A pair of familiar faces have returned to the Canadian men’s team following lengthy absences.
Midfielder Atiba Hutchinson and forward Cyle Larin are back in the side, named to coach John Herdman’s 24-man roster as Canada prepares to play Bermuda on Thursday and the Cayman Islands on Sunday in its opening contests of Concacaf qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
In addition, Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies was named to this Canadian squad. This Canadian squad also includes former Cavalry FC defender Joel Waterman, now with CF Montreal in MLS. No current CPL players made Herdman’s 24-man roster.
Hutchinson, a 38-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., has been recalled by Herdman for the first time since playing at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. Hutchinson has seven goals and seven assists in 84 appearances for Canada, tied with Paul Stalteri and just five caps behind all-time leader Julian de Guzman.
Hutchinson made his debut for Canada as a 19-year-old on Jan. 18, 2003 in a friendly against the United States and has been named the Canadian player of the year a record six times – he last claimed the award in 2017. Hutchinson is widely regarded as one of Canada’s best soccer exports, having spent the majority of his pro career playing abroad with several big European clubs, including FC Copenhagen and PSV. He currently plays for Turkish outfit Besiktas.
“He’s just one of those guys you always want part of your group. If you’ve ever worked with him you realize he has that Christine Sinclair-like presence. He’s one of those quiet, unassuming leaders, but you know when he’s there and you know when he’s not there. He just brings a level of experience, a bit of an aura around his presence that young players look up, but even the senior veterans,” Herdman told reporters on Tuesday.
Herdman later added: “He’s not one of those guys you bring into the (team) because of his leadership abilities. You’re bringing him in because he’s on absolute fire for his club.”
Larin, a 25-year-old native of Brampton, is a teammate of Hutchinson’s at Besiktas. He has eight goals in 31 games since debuting for Canada at age 19 in a friendly vs. Guatemala on March 27, 2015. But he hasn’t played for his country since a Concacaf Nations League match vs. Cuba on Sept. 10. 2019. He currently sits third in Turkish Super Lig scoring race with 14 goals. Larin is a former MLS rookie of the year – he was selected No. 1 overall by Orlando City at the 2015 MLS SuperDraft.
Herdman envisions using Larin more as a wide player, rather than a traditional No. 9.
“When you see him at Besiktas where he’s in that role – sort of a loose wide forward and he’s able to play in those half spaces between the lines – his greatest strength is how he ghosts into the box when he comes from deep positions,” Herdman explained.
“For the first time probably in his career he’s been able not to worry about being marked by two players, and always locked up by two centre-backs. Now he’s able to use his instincts to find those areas of separation, those gaps in the box that are appearing naturally.”
Lille forward Jonathan David, one of Canada’s high-profile starters, is not on this team. French clubs are not releasing their foreign players for international duty outside of Europe because of COVID-19 quarantine rules. Also missing on this Canadian roster are midfielders Scott Arfield (personal reasons) and Jonathan Osorio (injury).
“It’s been tough behind the scenes to make sure that players could be available to us, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible with Jonathan (David),” Herdman said. “However, we’ll come through these times and see Jonathan back on the pitch for Canada in the near future.”
Seven players on this roster are uncapped: Waterman, Theo Corbeanu (Woverhampton Wanderers), Ricardo Ferreira (unattached), Alistair Johnston (Nashville SC), Cristian Gutierrez (Vancouver Whitecaps), Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United) and Frank Sturing (FC Den Bosch).
The match vs. Bermuda is officially a home game for Canada, but was moved to Orlando due to travel restrictions because of COVID-19. Canada’s road game vs. the Cayman Islands will take place in Bradenton, Fla.
The Canadian men’s team has been on hiatus for over a year due to the global pandemic. Its last outing was a 1-0 loss to Iceland in an international friendly held in Irvine, Calif., on Jan. 15, 2020.
Canada’s path to Qatar
Canada is 73rd in the current FIFA world rankings, well ahead of Bermuda (No. 169) and Cayman Islands (No. 193). Suriname (No. 143) and Aruba (No. 200) are the other teams in Group B in the first round of the Concacaf qualifiers. Canada’s final games of the first round are scheduled for June 5 (vs. Aruba) and June 8 (vs. Suriname).
The six group winners from the first round advance, with the top team in Group B facing the winner of Group E – which is made up of Haiti (No. 84), Nicaragua (No. 149), Belize (No. 170), St. Lucia (No. 175) and Turks and Caicos Islands (No. 203) – in a home-and-away playoff in June.
The three winners of the second-round matchups move on to the final round of Concacaf qualifying, joining Mexico (No. 9), the U.S. (No. 22), Jamaica (No. 47), Costa Rica (No. 50) and Honduras (No. 64). The eight nations will play each other home and away, with the top three automatically qualifying for the World Cup. The fourth-place nation will play in an intercontinental playoff for a chance to go to Qatar.
Canada’s lone World Cup appearance came in Mexico in 1986 when it bowed out after failing to score in group-stage losses to France, the Soviet Union and Hungary. David Norman Sr, the father of current Cavalry FC midfielder David Norman Jr., was a member of Canada’s 1986 World Cup squad that was coached by Tony Waiters, who died last November at the age of 83.
That Canadian team booked its spot for the World Cup in Mexico following a 2-1 win over Honduras on Sept. 14, 1985 in St. John’s, Newfoundland in the Concacaf qualifying tournament.
Canada is scheduled to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup with Mexico and the U.S.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan (FK Crvena), Maxime Crépeau (Vancouver Whitecaps), Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United FC)
Defenders: Ricardo Ferreira (unattached), Frank Sturing (FC Den Bosch), Steven Vitória (Moreirense FC), Joel Waterman (CF Montréal), Samuel Adekugbe (Vålerenga Fotball), Cristián Gutierrez (Vancouver Whitecaps), Alistair Johnston (Nashville SC), Richie Laryea (Toronto FC), Kamal Miller (CF Montréal)
Midfielders:Theo Corbeanu (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Stephen Eustáquio (FC Paços de Ferreira), Atiba Hutchinson (Beşiktaş JK), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Los Angeles FC), Jayden Nelson (Toronto FC), Samuel Piette (CF Montréal), David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone FC)
Forwards: Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Alphonso Davies (FC Bayern München), David Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City FC), Cyle Larin (Beşiktaş JK), Liam Millar (Charlton Athletic FC)