With Canada Soccer releasing their list of 26 players to face Barbados and Iceland next week, we break things down by ‘Surprise Ranking’ while also doing some research into how these players have fared leading into what is expected to be a busy camp for Les Rouges.
It’s a new year, and with it comes some fresh faces.
Canada’s Men’s National team released their latest squad this past week, as they get set for a trio of January friendlies, in which they will take on Barbados twice, before finishing with a clash against Iceland.
It’s their first ‘Camp Poutine’ since 2017, in which they flew to Bermuda for a friendly, beating their hosts 4-2 thanks to goals from Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, Jay Chapman and Anthony Jackson-Hamel. With the Gold Cup coming up later in that year, it was a chance for many players to compete for playing time ahead of that tournament, where Canada would eventually bow out to Jamaica in the Quarter-Finals after a solid performance in the group stages.
This time out, the camp will once again be used to evaluate players, but the scheduling of the 3 games was almost out of necessity, as Canada will hope to use them as opportunities to springboard their way into the ‘Hexagonal’ when World Cup qualifying kicks off later this year. Thanks to a system that uses FIFA rankings, instead of playing the usual inter-confederation games, consisting of a knockout or round-robin format to whittle things down to that final group of 6, playing friendlies has now become imperative for Canada, who find themselves 15 points out of 6th spot, with the June deadline looming large.
As they look to avoid getting stuck in what has become known as the ‘CONCACAF gauntlet’, the alternate path for the other 20 something nations missing out on the Hex, Canada will need to win these games, narrowing the gap between them and El Salvador. This window won’t provide the best of opportunities to overcome that gap, since the games will be played outside the official FIFA windows, reducing the points multiplier, but it’s a great chance to make up some ground nonetheless, getting their feet moving ahead of some crucial March and June dates.
With this camp coming outside of the normal FIFA windows, it means that clubs aren’t mandated to release their players, which has led to a more experimental camp squad, as they find themselves without European-based standouts such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Scott Arfield, Junior Hoilett and Atiba Hutchinson, while some domestic players like Mark Anthony Kaye and Lucas Cavallini were also unable to come for various other reasons.
But with a good chunk of Canada’s regulars finding themselves in MLS, there will still be some familiar faces in California next week, as the squad consists of hungry veterans, fringe first-teamers and some young Olympic and main squad hopefuls. With this camp looking to double as an audition for the Olympic qualifiers, a U23 tournament kicking off in March, there are also a lot of intriguing younger names coming into the fold this camp, making for an interesting 26-man list.
While for many it can be confusing, it makes things fun for us, as we jump into our usual ‘Surprise Rankings, a tradition we started in 2019 ahead of the March, September, October, and November windows, along with a special Gold Cup edition.
For those unfamiliar with the exercise, we break down each of the call-ups by assigning them a ranking of 1-10, with 1 being “death, taxes and this guy on the squad”, while a 10 is “I thought this guy was American or something”, before then jumping into a quick look at how the player has performed as of late to merit a selection.
It’s become a fun little way to meet some of the less familiar names in the squads, while also catching up with familiar faces, so without further ado, we’ll jump right into proceedings.
GK- Marco Carducci | CAN / Cavalry FC (Calgary)
A surprise exclusion from the November Canada squad, you just knew Carducci was going to be front and centre in this one, a testament to his strong debut season for Cavalry in 2019. He was a force for his hometown team, leading them with an adjusted save percentage of 0.82, second in all of the CPL, while also tying for the league in clean sheets with 9.
He gave them a voice of stability in year 1, helping them become inaugural CPL spring and fall champions, and will be expected to do much of the same next season, provided that bigger things don’t lure him away ahead of now and the start of the next CPL campaign.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Another big part of the Canadian goalkeeper surge last season, Crepeau was lights out for Vancouver in 2019, as he was a bright spot on an up and down Whitecaps side. In his first full MLS season, he did not look out of place, putting up an adjusted save percentage of 0.73, a top 5 mark in MLS, while also adding 5 clean sheets.
For a Vancouver side that finished 2nd-last in MLS in 2019, having Crepeau in the goal appears to be a stable option for the long-term, as they now have a pillar to build around in their push to return to the postseason.
GK- James Pantemis | CAN / Impact de Montréal
Rounding up Canada’s crop of goalkeepers is Pantemis, the Montreal-born goalkeeper, who is slowly pushing towards more minutes with his hometown club, the Impact. While he has yet to make much of a dent in that quest, besides some spot duty with the 1st team in the Canadian Championship, along with various minutes across the various Impact affiliates, he’s seen as one for the future, and is an early favourite to start in Olympic qualifying.
With Canada having 3 games this camp, don’t be surprised if he slots in at least once, showing off some of the skills that have many raving about the potential the 6’3’’ 22-year-old has to offer as a future goalkeeping cornerstone.
CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Based on his mature play last season, it’s easy to forget that Cornelius is just 22, still eligible for Olympic qualifying. A wise head on young shoulders, he showed massive improvement last season, recovering from a rough start to his MLS career to become one of the steadiest pieces on a rocky Vancouver squad.
Already a locked-in first-team Canada starter, prying him away from MLS action for Olympic qualifiers would be a huge coup for Les Rouges, who will be definitely able to use his calm presence at the back. Considering that the Whitecaps only play 1 game over the course of the Olympic qualifying tournament period, and they have the centre back depth to play without Cornelius for a match, don’t be surprised to see him in action in March, calm as always in the face of play.
CB- Amer Didić | CAN / FC Edmonton
While the Edmonton man is not eligible for Olympic action, as he’s 2 years over the cut off at 25, with Canada’s first-team centre back depth being as thin as it is, he’ll use these January games as an audition, with the 6’5” defender coming off a strong season in the CPL.
After earning first-team call-ups in both October and November, it’s clear that John Herdman and his staff see something in Didic, who helped Edmonton be one of the best defensive teams in the CPL, with their offensive woes the only thing holding them back. Despite his height, he’s good on the ball, a trait that makes him both attractive to Herdman and the future suitors that may be tempted to poach him to a league like MLS.
CB- Manjrekar James | DEN / FC Midtjylland
A forgotten man on western shores, James makes his return to the national team camp for the first time since 2018, as he seemed to fall off of Herdman’s radar in the last year or so. It’s understandable why, as he’s only made 8 first-team appearances for Midtjylland in all of 2019, along with a further 10 for their reserve side, not exactly great numbers.
At only 26, there appears to be a lot still ahead for the centre back, but it doesn’t appear like that future will be at Mitjylland, at least as things stand. Who knows, maybe this inclusion in the camp will jumpstart both his domestic and international career, but if not, there will be no shortage of suitors for the centre back on this side of the pond.
CB- Kamal Miller | USA / Orlando City SC
Another first-team regular also eligible for Olympic action, Miller took big strides last season, jumping straight out of college to become a solid contributor for Orlando and Canada. A centre back by trade, he played a lot at left back for Canada and Orlando, but with him being listed as a centre back for this camp, expect Herdman to do some work with the youngster at the position ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
As Canada looks to build up their depth in the middle of the defensive line, you’d have to think Miller moving to the middle helps them long-term, and considering that he looked good in his time at left back, just having that versatility won’t hurt in both the short and long term.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
It’s crazy to think that Adekugbe is only going to be 25 later this month, as the former Vancouver Whitecap has had his fair share of adventures, the latest of which being with Valerenga in Norway. Starting regularly at left back, he’s helped Valerenga flirt with the Europa League places these past few seasons, while also showing his attacking prowess, chipping in with 4 assists over that timeframe.
Given that Canada has yet to settle on a long-term left back, with Alphonso Davies’s name often making the conversation complicated amongst fans and experts alike, it’s surprising to not see Adekugbe get his name thrown in more, as he’s grown a lot over his time in Europe. Still young, he can be a long-term piece at the position for Canada, allowing Davies to play further forward, a move that benefits all involved.
FB- Zorhan Bassong | BEL / Cercle Brugge KSV
The first big surprise in this squad, Bassong’s inclusion piqued the interest of many, especially given his presence at one of Belgium’s biggest clubs. While he isn’t yet playing much for the first team at Brugge, just that he’s testing himself by trying to move up the ladder is positive on its own, and at only 20, it’s not surprising to see him yet to breakthrough, as it can sometimes be tough for young defenders to get that first opportunity.
A left back by trade, he can add to Canada’s long-term depth at the position, and given his dual-citizenship with Belgium, showing that early interest with this call-up can go a long way to securing his commitment. With Olympic qualifiers looming, getting him into the fold for that tournament is a good chance to get him integrated into the system, as his only international experience came with Belgium, where he made 2 appearances with their U19s.
FB- Marcus Godinho | GER / FSV Zwickau
The next big surprise on the list, Godinho returns to the fold for this camp, after missing out on the last 3 outings after a rough end to his 2019 Gold Cup. Only 22, he’s still young for a defender, and given his eligibility for the Olympic squad, calling up does make sense, as this is a good chance for him to get back into Canada’s plans.
Moving from Hearts in Scotland’s Premiership to Zwickau in German’s 3.Liga this summer seemed a demotion at first glance, but the German 3rd circuit is often as regarded to be as good as most leagues 2nd or even 1st division, so seeing that Godinho has featured in 16 games, adding 2 assists, is positive. Expect him to play a big role in Olympic qualifiers, before looking to throw his name back into the hat for first-team action.
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
Godinho’s post-Gold Cup right back replacement, Laryea had a breakthrough 2019 campaign, becoming a regular for Toronto FC on their run to the MLS Cup finals. An attacking full back, he loves to make things happen in the final third, scoring 1 goal and adding 2 assists in MLS play, but he’s a tenacious defender, who is smart enough to time his forrays forward to avoid leaving his team thin at the back.
A midfielder before 2019, his rise has been meteoric as of late, and at only 24, Canada looks to have found a long-term option at right back.
FB- Ashtone Morgan | CAN / Toronto FC
The reliable veteran left back, Morgan comes to this camp with an unstable club situation for the first time in a long time, as he has yet to sign a new deal since Toronto FC declined to pick up his 2020 option. After 9 years with his hometown team, winning an MLS Cup and losing in 2 finals, he’s been around the block, and his experience should be valuable in this camp.
While it’s hard to imagine him staking a claim at left back for Canada, considering that Adekugbe, Davies and Miller all appear to be ahead, at least in Herdman’s eyes, his veteran experience makes him a good option to be a backup, and you can still rely on him to be solid when called upon. Obviously finding a club will be a priority for Morgan right now, given that how much he plays with said club will determine how often we see him with Canada this year, but for now, he remains a good veteran hand to lean on.
M- Tristan Borges | CAN / Forge FC Hamilton
A first time call-up, Borges is fresh off an MVP winning campaign in the CPL, where he set the bar for offensive players in his first season. Pacing the way with 13 goals, tops in the circuit, he often found a way to create magic with Forge, from his Olimpico against Halifax early in the season, to his stunner against Cavalry in the 1st leg of the final.
After playing semi-pro the year prior, all of a sudden he’s become a hot commodity, with MLS and European teams reportedly interested in acquiring the services of the youngster, as he’s quickly become a poster boy for what the CPL aims to offer young Canadians. At only 21 years of age, he still has a long way to go, but after the year he’s had, don’t be surprised to see more of him in the future, starting with this camp and Olympic qualifiers in March.
M- Jay Chapman | USA / Inter Miami CF
Chapman has had an interesting MLS career, as he’s never really gotten a foothold with his hometown team, Toronto FC, which led to an offseason trade to MLS expansion side, Inter Miami. Based on how he’s played in his short bursts, he’s always showed decent potential for Toronto, but he was a victim of their congested midfield over the years, leading to this move down south.
Along with old rules that made Canadians count as internationals at American MLS sides, as well as having no CPL to give his career a spark, it’s made things rougher than he would have hoped when first signing in Toronto. With rules now changed on the Canadian front, with homegrowns no longer counting as internationals, it’s opened up a move to Miami, which should give him a chance to finally jumpstart his MLS career. While at 26 years old it might be a bit late for him to become a star, he can be a solid piece for Miami and Canada, and you can never have too much reliable depth to fill out a squad.
M- Liam Fraser | CAN / Toronto FC
Another young Canadian midfielder from Toronto, Fraser is coming off a promising campaign with Toronto, where had a strong summer, revelling in the absence of many TFC regulars, before putting together a performance for the ages coming in cold against the US in October.
Much like Chapman, there are concerns that Toronto’s midfield congestion won’t allow him many minutes, as he didn’t feature once in the last few months of the season, but given his talent, you’d figure a space will open up for him soon, either at Toronto or at a new MLS club. Still young at 21, expect him to be a big piece for Olympic qualifying, after having captained Canada in U20 qualifiers in the past.
M- Noble Okello | CAN / Toronto FC
Yet another young Canadian midfielder from Toronto, Okello makes his second Canada camp appearance, despite never featuring with TFC. He was a call-up to be the 23rd man this past Gold Cup, as Toronto and Montreal were unwilling to part ways with Fraser and Shamit Shome, respectively, giving the young 19-year-old a taste of the international game.
While he still appears to be quite raw, he’s known as a talented young midfielder, and at 6’4”, he has a frame to dominate the pro game when he puts it all together, which for Canada and Toronto, is hoped to be sooner rather than later, with the Olympic qualifiers hoped to be the start of his rise towards the top.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
A familiar face in the Canadian squad, Osorio had a strong end to 2019, recovering from an early injury to become a regular again for TFC, while also cementing himself in Herdman’s Canada lineup. While his production dipped slightly, going from 10 goals and 7 assists in 2018 to 5 goals and 4 assists this past year, after recovering from his hernia surgery, you could tell that he improved as the year went on.
With a full offseason this year, don’t be surprised if he returns to similar heights with Toronto, or elsewhere, as it’s entirely possible that he ends up being a casualty of their well-stocked midfield cupboard.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / Impact de Montréal
Another regular for Canada, Piette has made people quickly forget about Atiba Hutchinson’s recent break from international football, as the pesky midfielder rebounded from a rough summer patch to finish his year strong. After struggling with injury for the first time in a while, he found a way to stay healthy in the second half, showing his tackling and passing skills that make him valuable as a transitional #6 for both Canada and his hometown Montreal Impact.
He’ll have stiff competition with the National Team, with Stephen Eustaquio returning to form after his injury, along with the impending return of Hutchinson, but Piette has shown to be an indispensable part of this squad, so don’t expect him to go down without a fight.
M- Shamit Shome | CAN / Impact de Montréal
A first nod for Shome, who had to deny a call-up in the summer, is all a byproduct of the hard work of the 22-year-old Edmonton native, who became an Impact regular this season, playing in 27 games for the black and blue. A smart player, as evidenced by the pursuit of his engineering degree alongside his footballing exploits, he appears to be a long-term midfield piece for the Impact.
With Canada’s midfield being deep as it is, it’ll be harder for him to carve his way into their long-term plans, but look for him to use the Olympic qualifiers as an avenue to do just that, because as seen recently, there doesn’t seem to be much that can stop Shome from getting to where he wants to be when he sets his mind to it.
M- Russell Teibert | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
A longtime veteran of Canada and the Whitecaps, it’s crazy to think that Teibert is only 27, yet here he is, still plugging away. He’s a tenacious worker, always pushing his way into people’s plans, and that’s been no different with Herdman and Marc Dos Santos, his current Whitecaps coach, who both seem to be a fan of what Teibert brings to the table.
Along with his improved offensive game, he’s carved out a name as a reliable midfielder, someone who can slot in no matter what and put in a shift, and with all these young names in the camp, he’ll be relied upon to be a big leader down in California for this slate of games.
F- Tesho Akindele | USA / Orlando City SC
After seeming to fall off the Canadian radar, partly in due to their wealth of young attackers playing in Europe, Akindele seemed to will his way back into contention this year, putting up a double-digit goal tally for his first-time ever in MLS. A move to Orlando from Dallas seemed to do the 27-year-old wonders, and it resulted in a national team call-up in September, putting himself in contention to be one of the depth strikers for Canada going forward.
It won’t be an easy fight, but with his hard work over the last year, don’t put it past him, even as he competes against some quality competition grinding their teeth in some tough environments.
F- Theo Bair | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
The young Whitecaps homegrown forward, Bair had a strong rookie campaign for Vancouver, quickly becoming a regular for Dos Santos’s squad. Thanks to his height, along with his speed, he was always in the plans from the beginning of the season, but a midseason incident seemed to make something really click inside him, as his technical growth was immense, and his footballing IQ also grew significantly.
With his diverse skill set, one that allows him to play both wide or through the middle, he’s become a key part of the future for Vancouver, and he’s hoping that this Olympic dream can help him become a part of Canada’s long-term future, as well.
F- Charles-Andreas Brym | POR / Belenenses SAD U-23
Much like Bassong, Brym is another young dual-national to come in out of seemingly nowhere for this camp, as he continues to plug away in Portugal with Belenses, on loan from Lille. A French citizen as well as a Canadian one, it’s good to see Canada making an attempt to convince him to join their cause, with France’s team being among the deepest in the world.
It’s yet unsure how good he’ll be, but at 21, him testing the waters in Europe will only grow him as a player, so don’t be surprised to see lots of improvement over the next few years. Much like with Bassong, Canada using this camp, along with the Olympic one, is a good chance to see what they’ve got here with these dual-nationals, while also showing that they are potentially interested in having him in their team long-term, something that France has yet to show any intention of doing with Brym.
F- Jayden Nelson | CAN / Toronto FC II
The youngest player at the camp, Nelson is an intriguing call-up, fresh off winning Canada’s male youth player of the year award. Only 17, he’s fresh off competing with Canada at the U17 World Cup back in October, where despite Canada not doing as well as they might have hoped, Nelson did score a couple of nice goals. A speedy but technical frontman, he’s been growing his game in the USL with TFC II, and may end up being a surprise addition to the Olympic roster, if this call-up is any indication.
But after a busy 2019, who would put it past him? It certainly seems that TFC, and Canada, have a piece that they can work with here, and getting him in the fold early will give them a chance to work with him to ensure he’s a part of their long-term plans going forward.
F- Tosaint Ricketts | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
At 32, Ricketts is going to be the elder statesman of this very young frontline, as he recently made his return to MLS with Vancouver, where he fared well in a handful of late-season games for them to end 2019. While he’s fighting a very uphill battle to return to the National Team fold on a regular basis, his hard work will give him an upper edge to at least return to the fringe, and watching him play last year, his technical ability is still improving, so don’t be surprised if this isn’t the last we see of him for Canada.
With this younger frontline, he’ll be expected to lead the way in terms of effort and experience, but with this also being a chance for him to push his way back into the forward conversation, don’t be surprised if he steps things up this camp.
F- Jacob Shaffelburg | CAN / Toronto FC
An interesting call-up, Shaffelburg is a young forward/midfielder who made the jump up from TFC II last season, playing nearly a dozen games for Toronto’s first team, much like Okello and Nelson hope to do in the near future. A talented player, Shaffelburg will be expected to contend for minutes on the Olympic side of things, and like many of the U23 players listed here, will hope to use that as a springboard to first-team minutes.
After getting his chance with Toronto this year, even picking up his first assist, he’ll want to continue his ascension, and this camp might just end up being a kickstart for what is hoped to be an even better 2020.
Usually, we do an on the cusp section, where we look at names just missing out, but with some players straight up not available for selection, we’ll leave things there in terms of squad analysis.
What is clear when looking at this slate of 26 players is that there is plenty of youth, and with the Olympic qualifiers looming large, seeing what they have with the 13 U23 players available to them will be key. It will be an upwards fight to make the tournament, especially without the help of U23 standouts such as Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, but if Canada can make the tournament proper, where they will have most of their U23 players, along with 3 overage selections, they can dream of making a solid run.
With that on the line, along with keeping their Hex hopes alive, a dream that starts with the first kick of the ball this camp, it’s going to be another busy year for this team. After a rollercoaster 2019, with Gold Cup and Nations League play making it as a memorable (and busy) of a year in recent memory, 2020 is already promising much of the same, especially with World Cup qualifying ramping up.
Given the changes to the format in order to make the World Cup, having this camp became imperative for many reasons, such as halving the point gap, but with a busy slate of games coming up, just getting a chance to work with these 26 players and getting a head start on the official competitions will be a positive for Canada. After not playing many friendlies in recent years, the many we are expected to see in the coming months should do them well, and hopefully a benefit is seen as the year progresses, encouraging more of them in the future.
But for now, we’ll keep an eye on this hat-trick of games, with plenty at stake. There are players fighting for Olympic dreams, veterans looking to return to prominent first-team action, and everything in between, so hopefully we see some of these players turn these ‘surprise rankings’ into ‘surprise performances’, at least on the positive side of the ‘surprise’ ledger.
In the road towards 2022, along with 2026, seeing growth will be imperative for this side if it wants to dream at a high-level, one it’s always hoped that it can one day be at.
Up next: Canada vs Barbados, Tuesday, January 7th, 2019 (Orange County Great Park, Orange County)
Cover Photo by: Canada Soccer