Rouges Return: What to expect from the CanMNT’s return, and seeing when the CanWNT might join them

It was announced last week that the Canadian Men’s National Team would return to action in January for a ‘Camp Poutine’. In this, we break down that announcement, before looking at when the Women’s National Team might join them in making their return to play. 

One year on, the reunion is finally happening. 

Nearly 340 days after the Canadian Men’s National Team last saw the field, when they fell 1-0 to Iceland on January 16th, they are coming back together for their next camp, which will kick off in Bradenton Florida on January 9th of 2021. 

After news first broke of a possible January camp for the Men’s National Team 5 days earlier, via Mitchell Tierney of Waking the Red, to see the news actually confirmed by Canada Soccer was a big boost for supporters of the National Team, who have been itching for first-team action for a while now. 

Due to the ongoing pandemic, Canada was forced to cancel 2 friendlies back in March of 2020 against Trinidad and Tobago in Victoria, B.C., with international soccer brought to a halt during the summer. Even when teams started to return last fall, Canada elected to not schedule any friendlies, smartly electing to protect the health of its players ahead of having a camp. 

But with CONCACAF insisting to start World Cup qualifiers in March of 2021, allowing them to complete their qualification path for the 2022 World Cup without any further delay, it forced Canada’s hand towards hosting a January camp, allowing them to start their preparation for those games. 

While Canada is expected to be favourites in the first round of qualifiers, in which they’ll take on Suriname, Bermuda, Aruba and the Cayman Islands over the course of two windows in March and June, this January camp will give them a chance to try and hit the ground running ahead of those matches. 

With a busy 2021 schedule awaiting them, in which they’ll play World Cup qualifiers, Olympic Qualifiers and in the Gold Cup, this is also a chance for some players to audition for spots in those various squads, in which Canada will need its depth to step up in order to compete. 

The big priority is the World Cup qualifiers, to which Canada will send its best players to, but seeing that they’ll also want to do the best that they can at the Olympic qualifiers and Gold Cup, they’ll be looking for players who can help them put a good showing in those respective tournaments. 

Given that the goal is again, without a doubt, making the 2022 Men’s World Cup, those extra games will be essential to help evaluate talent, which should also help the overall depth of a National Team pool that is starting to become as deep as it’s been in a long time. 

So starting with these January camp games, this is hoped to be a massive year for Canada’s Men’s program, in which they’ll hope to meet some new heights. 

This January Camp is not a typical one: 

Looking at that January camp, it’ll be interesting to see who steps up during that camp, in which Canada will play 3 games, 2 of which we’ll be official ‘training matches’ against opponents that have yet to be announced, with the 3rd being an intrasquad match between Canada’s 28-man squad. 

Unlike last year, however, where they played 3 games in January, with the goal of gaining FIFA ranking points in the race to reach the Hexagonal, with the old format now scrapped, Canada will be able to play these games with talent evaluation at the front of mind. 

That’ll mean that we’ll probably see a lot of new faces get some big minutes, especially those who are seen as potential first team members, meaning that this camp will be more about performances than it is about results. 

At the same time, the likes of Jonathan Osorio, Mark Anthony Kaye, Derek Cornelius and Lucas Cavallini, to name a few of the usual National Team regulars who got called up for this camp, should still get a good chunk of minutes to help them get used to the system ahead of those bigger matches. 

But with this camp being outside of the official FIFA international windows, that means that there will be no players currently playing regularly at club sides, such as Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, among many others. That’s where there will be plenty of opportunity for some new faces, who will look to use this camp as a chance to get their name on John Herdman’s radar, allowing them to win a spot in his March squad. 

We’ll look more at the actual squad later this week, when we do our usual ranking of the squad by “Surprise Rating”, but rest assured, there are some exciting names in this squad, especially on the defensive side of things, as well as some intriguing youngsters in all areas of the pitch. 

And what’s great about this camp is that even if some players don’t end up getting on the first team’s radar right away, with there being so many games awaiting Canada this year, a lot of these players will be back in the fold some way or another at some point in 2021. 

So even though Canada maybe didn’t get the games people hoped they would’ve towards the end of this year, they elected to prioritize the health of their players, and at least now they’ve got the chance to get off to a furious start in 2021. 

What will these games look like?

Now, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of opponent they get for these games, as Canada Soccer saying that there will be “2 training scrimmages” in their press release leaves a lot up to the imagination. 

Given that there have been rumours flying around since November about Canada possibly playing Panama in a pair of January games, that does seem to be the early favourite for an opponent, but until there is any confirmation, it’s hard to know the validity of those rumours. 

If not, you do have to imagine that they play a Central American country, or even the US, but at the very least, they seem likely to play another country in those 2 games. There is a small possibility that they take on a club team, but given that most of CONCACAF will be playing competitive games starting in March, there should be no shortage of potential opponents who need games within the region. 

As for the Intrasquad match, there could be some intriguing things to watch out for there. Given that there is no semblance of official rules for something like that, it’s possible that Canada try out some new things, such as rolling subs and making the game longer or shorter, truly making it a game to evaluate players, instead of a competitive matchup. 

Until they announce anything, it’s expected that they play a 90-minute game with unlimited substitutions, but don’t be surprised if they try anything new in that game, as the goal ultimately is to evaluate as many of the 28 players that they have in camp as possible. 

Given that the coaches will want as much time as possible to evaluate players, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that 90-minute number elongated, at the very least. 

What about the Women?

Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan tackles US’s Lynn Williams during the 2020 CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers (MexSport/Canada Soccer)

So while the Men now have their camp, it’ll be interesting to see what happens now with the Women, especially with Canada Soccer President Nick Bontis announcing on TSN a month ago that the plan was to hold camps in early 2021 for both teams. 

But for that, it appears likely that they’ll be some sort of announcement later in January, as the next official period for international games is a type 2 window between February 15th and 24th, where teams can play in friendly tournaments in which they’ll play up to 3 games. 

Seeing that they played in the ‘Tournoi de France’ around the same time last year, you have to imagine they participate in a similar 4 team tournament this year, either in Europe or in the US. 

Given that the NWSL officially returns to play in April, and that the European teams are in midseason form, the most obvious bet would be for Canada to play in Europe, allowing the European-based players to avoid too much in-season travel, with the NWSL players being able to participate before returning for at least a month of preseason with their club teams. 

But either way, it’s imperative that this Canada team gets minutes together, especially with the Olympics looming. With Canada already qualified for that tournament, they need time to gel under new head coach Bev Priestman, who has yet to officially work with her charges as head coach. 

With that in mind, keep an eye out for further announcements on this front, as it seems like there should be news sooner rather than later about the Women’s camp, with that mid-February timeline appearing to be the likeliest period for them to play games in. 

Looking Forward:

Either way, there is a lot of interesting soccer that awaits both the Men and Women’s National teams in 2021, which is exciting for all fans of the program.

Be it with the Men, who are looking to continue to rise, or the Women, who want to prove they’re a heavy hitter worth respecting, both teams have lots to prove in 2021. 

So starting with the Men, who kick off play in a few weeks, we’ll be following along every step of the way, as Canada looks to make some noise after being robbed of games for most of a 2020 year that was supposed to have lots of fireworks. 

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Liza Rozales

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