With Canada’s Men’s National Soccer Team looking to return to action this month for the first time in nearly a year, we break down the squad called up for the occasion, giving a ‘Surprise Rating’ for each player called up.
With a new year, comes some new faces.
While the Canadian Men’s National Team camp will be mostly comprised of faces we’ve seen before, there are still going to be plenty of fresh faces come January 9th, when Canada kicks off its first Men’s National Team camp in nearly a year.
But even though the camp gets underway less than a week from now, the 28-person roster was released nearly 2 weeks ago, giving us an idea of who to keep an eye on during these few weeks. From longtime National Team veterans, such as Samuel Piette, to some very fresh faces, such as Marcelo Flores, this camp has plenty of intriguing names to keep tabs on for a myriad of reasons.
Given that Canada is looking to make some noise in all 3 of the big competitions that it’s involved in this year – World Cup Qualifiers, Olympic Qualifiers (and possibly the Games themselves) and the Gold Cup, this camp will set the table nicely for a busy year of CanMNT action.
And while Canada’s biggest and most important concern is qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, as they try to qualify for that tournament for the first time in 36 years, they’re still hoping to put out a very strong account of themselves in the other competitions that lie ahead of them.
So even though that quest towards Qatar will be led by the likes of Bayern Munich star and recent FIFPRO World XI selection, Alphonso Davies, among other players, Canada’s quest at Olympic and Gold Cup supremacy will be headlined by some different faces, some of which we might not know about yet.
Starting with this January camp, we’ll learn about some of those names, as Canada has called in a mixed list of established veterans and intriguing youngsters, making for some interesting storylines. Even though that is typical for this sort of camp, given that it lies outside of FIFA’s designated international windows, of which clubs who are currently in-season don’t have to release players for, there is still everything for these players to compete for.
Given that Canada will be looking to fill out its Olympic qualifying and Gold Cup squads, without mentioning the bottom half of their World Cup qualifying squad, a solid performance at this ‘Camp Poutine’ from some players could see their National Team futures seriously enhanced.
But while there will be plenty of time to discuss the players making a good case for themselves during the games that they will play this month, it is still important to know who is expected to venture over to Bradenton Florida for the camp.
In this, as we tend to do at these sort of camps, we’ll help you do that by ranking all of the players who got called up by “Surprise Rating”, giving a number between 1-10 for each player. For those who don’t know what “Surprise Rating” is, it’s based on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being so unsurprising that you would’ve probably bet your house on it, while 10 is something so surprising that you had to read it over 5 times just to be sure that the player was called up.
So without further ado, we’ll dive into our breakdown of the roster called up to this camp, of which there are many names to look at.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Up first on the list is Crepeau, who will certainly be itching to get things underway at this camp, as a big year awaits him after a tough 2020 season, in which he dealt with all sorts of adversity.
Given that he was super close to earning Canada’s #1 spot off of the back of his play in 2019, it’s hardly a surprise to see the 2019 Whitecaps MVP make his return at this camp, with the only potential question marks surrounding him being about his health.
Hearing his end of year comments, however, as well as his acceptance of this call-up, that seems to be out the window, so expect him to lead the way in goal this camp.
GK- James Pantemis | CAN / Impact de Montréal
But while Crepeau and Milan Borjan are Canada’s undisputed #1 and #2 in goal, at least for now, there is an intense race behind them to be the #3 in that pecking order.
One of the leading candidates in that race is Pantemis, who has been in the Canadian fold for over 3 years now, as his immense potential earned him call-ups under both Octavio Zambrano and John Herdman. The 23-year-old has been long seen as someone who is a long-term project to be a #1 goalkeeper, for both club and country, and he took his biggest steps forward in that regard this year, playing 10 games across both the Canadian Premier League and MLS.
First, he put on a show in the CPL, recording 2 clean sheets in 7 games while on loan at Valour FC at the CPL’s Island Games, before returning back to Montreal, where he mostly backed up Clement Diop, earning 3 starts in relief of the usual Impact keeper when he had to fly overseas for a personal matter.
Look for him to continue to and take steps forward next year, either on loan in the CPL, or by fighting for the #1 spot in Montreal, who still seem to view him as the goalkeeper of the future.
Given that Canada still needs goalkeepers for its Olympic team, which as someone born in or after 1997, Pantemis is eligible for, look for him to be in contention for the #1 role in those qualifiers, before fighting for a spot in the other squads as the year goes on.
GK- Dayne St. Clair | USA / Minnesota United FC
Rounding off the goalkeepers is the lone first-time call-up in goal, St. Clair, who is coming off of a strong season for Minnesota United in MLS.
After an injury to Tyler Miller paved the way for him to make his debut for the Loons, he took his chance and never looked back, putting up an obscene 6 clean sheets in 13 games for Minnesota, before adding a further 2 clean sheets in 3 playoff games, as he and his team were knocked out in the Conference Finals.
As a result, he’s quickly become a fan favourite for Minnesota, and has opened up an interesting set of questions about their goalkeeping situation heading into next season.
So even though he’ll be one of the new faces at this camp, look for him to make an instant impact, as he’d arguably be the #1 heading into the first game if you were only to consider 2020 form. Even if he doesn’t get that chance, he appears to at least be ahead of Pantemis in the Olympic net for now, which he is also eligible for, so either way, it’s reasonable for everyone to expect to see more of St. Clair in the CanMNT fold this year.
CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Arguably the #1 centre back in the Canadian fold at the moment, Cornelius will have a lot to prove at this camp, mostly for his club team, who have so far not seemed to have been as sold on his potential as a consistent MLS starter as some would have liked.
But while his battle for MLS minutes will surely be at the back of Cornelius’s mind, look for Herdman to lean on him as one of his veterans during this camp, as he’s been one of the key figures under the coaches reign so far.
Seeing that Cornelius is still Olympic-eligible at 23, you have to remember how young he is, as he is expected to be a long-term building block for this Canadian team that needs all hands on deck at the centre back position. Even though he’s unlikely to see any Olympic action, given his importance to the first team, his young age serves as a reminder of how much growth is still left in his game, even despite all the big steps he’s taken forward in the past few years.
CB- Belal Halbouni | GER / SV Werder Bremen II
But while someone like Cornelius represents the ‘now’ of the Canadian National Team, Halbouni could be someone to keep an eye on for the ‘future’ of Canada, a future which will get underway with this camp.
Given Canada’s desperate need to bolster up its centre back pool, it was expected that they might call up a few outside options at the position for this camp, making the inclusion of Halbouni less surprising.
The former Western Mustang and FC London alumnus made the move to Werder Bremen 2 last year, and has slowly fought for more minutes, so far making a handful of appearances in Germany’s fourth tier this season.
While playing at that sort of level typically wouldn’t be enough for Halbouni to jump straight into Canada’s first team, given that he’s only 21, and that Werder Bremen does have a team in the Bundesliga, it does feel like the Canadian could be on a multi-year path towards one day playing with the first team at both the club and country level.
So even though that doesn’t seem like happening in the immediate future, given that much like Cornelius, he only moved from forward to centre back at the end of his teens, we might see a lot more of him in the future.
Expect him to make his debut at that camp, before being a possible outsider on Canada’s Olympic squad, which he’d likely look to use to leapfrog towards the Canadian first team in the next few years or so.
CB- Kamal Miller | CAN / Impact de Montréal
Even though Miller had an up and down 2020 season, where he played 925 minutes across 14 MLS Regular Season and Playoff games for Orlando before surprisingly getting traded to Montreal, it was no surprise to see him called up for this camp.
The only surprise, however, was that he was called up as a centre back, which is his natural position, but not one he often got to play in Orlando.
But with his trade to Montreal, where he’s expected to be a starter in Montreal’s defence as a centre back, it seems like Canada also wants him to get reps at the position, which given their need for players there, makes a lot of sense.
So even though he has put in a good shift whenever deployed at left back, with his most famous performance coming as a starter there in Canada’s big 2019 win over the US in Nations League play, Herdman will look to play him more centrally in 2021, starting with this camp.
Given his positional flexibility, however, don’t rule out him making a return to left back, either, but with Canada needing centre backs at all levels, including at the Olympic level, which Miller is eligible for, he’ll get a chance to shine centrally for now.
CB- Frank Sturing | NED / FC Den Bosch
Much like with Halbouni, Sturing is another CanMNT debutant playing in a lower division European league who is 23 or under, as Sturing has been plying his trade in the second division of Dutch Football since late last year.
While Den Bosch isn’t exactly lighting the world ablaze with their play, sitting 19th out of 20 teams in their division, Sturing has been getting some good experience with them, so far featuring in 10 of their 17 games this season.
So even though Sturing is a project at the age of 23, he’s still young in a position where players tend to bloom later, so there is still time for him to have the breakout he needs.
Interestingly enough, however, his breakout might not come in Europe, but in North America, as it’s rumoured that he’s going to move to the CPL this season, which is a curious move.
Given that bit of news, it’ll now be interesting to see what happens to him in 2021, one that will be a big one for his career. It would’ve been nice to see him continue in Europe, grinding his way up to higher levels, but moving to the CPL could be another path that eventually helps him do that, provided he has a strong season wherever he lands.
Seeing that he’s Olympic eligible, it seems likely that Herdman is bringing him to this camp to audition for a spot in that squad, before allowing him to try and grind his way into the first team, even though he’s quite a way off doing that at the moment.
But knowing how centre backs develop in this sport, it’s too early to write him off, so look for him to try and make a name for himself in Canadian Soccer circles, starting with this camp.
CB- Joel Waterman | CAN / Impact de Montréal
And speaking of late-developing centre backs, there is no better example for Sturing to follow than Waterman, the 24-year-old who has had quite the meteoric rise these past 2 years.
Thanks to the CPL, Waterman, who before 2019 had never played higher than USL League 2 or USports, was able to leverage a strong campaign with Cavalry into a transfer to the Montreal Impact, where he put in a solid first year in 2020 despite the circumstances.
Now, he continues that rise by participating in a Canadian National Team camp, something many, Waterman probably included, did not see happening a few years back.
And while he was always going to be called up to a camp like this, it’s worth noting that he was probably going to get called up to Canada’s camp in March of 2020 based on his play with Montreal to start the year, anyways, so this call-up is very merited.
So while he’ll look to take a step forward with Montreal this year, after having only played in 10 games in 2020, there’s no better way to start that quest than with a strong camp with Canada, showing them he’s someone for them to look at having in their squad when World Cup qualifiers kick off in 2 months.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
Moving onto the full backs, things get a lot more interesting for Canada, as it’s one of the deepest positions in their National Team pool, probably only second to their depth in central midfield.
Leading the way at left back is Adekugbe, who has become a National Team regular these past few years, even though he maybe hasn’t gotten the Caps his strong play abroad has maybe merited him.
That should change this year, however, as a strong season in Norway has seen the 25-year-old reach new heights, as he and his Valerenga squad finally did something they were unable to do in Adekugbe’s first 2 years there – finish in the top 3 and qualify for Europa League qualifiers.
Given that Adekugbe featured in 26 out of their 30 games in that quest, he seems to be more than well entrenched in Norway, and for that reason, expect him to build on his 11 Canadian caps in 2021, starting with this camp.
FB- Zorhan Bassong | CAN / Impact de Montréal
But while Adekugbe is starting to round into a solid finished product, Canada is blessed with several young and developing projects at full back, with Bassong being arguably one of the most interesting of the bunch.
Called into last year’s January camp out of the blue while still at Cercle Brugge, he was arguably one of the top 3 Canadian players at that camp, making a big impact on both sides of the ball at full back, both as a left back and a right back.
But after that, it was a tough 2020 for the 21-year-old, who was released in the summer of 2020 after not really featuring much for Brugge.
Now, however, a big 2021 awaits him, as he joined Montreal’s rising crop of young Canadian talent ahead of the MLS season, giving them yet another young Canadian to lean on in defence.
Seeing that he’ll get minutes at both centre back and full back under Thierry Henry, that could be a big advantage in his quest to becoming a CanMNT first-team regular, as that sort of positional flexibility could be attractive to Herdman, with Kamal Miller being a big example of that.
Either way, he’ll most likely get a shot with the Olympic squad in the spring, but if he plays anywhere close to the level he played at in his first Canadian camp, you feel like it won’t be long until he gets a first-team call-up.
FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | CAN / Impact de Montréal
And if Bassong wants to know what his path towards the first team could look like, he should look no further than the path taken by his new Montreal teammate, Zachary Brault-Guillard. Stuck in the Lyon system before, he moved to MLS on loan in 2019, before making his move permanent last season.
Now, off of the back of some strong performances last season, he’s firmly entrenched in discussions for the first team, probably only behind Richie Laryea at right back based on form at the moment.
An electric two-way presence, one who is a bit more proficient at the offensive end than he is at the defensive end, he seems to fit the mould of the sort of aggressive full back that made Herdman a big fan of Laryea in 2019.
So after getting over 2200 minutes across 27 games in all competitions with the Impact last year, look for the 22-year-old Brault-Guillard to be very involved with the first team next year, starting with a strong performance at this camp.
FB- Tajon Buchanan | USA / New England Revolution
Up next at full back is someone who arguably had one of the biggest breakouts of any CanMNT eligible player last year, Buchanan, who quickly became a key contributor for New England during his sophomore season in MLS.
But while he’s listed as a full back in this roster, Buchanan’s breakout did begin on the wing, before a late-season change to full back saw him turn some heads in the playoffs.
Across 28 games, he put up 3 goals and 3 primary assists, including 1 goal and 1 assist in 3 playoff games, as New England made a surprise run to the Conference finals.
Still only 21, look for Buchanan to have a big year for Canada, both at the Olympic qualifiers, where you’d expect him to play a big role, but also with the first team, where his positional versatility could see him earn a call-up from Herdman.
FB- Cristián Gutierrez | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Continuing on with the list of U23 Olympic-eligible full backs who had strong MLS seasons, up next is Gutierrez, whose call-up for this camp is actually a bit of a surprise, given that there have been some rumblings that he could earn a nod to represent Chile, who he’s also eligible to play for.
But seeing that he put up a strong year with the ‘Caps, appearing in 12 out of 23 of their games despite having to compete with the most expensive left back in MLS, Ali Adnan, at his position, there’s no doubt that he’s earned this call-up.
Seeing that he’s Olympic eligible, it seems likely that he’d be called in for that squad first, before earning a chance to battle for a spot in the first team.
Given that this recruitment battle between Chile has been one that has been brewing ever since Gutierrez was still at Colo Colo, it’s good that Canada got a leg up on that with his call up, and seeing how he reacted to competition with the ‘Caps in 2020, it feels like we’ll be seeing a lot of him with Canada these next few years.
FB- Alistair Johnston | USA / Nashville
Rounding off this list of U23 full backs who play in MLS is Johnston, who had a surprisingly strong rookie season with expansion side Nashville, helping them shock many en route to a Conference Semi-Final appearance in their debut campaign.
A big reason for their success? Defence, as they conceded the 3rd-least goals with 22 in 23 games, with their stingy defence quickly becoming a storyline as the season progressed.
So when we see that Johnston played 18 out of those 23 games, along with a further 3 in the playoffs, you can see why there’s lots of hype about the 22-year-old, who is touted as a responsible two-way full back.
While it seems early to pencil him in as a first-team starter as some have suggested, he seems like an early candidate to start at the Olympic qualifiers, and if he keeps up his play in MLS, he should at least be on the cusp of first-team consideration as the year goes along.
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
But while there’s plenty of competition to be had between that list of U23 full backs, we round off our look at the position much as we started it: with a look at a 25-year-old that would probably start if Canada had to play World Cup qualifiers today.
In this case, it’s Laryea, who has quickly become a star at Toronto FC these past 2 seasons, as he turned an exit from Orlando City after 2018 into a successful stay at his hometown MLS team, TFC.
Deployed at both full back positions, as a winger and even as a super sub, Laryea put up an impressive 4 goals and 5 primary assists in 2020, helping TFC’s (unsuccessful) push for a Supporter’s Shield with his strong play.
On a team with players like Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti, it’s impressive to see a Canadian full back steal a lot of the headlines, but that’s a testament to the play of Laryea, who took yet another step forward in 2020, which after his breakout campaign of 2019, was nice to see.
So expect a lot of Laryea whenever Canada has big games in 2020, starting with World Cup qualifiers in March of 2020, but before then, look for him to be an important voice on a young team during this camp.
M- Tesho Akindele | USA / Orlando City SC
Even though he only played just over 1100 minutes in 2020, Akindele was a key figure on a sneakily good Orlando side, one that made the playoffs for the first time in history, as they qualified it to the conference semi-finals in their first appearance at the big dance.
Akindele played a part in that, scoring 4 goals, which wasn’t quite the 10 goals he scored in 22 games in 2019, but is still a decent haul for someone who often had to come off the bench.
A relative graybeard at 28 years of age, at least compared to some of those called up to this camp, it’s no surprise to see him get a nod here, especially given how much Herdman has seemed to appreciate his presence at past camps.
With Canada needing so many players this year, it feels like as long as he has another solidly productive season, he’ll continue to earn call-ups for Canada in 2021.
M- Marco Bustos | CAN / Pacific FC
One of the biggest but welcome surprises of this list, Bustos was the lone player to get called up directly from a CPL team for this camp, as his strong performance at the Island Games, where he put up an MVP-calibre season, put him on Canada’s radar.
Given that he scored 5 goals and had 3 primary assists in 10 games this season, many of them being crucial tallies for Pacific FC, it felt like he was on the cusp of a National Team call-up at some point or another.
But while this could be seen as being a bit early for Bustos to earn that nod, it’s worth noting that he has attracted interest from Chile’s National Team, which he’s also eligible for, so this could also be a negotiation tactic for him to keep his allegiance up north.
Seeing that his play in the CPL these past 2 years has attracted interest from MLS teams, if he makes a move up this offseason, which is still a possibility, this could be the first of many National Team nods Bustos earns this year.
And even if he doesn’t make that move, getting his feet wet for Canada will be good news for Pacific FC if he does indeed return, as it may provide him with the hunger to put up another MVP-calibre season, showing Herdman that he deserves more call-ups.
M- Liam Fraser | CAN / Toronto FC
Given that Fraser has earned several call-ups to Canada already at the young age of 22, it’s not surprising to see him earn a nod for this camp, but given that he only played 444 minutes across 14 games in 2020, you do feel that this camp could be massive for him.
For whatever reason, he just couldn’t get any sort of regular game time under Greg Vanney with TFC, no matter how well he played. That seemed to get the better of him at times this season, as his standard slipped when he did play, further murkying his spot in their depth chart.
But with Vanney now gone, Fraser has a fresh start at his club, which you hope he is able to grab with both hands. With Canada’s depth at the centre midfield position, the less he plays at a club level will only further knock him down the depth chart with the National Team, as well.
So look for him to start 2021 off strongly with a big performance at this camp, before putting in a shift at Olympic qualifiers, which we do have to remember he’s still eligible for.
If he can do that, we’ll probably see him back with the first team before the end of the year, where he’ll want to build off strong performances such as the one he put in for Canada during that aforementioned victory over the US in 2019.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
Arguably Canada’s best two-way midfield threat, it’s good to see Kaye make the lineup of this camp, as he declined an invitation to 2020’s camp due to some knocks and LAFC’s upcoming participation in the Champions League.
But now healthy again, he finished the year off strongly with some solid performances in the Champions League, which was finished in a bubble in Orlando last month, where Kaye’s LAFC fell just short of becoming the first MLS team to win this iteration of CONCACAF’s marquee club competition.
Seeing that he put up 3 goals and 5 assists despite LAFC’s injury struggles this year, in which he dealt with a set back of his own, expect him to play a big role for Canada in 2021, in which they’ll need his threat in transition to help get the ball forward to their talented attackers.
A unique of size (6’2”), speed and technical ability, he was one of Canada’s best players in 2019, and will look to do the same in 2021, especially with World Cup qualifiers looming.
M- Noble Okello | CAN / Toronto FC
One of the young returnees from last year’s Camp Poutine, Okello comes into this camp in good form, after having just completed a solid loan stint in the second tier of Denmark, where he got to play 12 games during his time there.
After having only played 22 minutes in the first half of 2020 with Toronto, it was a much-needed opportunity for the 20-year-old to go get some minutes, especially with TFC 2’s lack of a season this year.
While the future of that team remains in doubt heading into 2021, and it’s still very possible that he gets a crack with Toronto’s first team under their new coach, either way, Okello remains an intriguing prospect for both club and country.
Standing at approximately 6’5”, he has some pretty special physical tools, and as seen whenever he plays, he does have pretty good technical skills for someone of his size. Based on his size and skills, you do wonder if he could be converted into a centre back, which would help Canada, but either way, he’d remain an interesting long-term project as a centre mid as well.
Clearly, Herdman likes him, as back-to-back Camp Poutine call-ups suggest, so it’ll be interesting to see what his long-term National Team future ends up being. At the risk of being repetitive, much like others in this squad, he seems like someone who will earn minutes at Olympic qualifiers and try to leverage that into first-team minutes, but given his age and development curve, he seems like someone to watch for the 2026 World Cup cycle.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
Much like Montreal Impact and defenders, Toronto dominates the midfield section of the lineup, with Osorio the crown jewel of the lot, as he comes off a strong season with TFC.
Forced to play out of position for a lot of the year once again, the creative midfielder showed some new chops this season, putting in some strong shifts as a #8, a #6 and on the wing, never looking out of place.
Even though that did come at a cost to his personal stats, as he only had 1 goal and 2 primary assists, it showed why those who watch Osorio regularly constantly rave about him, as his blend of skill and hard work make him a coaches dream to work with.
On a Canadian team loaded with talented midfielders, many of which who aren’t even here at this camp, it’s unsure where Osorio currently sits in the depth chart, but there’s no doubt that barring an injury, he’ll be in Canada’s squad for any big games they play this year.
But starting with this camp, it’ll be a good chance for the 28-year-old with 34 national team caps to provide some mentorship for younger players, while also showing to John Herdman that come the first game of World Cup qualifiers, he wants to be in the starting squad.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / Impact de Montréal
Up next on the list is Piette, who much like Osorio, is one of the longest-tenured players at this camp, as he comes to Florida with 49 caps to his name, having made his debut nearly a decade ago.
But despite his long history with the National Team, we do have to remember he’s only 26, as Piette did make his Canada debut when he was still a teenager.
Even though he’s not the most proficient offensive player, there’s a reason why he’s been an automatic call-up for many years now, and that’s because he’s really good at what he does best, which is shutting down opposing attacks and start counter-attacks for his team.
So it was a surprise to see Piette move away from that role with Montreal this year, becoming a quasi-winger under Thierry Henry, who played the Canadian in the ‘Blaise Matuidi’ role this year for the Impact.
While it paid off in a sense for Piette, who scored his first professional goal despite nearly 200 games of experience, it did feel like a weird experiment for him, one that is hard to imagine continuing in 2021.
At the very least, it helped him round out his game, making him a potential option at the #8 for Herdman if needed, but if not, he continues to be a good choice at the #6 for a Canadian team who is certainly well-blessed at the position.
M- Ralph Priso | CAN / Toronto FC
Rounding off Canada’s list of midfielders called up to this camp is Priso, who aside from Bustos, is probably the biggest surprise among players called up to this camp at this position.
But to give credit to Priso, he deserves the honour, as the 18-year-old did very well in a handful of appearances for Toronto FC this year. On a TFC team whose typical reluctance to play young Canadian prospects unless overripe has scarred more than a few National Team fans, to see Priso get minutes this year shows us exactly where he’s at: he’s ready for a step forward.
So while he’ll be unlikely to feature beyond Olympic squad duty this year, given his young age, he’s a very intriguing prospect for the 2026 World Cup cycle, and if he does indeed take a step forward with TFC this year, don’t be surprised if he does get another first-team call-up sometime this year.
Given that Herdman does like to give promising prospects a taste of life with the first team, if Priso continues to show the promise he’s shown so far, you wouldn’t be surprised to see more of him with Canada earlier than we would’ve expected.
F- Ayo Akinola | CAN / Toronto FC
Moving to the forwards, there are some very intriguing names to keep an eye on for Canada, and arguably none are more interesting than Akinola, who can still choose between the US, Nigeria and Canada.
Given that he accepted a call-up to the US for a camp last month, it was thought that Canada had lost the fierce battle for Akinola’s services, but seeing his presence in this camp does make it seem like the young 20-year-old striker wants to at least give Canada a try.
After scoring an astounding 9 goals in 16 games in 2020, including a memorable hat trick versus the Montreal Impact at MLS is Back, there is a reason why the pursuit of Akinola has been so intense by both the US and Canada, and that’s because Akinola is a unique player.
So while his presence at this camp is purely to see what Canada has to offer, he’ll probably have to make a decision of his allegiances by the summer, as he’ll be certain to receive invites to both Canada and the US for the many games that await both of them this year.
Seeing that Akinola seems on the cusp of having a big breakout season, one that could possibly see him move to Europe in the next year or two, Canada will be keen to get one-up over their neighbours, who have typically dominated them at this sort of recruitment game.
F- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Cavallini will be very motivated this camp, which to be fair to him, is never a problem he has, as he looks to put a rough 2020 behind him. After having made a big move to MLS, where he became the Whitecaps all-time record signing, he struggled to adapt to the league, suffering through a slow start before only scoring 6 goals, which was a solid tally, but not the sort of output many expected from him.
But given that he’s always performed well for Canada, as his 11 goals in only 17 caps would suggest, this will be a good opportunity to show that he’s still in the race to start up top in a big game, which based on form, would probably go to Cyle Larin and even Akinola before him right now.
No doubt that frustration got the better of him at times this year, as 7 yellow cards and 1 red card might tell you, but seeing the Whitecaps struggles at times to feed him the ball, you do understand the striker’s anger.
So look for him to lead the way at this camp, as he has everything to play for here, knowing very well that he’ll want to be leading the line when World Cup qualifiers kick off in March. A strong performance here might very well help him to do that, something that surely won’t be lost on him as the camp kicks off.
F- Marcelo Flores | ENG / Arsenal U-18
Up next, however, is probably the biggest surprise inclusion of this camp, Flores, whose call-up came completely out of left-field.
At least in the case of most potential dual-national call-ups, such as Akinola, Gutierrez or Theo Corbeanu, who we’ll touch on in a second, there was some sort of rumblings about Canada trying to call them up for games whenever possible.
In the case of Flores, however, the promising 17-year-old plying his trade in Arsenal’s youth system, his inclusion came out of nowhere, as there was zero chatter of him coming to this camp.
Given how young he is, and that he’s yet to make a breakthrough at the professional level, it is a bit surprising to see Canada go after the forward, who is also eligible for Mexico, this early on, but this could be a smart negotiation ploy in the long run.
Knowing that he’s on the cusp of a breakthrough to the professional level, this is a chance for Canada to get a headstart on talks towards Flores potentially committing, as these sort of unofficial camps are great for this sort of thing.
So much like in the case of the other dual-nationals present in this camp, credit to Canada for getting Flores in from that perspective, but from an on-the-field perspective, don’t expect much other than a handful of minutes from the young forward, who does have a solid 3 goals and 1 assist in 9 games of U18 Premier League action this year.
F- Jayden Nelson | CAN / Toronto FC
Usually, someone like Nelson earning a call-up would garner a bigger surprise rating, but given that the 18-year-old forward was already at last year’s ‘Camp Poutine’, you did expect him to return again this year, as he did fare rather well last year, even scoring his first international goal.
Seeing that he took a step forward this year, earning 8 appearances for Toronto FC’s first team, he’s an intriguing prospect for Canada to keep an eye on, which is why Herdman smartly called him up this time.
There’s no doubt that for now, he’s expected to be on Canada’s Olympic team, with a first-team call up seeming a few years away, but he could accelerate that timeline with some strong 2021 performances, starting with this camp.
But either way, we do have to remember that he’s still eligible for the 2024 Olympics, so that he’s even in contention for this year’s edition is a testament to how ahead of the curve he is at his age.
F- Theo Corbeanu | ENG / Wolverhampton Wolves
And finally, last but not least, rounding off our list is Corbeanu, who has been turning heads in Canada as of late with his play in England.
Playing for Wolves’ U23 team in Premier League 2, he scored 4 goals and had 1 assist in 9 games, putting the 18-year-olds name on the lips of many. Thanks to his play, he’s also earned the reward of training with Wolves’ first team, even making their matchday squad in the last 4 games as of writing.
While he’s yet to make his debut at the Premier League level, given Wolves’ recent struggles, and their injury problems up front, it does feel like he’s on the cusp of making his first appearance at the first-team level soon.
So that he’s already committed to playing for Canada instead of Romania, who he’s also eligible for, is massive news, as he seems like a player that could do some big things for this program in the long term. This call-up confirms that, as well, giving Canada fans a first glimpse of the youngster that continues to shine at every level he’s played at.
It’s worth noting that he might not participate in this camp, as Wolves may keep him depending on how things look for them next week, but either way, if he stays with them or comes to this camp, both scenarios should be seen as positive for Canadian fans.
Who missed out?
Usually, we spend this section looking at who missed out on call-ups, but given that many of the usual regulars are unavailable for this camp, and how long that potential list could be, we skip it for ‘Camp Poutine’ analysis.
For what it’s worth, the biggest absence for BTS is Michael Baldisimo, who put in some big performances for the Whitecaps this season, which we thought would’ve certainly warranted a call-up to this camp.
(UPDATE) We have now been told that Michael Baldisimo was indeed invited to this camp, but he had to decline the invite due to an injury.
All-in-all, it’s a very intriguing squad for John Herdman to work with at this camp, which given the nature of it, is exactly what you want to see from this sort of list.
While results will be nice to come by, as well, this camp is purely about growing the program and using it as an opportunity to recruit, which they certainly seem to be doing.
So stay tuned for more coverage, as we follow along with Canada’s quest to do both of those things, starting with their first game next week, which based on rumours, is expected to be announced with Panama as opponents soon, as we saw last week.
It’s an exciting team for Canada’s National Teams, both male and female, so we’re excited to follow along in their various quests this year, starting with this Men’s camp next week.
Cover Photo via: Liza Rozales/Canada Soccer