Coach John Herdman has selected his first squad for the Canadian men’s national team’s final round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Bayern Munich starlet Alphonso Davies, Lille striker Jonathan David, and 85-time capped Atiba Hutchinson of Turkish champions Beşiktaş headline a strong group set to open the biggest World Cup qualifying series in a generation against Honduras next Thursday (Sept. 2) at BMO Field.
The three starlets missed Canada’s 2021 Gold Cup campaign this Summer, which saw Herdman’s team make the semi-final.
Herdman has, arguably, picked his top squad except for Scott Arfield, with the Rangers midfielder notably absent from yet another Canada camp. The 32-year-old last played for Canada in November 2019.
Standouts from this World Cup qualifying cycle in goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade), Steven Vitória (Moreirense FC), Stephen Eustáquio (Paços de Ferreira), Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution/Club Brugge), Junior Hoilett (Reading), and Cyle Larin (Beşiktaş) were also included in Thursday’s squad.
Striker Lucas Cavallini, initially sidelined by club side Vancouver Whitecaps due to a knee injury, was also listed.
Other notable selections include defender Scott Kennedy (SSV Jahn Regensburg), who made his debut for Les Rouges in the previous round of qualifying at centre-back, and midfielder Liam Fraser of Columbus Crew – who makes the WCQ roster after a solid stint at the Gold Cup this Summer.
CanMNT set to return home for first time since 2019
As mentioned, Canada will open the three-match September window vs. Honduras on Thursday. Later they’ll travel away to Nashville to face the United States (Sunday, Sept. 5) before closing out its opening series at home to El Salvador (Wednesday, Sept. 8) at BMO Field.
Canada will face the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, Panama, and El Salvador in the final round – known as the “Octagon” – with three teams gaining automatic qualification to the World Cup and a fourth side placed in an intercontinental playoff with a representative from another FIFA confederation.
Canada will play seven home matches from September to March 2022. Their last home match came October 15, 2019 when Les Rouges dispatched the US 2-0 at BMO Field in Concacaf Nations League play.
“When you think about the last time we played at home [that US match] we remember the fans in the last 20 minutes really pushing us along,” Canada head coach John Herdman recalled. “We’re excited to start a new journey in a new space – we’re in a new place and we’re excited to show the fans that.”
Herdman’s side has played its entire World Cup qualifying campaign on the road, taking “home” matches in the US due to COVID-19 restrictions. Still, the team managed to trounce the opening stage with a +26 goal differential – with an all-time best 11-0 win over the Cayman Islands – before beating Haiti 4-0 over two legs in round two.
Canada’s men’s team has qualified for the World Cup just once – in 1986 – where they went out at the group stage.
Future of Scott Arfield: ‘A little bit on the out right now’
As mentioned, Thursday’s lone debatable omission was Arfield as the central midfielder has gone another window without putting on a Les Rogues strip.
In media availability, Herdman said Arfield was due to come into the Gold Cup squad with a calf injury keeping him away. Now, after missing both campaigns, Herdman has elected to go without this window.
“The conversation with Scott has been really open for now two years… Missing the Gold Cup and the whole qualification campaign has just put him a little bit on the out – and he understands that,” Herdman said, adding that discussions are ongoing an that he’s “committed to coming in when the call comes.”
Arfield has made 19 appearances for Canada since 2016, scoring two goals.
Lucas Cavallini added despite injury concerns
At the other end, Vancouver Whitecaps striker Cavallini has been brought into the squad to a bit of a surprise, having previously been ruled out due to an injured knee by his club.
As Herdman laid out in the aforementioned media call, the 28-year-old forward will continue rehab with the Vancouver Whitecaps for part of the camp and will be on “limited minutes” through the three-match window.
“He’s such an important part of this team – you really feel when he’s on there,” Herdman said, adding he believes he’s had “maybe one” camp without Cavallini during his tenure with the men’s team. “I’m not naive to think I’m gonna bring players in and not play [considering the number of games] – he’ll be on limited minutes, that’s for sure.”
Champions League forging ‘new desire’ in Canada set up: Herdman
Thursday’s squad announcement came hours after the UEFA Champions League draw, which featured five Canadian call ups learn their group stage fate – Larin and Hutchinson at Beşiktaş, Davies at Bayern Munich, Jonathan David at Lille, and Tajon Buchanan at Club Brugge (though he won’t join the team until January).
More and more Canadians have found themselves at the top in Europe – especially last season with numerous league championships. That wasn’t lost on Herdman, who was asked about the record number of Canadians set to play in the world’s top club competition.
“It’s absolutely massive,” Herdman began. “You look at how young this team is and the experiences they are going to bring in… There’s just a new desire born out of their new experiences in things like the Champions League. You won’t get that mentality just in Concacaf – you get that in things like the Champions League.”
GK- Milan Borjan | SRB / FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)
GK- Maxime Crépeau | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
GK- James Pantemis | CAN / CF Montréal
CB- Doneil Henry | KOR / Suwon Samsung Bluewings
CB- Scott Kennedy | GER / SSV Jahn Regensburg
CB- Kamal Miller | CAN / CF Montréal
CB- Steven Vitória | POR / Moreirense FC
FB- Samuel Adekugbe | TUR / Hatayspor FC
FB- Alphonso Davies | GER / FC Bayern München
FB- Alistair Johnston | USA / Nashville SC
FB- Richie Laryea | CAN / Toronto FC
M- Stephen Eustáquio | POR / FC Paços de Ferreira
M- Liam Fraser | CAN / Toronto FC
M- Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
M- Mark-Anthony Kaye | USA / Colorado Rapids
M- Jonathan Osorio | CAN / Toronto FC
M- Samuel Piette | CAN / CF Montréal
M- David Wotherspoon | SCO / St. Johnstone FC
F- Tajon Buchanan | USA / New England Revolution
F- Lucas Cavallini | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
F- Jonathan David | FRA / Lille OSC
F- David Junior Hoilett | ENG / Reading FC
F- Cyle Larin | TUR / Beşiktaş JK