‘Be ready to play’: Herdman on depth of CanMNT Gold Cup squad

Canadian men’s national team coach John Herdman said he has all the “critical players” who can take Canada deep into the Gold Cup. With the likes of Atiba Hutchinson, Alphonso Davies, Lucas Cavallini, Junior Hoilett, Jonathan David and Jonathan Osorio on the roster, the big offensive guns are there.

But, he admitted that the squad doesn’t have all of the depth players he would have wanted.

And that’s the thing — Canada has to play three group-stage games over the course of eight days, in three different time zones. The Canadian team will cover 3,900 km in just over a week when it faces Martinique, Mexico and Cuba. That means Canada’s depth players have to play their roles.

“Every man selected has to be ready to play,” Herdman said Thursday, after Canada’s final roster of 23 was unveiled.

And while Herdman knows he’s going to have to rotate, “the stronger players are going to play the majority of the minutes in the tournament.”

As for expectations?

“The minimum is to get out of the group stage and then roll with what the tournament throws at you.”

The challenge for Canada Soccer — heck, for all of the federations represented at the Gold Cup — is that the tournament isn’t part of FIFA’s international windows. And some players based in Europe are in their offseasons and may have contract anxieties. So, this isn’t like a World Cup qualifier which will take place during an international window and it’s all hands on deck.

Herdman said that there were several players he considered but weren’t available. Defenders Sam Adekugbe and David Edgar are dealing with injuries. And he mentioned three MLS players — Toronto FC’s Jay Chapman and Montreal Impact teammates Mathieu Choiniere and Shamit Shome — whose circumstances prevented them from being picked.

“During that window, games are going in MLS, and players are in the last year of their contracts,” he said. So he understands that the time isn’t right for them to be representing their country — their time will come at a later date.

But here’s the question. If you were Herdman, would you start the regulars against Martinique and Cuba and give your team the best chance for six points out of a possible nine? Do you accept that playing Mexico in Denver’s altitude might be a bridge too far, and that you save your rotation for that game? Or, do you save some of the stars for Mexico, knowing that El Tri will also have a lot of absences from the tournament and might not be as strong as Mexican sides of the past?

It’s a fascinating question and one that Herdman doesn’t need to answer today.