Discussion around the Canadian men’s team has picked up significantly in recent weeks, with the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup draw giving us a slightly clearer picture of what next year will look like for Les Rouges.
We aren’t necessarily sure who will suit up for Canada at that tournament — coach John Herdman has suggested that his squad selection in 2021 may require a balancing act between World Cup qualification and the Gold Cup — but nonetheless a strong showing from Canada’s growing young core of players will be expected.
With a reasonably difficult road ahead in 2021, it’s easy to pick out the names that Canada will be counting on in big moments at the Gold Cup.
Which player, though, will be the most important? Who will the Canadians need to step up and perform in order to stand a chance of beating the giants of Concacaf?
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, Marty Thompson and John Molinaro offer their opinions.
Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps
I know, I know. Frankly, whichever of my colleagues selects Alphonso Davies has probably picked the correct option. Hear me out, though.
When Canada takes on teams such as the United States, most likely Haiti, and (in an ideal scenario) Mexico, they will not live or die by the explosiveness of their attack. They won’t be able to run teams over like they’ve done against nations such as Cuba and Martinique.
Canada’s centre-back depth is a major weakness, with Cornelius realistically the only player guaranteed to be part of the backline. We saw the Canadian defence crumble against Mexico and Haiti at the last Gold Cup, and then again against the U.S. last November. If they’re to compete with the top teams in Concacaf (or even the teams that, on paper, they should beat comfortably, like perhaps Haiti), they must shore up the defence.
That starts with Cornelius, who’s currently the best option at centre-back (or possibly Doneil Henry, whose ceiling is higher but whose consistency has been severely lacking). It’s hard to tell who exactly will be drawn into the squad — Steven Vitória, Manjrekar James, and maybe even Dejan Jakovic could all return to the team, as could young CPL players such as Dominick Zator, Amer Didic, or Thomas Meilleur-Giguère.
If Cornelius can hold the line and, somehow, help keep opposing players such as Christian Pulisic and Raúl Jiménez somewhat at bay (a major ask), then there’s really no limit to how far this Canada team can go. If they can’t defend, well, it’s going to be tough for them to get out of the group.
We know how talented the Canadian squad is in the wide areas and in the attack. The major concern the past little while has been the defending when faced with top competition (which Canada hasn’t seen a lot of, in fairness). In group stage matches against the U.S. and potentially Haiti, it’s imperative that Canada doesn’t collapse at the back as they did last time they played both teams.
The soon-to-be-20-year-old is the best player Canada has had in a generation – he has a Champions League winners’ medal with Bayern Munich to prove it, and he’s come a long way from tearing up the Gold Cup stage in 2017.
Number 1 of our Top 5 moments of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Alphonso Davies will be honoured at BMO Field before the match tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/B6N5eYbMxP
The men’s program has to evolve past “resting” players for certain camps and tournaments, especially with talents such Davies who will be eager to play and who can also handle that extra workload.
As covered by CanPL.ca, Herdman may opt to bring on depth options for the Gold Cup, making Davies’ potential impact much more important.
Does the Bayern fullback find himself a bit further up the pitch? Or will he play as left fullback? Herdman will need to make the most of Davies, and it’ll be fascinating to see how he deploys the youngster.
Finally, this will be Davies’ Gold Cup squad to lead – a rotated group, with veterans swapped for young (and potentially CPL) talent, and a new generation ready to be led onto the pitch by Canada’s 20-year-old wonder-kid.
– By Marty Thompson
Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade
As my colleague Charlie O’Connor Clarke has already pointed out, “Canada’s centre-back depth is a major weakness.”
More bluntly, the quality of Canadian defending against top Concacaf nations in recent matches has been poor – and that’s being charitable. Setting aside that historic win over the United States in Toronto last October, the Reds conceded 10 goals across three games vs. the U.S., Mexico and Haiti last year. As dangerous as Canada is going forward in attack, they are frail and brittle at the back.
All the more reason why Milan Borjan will be looked upon as a key figure for the Canadian squad at next summer’s Gold Cup. Whether Canada features a back line with new recruits or one anchored by Derek Cornelius with a few other familiar faces, it’s a good bet that Canada’s defence will be put under heavy pressure by the U.S. and Haiti (assuming it qualifies) in the group stage, and any number of Concacaf heavyweights in the knockout rounds (should Herdman’s side advance).
Enter Borjan, who has been a steadying presence for Canada since making his national team debut in 2011, collecting 49 caps and recording 21 clean sheets in 46 starts, all the while earning valuable European club experience with Red Star Belgrade.
There’ve been times when he’s had little to do in games, and other occasions where he’s had to make a number of critical saves in important games to save Canada’s bacon. Considering Canada’s rather suspect prospects and lack of defensive depth at the moment, I have to believe Borjan will be called upon to come up big for his country at the Gold Cup.