With the 2015 Women’s World Cup the rightful focus of Canada’s attention this summer, it’s easy to forget that the men are undertaking their qualification process for Russia 2018 and will also play in our Confederation’s Championship, the Gold Cup.
That strange odour your nose is detecting is the smell of hope for the Canadian Men’s National Team. Take a deep whiff – it only happens every four years, and for a pretty short period! Canada takes on Dominica in this qualifying round for Russia 2018 in a home & home aggregate series. Those of you who clicked through on that Dominica link now know that the island country has a population roughly the size of Kamloops. Hence, hopes are high for the June 11th and 17th matches.
A few weeks later, Canada tries to replicate its 2000 Gold Cup glory by trying to get results in a group against Costa Rica, Jamaica and El Salvador. That’s a step up from Dominica, for sure.
Can they do it? Well, hope springs eternal in these parts (you know, until we lose 8-1 in a crucial match or something). Let’s take a look at the options at head coach Benito Floro’s disposal ahead of his selection (rumoured to come tomorrow June 2nd) for the Dominica matches.
First, let’s get the negatives out of the way. Fraser Aird (Rangers FC) and Junior Hoilett (QPR) are not likely to accept the call from Floro. Sportsnet’s John Molinaro hinted in a tweet that there would be “a few pleasant surprises” in tomorrow’s announcement, but I just don’t think these guys are showing up any time soon (and in Hoilett’s case, nothing indicates he will ever represent).
Who is in? Let’s break this down by position and try to divine Floro’s thoughts.
Milan Borjan (FK Radnički Niš) is likely to be the man patrolling Canada’s 18-yard box in Dominica and in the Gold Cup. Expect Lars Hirshfeld of Vålerenga to be his deputy. If Canada takes a large lead in the away leg, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toronto FC Academy player Quinlan Roberts or Montreal Impact youngster Maxime Crépeau get a start in the home leg.
In recent years, Canada’s back line has been its achilles heel (well, along with scoring), but things are looking up – way up. Ashtone Morgan has been on top form at left back for Toronto FC and recently departed TFC standout Doneil Henry could team up with New York Red Bulls revelation Karl Ouimette or Dejan Javokic who plies his trade in Japan. That’s without mentioning Sporting KC’s Marcel de Jong or Vancouver Whitecaps breakout player Sam Adekugbe.
In fact, things are so crowded at left back that de Jong might be squeezed up to left midfield. We can also expect to see David Edgar fit somewhere into this mix, along with Luca Gasparotto.
Here’s where Canada currently shines. For example, let’s just list those who are likely to get a call-up, and you try to pick only 4 or 5 starters to the 23-man roster:
- Atiba Hutchinson
- Will Johnson
- Maxime Tissot
- Jonathan Osorio
- Russell Teibert
- Kyle Bekker
- Patrice Bernier
- Julian de Guzman
- Marcel de Jong
- Nikolas Ledgerwood
Hey, you may know right away who’s destined for the starting lineup, but the truth is that after Atiba and Johnson, selection is tough. Heck, there might not even be room for Junior Hoilett should he see the light and decide to represent his country. Not on that list but worthy of mention are Samuel Piette, Pedro Pacheco and of course Hanson Boakai.
There is no more reason to cheer for Canada to blow out Dominica in the first leg than Hanson Boakai. It would be foolish to throw him into a close match, but the 18 year old is the future of the program and needs to be cap tied as soon as possible. If his FC Edmonton manager Colin Miller is to be believed, Hanson is a bit – let us say precocious – at this stage of his career, so let’s get him under our control now, before some sort of imagined snub drives him to represent Guinea instead.
If we were to guess, John Molinaro’s “few pleasant surprises” tease will come to fruition at forward, where 2014’s MLS Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele is expected to accept a call up after flirting with the USA last year. The other element of Molinaro’s tease could be the call up of Cyle Larin, who is well on this way to becoming this year’s MLS Rookie of the Year. That would be a nice strike force indeed, but let’s not forget the other options. Simeon Jackson, Tosaint Ricketts and Marcus Haber are nice for coming off the bench. Randy Edwini-Bonsu brings flair and energy to the attack, and Voyageurs-favourite Iain Hume is sure to feature in some way.
Fans of the Canadian Men’s team always get their hopes up at this period of the World Cup cycle, but this time the hope seems to be rooted in a group of players that have the potential to get to the hex and squeeze into the World Cup picture.
All in all an exciting summer is in store for Canadian soccer, and that’s not even counting the Women’s World Cup. Allez Les Rouges!
Théo’s Northern Starting XI (4-5-1)
Image courtesy of Soccer Canada on Flickr.