It’s been almost six months since the Canadian men’s national team last played a match. During that time a lot has happened in John Herdman’s player pool.
Alphonso Davies was acquired by Bayern Munich for the biggest transfer fee in Major League Soccer history, Jonathan Osorio decided to stay in MLS but is now one of Toronto FC’s best and highest paid players, while Jonathan David has been a revelation with his play in Europe.
The list goes on, and it makes Herdman’s selection of a national team starting eleven as difficult as it has been in a long time. Especially in attack, Canada now have plenty of options.
Now the key is getting the balance right, something that we might not be able to immediately tell against an opponent like the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nonetheless, this match, and the Nations League in general, could prove crucial in Canada taking the next step as a team.
Here is who Herdman should look to start in his first ever competitive fixture at the helm of the Canadian men’s national team.
Goalkeeper: Milan Borjan
This one is simple, and it appears that it will be for several years. Borjan has already led Red Star Belgrade back into the Champions League group stage this year and has been a key player for Canada of late. Behind him, however, youngsters Crepeau and Busti both represent the future. It might be smart to give Busti, who plays for Juventus Academy, some minutes as well to see what he looks like at the senior level.
On the bench: Maxime Crepeau, Alessandro Busti
Backline: Marcel De Jong, Dejan Jakovic, Derek Cornelius, Zachary Brault-Guillard
There is some wisdom that would suggest Canada should try three at the back here in order to get more offensive talent on the field. But it is unlikely Canada play that style much going forward, especially with the backline depth as it is currently. This back four combines experience and youth. Right back has been a problem position for the national team of late, so giving Brault-Guillard of Lyon academy a run out there would be a reasonably smart move. The same can be said of centreback where Cornelius is Canada’s brightest prospect. Add in the experienced and solid distribution from the back in De Jong and Jakovic and this group can stay sturdy while also assisting the attack. The fullbacks should be given a license to go forward.
On the bench: Doneil Henry, Manjrekar James
Midfield: Alphonso Davies, Jonathan Osorio, Scott Arfield, Junior Hoilett
This is probably the midfield mix for Canada going forward, with guys like Mark-Anthony Kaye, Samuel Piette and maybe Atiba Hutchinson factoring into the group as well. Chemistry being developed between Osorio and Arfield is going to be crucial going forward as they are likely the key players in the middle of the park this cycle. Out wide, Davies and Hoilett will make Canada incredibly dangerous in attack. The left flank with Davies and De Jong in particular should cause all kinds of problems.
On the bench: Tesho Akindele, Mathieu Choiniere, Liam Fraser, Russell Teibert, David Wotherspoon
Attack: Jonathan David, Cyle Larin
At 18, Jonathan David is the most in-form player in the country, scoring six goals in his first eight professional appearances with top Belgian league side Gent. He has only started one of those matches. That track record alone means he deserves to get his first ever start for the senior men’s national team. Beside him, Cyle Larin has always been a bit of a controversial figure when it comes to the national team as he hasn’t ever lived up to club form in the red and white. A big issue in that is that he has often been too isolated up front when playing for Canada. Having David alongside him wouldn’t hurt in that regard, nor would boosting his confidence in national team colours. It should be clear that his leash is short, however, for Larin as Canada does have many other options, including Cavallini and Millar, off the bench.
On the bench: Liam Millar, Lucas Cavallini, Tosaint Ricketts