It is back to business for the Canadian men’s national team next week for the first time since the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
On Thursday, John Herdman named his squad for a pair of crucial March Nations League matches against Curaçao (on March 25) and Honduras on (March 28).
Given the importance of these games as they try to secure a first-ever spot in the Concacaf Nations League final four this summer, and pick up critical Concacaf ranking points which will help in their quest to qualify for the 2024 Copa America, the squad features most of the usual suspects.
With that being said, a couple of injuries to key players have opened up opportunities for some roster rotation. Sam Piette, Lucas Cavallini, Max Crépeau, James Pantemis and Junior Hoilett will all miss this window with various ailments. While called up, Kamal Miller might not be able to participate in the first part of the window, if at all. As this is the start of the 2026 World Cup cycle, there is also a slight eye toward the future with a few of these players.
“I think there is some transition expected over the next year or two,” Herdman told media on Thursday. “I think there’ll be a transition (as soon) as this year.”
Here is a full breakdown of the 23 players who Canada has called up for this international window:
Milan Borjan, Dayne St. Clair, Tom McGill
With injuries to both Max Crépeau and James Pantemis, there was always going to be an opening on the roster for another goalkeeper. Who Herdman and his staff ultimately selected comes as a bit of a surprise, however. Whitecaps youngster Thomas Hasal had been in camp as recently as November, while 21-year-old former Valour FC keeper Jonathan Sirois has capably replaced Pantemis in the CF Montréal net.
Instead, Herdman chose to take a chance on 22-year-old dual national goalkeeper Tom McGill, who plays for Brighton & Hove Albion’s U-23 side. The former England youth international has made a handful of appearances on the bench for the first team in the English Premier League. With veteran goalkeeper Milan Borjan, 35, unlikely to complete this World Cup cycle with Canada it is important to start looking at future options. A strong camp could put McGill into that mix.
For now, however, this will remain Borjan’s net, and he will once again be a central figure for Canada over the next couple of matches both as a leader and between the sticks.
Derek Cornelius, Scott Kennedy, Kamal Miller, Steven Vitoria, Dominick Zator, Sam Adekugbe, Alistair Johnston, Richie Laryea
With Alistair Johnston suspended and Miller unlikely to make the trip for the first match, the backline will be one of the more intriguing positions for Canada this month.
Since the World Cup, many of these players have secured big European moves, with Johnston joining Celtic, Sam Adekugbe moving to Galatasaray on loan, Derek Cornelius joining Swedish side Malmo and former Cavalry FC and York United defender Dominick Zator finding a new home with Korona Kielce in Poland. Cornelius is probably the favourite to replace Miller if he misses out, but the positional flexibility of Zator, who has been playing right back of late, makes him an intriguing option with Johnston out.
Given Herdman’s previous statements about the importance of having players who are in form and playing in his camp, Scott Kennedy’s inclusion comes as a bit of a surprise. The 25-year-old missed the World Cup through injury, and has played just 22 minutes in the 2.Bundesliga since coming back, including being sent off in his return to action. However, Herdman has also used international callups to give players confidence and form boosts in the past, and perhaps that is the case with Kennedy.
Stephen Eustáquio, Atiba Hutchinson, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Ismaël Koné, Victor Loturi, Jonathan Osorio
Aside from the inclusion of Victor Loturi, the middle of the part is where there are the fewest surprises. The 21-year-old former Cavalry FC player, now with Ross County in Scotland, received his first call-up for Canada after impressing in his first season in Scotland. In particular, Herdman was impressed by the youngster’s composure against Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers. He will provide Canada with some much-needed depth in central midfield.
Having just turned 40, and having barely played for Besiktas in 2023, Atiba Hutchinson’s inclusion also wasn’t a given. But with Hutchinson likely to retire after this club season with Besiktas, March 28 could be his last opportunity to play for the national team on Canadian soil. Important matches or not, that fact alone warrants a call-up for one of this country’s most dedicated players. It will also be an invaluable learning experience for Loturi to get to play with the best number six in the country’s history.
Ayo Akinola, Charles-Andreas Brym, Tajon Buchanan, Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies, Cyle Larin
A pair of young attackers make their return to the fold in 23-year-old Ayo Akinola and 24-year-old Charles-Andreas Brym. With seven goals and five assists in 21 matches in the Dutch second division for FC Eindhoven, where he is on loan from top division side Sparta Rotterdam. Byrm is a player who Herdman clearly rates, so expect his name to be included often going forward.
Akinola’s inclusion is another surprise given that he has been out of form or injured for most of the past two seasons. That includes recently, having missed Toronto FC’s last match with a muscle injury. Like Kennedy, however, he could certainly use a boost of confidence, especially after scoring just twice for Toronto FC last season in Major League Soccer action.
Otherwise, it is all of the regular callups, with the important note that all of them have been in excellent form. Cyle Larin, in particular, has been playing much better since the World Cup, scoring four goals already since joining Real Valladolid of Spain’s La Liga on loan. Jonathan David, meanwhile, currently leads Ligue 1 in scoring after a recent hattrick against Lyon.
Probably the biggest surprise absence is Nashville SC winger Jacob Shaffelburg, who has been a standout player to start the 2023 MLS campaign, scoring twice in his first three matches. However, perhaps in Shaffelburg’s case, it is with an eye toward the long-term with his club situation. Nashville takes on Cincinnati on Saturday, March 25, the same day Canada takes on Curaçao. Given how well Shaffelburg is developing in Tennessee right now, it might be wise to leave him there for now with an eye toward this summer’s competitions.
A few non-injured players are also missing from the World Cup roster. Former Cavalry FC defender Joel Waterman just got back from an injury so perhaps that had something to do with his absence. Iké Ugbo has been struggling to get minutes for Ligue 1 side Troyes in France, while the same can be said of Liam Fraser with Deinze in the Belgian second division and Liam Millar for Basel. Herdman mentioned getting solid minutes and being in form as key criteria for national team selection.