After an agonizing wait of 36 years, a wait that seemed like an eternity, the Canadian men’s national team returns to the FIFA World Cup. Those selected to represent the CANMNT, and the Canadian soccer fanbase from coast to coast, were announced today by Head Coach John Herdman.
FIFA expanded world cup rosters to 26-man squads from the usual 23 back in June as part of a series of accommodations announced in relation to the pandemic, and in keeping with the expanded rosters used in the most recent continental tournaments.
However, this will not have made John Herdman’s decisions any easier. For a few players, there will be heartache as their dreams and aspirations of playing in a World Cup, at least in 2022, are dashed. But for the 26 players announced to the roster today, there will be joy and elation.
26 players, 1 dream #CANMNT x @CIBC #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/cjN1TnqPXf— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 13, 2022
The team will be led by 39-year-old captain Atiba Hutchinson, who won his race to recover from an injury picked up over the summer. Other long-suffering veterans of the program joining him in Qatar include goalkeeper Milan Borjan, Samuel Piette, Jonathan Osorio, and Junior Hoilett.
For some players, the dream was dashed with mere weeks to go on account of injuries. Players missing out include backup GK Maxime Crepeau, CB Scott Kennedy, and now CB Doneil Henry. Kennedy went down with a severe shoulder injury just a couple weeks out, and Crepeau was ruled out after the horrific injury suffered in his club’s MLS Cup victory one week ago.
But Henry’s injury incurred in warmups ahead of the tune-up game against Bahrain, a game he was set to captain, was the toughest for John Herdman. Describing the emotional decision to TSN, Herdman stated that it was,
“the toughest day of my coaching career… (Henry)’s had a lot of people who don’t believe in him and we do”.
Herdman later revealed, per Alexander Gangué-Ruzic, that the recovery timeline for Henry’s injury was 14 days, which might have allowed for him to be ready for part of the tournament, but voluntarily sacrificed his spot on the roster so that someone else might play.
With the heart-breaking injuries to the above players came glorious opportunities for others. CF Montreal’s Joel Waterman comes in for Henry and fellow club mate James Pantemis finds himself as Canada’s third goalkeeper. Derek Cornelius, who arguably was going as a spare defender regardless of the injuries, assumes the role as Kamal Miller’s understudy at left centre-back.
Introducing your Goalkeepers #CANMNT x @CIBC #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/H9jzD4B01E— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 13, 2022
Apart from Pantemis replacing Crepeau, there are no surprises in the goalkeeper selections. Borjan is the undisputed number one and is expeced to start all games for the CANMNT, barring injury. St. Clair moves up to number two on account of Crepeau’s injury.
Your Defenders headed to Qatar #CANMNT x @CIBC #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/2vNCG2XzGE— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 13, 2022
Centre-back was the area of the most concern and with the most last minute movement in roster selections due to the aforementioned injures to Kennedy and Henry. However, Herdman is likely to favour a three man back-line and will continue to rely upon Miller, Steven Vitoria and Alistair Johnston to play the lion’s share of minutes. Sam Adekugbe and Richie Laryea will line up as wing-backs in Herdman’s preferred system.
Meet your Midfielders #CANMNT x @CIBC#WeCAN pic.twitter.com/6eqWvVjDnM— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 13, 2022
Herdman selected eight midfielders, a large number for the three man midfield he is expected to employ, especially when the red-hot midfield metronome Stephen Eustáquio is locked in to play every possible minute. The return to health of captain Hutchinson and the experienced Osorio are godsends to Herdman and the team.
Expected to play key minutes, mostly from the bench, but a start cannot be ruled out, are Piette and young rising starlet Ismaël Koné. How much action Mark-Anthony Kaye, Liam Fraser and David Wotherspoon will get remains to be seen. Wotherspoon is another player recently returning to action after being laid up long term with a torn ACL.
Finally, your Forwards! #CANMNT x @CIBC #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/Unzi52sXmj— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 13, 2022
Canada’s attack will be led by Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan and veteran Junior Hoilett. This quintet is anticipated to share the majority of starts and minutes for Les Rouges. Davies threw a scare into the CANMNT when he came off early last weekend in a match with club side Bayern Munich clutching his right hamstring. However, he is expected to be fit for Canada’s opening match with Belgium but it remains unknown whether he starts or sees action from the bench. Lucas Cavallini should see minutes off the bench dependant upon the game situation but it’s uncertain how much action Ugbo or Millar will see.
Canada’s tournament begins against Belgium on Wednesday November 23rd.