This has probably been the most difficult month of Octavio Zambrano’s tenure as head coach of the Canadian men’s national team so far, but through no fault of his own.
After Bryan Cristante ruled himself out of Canada contention by playing for Italy in a World Cup qualifier in October, Zambrano may now be about to lose Mississauga-born Ricardo Ferreira as well.
The Braga central defender, who has Portuguese parents and joined FC Porto from the Toronto FC academy at age 15, has been approached by Canada Soccer about playing for the country of his birth.
But he is yet to accept that invitation and on Friday he was called up to the Portugal squad for their upcoming friendlies against Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Because those are not competitive games, Ferreira could make his Portugal debut and still remain eligible for Canada.
But that the 24-year-old has earned a place in Fernando Santos’ squad does not bode well for Canada’s chances of convincing him to play for Les Rouges over the reigning European champions.
That was not the only bad news to come out of Portugal’s squad announcements. They also named Leamington-born midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who currently plays for Leixoes in the Portuguese second division, to their Under-21 squad.
Eustaquio has been in impressive form this season, helping Leixoes - who finished 18th and survived a relegation play-off last term - to fourth place in the table. They are four points behind league leaders Academico de Viseu with a game in hand.
As is the case with Ferreira, it should be noted that an Under-21 cap would not tie Eustaquio to Portugal permanently.
It is probably not a coincidence that Cristante, Ferreira and Eustaquio have all received first call-ups at their respective levels in the space of a month. Zambrano has made it clear that he will aggressively pursue dual-nationals capable of improving his team and the unavoidable risk of such approaches is that they can provoke the rival country to end the conversation before they regret it.
The pursuit of Ferreira is not over yet, but at best this call-up sets Canada back a couple of years as he pushes for a chance in a competitive fixture with Portugal.
The former AC Milan player was seen as a particularly valuable piece for Canada due to their lack of top-level centre-backs. Whereas the presence of Scott Arfield and the emergence of Samuel Piette somewhat softens the blow of missing out on Cristante, Zambrano’s three main options in the centre of defence play in the NASL and the Polish and Hungarian leagues. Two are in their thirties.