Though I think we’re all quite familiar with our players and where they fit into to Greg Vanney’s squad, what’s life like for them with their countries? What’s their role, and how is it different (or the same) as when they play for Toronto?
We take a look at the Reds’ CONCACAF internationals who are definitely (and maybe) heading to the Gold Cup.
Toronto’s own Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, TFC fans are quite familiar with Ricketts, who has earned the ‘super-sub’ moniker through his impactful appearances late in games marked by important goals and searing pace. The Edmonton-born striker has also filled in admirably as a starter when required, with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco both missing matches this season.
Things were different for Ricketts during Benito Floro’s reign as Canada coach, with the Spaniard often opting to play him wide. Despite this, he’s still managed to score 15 goals in 55 games. He has more goals than any other active Canadian international and sits joint-fifth in the all-time rankings.
It would be a surprise to see him play anywhere other than centre forward for Les Rouges at this year’s Gold Cup. First off, Canada now has depth in the wide positions. Alphonso Davies, Raheem Edwards, Scott Arfield, Fraser Aird and Junior Hoilett would all get chalk on their boots before Tosaint.
Second, Ricketts is one of only three listed forwards, along with Lucas Cavallini and Anthony Jackson-Hamel, to be named to the 23-man squad. Cyle Larin, left out after his DUI charge, could return if Canada makes the knockout round, when national teams are allowed to change up to six players.
Whether Ricketts starts remains to be seen. Against Curacao, Zambrano opted to play with a single striker. Whether that’s Tosaint or if Zambrano decides to play with two up front, expect the 29-year-old to be playing as an out-and-out striker, as a starter or a substitute.
The academy product is often a polarizing figure amongst TFC fans. For some, he is an exciting, creative and energetic midfielder who has shown a lot of promise. For others, he is frustrating: he can be wasteful with the ball and, despite getting himself in decent positions, is not clinical enough in front of goal.
Regardless of one’s stance (I am more of the former opinion), Canada does not have the same luxuries as TFC in midfield. With the arrival of Zambrano, Osorio’s international career seems to have been revived. Benito Floro was seemingly not enamoured with Osorio, rarely calling him up. He even, in a testament to his sheer ineptitude, often selected Kyle Bekker in his place.
Though he did not feature in the Curacao friendly last month, Zambrano has shown more faith in the young midfielder and included him in his plans from the beginning. For good reason: Osorio, in addition to Russell Teibert, gives Zambrano options in terms of more offensive-minded creators capable of linking the more deep-lying midfielders with the attack.
I thought that until the introduction of Teibert in the second half of the Curacao match, that was a problem for Canada. There was little fluidity between the likes of Samuel Piette, Will Johnson and Patrice Bernier, meaning Larin was left isolated.
We may have not seen the best of Osorio yet but he is a proven MLS player on an excellent TFC side. His omission under Floro was truly baffling, as Canada does not have the depth of talent, especially in attacking midfield, to be voluntarily turning down players of Osorio’s ilk.
This is a player Toronto and Canadian fans should be excited about. The 22-year-old Toronto native and TFC academy product has been receiving much praise since breaking into the first team this season. And rightfully so: his ability, athleticism and dynamism is not only incredibly exciting to watch, but has also made him a key contributor to a dominant Toronto FC side so far in 2017.
Edwards has also seamlessly been able to slot into the wing-back position, allowing him to operate comfortably within Vanney’s preferred 3-5-2 formation. From wide positions he takes players on, creates chances and is dangerous on the counter-attack.
Expect him to bring the same threat with Canada, except as an out-and-out winger and not as a wing-back. It’s expected Zambrano will opt for a more traditional back four and even though Canada is thin at full-back, I can’t see Edwards’ persistent offensive threat being wasted in defence.
Edwards’ first and only appearance for Canada came against Curacao, and he and Hoilett operated on the flank either side of Larin. With Scott Arfield joining the national team after missing last month’s friendly, Edwards may not start every game but expect to see him often operating out wide.
Toronto currently have one representative on the American Gold Cup squad but regulars Altidore and Michael Bradley have not been called up yet. Having said that, they are likely to be selected when the USA inevitably reaches the knockout stage and, as aforementioned, teams are allowed to make up to six changes to their squad.
The only TFC player called up for now, Morrow’s return to the national team is a vindication and a chance for redemption. The two-footed Cleveland native has quietly established himself as one of the best full-backs in the league with his scintillating pace, solid defending and proven offensive ability.
He's been a lynchpin in Vanney's 3-5-2, playing at centre-back and wing-back and adding a constant offensive threat when playing the latter, with three goals this season. He also has the athleticism to get back and cover areas of the pitch normally exposed in a three-defender formation.
In 2012, Morrow, then at San Jose, completed his best season as a professional and earned his only previous call-up to the national team. Unfortunately, he admits the opportunity went to his head: "I was so naive in that moment with Klinsmann that I stopped listening after he said, ‘You impressed us’,” Morrow said. “I thought I’d gotten to the top level.” What followed was a precipitous decline in his club form.
Obviously, things have turned around for the 29-year-old and he is eager to get back into the international fold. “If I never get to play more with the national team, there’s going to be a void,” he admitted.
He has earned his chance to once again prove himself to Bruce Arena and the Americans. Hopefully for him, he takes it. The USA’s initial 23-man roster is experimental, with a number of new call-ups and young players included, and presents Morrow with a significant opportunity.
This is probably the easiest one to write – Bradley is TFC’s captain, leader and the fulcrum of the team at both ends of the pitch. He collects the ball from deep-lying areas of the midfield, makes key passes and then quickly gets himself into position to receive the next pass. He is also crucial for the club defensively, where he often snuffs out opposition attacks before they even begin. He is undoubtedly the force TFC is built around.
Bradley will essentially be tasked with doing the exact same thing for the Americans. Arena, who took over from the much-maligned Jurgen Klinsmann in November, views Bradley as his mainstay defensive midfielder who “plays an important position and at his best, he's a key figure”. Though he may be a defensive midfielder by nature, let’s not forget this worldy he scored a few weeks ago.
Altidore has been on fire for TFC this season and is arguably the most talented all-around striker in the league. He has eight goals to his name so far in 2017 and when he’s not scoring, he’s using his intelligence, ability and athleticism to create chances for his teammates.
For a striker, it’s highly impressive how involved he is in the play. He has also managed to stay relatively healthy this season, which had been a problem for the New Jersey native in the past.
For the Americans it’s much of the same, with 37 goals across 103 caps. Though not called up for the Gold Cup squad (yet), Altidore is still integral to the American attack with his proven track record. Expect to see him when they make the knockout round.
Cooper, it’s fair to say, has been disappointing this season. His poor decision-making and dithering on the ball has seen him fall out of favour with Vanney for much of 2017, though he has improved over the past few games.
His chances haven’t been helped by the acquisition of Victor Vazquez, who has been arguably the best signing in the league this year. TFC needed an extra creative option last season and Cooper stepped in reasonably well, but now Vazquez has taken over.
He has, however, been a mainstay for the Panamanian national team. By all accounts, he occupies a very similar role on the national team as he does with TFC, operating as the midfield link between attack and midfield.
Hernan Dario Gomez will likely ask Cooper to act as the hook between Anibal Godoy, San Jose’s effective holding midfielder, and forward Ismael Diaz, a Porto academy player who impressed during the 2015 Under-20 World Cup. The hope in Toronto will be that Cooper can use this tournament to continue his recent upswing in form.