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Getting to know the young guns abroad: Dissecting the CanMNT January Camp

Plenty of fresh new faces for John Herdman, but who are the youngsters plying their trade in Europe?

Newcastle United v Wolverhampton Wanderers: Premier League 2
Theo Corbeanu of Wolverhampton Wanderers U23 during the Premier League 2 match between Newcastle United U23 and Wolverhampton Wanderers U23 at Whitley Park on November 30, 2020 in North Shields, England.
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

ST.JOHN’S, Canada— It’s about time. After a calendar year without any activity for the Canadian Men’s National Team, John Herdman and his staff have selected 23 players for a January camp in Bradenton, Florida.

Considering the lack of a FIFA sanctioned international break and the upcoming Olympic Qualifiers (players born in 1997 or later), it should be no surprise to see plenty of fresh and youthful faces within the squad.

More specifically, the latest camp will provide first opportunities to eleven youngsters, which all of whom are Olympic eligible for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games.

Seven of the debutants are currently plying their trade domestically with Major League Soccer sides. Ralph Priso (Toronto FC), Cristián Gutiérrez (Vancouver Whitecaps), Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United), Alistair Johnston (Nashville SC), Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution), Joel Waterman (Montreal Impact), and Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC) make up the North American based bunch who will get their opportunity to impress in the new year.

With so many of the aforementioned youngsters getting plenty of the limelight this past MLS season, most Canadian soccer supporters will already be quite familiar with what they can bring to the national set-up.

Perhaps the more intriguing selections lie in the four players suiting up overseas who will join the Canadian camp for the first time in their young careers. So without further ado, we here at WTR have taken the time to get you up to speed on what to expect from the newest European based stars looking to don the Red and White.

Theo Corbeanu- FW

DOB: May 17th, 2002 | Current Club: Wolverhampton Wanderers | Age: 18

Newcastle United v Wolverhampton Wanderers: Premier League 2 Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Born just outside Toronto in Burlington, Theo Corbeanu was a part of the TFC academy program until August of 2018.

Just over two years later, and the speedy attacker has gone from another local lad with the Reds to the touchline at Old Trafford.

Corbeanu joined the Wolves U18 squad upon leaving Canada in 2018 and has since spent most of his recent minutes in the PL2 with the U23 club. Following a fine run of form that saw him score four goals in ten PL2 appearances, including a brace against West Brom U23, Nuno Espírito Santo has included the Canadian as part of Wolves’ Premier League matchday squad for three straight fixtures.

Although the 18 year old has yet to actually get on the pitch for the first team, it’s a clear vote of confidence from the manager to show his efforts in the youth system are not going unnoticed.

Described by his U-23 manager James Collins as “an outstanding prospect”, Corbeanu has a very well-rounded skill set which very few current CanMNT forwards can replicate.

“He’s athletic, tall, can head it, can defend, can dribble past people and score, he can shoot, he can pass, he’s both footed, he’s got a bit of everything,” Collins told Birmingham Live on Corbeanu’s strengths.

With the teenager on a clear path to becoming a regular player at the Premier League level, excitement back home is sure to continue growing. Corbeanu would become just the third Canadian to feature in the competition in the past decade, joining Scott Arfield and Junior Hoilett.

Belal Halbouni- CB

DOB: December 30th, 1999 | Current Club: Werder Bremen II | Age: 21

Much like Corbeanu, Halbouni is another young Canadian making a meteoric rise from the lower ranks of Ontario to the professional game overseas.

Switching locations not only geographically but on the pitch as well, the 21-year-old London native has gone from Western Mustangs striker to Werder Bremen centreback in the past two years.

It was in his hometown of London where his League1 Ontario coach Mike Marcoccia gave Halbouni a look at the back with the position change leading to both a league championship and an opportunity in Germany, beginning with the signing of his first pro contract with Werder last January.

The skills which the former attacker possess make him a unique option compared to most other central defenders available for Canada and John Herdman. His ability to dribble and build from the back like a winger, while also possessing the aerial and physical strength required of the position is likely a big part of the reason he’s earned the call-up despite limited minutes.

Appearing just four times for the Werder Bremen reserve side in Regionalliga Nord, the fourth tier of German football, the youngster still has plenty to prove at the professional level.

While Halbouni continues to cut his teeth in Germany, it’s clear he has an eye on his future with the national program beyond January’s camp.

“This is the ultimate goal, representing my country with dignity, and with intentions to lead the squad in 2026 World Cup,” Halbouni told Waking the Red of his initial reaction to being named to the CanMNT squad. “Very thankful for this opportunity.”

Marcelo Flores- CAM

DOB: October 1st, 2003 | Current Club: Arsenal | Age: 17

Rotherham U18 v Arsenal 18: FA Youth Cup 3rd Round Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Signing a pro contract with one of the Premier League giants on the stroke of his 17th birthday, Marcelo Flores has perhaps the highest ceiling of any of the players named to the most recent CanMNT camp.

Flores originally joined Ipswich Town’s academy in 2019 before making the swap for Arsenal just a short time after.

Following a hot start to the 2020/21 season at the u18 level for the Gunners, one which saw him score three times in his first two appearances, the 17 year old was invited to first-team training and inked up a senior deal by October.

A player who likes to model his game after the likes of Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi, the Mexico and Canada eligible attacker was named to The Guardian’s ‘Next Generation 2020: 60 of the best young talents in world football’

His creative talent in the final third has been clear since making the jump from youth to the u18 level. Flores has three goals and an assist in nine appearances and 639 total minutes for Arsenal in the u18 Premier League.

What’s less clear is where the wonderkid’s international future is headed. After representing Mexico at the youth level, many assumed Flores had made his mind up and chosen to wore the ‘El Tri’ shirt going forward.

Although his callup to the Canadian camp this month won’t cap tie the teenager, it’s at the very least an encouraging sign that his mind is not yet made up.

Frank Sturing- CB

DOB: May 29th, 1997 | Current Club: Den Bosch (Eerste Divisie)| Age: 23

NEC v Galacticos Academy, Preseason Match Photo by Broer van de Boom/BSR Agency/Getty Images

As the oldest player on the list, Sturing is also the only one of these four debutants not born in Canada.

Raised in the Netherlands, the NEC Nijmegen academy product is eligible for the Canadian national team through his parents. Despite representing the Oranje as high up as the under-20 level, Sturing was named to Canada’s provisional roster for the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers last Spring.

Moving on from Nijmegen to rival club Den Bosch in search of more consistent minutes this past fall, the 23 year old has since made 10 appearances for a total of 793 minutes in Eerste Divisie (Dutch second division) action.

As another option on the backline who likes to get involved further up the field offensively (as shown above), Sturing is excited to get to camp in January after last year’s Olympic qualifiers were cancelled at the last minute.

“Honoured and grateful for this opportunity,” Sturing told Waking the Red of joining up with the Canadian squad in the coming weeks. “Can’t wait to be with the lads in Florida.”

In what has arguably been Canada’s weakest position in recent years, Herdman and his staff have wisely scanned the globe to give any and all interested candidates an opportunity to prove their worth at centreback.

As a progressive playing, young defender suiting up in a quality European competition, there should be little surprise that Sturing is reportedly generating interest in Canada with both the national program and domestic clubs alike.