With the return of Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team ahead of June’s crucial 2022 World Cup qualifiers, we break down their latest squad, giving each player called up a ‘Surprise Rating’.
After a positive reunion in March, they’re looking to carry the good vibes into June.
For Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, a massive task awaits them over the coming weeks, as they get set to play a set of games that will allow them to make history.
As their quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup continues, they’re getting set to play a pair of huge round 1 qualifiers against Aruba and Suriname over the next 2 weeks, which will be the difference between keeping their qualifying campaign alive, or getting sent home early.
If they can navigate through these 2 games without slipping up, a vital home-and-away series awaits them in round 2 just a few days later, with a spot in the final round, the ‘Octagonal’, on the line.
But if they slip up, however, they’ll go home early, missing out on the final round of CONCACAF’S World Cup qualifiers for the 6th consecutive World Cup cycle.
So when it’s said that these games are massive, that is no understatement, as the next few weeks will be pivotal for Canadian head coach John Herdman and his players.
With a chance to do something that not many Canadian teams have done before them, Herdman and his players are gearing up to take care of business in June, knowing that getting through the rest of round 1 and round 2 will allow them to run with the big boys of CONCACAF when the Octagonal kicks off in the fall.
And make no mistake, they’ll have to take care of business now. Despite being the 2nd highest-ranked team participating in the first 2 rounds, Canada has often found a way to disappoint at this sort of stage in the past, making it imperative that they change the narrative later this month.
From what it seems, however, this might be the group of players to change that narrative. Thanks to an unprecedented gold rush from Canadians at the club level in Europe, as well as the continued rise of Canadians making noise at home in MLS, these players have already started to change that discussion.
They started to prove that in March, when they dispatched Bermuda 5-1, before blasting the Cayman Islands 11-0 in a historic blowout, setting them up nicely for these last 2 games of round 1.
So heading into June, folks are understandably starting to become quite optimistic about the future of this Canadian team, especially after their squad for this set of games was announced.
Speaking of the squad, though, what should folks reasonably expect from this group of players? Due to the timing of these games, along with a few injuries, there are a few faces missing, but despite that, this is about as strong as a group as Canada could put out there, all things considered.
To do that, we’ll do what we usually do ahead of these sorts of camps, and that’s breaking down this squad by ‘Surprise Rating’, giving each player called up a rating from 1-10. For those unfamiliar with the rating system, a 10 is a player so surprising that people started to furiously check his Transfermarkt profile as soon as they saw his name, while a 1 is someone so ingrained in this Canadian team that his name was penned into most people’s projected squad with ink.
Along with a quick word on how each player has been performing as of late, it allows us to better undertand who the 24 players are that Canada will be relying upon in this month, where some big games await.
So without much further ado, let’s dive into that list of 24 players, seeing who will don the red and white over the next little while here.
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
To kick things off, there’s Canada’s main man in goal, Milan Borjan, who heads into this camp in top form after a strong end to the year for Red Star.
And when we say top form, we mean it.
Red Star managed to successfully complete a league title and cup double, their first such double since 2007, beating out big rivals Partizan in both cases. In the cup, they only toppled their rivals via penalties, but they made nice work of them in the league, beating them by 13 points, as they finished with an absurd record of 35W-0L-3D (108 PTS), which is an unheard-of point total in any league in the world.
As usual, Borjan played a big role in those triumphs, playing 32 out of 38 games in the league, along with 3 out of 5 in the cup, only conceding 20 goals and keeping 19 clean sheets across those 35 games.
Along with a decent run in Europa League, where they were only knocked out by Italian giants AC Milan on away goals in the Round of 32, it was a good 2020-2021 for Borjan and Red Star, who relied on big performances from their captain.
That’s good news for Canada, who will be expecting big things from their experienced goalkeeper, especially with there being no Maxime Crepeau for this camp. As Borjan gets set to earn his 51st cap with his country, they’ll be leaning on him big time in this camp, hoping he has no repeats of the error he made against Bermuda in March to concede their lone goal in that 5-1 win.
Based on what we’ve seen from him at the club level, those sorts of errors don’t happen often from him, though, and Canada will need that to be the case again here.
GK- Dayne St. Clair | USA / Minnesota United FC
Elsewhere, St.Clair returns for his 3rd Canadian camp, and he comes into this one quite motivated after a nightmarish start to the year for Minnesota United.
After entering the season as the #1 goalkeeper for his club, fresh off of a 2020 campaign where he snatched the reins in goal, keeping 8 clean sheets in 16 regular season and playoff games as the Loons stormed to the conference final, big things were expected of St.Clair in 2021.
But alas, Minnesota United would come out the gates stumbling, losing their first 4 games and conceding 10 goals, some of which St.Clair was unfortunately at fault for, as he didn’t look the same goalkeeper that he was last year. As a result, they decided to go to the experienced Tyler Miller to change things up, they started winning again, and St.Clair is now on the outside looking in again.
That’s not a slight on St.Clair, as Miller is a good goalkeeper, but it’s just another bout of adversity for the 24-year-old to deal with, and considering his career path so far, you’d expect him to come out of it stronger for it.
So this camp comes at a perfect time for him. With Crepeau away, as mentioned earlier, that could even allow St.Clair to nab a start against an Aruba, cap-tying him to Canada and allowing him to build his confidence.
He’s still a good goalkeeper, and he’s still young, but he just needs confidence, so this can be a way for him to get that back.
GK- James Pantemis | CAN / CF Montréal
But while Borjan and St.Clair return to the fold after working together in March, there is one new face in the goalkeeper pool this camp, and that’s Pantemis, who fills in for the missing Crepeau, who is remaining at home with his wife due to the expected birth of their 1st child over the next few weeks.
As a result, that opens up a big opportunity for Pantemis to impress in this camp, perhaps even proving that he’s ahead of St.Clair in the pecking order, especially considering that he’ll be competing head-to-head with him in training.
Some may be wondering, how is this possible? While St.Clair was with the senior team in March, Pantemis was with the U23’s at Olympic qualifying, which would likely indicate where Canada’s brass stands on both goalkeepers, right?
Well, not exactly. Canada did want to send as strong of a team to both camps as possible, so that Pantemis was with the U23s as the starter instead of with the senior team as a #3 does show that there is competition between him and St.Clair for that spot behind Borjan and Crepeau going forward.
Considering that aside from one high-profile error, Pantemis did pretty well at the U23 qualifiers, only conceding 3 goals over the course of 4 games, showing that he’s close to being in the discussion with St.Clair.
The big obstacle for him? Minutes at the club level.
Through 7 games of the CF Montreal campaign, Pantemis has only made 1 start, showing how hard minutes have been to come by for him. To give him credit, he kept a clean sheet in his lone start, but getting on the field more has to be the priority for him right now.
Otherwise, things are looking up for the 24-year-old, who is looking to build off a strong 2020 campaign, one where he played 7 games in the CPL and 3 in MLS, putting up a good account of himself at both levels.
LB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
Moving up the pitch, Adekugbe is up next at left back, as he continues to cement himself as a regular under Herdman.
Fresh off of a 2020 season where he helped Valerenga qualify for the UEFA Conference League, playing 26 out of a possible 30 games on that quest, he’s gotten off to a similarly strong start to 2021.
Through 6 games, he’s played 5 of them, helping Valerenga amass a record of 3W-1 L-2D (11 PTS), as they sit 5th in the table after the first few weeks of action.
As a result, he’s quickly become a regular for Canada, something that he showed last camp, where he put up a good shift as a starter against Bermuda and off the bench against the Cayman Islands, even adding an assist in that Bermuda game.
So considering all of that, expect to see a lot of Adekugbe this camp, as he looks to continue to make that left back position his own in the starting 11.
CB- Doneil Henry | KOR / Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Shifting over to the centre backs, Henry is the first name on the list here, as he returns to the Canadian fold for the first time since November of 2019.
Obviously, the pandemic played a big part in that lengthy absence, but he did have an injury in March, extending his absence even further.
This time, however, he couldn’t be denied, as he arrives at this camp healthy and in good form after a strong start to the year for Suwon.
After a solid first year in South Korea, one where he played 23 games across all competitions, helping Suwon to a mid-table finish in the league and a tough exit in the Champions League, he and his team have taken a big step forward in 2021.
Through 19 games, Suwon are 2nd in the table with 33 points, and only sit 3 points behind the leaders, Ulsan, keeping their title possibilities very open heading into the second half of the season.
Henry’s played a big role in that, playing 9 games and scoring 1 goal, as his team has a record of 5W-1L-3D (18 PTS) when he plays, which is nothing to scoff at.
For a Canadian team looking to increase depth and competition at centre back, Henry’s performances have come at a good time, and he’ll look to build off of that in this camp.
As a key leader under Herdman in 2019, he’ll look to pick up where he left off back then, solidifying a slowly growing Canadian CB pool.
CB- Scott Kennedy | GER / SSV Jahn Regensburg
And speaking of a growing Canadian CB pool, there might be no better example of that growth than the arrival of Kennedy, who is earning his first chance to don the Canadian strip in this camp.
To be fair, he was invited to Canada’s camp in March, but had to miss out due to injury, so this isn’t technically his first call-up, but if the 24-year-old were to play in this camp, this would be his first competitive appearance for his country at any level, so credit to him for that.
He may have taken a winding path to this point, but he’s been excellent for Jahn Regensburg in the 2.Bundesliga this year, helping them maintain their standing in arguably the toughest second division in Europe, playing 22 out of a possible 34 games for the German side.
So for Canada, they’ll be excited to finally get Kennedy into the fold and on the pitch in this camp. A very mobile centre back with decent distribution, he fills a huge area of need for Canada at the back, and could easily work his way into the starting conversation going forward if he can replicate his club form in this camp.
With the season that he’s had over in Germany, he’s one to keep an eye on, both at the club and the international level, and he’ll look to prove that over the next few weeks.
CB- Frank Sturing | NED / FC Den Bosch
Elsewhere at centre back, we have our first big surprise call-up, Sturing, who earns another nod for Canada after making his senior debut back in March.
It’s a bit of a surprise considering how poor his team has been at the club level, finishing 2nd-last in the 2nd Dutch division, but to give credit to Sturing, he did always appear to have solid games despite his team’s struggles.
Luckily for them, there was no relegation this year, so they’ll actually stay in the 2nd division next season, making it interesting to see what happens with Sturing, who played 18 out of a possible 38 games for Den Bosch. As a free agent later next month, there have been rumblings that he may head to North America, making it interesting to see where he lands.
And there should be some interest in him, as he’s a solid player. He showed that for Canada in March, putting up a decent shift in his debut against the Cayman Islands, where he played the full 90 minutes for his country in that game.
Yes, that’s not exactly the highest barometer to compare him to, but he did help keep a clean sheet and scored the winning goal in that 11-0 win, so he did everything you could’ve asked of him at centre back.
Because of that, it’ll be interesting to see his usage during this camp. Clearly, Herdman liked him enough to want to bring him back, as much like Kennedy, he does have a unique skill set that this team could use more of.
So even though he might not get as many minutes, Canada will want to continue to work with him in training, knowing what he can bring to the table.
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
And to round off the centre backs called into camp, we’ve got the veteran, Vitoria, who headlines this group as the most experienced defender at 34 years of age.
He comes into this camp in decent form, as well, having helped Moreirense to an 8th-placed finish in the Portuguese Liga this year. They’ll be feeling a bit bittersweet that they missed out on 6th place (and a spot in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers) by 3 points, but otherwise, it was a good performance for a club that has now finished in the top 8 three seasons in a row.
Considering that Vitoria has been there for the last 2 years, he’s played a big role in that accomplishment, and that was no different in 2020-2021, as he saw the field in 19 league games, scoring 3 goals, along with a further 3 cup games, where he also scored a goal.
For Canada, that’s good to see, as he’s been a key player for them these past few years, especially considering how young this squad has recently become.
The big issue for him at this stage of his career remains his health and his speed, two important things, no doubt, but he enters this camp without concern about the former, and he plays smart enough to overcome the latter.
As a result, expect to see him start the big games this camp, either alongside Henry or Kennedy, who will be fighting for a spot to play alongside the veteran Vitoria, who doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.
RB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
Moving over to the right backs, we first have Laryea, who enters this camp as one of the few true locks on this Canadian roster, as he continues to shine for Toronto.
TFC might have gotten off to a nightmarish start to the season, finding themselves eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League in the quarter-finals, sitting 3rd-last all of MLS with a record of 1W-4L-2D (5 PTS) through 7 games, but that’s not due to the play of Laryea.
Through 10 games (all competitions) he only has 1 goal and no assist, but he continues to drive play for TFC, playing a very active role in the offence from right back.
After a strong March camp, one where he scored his first goal for Canada, keep an eye on him in June, as he’ll be expected to play a big role as the wing back in Canada’s aggressive 3-4-3.
RB- Alistair Johnston | USA / Nashville SC
Rounding off the defenders we then have Johnston, who continues to play a big role in Nashville’s success at right back, solidifying what has quickly become a position of strength for Canada.
Through 7 games in 2021, he’s helped Nashville get off to a record of 2W-0L-5D (11 PTS), making them one of only 2 MLS teams (the other is Seattle) that head into the international break without a loss.
Johnston’s played a big role in all of those games, helping Nashville only concede 6 goals, keeping 4 clean sheets along the way.
After a strong first senior camp for Canada in March, where he played 2 games, even scoring his first goal as a professional in the game against the Cayman Islands, the 22-year-old’s stock continues to rise for both club and country, so expect him to see minutes during this camp once again.
Competition remains fierce at his position, so he’ll have to be careful, but based on what we’ve seen from him so far, pressure does not appear to get to him at all, making it tough for those who are currently chasing him further down the right back pecking order.
MF- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
Shifting over to the midfielders, we first have Osorio, who comes into this camp in interesting form.
So far through 11 Toronto games, he’s only played in 4 of them, but he’s scored 2 goals, showing that he’s dangerous when healthy.
The problem? He’s only started 3 of those 4 games, left his most recent start with a hamstring injury, and wasn’t even in the squad for Toronto in their last game before the break. He also missed out on the March camp because of an injury, so this has been going on for a few months now.
That’s why it’s surprising to see his inclusion in this squad, because even though he’s a lock when healthy, it feels like he could benefit from taking a few weeks away from game action during this international break.
For a Canadian team already pretty stacked in the midfield, you do wonder if they could’ve given a younger player a chance, allowing Osorio to rest up ahead of a big year for club and country.
But clearly, he’s healthy enough to play, and with these games being as big as they come for Canada, they’ll be happy to have him in the fold for the next few weeks.
Despite that, it’s going to be a very nervy few weeks for Canadian and Toronto fans, who will analyze every move he makes on the field very carefully, praying that he doesn’t re-injure himself yet again, which would only continue a topsy turvy start to the year for him.
MF- Samuel Piette | CAN / CF Montréal
Moving down the list we’ve got Piette, Canada’s midfield bulldog, who comes into this camp fresh off of earning his 50th and 51st cap for his country in March.
Since then, he’s had an interesting start to the year for Montreal, who are continuing to find the best way to integrate him into the lineup. After playing last year as a box-to-box midfielder under Thierry Henry, that experiment has been shut down by Wilfried Nancy, who has returned him to his more usual defensive midfield position.
But with Victor Wanyama also sitting in that spot, Piette hasn’t been earning the sort of regular minutes most are used to seeing from him, as Nancy hasn’t often played Wanyama and Piette together.
It’s something he should consider doing, though, at least if the numbers are to mean anything. In the 5 games Piette has played, he has an assist, but more importantly, his team has a record of 3W-1L-1D (10 PTS) when he sees the field for any amount of minutes, compared to a record of 0W-2L-1D (1 PT) when he doesn’t.
So while he continues to fight for more minutes at the club level, he should play a big role for Canada at this camp, especially with no Atiba Hutchinson and the iffy health of Jonathan Osorio.
Based on how good Piette’s been to start the year, can only be seen as a good thing, however, for Canada’s ‘Mr. Consistent’ in midfield.
MF- Stephen Eustáquio | POR / FC Paços de Ferreira
Elsewhere, we’ve got Canada’s biggest rising star in midfield, Eustaquio, who heads into this camp in strong form after a good end to the year for Pacos de Ferreira.
Playing in 32 out of a possible 34 games, Eustaquio scored 1 goal and added 2 assists, helping Pacos finish 5th in the league, earning qualification to the Conference League next year in the process.
Don’t expect to see him play there, though, as rumours continue to persist about a possible transfer to either Porto or Napoli, which would allow him to either play Champions League or Europa League football at one of Europe’s bigger clubs, which would be huge for the Canadian.
For a player who didn’t play for over a year after a serious knee injury back in 2019, this has been quite the rise back to stardom for the 24-year-old, giving Canada a key lynchpin to rely on in midfield going forward.
Having managed to get his commitment back in 2019 despite his injury, Canada is sitting nicely now, as Eustaquio will look to continue and play a big role for this program, with these June games expected to be another example of that.
MF- Liam Fraser | USA / Columbus Crew SC
Moving on, the next name on the list is Fraser, who is one of the big surprise inclusions of this camp, having only played a combined 102 minutes across 4 appearances off the bench so far this year for both Toronto and Columbus, where he now finds himself on loan.
The good news is that his minutes are trending up, as the loan to Columbus has provided a platform for him to play, but his inclusion is still a surprise, especially considering the play of a few other youngsters in midfield around MLS.
But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Fraser is a good player, and more importantly, he’s a familiar face for Herdman, who is a big admirer of the 23-year-old.
There’s a reason why he was the first name off the bench for Herdman when Mark Anthony Kaye picked up an injury inside 15 minutes against the US in a pivotal Nations League game in October of 2019, as he’s got the talent, but minutes have proven elusive for him so far in his career.
So maybe just getting back to a National Team camp could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Fraser, especially as he starts to get minutes again at the club level. At his age, he still has a lot of time to develop into a difference-maker for his club and country, but time is quickly ticking, making these sorts of opportunities vital for him if he wants to make a name for himself going forward.
MF- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
Nearing the end of the list of midfielders we have Kaye, who has quietly been one of Canada’s best players in MLS so far this year, shining brightly on a struggling LAFC side that sits 9th in the West through 7 games.
That has been through no fault of Kaye, who has picked up 1 assist and has been about as solid as he can be, providing transitional and destructive two-way play in midfield. He does come into this camp on a bit of a low, having struggled a bit in an LAFC loss against NYCFC, but considering how good he was in the first 6 games, that appeared to be more of a blip on the radar, instead of the start of a trend.
Which for a Canadian team needing more two-way threat in midfield, is good news, as Kaye will be expected to play a big role in this camp, especially with no Hutchinson, who played that role last camp while Kaye was still working back up to full fitness.
Plus, considering that Kaye scored his first two goals for Canada in that camp against the Cayman Islands, he did still manage to play a big part in their success in March, and will look to do the same here in June.
There’s a reason why he’s arguably been Canada’s most important midfielder since the middle of 2019, and he’ll want to show why that’s still potentially the case in this camp, although Eustaquio might give him a good run for his money in that regard, making a potential partnership between them quite enticing.
MF- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC
Lastly, to round off the midfielders we’ve got Wotherspoon, who comes into this camp in the form of his life, fresh off of a fantastic season over in Scotland with St.Johnstone, who finished 5th in the league table, which was a big accomplishment on its own.
But the big achievement came elsewhere for Wotherspoon, who while playing in 49 out of a possible 51 games (all competitions), helped St.Johnstone to a historic cup double, winning both the FA and League Cups, which in a country dominated by powerhouses Rangers and Celtic, is an enormous achievement.
He wasn’t a bit player in those games, either, even winning the man-of-the-match trophy after an assist in the FA Cup final, while also going 90 minutes in the League Cup final.
So with 6 goals and 7 assists in his back pocket, along with a 1 goal and 3 assist game against the Cayman Islands, he comes into this camp ready to make some noise for Canada.
In an interview earlier this year, Herdman mentioned that Wotherspoon is consistently among the best players in Canada’s training sessions no matter how talented those around him are, so look for the 31-year-old to play a big role for Canada this camp, be it as a starter or off the bench.
He might not be the flashiest player in this Canada squad, far from it, but he gets the job done, which has quickly made him an invaluable call-up for Herdman and his staff to turn to each window.
FW- Tajon Buchanan | USA / New England Revolution
Shifting over to the forwards, we have one of a few players who is considered to be flexible tactically, and that’s Buchanan, who might get some minutes at full back at camp according to Herdman.
Despite that, we’ve got him listed as a forward (aka winger) here, as he’s played his best at that position for New England and Canada over the past year and a half.
And make no mistake, he’s continued to shine for New England this year, having scored 1 goal and adding 2 assists through 8 games, helping his team shoot to the top of the Eastern Conference standings heading into the break.
After a strong 2020 season, one where he finished with 3 goals and 3 assists, as well as a decent camp with the U23 team earlier this year, one where he had 2 goals (and should’ve probably had a few assists), it’s good to see the 22-year-old pick right back up where he left off last year so far in 2021.
With heavy European interest continuing to swirl, he seems destined for a big move sooner rather than later, so even more is set to come for him at the club level, too, which is an exciting prospect to imagine considering what he’s already shown so far.
As for Canada, though, this is a huge camp for him, as he can make his senior debut, after having made his Canadian debut at any level at the U23s. Personally, that’s big for him, but it’s a good thing for Canada, as well, considering that they’ve actually struggled for depth on the wing in recent years.
So don’t be surprised if he plays a big role this camp, either as a starter or off the bench, especially considering the continuation of the 5 subs rule for these games.
FW- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Moving down the list, we then have the mercurial Cavallini, who comes into this camp with the rare distinction of having scored more goals for country than club in 2021.
That’s not a great thing, as Cavallini only has 1 goal in 7 games for the Whitecaps this year, and comes into this camp on a 6 game dry spell, but that’s as much on the team as him, plus he does have 2 assists, which is nice to see considering that he failed to pick any of those for the Whitecaps in 2020.
But it’s worth noting that Cavallini does tend to find a different level for Canada, and that earlier stat shows that. Despite a poor game against Bermuda in March, one where he scored 0 goals but probably should’ve had a hat trick, he then came off the bench against the Cayman Islands and picked up a hat trick inside 15 minutes of play.
As a result, he now has an impressive 14 goals in 19 games for Canada, and enters this camp only 2 goals off of cracking the top 5 goalscorers in Canadian history.
So even though he’ll be in a fight for minutes this camp, especially with the return of Jonathan David to the fold, you wouldn’t put it past him finding a way to get those 2 goals he needs to make that happen, either as a starter or as a sub.
No matter where you put him for Canada, he tends to score, and he’ll look to do this over the next few weeks, before hopefully carrying that positive form back to the Whitecaps, who desperately need him to find his form again.
FW- Theo Corbeanu | ENG / Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
And as we near the end of the 24 names called up, we’ve got Corbeanu, who comes into this camp in good form after a strong end to the year for Wolves U23, even making his Premier League debut for their first team right before the end of the campaign.
After a strong March camp for Canada, one where he earned his first cap for Canada, scoring on his first touch in the jersey, he picked up where he left off at the club level, finishing with a solid 5 goals and 2 assists in 20 games at the U23 level for Wolves.
But where he made the most noise was in the promotion playoffs, as he nearly single-handedly dragged Wolves into the first division of the PL2 (they currently sit in the second division of that league), scoring 2 goals in a spirited comeback from down 2-0 against Crystal Palace. He would then have to be withdrawn with a knock, and his team would go on to lose, but that was no fault of Corbeanu, who got his team back into that game pretty much on his own.
So all of that is exciting for Canadian fans. As an 18/19-year-old in a U23 league, he was a star, and was good enough to earn minutes at a good Premier League club by the end of the year, showing that he’s not far off becoming a regular at that level.
Along with his flashy Canadian debut, you have to imagine big things are coming for Corbeanu next year, and he’ll have a chance to set the tracks for that with a good camp for Canada here.
He might not play every game here, instead doing more of his damage as a super-sub, but at only 19 years of age, that’s not the worst thing in the world, so expect to see a healthy dose of him on the pitch during this camp.
FW- Jonathan David | FRA / Lille OSC
Moving on, we have David, who is one among many Canadians who enters this camp as a champion, having helped Lille to a historic Ligue 1 title in just his first year at the club.
After a nightmarish start to the campaign, one where he failed to score in his first 10 league contests, he finished the year strongly, finishing with an impressive 13 goals and 3 assists in 37 league games, playing in all but 1 match for Lille.
And what’s most impressive is how clutch his goals were, as 4 of them came in the last 8 games of the year, including tallies against fellow title contenders PSG and Lyon, and a vital opening tally in the title-decider on the last matchday against Angers.
So even though the year didn’t start out the way Lille’s all-time biggest signing would’ve liked it to, he quickly redeemed himself and repaid the value of his transfer fee, helping Lille pull off one of the best stories in all of Europe.
Now, with Lille’s uncertain financial situation, no one knows what’s next for him, as he could either stay for the title defence and the Champions League or move on to another club, but either way, the world appears to be at his fingertips right now.
For Canada, that’s massive news, as he returns to the fold for the first time since 2019 after having missed out in March due to quarantine rules in France. With 11 goals in 12 games for Canada, he’s been electric whenever he’s worn the red and white, and they’ll need him to find a similar level this camp, helping them push to the greater heights they’ve long wanted to get to.
Along with Alphonso Davies, he’s quickly become a standard-setter for Canadians to look up to at the club level, and he’ll want to play a similar role within the national team itself.
FW- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
And speaking of Davies, he’s the next name on our list, as he comes into this camp as Canada’s star, the name everyone will be keeping their closest eye on.
He might not be in the same form as he was in the 2019-2020 season, where he and his Bayern team were untouchable, winning a historic sextuple, but he remains in strong form, having recovered nicely from an early-season ankle injury.
With 1 goal and 3 assists in 35 games, it might not look like he’s as productive as he was before, but the underlying stats still have him among the best full backs in Europe, and what he does for Bayern doesn’t always reflect itself in boxcar numbers.
Plus, as a 20-year-old in his second season in a top league, winning the league again is no small feat, even though their quests at glory in the Champions League and DFB Pokal might’ve been shorter than anticipated.
So for Canada, expect big things from Davies this camp. He showed in March that he can be the sort of star that carries a team, putting up 2 goals and 3 assists in 2 games, registering some bonkers chance creation numbers in the process, but more importantly, he looked like a player that’s comfortable with being ‘the guy’ for this team.
Playing in a hybrid winger and full back role in the 3-4-3 that unlocks the best of his offensive and defensive abilities, this is Davies’s team, and he’ll look to prove that once again this camp, especially given some of what’s on the line.
FW- David Junior Hoilett | WAL / Cardiff City FC
Nearing the end of the list, we’ve got Hoilett, who comes into this camp at a very strange crossroads at the club level.
Having only played 3 times for Cardiff since the turn of the new year, minutes were very hard to come by for the 30-year-old in 2021, and as a result, he’s elected to try and find a new club as a free agent, as his contract just expired at the end of the year.
At his age, one now has to wonder what’s next for him, as he could still probably do a job for a good Championship team, but might be swayed to move to a league like say, MLS, for the right price.
He might have only played 21 games last year, but he did put up 2 goals and 2 assists, so it wasn’t as if he was completely unproductive when he did see the field, either.
So with all of that in mind, this will be a massive camp for him, as this will be some of his best chances since the start of 2021 to showcase himself to a potential new club.
Obviously, as a veteran on a young team, he’ll also be relied upon to be a leader and produce, but a lot of attention will be on his complicated club situation, and understandably so, but he remains a very important player for this Canadian team despite all of that.
FW- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
Moving on, we then have arguably Canada’s most in-form name at the moment, Larin, who is fresh off of a huge domestic double with Besiktas, winning their first league title since 2017, and cup title since 2011, helping them return to the Champions League for the first time since 2018.
Larin played a big role in both of those triumphs, as well, playing 45 games (all competitions), scoring 23 goals along the way. He did his best work in the league, where he was second in the Turkish Super Lig golden boot race with 19 goals in 38 games, also adding 6 assists, but he was as good in the cup, putting up 3 goals in 5 games along the way.
With rumours of English interest continuing to swirl around his name, big things are in the future for the 26-year-old, who is enjoying life in the prime of his career at the moment.
For Canada, that’s massive, as they could certainly use the skills that an in-form Larin provides. They reaped the rewards of that last camp, as Larin had a hat trick against Bermuda before adding a goal against the Cayman Islands, and they’ll hope that he can provide similar output here.
After having provided some mixed bag performance in Canadian shirts in the past, he’s quickly won back the trust of Canadian fans, who will want to see him continue his meteoric rise as part of this team’s quest to make history.
FW- Liam Millar | ENG / Liverpool FC
Then last, but most definitely not least, we’ve got Millar, who rounds off this list.
And he comes into this camp in good form, having gotten his best run of minutes in his professional career to close out the season, as a loan to Charlton Athletic at the turn of the new year proved to be huge for him.
Playing in the EFL League 1, Millar quickly adapted to the level, scoring 3 goals and adding 6 assists in 31 games, helping Charlton make a push for promotion. They narrowly missed out on the playoffs on the last day, finishing 3 points off 6, but that wasn’t due to their effort, as they only lost 1 of their last 15 games in their push for that playoff spot.
So for Millar, it was a perfect loan spell, giving him the sort of professional minutes that he desperately needed as a 21-year-old, setting him up nicely for the 2021-2022 season.
It’s unsure yet where he’ll go now, as he remains the property of Liverpool, but you’d have to imagine that a move to the Championship could do him nicely, before maybe trying his shot at Liverpool in a year if they still have his rights then.
As for his play for Canada, he’s become an important super-sub under Herdman, with his work rate being a big reason why Herdman has trusted him with some important cameos off the bench for this team.
So while he might not be a starter in Canada’s best eleven quite yet, he should get a good run of minutes off the bench, as Herdman appears to really like what he brings to the table for this Canadian side.
Lastly, we’ve got the interesting news that Canada will have a taxi squad of sorts for this camp, giving them 11 bodies to add to their training sessions, while also providing cover for injuries if needed.
Herdman hinted that Canada was planning to do this when the squad was announced last week, and that was made official on Monday, when the 11 names participating in this taxi squad were announced.
This group, which consists of MLS players all based in the US, should also allow Herdman to get a better look at a few players without actually calling them up, while also giving he and his staff a chance to talk with a few dual-nationals who accepted a nod.
For those wondering who the list consists of, it’s as follows: Tesho Akindele, Ayo Akinola, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Patrick Metcalfe, Ashtone Morgan, Jayden Nelson, Noble Okello, Ralph Priso, Luke Singh and Joel Waterman.
There are not many surprises there, aside from 2 big ones, and that’s Akinola and Singh, a pair of dual-nationals yet to commit to Canada.
First off, Akinola is the high-profile name, as he’s eligible for Canada, the US and Nigeria, with fans of all 3 nations patiently waiting for the 21-year-olds decisions.
So considering that, this is a big win for Canada, as it shows that Akinola remains interested in representing the maple leaf. With the US not calling up for their Nations League squad, Canada did have the chance to call him up to the senior team, which could’ve been an easy chance to cap-tie him, but you do also wonder if Akinola wants to put off a decision to do that until the Gold Cup in the summer.
But either way, the more time he spends in camp with his potential teammates and Herdman can only be a good thing, which is positive news for Canadian fans.
Second, there’s Singh, whose situation is a bit more complicated than Akinola’s, as he was actually called up to Trinidad & Tobago’s World Cup qualifying squad last week, making his inclusion in this list quite surprising.
It’s possible that he never accepted the invitation to the T&T camp, but newspapers there do say that he’ll be in the squad for their 2nd of 2 qualifiers this month, which is interesting.
Because of all that, it’ll be curious to see how active of a role he plays in this taxi squad. Does he just stay for a week before moving down to the T&T camp? Does he get added to the Canadian squad?
Either way, at only 20-years-old, Singh has a lot still to come in his career, so any decision won’t be felt until a few years down the road, anyways, but having more depth in the pool is important for Canada, making it important that they try to pursue his commitment in any way possible.
Based on what we’ve seen with this call-up, it appears that they’re trying to do that, which is good news for onlookers.
Elsewhere, it’s good to see the likes of Akindele, Priso, Waterman, Brault-Guillard and Okello earn deserved call-ups, and it’s also equally as nice to see what guys like Metcalfe, Marshall-Rutty and Nelson can offer in training, as well.
So now, Canada will look to make the most of the training time that they have together before taking the field for their first game on Saturday, June 5th, when they kick off against Aruba.
The big game is obviously the clash with Suriname next week, as well as the 2nd round games that would loom beyond that if they were to win, but it’s important that they take things one game at a time, starting on Saturday.
As seen here, they’ve got a good squad, one that should have more than enough talent in order to win, but as Canadian fans know from the past, it isn’t always that straightforward in CONCACAF.
But for a Canadian team looking to change the narrative surrounding the sport in this country, they’ll look to fight those demons head-on, allowing them to make history.
Their first step to doing that now?
Coming in hot Saturday, and then going from there.
Up Next: Canada vs Aruba, Saturday, June 5th, 2021, 17:00 PDT, 20:00 EDT (IMG Soccer Stadium, Bradenton)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Jeremy Reper