With Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team back in competitive action for the first time in nearly a year and a half later this month, we break down their latest squad, giving each player called-up a ‘Surprise Rating’.
The road to 2022 begins now.
It wasn’t originally supposed to start like this, but for Canada’s Men’s National Soccer Team, that doesn’t matter, as a golden opportunity to make history now awaits them.
As they look to break a World Cup drought that’s now up to 35 years (and counting!), they’ll feel confident in their ability to shock onlookers and book a ticket to Qatar next year.
To do that, however, they’ll have to take on these upcoming CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers one step at a time. Having missed out on the final round of World Cup qualifiers the past 5 cycles, they’re looking to bust that trend by navigating through their next few games of first-round qualifiers in style, allowing them to participate in the new-look final round, the ‘Octagonal’, also known as the ‘Octo’, later this year.
Up first on that quest? Dates with Bermuda and the Cayman Islands this month, before they’ll take on Suriname and Aruba in June. If they amass enough points from those 4 games to top their group of 5, they’ll move onto round 2 to take on the winner of Group E, which is comprised of Haiti, Belize, Nicaragua, Turks and Caicos Islands and Saint Lucia, in a two-legged series that would grant them entry to the ‘Octo’.
But before they look too far ahead, they’ll keep their eyes on the task in front of them, and at the moment that’ll be to take out Bermuda and the Cayman Islands down in Florida later this month, as they’ll play their first two games at a neutral site due to ongoing travel restrictions.
For that, head coach John Herdman has called in a very interesting squad, one that was only finalized just days before these games are slated to start, which is a rarity considering that most teams tend to get their squads out a few weeks early whenever possible.
A big reason for that, however, was due to the fact that some clubs had waited until the last minute to confirm their players’ participation in these games, with quarantine laws and other travel restrictions seemingly changing by the day. With FIFA’s new law that allows club teams to restrict the travel of their internationals if they face more than a 5-day quarantine upon their return, it put the participation of several players in doubt ahead of these games, especially with the constant changing of quarantine rules in each country.
Despite that, Canada has found a way to put together a pretty good squad regardless, as they secured a decent amount of their European regulars to complement their US and Canada-based players for this camp.
Now, the question remains: what to make of this squad? There’s a good chunk of core players, but what do we know about some of the fringe players on this squad?
To find out more, we’ll do what we always do before these sorts of camps and break down the squad by ‘Surprise Rating’, giving each player who was called up a rating of 1-10. For those unfamiliar with the scoring system, a 1 is a player whose call-up was so unsurprising you’d be confident enough to bet a significant chunk of your income on it, whereas a 10 was such a surprising pick that it forced you to immediately check his Transfermarkt page to find out more about his form.
Along with a quick blurb on how the player has been performing at the club level as of late, it allows us to gain a better understanding of who Canada will be leaning on when they take the pitch against Bermuda and the Cayman Islands later this week, officially getting their quest to make the 2022 World Cup underway.
So without further ado, let’s dive right into our list, as it’s a long one, but one filled with some very interesting names.
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
Up first is the man expected to hold down the fort in the Canadian goal, Milan Borjan, who’s a no-brainer inclusion as an experienced player in this younger squad. A 33-year-old veteran entering his 11th year in the Canadian fold, he’ll look to add to his 49 senior caps this window, as he comes into this camp in good form.
With Red Star currently 9 points ahead at the top of the Serbian Superliga table with 11 matches to go, they’re sitting quite comfortably in their quest to win their 4th consecutive league title, and Borjan is playing a big part in that once again. Having played all but 3 of their league games, he’s put up 15 clean sheets in 25 league appearances so far, only conceding 12 goals along the way.
Their European conquests didn’t go as well as hoped, as they were narrowly knocked out 3-3 on away goals by AC Milan in the Round of 32 of the Europa League, but that’s just given them more motivation to win the league once again, as they’ve won the last 6 league games since that elimination by a combined score of 21-3.
So for Borjan, expect him to see a majority of the minutes in goal for Canada this camp, as Herdman has continued to back him throughout his tenure as manager, and has no plans on stopping anytime soon.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
But although Borjan is likely to start both games this camp, don’t be surprised if Max Crepeau steals some minutes off of him down in Florida, as he’s been knocking on Borjan’s door for a while now. After a standout MLS season in 2019, he was close enough to Borjan in the conversation for Canada’s starting job that he was going to earn minutes in Nations League play late in 2019 before an injury denied him of that opportunity.
After a tough 2020 season with the Vancouver Whitecaps, one in which he only played 4 games as a thumb injury forced him to miss most of the year, he’ll be hungry to get back at it for Canada this camp. After a banner year for Canadian goalkeeping in 2020, one during which some young goalkeepers had very strong seasons in various leagues across the world, Crepeau will want to establish himself once again as Canada’s #2 behind Borjan this camp.
As Borjan continues to get up there in age, Crepeau will feel that he’s ready to take over the mantle in goal as soon as the opportunity presents himself, so if he gets an opportunity to play at all over these two games, expect a strong performance from him.
GK- Dayne St. Clair | USA / Minnesota United FC
Rounding off Canada’s goalkeeper trio for these games is the first of many players on this squad who enter this camp without a senior cap, and that’s Dayne St.Clair, who is coming off of a standout season in goal for Minnesota United in MLS. He wasn’t originally supposed to play much for Minnesota this year, especially after the acquisition of Tyler Miller in the offseason, but when Miller got injured in the summer, St.Clair took that opportunity and ran with it.
After starting the year in the USL with San Antonio FC, where he conceded only 3 goals in 5 games, adding 3 clean sheets along the way, he made the step up to MLS rather seamlessly, only conceding 12 goals in 13 MLS regular-season games, keeping 6 clean sheets. He continued that run into the playoffs, as well, adding 2 clean sheets in Minnesota’s first two games, before conceding 3 in the Western Conference finals to eventual runner-ups, Seattle.
Off of the back of that run, he’s shot into the conversation to be the #3 goalkeeper for Canada, giving this team yet another decent option to consider in goal. Still only 23 years of age, St. Clair is a piece for the future, especially at a position where players tend to bloom later than their peers.
You do wonder if he could have potentially been the starter for Canada at the CONCACAF Olympic Men’s U23 Qualifying tournament this month, which he’s eligible for as a 1997 birthday, but Canada has clearly seen enough from him to call him straight up to the senior team. Seeing how well James Pantemis has done down in Mexico at that tournament so far, it appears that Canada should be fine without St.Clair for now, as they’ll now instead have a chance to get him integrated into the senior team’s plans ahead of the summer, where they might need him for the Gold Cup, or even the Olympics if they make it that far.
CB- Ricardo Ferreira |
Moving over to centre back, we then have Ferreira, who comes in as our first real big surprise inclusion in this squad. After committing to Canada earlier this year, you had to imagine that we’d see him in red sometime soon, but considering his murky club situation at the moment, it’s a bit of a surprise to see him now.
After signing for Farense in Portugal’s Primeira Liga back in September, he’s only made 1 appearance, which lasted a total of 6 minutes, as he’s struggled to even crack the matchday squad on a consistent basis. That’s why it’s curious to see Canada Soccer list him as unattached, but considering that he hasn’t made Farense’s squad since the end of 2020, that probably tells you where things are currently at for him there.
For a defender that has dealt with some major knee injuries in the past, that he’s only played 6 minutes since September is less than ideal, as you have no idea how fit he currently is at the moment.
But aside from that, he’s still an intriguing selection, as he brings over 60 games of top-flight Portuguese experience to this squad, which could prove to be rather valuable. On a Canadian team looking to experiment with their centre backs during this camp, Ferreira could see a start in one of the games because of that, giving a better idea of where he fits into this Canadian puzzle.
So while his inclusion is a surprising one, he remains an interesting player to watch, but it’s important to temper expectations with him, at least compared to some of the other recent dual-national commitments that are also in this squad.
CB- Frank Sturing | NED / FC Den Bosch
Continuing down the list, we have Sturing, who as the youngest listed centre back on this roster, comes into this camp with plenty of intrigue surrounding his selection. Having earned a nod to participate in Canada’s January Camp earlier this year, people had already gotten a slight taste of what he could offer to this team, but it’s still a surprise to see him earn a nod at the senior level for such important games.
He’s currently playing at a decent level, the Dutch second division, having made 10 appearances for Den Bosch so far this 2020/2021 season. They’re struggling mightily, sitting in last place with 19 points, but the experience Sturing has gotten so far will be invaluable, especially as a younger player at a position where players tend to bloom later.
So for Sturing, the big question will be to see where he goes next, as you can’t imagine him going down to the third division with Den Bosch. Considering that there were rumours earlier in the year that he might go to the Canadian Premier League, that’s certainly an option at this stage, and you have to imagine there are a few more that he’ll likely consider.
If anything, the biggest surprise surrounding his inclusion isn’t actually that he’s with the senior team, but that he’s not with the U23 team at Olympic qualifiers, as he would’ve been eligible for those games as a 1997-born.
But seeing this call-up, clearly Herdman thinks he’s ready for the senior level, and when you factor in Derek Cornelius’s presence for those U23 games despite being Canada’s best centre back, it really confirms the idea that Herdman is going to use these games to try out central defenders, so expect to see Sturing play.
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
Moving on, up next is Vitoria, who at 34, comes into this camp as the elder statesman of this young backline. Despite that, however, he still has plenty to give at his age, as he’ll look to try and build off of his 14 caps he’s picked up after committing to Canada 5 years ago at the unusually late age of 29.
Heading into these games, he’s probably the favourite to start the first match, having started both of Canada’s last two competitive games, back-to-back clashes with the US in Nations League play back in 2019.
Since then, he’s maintained good form at the club level, playing 38 games and scoring 8 goals for Moreirense these past two seasons (all competitions). For a centre back, the goal total is quite impressive, and although Moreirense’s defensive record has been middling over those two seasons, that’s also just down to the fact that they’re a middling team.
But considering how solid the Portuguese league is, for him to play that many games at this level, wearing the captain’s armband for many, instantly makes him one of Canada’s best centre backs at this camp.
The lone worry for him is his fitness, as he’s coming off a slight injury, but he did make Moreirense’s matchday squad in the last match before the international break, so considering that, as well as his inclusion in this squad, that’s not too much of a worry at the moment.
CB- Joel Waterman | CAN / CF Montréal
Up next on the list is Waterman, who is a new but welcome addition to Canada’s backline this camp, as he’ll likely earn the opportunity to earn his first cap at the senior level in these games. After having earned a call-up to Canada’s January Camp, he clearly impressed Herdman enough to earn another call, which for him, is just the next step on a meteoric rise.
3 years ago, the then 22-year-old was playing in USports for Trinity Western, before he got drafted into the Canadian Premier League with Cavalry. From there, he had a strong 2019 season, one that showed enough to CF Montreal to buy him ahead of the 2020 season, making him the first CPL player to transfer to MLS. He did well in his first campaign there, playing 7 out of a possible 23 games in the league, as well as 3 out of 4 Champions League games, putting him on Canada’s radar now.
So now, the 25-year-old will want to show Herdman that he can be a Canada regular at centre back, which is a position that this team does need more depth at. A mobile, ball-playing centre back, he could fit well into the Herdman system, as the coach has said that he wants his team to be better at playing the ball out of the back, something that Waterman is quite good at.
As mentioned earlier, with Cornelius absent, Herdman went with more of an experimental centre back grouping for a reason, as he’ll want to use these games as a chance for some players to audition for spots on this team. For Waterman, that’ll be a chance to continue his upwards trajectory, completing the rare journey of USports to Canadian Men’s National Team starter.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
Leading off the full backs on this list is Adekugbe, who’s quickly become an automatic name in Canada’s squad these past few years, having earned nods for 6 of the last 7 Canada camps (January Camps included). He may only have 11 caps for Canada, he’ll be expected to start racking up appearances now, as he’s quickly emerged as Canada’s top left back not named Alphonso Davies, making him the #1 guy considering Davies is a forward for Canada, anyways.
And when looking at his form for Valerenga this past year, it’ll be hard to keep him out of Canada’s starting XI at this rate, allowing Canada to let Davies run free up front. Adekugbe played 26 out of 30 games for Valerenga in Norway’s top division last season, helping them finish 3rd, booking a spot to play in this year’s Europa League qualifiers as a result. After coming close to doing that in 2019, it was a big accomplishment for Valerenga, and it’s great to see Adekugbe play a big part in that.
So still only 26, this European adventure will be another big step in what has been an interesting career for Adekugbe so far, where he’s played for an interesting list of teams, including Brighton and Hove Albion, FC Goteburg and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Ever since he’s arrived at Valerenga he’s found a new level, though, playing 77 games in Norway’s top flight, adding 5 assists along the way.
For Canada, it’s been great to see, as they’ll now have a potential Europa League level player to trot out at left back, which is something that would’ve been hard to imagine happening a few years ago. As Canada’s full back depth continues to grow, it’s just another sign of the sort of improvement we’re seeing in terms of this team’s players continuing to push themselves to bigger heights abroad.
FB- Cristián Gutierrez | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
And behind Adekugbe at left back will be Gutierrez, who is another new face in this Canadian squad, as he’s coming off of a solid first season in MLS for the Whitecaps last year. A Chilean dual-national, he’s been part of the Chilean Youth National Team set-up in the past, so his call-up to this camp confirms his long-term allegiance to Canada.
For Canada, that’s good news, as he’s quickly come onto the scene in a good way ever since moving to the ‘Caps at the start of 2020, picking up 13 appearances for them last year. Considering that he had Ali Adnan ahead of him in the pecking order, that shows you how highly rated he was in ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos eyes, so you have to imagine that he’ll build off of that this year.
Considering that Canada isn’t as deep at left back as they are at right back, that could see him stake out a regular spot in their squad going forward, backing up Adekugbe for these games. Seeing that he was eligible to play at the Olympic qualifiers, it shows you how highly rated he is by Herdman, so there is certainly credence behind that theory.
So even though it’s not sure yet if he’ll play this camp, just getting his foot in the door will be a good experience, and from there that should allow him to grow into a role as a Canadian regular, which he has the potential of becoming if he keeps up his form from the past year or so.
FB- Alistair Johnston | USA / Nashville SC
Moving on, the next name on this list is Alistair Johnston, who much like Waterman, Gutierrez and Sturing, is looking to earn his first senior cap in his second call-up for Canada, as he also featured at January Camp earlier this year. Unlike the others, he’ll be in a bit tougher at right back in the longer-term, as it has quickly become an area of strength for Canada in recent years, but after a strong rookie 2020 season in MLS, he might earn a cameo in these games, giving him a chance to impress.
On a Nashville team that surprised many on a run to the final 8 of the MLS Playoffs in their inaugural season, Johnston played a big role in their success, featuring in 18 out of a possible 23 games in the regular season, before playing in all 3 of their playoff games. And although he didn’t chip in much offensively, as he was unable to pick up his first professional goal or assist, he was a key cog in the Nashville defensive machine, helping them concede the third-fewest goals in MLS last year (23).
So for Herdman, having Johnston gives him a bit of a different look at right back, as most of his top options, such as Richie Laryea or Zachary Brault-Guillard, are offensive-minded players. With Canada’s depth at right back seemingly growing by the week, offering up a different skillset could be exactly how Johnston works his way into Herdman’s good books, and considering that he’s earned this nod, that’s exactly what appears to be happening here.
After the year he’d had, however, he’s more than earned this nod, so it’ll be interesting to see how big of a role he plays for Canada down in Florida.
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
Elsewhere at right back on the list is where we find Laryea, who is expected to pair with Adekugbe at full back in the starting XI for these games, as he’s quickly become an impact player for both club and country. After being released from Orlando at the end of 2018, his rise at Toronto FC has been meteoric these past two seasons, as he went from MLS afterthought to a regular on one of the best teams in MLS, as well as for his country.
In 2020, he was one of the best full backs in all of MLS, scoring 4 goals and adding 5 assists in 21 games for TFC as they finished 2nd in all of MLS in regular-season play, with Laryea arguably being one of their MVP candidates. Seeing his offensive contributions, as well as the solid work that he did defensively, as TFC conceded the 10th-fewest goals in MLS with 26 (it’s worth noting that 4 teams tied for 6th with 25 goals against), all despite not playing at home for a good chunk of the season, and it really proved to be a breakout season for Laryea.
Now, at 26 years of age, he seems to be entering the prime of his career at right back, a position he’s only played for 2 years now, which has to be exciting for Canada. Seeing how good he was for them back in 2019, when he was still new to the position, you have to be excited to see what he can do there now, giving this team a veritable weapon to lean on down the right flank in these games.
FB- Kamal Miller | CAN / CF Montréal
Lastly at full back is Kamal Miller, who’s quickly become a favourite of John Herdman these past few years, with his ability to play both left back and centre back being a big reason for his continued selection. And to be fair to him, he’s more than earned these call-ups, having played well for Orlando over the course of his first two seasons in MLS, playing 28 games on one of MLS’s most improved teams these past two years.
He now finds himself at a new club to start the year, as Montreal snapped him up from Austin FC after the new Texas team selected him during the expansion draft, and he’s expected to play a big role for them in 2021. With Montreal seeing more of a centre back than left back, however, it also appears that Herdman has also started to see him as a long-term option at that position, as well, playing him there during Canada’s January camp earlier this year.
But either way, no matter where he lines up, expect the 23-year-old to continue and build off of the 5 caps he has for Canada to date. As he showed against the US in October of 2019, he can be a big game player, so Canada will know that they can trust him if needed during these crucial World Cup qualifiers.
M- Theo Corbeanu | ENG / Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
Moving down the list, we then find one of the bigger surprises of this roster announcement, Corbeanu, who is one of this camp’s youngest players at only 18 years of age. Despite that, he’s one of the most interesting names on this roster, as he’s had a meteoric rise over these past few years, putting him in this position where he’ll hope to earn his first Canadian cap down in Florida.
A Romanian dual-national, he’d previously represented Romania at the youth level, but by accepting this call-up, it confirms that he’s officially filed a one-time switch, permanently cap-tying him to Canada.
And for Canada, that’s massive news, as Corbeanu has quickly turned heads with his play over on Wolves’ U23 team, where he’s often been one of the team’s best players despite playing in a league where he sometimes competes with players 4 or more years older than him. Capable of playing any of the 3 forward positions, he’s handled the jump up to the U23 Premier League 2 quite well this year, scoring 4 goals and adding 2 assists in 16 games.
Having scored 4 goals and adding 1 assist in 14 games at the U18 Premier League level last year, it shows how quickly he’s been accelerated along in his development at Wolves this year. Thanks to that, it also allowed him to earn training time with their first team, where he’s even had the chance to make the first team’s matchday squad for a few Premier League games, showing their trust in him as a youngster.
So while he’s yet to feature for Wolves at the senior level quite yet, he’s not far off of doing so, which for Canada, makes it all the more exciting that he’s pledged his future to them internationally. On a team full of young talent, he’s yet another name to add to that list, so look for him to take another big step forward by earning his first cap at this camp.
Plus, seeing how this past season has gone for him, if he does indeed see the field during any of these games, watch out, as you certainly wouldn’t put it past him to make a favourable impression right off of the bat, much as he’s done for Wolves recently.
M- Stephen Eustáquio | POR / FC Paços de Ferreira
Continuing through the names in midfield, up next is Eustaquio, who is going to be one of the most interesting players to watch for Canada in this window. After having committed to Canada at the start of 2019, we didn’t get to see him play until November of that year, where he played a handful of minutes off the bench in a 4-1 loss to the US.
Since then, of course, Canada hasn’t played a competitive game, so this will be a great chance to properly see Eustaquio in top form, as he was still recovering from a serious knee injury back then.
And boy, is he ever in form, as his stock has shot up massively since that game. First, he made a move to Pacos de Ferreira in Portugal’s top flight at the start of 2020, allowing him to return to a circuit where he first made his name as a player before making that surprise move to Liga MX’s Cruz Azul at the start of 2019.
He’s quickly become one of the top midfielders in Portugal, as he played a role in Pacos’s dramatic relegation fight in 2020, one they eventually survived, before blossoming into one of the team’s best players this season as they’ve made a surprise push to the top 5 through 24 matchdays out of 34 so far. On a team that’s conceded the 4th-fewest goals in the Portuguese top-flight with 23, Eustaquio has played a big role in that as a defensive midfielder, having played all but 93 minutes for them this league season, with 90 of those minutes coming when he was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
So there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Eustaquio’s presence in this squad here, as he’s yet another in-form midfielder for Canada to rely upon, showing their improved depth at a position where they haven’t always had the most options. Seeing the form that he’s in, as well, he’ll be a likely candidate to start in the first game, so expect to see a lot of him on the pitch in Florida, covering as much as the field as possible, similarly to what he does for Pacos.
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
After an 18-month absence from Canada, the ageless wonder, Hutchinson, is finally back in the National Team fold for Canada ahead of these World Cup qualifiers, which is massive news for this team. It feels strange to give him such a high ‘Surprise Rating’, as he’s still an automatic selection whenever available, but seeing that he’d taken a break from Canada after the 2019 Gold Cup, it was unsure yet when he’d return, so this is a welcome surprise.
To be fair, some did wonder if he’d retired from National Team duty, which at 38 years of age, you certainly wouldn’t blame him for doing, but with there being no announcement from him or Canada Soccer on the matter, you just knew that he was going to be back at one point or another.
And there may be no better time than now, as he’ll bring a veteran voice to this young team ahead of what will be the first World Cup qualifying cycle for many players on this squad.
He comes into these games in excellent form, as well, having scored 4 goals and added 5 assists in 27 games for Besiktas so far this year, as they currently find themselves 3 points ahead of Galatasaray in first with a game in hand for the Turkish title race, with only 12 matchdays remaining in that campaign. Having put up one of the best offensive campaigns of his career last year, scoring 6 goals and adding 6 assists, he’s only found a way to keep that up despite being in what’s supposed to be the twilight of his career.
So look for him to play a big role for Canada in these qualifiers. He’s aged like a fine wine, and can play either as a #6 or an #8 now, giving Herdman options at both positions.
As he looks to build off of his 84 international caps, hopefully he’s able to lend his voice to this younger squad in these camps, giving them valuable lessons ahead of what’s going to be a tough World Cup qualifying cycle for them.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
Moving down the list, Mark Anthony Kaye’s name is once again included in midfield, as he continues to be a regular for Canada. And to be fair, as Canada’s best two-way midfielder, it’s a deserved nod once again, as he’ll be counted on heavily by Herdman to do a lot of the dirty work in the middle of the park.
Coming off of a mixed-bag of a season, as he missed some time through injury in the midst of a campaign where LAFC took a pretty big step back from their dominant, record-breaking 2019 form, Kaye will still be relied upon heavily by Herdman in these games. It’s worth noting that he returned to fitness in time for the MLS Cup playoffs in November, as well as the Champions League bubble in December, where he looked sharp again, so he does come into this camp fit and ready to play.
And even though the year maybe didn’t go the way he would’ve liked from a team perspective, as LAFC was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs, and lost in the Champions League final, he still had 3 goals and 5 assists in 24 appearances (all competitions), which is pretty good for a midfielder. It wasn’t quite the 4 goals and 8 assists he put up in 2019, but he was on pace to come close to that had he played a similar amount of games, showing how good his season was despite the injuries.
So on this Canada team, one that is loaded with #6’s and #10’s but lacks a true two-way lynchpin, Kaye will continue to fill that role to the best of his ability, much as he did for Canada back in 2019. With the talented forwards that he’ll have playing in front of him, his ability to dribble the ball forward and pick out a pass will prove to be very valuable for Canada, so look for Herdman to continue to lean on him as a starter.
M- Jayden Nelson | CAN / Toronto FC
And moving down the list is where we find another big surprise, but a welcome one, as Nelson comes into this camp as Canada’s youngest player, having been included in this squad as a late call-up after a last-minute injury to his TFC teammate, Jonathan Osorio. He might not offer the same value as Osorio, who’s quietly become one of Canada’s best players, but Nelson brings plenty of the potential to the table, and is on the cusp of breaking out for Toronto at the club level.
After having played 8 games for them last year in MLS under Greg Vanney, whose squads are notoriously tough to break into as a youngster, he’ll be excited to play under new coach Chris Armas, who has already promised to give young players like Nelson more minutes this year. That’s good news for both TFC and Canada, as he looks like a very interesting piece to keep an eye on for the future, but he appears to be just about ready to be a part of the present, as well, as he showed in flashes last season.
He’s unlikely to feature much at all this camp, but that’s okay, as this will mostly be about soaking up the experience of playing alongside some of Canada’s best players, giving him a taste of what it takes to succeed at this level.
Heading into a big year for him at the club level, this could be the catalyst he needs for a breakout season, helping him fulfill some of the potential that has made him one of TFC’s biggest prospects in recent years.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / CF Montréal
Rounding off the list of CF Montreal call-ups in this Canada squad is Piette, who continues to be a key player on this Canadian team. It’s wild to think that Piette, who is only 26-years-old, is entering his 10th year of National Team already, but he’s been a regular for a long time for a reason, and that’s because you always know what you’ll get from him at the #6 position.
Coming off of a strange 2020 season for Montreal, where he played in all but one of Montreal’s 23 MLS games, as well as in all 4 Champions League games, he’ll be happy to participate in these massive World Cup qualifiers for Canada in any way possible. With a few new tools on his belt, as he played further up the field last year than usual for Montreal, a move that saw him score his first-ever professional goal as he learned the tricks of that position, he’s the sort of versatile player that coaches love to work with, as he’s got a relentless motor.
So look for him to add to his 49 caps this international window, either as a starter off of the bench, as he looks to continue his impressive National Team career. Either way, no matter what role he ends up playing, you know exactly what you’ll get from him when he plays, and that’s 110% of his effort at all times possible.
M- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC
Sliding on down the list, Wotherspoon comes up as another surprise inclusion, as he returns once again to the Canada squad, bolstering their depth in midfield. He’s unlikely to start any games, but he’s proven to be solid as a rotation player, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him possibly earn a late cameo in one of these games depending on the circumstances.
And if he does, he could prove to be a surprising difference-maker, as St. Johnstone has been in excellent form in Scotland, qualifying for the top half of the Scottish Championship for the last part of the season. That gives them a real chance to finish in the top 5 of the table, which would see them qualify to the brand-new UEFA Conference league, and Wotherspoon has more than played his part in that push, scoring 3 goals and adding 5 assists in 32 games along the way.
Along with St. Johnstone’s monumental win in the Scottish League Cup, where they broke Celtic’s 4-year winning streak in that competition, and it’s overall been a good season for Wotherspoon, who’s having one of the best seasons of his career at 31-years-old.
Again, it’s yet unsure how much he’ll play during this camp, but at the very least it’s nice to see Canada have such in-form depth players, instead of being forced to round their squad off with members of Unattached FC as they used to have to do.
F- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
As we near the end of the list, Cavallini’s name pops up here, as he’ll look to build off of his impressive resume for Canada so far, having scored 11 goals in 17 caps at the senior level to date. Because of that, he’s been a consistent call-up these past few years now, making him a regular in this Canada squad.
A big part of that is the profile he offers as a striker, as while he’s most known for the goals, ‘El Tanque’ does his best work off of the ball, making him a coach’s dream at striker. He’s relentless in the press, can hold-up the ball well, and when given the chance, he can also score goals, making him a multi-dimensional threat for Canada.
Even though he’s coming off of a tough first campaign in MLS for the Whitecaps, he’ll be a key player for Canada in these qualifiers, either as a sub or off of the bench. Having finished with 6 goals in 18 games after only scoring once in his first 7 MLS games, he comes into this camp in decent form, at least if you don’t factor in the 4 months that have passed since he last played.
So be it as a starter, or as an impact sub, we should see a lot of Cavallini down in Florida, as he’ll look to give Canada an edge with his aggressive play at every opportunity possible.
F- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
Next, we have Canada’s most popular player, Alphonso Davies, who’ll be expected to play a big role for Canada during these two games. It feels wrong to give him anything but a 1 (or honestly even a 0) for a surprise ranking, but considering that his participation in these games wasn’t always certain due to quarantine laws, to see him on the squad list did cause a reaction of surprise from many.
It was a welcome one, though, as Davies comes to Canada off of the back of a wild year for Bayern at the club level, where he played a big role in his team’s historic Sextuple, where they won the DFB Pokal, Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, German Super Cup and Club World Cup. Davies was vital for Bayern in all of those competitions, playing 43 games in the 2019/2020 season, as well as 27 so far in 2020/2021.
With his strong offensive ability, as he had 3 goals and 9 assists at left back last year, on top of his improved defensive skills that allowed Bayern to play so aggressively with and without the ball, he quickly became one of the best left backs in the world, which at only 19 years of age, was quite the accomplishment for him. He may have taken a slight step back this year, as a slow start to the season coupled with a rough ankle injury has made it hard for him to reach the level that he found last season, but at 20 years of age, you wouldn’t put it past him figuring it out again soon.
He comes to this camp in unique circumstances, having picked up a red card in his last game for Bayern, suspending him for their next two league games, but seeing how much his form has varied, putting on the Canada shirt could be exactly what the doctor ordered, as he always gives his all for this team.
So people have every reason to be excited about his inclusion for these games, as it shows his continued commitment to this country, which ahead of these crucial World Cup qualifiers, is a big boost for Canada.
As they look to make it back to the World Cup for the first time in nearly 40 years, strong play from Davies could go a long way, so keep an eye on him during these games.
F- David Junior Hoilett | WAL / Cardiff City FC
Continuing through the names, we find Junior Hoilett, who at 30, with 27 caps to his name, has quickly become one of the veteran faces on this young Canadian team. It only feels like he committed to Canada yesterday, but it’s now been nearly 6 years since he made his debut for Canada in a friendly against Ghana in October of 2015, showing how fast the time passes sometimes.
And while he’s not necessarily always going to start for Canada anymore, he can still provide a lot of value on the wing for this team, giving them a player who knows how to create chances. Having played nearly 160 games in the English Premier League, as well as 200 games in the Championship, he’s as seasoned as a veteran as any on this roster now, making him a voice for the youngsters to lean on.
Even though he’s not having the most productive season now, with only 2 goals and 2 assists in 21 games, Cardiff is only 4 points off of a promotion playoff spot with 8 games to go, so he’s having a bit of success at the club level.
But despite that, this camp will be huge for him, as his role with Cardiff has quickly diminished, with Hoilett only featuring in 3 out of the team’s last 17 games since the start of 2021 (all competitions), a far cry from the days where he’d play nearly every game for the team. With a chance to go play for Canada, where he’s scored 9 goals and added 12 assists in 27 games, that could allow him to re-find his form ahead of Cardiff’s push to return to the top flight of English football.
On a team flush with offensive options, Hoilett will be hoping to find himself among the goals in these games, either as a starter or as a sub, allowing him to turn around what’s proven to be a tough start to the new year for him.
F- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
Up next is arguably Canada’s most in-form offensive player at the moment, Cyle Larin, who seemingly can’t stop scoring goals for Besiktas this season, as he’s built off of a strong loan to Zulte Waregem in Belgium last year. Despite that, this is his first call-up since September of 2019, as his best run of form has come in the 15 month period between December of 2019 and now where Canada hasn’t been able to play any competitive games.
And when you look at his numbers in Turkey at the moment, you have to figure he’s likely to play a prominent role for Canada this window, as he enters this camp as the third top goalscorer in the SuperLig with 14 goals in 28 games. Along with 3 goals in 4 games in the Turkish Cup, where Besiktas has made a run to the finals, as well as 1 goal in 1 game of Champions League qualifying, and it really shows how in-form he’s been this season.
But Larin has always been able to score goals, so that’s nothing new. He scored 43 goals in 87 games in MLS, and scored 9 goals in his first 26 games for Besiktas.
What’s new with him, however, is his improved ability to feed his teammates, something that he really started to develop in Belgium last year, where he added 10 assists to go along with his 7 goals in 29 games last year, before adding another assist and 2 more goals in 4 games in the Belgian cup. That’s continued this year, as he’s added 4 assists to go along with his 14 league goals for Besiktas.
That could be very important for Canada, as Larin would often find himself isolated in games before, but now, with his ability to get more involved with games where he’s not getting service, it makes him a strong candidate to start. With Canada looking to be a fluid team in possession, Larin’s improvements in his hold-up and passing play will be valuable for them, as he gives Canada a new look at both the #9 and on the wing, with the latter position actually being his main spot in Besiktas’s lineup.
F- Liam Millar | ENG / Charlton Athletic FC
Last but not least, we have Millar, who makes his return to the National Team fold once again for this camp, as he’s quickly become a regular name on the Canadian roster under Herdman. He comes to this camp in good form, as well, with a move to Charlton Athletic in England’s League One has proven to be a positive one for the 21-year-old, who has taken a good step forward as of late.
After toiling away in the Liverpool system, this move was much-needed for Millar, who had seemed to stagnate in Liverpool’s U23 team. Since moving to Charlton, he’s played 18 games, scoring 2 goals and adding 5 assists, as they now only find themselves 1 point outside the playoff spots with just under 10 matchdays to go.
You would like to see him move up a level soon, as he’s a promising young player, but it’s good to see him test himself at the professional level now, so you’re not too worried about that quite yet. Seeing how this loan has gone for him, you do wonder if offers to move up will be there, so it’s very likely that he’s on the cusp of taking another big step forward in his pro career after this season.
For Canada, he’ll be a key depth piece, one who will give you plenty of energy off of the bench, which is something Herdman has liked to sometimes have as an option. He probably won’t feature much, but he’s clearly pretty well-established into the National Team fold now, and gives Canada a different option up front, should Herdman turn to him.
Usually, we’d look at some honourable mentions here, but considering the circumstances surrounding these games, as not all players were released for pandemic-related reasons, we’ll skip that exercise here.
It would’ve been nice to see the likes of Jonathan David and Scott Arfield at this camp, as an example, but their absences are more than understandable, and they’ll be back in the future.
So now, it’ll be interesting to see how Canada looks over these two games, as they’ll attempt to kick off World Cup qualifiers with an exclamation point, one that sees them collect 6 out of the 6 points up for grabs here.
They’ll be expected to win these games as favourites, without a doubt, but winning in CONCACAF is never as straightforward as it should be, so Canada will have to bring their A-game in order to compete.
From what they’ve shown recently, they’ve got the potential to go far in these qualifiers, but they’ve got to now actually prove they’re capable of doing that, and that starts with these games against Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
But as we’ve seen here, they’ve got quite the squad to do so, so it’ll be exciting to see what these games now bring, as Canada looks to put decades of history behind them.
Up Next: Canada vs Bermuda, Thursday, March 25th, 17:00 PDT, 20:00 EDT (Exploria Stadium, Orlando)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Martin Bayzl