Soccer·Preview

Canadians competing in Champions League bodes well for future of men's national team

In another sign of just how far Canadian soccer has come, four members of Canada's men's team will be competing in the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League that kicks off this week with the 32-team group stage.

Never before has Canada's men had so many players featured in soccer's biggest club competition

Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, centre, is considered one of the best fullbacks in the world today. ( Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

In another sign of just how far Canadian soccer has come, four members of Canada's men's team will be competing in the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League that kicks off this week with the 32-team group stage.

Never before has Canada had so many players on the men's side featuring in world soccer's biggest and most prestigious club competition in a single season, which is a testament to the amazing evolution that the national team has made from CONCACAF door mats to legitimate contenders to qualify for next year's FIFA World in Qatar.

Having so many Canadians in the Champions League would have been unimaginable five years ago. Today, it's a reality, and it bodes well for the future of the men's team to have so many Canadians rubbing shoulders and testing their skills against the sport's best players. Canada is in the middle of a gruelling CONCACAF campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, and the more of its players who are playing at this elite club level the better.

Davies leads the way

Leading the Canadian pack is Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, the 20-year-old from Edmonton. Davies is considered one of the best fullbacks in the world today, and he played a starring role in helping Bayern win its sixth Champions League title two years ago. In doing so, the lightning quick Davies became the first member of the Canadian men's team to win the Champions League.

With nine goals and 12 assists in 25 international appearances, Davies has become an integral member of Canada's national team, especially in attack, where his probing runs down the flanks and fearlessness in taking on defenders has been invaluable to coach John Herdman's side.

WATCH | Signa Butler, John Molinaro analyze Canada's peformance:

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Signa Butler sits down with John Molinaro to break down Canada's opening fixtures in the final round of qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. 3:50
Also returning to the bright lights of the Champions League is veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who has 88 caps and is just two away from breaking Julian de Guzman's all-time appearances record for the Canadian men's team.

Hutchinson's previous Champions League experience includes a season with Danish side FC Copenhagen in 2006-07, and back-to-back runs from 2016 to 2018 with current team Besiktas. Hutchinson is an icon at Besiktas, helping the Istanbul-based club win last season's Turkish Super Lig and Turkish Cup. But European success has eluded Besiktas, and at age 38, this could be Hutchinson's last crack at it.

Atiba Hutchinson, front, pictured competing in 2017, is an icon at Besiktas, helping the Istanbul-based club win last season’s Turkish Super Lig and Turkish Cup. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Larin making Champions League debut

Besiktas teammate and fellow Brampton, Ont., native Cyle Larin will be making his Champions League debut this season, eager to prove that his goal-scoring spree for both club and country hasn't been a fluke. The Canadian forward, 26, is coming off a breakout campaign in which he finished second in scoring in Turkey with 19 goals, scored 24 times in all competitions, and played a starring role in Besiktas winning the Turkish league title and domestic cup competition.

He also has 20 goals for Canada, and will likely eclipse Dwayne De Rosario (22 goals) as the men's team's all-time top scorer during October's World Cup qualifiers.

Rounding out the Canadian contingent in this season's Champions League is another young debutante, Jonathan David. The Canadian forward's stock has skyrocketed ever since 2018 when he signed with Belgian club KAA Gent, for whom he scored an impressive 26 goals in 50 games over two seasons. 

His sizzling form caught the attention of French team Lille OSC, which reportedly paid a club-record $35 million US transfer fee for him last summer, making David the most expensive Canadian player of all-time.

David, a 21-year-old from Ottawa with 16 goals in 19 appearances for Canada, repaid Lille's faith in him by scoring 13 goals in his debut campaign in France's Ligue Un, setting a new record for a Canadian in a top-five European league in a single season, and helping Lille win its first French league championship in a decade. Now, he's ready to show the rest of Europe's top teams what he can do in the Champions League.

The sizzling form of Jonathan David, left, caught the attention of French team Lille OSC, which reportedly paid a club-record $35 million US transfer fee for him last summer. (Loic Venance/Getty Images)

Canadians featured in Europa League

This season's UEFA Europa League, European soccer's secondary club competition, will also feature Canadian internationals in action. 

Goalkeeper Milan Borjan backstopped Red Star Belgrade to a fourth consecutive SuperLiga crown in 2020-21, but he'll be looking to help the club improve upon its disappointing exit in the round of 32 from last season's Europa League.

Borjan, 33, has been a key member of Canada's national team ever since making his debut in 2011. Since then he's earned 56 caps, and tied Paul Dolan's national team record for career shutouts with 25, as well as establishing himself as Canada's team leaders with his unbridled passion both on and off the pitch.

Veteran midfielder Scott Arfield was part of a Rangers side that won the Premiership title last season, ending Glasgow rivals Celtic's streak of nine consecutive Scottish league titles. The Scottish-born Arfield, 32, has 19 caps for Canada, but he has floated in and out of the team since making his debut five years ago, as he's chosen to focus on his club career — although he hasn't closed the door on his national team career. 

His last appearance for Canada was in 2019, but a strong showing for Rangers in the Europa League could lead to a recall by Herdman as the team makes its way through the World Cup qualifiers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

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