CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke and Marty Thompson debate the CanMNT Depth Chart on the latest episode of the CanPL.ca Newsroom. Click the player to watch, click here to subscribe for more episodes.
A deluge of young players has gotten their first taste of senior national team experience over the past few years, while plenty of the veteran old guard still remains.
Canada is likely to reveal a squad for the next slate of World Cup qualifying matches very soon, with matches against Aruba and Suriname coming on June 5 and 8, respectively. With most European leagues now finished their seasons (but MLS in full swing), coach John Herdman will have some big decisions to make when picking his roster.
To try and map out what options are on the table, and just how deep the player pool is getting, we at CanPL.ca — Marty Thompson, Benedict Rhodes, and Charlie O’Connor-Clarke — put our heads together to come up with, by our estimation, what the Canadian men’s team’s depth chart might look like at the moment.
We start with a fairly straightforward one. At 33 years-old, Milan Borjan remains the starting goalkeeper for any big games, having played yet another championship-caliber season in Serbia this past year. Although it was his handling error that let Bermuda on the scoresheet in March, with 50 international caps and an excellent track record, expect Borjan to be the number one for at least this World Cup cycle.
Beyond him, the only real debate seems to be over which of Maxime Crépeau and Dayne St. Clair would be the heir-apparent. Crépeau is more experienced, and has been Canada’s de-facto backup for a while now. However, St. Clair has shot up the depth chart recently thanks to his breakout at Minnesota United. He’s been excellent since taking over the starter’s job for the MLS side, and he may well pip the Whitecaps ‘keeper.
James Pantemis and Marco Carducci round out the five, both of whom have seen a few Canada camps as the third goalkeeper. Either could play his way up the list with an extended run of club form.
We obviously have to start by addressing a name that isn’t here. Don’t worry. Keep scrolling.
Anyway, this is probably how things are shaping up; Sam Adekugbe started at left-back against Bermuda, and he seems to be the well-rounded, reliable option at fullback that Canada needs to allow anyone else on the left flank to get forward. Based on Herdman’s recent selections, Adekugbe seems to be the most likely to start. Gutiérrez will be an interesting one to watch; he still hasn’t made his debut for Canada, but he accepted the call into the March camp. The Chilean-born Whitecaps fullback could conceivably take top spot if given an opportunity.
Córdova is a great option as well, considering his experience in the Chilean top flight. Those three are all viable options, which gives Canada some excellent depth to work with (especially in windows with tightly-congested schedules). Plus, two talented youngsters — both of whom were with the U-23 squad for Olympic qualifying this year — fall just after, and either could be injected for a little extra attacking flair, perhaps in a Gold Cup camp.
Just missing out is Ashtone Morgan, among a handful of young left-backs.
It’s kind of incredible that Canada suddenly has all this depth at right-back. Richie Laryea seems to have played his way into being one of the first names on Herdman’s team sheet by virtue of his pace and skill on the ball, and his performances in the recent World Cup qualifiers made him undroppable. Right on his tail, though, are Alistair Johnston and Zachary Brault-Guillard, who are basically interchangeable at the next two spots — Johnston’s breakout with Nashville SC has been incredible recently, although Brault-Guillard has been around the national team setup for longer.
Behind them, a pair of CPLers in Mo Farsi and Kadin Chung. The Cavalry phenom is younger, with perhaps more upside — he could end up as more of a winger, though — and Chung is a more well-rounded player who’s very capable on both sides of the ball.
We chose not to separate into left and right sides here, because it’s more likely that Herdman will look to put his two best defenders in the middle, regardless. This is where the debate begins to heat up: realistically, it feels like Canada has three or four centre-backs who would be in contention to start a big game — two of Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitória, and Kamal Miller (unless he plays at fullback) would probably get the nod, although, after a very solid year in South Korea, Doneil Henry could come back into the fold.
There seems to be a rotating cast of depth defenders brought into camps as well; Joel Waterman, Amer Didic, Frank Sturing, and (depending on club form) Dominick Zator are all at a reasonably similar level as young-ish centre-backs who could very well impress in training and earn a start. Ricardo Ferreira is the wild card in this situation; at 28 years old, he has a lot of high-level experience playing in the Portuguese top flight and him committing to Canada was a major coup, but his health could be a question. He wasn’t tested much in Canada’s 11-0 win over the Cayman Islands, so it’s unclear how exactly Herdman sees his long-term viability.
Scott Kennedy makes the list as well, amid rumours that he could be in contention for June’s World Cup qualifying squad. The 24-year-old is coming off a solid year in the German second tier, meaning he pips Pacific FC’s Thomas Meilleur-Giguère for a spot here.
Once again, we’ve combined the midfield positions into one list — Canada could line up in a number of different ways, and all of these players could find themselves with slightly different roles. In fact, we can’t even be certain if Herdman is more likely to opt for three or four men in midfield.
Atiba Hutchinson remains at the top of this list until there’s any real evidence he shouldn’t be (hint: there is not). After a rejuvenated 2020-21 season with Besiktas, which saw him win a pair of trophies alongside Cyle Larin, it seems like he’s very much back in the mix for this World Cup qualifying cycle.
Perhaps the biggest selection headache for Herdman is trying to squeeze as many of these players as possible into a lineup. All of Sam Piette, Stephen Eustáquio, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Jonathan Osorio could make a case for a starting spot (as could Scott Arfield, but with his future involvement at the international level unclear, we’ll place him below the others for now). Again, they’re all very different players who could be deployed strategically depending on the opponent: Piette is a tremendous ball-winner, Eustáquio is excellent box-to-box, and both Kaye and Osorio operate very well in the attacking third.
David Wotherspoon looked good in World Cup qualifying, and Russell Teibert always seems to be a depth option. Liam Fraser did a tremendous job in relief of Kaye in that win over the United States in 2019, but he’s struggled for playing time at the club level, so he may not be first off the bench here.
A few up-and-coming youngsters just miss the cut here, with Lucas Dias capable of making a jump soon — as are Michael Baldisimo, Patrick Metcalfe, and David Norman Jr.
Oh, there he is.
Until further notice, this is where we’ll pencil Alphonso Davies into our Canada lineups. Especially with somebody reliable like Adekugbe behind him, Davies has so much freedom on the wing to attack and cut inside; he can beat pretty much anybody in the entire world in a footrace, so Herdman should be confident letting him roam the attacking third. This is assuming, of course, that Canada goes with a front three (perhaps with Cyle Larin and Jonathan David), although they could just as well play two up front, perhaps deploying the Bayern Munich fullback as a left midfielder and giving him some more runway.
It’s a little odd to list Jonathan David explicitly as a winger, but in a trio with Davies and Larin he might be the one to drift out to the right — although that may indeed be completely wrong; Larin has played a similar position in the past. Indeed, Davies could go on the right as well, linking up with Laryea to form arguably the fastest right flank in all of international football. Either way, those are the likely three attackers to start any big match for Canada at the moment. There’s a genuine possibility it’s the best front three in Concacaf, and it’s easily Canada’s greatest strength.
Liam Millar and Theo Corbeanu are definitely the two most likely options to fill in on the left wing — Millar sits just ahead on experience, but Corbeanu’s raw talent might soon make him the first Canadian off the bench in any position. He’s only going to continue improving, especially if he’s given more first team opportunities with Wolves next season.
Junior Hoilett might be a step below the main starting trio now, but he’s still an excellent player to slot in as more of a natural winger. The veteran attacker recently departed Cardiff City after five great seasons, and he’ll be looking for a new landing spot. At 30 years old, his best days at the international level are likely behind him, but he’s still a valuable piece off the bench or in a congested schedule.
Canada has a host of young talent that will be competing for playing time, with Jayden Nelson perhaps topping the list. He’s got three caps already at the age of 18, and as he begins getting on the field more for Toronto FC, his stock will continue to rise. Ballou Tabla, as well, is an interesting name in the pool — his stock has probably fallen a lot since his 2018 move to Barcelona B, but he’s talented enough that a resurgence at CF Montreal isn’t out of the question.
It’ll be interesting to see how Herdman incorporates Tajon Buchanan this summer, after the New England Revolution forward’s performance for the Canada U-23 team in March. Buchanan has been excellent at the MLS level, especially in the 2020 playoffs, and he’s sure to make his senior international debut soon — perhaps in the Gold Cup?
Rounding out the list are a pair of CPLers, perhaps included more wishfully than anything. That said, Marco Bustos could very well be an option for Herdman this summer, especially if he’s in top mid-season form for Pacific FC to follow up an MVP-calibre 2020 campaign. Borges could be in the same boat, too, if he returns to the top of his game with Forge FC.
Based on form (for both club and country), Cyle Larin deserves to start over Lucas Cavallini at the moment. Larin had a phenomenal year with Besiktas, and he was excellent for Les Rouges in the two World Cup qualifiers in March. Cavallini did finally put his finishing woes behind him in the Cayman Islands match, but there’s no way Larin isn’t starting for Canada in June.
We’ve tentatively included Daniel Jebbison in the depth chart, although the young Sheffield United forward hasn’t accepted a call-up to Canada and could still choose to represent England. If he were to choose his birth country, it’d be a huge boost to Canada’s attack, but we can’t count on that just yet.
Tesho Akindele is a good depth option, having done well for Orlando City in MLS recently. He hasn’t gotten the call since 2020, but he’s always a reliable option off the bench to create some havoc in the box, especially on set-pieces. The same goes for Theo Bair, although he has less experience with the national team setup. Still, after a solid January camp last year and some more reps with the Olympic qualifying team in March, he offers an attacking style that Canada doesn’t necessarily have in great supply.