By cutting his 40-man preliminary roster down to 23 players, Canada coach Octavio Zambrano has already made a lot of decisions around his Gold Cup squad. Now he has a few more: which 11 players step on the field come July 7?
After getting an initial look at his player pool during a June 13 friendly against Curaçao, Zambrano will have some new faces to work with at the Gold Cup. Jayson Leutwiler, Steven Vitoria, Sam Adekugbe, Scott Arfield, Michael Petrasso, Tosaint Ricketts and Lucas Cavallini have all joined the camp.
Canada’s roster is likely to change from match to match, especially for their toughest test in the group stage against Costa Rica. However, based on how Canada has played in the past and under Zambrano, here is how Waking the Red thinks they should line up for the tournament.
Against Curaçao, Canada played a 4-3-3. It could, however, morph into more of a 4-2-3-1 as it did late in that match, and the current Canadian roster is better suited to that formation.
On the bench: Jayson Leutwiler, Maxime Crépeau
If Canada had qualified for the Hex in World Cup qualifying this past cycle - which, it is worth remembering, they were not that far away from doing - it would have been on the back of Borjan. The Canadian keeper came up big time and time again.
Canada will need much of the same from him at the Gold Cup if they are to get past the quarter-final stage of the tournament. However, he has proven in the past that he is capable of keeping them in matches.
Marcel de Jong, Manjrekar James, Steven Vitória, Fraser Aird
On the bench: Dejan Jakovic, Sam Adekugbe, Adam Straith
Not the most inspiring Canadian back line we have ever seen. It seems kind of odd that what used to be the strong suit of the team - defenders, particularly those that play centrally - is now a potential weakness.
However, this group can do a job and between De Jong, Vitória and Jakovic there is some experience. De Jong has been a reliable player for Canada and probably pencils in at left-back as a result. James, meanwhile, is solid and also a threat on set pieces.
Zambrano may well favour Jakovic over Vitória given some of his past comments about the New York Cosmos defender. However, Vitória is playing in a better league and has the more impressive pedigree. Aird isn’t a perfect option at right-back, but should be an improvement going forward.
Patrice Bernier, Samuel Piette, Scott Arfield, Jonathan Osorio, Junior Hoilett
On the bench: Russell Teibert, Alphonso Davies, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Michael Petrasso, Raheem Edwards
The midfield is undoubtedly the deepest part of this Canadian team - especially out wide, where they have several options. As such, it probably makes sense for Zambrano to get as many midfielders on the field as possible, at least until Cyle Larin is available to return to the team after the group stage.
In the deeper part of midfield, a pairing of Patrice Bernier and Samuel Piette makes a lot of sense. Bernier will undoubtedly be the captain and leader of this team, and provide some stability for the fairly young group around him. Piette, still just 22, will serve as his understudy. Against Curaçao, Piette was one of Canada’s best players, playing a crucial role in both Canadian goals.
Given his form this season with club, Jonathan Osorio is likely a controversial pick to start. Against Curaçao, though, Canada was clearly missing a player who could link their holding midfielders and attackers until Russell Teibert came on as a No. 10 late in the match. Osorio is the player best suited to play that role on the Canadian roster.
Out wide, Junior Hoilett is an obvious choice as one of Canada’s most dangerous attacking players. Scott Arfield could be used in a variety of roles for the national team, but to start the tournament might be best served out wide. Canada does have other options there, but Arfield will provide good coverage for Aird to go forward.
On the bench: Tosaint Ricketts, Anthony Jackson-Hamel
Without Larin, Cavallini’s return is incredibly important. The 24-year-old has never featured prominently for Canada despite being one of the most prolific attackers in the player pool. This could be his breakout party for the national team as he gets a chance to play a starring role up top.
This lineup will leave Zambrano with plenty of firepower to come off the bench should Canada be trailing. Tosaint Ricketts and Anthony Jackson-Hamel are both supersubs at MLS level, while Raheem Edwards and Alphonso Davies are also options.