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Breaking down Canada’s big World Cup qualifying squad

27 players and some new faces as John Herdman flexes his squad depth

SOCCER: SEP 05 USA v Canada Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

John Herdman isn’t taking any chances, as he has called a large squad for what will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult windows in this Concacaf World Cup Qualifying process.

On October 7, Canada will visit the Azteca where they will meet the top team in the region, Mexico, at altitude. After that, they will travel to Jamaica on October 10 and play a Reggae Boyz side who have had a slow start to World Cup Qualifying but still possess plenty of talent on paper. Finally, they host Panama, the surprise of World Cup Qualifying so far, at BMO Field.

All that travel, plus other injuries, restrictions and absences, means that Herdman will likely rely on more players than usual over these three matches. With that in mind, he has called 27 players into camp, with only Scott Kennedy missing from the September roster. Toronto FC’s Jacob Shaffelburg has also earned a call-up after his recent performances; he joins club mates Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea on the roster.

Here is a full look at Canada’s squad for the October window.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer-USA at Canada Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Max Crepeau, James Pantemis

With the recent news that Borjan tested positive for Covid-19 with Red Star Belgrade, it is likely that he will be unavailable for at least the opening match against Mexico. With that being said, the good news is that Max Crepeau was excellent at the Gold Cup for Canada, including a tremendous performance against Mexico in the semifinals where he made a penalty save. James Pantemis has been a pleasant surprise this season, both with the Olympic team and CF Montreal, even if he is unlikely to see game time.

Defenders: Derek Cornelius, Doneil Henry, Kamal Miller, Steven Vitoria, Sam Adekugbe, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Alistair Johnston, Richie Laryea

The only player not available from the last window is Scott Kennedy, who suffered a groin injury while playing in Germany. With him out, Herdman has decided to add some depth and options to the backline. Derek Cornelius draws back into the lineup, and by all accounts has been quite good or Pantelolikos in Greece since his loan move from the Whitecaps. His familiarity with John Herdman’s system will undoubtedly be an asset.

Zachary Brault-Guillard draws back in and given his recent performances with CF Montreal could be solid cover at fullback. Otherwise, Canada sticks with the same backline that has allowed just a pair of goals against in three World Cup qualifiers so far.

Soccer: CONCACAF FIFA World Cup Qualifier-Canada at USA Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Midfielders: Stephen Eustaquio, Liam Fraser, Atiba Hutchinson, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette, David Wotherspoon

The midfield goes unchanged for this camp, which given recent performances is a good thing. Atiba Hutchinson’s veteran presence and leadership will be crucial, especially during what will be very tricky away games in Jamaica and Mexico. Whether or not he will be available to play significant minutes on the field remains to be seen, however, as he is carrying an injury.

After playing limited minutes in the last cycle, look for guys like Liam Fraser, Samuel Piette and David Wotherspoon to get more minutes. This will especially be true if Canada is protecting any sort of result late in games. Wotherspoon, in particular, has been in great form of late and could provide some attacking impetus for Canada that they were lacking a bit from the midfield the last window.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer-Mexico at Canada Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Attackers: Charles-Andreas Brym, Lucas Cavallini, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan, Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett, Liam Millar, Jacob Shaffelburg

This is perhaps the most interesting part of Canada’s roster because there is a lot to dive into here. Herdman revealed when talking to the press that due to travel restrictions, Junior Hoilett will not be available to play in Mexico. This is definitely unfortunate as his veteran calmness and poise were pretty critical to Canada's last window.

On top of this, Cyle Larin and Lucas Cavallini both suffered injuries recently and their match fitness will undoubtedly be called into question. Regardless, seemingly having them available is a good sign and will help Canada’s attack even if it is off the bench. Alphonso Davies’ situation is also interesting to watch here, given what happened the last window with his apparent injury and recall from Bayern. There has been some conversation that Bayern isn’t particularly thrilled with one of their key players taking all the tackles and playing on the poor surfaces that this region can provide.

With their status questionable, Canada has turned to a trio of younger attackers to provide some cover. Liam Millar is back with the national team after a very strong month with his new club FC Basel. His speed, work rate and ability to play multiple roles across the front line could prove critical. Toronto FC’s Jacob Shaffelburg has also earned a callup with excellent recent performances of his own. By all accounts, Shaffelburg was excellent at Canada’s January camp. Perhaps the biggest surprise call is Charles-Andreas Brym, who had a difficult Olympic tournament with Canada but has settled into life nicely with FC Eindhoven in the Dutch second division.