Six potential CanMNT callups to watch ahead of March Nations League matches

Later this month, the Canadian men’s national team will reconvene for the first time since the 2022 Qatar World Cup for a pair of Concacaf Nations League matches against Curaçao (March 25) and Honduras (March 28 at Toronto’s BMO Field).

These matches will be critical to Canada qualifying for June’s Nations League final four for the first time. Les Rouges currently sit second in their group, but with a game in hand and better goal difference than group leaders Honduras, a win and a draw in these two matches would be enough to see them advance.

The camp and matches could also serve as an opportunity for head coach John Herdman to begin bringing in some new faces after the hyperfocused and high-pressure 2022 World Cup cycle has concluded. With the start of the MLS season and the European season approaching the business end, plenty of Canadian players have delivered standout performances in recent weeks.

Here are some names to keep an eye on as Herdman gets set to announce his roster in the coming days, as well as for a busy summer that could include the aforementioned Nations League knockout stage, as well as the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Jacob Shaffelburg

The Nova Scotian winger has been in and around the national team setup in recent months. He made a late substitute appearance in Canada’s 2-2 draw with Bahrain prior to the Qatar World Cup, demonstrating that he is part of the extended player pool that Herdman is keeping an eye on.

The 23-year-old has taken a significant step forward to start the 2023 MLS season, however. Through three matches he has a pair of goals, including a thundering strike against CF Montréal this past weekend.

The knock on Shaffelburg aside from playing one of the national team’s most competitive positions over recent years has been his ability to produce despite consistently being able to get the ball in dangerous areas. Now with Nashville, things seem to be really clicking and his production could well be rewarded with a national team call-up.


Dominick Zator

Since moving to Polish top-division side Korona Kielce from York United in January, Zator hasn’t missed a beat. He has started seven straight matches, during which Kielce have lost just twice, clawing themselves out of the relegation zone for the time being. Interestingly, Zator, who was nominated for the 2022 CPL Defender of the Year as a centre-back, has been playing right fullback with Kielce.

The right side of the defence isn’t exactly a position of need for Canada right now. However, his positional flexibility could be especially helpful given the fluid defensive formation that Herdman often likes to deploy, one where fullback Alistair Johnston is regularly deployed as a third central defender.

At 28, Zator maybe isn’t ‘one for the future’ in the same way as some of the other players on this list. But considering the national team has a starting centre-back in Steven Vitoria who is 36, it is a position where consistent quality performances are important above all, an area in which Zator excels.

Victor Loturi

Speaking of relegation battles, another former Canadian Premier League player has found himself embattled in one in Scotland with Ross County. Despite his club’s lack of success, the 21-year-old midfielder has been brilliant in his first European season after moving across the pond from Cavalry FC this past summer.

In all competitions, Loturi has played 20 matches, scoring once and adding two assists. But it is the defensive side of Loturi’s game, as well as his ability to progress the ball forward under pressure, that has really stood out in the youngster’s game so far in Scotland.

The impetus to call him up quickly might be higher than ever as it looks like he has other suitors as well. South Sudan, which his brother William Akio represents internationally, had Loturi on their provisional squad for upcoming AFCON qualifiers against Congo. Nations League matches, being official FIFA competition, would cap tie any players that saw the field for Canada during the March window.

Ryan Raposo

Canada’s pool of left fullbacks has had a really good start to 2023. Between Diyaeddine Abzi’s play for Pau FC in France and Luca Petrasso for Orlando City SC there are a few different players to watch in the coming weeks.

However, none have impressed quite like Raposo, who was recently converted to the position for the Vancouver Whitecaps. He was in the Concacaf Champions League best eleven after a goal and an assist in a 5-0 rout of Honduran side Real España.

While, understandably, the defensive side of Raposo’s game could still use some work at the MLS level, the 24-year-old Hamilton native has shown enough flashes of quality, especially going forward, to be considered for a callup in March or beyond.

Jonathan Sirois

With fellow Québec natives Max Crépeau and James Pantemis battling injury, there could be a window of opportunity for Sirois to receive a first-ever senior national team call-up.

The 2021 CPL goalkeeper of the year has been handed the net with CF Montréal after Pantemis went down with an injury in the club’s opening match. While Montréal are still looking for their first points of the season, the 21-year-old has been solid in his first two MLS starts.

Sirois is significantly younger than all of the other goalkeepers in the national team player pool, and with now 46 matches of professional experience already between Valour FC in the CPL and CF Montréal,

Kyle Hiebert

It might be too early for Hiebert to earn an international cap, but he should quickly be on the national team’s radar. Three weeks into the MLS season, expansion side St. Louis SC, with their incredible home atmosphere and three victories, have been one of the stories of the league. Helping to write that incredible story has been the 25-year-old Manitoba native, who has started all three matches for St. Louis at centre-back, scoring the winner this past weekend against Portland.

As aforementioned, centre-back is a position where consistency of performance is key, so a three-game sample size at the MLS level is still small. But all the keys to long-term success are there, including the fact that Hiebert is playing alongside veteran MLS centre-back Tim Parker, and in front of former Swiss international and Borussia Dortmund keeper Roman Bürki. There is nothing about Hiebert’s game that is particularly flashy, he makes simple passes and smart defensive decisions, but if he can replicate these recent performances he could be a promising addition to a still thin centreback corps.

Interestingly, Hiebert was actually a midfielder before former Valour coach Rob Gale, who was overseeing the youth national team program at the time, convinced him playing as a central defender would increase his chances of making the U-18 Canada side. That wise counsel might end up earning Hiebert a fast track to the senior national team all these years later.

The element of surprise

After Canada’s run at the 2022 World Cup concluded, coach Herdman said one of the biggest keys to the program’s success in the next cycle will come in dual national battles. Given Canada’s emergence as a legitimate soccer country in recent years, coupled with the fact that they will be a host nation in the 2026, some unexpected names could find their way onto the roster in the coming years.

Ike Ugbo’s callup, for example, came as a complete surprise during World Cup qualifiers. With an expanded scouting staff, as well as players who are now making their Canadian eligibility known around the globe don’t rule out another Ugbo-like call-up as early as March, especially with the number of matches Canada is set to play this summer.