The Canadian men’s team is off to a roaring start in 2020 following a 4-1 win over Barbados on Tuesday night. Seventeen players from Canada’s 26-man roster took the field in Irvine, California, with coach John Herdman handing senior debuts to five youngsters in the first of three friendlies for the Reds this month.
So, step one of Operation Three-for-Three is completed, with the Canadians picking up about a point and a half in the FIFA rankings, inching (and I domean inching) them closer to El Salvador’s sixth-place spot in the Concacaf region —and a place in “the Hex” en route to 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
From what we saw from the highlights, Canada was convincing in cruising past Barbados and gave itself enough breathing room to use all six of its substitutes while also saving some legs for the next two games. The Canadian team was overwhelming in attack and hardly gave up the ball (the only shot conceded, apparently, was the penalty kick that put Barbados on the scoreboard).
Attention now turns to Friday’s rematch with the Barbadians, in which Canada will try to bank a few more points before it takes on Iceland next week. With Herdman rolling out quite a strong side (perhaps stronger than most expected) for the opener against Barbados, might he have a few more debuts to dish out, to some (or all) of the six on his roster still waiting for one?
Canada lined up in a sort of 4-2-2-2 on Tuesday, similar to its setup against the United States at home in October. Herdman has spoken openly about the high-press he likes his side to play, regardless of the opponent, and so it’s unsurprising to see him instilling these systems despite the notable player absences.
Among the bystanders on Tuesday were a few distinguished national team regulars, including centre back Derek Cornelius and fullback Richie Laryea, both of whom will surely get the nod on Friday. Ashtone Morgan, with 16 senior caps, could also factor in at left fullback on Friday to give Samuel Adekugbe a night off — surely he was brought back into the fold to play one of these games, right? That said, 20-year-old Zorhan Bassong is a natural left fullback as well, so maybe he’s the one who steps in for Adekugbe.
So, we come to the six remaining players who hope to earn their first cap on Friday. We’ll definitely see turnover in the squad from game one, with this next match coming on short rest for a group of players who (for the most part) haven’t played competitive soccer for a couple of months.
With two uncapped goalkeepers sitting on the bench in James Pantemis and Cavalry FC’s Marco Carducci, it feels certain that one of them will step in for Maxime Crépeau —although the Whitecaps ‘keeper was largely a spectator on Tuesday.
As far as the remaining members of the squad, Herdman has a lot of room to experiment with different attacking looks. He has Toronto FC winger Jacob Shaffelburg and Forge FC star Tristan Borges, both of whom are versatile enough to play either out wide or more centrally (Borges especially).
It’s unlikely the two start together up front; if they were both to make the starting 11, they’d likely flank Tesho Akindele or Tosaint Ricketts (or Borges might drop into midfield). Still, it’d be a good bet that both see minutes on Friday, with at least one of them making Herdman’s starting lineup.
And then there’s Amer Didic of FC Edmonton. If Canada does a wholesale swap of the back line for Friday, then the previous centre back pairing of Kamal Miller and Manjrekar James could be smoothly replaced with Didic and Cornelius.
The purpose of this national team camp is threefold: to give national team minutes to deserving players; to rack up as many FIFA ranking points as possible; and to prepare some under-23 players for March’s Olympic qualifying tournament.
Mission one is well on its way to completion, and it’d be a shock if anybody leaves this camp without at least one appearance. The second is also on track: Canada took care of Barbados very comfortably and shouldn’t have trouble on Friday.
Iceland next Wednesday should be a tougher test; there’s no Gylfi Sigurdsson, but their squad has players who play in the top leagues of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. These two matches against Barbados, then, are essentially a double-bill audition for the bigger game. By making the Iceland match a reward for hard work in the prior two contests, Herdman has ensured a competitive, motivated camp.
The third purpose, preparing a squad for the Olympic qualifiers, is achieved just by having these young players in camp. If he wanted to, though, Herdman could probably field a lineup of almost entirely under-23s. That seems unlikely, but it’d be an interesting experiment.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to decide how exactly Herdman is viewing any of these three games in California — literally everything here is conjecture. Still, if there’s anything we can be most sure of ahead of Friday, it’s that a comprehensive performance on Tuesday has earned Canada the right to experiment a little more.