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Herdman: Nations League games have been critical to Canada’s development

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National team has been growing despite playing lower ranked opponents

During the fall stretch of last year’s calendar the Canadian men’s national team played a pair of friendlies against Concacaf opposition. They defeated Jamaica at home before losing to El Salvador in Octavio Zambrano’s last match in charge.

This fall has meant more Concacaf games on the docket, but not exactly with the same calibre of opponent. To list by FIFA ranking, Canada has played the U.S. Virgin Islands (200), Dominica (178) and now travel to St. Kitts and Nevis (133) on November 18.

But while the opposition hasn’t pushed Canada very much in recent months, head coach John Herdman maintains that the Concacaf Nations League qualifiers have been important matches for multiple reasons.

“It’s been critical,” Herdman said in a conference call with media today. “Just having some meaning around these games where you’ve had to go after goal difference or had to post a result I think those things are important. It really sharpens the focus within a group and brings clarity within our journey.”

As Herdman says, there are plenty of benefits to doing well in these matches. Qualifying for this summer’s Gold Cup is one, as are the ranking points Canada have been able to accumulate. Canada is now 76th in FIFA, the highest they have been since 2013.

Then there is the A Group of Nations League, which Canada can reach by finishing top six in this qualifying cycle. Reaching that could prove crucial to qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, saying Herdman.

“To be able to get through the Hex you need consistent games against the teams that sit ahead of you: the USA, Panama,Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica,” he says. “Group A means we’d be playing a lot of those top teams consistently.”

Canada will get a taste of what some of those away dates in Concacaf can be like when they visit St. Kitts and Nevis later this month. St. Kitts will also be the toughest opponent the national team has faced to date in the Nations League, as they currently sit fifth in the table. Canada sit third with a goal difference of +13.

“I think St. Kitts, looking at our history, the last time we were there it was a 0-0 draw, it’s a game that we can’t take lightly,” says Herdman.

Herdman, and a number of players on the roster, will be experiencing an away date in Concacaf for the first time. Players 21 years of age or younger in the squad include Zachary Brault-Guillard, Liam Millar, Ballou Tabla, Alphonso Davies, Liam Fraser and Marcus Godinho while Shamit Shome will join the group to train.

In order to prepare the players, Herdman will have David Edgar and Atiba Hutchinson, both well versed in the hostilities of Concacaf, prepare presentations for the players.

Here is a full look at the roster Herdman has called into camp for this game. With Jonathan Osorio out injured, Jay Chapman and Fraser will be the lone Toronto FC representatives.

Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Simon Thomas, Maxime Crepeau

Defenders: Zachary Brault-Guillard, Manjrekar James, Derek Cornelius, David Edgar, Marcus Godinho, Doneil Henry, Sam Adekugbe

Midfielders: Samuel Piette, Russell Teibert, David Wotherspoon, Junior Hoilett, Alphonso Davies, Atiba Hutchinson, Liam Fraser, Jay Chapman, Ballou Tabla

Forwards: Jonathan David, Lucas Cavallini, Cyle Larin, Liam Millar