With the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers sitting just around the corner here, the CanMNT revealed the squad that they’ll lean on in those games as they continue their ongoing quest to try and qualify for the 2022 World Cup. In this, we break down that squad by ‘Surprise Rating’.
It’s that time again.
Just over 2 months after they last convened as a group, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team is getting ready to return to action this week, as the next set of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers is once again upon us.
And as part of the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, this is a huge window for Canada. Having already played 8 out of a possible 14 games in the ‘Octo’, as it’s also known, Canada currently sits atop of the 8-team table in this round, which puts them on the verge of returning to the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
They’ve got a lot of work still to do if they’re to do that, as a lot can happen in their last 6 games, but for the first time in a long time, that dream of playing in a World Cup is really starting to enter the realms of reality, and that’s given this team a big boost heading into these games, as they can really start to feel the nation assemble behind them to help aid that push.
So now, this window is crucial for them in that quest to make the big dance. With 2 tough away trips to Central America awaiting them in Honduras and El Salvador, sandwiching a critical home game with the United States, Canada won’t have much time to rest over the next few weeks.
Because of that, it’s paramount that they keep up with what they’ve shown so far this Octo. Having picked up an impressive 16 points from those 8 games, they also currently lead the region in goals for (13) and goals against (5), and are the only team yet to lose in the Octo, showing how good they’ve been this cycle.
And a big part of that has come down to the strength of their squad. From the top-end talent that they boast, headlined by the likes of Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan and Stephen Eustaquio, to their impressive depth, filled with underrated names such as Junior Hoilett, Richie Laryea, Atiba Hutchinson, Kamal Miller and Alistair Johnston, among many others, this Canadian squad is about as complete as they come in the region.
Heading into this next camp, that’s no exception. They’ll be short-handed this window, as their best player (and the best player in CONCACAF), Alphonso Davies, has been ruled out of these 3 games as he deals with myocarditis after a recent COVID infection, and they’ll likely be without Eustaquio for at least a game or two as he too recovers from COVID, but they’ve still got a deep squad despite that.
So as they get set to avenge the demons of many World Cup cycles past with these games in Central America (as well as the home game against the US), there’s no reason why Canada can’t dream of still being able to put together a 6 to 9 point window, putting them in the driver’s seat on their quest to the World Cup.
And when we say the squad is deep, we really mean it.
Even without Davies, and with Eustaquio’s potential absence, Canada’s head coach, John Herdman, still managed to call in a very solid 24-man group (it’s 25, with Eustaquio) for this camp, one filled with all sorts of firepower. Plus, as we’ve seen from this Canadian team recently, they almost seem to do their best in the face of adversity, so if anything, this tough window, as well as the absences, could make them play even better.
But enough chatter about the strength of the squad – let’s skip that and get right into breaking down and taking a deeper look at those 25 players that will represent the maple leaf over the next few weeks.
And to help do that, we’ll do what we always do ahead of these camps, and that’s to break down this squad by ‘Surprise Rating’. For those unfamiliar with the ‘Surprise Rating’, we’ll take a look at each player in the squad, giving them a rating from 1-10, with 1 being that their inclusion was so unsurprising that you’d bet your house on it, while a 10 is someone so surprising that you immediately triple-checked their existence to confirm that they’ll even be on the squad.
Along with a quick blurb on how each player has been doing since their last call-up, it allows us to better know these Canadian players before they take the field later this week, giving us a better idea of who to really watch for in these games.
So without further, let’s get right into the breakdown, starting with a quick look at the squad itself at large, before getting right into the analysis.
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
Leading things off in goal, we’ve got Canada’s de-facto #1, and that’s the 34-year-old Borjan, who after a big window for Les Rouges in November, will be looking to hold things down once again this camp.
It took a bit of a roller coaster for Borjan to even get here in the first place, as the few months that have passed since that window have seen him juggle transfer rumours, a lengthy winter break and now a recent bout with COVID-19, but he’s healthy now, and in camp, which is great news for this Canadian team. In the midst of another strong season for Red Star, Borjan has carried that form over to whenever he’s played for Canada this Octo, keeping 2 clean sheets and conceding just 3 goals in the 5 games that he’s suited up for in this final round, and he’ll look to maintain that level of play as his team tackles this tricky window.
The one thing to watch for, however, as with a good chunk of players on this roster, is the fact that Borjan hasn’t played much soccer since the last window, playing in just 6 games in the 2 and a bit months that have elapsed since the last window, with his last competitive match coming on December 13th. He and Red Star started preseason training recently, which helps, but even that was cut a bit short as he had to miss a few days with his COVID diagnosis, so if there’s one thing to watch with the veteran shot-stopper, it has to be his fitness levels after such a long layoff and dealing with a virus that is notoriously tough on the lungs.
GK- Maxime Crépeau | USA / Los Angeles FC
Yet, while Borjan enters this camp as the projected #1, he continues to have very, very stiff competition from his #2, and that’s the 27-year-old Maxime Crépeau, who as we saw throughout 2021, isn’t that far behind his veteran number.
As he showed with the Vancouver Whitecaps, whom he helped complete a surprise push to the 2021 MLS Playoffs, when he’s on his game, he is a very good goalkeeper, one of the best in MLS last season. He also showed that for Canada last year, too, putting up an excellent shift at the 2021 Gold Cup, where he kept 1 clean sheet and allowed just 5 goals in 5 games, as well as in the October World Cup qualifying window where Borjan missed 3 games with COVID, putting up 1 clean sheet and conceding just 2 goals in his absence.
There is one worry with Crépeau heading into this camp, as he finds himself in a bit of a similar situation as Borjan right now, having only played once since that November window, which means fitness will be a worry for him, as that game came all the way back in the ‘Caps lone playoff game on November 20th. Plus, when you factor in that he missed the start of the Whitecaps preseason before recently being traded to LAFC for personal reasons, it also puts him in a less than ideal situation fitness wise, one that’ll be interesting to monitor.
Usually, as a backup, that wouldn’t be too much of a worry, but with Borjan’s age and fitness status, you want to be ready for anything, so if you’re Canada, you’ll want to be ready for the chance that Crépeau is called upon, also making his fitness something to monitor.
GK- Jayson Leutwiler | ENG / Oldham Athletic AFC
As the top 2 goalkeepers battle fitness, however, they will be pushed by someone who doesn’t have that problem, and that’s the 32-year-old Leutwiler, who makes his return to the Canadian fold here for the first time since last year’s Gold Cup.
And at first glance, his inclusion comes as a bit of a surprise, especially given the fact that Herdman has preferred the younger Dayne St.Clair and James Pantemis to fill in as the 3rd goalkeepers for most of the Octo, but with both barely having begun their MLS preseasons, Canada wanted someone a little more match-ready just in case something happened to the first 2 goalkeepers.
Which is where Leutwiler came into the picture.
Currently with Oldham Athletic in England’s 4th tier, he’s been playing a lot for his club, currently on a run that has seen him play 28 out of their last 29 games. It’s been a struggle for them this year, as they currently sit last in EFL League 2, with a trip to the National League looking likelier by the day, but Leutwiler has done his part in trying to stop that, keeping 7 clean sheets in the 21 league games that he’s played after sitting on the bench for the first 4 games of the year.
So while he might not slot in this high on the overall Canadian depth chart when everyone is healthy, he comes into this camp in decent form (and not to mention, QUITE tested), and has proven to be a key leader on this team whenever he’s on it. Because of that, it makes him a welcome addition to the squad, even if he likely won’t play this window.
CB- Derek Cornelius | GRE / Panetolikos FC
Standing in front of the goalkeepers, however, we’ve then got the centre backs, and this is certainly an interesting group of names, as Herdman has elected to call in a bit of a bigger group than usual here.
And leading the way is one of Canada’s most in-form players as of late, and that’s the 24-year-old Cornelius, who has been catching the eyes of many across the pond with his play in Greece. There, his club, Panetolikos, has been on a decent run of form this season, sitting 9th out of 14 teams in the Greek League (they were projected to finish last), and into the quarter-finals of the cup, where they currently have a 2-1 advantage over Greek giants Olympiacos after a big 1st leg win at home.
Cornelius has played a big role in that, too, playing in 10 out of 12 possible games since his call-up to Canada in the November window, even scoring his 1st goal for the club in their most recent game, a win over OFI Crete FC. Because of that, he comes into this camp eager to build off of a year where he saw the field just once for Canada, a far cry from the 13 appearances (out of a possible 16) that he saw in 2018, 2019 and 2020 combined.
So keep an eye on him here, as the competition for the centre back is as fierce as ever, and the play of Cornelius is one of the big reasons why.
CB- Doneil Henry | Unattached / sans club
Continuing the theme of centre backs with a point to prove, we’ve then got a very familiar face, and that’s the 28-year-old Henry, who as expected, returns to the Canadian fold once again here.
And he does so in an interesting situation. After a tough end to the November window, where he was forced to leave Canada’s famed 2-1 over Mexico at the ‘Iceteca’ with an injury (not without blowing up Hirving Lozano first, though), he was only able to get into 2 of Suwon Samsung Bluewings 3 final games before they ended the season at the beginning of December, kickstarting their offseason.
Now, a free agent after leaving Suwon, that’s left him not only in offseason mode, but without a club, which is never an ideal situation for a player to be in. The good news is that he’s been able to explore his options, having recently begun a trial with MLS’s Real Salt Lake, which was good news to see, but it’s worth noting that he’s missing a vital few weeks of that trial to come to this camp.
But, if anything, that just shows Henry’s commitment to the National Team, and shows why he’s one of the key leaders in this squad, both on and off the field. He might not play more than 1 game a window (he did so just once in 2021), but he has immense value to this squad despite that, and when he does feature, he knows how to pick his spots (as Lozano knows).
So even if he sees the field for just 90 minutes this camp, you’ll know that he’ll look to make the most of those minutes, as he did in 2021, where he won 4 and drew 2 of his 6 appearances (5 starts), conceding just 2 goals (1 which he wasn’t on the field for) and lending a hand to 4 clean sheets.
CB- Scott Kennedy | GER / SSV Jahn Regensburg
Shifting from a familiar face in that of Henry’s, we’ve then got a long-awaited return to this squad, and that’s that of the 24-year-old Kennedy, who is back in the Canadian fold for the first time since the September window, 4 long months ago.
That’s good news if you’re Canada, as Kennedy comes back to North America in pretty good form, too. After missing a good chunk of club play in October, November and December (without mentioning Canada camps in October and November), first with a quadriceps tear and then with an adductor issue, Kennedy looks to have finally fully returned to his usual starting position for Jahn Regensburg, starting 2 consecutive games for the first time since September in their last 2 games before this window, even scoring a goal in the last one.
So while Regensburg’s promotion push has tailed off a bit (they currently sit in 8th place in the 2.Bundesliga, albeit 4 points from the playoff), you have to imagine Kennedy’s return helps them spark a late push, as he was a big part of that backline.
And he’ll look to do the same for Canada this camp.
Arguably one of this team’s best centre backs when healthy in 2021, he showed a lot of promise in what was just his first year in the National Team fold, so he’ll aim to put his name into the starting discussion with a strong performance (or maybe 2?) in this window, showing why many have been singing his praises as a potential Canadian regular for a couple of years now.
CB- Kamal Miller | CAN / CF Montréal
If Kennedy is to make a push towards a starting spot, however, his stiffest competition at the left centre back role comes in the form of the 24-year-old Miller, who was one of Canada’s biggest risers in 2021.
That was on full display in the November window, where Miller played 180 big minutes in Canada’s key wins over Costa Rica and Mexico, putting up borderline player of the game performances in both matches. Yet, that was the kind of 2021 Miller had for Canada, as he started the year as a forgotten cog on this backline, and ended it as a locked down starter.
He does face a key obstacle heading into this camp, as he last played on November 21st when Montreal defeated Toronto FC in the Voyageurs Cup final, but with Montreal having started preseason a bit earlier than most MLS teams due to their upcoming participation in the CONCACAF Champions League (a perk of winning the Voyageurs Cup), that’s hoped to be enough to overcome that.
Because of all that, keep a close eye on Miller this camp, as he’s proven to be one of the most important pieces on what’s statistically been the best defence in the Octo so far, and won’t want to give up his spot in that operation, although Kennedy and Cornelius will certainly try their best to supplant him.
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
But to round off a very solid group of centre backs, or at least those listed as a centre back (looking at you, Alistair Johnston), we’ve then got Canada’s main man at the back in 2021, and that’s the 35-year-old Vitoria.
And that’s not expected to change anytime soon. He might be in a race against father time, but Vitoria was a picture of consistency for Canada in 2021, playing in 14 (13 starts) out of a possible 19 games last year, and will look to keep up a similar level for this team in 2022, as they look to keep up their reputation as an underrated defensive team.
Plus, he comes into this camp in good form for his club, as well, having started 8 consecutive league games since the November window, on top of featuring in 1 out of 2 cup games (they were eliminated in Round of 16 in the game he missed), which is a bonus. Moreirense have been a middling side this year, sitting 15th out of 18 teams, just outside of the relegation zone, but Vitoria’s efforts have been vital to their cause, helping them keep the best defensive record among the bottom 6 teams in Portugal, while also pitching in with 2 goals along the way.
So while his legs might only allow him to play 2 games this window, he’ll be vital to Canada’s cause whenever he sees the field, showing why some see him as arguably one of, if not the most, underrated players on this Canadian team right now.
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | TUR / Hatayspor FC
Staying on the theme of defenders, we’ve then got the full backs, which is where we run into another bright light, and that’s that of the 27-year-old Adekugbe, who will be looking to build off of a big year for both club and country.
And with no Alphonso Davies in the Canadian fold for this window, he’s got a big role to fulfill, as Canada looks to replace the absence of their rock down the left-hand side. The good news, however, is that in Adekugbe, they’ve got a very solid replacement for him. He might not be Davies (no one in CONCACAF is, to be fair), but he can help influence the game in similar ways to Canada’s maestro, be it via his attacking play, or via his solid defence.
So while Hatayspor have cooled off a bit after a hot start, losing 6 of their last 11 league games since the November window, Adekugbe has remained in relatively decent form, other than a 3-game spell that saw him pick up a red card, get suspended, and then get injured. Plus, sitting just 2 points off of 3rd place in the Turkish Super Lig (and the Europa League qualification spot that comes with it) there’s a lot to play for still in their season, especially when you remember that they’re also into the Round of 16 of the Turkish Cup.
Because of that, Adekugbe will look to have a big 2022, picking up where he left off in 2021, starting with this camp.
And for Canada, who got a chance to get 13 very solid games from Adekugbe last year, that’s exciting, as he quickly showed his value to this team as 2021 progressed, and will aim to do the same in 2022.
FB- Cristián Gutierrez | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
But while Davies’s absence will open the door for a bigger role for Adekugbe, it also frees up a roster spot, and that’s paved the way for the 24-year-old Gutierrez to make his return to the Canadian fold for the first time since March of 2021.
And considering that was his first and only camp as a member of the senior national team, that makes his inclusion in this camp all the more exciting. Having filed his one-time switch ahead of his participation in that camp, it was hoped that he could make his debut then, but he just missed out, and then club circumstances and injuries kept him out of the subsequent camps that followed.
Now, though, he’s got a good chance of making that Canadian debut, and that’s exciting, as Gutierrez is coming off of a pretty good year for the Whitecaps. It was one filled with injury, yes, which is why he was only able to play 19 out of a possible 36 games (all competitions) as part of the ‘Caps run to the playoffs, but when he did play, he was one of the best left backs in MLS, picking up 3 assists along the way, all while providing good defensive play.
So while he comes into this camp cold, having last played on November 8th, if he picks up where he left off last year, he can provide value to this Canadian team, adding to their depth at this position.
FB- Alistair Johnston | CAN / CF Montréal
Over on the right side, though, we’ve then got someone whose stock rose significantly in 2021, and that’s the 23-year-old Johnston, who made sure that his sophomore MLS season was one to remember.
It’s easy to forget that he only made his National Team debut in March of 2021, but that shows how quickly Johnston became a part of this Canadian team, playing 18 out of a possible 19 games last year (16 starts), leading Herdman’s side in minutes. Playing as a right back, right centre back and even a right wing back, Johnston did it all for this Canadian side, and that’s made him a locked-on starter heading into 2022, no matter what formation this team decides to use.
So while it didn’t end the way he probably wanted to last year for Nashville in MLS, who fell in the Conference semi-finals after being one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference all year, Johnston’s efforts for his club, of which he played in 28 out of a possible 36 games for, didn’t go unnoticed, as he scored a $1 million dollar move to CF Montreal for his troubles. There, he’s expected to be a key cog in their potential Champions League run and their efforts to retain the Voyageurs Cup, without mentioning their quest to snap a lengthy playoff drought in MLS play, with his trade being seen as one of the shrewd ones in the league this offseason.
There is one worry with Johnston heading into this camp, as he last played on November 28th, but with Montreal starting their camp a bit earlier, it’s hoped that will have been enough to help him shake the rust off. And considering that Canada will probably rely on him heavily here, they’ll hope that is the case, as he looks to build off of a 2021 to remember with an even better 2022.
FB- Richie Laryea | ENG / Nottingham Forest FC
And speaking of indispensable Canadian starters who slot in down the right side, we’ve then got the 27-year-old Laryea, who remains a crucial emotional leader on this Canadian squad as they get set to tackle this window.
There’s a reason why he played 16 out of a possible 19 games for Canada last year, with his key two-way play, without mentioning his valuable leadership, being a big reason why. That would often be reflected in both his play for Canada and Toronto FC, where he was also a big fan favourite, showing why Herdman didn’t hesitate to write Laryea’s name in his lineups in ink in 2021, even despite Toronto’s struggles, as Laryea’s club form rarely dipped despite the chaos that surrounded him.
Thanks to that, it also paved the way for a big offseason move this winter, as Nottingham Forest, a promotion candidate in England’s 2nd division, came calling for Laryea’s services, and made him one of their marquee signings as they continue their push to return to the Premier League.
So heading into this camp, you have to imagine the excitement of that move gives Laryea a boost as he rejoins his Canadian teammates for the first time since the transfer. It’ll be interesting to see how he looks here, as despite training for his new club, his last minutes came in that Voyageurs Cup final on November 21st, but that shouldn’t slow him down, allowing him to likely put up another 180+ minute window once again here.
M- Stephen Eustáquio | POR / FC Porto
And speaking of guys who you’d like to see put up an 180+ minute window this month, we’ve then got the 25-year-old Eustaquio, who enters this camp in strong form for Pacos de Ferreira after a big 2021 for both club and country.
In fact, his 2021 was so big that it actually recently paved the way for a transfer to Portuguese giants, FC Porto, right before the squad was dropped, as the current Primeira Liga leaders were encouraged enough by his 2 years with Pacos to bring the midfielder in on a loan with an option to buy. And after 2 years where he first helped Pacos avoid relegation in 2020, before helping them to a top 5 finish in 2021, before finding themselves somewhere in the middle as the clock turns to 2022, it’s more than deserved for Eustaquio, who was a key part of both the Pacos defence and attack.
Which for Canada, is why this move is so exciting. Much like he was for Pacos, Eustaquio is a key tone-setter in the midfield for Canada, helping his team control play on both sides of the ball, which is why he played 17 out of a possible 19 games for Herdman in 2021, so if he can take a step forward in his game for Porto, Les Rouges will feel the positive impact of that.
The bad news out of all this, however? Heading into this camp, a new club kit isn’t the only thing Eustaquio recently got given, as he also caught COVID, which wasn’t enough to keep him out of the squad, but should keep him out of at least 1 game, if not 2. So while you’d usually expect him to play at least 180 minutes in a window like this (if not all 270 minutes), it looks like it’ll be physically impossible for him to do so, which is a blow for Canada.
At the same time, though, they’ll still get to rely on his services in some capacity in this camp, if all goes according to plan, and that’s huge, as every game matters for World Cup qualification, and you know that he’ll give his all to the cause whenever he’s allowed back onto the field.
M- Liam Fraser | BEL / KMSK Deinze
But with the threat of Eustaquio missing some games looming, it made it important that Canada shored up their midfield depth in this squad, and with the inclusion of the 23-year-old Fraser, they’ve got someone who can help them do that.
He’s a bit of a surprise inclusion here, as he just transferred from Toronto FC to Deinze in the Belgian 2nd division after a good year on loan to the Columbus Crew, but he was a trusted deputy of Herdman’s last year, earning a call to all but 2 camps, playing 8 games along the way. So because of that familiarity, which is quite valuable in a chaotic window such as this one, that made him a shoo-in in Herdman’s eyes.
It’ll be interesting to see how he looks here, should he see the field, as he only recently transferred to Deinze, not yet getting the opportunity to make his debut for the 1st division promotion candidates, which means that he last played on November 7th. At the same time, though, he understands the system, and will play a key depth role here, so it’s not as if he’ll be tasked to fill a big role.
Plus, as he showed in October, where he had a pretty good cameo off the bench against Mexico at the Azteca, he can make things happen when he’s called upon, and has a habit of playing up to competition, which you have to imagine he’ll look to prove once again in this camp.
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
Sometimes, when you find yourself in the eye of the chaos, you need someone who has seen it all, and the good news is that in the 38-year-old Hutchinson, Canada has a player who can offer some key guidance as they look to tackle this key (but chaotic) window.
And that’s huge. After a big 2021 for his country, where he played a big role in the 6 World Cup qualifiers that he was able to suit up for (even setting the all-time CanMNT caps record in the process), he showed that even as he nears his 40s, he’s still the same player that has been winning the ball in the heart of Canada’s midfield for 2 decades, coming up huge in some big games last year.
Plus, he’s shown no sign of slowing down, either, as he enters this camp in very good form. He might have only been able to play in 7 out of 13 games that Besiktas have played since he captained Canada to that 2-1 win over Mexico at the Iceteca, but he made the most of them, scoring 2 goals, winning a trophy (the Turkish Super Cup) along the way.
There are some woes entering this camp, as he recently had COVID, and also dealt with a knock, but he saw 45 minutes in his last game before this camp, which is great news for Canada, especially given the Eustaquio news, which might give Hutchinson an even bigger role to start this camp.
So while the idea of a 38-year-old playing a big role in a team’s most chaotic window of qualifying might sound scary to most, anyone who might feel that way about Hutchinson obviously hasn’t been paying close attention to his career, and he’ll look to remind people of why he’s an icon of this Canadian program with some more performances to remember in this camp.
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Colorado Rapids
And the good news is that the days of Hutchinson being someone expected to do all the heavy lifting in midfield is gone, because while potentially not having Eustaquio might increase the load on the 38-year-old, you can’t forget that having the likes of the 27-year-old Kaye will also help alleviate that pressure.
There’s a reason why Kaye has been one of the top Canadian midfielders for a few years now, and he showed that for much of 2021, where he played 16 out of a possible 19 games for Canada. Be it as a starter, or off the bench, there are few on this team that can control a game in possession the way Kaye can, and that will be especially key for them while Eustaquio is out.
It’s going to be tough for Kaye, as he comes into this camp with a bit of rust on his shoulders, having last played on November 25th after he and his Colorado Rapids side were upset by eventual finalists Portland Timbers in the conference semi-finals of the MLS playoffs, but the good news is that his team’s strong play in the regular season earned them a Champions League berth, meaning that they were able to start preseason training a little earlier.
Because of that, you have to feel confident that Kaye should be able to get going quite quickly this window, shaking off the cobwebs of the offseason, allowing him to play a big role in Canada’s midfield here.
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
Plus, the good news is that the burden of replacing Eustaquio’s offensive game in midfield won’t all fall on Kaye’s shoulders, as the 29-year-old Osorio will certainly also have a role to play in this window.
After a big 2021 for the Toronto FC man with Canada, who now sits 1 cap away from the 50 cap club after playing in 15 out of a possible 19 games last year, he’s proven to be a valuable member of this midfield group, and will look to prove that now once again, especially with Eustaquio’s absence. Plus, after a tough season at the club level for his team, one where despite a good season for him personally (6 goals, 2 assists), Toronto just didn’t look like the same team that was among the best in the league in 2020, he’ll be motivated to use the fuel of a strong camp here to help breathe life back into the MLS giants when he returns.
So because of all that, keep an eye on him at this camp. He last played in that Voyageurs Cup final on November 21st, making his fitness a bit of a worry, especially given his injury history, but having had one of his healthier seasons in recent memory in 2021 (at least after a rocky start in that department), he’ll look to make an immediate impact here.
When on the pitch, he’s one of Canada’s best players at interpreting space in the final third and linking the attack together, and they’ll lean on him to provide those skills once again in this window.
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / CF Montréal
But for all of the talk of Eustaquio’s offence, it’s important to fill the void that he’ll leave on defence, and while Hutchinson will take care of a big chunk of that, don’t forget the impact that the 27-year-old Piette can have in that regard.
It might be easy to forget, especially given the fact that Piette had a slightly smaller role last year for Canada than ever before, playing in just 11 of 19 games for Canada last year (only 6 starts), but Piette has a key cog in midfield for a while now, which is why he’s the 2nd-most capped player on this squad. Plus, having had a pretty good season for Montreal, it isn’t if he comes into 2022 in bad form, but instead just more finding himself a victim of the circumstance that is Canada’s growing depth as a team last year, especially in midfield.
Now, though, with that midfield depth set to be tested, it feels like Piette, who we have to remember is a key leader on this team, has a role to play on the pitch. He last played in that Voyageurs Cup final on November 21st, making fitness a bit of a worry, but he’s typically one of the fitter players on this team, and Montreal did have that extra week of training, making it less of a worry.
So keep an eye on Piette in this camp. As he’s shown over the years, when he gets on the field, he’s going to do his absolute best to live up to his nickname of the ‘Bulldog’, and for a Canadian team that’s a bit stretched in the middle right now, that’s exactly what you’d like to see.
F- Tajon Buchanan | BEL / Club Brugge KV
For all of the talk of offence so far, it only feels fitting to then reach the attackers, as once again, Canada has a pretty star-studded cast to rely on up front.
And leading the way among those stars is one that has shone quite brightly recently, and that’s the 22-year-old Buchanan, who after a huge 2021 for both club and country, has kept the good times rolling right into 2022. Off the back of a landmark year for New England, where he had 9 goals and 6 assists en route to a Supporter’s Shield and (an albeit disappointing) run to the conference semi-finals to the MLS playoffs, as well as for Canada, where he had 3 goals and 4 assists in 16 games in what was just his first year playing for his National Team, that paved the way for a big move to Club Brugge in Belgium.
There, he hasn’t missed a beat, either, already picking up an assist and just overall looking like a potential difference-maker for Brugge in just 2 games for the club, giving hope to the faithful there that he can play a big role as the club looks to fashion together a second-half push for the Belgian title.
So for Canada, the expectations are high for him this window. With no Davies, this is his time to really shine, and given the form that he’s been in, as well as his play for Canada last year, there’s no reason why he can’t come up huge here, helping fill that void.
F- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Interestingly, while we’re on the topic of in-form players with Buchanan, it then feels weird to then come to Cavallini’s name on this list, as while it’s not a surprise to see him included here, especially given his status as a key leader on this team, it’s also worth noting that the 29-year-old comes into this camp in the worst form of his life.
Having last scored on July 4th of last year, it’s been more than half of a year since Cavallini found the old onion bag, and that’s worrying, especially given that he’s always been more of a streaky scorer. Because of that, it makes him a player to keep an eye on here. It’s worth noting that his struggles haven’t been all his fault, as some untimely injuries (and then rushing to heal those injuries) really derailed the 2nd half of his season last year for both Canada, and especially the Whitecaps, where he was relegated to a backup role behind the in-form Brian White in their push to the playoffs, but all 3 parties will hope that changes in 2022.
To give credit to Cavallini, he looks intent on doing his part to change that, coming into ‘Caps preseason looking as fit as ever despite last playing on November 20th, so hopefully things can fall into place for both club and country, who could both use him, starting with Canada here. When healthy, there’s no one that can quite embrace the CONCACAF elements quite like Cavallini (with an honourable mention to Laryea), and ahead of a very CONCACAF-ey window, it would make him a potential wildcard for this camp.
F- Jonathan David | FRA / Lille OSC
Yet, if we’re going to return to the topic of form, there aren’t many in the world who are more in-form than the 22-year-old David right now, who remains 2nd in Ligue 1 scoring with 12 goals.
He has cooled off a bit after a white-hot run of form that saw him bag 7 goals in the first 9 games that came following that Iceteca game, as he is yet to score in 3 games in 2022 (which to be fair, comes after a bout with COVID), but when the ball is in the box, there are few you’d back more than David to put it away in the world right now, not only making him one of the best #9s in CONCACAF at the moment, but globally, as well.
So for Canada, they’ll hope that they can get a piece of the David that has set the executives of some of the biggest clubs in the world into a frenzy. They got glimpses of it in 2021, as the 7 goals that he scored in 12 World Cup qualifiers is the 3rd-most in the region so far, but he was also shut out in 7 games, which is a bit of a worry.
David’s game is so much more than scoring, so it feels almost wrong to break it down like that, but it also wouldn’t hurt Canada for David to find a hot pocket of form like the one he found for Lille after the last international break, so they’ll hope that he can find similar lighting in a bottle here.
F- David Junior Hoilett | ENG / Reading FC
Continuing down a list of pretty talented attacking players, that then leads us to a familiar face who is making a long-anticipated return, and that’s the 31-year-old Hoilett, who is finally back in the Canadian squad for the first time since October, and will look to see the field for Canada for the first time since September.
After a lengthy absence that saw him play just 22 minutes for Reading between October 3rd and January 1st because of a hamstring injury and then various COVID postponements, he returned with a flourish to start 2022, playing in 5 out of 6 games to start the year. For Canada, that’s great news, as despite his injuries, Hoilett still played 12 games for his country last year, picking up 4 goals and 4 assists, and will look to replicate a similar run of form in 2022.
So even though his presence in this camp felt in doubt a few days ago, as he actually picked up another hamstring knock just a week out from this squad release, he did make it back in time to come off the bench in Reading’s last game before this squad was announced, allowing him to be in this squad.
And that’s key for Canada, who missed his creativity, offence and leadership in the last 2 windows, and will be happy to welcome him back into the squad ahead of this camp.
F- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
Somehow, the firepower doesn’t stop there for Canada, either, as next up on the squad is a name who had a near-perfect 2021 for his country, and that’s the 26-year-old Larin.
And when we say he had a big year, we mean it. He might’ve only played 13 out of a possible 19 games due to injury for Canada, but he made the most of the games that he did play, scoring an absurd 14 goals, which was a Canadian record for most in a calendar year. Plus, he spread the wealth, too, scoring in 10 of those 13 games, keeping consistent no matter the opponent.
Thanks to that, he also was able to catch up to Dwayne De Rosario as Canada’s all-time goalscorer with 22 goals, a record you have to imagine that he beats this window, too.
So while he’s had a bit of a quieter year for Besiktas than he did in 20/21, finding himself on a quiet run where he’s only scored 3 times in 13 games since the last Canadian camp, as part of a year where he has just 7 goals in 25 games (after nabbing 23 in 45 in 20/21), if he picks up where he left off in 2021, goals should be on the way as soon as he dons the red and white (or black), making him a player to watch here.
F- Liam Millar | SUI / FC Basel
But shifting attention to a guy who has been on fire for his club, we’ve then got the 22-year-old Millar, who might not have gotten talked about as much as some on this list, but certainly deserves his due praise for how he ended 2021.
With 7 goals in 31 games in his first season in the Swiss top flight, it might not be a number that jumps out right away, but it is quite impressive considering that he’s a winger, and that he had just 1 goal in his first 14 games for the club before going on this tear. He’s slowed down a tad (although 2 goals in 7 games since the Iceteca isn’t a bad return at all), and hasn’t played since December 19th because of the Swiss League’s winter break, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll look as they return to action later this month (with Millar of course returning in February).
So in this camp, one can only wonder A) how fit he’ll be, and B) how big of a role he can play offensively. In terms of point A), the good news is that he played a few friendlies for Basel before joining the Canadian camp, so he’ll have some fitness under his belt, and as for B), 3 of his 6 appearances that he picked up for Canada in 2021 came in their last 6 matches, showing that Herdman’s trust in him has grown a lot lately.
Because of that, there’s no reason why he can’t have an offensive explosion this window. His club form suggests that he’s certainly due one, so don’t be surprised if he finally gets to open his Canadian account after several close calls in 2021, making him a name to watch this window.
F- Iké Ugbo | BEL / KRC Genk
Lastly, though, and most certainly not least, we’ve got the newest face on this roster, and that’s the 23-year-old Ugbo, who is getting set to enter just his 2nd camp for Canada.
Yet, it doesn’t feel like that. He might be a newcomer to this team, but he quickly adapted to the group in the November window, not looking out of place in a short cameo off the bench in his debut against Costa Rica.
And along with his form for Genk, which has seen him pick up more and more minutes for the Belgian giants as of late (he has 6 starts in their last 12 games, compared to 3 in his first 15 games), scoring 2 goals since the last international window, he looks like he can really have a role to play for Canada this camp.
Arguably Canada’s top out-and-out #9 (Larin and David aren’t truly out-and-out #9s), it would be nice to see him get a shot with either Larin or David, who prefer to play as second-strikers, as Ugbo certainly has the profile to make a partnership with either player work. Because of that, as well as his form, it makes him one to watch this window, as he looks to build on his short resume for his new country.
And there we have it – Canada’s 25-man squad for this window.
As mentioned several times, it certainly hurts to not have Davies, and Eustaquio’s pending status is certainly a worry, but even despite that, it’s still a very strong squad.
Plus, we have to remember that Canada was able to call up a squad like this even though they left some very talented players in Theo Corbeanu, Stefan Mitrovic and Zachary Brault Guillard (among others) at home, truly highlighting Canada’s growing depth.
So in this window where they’ll be without their best player for all of it, and one of their most important players for at least 1 game, they’ll want to see that depth shine once again here.
We saw that depth come through before this cycle, as Canada wouldn’t be where they are without it, and they’ll need it to come through again, as they get set to navigate their toughest window yet.
But as a wise person once said, pressure makes diamonds, and Canada is oh so close to hitting paydirt, so there’s no reason why they can’t emerge from this window having achieved everything that they’re setting out to do.
As they continue their journey towards the 2022 World Cup, we may have just reached the most crucial junction yet, and they’ll look to emerge from it smiling, with their opponents all in the rearview mirror, putting them well on the path to snapping that 35+ year drought.
Up Next: Canada vs Honduras, Thursday, January 27th, 17:05 PDT, 20:05 EDT (Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula)