Will 2020 be the year that a Canadian Premier League player makes his debut for Canada’s national team?
We’ll have to wait and see, but hope springs eternal as coach John Herdman on Friday announced his first roster of the year, and three CPL players made the cut. Forge FC midfielder and reigning league MVP Tristan Borges, Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci and FC Edmonton defender Amer Didic were included in Herdman’s 26-man roster for Canada’s international friendlies vs. Barbados on Jan. 7 and 10, and Iceland on Jan. 15 in Irvine, California.
Friday’s announcement marks a milestone for the CPL, as Borges becomes the fourth player from the league to be named to the Canadian national side.
Borges represented Canada at the 2017 Concacaf Under-20 Championship in Costa Rica, where he registered one assist, and the 2015 Concacaf Under-17 Championship in Honduras, where he scored one goal.
“A sigh of relief, a little bit. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do ever since growing up,” Borges told CanPL.ca on Friday afternoon. “It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about over the full year, coming back to play in Canada.”
Borges follows in the footsteps of Carducci, who was the first CPLer to earn a Canadian call-up last September for a pair of Concacaf Nations League matches against Cuba, but the 23-year-old native of Calgary didn’t see any action.
Cavalry FC defender Dominick Zator is the only other CPLer to be summoned by the Canadian men’s team, joining Didic for the side’s November camp. They both didn’t feature in their country’s 4-1 loss to the U.S. in Orlando.
It’s hardly a surprise to see Borges get his chance with the Canadian team after he enjoyed a breakout 2019 season.
Borges wasn’t just about the goals, as he also tallied five assists to finish amongst the league leaders. He averaged more shots (3.03), completed more tackles (3.61) and made more key passes (2.10) per 90 minutes than any CPL midfielder, underlining the strength of his overall game.
More than any other player, Borges was the ultimate difference-maker for his club. No player meant more to his team in 2019 than Borges.
“It is a testament to his hard work over the 2019 season,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis offered. “He is a multi-dimensional player who has proven himself on both sides of the ball and has earned this opportunity with the national team.”
Carducci is coming off a stellar CPL campaign, playing a pivotal role in helping Cavalry win the Spring and Fall titles, as well as reaching the semifinals of the Canadian Championship and the CPL Finals.
The Cavs shot-stopper finished tied with Forge’s Triston Henry with a league-leading nine clean sheets this season, and he was third overall in saves with 65. Thanks in large part to Carducci, Cavalry posted the best defensive record in the CPL, with just 19 goals conceded in the regular season. As a result, Carducci won the Golden Glove honour as the league’s top goalkeeper. He also took home the Volkswagen Premier Performer award.
Although he didn’t play against Cuba in September, Carducci’s work ethic in training camp prior to the games caught the attention of Herdman and Milan Borjan, Canada’s starting goalkeeper.
“He’s doing a really good job,” Borjan told CanPL.ca at the time. “I’m really surprised, actually. This is the first time I’ve met him, but he has a bright future in front of him.”
Didic, a six-foot-four centre back who spent time with Sporting Kansas City, established himself as one of the best defenders in the CPL with his hometown club in 2019, earning plaudits for his steady play and consistency.
“Trying to get myself onto the national team was a big factor in my decision to come back and home and play for FC Edmonton in this league,” Didic told CanPL.ca in October.
Valuable ranking points at stake
Even though these are friendlies, the games are very important for Canada if it’s going to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Under new rules, the top six teams in Concacaf, based on the FIFA world rankings in June 2020, move on to “the Hex,” the final round of qualifiers for the region. The top three nations in “the Hex” then qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
Canada currently seventh in the Concacaf region (at N0. 73), behind Mexico (No. 11), the U.S (22), Costa Rica (46), Jamaica (48), Honduras (62), and El Salvador (69). In order to crack the top six by next June and advance to “the Hex.” Canada has to win games like the ones against Barbados and Iceland in order to pick up valuable ranking points and move up the FIFA ladder. Canada trails El Salvador by 15 points at the moment.
Should Canada not make “the Hex,” it would be forced to compete in an arduous secondary Concacaf qualifying competition, with the ultimate winner then facing the fourth-place finisher from “the Hex” in a two-game series. The winner of that would then have to play a home-and home playoff against a nation from outside Concacaf with a World Cup berth at stake.
Iceland is 39th in the FIFA rankings. Barbados is 162nd.
Canada is winless in three previous encounters vs. Iceland dating back to 2007, with two draws. Canada beat Barbados 1-0 in 2004 in the only other game between the sides.
These January friendlies take place outside of the FIFA window, which means most European leagues are in action, and thus its teams are not required to release players for international duty. Notable by their absences from this Canadian team are Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Gent), Scott Arfield (Rangers) and Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade).
Also unavailable were Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Los Angeles FC) and Ballou Tabla (FC Barcelona).
Goalkeepers: Marco Carducci (Cavalry FC), Maxime Crépeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), and James Pantemis (Montreal Impact).
Defenders: Derek Cornelius (Vancouver Whitecaps), Amer Didic (FC Edmonton), Manjrekar James (FC Midtjylland/Denmark), Kamal Miller (Orlando City), Samuel Adekugbe (Vålerenga Fotball/Norway), Zorhan Bassong Cercle Brugge KSV/Belgium), Marcus Godinho (FSV Zwickau/Germany), Richie Laryea (Toronto FC) and Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC).
Midfielders: Tristan Borges (Forge FC), Jay Chapman (Inter Miami),
Liam Fraser (Toronto FC), Noble Okello (Toronto FC), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Samuel Piette (Montreal Impact), Shamit Shome (Montreal Impact) and Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps).
Forwards: Tesho Akindele (Orlando City), Theo Bair (Vancouver Whitecaps), Charles-Andreas Brym (Belenenses SAD U-23/Portugal), Jayden Nelson (Toronto FC II), Tosaint Ricketts (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Jacob Shaffelburg (Toronto FC).