Throughout my adult life, there’s probably no team I’ve wondered about more than the men’s national team.
Historically, those questions have ranged from “who are those guys on the roster?” to “will the team actually score a goal this month?” to “how is it possible that we’re in the same group with Honduras again?”
But with the team’s recent renaissance comes a whole new — and decidedly more positive — line of inquiry. So, ahead of Canada’s upcoming pair of CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba, this week I’ll be turning my wondering eyes towards John Herdman’s side.
What role will Marco Carducci play?
Fans in Calgary and beyond will be extremely interested to see whether the Cavalry FC ’keeper — who’s already become the first player in CPL history to earn a senior-team call-up — can be the first CPLer to step on the field in Canada red for the big team.
Carducci has spent some time in the national team setup, with the U-17 and U-20 sides. But at 22, he’s got less experience for both club and country than Milan Borjan, Canada’s undisputed No. 1, and Maxime Crepeau, who’s been in very fine form so far this season with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
So although circumstances can change quickly, it’s most likely that Carducci will be observing these games from the sidelines. Even so, his presence on the roster sends a clear signal throughout the Canadian Premier League: Herdman is watching.
Have we seen the last of Atiba Hutchinson with Canada?
Back in September 2016, I stood on the turf at BC Place after Canada’s final game of FIFA World Cup qualifying and spoke to Atiba Hutchinson about his future. Seeing his eyes and hearing his voice, I was certain that we’d seen him play his final game with the national team.
The 36-year-old was still out there at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, albeit in an unfamiliar role as a central defender. At that tournament’s conclusion, we talking heads again mused about whether Atiba’s time was done. His exclusion from the roster for these games lends credence to the idea that his tenure is actually over.
But having wondered about this at numerous junctures already, I won’t hazard a guess at an answer until we hear from the man himself.
Can Jonathan David possibly maintain this pace?
The 19-year-old’s scoring rate for the national team — 10 goals in eight appearances thus far — can’t conceivably be sustainable over the long term. But given that his national-team debut came just one year ago, it’s reasonable to think that there’s a bit more lightning yet to be stuffed into this bottle.
And that could come in handy, given that goal differential may end up playing a key part in deciding whether Canada advances out of this three-team group with Cuba and the U.S. So it’s entirely likely that Herdman will set David loose — and given that the youngster scored a hat trick against Cuba the last time the two teams met, things could get real ugly (or beautiful, depending on how you look at it).
What will David Wotherspoon bring to the table?
The team will be missing Scott Arfield, the Scotland-born-and-raised midfielder who competed for Scotland at the youth level before deciding, in his late 20s, to switch to Canada, for whom he was eligible through a parent. But they will have David Wotherspoon, the Scotland-born-and-yeah-you-get-the-point.
The 29-year-old has but one cap for Les Rouges thus far, a 2018 friendly against New Zealand in which he played the second half. Now, I’m not suggesting Wotherspoon for Arfield is a direct replacement; Arfield, after all, has risen meteorically within the Canadian program, to the point where he’s the squad’s de facto captain.
But Wotherspoon may be the biggest question mark on this roster for most Canadian fans—not in terms of merit, but in terms of just not having seen what he can do. Will these games offer a chance to change that?
How’s that back line going to look?
Speaking of question marks, Canada’s defending was under the microscope at the Gold Cup, and not always for the right reasons. Herdman’s made some changes on that front, bringing back Steven Vitoria (whose last Canada cap was in October 2017) and Adam Straith (June 2017) in the middle, as well as Sam Adekugbe and Juan Cordova at fullback.
The Whitecaps tandem of Derek Cornelius and Doneil Henry are still aboard for some continuity. But we could get some all-new quartets along the back, as Herdman tries to find the right balance ahead of World Cup qualifying.
Will the locals be seeking revenge for 1995?
So, in a perfectly CONCACAF-y turn of randomness, the “away” leg of Canada’s home-and-away with Cuba will be played not in Cuba, but in the Cayman Islands.
Now, to be fair, it’s not unheard of for an official international match to be played in a neutral country due to one team being unable to provide a suitable venue — and that’s the reason why the match won’t be played in Cuba.
When asked to choose a replacement site, the Cuban Football Association picked the Cayman Islands—population 64,000 and a FIFA ranking of No. 204. It makes geographical sense, although the extra travel to get to the tiny nation will surely wear on the Canadian side.
And while you may think no one living in the Cayman Islands could possibly care, there actually is a bit of history. Back in 1995, the nation co-hosted the Caribbean Cup, and actually made it all the way to the semifinals, where they were stomped 9-2 by Trinidad & Tobago. The third-place game offered a chance at redemption on home soil, but Cuba walked away with a 3-0 win.
There is surely at least one (and possibly only one) person who’s waiting for Cuba to get their comeuppance in the Cayman Islands. Here’s hoping Canada can oblige.