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Game Changers: What are they and does the CANMNT have any?

An analysis of the CANMNT’s game changers and potential ones who could alter the opposition’s tactics at the World Cup.

Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images

The CANMNT is used to being overlooked. For those of us that have followed the team closely, it’s clear that there is a lot of talent within the group. We know that the CANMNT are a brotherhood on and off the pitch. They hunt and travel like a wolf pack. When they’re at their best, every teammate intuitively knows the system, where they should be positioned and what the next move should be. But are there any game changers?

In sports, a game changer is defined as an athlete who can suddenly change the outcome of the game and/or someone who can dramatically change the strategy of an opponent. Game changers are typically starters, but can also be super subs who can score goals or take over games as a creative force.

Whether a team needs game changers to win a World Cup is up for debate. Philosophically speaking, some fans prefer to have a team with very good players who execute their coach’s system flawlessly over a team with one or more game changers. This article will dive into how many game changers and potential game changers John Herdman could have at his disposal in Qatar.

CANMNT Game Changers

Alphonso Davies, Forward

It should come as no surprise that I’ve listed Davies as a game changer for the CANMNT. He’s a recognized player worldwide, an assured starter for one of the best teams in the world, Bayern Munich, and has already made an impact in the Champions League since the 2019-20 season as a 19-year-old. He plays a featured attacking role for Canada and Herdman attempts to get him the ball as often as possible. His speed, strength and dribbling ability can open up defences.

Uruguay v Canada - International Friendly Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Opposing coaches will focus their defensive game plans on preventing Davies from getting the ball. When he has the ball, three to four opposing defenders will frequently surround him to take away his time and space. Still, in these moments, Davies is able to either dribble through a swarm of opposing players or make a pass/switch of play to an open teammate.

More often than not, he’s able to make the right decision. If he makes the incorrect choice, he is able to adapt to what the defence is doing on the next play. This ability to read a defence is what makes Davies special.

And if you give Davies time and space, here’s a reminder of what he’s capable of:

CANMNT Potential Game Changers

A potential game changer is a player who has the potential to change the outcome of a game, but typically does not do it at a consistent enough level. Teams are typically aware of these players, but on their own, are not usually a focus of the opposition’s game plan.

Tajon Buchanan, Forward

On his day, Tajon can be a game changer. His speed, dribbling ability and tenacity can be very difficult for opposing teams. Tajon has the ability to take over a game and be a real constant attacking threat. He’s also already shown the ability to score some big goals in important games for the CANMNT.

Panama v Canada - Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Photo by Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

The problem for Tajon is consistency and occasionally letting his emotions get in his way. Some opponents have had success throwing him off his game with the dark arts (trash talking, fouling him away from the ball, going in with a hard challenge etc.). During CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, Tajon picked up three yellow cards in 1,000 minutes played and missed one game due to yellow card accumulation.

Tajon’s decision making can also be questionable at times. There are moments when he dribbles with his head down and misses the easy pass to an open teammate. However, if Tajon is fully dialed in at the World Cup, Herdman will have a potential game changer on the right side. Taking advantage of the attention that Davies naturally gets from opposing teams will be critical if Canada has any chance of advancing past the group stage.

Ismaël Koné, Midfielder

Koné is a relative late bloomer and only signed his first professional contract with CF Montreal in 2021. His debut came in February 2022 in the CONCACAF Champions League after a knee injury kept him out for the entirety of 2021. Capitalizing on the injury situation at his club to start 2022, he broke out with two goals and three assists in his first seven matches.

FBL-FRIENDLY-BHR-CAN Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images

This caught the attention of John Herdman and Koné earned his first CANMNT call-up after that seven match sample size in March 2022. Herdman even admitted that he had yet to see a Canadian player with Koné’s profile before. His quick rise to prominence has been remarkable, but his ability to be a potential game changer has been clear in that limited sample size with both club and country.

As soon as Koné stepped onto the pitch for the CANMNT against Costa Rica, he immediately demanded the ball and gave the team more attacking purpose as they chased an equalizer. In his next CANMNT appearance against Panama, he was selected as a starter after Canada secured 2022 World Cup qualification three days earlier. This follow-up appearance displayed exactly why Koné is only a potential game changer at this point. He struggled to impress, committed several turnovers and was substituted at half time.

Koné is only 20 years old and is still a very raw prospect who needs time to develop. But make no mistake, Koné looks like one of the most naturally gifted CANMNT players since Davies. He’s very athletic, processes the game at a high level and has great technical ability on the ball. Koné can make something happen out of nothing and has the confidence to want to be at the center of everything his team does.

His recent goal against Bahrain is the best example of his potential game breaking ability:

Stephen Eustaquio, Midfielder

Eustaquio may not immediately stand out to most as a potential game changer. He’s a player that offers steadiness to the team and works tirelessly at both ends of the pitch. He’s not someone that opposing teams will drastically alter their tactics for.

Sean Pollock l Waking The Red

However, he is someone that can be crucial to a team’s attack. The CanMNT are able to retain and progress the ball better when he plays. Eustaquio can instantly launch a counter attack with long range passes to Canada’s speedy forwards. He can also play a killer final pass to open up a defence. He has even shown an ability to make late runs into the opposition’s 18-yard box and score a big goal himself.

Eustaquio has been on fire for Porto this season with six goals and four assists across all competitions. Two of those goals have come in the Champions League where he helped his club finish in first place in their group against some of the top teams in Europe. Eustaquio’s goal contributions and the way he always demands the ball makes him a potential game changer for me. If he can continue to provide timely goal contributions for club and country, and consistently take over games, the CANMNT will surely have another true game breaker on their hands.

Others considered that just missed out: Jonathan David (Forward), Milan Borjan (Goalkeeper)

There is certainly an argument for many other CANMNT players to be placed into the category of “potential game breakers”. It’s an amazing time to be following the CanMNT and what should be a golden generation for the program.

Do you agree with the names I’ve chosen as game changers/potential game changers? Or is there someone else that you would classify as a game changer (and why)?

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