With the return of Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team for the 2021 Gold Cup, we break down their latest squad, which was announced earlier this month, by giving them a ‘Surprise Rating’.
After a memorable month of June, they’re looking to keep the good times rolling in July.
For Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team, they’ve already had the ideal summer, having qualified for the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, now known as the ‘Octagonal’, for the first time in over 20 years.
By making it to the final round for the first time since the 1998 World Cup cycle, they’ve now got their best chance to make it back to the World Cup for the first time since 1986, which is their lone appearance to date. Pitted against 7 of CONCACAF’s finest in that final round, they’ll play 14 games, 7 home and 7 away, with the top 3 teams heading straight to Qatar for 2022, leaving the 4th place team to compete in the intercontinental playoff.
While the obvious goal for them now is to make the World Cup, finishing in one of those top 4 spots of the Octo, just being there is huge, as they’ll get the sort of stiff tests that this program has become unfamiliar with these past 2 decades.
But now, the runway to the Octo is limited, leaving the team with little time to turn around after their big victories in June, which included a 4-0 statement win over Suriname to close out the 1st round of qualifiers, before they took care of business quietly and effectively in a 4-0 home-and-away aggregate win over Haiti to advance through the 2nd round.
With the Octo starting on September 2nd, there is no official international window until then, at least as far as traditional windows go.
That’s until you remember that the Gold Cup starts in just a few days, that is.
Typically, with the Gold Cup coming so late in the summer, teams such as Mexico or the US don’t take it as seriously as they could, leaving it as a chance to experiment with some newer players, leaving their bigger stars to rest. Ironically, despite that approach, Mexico and the US have dominated this tournament since it became the Gold Cup in 1991, with Mexico having won 8 times, while the US has won 6 times, winning 14 out of a possible 15 editions (Canada was the lone other winner in 2000).
But for Canada, they’ve usually tried to send their best roster in recent years, as they’ve tried to prioritize competing at the tournament, a mission that hasn’t always been successful.
Times are changing, though, and this 2021 edition is an example of that. Finally blessed with a deep enough squad that would have allowed them to leave some key players at home, they’ve called up as strong of a team as they could’ve when factoring in injuries and a need to return home.
Because of that, despite leaving some talented players such as Jonathan David (injury), Scott Arfield (accumulation), Atiba Hutchinson (accumulation), Milan Borjan (accumulation) and Sam Adekugbe (transfer) at home, they’ve still got 9 out of 11 of the starters they used in the 2nd leg against Haiti in this Gold Cup squad, showing that they’re not here to mess around.
With stiff tests against Martinique, that aforementioned Haiti side and their rivals, the US, all awaiting them in the group stage, Canada will believe that they have what it takes to roll through the beginning of the tournament, before hopefully finding some magic against some tough potential knockout stage opponents, such as Honduras or Mexico, among many others.
So with all of that in mind, here is a deeper look at the 23 names called up to represent the Maple Leaf down in the US at this summer’s Gold Cup, which will serve both as a great chance to win a first trophy since that 2000 Gold Cup triumph, while also giving a chance for most of head coach John Herdman’s squad a chance to prepare together ahead of the Octo.
To do that, we’ll do what we usually do ahead of these camps, and that’s to break down this squad by ‘Surprise Rating’, giving each player called up a rating from 1-10. For those unfamiliar with the rating system, a 1 is someone so unsurprising that you almost glossed over their name on the squad list, while a 10 is someone so surprising that you quickly checked Transfermarkt to confirm their eligibility.
Along with a quick look at how the player has been doing since their last call-up, it gives us a better idea of who the 23 players are that are representing Canada at this important tournament.
So without further ado, here’s a look at what those 23 individuals will be expected to bring to the table this summer.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
To start, we’ve got Canada’s projected starter in goal for this Gold Cup, and that’s the 27-year-old Crepeau, who is finally set to get a long-overdue shot to keep goal for his country.
He’s been going through a rough patch with the Whitecaps, who are winless in 8 as of writing (Crepeau played in 7 of those games before departing ahead of the 8th for the Gold Cup), having conceded the 2nd-most goals in MLS, but that’s through no fault of his own, as he’s mostly kept them in some games that they had no business staying in.
Plus, it’s no coincidence that in his first game gone, the ‘Caps conceded more than 3 goals in a game for the first time all year, showing how instrumental he’s been in helping his team keep a bit of respectability in their games.
So for Canada, look for him to step up big this tournament, as he finally gets a chance to be the guy for them. He’s been good enough that some have even considered him to be ready to supplant Herdman’s usual starter, Borjan, even getting a start back in March against the Cayman Islands, so with Borjan missing out on this tournament to prepare for the club season, Crepeau will get that chance to prove to Herdman that he can be an option in goal for the Octo.
GK- Dayne St. Clair | USA / Minnesota United FC
But while Crepeau is expected to be the #1 this tournament, don’t be surprised if St.Clair gets a game or two, too, as he’s so far been Canada’s clear #3 this year, earning nods for all 3 of their other camps in 2021.
He’s going through a bit of a rough patch at the club level, having not played in 8 games with Minnesota after getting benched when he was slumping earlier in the year, but that’s also down to the strong play of Tyler Miller ahead of him.
So despite that, Canada is still very high on the 24-year-old, who really only has 1 full season under his belt, which came last year, where he famously kept 8 clean sheets in 15 games to help Minnesota to the Conference Final in the 2020 MLS playoffs.
Having made his Canada debut back in June against Aruba, he’ll be ready to go if called upon, which Herdman might want to do to both A) keep his squad fresh and B) get another look at him ahead of the Octo.
GK- Jayson Leutwiler | ENG / Oldham Athletic AFC
Lastly, to round off the goalkeepers we’ve got the veteran, the 32-year-old Leutwiler, who returns into the Canada fold for the first time since November of 2019.
He comes in only out of necessity, as well, with other shortlisted goalkeepers James Pantemis and Thomas Hasal unable to be released from their clubs due to them being thrust into starting roles, but Leutwiler is always a good face to have around as a 3rd goalkeeper.
He’s also found a bit of stability at the club level, recently signing with English 4th-tier side Oldham Athletic after a 2020-2021 season that saw him bounce from the Blackburn Rovers to Huddersfield, both in the 2nd-tier, before finishing in the 3rd-tier with Fleetwood town, where he played 18 games to end the year after not having played at either of his two previous clubs.
So while he might not always be as automatic of a call-up as he was for Canada a few years ago, he’s always a good veteran presence to have around a young squad, and he’ll look to provide that this camp.
CB- Kamal Miller | CAN / CF Montréal
Moving onto the centre backs, we’ve got one of Canada’s best performers so far in 2021, and that’s Miller, who has continued to be a revelation at the heart of Montreal’s defence this season.
Having been traded there from Orlando via Austin in the offseason, he’s fit in seamlessly to Wilfried Nancy’s 3 at the back system, starting in 8 games, just missing 3 due to an injury that forced him to bow out of Canada’s camp back in June.
On a Montreal team that has surprised many, sitting 4th in the Eastern Conference, having given up the 3rd-fewest goals in MLS, the 24-year-old Miller has played a big role in that success, even wearing the captain’s armband on a few occasions.
So for a Canada team who is always looking for more depth at the centre back position, Miller’s breakout at centre back this year after starting his career at left back has been huge, as it’s given Herdman another good option to turn to at the back.
With Canada looking to play a back 3, Miller’s experience in Montreal’s 3 at the back system will be huge for Herdman heading into the Gold Cup and into the Octo, so expect to see a lot of Miller at the heart of Canada’s defence going forward.
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
Elsewhere, we’ve got the 34-year-old veteran, Vitoria, who is showing his continued commitment to Canada by rejoining the team for the Gold Cup despite having played 270 minutes for the team in World Qualifiers in June.
Fresh off of a year where he played 22 games for a Moreirense team that cruised to a decent 8th-placed finish in the Primeira Liga, dealing with a multitude of injuries, it’s surprising to see Vitoria not take the time off to rest, but his presence can only be good news for this young Canadian team.
As he showed in June, where he had some good performances in Canada’s back 3 across both legs against Haiti, he’s a good fit in their current system, and he’s an important leader on a team that is still growing together as a group.
So although Canada’s centre back group is quietly becoming quite competitive, especially with the return of Miller, with Canada likely to keep working on that back 3, Vitoria should get a good run this Gold Cup, allowing him to hit the ground running for Moreirense to start the 21/22 season.
CB- Scott Kennedy | GER / SSV Jahn Regensburg
Going down the list, we then have one of the names that has increased competition at the centre back position, and that’s Kennedy, who was arguably the surprise of the June camp for Canada.
Thrust into his first start at any level for Canada in a must-win game against Suriname, before sticking in the lineup for both games against Haiti, he stepped up in 3 of Canada’s biggest games in years, playing like he’d been representing the shirt for years.
Still only 24, it shows that Kennedy has a bright future ahead of him for both club and country, especially coming off of a big year in the German 2nd tier, where he and Jahn Regensburg did well to avoid relegation, even famously beating Bundesliga side FC Koln in the DFB Pokal along the way.
So with that in mind, keep an eye on him both at the club level, where he seems poised to make a big move soon if he keeps up his play, and for Canada, where he’s quickly shown to be a name that Herdman can trust at the back in big games with his mix of poise, athleticism and ball-playing ability.
CB- Doneil Henry | KOR / Suwon Samsung Bluewings
And then to round off the players officially listed as centre backs, we’ve got Henry, Canada’s most capped centre back with 34 caps, which for someone who is still only 28-years-old, is quite an impressive tally.
Even more importantly, he’s quickly proven to be a key leader under Herdman, showing his growing maturity as a player. As seen last camp, playing in Korea has helped him become a complete defender, becoming much better at timing the sort of brash challenges that he’s always been known for defensively, while also combining that with good play on the ball and in the air.
He’s not the most fleet of foot anymore, which is understandable given his injury history, but he knows how to position himself to avoid making it a problem, which is why he looked pretty solid in Herdman’s back 3 last camp.
So although competition will be fierce for those spots in that formation, expect to see a decent amount of Henry this Gold Cup, before he returns to Suwon for the 2nd half of the season, hopefully helping them keep up a title push that currently sees them in 3rd place, 4 points off of 1st through 19 games.
FB- Alistair Johnston | USA / Nashville SC
But while there are 4 names officially listed as centre backs on Canada’s roster sheet, there’s a 5th player who can play centre back, and that’s Johnston, who proved to be quite a revelation at the position for Canada last camp.
Having played exclusively as a right back for Nashville since being drafted into MLS, he showed maturity well beyond his years by slotting in as a centre back for the Suriname game and the first Haiti clash, looking like he’d played the position for years.
So for Canada, expect to see a lot of the 22-year-old Johnston in a multitude of positions going forward, both at centre back, as a right back and as a wing back, as he’s proven to be quite comfortable in adapting as needed.
As he continues a strong year at the club level, where he’s played 11 out of 11 games, helping the 2nd year side to 5th in the Eastern Conference standings in MLS, building off of a first-year where they surprisingly made it to the final 8 of the playoffs, he’s a player to keep an eye on for years to come.
FB- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
Moving down the list, we’ve got Canada’s star man, Davies, who is looking to build off of what has been a great year for him with Canada. In their road to the Octo, Davies has scored 4 goals and has added 5 assists in 6 games, showing why he’s a World XI player and Canada’s big hope for the future.
After a mixed year at the club level, where he dealt with injury and his team taking a slight step back after an otherworldly 2019-2020 season that saw them win the Sextuple, he’s hoping to find a new level under new Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann, who is famed for getting the most out of wingbacks like Davies, making their potential partnership an exciting one.
And speaking of Bayern, their preseason has just started, so credit to Davies for committing to helping Canada at the Gold Cup, as he would’ve had every reason to want to be at Nagelsmann’s first Bayern camp, strutting his stuff for his new boss.
Instead, though, he’ll continue to strut his stuff for Canada at the Gold Cup, which is something that Canadian fans will not complain about, as the 20-year-old wing back will be expected to play a big role at this tournament, and rightfully so, as it is his 3rd participation at the competition already.
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
And to round off the list of names listed as full backs, we’ve got the 26-year-old Laryea, who has quickly become a lock under Herdman, making him an automatic call-up for whenever he’s healthy.
After a solid June camp, where he played a solid 150 minutes across 2 games against Suriname and Haiti in the 1st leg, he’ll look to take another step up at this Gold Cup, showing why he’s one of Canada’s most important players.
In the midst of a rough club season, one in which Toronto sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, forcing them to fire their still-new manager, Chris Armas, Laryea has been a rare bright spot for TFC, playing 90 minutes in all of their games before missing their last one before the Gold Cup break as he was with Canada.
But with TFC looking reborn again in that one game, which was their first without Armas, Laryea will want to use this Gold Cup as a chance to find some of the scintillating form that made him the talk of MLS at the end of 2020, before rejoining TFC for what’s hoped to be a strong push for the rest of the season.
Be it at wing back, or winger, the two main positions he’s played, look for him to play a big role for Canada here, giving them the punch down the right side that they’ll need to complement the kick that Davies tends to provide down the left side.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / CF Montréal
Shifting over to the midfielders, we’ve first got Piette, who at 26, is one of Canada’s most capped players with 53 appearances for Les Rouges at the senior level.
He might have only played 98 minutes for Canada in June, only making 1 start, but it was a good 98 minutes, as he first went the full 90 against Suriname, before putting in a good 8-minute shift off of the bench in the 1st leg against Haiti, which was played in muggy conditions in Port-Au-Prince.
Unfortunately for Piette, though, he’s continued to have a strange year at the club level for Montreal, only starting 6 out of a possible 10 games under Nancy after being an undisputed starter under Thierry Henry.
That’s not to say all is bad, as he’s still the club captain, and has played a big role in Montreal’s push up the MLS standings, but it does feel like he could be playing an even bigger role in his team’s success, as he has in past years.
For Canada, though, he’s comfortably entrenched in his role, and that’s to be a good option as both a starter and substitute based on the opponent, while also playing a big role as a leader on this young team.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
Moving down the list, we’ve got the 26-year-old Kaye, who is expected to be a big piece for Canada once again this summer, especially after a big June camp where he played 260+ minutes across all 4 games, picking up 2 assists along the way.
After a slow start to the year for LAFC, Kaye has continued to be a solid part of his team’s success, as they’ve climbed up to 5th in the Western Conference as of writing, with Kaye starting in 9 out of 10 games that he’s been available for.
He might not be getting the counting stats that we’re used to seeing from him, as he’s only got 1 assist in 10 games, but he’s continued to be a quiet force in the midfield for them, playing a big role in their high-energy system with his two-way play.
For Canada, he’ll be expected to fill a similar job, acting as a key link between the defence and offence, providing a skill set that has arguably made him Canada’s most important midfielder since the past few years.
M- Stephen Eustáquio | POR / FC Paços de Ferreira
But while Kaye is certainly in the discussion to be Canada’s best midfielder, that distinction probably belongs to the 24-year-old Eustaquio, who arguably had his breakout in a Canada shirt in June, where he played 270 minutes across the Suriname and Haiti games.
Deployed as the #6, he was everywhere for Canada in those games, playing the role of a destroyer on the defensive side of things, while also doing a lot of the heavy-lifting in terms of helping his team progress the ball when they did win it back.
After a strong year for Pacos, who he helped to a 5th place finish in the Primeira Liga after nearly getting relegated the year before, the sky’s the limit for Eustaquio, who has been rumoured to have drawn the interest of clubs such as Porto and Napoli with his play.
So for the Canadian dual-national who’s only been a part of this program since the beginning of 2019, expect a lot more big performances in the heart of midfield going forward, as he’s quickly become one of the most indispensable players on Herdman’s roster.
M- Harry Paton | SCO / Ross County FC
Moving on, we’ve then got one of three potential Canadian debutants, and that’s Paton, the 23-year-old midfielder coming off of a good season in the Scottish Premiership with Ross County, where he played 40 games across all competitions, helping them avoid relegation, scoring 2 goals and 4 assists along the way.
With fellow Scottish Premiership Canadians Scott Arfield and David Wotherspoon missing out on this camp to prepare for the new season, this is a good chance for Herdman to get a good look at Paton, who ironically, much like Arfield and Wotherspoon, plays as a sort of #8/#10.
For a Canadian team that has actually struggled for depth in the attacking midfield department these past few years, Paton will hope to leave a good impression on Herdman this camp, making him a name to consider going forward.
After a big 20/21 season, he seems on the precipice of something big, so don’t be surprised if you end up seeing a lot more of him going forward, as Herdman was quite complementary of Paton when asked about him a few weeks back.
He might not play as big of a role at this Gold Cup as some others might, but this will be a good way for him to dip his toes in the water, so to speak, putting his name in the hat ahead of the Octo.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
Otherwise, moving on, there is one name that has quietly made the #10 position his own as of late, and that’s the 29-year-old Osorio, who played a big role for Canada in the Suriname and Haiti games last month, famously providing the assist on Cyle Larin’s winning goal in the 1st leg against Haiti.
After a slow start to the year, as he dealt with a multitude of injuries, he appears to be fully healthy again, which is great news for both Toronto and Canada, who both look better when a fit Osorio is pulling the strings for them.
There’s a reason why in 8 games for TFC across all competitions, he’s scored 4 goals, as he’s been hard to contain when healthy, so they’ll be excited to have him back under a new coach after the Gold Cup.
For Canada, though, he’ll look to make an immediate impact, as he’ll likely be expected to start alongside Kaye and Eustaquio in most games, keeping the midfield trio that gave Canada the most success in June.
M- Liam Fraser | USA / Columbus Crew SC
Lastly, to round off the midfielders, we’ve got the 23-year-old Fraser, who comes into this camp in great form, having carved out a starting spot on the defending MLS Cup champions, where he’s currently on loan to.
Having struggled to claw into the Toronto starting XI, heading out on loan has allowed him to get the minutes he’s truly needed, as he’s played in 6 of a possible 7 games, including 3 as a starter. Columbus is still working their way up the table after a slow start, as they only sit 9th as of writing, but they’re tied for 7th, meaning that they aren’t far off of a playoff spot.
So it’s been a pretty good last few months for Fraser, who also got to play 90 minutes for Canada against Aruba last camp, putting up a good shift in that game. Again, much like in the last camp, where he was an unused substitute in the other 3 games, he might not play as much as some of the others this Gold Cup, but he’s a key rotational piece in what is actually a pretty deep midfield grouping for Canada, and should see some time on the field as a result.
F- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Then, moving onto the forwards, we’ve got the 28-year-old Cavallini, who will look to build off of a strong performance at the 2019 Gold Cup, where he finished 2nd in the Golden Boot race behind Jonathan David with 5 goals.
His form has varied at times this year, but he does have 5 goals for Canada in 6 games in 2021, and found a bit of life with the ‘Caps before leaving to rejoin Canada, scoring goals in back-to-back games before heading down to Kansas.
Having previously gone 8 games without scoring for his club, that now gives Cavallini 3 goals and 2 assists in 11 games for Vancouver in 2021, which isn’t great, but certainly isn’t bad considering the Whitecaps offensive struggles.
He does have some disciplinary woes to sort out, as he’s also got 5 yellow cards, the last of which came in his last game before the break, giving him a one-game suspension for when he does return to the ‘Caps, but that’s just the consequence of playing on a team that isn’t exactly what one would call striker-friendly.
The good news is that Cavallini always seems to find a way to turn up and score goals for Canada, as there is a reason why he sits 5th all-time on the Canadian Men’s National Team goal-scoring list with 16 goals, only 6 goals off of Dwayne De Rosario at the top.
Will he break that record at the Gold Cup? Probably not, but he can continue to make a dent, potentially setting himself to get over that hump later this year during the Octo, where plenty of other games await.
F- David Junior Hoilett | Unattached
Afterwards, we’ve then got Junior Hoilett, who is currently a member of a team that Canadian fans might have forgotten about, Unattached FC, as he remains a free agent as of writing.
Coming off of the back of a tough year for Cardiff, where he only played 3 games since the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021, the writing seemed on the wall for his time in Wales, so it was no surprise to see his contract expire on July 1st without any renewal, making him a free agent.
So if anything, this Gold Cup could be huge for him, as it could serve as a valuable chance to show that he’s still got a lot in the tank, something that he showed in bursts in June, where he scored 2 goals across 42 minutes of play in 2 games.
This isn’t his first rodeo with free agency, as he famously went without a club from July 1st, 2016 to well until October of that same year before eventually signing with Cardiff, where he stayed for 5 years, but hopefully for his sake that he finds new employment much quicker this time, giving him a chance to get the minutes he needs ahead of the Octo.
At 31, he’s a key leader on this squad, so Canada will hope to have him fit and ready to go in September, knowing that he brings an intriguing profile to a team that wouldn’t mind having more of what he can bring to the table.
Before then, however, look for him to try and shine at this Gold Cup, facilitating that transfer that many are certainly hoping comes sooner rather than later.
F- Theo Corbeanu | ENG / Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
But on the other end of the spectrum, we go from the veteran in Hoilett to the youngest player on Canada’s squad this Gold Cup, the 19-year-old Corbeanu, who has quickly proven to be a fan favourite in his short time on the Canadian National Team.
Having had a fantastic year for Wolves in 20/21, scoring 7 goals and adding 2 assists in 21 Premier League 2 games, allowing him to make his full Premier League debut at the end of the year, the sky’s the limit for Corbeanu, as he continues to shine at every level that he plays at.
There’s a reason why he scored on his first touch as a Canadian Senior International, back in March against Bermuda, despite being eligible to play down at Olympic qualifiers in Mexico at the same time, as Canada wanted to cap-tie the talented dual-national as soon as they could.
With that done now, they’re now banking on him continuing his rapid climb, becoming a Wolves regular this season. Having hired a new coach, Bruno Lage, it’s hoped that Corbeanu can win over Lage more than he was able to win over his old coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, who only played him after leaving him on the bench for 10 games.
Because of that, one can wonder if missing part of Wolves preseason for this tournament was a prudent choice for Corbeanu, and rightfully so, but it shows that Canada is hoping for him to play a role in the Octo, having already featured in 3 out of 6 games on their road to World Cup qualifiers to date.
Hopefully, the Gold Cup can set him on the right track towards doing that, while also getting him in good form ahead of his first introduction with Lage, allowing him to make a good first impression on his new boss.
F- Tajon Buchanan | USA / New England Revolution
And speaking of rising stars, we’ve then got Buchanan, who has certainly made the case to be the most in-form Canadian player in the world right now as of late, as he’s played a huge role in New England’s push up the MLS standings, as they currently sit tied for 3rd in the league.
With 3 goals and 4 assists, including a run of 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 6 games before he departed for the Gold Cup, he’s been a showstopper as of late, finding a way to make a goal contribution pretty much every game out.
Because of that, rumours that some of Europe’s giants might be interested in him have continued to grow, with clubs such as Sporting CP and Juventus being among the clubs looking to bring the 22-year-old winger/full back across the pond.
Based on his form, it seems like a matter of when not if in terms of a move abroad, which is good news for Canada, who will be happy to see the versatile youngster take a step forward in a bigger league, as he’s quickly proved to be a trusted player under Herdman.
Having played in all 4 of Canada’s games in June, even picking up 2 assists along the way, he’ll look to truly break out for Canada this Gold Cup, paving the way for that big move not long after.
Ahead of the Octo, that’s all that Canada can ask for, as Buchanan’s meteoric rise continues.
F- Tyler Pasher | USA / Houston Dynamo
Nearing the end of the list, we’ve then got another potential Canadian debutant for this tournament, and that’s Pasher, the versatile 27-year-old who also comes into this camp in the form of his life.
Having transferred to Houston this offseason via Indy Eleven, where he scored 24 goals and added 7 assists in 62 games for the club, he was expected to be ready for MLS, especially after having finished top 5 in USL scoring in 2020.
Despite that, though, no one expected him to quickly become a focal point of the Dynamo’s offence, as he’s scored 3 goals and added 2 assists in just 8 games so far in 2021, including 2 goals and 1 assist in his last 3 games before rejoining Canada.
So because of that, it was no surprise to see Pasher earn his first call-up since 2017, where he didn’t see the field in a friendly against Curacao. Along with a call-up in 2015 where he also didn’t see the field in a friendly against Puerto Rico, this isn’t his first rodeo with Canada, but with the form that he’s in, this is definitely his best chance to play, and the expectation is that he’ll do just that.
With Herdman mentioning that he might try the winger/forward out as a full back, a position he can also play, his versatility should allow him to get some minutes as a sub, and don’t be surprised if he finds a way to snag a start along the way, giving him a chance to show what he can do.
Again, with the Octo looming, his emergence can only be a good thing for Canada, giving them more depth, so look for Pasher to show what he can bring to the table this tournament.
F- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
Elsewhere, we’ve then got arguably Canada’s player of the year to date, and that’s Larin, who is fresh off of scoring goals left, right and centre for Canada in the World Cup qualifiers to date.
In 6 games, he’s scored a whopping 7 goals, scoring in all but 1 match, the clash against Suriname. Otherwise, he’s been money for Canada in 2021, scoring a hat trick against Bermuda in the opening game of World Cup qualifiers, before adding 1 against the Cayman Islands, Aruba, and in both legs against Haiti.
For those who have followed Larin’s career, it’s no surprise to see him dominate as he has as of late, especially coming off of a year where he scored 23 goals and added 6 assists in 45 years for Besiktas en route to a domestic double, but considering he went through a period of 18 games between 2015 and 2019 where he only scored 4 times for Canada, even no one could’ve expected this sort of production.
But instead, he sits as Canada’s top scorer for World Cup qualifiers, making him an early favourite for the Golden Boot at this Gold Cup, especially with Jonathan David missing out.
On a Canadian team that has liked to score goals, he’s proved to be a key focal point, and will look to continue that into the Gold Cup, helping keep up the momentum ahead of a busy fall for both country and club, especially with it seeming likely that he’ll make a big move upwards to a new European club.
After the season that he’s had, though, it’s all deserved for Larin, and the great thing is that this appears to just be the beginning of what’s to come for the 26-year-old.
F- Ayo Akinola | CAN / Toronto FC
And then lastly, but certainly not least, there’s the biggest surprise on this list, and that’s Akinola, who is the last of the three potential debutants that we’ll likely see at this tournament.
Unlike the others, though, Akinola has the most attention surrounding his name, as his inclusion in this squad confirmed that he’d be filing an association switch to Canada, officially cap-tying him to Canada.
After being pursued hot-and-heavy by the US, whom he was eligible for along with Nigeria, having played over 50 games for the States at the youth level, along with one unofficial game at the senior level, it’s huge to have Akinola commit to Canada, as his announcement sent waves through the Canadian and American soccer communities. Having flirted with Canada a lot lately, accepting call-ups to ‘Camp Poutine’ in January of this year before an injury ruled him out, along with a cameo in their ‘taxi squad’ for last months’ World Cup qualifiers, it isn’t as surprising as it would’ve been, say, 6 months ago, but it’s surprising nonetheless.
So now, expect to see a lot of the 21-year-old for Canada going forward, starting this tournament, where he’ll be expected to play a good chunk of minutes with no Jonathan David. Having scored 3 goals in his last 6 games for Toronto before rejoining Canada, he comes in good form, as well, starting to show that his 2020 breakout where he scored 9 goals in 16 games in MLS was no fluke.
With reported European interest also continuing to swirl around his name, it makes him a name to watch going forward, both for Canada and at the club level, as he looks to continue the rise that has made him such a talked-about name, starting this tournament.
Otherwise, we’d usually dive into some of the most surprising omissions here, some of which were highlighted back at the beginning, but with this tournament coming so late in the summer, it’s hard to say which were surprising given the various circumstances players might be facing at this time.
Take someone like Liam Millar, for example. He’s been a lock under Herdman as of late, but he’s not in the squad as he just finalized a transfer to FC Basel, which was understandably a priority that he had to take care of ahead of accepting a call to this camp. That’s a valid reason among many others that a few players have had for missing out.
So with that in mind, this is certainly a squad that is more defined by those who are there, instead of those that aren’t there, and that’s very true with the inclusion of some big names such as Eustaquio, Davies and Larin, which show Canada’s intent to win this tournament.
Considering that most other countries either don’t have players of that calibre, or didn’t call them up even if they did, that makes Canada a favourite for this Gold Cup, so hopefully they can find a way to live up to that designation over the next few weeks.
It won’t be easy, as nothing in CONCACAF ever is, but on paper, they’ve got the horses to run, as seen here, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they do find a way to make some noise in the US this summer.
Ahead of what’s going to be a crucial and busy fall, this is a good chance for them to continue to build off of some of the positive momentum they’ve had in their favour so far in 2021, as they look to continue to make 2021 a memorable year.
After several years of darkness, the lights are turning back on again, and no better way to mark that than with a strong Gold Cup, and as seen here, they have the squad to potentially make that happen.
Up Next: Canada vs Martinique, Sunday, July 11th, 2021, 15:30 PDT, 18:30 EDT (Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Abel Arciniega