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Roster Breakdown: What players may we see at CanMNT’s January preparatory camp?

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Who might be expected at this year’s Camp Poutine

Stefan Mitrovic (in red) in action with FK Radnicki Nis in the Serbian Superliga
Photo / sportskevesti.rs

It has been six long weeks since the CanMNT concluded the November international window with the historic victory over Mexico at the legendary ‘Iceteca’. Anticipation for the next step along the path to Qatar 2022 is palpable for Canadian footy fans. Fortunately for them January is when the CanMNT reconvenes for what is now becoming a regular event; the informally named Camp Poutine. As in past years this upcoming mid-winter camp will bring together out of season North American based players with a smattering of off-season European based players, along with some dual national prospects with an eye on expanding the talent pool. Last year’s camp debuted the likes of Tajon Buchanan and Alistair Johnston. What pleasant surprises might be in store from this year’s camp?

With the first FIFA international window of 2022, and the fourth overall for this final round of CONCACAF world cup qualifying coming up at the end of January, this year’s camp carries extra importance for Canadian Men’s National Team Coach John Herdman. With two challenging games in Central America this window, Honduras and El Salvador, sandwiched around a much anticipated derby clash with the United States in Hamilton on 30 January 2022, this year’s camp will provide for some much needed conditioning for off-season MLS players and other overseas players either out of season or experiencing a mid-season winter break.

The added bonus will be to accommodate several coveted dual national players with an opportunity to experience Herdman’s CanMNT set-up . To further both objectives, the camp will conclude on 22 January 2022 with a training match (another way of saying unsanctioned official game) at DRV PNK Stadium in Ft Lauderdale, home for MLS side Inter Miami FC, against Guatemala. The significance of having a training match instead of a FIFA sanctioned official friendly is that any participating dual nationals will be able to partake in the game without cap-tying themselves to Canada before they feel ready to make such a commitment.

This year’s camp will also double as a U-20 preparatory camp, allowing John Herdman and his staff an opportunity to look at eligible 2003 and 2004 birth year players for the upcoming CONCACAF U-20 Championships planned for the summer of 2022. The significance of this tournament is two-fold. The 2022 CONCACAF Men’s Under-20 Championship will qualify its four semi-finalists to the FIFA Men’s U-20 World Cup Indonesia 2023 and its two finalists to the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games.

Several younger players attending Camp Poutine will be looked at for both U-20 purposes and for their potential to play a role with the men’s senior side, especially for the next world cup qualifying cycle. A few attendees are definitely there as U-20 players only and others, such as dual nationals Stefan Mitrovic and Marcelo Flores, and possibly Daniel Jebbison, would be there to experience the senior team side.

At the top of many CanMNT fans’ minds is speculation about who will be attending the camp. Aside from the dual nationals invited, most senior players at the camp must have a realistic chance to contribute to the team in the WCQ window following the Guatemala training match. However, not all will be chosen to remain for the WCQ window.

First and foremost, among the factors influencing attendance in Florida will be the impact of Covid-19. Rising case numbers in Florida, and players, like the population at large, becoming infected is becoming a growing concern. There remains a distinct possibility that the impact of the Omicron Covid variant could shut the entire camp down.

As OneSoccer’s Gareth Wheeler reports some players have already been laid up with Covid-19, with Jonathan David of Lille OSC the latest Canadian player to test positive. As well, the camp will coincide with the early start of MLS pre-season camps in order to accommodate Qatar 2022 in November and December this year, and some negotiation between the CanMNT and the three Canadian clubs will be necessary. Similar discussions will, of course, be required with any overseas players’ clubs as well, particularly if there are club matches to be missed by dual national invitees.

Keeping the above in mind, here is a rundown on players both likely to attend Camp Poutine, and players deserving of the opportunity to be there.

Goalkeepers:

Milan Borjan, Maxime Crepeau, Sebastian Breza, Dayne St Clair

The first two goalkeepers on this list, Milan Borjan and Maxime Crepeau, are automatic choices for John Herdman provided they are fit. The other two, Sebastian Breza and Dayne St Clair, and for that matter others like James Pantemis or Thomas Hasal, could have their names picked out of a hat to choose the third string goalkeeper and it would make little difference to the team selection. None are likely to play in any consequential game provided Borjan or Crepeau are present.

But here is where things get complicated. While Borjan will be in the midst of the Serbian Superlig’s mid-season break and should be available for the camp, questions remain whether the Canada and Red Star Belgrade standout has been vaccinated for Covid-19. This is important as his vaccination status may impair his ability to enter Canada for the home qualifier in his home town of Hamilton without quarantine. Other questions about his future with Red Star, if not resolved by next month, should, however, not be a selection consideration at this time.

Sebastian Breza distributes the ball with CF Montreal.

In the event Borjan is unable to travel then Crepeau, as he did in the October 2021 window, will be more than ready to deputize. However, this will make choosing the second and third string goalkeeper more important. At this time the 6 foot 5 inch Breza, based on his performances with CF Montreal this past season where he was selected most outstanding player in the Voyageur’s Cup, is the next best choice, followed by Minnesota United’s St Clair.

Fullbacks:

Richie Laryea, Alistair Johnston, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Cristian Gutiérrez

Richie Laryea will be there filling in on the left side for Samuel Adekugbe, who will certainly join up with the squad for the WCQ window. Only a January transfer to a European team, of which there have been no tangible rumours to date, would inhibit Laryea attending this year’s camp. New CF Montreal right back Alistair Johnston will be expected to attend as well, after his trade from Nashville SC in December.

Both Zachary Brault-Guillard and Cristian Gutiérrez, who filed his one-time FIFA association switch from Chile to Canada last winter, should be invited to the camp. With both Laryea and Adekugbe carrying yellow cards into this window it is imperative that Herdman prepare to have cover in case either or both are suspended during this upcoming WCQ window.

Prior to 2021 Brault-Guillard had been a virtual lock for one of the full back positions on the national team, but the meteoric rise of Alistair Johnston has found the CF Montreal defender on the outside watching his new club teammate for much of the year.

Cristian Gutiérrez (L) races for the ball with Ayo Akinola (R).
Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA TODAY Sports

For left back Gutiérrez it would be his second time participating in a Camp Poutine after attending in 2021. He was also selected as an injury replacement in the 2021 Gold Cup but was unable to attend personally due to club commitments. Gutiérrez remained with the Vancouver Whitecaps throughout the remainder of the tournament and was only available on an emergency standby basis.

Centre-backs:

Doneil Henry, Kamal Miller, Joel Waterman, Belal Halbouni, Manjrekar James, Sondre Solholm Johansen

Doneil Henry, one of two CanMNT regulars at centre-back sure to attend this camp, will be there despite some uncertainty about his present club situation. A member of K-League club Suwon Bluewings over the past two seasons, Henry is in the midst of the Korean off-season. CF Montreal’s Kamal Miller is the other centre-back sure to be present.

Belal Halbouni (in green) with Germany’s Werder Bremen II.
IMAGO Foto2press

As announced by Wheeler, young central defender Belal Halbouni of Werder Bremen II in Germany, will return for his second January camp. The native of London Ontario has acquitted himself very well with Werder Bremen’s reserve squad and has been invited to train with the first team on occasion. A recent convert from striker from his League 1 Ontario days Halbouni is comfortable with the ball at his feet and has the tools to develop into a key player at a position where Canada lacks sufficient depth.

Manjrekar James is a CanMNT veteran who has not participated with the program since John Herdman’s early days in 2018. Playing for Velge in the Danish first division, James is comfortable playing in both a three man or four man back line. James’ return to the CanMNT fold would be beneficial in the upcoming window as both usual right footed centre-backs, Steven Vitoria and Doneil Henry, are carrying yellow cards. However, it is nowhere near certain that James has received an invite to the camp.

Joel Waterman is also a returnee from last year’s Camp Poutine and is a more plausible candidate to receive a call for the January camp than James. Waterman is the most likely option to fill in for either Henry or Vitoria should they find themselves suspended during the upcoming games. However, the CF Montreal defender has more often been deployed on the right side of either a back four or back three, whereas the CanMNT could use someone with experience in the centre of a back three.

Sondre Solholm Johansen will be an unfamiliar name to most followers of the CanMNT as the Norwegian born Motherwell defender only recently made it publicly known that he has a Canadian grandmother, and is thus, eligible to play for Les Rouges. A quick review of the tape on Solholm’s performances in Scotland show a solid, reliable, though not necessarily spectacular, central defender that deserves a closer look.

However, Solholm may have revealed his Canadian roots too late for Herdman to plan for his inclusion with the January camp, let alone find him a Canadian passport. If he were to attend it would be a pleasant surprise and a boost to reinforcing the centre-back depth for the CanMNT.

Midfielders:

Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette, Liam Fraser, Scott Arfield, Stefan Mitrovic, Marcelo Flores, Harry Paton, Mathieu Choiniere

The MLS based CanMNT mainstays expected at the camp include Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette and Liam Fraser. This camp and the Guatemala training match that concludes it were tailor-made for this group of players to ensure they build up some semblance of match fitness for the upcoming WCQ games at the end of the month.

January may be the time when veteran dual national Scott Arfield returns to the fold, although this is dependant upon discussions between Herdman and new Rangers manager Giovanni Von Bronkhorst. Arfield’s minutes and form have experienced a noticeable uptick since Von Bronkhorst replaced Steven Gerrard in mid-November 2021.

Scott Arfield scores a goal against Martinique at the 2019 Gold Cup.
Shaun Clark / Getty Images

A former CanMNT captain, Arfield brings an offensive flair and directness that few in the Canadian midfield possess. With the long term knee injury suffered by fellow Canadian/Scotsman David Wotherspoon it may be incumbent upon Herdman to re-integrate Arfield into what’s become the ‘brotherhood’. Such a decision may be polarizing to some parties but if Herdman is looking to put out a lineup that offers the best chance of winning then it’s time for the professionals on the CanMNT to iron it out.

It is widely expected that young dual nationals Stefan Mitrovic and Marcelo Flores will be joining up with the team in Florida. Both players have important decisions to make about their international futures and the CanMNT staff will do their utmost to encourage them to choose Canada. Another prized dual national attacking midfielder, Ferdi Kadiaglu, took himself out of the CanMNT picture this week after nearly four years of wooing by John Herdman, and has opted to join up with Turkey.

Mitrovic was born in Serbia but raised in Hamilton where he grew up playing with the likes of Theo Corbeanu and Nikolai Borjan, brother to Milan. A regular starter usually playing an offensive midfield role with Radnicki Nis in the Serbian Superliga, Mitrovic is believed to be leaning toward pledging his international allegiance to Canada instead of Serbia.

The Guatemala game being deemed a training match was partly done with Mitrovic’s hesitancy in making a hasty decision on his international future. However, indications are that, barring a sudden change of heart, Mitrovic will be Canada’s in the near future. For the moment, suiting up for any official Canada matches most likely will need to wait for the March window.

Flores, like Mitrovic, is a young prospect also experiencing the pressures and dilemma of sorting out his international future. Born in Georgetown and raised in Ontario until the age of 14, Flores moved to England to join the youth setup at Ipswich Town. Flores is eligible to play for Canada, England (through his Canadian mother’s English heritage) and Mexico (through his father’s heritage). Flores was invited to the 2021 Camp Poutine but ultimately was unable to attend due to the state of affairs with Covid-19.

Marcelo Flores with Arsenal U-18s is highly coveted by Mexico as well.
Photo / AS.com

Currently with Arsenal’s U-18 program for club football, Flores has also played with Mexico’s youth program internationally and just last month took the field for a seven minute cameo in a friendly for the Mexican senior squad. Again, like Mitrovic, the game with Guatemala was kept as a training match in order to facilitate Flores’ inclusion without his having to make his one time switch of FIFA associations as the aforementioned cameo cap-tied him to Mexico.

Kitchener born and raised, Harry Paton plays his club football with Ross County FC in the Scottish premiership. A box to box midfielder, Paton was called into the CanMNT’s Gold Cup squad but was unable to see the pitch as he was recovering from a bout of Covid-19. To attend this camp Paton would miss a league match and a Scottish Cup tie, making it questionable whether he attends.

Mathieu Choiniere of CF Montreal is one of many young Canadians playing regularly for the club. The younger brother of Forge FC winger David Choiniere, Mathieu is adept at playing across the attacking midfield spectrum but has spent a considerable amount of time as a left or right sided wing back this past season. Based on his performance over the past year Choiniere is deserving of an opportunity to attend this CanMNT camp.

With regular midfielders Stephen Eustáquio, Samuel Piette, and Mark-Anthony Kaye carrying yellow cards into the upcoming window it will be incumbent upon John Herdman to have qualified replacements prepared and fit to provide cover should the need arise.

Forwards and Wingers:

Lucas Cavallini, Theo Bair, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Jayden Nelson, Jules Anthony Vilsaint, Lowell Wright, Woobens Pacius, Daniel Jebbison, Jacob Shaffelburg, Luca Koleosho

No one needs this preparatory camp more than veteran centre forward Lucas Cavallini. A tepid season punctuated by injuries made 2021 a forgettable year for the Whitecaps’ burly target man. In spite of this John Herdman has stood by El Tanque and included him on rosters when it was apparent that he wasn’t fit enough to make a meaningful contribution. But for how long? With new CanMNT striker Ike Ugbo on board, and Ayo Akinola expected back from injury by mid-summer, the pressure is on for Cavallini to retain his spot on the national team. A good camp followed by a decent January window could go a long way to securing his position.

Lucas Cavallini is hoping for a return to his goal scoring ways.

The rest of the attackers expected or deserving of a look at the January camp are young prospects at varying points of their careers. All could boost their CanMNT aspirations with a good showing at this year’s camp. But more importantly, the CanMNT might find that some or all of this younger cohort could substantially add to the team’s depth.

Theo Bair, seemingly cast off by the Whitecaps, found himself loaned out this past season to Norwegian second division side Hamarkameratene, where he experienced a resurrection in his confidence. With Hamkam Bair saw his playing time rise and contributed to the Norwegian club’s promotion to the Eliteserien next year. With Norway in its off-season this may be a good opportunity for both Bair and the CanMNT to become re-acquainted and see where they stand with each other.

Toronto FC prospects Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Jayden Nelson should also find themselves invited to this camp. Both players should be back from European trials; Nelson with Anderlecht, and Marshall-Rutty with a few teams including Arsenal and Liverpool. By all accounts, both youngsters impressed in their trials with chatter developing of a summer move to Liverpool by JMR. Both players will also hope to make impressions on Herdman with a more likely view towards Canada’s next WCQ cycle beginning in 2023. As well, Marshall-Rutty remains eligible for the U-20 team.

Jules Anthony Vilsaint is another in the cohort of U-20 eligible players. Although currently plying his trade with Belgium’s Royal Antwerp’s reserve side he has been called up to train with the first team on a number of occasions. A Montreal native, Vilsaint has Haitian roots so Herdman may wish to immerse him into the CanMNT setup, although he is not expected to to make any contributions outside the U-20 program for now. Asking more from the teenager would be wishful thinking at this point but there is no question there is considerable upside to his future.

Lowell Wright and Woobens Pacius are a couple of young Canadian Premier League prospects playing with York United FC and Forge FC respectively. Lowell Wright is U-20 eligible and will likely be staking his claim to the youth program for the near term. Dual National Woobens Pacius has been in receipt of feelers from the Haitian Football Federation but could be invited to this preparatory camp to redirect his attention to the Canadian program. His rookie year with Forge showed evidence of potential to play at levels beyond the CanPL. It may be too ambitious to expect Pacius to turn up to this camp but had any player of his calibre appeared on the scene just five years ago CanMNT fans would be clamouring for his inclusion.

The true diamond among young dual national forwards that Herdman is keeping close tabs on is English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday property Daniel Jebbison. Currently loaned to Burton Albion of League One, the Canadian born and raised Jebbison is currently in the English international youth setup. However, indications are he is amenable to joining up with Canada’s senior ranks when the time is right. Should he accept an invite to January’s camp it will be more with an eye to the future, although there are some indications he might be ready to play a role now.

Winger Jacob Shaffelburg is deserving of an invite to the camp after showing much promise with TFC during the difficult season that passed with the limited minutes he was given. A participant in the recent October WCQ window Shaffelburg is a young talent who already provides depth when called upon by the national team.

Luca Koleosho in action with Espanyol B

Another interesting call up who is expected to attend January’s camp is dual national Luca Koleosho. Also eligible to play for the United States, Koleosho is an out and out left winger currently in the youth ranks of Spanish club Espanyol FC. His expected role with the CanMNT program likely lies with the U-20 program in the near term as there are too many similar players ahead of him in the senior side.

Not all of the above players will appear at the 2022 edition of Camp Poutine but all are deserving of a call. Many may be looked at for the U-20 program for their initial introduction to the national team. Some dual nationals, like Kadiaglu and possibly Flores, may not choose Les Rouges at the end of the day. But, should the camp proceed as planned it will serve its twin primary purposes well; to prepare the out of season veterans for the upcoming window, and introduce prospective dual nationals to the Canadian program.

It is remarkable to recall what the CanMNT achieved in the past year. Canada has never had so much talent and depth at its disposal as the present. The meteoric climb from 72 to 40 in the FIFA rankings in under one year is the proof. Past January preparatory camps have been seen as contributing to the team’s development and newfound success. The anticipation of what they can achieve in the year to come, beginning with the upcoming camp, is out of this world.