The Canadian men’s national team had a very “U-shaped” decade in the 2010s: two peaks and one big valley.
Look back at 2011. Canada cruised through their first World Cup Qualifying stage and earned some incredible results against Belarus and Ecuador. The following year saw expectations build — wins over Trinidad and Tobago and Panama, draws against Honduras (uh oh) and the United States (do you know what’s next?) put Canada on a pathway to the 2014 World Cup — and they played the part, too. I’m not sure what happened after that, though…
The mid-2010s saw a serious decline, with poor Gold Cup performances and just a handful of meaningful matches to feast on. By 2016, Canada had lost three straight World Cup qualifiers, sealing their fate for the 2018 tournament.
Then came 2018 itself. Canada soared with newcomers Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Junior Hoilett, and Scott Arfield. An undefeated Concacaf Nations League Qualifying campaign bled into a win against the U.S. (feel better now?). Gold Cup 2019 didn’t have a great ending, but it showed promise — thus completing the valley with a second high-point.
Canada had a number of good players and teams in this time. Would it all be different if the solid squad of 2012 melded with the explosivity of 2019? How would that squad look?
Well, take a look for yourself. Here’s a look at what an all-decade CanMNT squad would look like (including substitutes).
What a way to start. Borjan is the latest successor in a line of top-class Canadian goalkeepers such as Pat Onstad, Craig Forrest and Lars Hirschfeld, and the Red Star Belgrade shot-stopper took the reins this decade to great effect. Champions League quality, as proven at his club, and one of the best in Concacaf. He’s been consistent too, holding the position since early in the decade.
Nik Ledgerwood – Right Fullback
Primarily a central midfielder, the current Cavalry FC captain has been a reliable, versatile player for Canada this decade. All but three of his 50 senior caps came between 2010 and 2017 as he clocked serious minutes at every level of competition Canada has faced in the last 10 years. A force on both sides of the ball with heavy experience in the German second division, Ledgerwood has long been a fan favourite in a Canada shirt.
David Edgar – Centre-back
Although first called up in 2008 and again in 2010, Edgar didn’t earn his first cap until Feb. 9, 2011 in a friendly against Greece. That game opened the national team floodgates for Edgar, as the native of Kitchener, Ont., became a regular fixture in Canada’s starting lineup for the next six years. Edgar was ever present in Canada’s back line, earning 42 caps (37 as a starter), while scoring four goals and adding three assists, with his last appearance coming in 2018, in John Herdman’s first match in charge.
Kevin McKenna – Centre-back
The peak of his international career wasn’t entirely in this decade, but he still earned 17 caps between 2010 and 2012 before hanging them up, all while starting in the Bundesliga for FC Köln. He never suited up for Canada again after captaining the 8-1 loss in Honduras, but that hasn’t much tainted the image of one of the best centre-backs Canada has had in recent memory. McKenna went into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in 2019, and rightly so.
Marcel De Jong – Left Fullback
“Servant” and “steady” come to mind when talking about Marcel De Jong and Canada. The left fullback was the first name on the team sheet for a national team lacking depth or quality on the left side for years. De Jong was flexible, able to bomb forward or defend with real effectiveness, as he had to do with Canada many times. All in all, the current Pacific FC player earned 44 caps over the decade, a total limited due to injuries.
Junior Hoilett – Left Winger
It wasn’t always going to be straightforward for Junior Hoilett. Committing to Canada in 2015, the Blackburn Rovers product made an immediate impact in the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign, followed by the 2017 Gold Cup. Since then, it’s been all smiles. The Cardiff City winger had an immense Gold Cup this summer, followed by a captain’s hat-trick against Cuba in September. Hoilett is quality – and certainly, one of the best wide players Canada has had since the turn of the century.
Julian De Guzman – Central Midfielder
Simply put, de Guzman is one of the best players this country has ever produced. Forty-seven of his national team-high 89 caps came during this decade — which is pretty incredible when you consider he debuted for Canada’s senior side in 2002. Alongside Atiba Hutchinson, he was at the heart of Canada’s midfield for many years, bringing a touch of class and grace to the centre of the park for the Reds.
Atiba Hutchinson – Central Midfielder
The future of this list’s next player notwithstanding, no Canadian has ever impressed in the UEFA Champions League like Hutchinson. He’s a six-time Canadian player of the year, and he once famously impressed Arsène Wenger. Hutchinson is a club legend at Besiktas, which can’t really be said for any other Canadians at European teams. Oh yeah, he’s also second on the national team’s all-time caps list with 84. This choice is a tap-in.
Alphonso Davies – Right Winger
Completing the midfield is Canada’s wunderkind. A no-brainer as one of Canada’s greatest talents. Alphonso Davies got started with the men’s team in 2017 — the day he completed his citizenship test. Weeks later, Davies pieced together one of the best Gold Cup performances ever seen by a Canadian. It’s been a whirlwind ever since for the former Whitecap, who’s earning plaudits as one of the best young players in Europe with Bayern Munich. Nevermind the 2010s, what will Davies do in the 2020s?
Dwayne De Rosario – Forward
Do we need to say much more than “all-time leading goalscorer”? DeRo has 22 goals and 81 caps, and although he, too played the better part of his national team career before 2010, he was a serious contributor (and a team legend) until 2015. He’s also probably the best Canadian player to grace MLS, appearing in the league’s best XI six times and winning the MVP and Golden Boot nods in 2011. In an era where Canada’s best players have often been defensive-minded, De Rosario brought an attacking flair that endeared him to Canadians very quickly.
Jonathan David – Forward
It seems ridiculous to include a player who has a meagre 12 caps and only made his national team debut in September 2018. But David, a 19-year-old native of Ottawa, has accomplished a lot in a short period of time. He bagged a brace in his debut, and has gone on to score 11 times — it’s only a matter of time before he takes down De Rosario (22 goals in 81 games) as Canada’s all-time top scorer. Named Canadian Player of the Year for 2019, David scored eight goals in nine appearances this year. Six of those goals came at this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup (a new team record) where he finished as the tournament’s top scorer and was named to the Gold Cup all-star team.
Here’s what CPL Editorial’s CanMNT team of the decade looks like:
Lars Hirschfeld – Goalkeeper
Before there was Milan Borjan, there was Lars Hirschfeld. The Edmonton native became Canada’s No. 1 following a breakout 2002 Gold Cup where he was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament. He bounced around between clubs in Europe, most notably spending time at Tottenham, and was a mainstay for the national team over the years, with 19 of his 48 caps coming in this decade.
Andre Hainault – Centre-back
Some tough choices had to be made at defence for this team of the decade, but Hainault, with his 44 caps, is a worthy entrant. A reliable presence at the back, the Montréalais defender was Kevin McKenna’s partner in crime on many occasions, including at the 2011 Gold Cup. He’s still plying his trade at Kaiserslautern in in Germany, spending much of the 2010s making a solid living as a defender in Europe after a successful stint at Houston Dynamo in MLS.
Dejan Jakovic – Centre-back
Jakovic has bounced around and travelled a fair bit in his club career, with stints at Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, D.C. United and LAFC in MLS, the New York Cosmos in the NASL, and Shimizu S-Pulse of Japan. But the Croatian-born centre back who grew up in Etobicoke, Ont., has been a loyal servant for Canada since earning his first cap in 2008. Jakovic went on to make 41 appearances (38 as a starter), with the veteran defender often called upon to hold together Canada’s back line over the years.
Samuel Piette – Midfielder
Piette was only 18 when he first played for Canada in 2012. Now, he’s 25, and a key midfielder of both the Montreal Impact and the Canadian senior team. A native of Le Gardeur, Que., Piette has been a staple in the Canadian midfield over the past several years, earning 46 caps (32 as a starter) and tallying four assists. His best performance for the Reds came in October, when he won his midfield duel with Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley, playing a pivotal role in Canada’s 2-0 victory over the United States.
Scott Arfield – Midfielder
A sprightly 31 years old, the Scottish-born Arfield has carved out a niche for himself as the leader of this generation of the Canadian men’s national team. He only made his debut in 2016, but he feels like he’s been around forever with Canada, considering how much younger many of his teammates are. Arfield is the anchor of Canada’s midfield right now, and he’s had a heavy influence of the current side’s development.
Jonathan Osorio – Midfielder
A hugely important player for Toronto FC during its run to the 2016 MLS Cup final and again the following year when TFC won it all, Osorio has also proven to be an invaluable member of the Canadian national team. The Toronto-born midfielder has earned 31 caps (22 as a starter) since making his debut for the senior side in 2013, with four goals and six assists to his credit. He could have had more caps if he wasn’t criminally overlooked for national team duty during the Benito Floro era.
Tosaint Ricketts – Forward
Let’s end with a look back to lean years. When attacking prowess was rare, Tosaint Ricketts was still scoring to incredible effect. The Edmonton native converted 16 times for his country in the decade – including five in 2015. It’s the best goalscoring run of any Reds player in the last ten years by quite a margin (Jonathan David and Lucas Cavallini scored 11 times) and enough to put the 32-year-old at fourth in Canada’s all-time goalscoring chart.