Never before has a Canadian men’s national team roster looked this strong. John Herdman’s group for the upcoming Concacaf Nations League qualifier against Dominica on Oct. 16 at BMO Field includes players affiliated with Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus, Besiktas and Rangers.
All of this leaves Herdman with the “good problem to have” scenario of trying to pick only eleven of these players. Picking attackers promises to be particularly tricky for what will be his first home match in charge of the Canadian men’s national team.
Herdman, however, certainly isn’t bemoaning this newfound depth. On a media call this morning, he outlined how excited he is with the many different profiles of players he has available at his disposal.
“I think the beauty for this group is that we have so many different types of players,” said Herdman. “The difference between Cyle [Larin] and Lucas [Cavallini] is night and day. The difference between Scott Arfield and Jonathan Osorio is night and day.”
He says this gives him the ability to approach games with different tactics and have players who are suited to playing the style he needs. He also mentioned the fact that it allows him to quickly change his style mid-game by inserting players with different skill sets to those on the field.
The newest skill set he has added is that of Barcelona B 19-year-old Ballou Tabla. The young midfielder had openly struggled to choose between representing Canada and the Ivory Coast at the international level, but has now committed to playing for Canada.
“I think there are a number of factors,” said Herdman on Tabla’s decision. “2022, 2026 [World Cups], the culture, the youth movement and the fact that we’ve got meaningful games coming up. As a country we’ve got a chance and I think he sees that and he sees how he can contribute to it.”
While Tabla’s inclusion on this roster was confirmed last week, the biggest surprise reveal today was that Atiba Hutchinson had rejoined the fold. This is the first time in more than a year that the 35-year-old midfielder has represented Canada.
Hutchinson was originally going to join the team for the March friendly against New Zealand, but was dealing with injury. Whether or not he is part of the process as the team tries to qualify for the 2022 World Cup remains to be seen, but Herdman recognizes his importance to the group.
“If you think about the Concacaf journey there’s not many men more experienced than Atiba Hutchinson,” said Herdman. “Now we are surrounding him with young, passionate, energetic players as well.”
The roster also includes four players from Toronto FC: Jonathan Osorio, Jay Chapman, Tosaint Ricketts and Ashtone Morgan. This may not be the most welcome news for TFC fans, as Toronto has a vital game the day after Canada plays, away to D.C. United.
Herdman says that the constant communication with the club, and the fact that he laid out his plans well in advance, were key to securing these players. The Vancouver Whitecaps are also in the same boat, but they still allowed Alphonso Davies and Doneil Henry to join the camp.
“Tim Bezbatchenko and Greg [Vanney] have been excellent about international [call-ups],” said Herdman. “They fully respect that these are international windows and that this is just part of a professional players like and that it is part of club planning.”
Canadian training staff works closely with Toronto FC’s sports science department to ensure players are used in an optimal way during these camps.
“I think this is just part of the relationship we’ve started to develop where our sports science team are working very close with people on the ground to TFC to where we can just manage the load and minutes,” said Herdman.
He mentioned the importance of balancing the players’ minutes so that they can stay fresh and available for their club while also getting the most out of them for their country.
The fact that so many of these players are in camp for a game against a team like Dominica, who certainly aren’t a glamorous opponent, is a positive step forward. Herdman will need continued commitment as the games start to get more difficult come summer 2019. These first two Nations League camps have been a positive step.