We are here at long last; the first day of spring. And the announcement of Canada’s roster for the final round of world cup qualifying. How fitting that the CanMNT’s roster is revealed on the first day of spring.
In as much as spring heralds the upcoming days of warmth, sunshine and renewed growth the roster drop unofficially ushers in the final window of CONCACAF World cup qualifying for the new CanMNT. Unlike past decades where the CanMNT floundered in the footballing wilderness, our new CanMNT (yes, ours!) is all but assured of confirming its place among the worlds best football nations and its spot at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
In fact, Canada can only drop to fourth place and an inter-continental playoff spot with, presumably, New Zealand, if Panama wins all three of their final round matches, The USA and Mexico win two games apiece, and Canada lose all three final round games. This scenario will be hard-pressed to pan out.
Canada can qualify as soon as the first game in this window for a top three finish and a direct place in the Qatar World Cup with either a Panama draw or loss in their game against Honduras, and if Canada gets the win or a draw against Costa Rica. If we long-suffering fans have learned anything about Head Coach John Herdman and this Canadian men’s soccer team is that they will do whatever is deemed necessary to qualify by getting there by earning their own points. Depending on others for results is not in this team’s collective mind-set.
Canada will have to clinch qualification without the services of talisman Alphonso Davies as he recovers from a bout of mild myocarditis that kept him out of the last window. While he has returned to individual training with Bayern Munich he has not yet been declared fit to play. As well, the team will miss Sam Piette who suffered an ankle injury last window, and David Wotherspoon who is still out long term recovering from a torn ACL.
Missing out on the first game against Costa Rica will be Sam Adekugbe and Doneil Henry as they serve one match bans for yellow card accumulation. Currently sitting on a yellow card are Lucas Cavallini, Tajon Buchanan, Richie Laryea, and mid-fielders Liam Fraser, Mark Anthony Kaye, and Stephen Eustáquio. Sam Piette and Charles-Andreas Brym also carry yellows but the former is injured and the latter was not called up to the squad.
CANADA MEN’s ROSTER
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
GK- Maxime Crépeau | USA / Los Angeles FC
GK- Dayne St. Clair | USA / Minnesota United FC
CB- Derek Cornelius | GRE / Panetolikos FC
CB- Doneil Henry | USA / Los Angeles FC
CB- Scott Kennedy | GER / SSV Jahn Regensburg
CB- Kamal Miller | CAN / CF Montréal
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | TUR / Hatayspor FC
FB- Cristián Gutierrez | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
FB- Alistair Johnston | CAN / CF Montréal
FB- Richie Laryea | ENG / Nottingham Forest FC
M- Stephen Eustáquio | POR / FC Porto
M- Liam Fraser | BEL / KMSK Deinze
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Colorado Rapids
M- Ismaël Koné | CAN / CF Montréal
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
F- Tajon Buchanan | BEL / Club Brugge KV
F- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
F- Jonathan David | FRA / Lille OSC
F- David Junior Hoilett | ENG / Reading FC
F- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
F- Liam Millar | SUI / FC Basel
F- Iké Ugbo | FRA / ES Troyes AC
While he has bucked his usual reticence to select more than the standard 23 players, this 25 man roster’s composition, is very much as expected from John Herdman. This is evident as there were only two changes in the March camp from the January camp. Overall, his roster choices are becoming well established with not a lot of available spaces open or opportunities to grab them.
One player who clearly has grabbed his opportunity is CF Montreal’s 19 year old midfielder Ismaël Koné. Not well known outside of diehard Canadian footy circles, the teenager has stormed into the CanMNT sights on the back of two goals and three assists in CF Montreal’s first seven games. With injuries and potential card accumulations in the midfield it is a good bet that Canadian soccer fans will witness Koné’s CanMNT debut this coming week.
There was no surprise to see Milan Borjan and Maxime Crepeau Herdman’s goalkeeper choices. However, Dayne St Clair has again found his spot as Canada’s third goalkeeper, as much on the basis of his stellar performances with Minnesota United, as it reflects on that of other candidates such as James Pantemis, Sebastian Breza, and Jayson Leutwiler, who are either not in form or not playing.
Cristián Gutiérrez returns and is expected to make a case for starting at either left back or left wing-back in the first game of the window with Adekugbe suspended and Laryea not having played a competitive minute since his transfer to Nottingham Forest, aside from the games with Canada in the last Octagonal window seven weeks ago. Raheem Edwards of LA Galaxy, made a good case to resurrect his CanMNT career this window but was ultimately not selected. It has been reported elsewhere that Edwards is among Herdman’s standby players. The right side, whether it be a three or four man back line, appears to remain Alistair Johnston’s.
Herdman has again elected to go with five out and out central defenders this round. With Henry suspended in the first game, and rumours of Steven Vitoria incurring a knock this past weekend, this may require one of Scott Kennedy or Derek Cornelius to handle the role of the central defender in Herdman’s favoured back three set-up. The start of the MLS season finds CF Montreal’s CanMNT contingent struggling at the back. Hopefully a familar change of scenery in the form of the CanMNT for both Kamal Miller and Johnston will be the re-set both players could use.
With an injury depleted midfield it was expected that someone outside the usual brotherhood would be brought in. Until a few weeks ago the speculation would have been rife that that player might be from the likes of Harry Paton, Mathieu Choiniere, or any of the young dual nationals such as Stefan Mitrovic or Marcelo Flores. However it will be another, less heralded dual national in Koné that will fill the vacant roster spot usually occupied by club teammate Piette.
The CanMNT demonstrated last window that they were not a one trick pony under the guise of Alphonso Davies. They will be out to re-enforce this sentiment again this window. Tajon Buchanan and Junior Hoilett will again shoulder much of the work in replacing Davies’ minutes. However, this could, and should be the opportunity for Liam Millar to finally shine for Canada as he does for club FC Basel. Inconsistent minutes have produced largely mediocre results for les Rouges. If given a consistent run of playing time over consecutive games this window he might finally break out for Canada.
The strike force is exactly as expected it would be with Cyle Larin and Jonathan David expected to play pivotal roles once again. However, of particular interest will be what veteran Lucas Cavallini and CanMNT newcomer Iké Ugbo bring to the team this window. Can Cavallini re-discover his goal scoring touch for Canada again as he recently did for club side Vancouver Whitecaps? And what of Ugbo? Will he finally grab a start and demonstrate his recent club form for country? Thursday night cannot come quick enough.
Canada resumes action Thursday 24 March at 10 pm ET on Sportsnet.