On Saturday, March 24, the Canadian men’s national team will take on New Zealand in a friendly match in Murcia, Spain. It will be the first match in charge for new manager John Herdman, who shockingly replaced Octavio Zambrano as leader of the men’s team after a successful few years with the Canadian women’s soccer program.
There are some notable absences from Herdman’s side, Alphonso Davies and Junior Hoilett in particular, but Canada has a side capable of beating New Zealand. For this match I think Herdman will go with a 4-2-3-1 formation. There are five Toronto FC players making the trip to Spain: Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, Ashtone Morgan, Jay Chapman and Liam Fraser.
There will almost certainly be a lot of substitutions in this match, as it is a friendly with unlimited subs, so many players will get the opportunity to play, but here is who I think deserves to start the match on Saturday.
The Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper has been incredible this season. In 35 games in all competitions this season, Borjan has kept 20 clean sheets, only allowing 17 goals in the other 15 games. He was Canada’s number one keeper at the 2017 Gold Cup, and I suspect that he’ll remain the number one for the time being.
Goalkeepers on the bench: Jayson Leutwiler, Simon Thomas
Samuel Adekugbe, Dejan Jakovic, David Edgar, Michael Petrasso
Sam Adekugbe, formerly of the Vancouver Whitecaps and now plying his trade with Valerenga in Norway, played in two of Canada’s four Gold Cup matches last year and for nine minutes in Canada’s friendly against Jamaica last September (he came off injured). He is a very good attacking option in the left back spot as he can cross well and is very quick.
Dejan Jakovic made the move from New York Cosmos in the offseason to the newest MLS side, Los Angeles FC, and has looked very good in their first two matches of the season, playing all 180 minutes so far. LAFC have only allowed one goal, in their 5-1 thrashing of Real Salt Lake on March 10th, due in large part to the physical presence of Jakovic.
David Edgar has missed a lot of time over the past year following a nasty right knee injury in a hit-and-run car accident in December 2016. He hasn’t played a club match since and is currently a free agent, so as this is a friendly and we are likely to see an abundance of substitutions anyway, why not give him a start to try and regain his match-fitness and impress some scouts? He spent some time with Vancouver in preseason, the club that he played for before his injury, and will be trying to win himself a contract in this match.
Michael Petrasso made the switch from QPR to Montreal before this season, and has performed reasonably well so far. He was great in the match against Toronto FC on March 17, playing all 90 minutes and making a nice goal line clearance to prevent a sure Nicolas Hasler goal.
Defenders on the bench: Manjrekar James, Derek Cornelius, Marcus Godinho, Ashtone Morgan
Samuel Piette, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Raheem Edwards, Jonathan Osorio, David Wotherspoon
The defensive midfield duo of Mark-Anthony Kaye and Samuel Piette is a solid one, as both are strong physical presences in the heart of midfield and will provide good coverage for the back four.
On the attacking side of the midfield, I have selected Raheem Edwards to play on the left wing, David Wotherspoon to play on the right and Jonathan Osorio to play in between them. Edwards, a former Toronto FC player now with the Montreal Impact, scored in their match against the Columbus Crew, but he didn’t see any action against his former club last weekend. His speed and dribbling will cause problems for any defenders New Zealand will throw at him.
Wotherspoon would be making his CMNT debut, after recently committing to the national team as a Scottish-born player. He’s made 33 appearances for St. Johnstone of the Scottish Premier League this season.
The central player in my attacking midfield group is Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio. The Canadian has been tearing it up this season in CONCACAF Champions League action, scoring goals against both the Colorado Rapids and Tigres UANL, including a beautiful backheel effort in leg one against Tigres. He provides flair and dribbling ability to a well-rounded midfield.
Midfielders on the bench: Tesho Akindele, Jay Chapman, Liam Millar, Kris Twardek, Liam Fraser
Cyle Larin made the switch in the offseason from Orlando City SC to Besiktas, but has yet to make an appearance for the Turkish side. He has spent time either on the bench or not in the squad at all, so there isn’t much to say about him in terms of current form, but followers of MLS and the Canadian men’s national team will know that Larin is a good finisher and is a natural goalscorer.
Forward on the bench: Tosaint Ricketts
The match between Canada and New Zealand kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, and promises to be a good test to begin John Herdman’s managerial reign.