it should be a good camp all around, for various reasons. It’ll be good to see how the young Europeans such as Brym and Bassong, or the CPL players such as Borges, Amer Didic or Marco Carducci, as they all try to push their way into Olympic and First-team consideration. At the same time, you can see Maxime Crepeau, Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette and Russell Teibert fight for minutes as well, as they look to supplant the likes of Milan Borjan, Scott Arfield and Atiba Hutchinson, who all don’t look ready to give up their places in the starting lineup quite yet.

Leading into the camp, which starts next week, we’ll also break down the squad in greater detail, as we look to learn about who some of these fresher faces are. Along with the upcoming Women’s Olympic tournament, which kicks off in a few weeks, it promises to be an exciting period for Canadian soccer, and we’ll be following along here with interest at BTSVancity. 

After up and down years for both the Men’s and Women’s, there are some good opportunities to make 2020 one to remember, and that starts next week down in California. 

Cover Photo By: Jeremy Reper (Canada Soccer)

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