With North America’s biggest and most important soccer tournament right around the corner, one-time champions Canada are preparing to face Martinique, Mexico and Cuba in their group as they attempt to lift the CONCACAF Gold Cup trophy for the first time in 19 years. This is a crucial tournament for Canada, as they have assembled one of the strongest teams this country has seen, at least on paper. With a wealth of young and talented attacking options plying their trade at some top European and North American clubs, there is plenty of reason to believe that John Herdman’s crew can make some noise in this tournament. After a qualifying campaign that saw them dispatch CONCACAF minnows that usually would have given them trouble in the past with ease, they get their first real competitive test this tournament, with the match in Mexico expected to be a true measuring stick of the progress made in the Herdman era.
For this tournament, teams are allowed a 23 man roster, with no changes allowed to be made after the start of tournament. While this seems pretty logical and in line with most tournaments around the world, this is a brand new concept for the Gold Cup, as teams used to be allowed to make a few changes after the Group Stage, leaving teams like the US to start with a younger squad and bring in all their reinforcements come the knockout round. With those CONCACAF shenanigans behind them, the squads we see from teams will give a truer indication of what to expect from each outfit. With Canada’s lineup being announced the past week, it has given a chance to see what to expect from Herdman in tournament play, so we’ll break the squad down, giving each called up based on “Surprise Rating” (A concept we went with last international break, check that out here: https://thethirdsub.ca/2019/03/18/rating-canada-soccers-men-national-teams-squad-by-surprise-rating/) which means that each call-up will earn a 1-10 rating, with 1 being a routine inclusion and 10 meaning that the player must have been disguised as Neymar to have been called up. With that in mind, let’s break down the squad.
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade):
The man expected to shoulder most of Canada’s hopes in goal once again makes his return to the national team fold. An exceptional goalkeeper, he had a golden season for the famed Serbian club, winning the league, making a good run in Champions League (despite finishing 4th in the competitions group of death) and narrowly losing in the Serbian Cup final. Thanks to his performances, he was named the athlete of the year in the entire Red Star Belgrade club, a prestigious achievement considering the many athletic teams the club has. Barring something spectacular, he should get most of the action in goal for Canada this tournament.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
If Borjan were to not play in all the games, it would likely be thanks to Vancouver’s star goalkeeper this season, who has jumped on to the scene in a big way, as he has made the step up from USL seamlessly. Always a well-rated prospect for Canada, his biggest issue was being able to find consistent gametime, and after a top season for Ottawa last season, he got his first chance in MLS as Vancouver took a flyer on him in a trade. It has paid off for both him and the club, as he looks to have finally established himself as a professional, and looks to be the future in goal both for the Whitecaps and for Canada. After earning a start in a meaningless group stage game last Gold Cup, Crepeau will be ready if Borjan falters at all, giving them a good safety net should Herdman need one.
GK- Jayson Leutwiler | ENG / Blackburn Rovers
It’s always hard to be really surprised about the third goalkeeper on any national team squad, but Leutwiler’s pick comes in as a tad bit of a surprise. With Alessandro Busti being a highly rated prospect, and Simon Thomas being picked up for the last Canada camp, it was expected that either of those two were going to be brought in for the tournament. But, to be fair to Leutwiler, he does ply his trade at the highest level amongst the three, playing for Blackburn in the English Championship, the second level of the English pyramid. Compared to Busti, competing with the Juventus B team in Serie C (Third Division, Italy) and Thomas, who’s with KFUM Oslo (Second division, Norway), Leutwiler is in a league that is known to be one of the best second divisions in global soccer. While he has not played all that regularly for Blackburn (5 appearances in 2018/2019), he has played more than Busti (zero appearances) and Thomas (zero as well). While the chances he plays in this tournament are next to none, it appears that he has earned the call-up, so good on Herdman for making decisions based on merit, as he continues to get to know everyone in the fold.
CB- Derek Cornelius | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Not much of a surprise here, as Cornelius is expected to be in the heart of Canada’s defence this tournament, alongside Vancouver Whitecaps teammate Doneil Henry. After a rocky start to his Caps season, he has stepped up big of late, establishing himself in the first-team as Henry recovers from a hamstring problem. A very raw player, he has only been a centre back for about 3 and a half years, so he can often frustrate as much as he pleases, but he has cleaned a lot of the warts out of his game the last few weeks, making him a reliable option for Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos. His play in this tournament will likely have a huge impact on how well Canada does, at least when it comes to potential knockout game fixtures as they look to make some noise against CONCACAF giants.
CB- Doneil Henry | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
One of Canada’s most in-form players of late, Doneil Henry has been outstanding for Vancouver, becoming a central figure to their much-improved defensive play this season. After bouncing around the last few years, he looks to have finally found some of the form that made him such a sought-after player in his youth. As mentioned, he is suffering from a hamstring problem, but should be at 100% by the time Canada’s tournament kicks off against Martinique. Alongside Cornelius, Canada should expect some top performances from Henry, as he and his Caps teammate have shown good chemistry on many occasions. While many question Canada’s backline, citing it as a weak spot, a good tournament from Henry would go a long way to snuff out some of the doubters.
CB- Kamal Miller | USA / Orlando City SC
Millers inclusion comes as a bit of a surprise, despite being called up last time around. While not particularly big, Miller is a solid centre back, showing off some good athleticism and decent reads. Still very young, he projects to be a key future piece for Canada going forward, so his inclusion will be beneficial for him to gain experience for future tournaments. Having played 4 of Orlando’s first 15 matches, a decent haul for a young defender straight out of college, he will only improve as he gets older and used to the professional game. The main surprise from his inclusion is less about Miller himself and more about the fact that he is one of only 3 actual centre backs on the roster, who are all less than 26 and all in MLS. With tournament soccer being as it is, a 4th centre back with experience usually comes in handy, so seeing the likes of Dejan Jakovic, Stephen Vitoria or David Edgar left home is surprising. Even if Herdman threw experience out the window, 25-year-old Manjrekar James is plying his trade at a Europa League level club, with his FC Mitjylland looking all but locked in to a spot into a qualifying spot for next year’s tournament. While Herdman has been adamant on including as much of his top attacking and midfield talent as possible, one can’t help but wonder if a 4th centre back might come in handy if injuries are to strike (especially considering Henry’s status)
FB- Zachary Brault-Guillard | CAN / Impact de Montréal
Already locked in as Canada’s right back, the young Lyon product has had a strong start to his season, featuring in 9 matches for the Impact. On loan from Olympique de Lyon, he has shown to be a strong acquisition for Montreal this season, mostly as a rotation player as he adapts to MLS and playing at a professional level. With strong attacking and defensive qualities, his flexibility should prove key depending on how Herdman decides to approach certain matches, providing the coach with many options to set up his eleven. He appears to be popular among fans in Montreal, with many clamouring for him to return for another season or two before having a crack to make Lyon’s first-team in the future, after breaking in with their youth setup. We had a chance to interview the young full back when Canada was in Vancouver for the last Nations League/Gold Cup qualifiers, so stay posted to learn about the future star right back for Canada on this site before the Gold Cup officially gets going later this month.
FB- Marcus Godinho | SCO / Heart of Midlothian FC
A bit of a surprise call-up last time around, Godinho has continued his strong season with Hearts in Scotland, picking up 12 appearances for the season, helping Hearts finish 6th in the Scottish Premiership and reach the cup final, losing to Celtic FC. While it appears that he may move on from the club to find more consistent gametime (https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/sport/football/hearts/latest-hearts-news/marcus-godinho-mulls-over-future-as-hearts-say-game-time-is-limited-1-4939549) his season has given hope that he and Brault-Guillard will ensure that the right side of defence remains well anchored for the considerable future.
FB- Ashtone Morgan | CAN / Toronto FC
An MLS veteran, his inclusion comes as a bit of a surprise as he has only featured 4 times for Toronto this season. A versatile left back, he can fit in well when called on, but is a depth-piece at best, filling in when needed. With Sam Adekugbe picking up an injury, it appears that Canada will likely go with a midfielder or Godinho at left back, with Mark-Anthony Kaye being the likely candidate after playing there against French Guiana.
M- Scott Arfield | SCO / Glasgow Rangers FC
Arfield has made a name for himself this past season, becoming a club favourite under Steven Gerrard at legendary Scottish Club Rangers. An attacking midfielder, he pulled the strings for the famed Scottish Club season, providing 10 league goals and 7 league assists as they finished 9 points behind Celtic. He will be expected to pull the strings for Canada this tournament, and will play a big role in setting up chances for both himself and his talented attacking teammates. His growth the last few season has been immense, and the transfer rumours linking him back to the English Premier League is exciting news for canadian soccer fans.
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
A Canadian soccer legend, this is expected to be Hutchinson’s last tournament for Canada, as he is rumoured to hang up the boots internationally after making his debut more than 14 years ago for the team. Despite his 36 years of age, he is still trucking along at a high level, helping lead Besiktas to another Europa League qualification as he had one of his best offensive seasons to date with 4 goals, along with his usual defensive prowess. While Arfield is expected lead the attack, Hutchinson will be relied upon to do the same defensively, providing a shield for the back 4 and getting the ball forward with his excellent box-to-box acumen available when called upon. Despite a long season, he should be fresh enough to play nearly every game as he guns for that coveted Gold Cup trophy with what looks to be the strongest Canadian squad in his era, giving him as good as a chance as any to retire on top, if he decides to do so.
M- Will Johnson | USA / Orlando City SC
After being a 10 on our surprise list last time out, Johnson’s inclusion was less of a surprise this time out. He has played regularly for Orlando, and his versatility as both a midfielder and a full back will allow for flexibility when needed. As a likely bench and glue guy, his personality will be very important as Canada looks to bring home the trophy. While it may have been more prudent to bring another centre back, or more exciting to bring in Ballou Tabla, Johnson’s presence provides the veteran glue guy this squad lacks due to their abundance of young players.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Los Angeles FC
After an injury ended his season earlier than expected last season, Kaye has recovered nicely, becoming a top midfielder in MLS, continuing where he left off before the injury. Despite having names like Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Walker Zimmerman on his team, he has become the most crucial piece on the team after the afformented Vela, providing lots of value both offensively and defensively as LAFC have gotten off to a scorching hot start. Expect for the versatile Kaye to either fill in at left back or as a central midfielder for Canada, depending on how Herdman looks to set up. Wherever he does play, he should have an excellent tournament and continue his meteoric rise of late.
M- Noble Okello | CAN / Toronto FC
Likely the biggest surprise call-up on the list, Okello is a young prospect for Toronto, shuttling back and forth between their main team and their USL outfit. He has appeared in 8 USL matches this season, but has yet to make an appearance in MLS. With names such as Ballou Tabla, Liam Fraser and Raheem Edwards being left out of the Canada midfield, Okello’s inclusion is a huge surprise, but one that was cleared up over the last weekend, with Toronto FC playing the Whitecaps in Vancouver, when local reporter for “The Province”, J.J Adams, did a piece on Liam Fraser (read that here: https://theprovince.com/sports/soccer/tfcs-fraser-frozen-out-of-gold-cup-roster-but-vancouver-product-isnt-fazed), and revealed that Okello was instead sent as losing Fraser would stretch an already stretched Toronto midfield too thin. So despite Fraser having a strong season to date, Okello gets a chance to appear with the men’s team for the first time, a good opportunity for the 18-year-old. While he is very unlikely to feature in any matches, the experience will prove vital for him in the long term.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
After having established himself as a top MLS player over the last two seasons, the only thing stopping Osorio right now would be himself, as he continues to struggle with injuries after finishing his season prematurely last year due to a hernia issue. Despite having some strong performances when healthy this season, he has missed the last two matches due to some discomfort in his hip and groin, making his presence in this tournament a question mark. Clearly Herdman believes that Osorio should be able to play, as there is still more than a week and a half until the tournament starts, but until then, keep an eye to see if Herdman has to step into the reserve player pool for a replacement.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / Impact de Montréal
One of the most in-form Canada players at the moment, Piette has continued to impress in MLS, starting all but 1 match as he continues to be a workhorse in their midfield. While he is not the most glamorous of players, he works extremely hard and provides great shield for a backline. While it would be nice if he could work on some of his attacking skills, he passes the ball well and fills in his deep role so admirably that you cannot give him any fault. He set a record for Montreal a few weeks ago when he started in his 52nd consecutive game (!!) for them over 2 and a half seasons, a very impressive record considering the fixture congestion in MLS. He broke it only due to a red card suspension, unlucky considering his usually sterling disciplinary rate. He will play a big role for Canada this tournament, likely pairing up with Hutchinson to ensure there is plenty of cover at the back, while also helping transition the ball to the talented wingers and strikers.
M- Russell Teibert | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Despite having been through many coaching changes at both the MLS and national team level, Teibert continues to be a mainstay for both outfits, as he has gained the trust of both of his new head coaches in Herdman and Marc Dos Santos. While he is not the most flashy player, he works extremely hard and has improved his ball skills immensely since coming to MLS. He will likely have a rotation role this tournament, but he has shown that he can be a very useful energetic sub when called upon. After starting this MLS season on the sidelines, as he missed preseason with an injury, he has become a regular, winning over Dos Santos with his pressing and chemistry with Hwang In Beom in the Vancouver midfield.
F- Lucas Cavallini | MEX / Puebla FC
One of 3 very capable striking options for Canada, Cavallini is coming off a very impressive season for Puebla, scoring once every 3 games for the Mexican outfit. 11 goals, from 33 matches, should give fans plenty of reason to be excited every time he steps on the pitch for Canada. Rumoured to move either within Mexico or up to MLS, the buzz he has generated around his name of late has certainly been well-merited. For Canada, he appears to have the inside track on Cyle Larin so far, starting the last few matches under Herdman and performing well, including a nice brace in their final outing against French Guiana.
F- Jonathan David | BEL / KAA Gent
A young talent, David is coming off an incredible season for Gent, one in which he shot onto the scene for the big Belgian club, scoring 12 from 33 matches, as well as 2 in 4 Europa League matches. Only 19, the winger/striker has a plethora of options has he looks to make a move to a big European team either this year or next. With teams like Borussia Dortmund linked to the youngster, it is easy to see why he and Davies are seen as the future of this program, at least in terms of attacking options. Having scored 4 goals in 4 games for Canada so far, seeing him bag a few in this tournament would not surprise anyone, as he has shown great finishing ability at all levels.
F- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
A talented striker plying his trade in Turkey, Larin has been solid for Besiktas, having some good games for the Turkish giants. Where he has struggled so far has been with consistency, as he has tended to score in bunches, going on long dry spells at time. He was prolific in MLS, so it is no surprise to see him linked back to the league quite often, but expect him to continue to hack it out in Europe as it is important to note that 5 goals in 20 games for a team of Besiktas ilk is pretty good production for a young Canadian striker. While it would be nice to see him produce a bit more, the most important thing has been the growth of his overall game, as he was seen as a bit one-dimensional in MLS despite his high goal total. Having him and Cavallini compete for the number 9 position is a positive nonetheless, as it is rare to see Canada have this kind of depth competing for attacking spots.
W- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
The crown jewel of Herdmen’s crew, Davies has adjusted well to his move to Germany, playing solidly in his spot minutes for the European powerhouses in Munich. While fans may have preferred to see him get more minutes, he is growing and learning a lot on the technical side of the game from players such as Serge Gnabry, Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman, David Alaba, Franck Ribery, Robert Lewandowski, Thiago Alcantara and many more. Even though he is a young talent, one of the concerns at the beginning was his technical ability, but as he has done at every level, he has adapted well, so it will be interesting to see where he features in Bayern’s plans next season. Until then, he will be the star player of this Canadian team, with the expectations being high for him after having his coming-out party on this stage 2 years ago.
W- David Junior Hoilett | WAL / Cardiff City FC
While Davies, David and to an extent Arfield get all the headlines, it is easy to forget that Hoilett was plying his trade in the famed Premier League last season, playing a key role for Cardiff. While they did get relegated, Hoilett had a decent return back to the top of the English pyramid, bagging a few quality goals and being a good defensive and attacking option for Neil Warnock. It will be interesting to see where he ends up next, as he will likely either stay with Cardiff, move up to a small Premier League club or finally make a move to MLS, becoming a DP for a club in need of offence. Either way, he has quite a bit of gas left in the tank at 28, so he should be a strong performer for Canada the next few years, no matter where he lands.
W- Liam Millar | ENG / Liverpool FC U-23
The last of the 23 man list, Millar has broken out over the last season, finishing his campaign with Kilmarnock in Scotland’s Premiership, after a strong first half with Liverpool’s U23. Only 19, he is too good for Liverpool’s 23s but not good enough for the first team, so look for him to go on loan to a decent sized club next year, giving him a chance to learn and grow as he looks to eventually crack the current European champions roster in the future. A versatile winger or striker, he will be a key player for Herdman this tournament, providing another solid option for a team with no shortage of them.
On the Cusp
GK- Alessandro Busti | ITA / Juventus FC U-23
GK- Simon Thomas | NOR / Kongsvinger IL
CB- Manjrekar James | DEN / FC Mitjylland
CB- David Edgar | ENG / Hartlepool United FC
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | NOR / Vålerenga Fotball
FB- Brett Levis | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
M- Raheem Edwards | USA / Chicago Fire
M- Tesho Akindele | USA / Orlando City SC
M- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC
F- Tosaint Ricketts | LTU / FK Sūduva
F- Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla | ESP / Albacete Balompié
The biggest surprises on the list are probably Tabla, James and Adekugbe. With only 3 centre backs, as well as 1 left back, Adekugbe and James will be missed. Obviously Adekugbe has the injury, making his exclusion understandable, but James missing out on this and the last qualifier has been a bit of a surprise considering his pedigree. Obviously Herdman has a carefully crafted plan, one that should work out in his favour, but for now the absence of James remains a question mark.
The exclusion of Tabla was one of the bigger surprises amongst fans, due to the hype that surrounds the young Barcelona prospect, but it is one that is well-merited, due to the lack of game time received of late. While he is still a top prospect, one that should help Canada in the future, seeing Herdman drop Tabla sets a great precedent for the national team. He wants players to earn their spots, so seeing him gift a player who has played only one match in the 6 months since his loan to Spain’s second division would have not been inspiring for players on the cusp who are playing regular first-team soccer.
Canada opens their tournament on the 15th of June against Martinique, so until then the 23 man squad is currently convening in Los Angeles, training ahead of a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on the 9th. It will be interesting to monitor the progress of Osorio and Henry, as well as get a first look at who may end up starting that pivotal opening match against Martinique. Until then, we should have a few pieces up on both the Gold Cup and Women’s World Cup, with Canada’s women kicking off next week against Cameroon as they look to bring home the trophy for the first time in their history.