When you have options playing week in and week out for clubs in many different leagues, how is there a right answer?
In response to the depth chart, Armen Bedakian, Marty Thompson, Charlie O’Connor-Clarke and John Molinaro have taken some of the constructive points made during the office debate to make a case for four players who should have appeared higher on this ranking.
Molinaro’s pick: Sam Adekugbe, Vålerenga
He’s the starting left fullback according to our depth chart for 2020, but Sam Adekugbe didn’t get much of a look from John Herdman in 2019.
Adekugbe, 24, toiled in MLS for five years – he made 16 league appearances with the Vancouver Whitecaps– before signing with Vålerenga in 2018. Since then, he’s earned regular first-team action for the Oslo-based club, honing his craft and gaining valuable experience along the way.
Unfortunately for Adekugbe, that didn’t translate into opportunities with Canada in 2019, as he made just two appearances (for a total of 90 minutes) during the calendar year. The argument against Adekugbe is that he plays in Norway’s top flight, a league that isn’t exactly known for its quality. That’s a big reason why Herdman hasn’t selected him and decided to go with Alphonso Davies, playing the young Bayern Munich star out of position.
Left fullback is a problem area for Canada, but Davies isn’t the long-term solution. Yes, he’s shown well at Bayern the last month or so, but last month’s 4-1 loss to the U.S. was easily his worst national team outing, and further underscored that he is still learning the position. Adekugbe might not be flashy, but he’s a left fullback by trade, and Herdman might want to consider giving him a shot in 2o20.
Bedakian’s pick: Juan Cordova (Huachipato)
Juan Cordova isn’t the most well-known name among Canadian soccer fans, casual or otherwise. Richie Laryea is … much, much more public-facing, especially when the cameras of a Toronto FC team on a run to the 2019 MLS Cup are pointed his way. And, full credit to Laryea – he deserves the nod at right-back.
But, much like a group of organisms benefit greatly from genetic diversity when facing the fatal threat of a debilitating bacterial or viral infection (hello, Grade 10 science class), so too would the Canadian men’s national team benefit from having a healthy mix of players plying their trades from all over the world. And, insofar as Cordova’s 18 appearances over at Huachipato in the Chilean Primera Division goes, surely there were a few lessons he picked up that his teammates just never saw.
Call it the Jonathan Osorio & Lucas Cavallini factor. There’s no doubt that the two playing in Uruguayan outfit Nacional in their youth changed their own soccer DNA.
Cordova offers the same thing here. Is he a starter? Probably not. But, when facing vastly different outfits like Haiti, Mexico, and the United States over the course of a single calendar year, perhaps his contributions to the overall team could have been greater … simply by the merit of his assistance in teaching his teammates some of the lessons only he has learned from his time in Chile.
If we’re talking survival of the fittest, Cordova’s football has a different sort of edge … one that could prove to be an evolutionary advantage to the greater collective.
Maybe. Who knows, really? I did only get a B- in science …
Thompson’s pick: Steven Vitoria, Moreirense
In some ways, playing Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius together in the national team setup for most of 2019 made sense, considering they started for the Vancouver Whitecaps through most of the season.
However, at a time of unusually-shallow depths in the Canadian defender pool, there was one player who deserved at least one of those spots. Transferring to Moreirense this summer, Steven Vitoria has emerged been a key starter in the club’s steady mid-table performance in Portugal’s top tier.
Vitoria had to wait nine months before getting a call-up, eventually making the September squad and playing 112 minutes across the home-and-away series with Cuba. The 32-year-old wasn’t even called up to the 2019 Gold Cup squad, perhaps due to the transfer.
That takes us to that historic 2-0 win over the U.S where Vitoria was one of the best players on the pitch, replacing a sometimes unpredictable Henry (who was suspended). Now, I will admit the reverse fixture (a 4-1 loss) was far from kind to Vitoria as he switched to the left and partnered with Henry, but the fragmented defending was hardly his fault. Plus, he scored a goal to make up for it. That’s veteran leadership at its finest.
As a two-footed centre back, Vitoria has the chance to slot in at either position going forward, just as he should have more often in 2019.
O’Connor-Clarke’s pick: Maxime Crépeau, Vancouver Whitecaps
It’s, understandably, very difficult for a goalkeeper to get playing time when they’re behind someone of Milan Borjan’s calibre in the depth chart. And frankly, it’s very hard to fault John Herdman for leaning on experience with such a young team.
Still, Crépeau had easily the best season of his young career in 2019. He won the starting job in Vancouver after languishing in USL for years, spending time on loan since he couldn’t break into the Montreal Impact setup. This year, though, he made 26 MLS starts managing five clean sheets despite his patently terrible Whitecaps team. Among starting keepers, he made more saves per game (4.4) than anyone else.
In 10 games in 2019, though, Crépeau didn’t see a minute of action for the Canadian men’s national team, despite a constant presence in camps. It does sound like Crépeau was slated to start for Canada in their Concacaf Nations League match in the Cayman Islands against Cuba, but a training injury ultimately ruled him out for that one.
Borjan is 32, with some heavy mileage under his belt. He’s certainly got plenty left to give the Canadian men’s national team, but it’s also important to give some thought to his successor. Crépeau (and Marco Carducci, for that matter) needs game time with the national team in 2020.