The Canadian men’s national team has not functioned properly for some time. Now it is, and the idea of tinkering even slightly with the formula naturally creates anxiety.
As a result, opinion is split on whether or not Cyle Larin should join Octavio Zambrano’s squad for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup as one of up to six changes the coach is permitted to make. Larin was left off the initial roster after being arrested for drunk driving on June 15.
There are plenty of reasons that can be given for leaving Larin at home. On a disciplinary level, some would argue that his absence from the group stage alone is not punishment enough for his actions and that he should be made to work his way back into Zambrano’s plans.
The more common case, though, is the aforementioned attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
There are two components to this argument. The first revolves around Canada’s largely excellent performances at this Gold Cup, with Lucas Cavallini looking like a legitimate first-choice striker despite not having found the back of the net and Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Tosaint Ricketts providing able support from the bench.
It is then also noted that Larin has simply not played very well in a Canada shirt. His last outing against Curacao, shortly before his DUI arrest, was typical of his struggles; deciding he was not seeing enough of the ball in the dangerous central areas he usually likes to operate in, Larin started to drift wide and come deep and by doing so, reduced his own threat.
Larin has scored just five goals in 20 appearances for Canada and only two against Gold Cup-qualified teams in competitive matches. He has found the back of the net once for his country in the past 18 months. None of this can be ignored, and Larin cannot expect to immediately go back into the lineup ahead of Cavallini.
His form with Canada is a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible, though, not pushed aside to be dealt with at a later date.
As much as the Canadians have improved and surprised at this tournament, they have only scored one goal in two games against opponents of knockout-stage calibre. Three of their five goals overall have been netted by a 16-year-old. Canada do not yet have the luxury of leaving players like Larin at home.
Neither should they want to.
Regardless of his body of work at international level thus far, Larin is 22 years old and second only to Alphonso Davies in terms of his potential to be a national team star for a long time.
He cannot be treated like a pariah who might unsettle the balance of the squad but - as long as he is showing a genuine desire to make right on his mistake - should be welcomed into the group as someone who could push them even deeper into this Gold Cup.
And as much as Canada should take their chances at this tournament seriously, we should also not forget that the real goal is the next World Cup. That Zambrano has had the chance to see 20 players in competitive action this summer should prove to be hugely valuable going forward.
It would, unfortunately, mean dropping someone out of the group, but it is difficult to see how Adam Straith is going to get a game despite his versatility. Raheem Edwards could also be at risk, though he would seem to have more of a part to play than Straith beyond the Gold Cup.
The only reason that would really justify leaving Larin out is if Zambrano was to judge that he is not in the right frame of mind to come to the tournament and be put back into the spotlight.
Otherwise, not calling him up would be an ‘old Canada’ kind of approach: negative, fearful and fatalistic. Thankfully, evidence is starting to grow of Zambrano lifting the team out of the mentality of expecting bad things to happen before they actually have.
The decision has already been made. If Larin is on a plane, Canada’s chances of reaching the last four of the Gold Cup have increased.