Soccer

Canadian men's soccer roster set for final 3 World Cup qualifying games

In July 2019, Canada coach John Herdman chose to see the glass half-full as CONCACAF revamped its road to the World Cup. The Canadian men were faced with qualifying the hard way — slogging through the second tier of teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean to get to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Alphonso Davies remains out; Canada has 4-point cushion over Mexico, U.S.

Canada's Cyle Larin, centre, seen celebrating his goal against the U.S. on January, is one of the forwards included in the roster for the final three CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers games. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

In July 2019, Canada coach John Herdman chose to see the glass half-full as CONCACAF revamped its road to the World Cup.

The Canadian men were faced with qualifying the hard way — slogging through the second tier of teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean to get to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"If we look at it the right way, it just could be one hell of a story," Herdman said at the time.

The pandemic forced more delays and revisions. But the Canadian men, who have risen to No. 33 in the FIFA rankings from No. 78 when Herdman made the comment, have still had to take the long road. And on Thursday, they can add a historic chapter to that story by sealing qualification for Qatar with a win in Costa Rica.

"I don't think anyone wants it to end. We've really enjoyed the experience," Herdman told reporters Sunday from Florida after naming his roster for the final three qualifying games.

"If you'd asked was I enjoying it as I was entering the stadium in Haiti, no," he added with a laugh. "But when you look back, there's been some amazing moments that, I think, have shaped the team. As a staff, as a coach, as a player group, we've grown. We've grown massively through this period."

With three games remaining, Canada (7-0-4, 25 points) has a four-point cushion over No. 12 Mexico and the 13th-ranked U.S. (both 6-2-3, 21 points) in the eight-team final round of CONCACAF qualifying. No. 63 Panama (5-4-2, 17 points) stands fourth, with No. 42 Costa Rica (4-3-4, 16 points) fifth.

The top three countries will represent CONCACAF in Qatar. The fourth-placed finisher will face an Oceania team in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.

The Canadian men play Costa Rica on Thursday in San Jose before hosting No. 62 Jamaica next Sunday in Toronto. They then wrap up qualifying play against Panama on March 30 in Panama City.

While a win in Costa Rica will seal qualification for Canada, so will a draw if Panama fails to beat Honduras.

'It's what we've hoped for'

While this international window presents another demanding travel schedule, Herdman says it also represents "what you get out of bed for."

"It's what we've hoped for — that we play these type of matches and can just keep writing new chapters in this story," he added.

The Canadian men started their qualifying journey with a 5-1 win over Bermuda in Orlando in the midst of the pandemic on March 25, 2021. They are now 13-0-4 through three rounds of qualifying, outscoring their competition 50-6.

Herdman's 25-man roster for the final stage of the qualifying road draws on players from clubs based in North American and nine European countries.

It includes 10 MLS players including Alistair Johnston, Ismael Kone And Kamal Miller from CF Montreal, Lucas Cavallini and Cristian Gutierrez from the Vancouver Whitecaps and Jonathan Osorio from Toronto FC.

Alphonso Davies still out

As expected, Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies is not included.

The 21-year-old fullback/winger has been sidelined since early January due to symptoms of myocarditis, a mild heart condition, following a bout of COVID. But he has made progress recently with recent video showing him doing individual workouts at Bayern's training centre.

The illness has meant Davies has not played for Canada since a pair of World Cup qualifying wins in November in his native Edmonton.

Herdman said while Davies is "calm," the illness has frustrated the young star.

"He's an energetic guy and he's been told to sit and do nothing for eight, nine weeks," said Herdman. "He's excited to be back [training], I know that. But realistic as well about his recovery and road to recovery.

"We were desperate to have him in, to be part of this, to get him on the pitch — even for a few minutes. But there's bigger things ahead. And anything around the heart is so precarious, all of us just want to make sure he comes back to full health. And the best place for him to be is with Bayern Munich and with the medical people there that have managed his recovery this whole period."

Herdman said Canada Soccer had been working with Bayern to see if there was a chance to have him "in and around the [Canada team] environment at some stage. But again his recovery will come first."

Midfielders Samuel Piette (Montreal) and David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone, Scotland) are also unavailable through injury.

Gutierrez and Kone are the only uncapped members of the squad.

Born in the Ivory Coast, Kone moved to Canada as a child. He signed with Montreal last August after having trained with Belgium's Genk and Mouscron prior to the pandemic, and the 19-year-old has wasted little time turning heads.

"I haven't see a profile like that from a midfielder in the time that I've been here," said Herdman, who took over the Canadian men in January 2018. "So he's definitely someone that I think can contribute and help this team over three games."

At the other end of the spectrum, captain Atiba Hutchinson looks to add to his 92 caps, a Canadian record for a men's player. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (61 caps) and Osorio (52) are second and third in seniority.

Canada's only previous trip to the men's World Cup was in 1986 in Mexico.

Roster:

Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Maxime Crepeau, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Dayne St. Clair, Minnesota United FC (MLS).

Defenders: Samuel Adekugbe, Hatayspor FC (Turkey); Derek Cornelius, Panetolikos FC (Greece); Cristian Gutierrez, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Doneil Henry, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Alistair Johnston, CF Montreal (MLS); Scott Kennedy, SSV Jahn Regensburg (Germany); Richie Laryea, Nottingham Forest (England); Kamal Miller, CF Montreal (MLS); Steven Vitoria, Moreirense FC (Portugal).

Midfielders: Stephen Eustaquio, FC Porto (Portugal); Liam Fraser, KMSK Deinze (Belgium); Atiba Hutchinson, Besiktas (Turkey); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Colorado Rapids (MLS); Ismael Kone, CF Montreal (MLS); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS).

Forwards: Tajon Buchanan, Club Brugge KV (Belgium); Lucas Cavallini, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Jonathan David, Lille OSC (France); David (Junior) Hoilett, Reading FC (England); Cyle Larin, Besiktas (Turkey); Liam Millar, FC Basel (Switzerland); Ike Ugbo, KRC Genk (Belgium).

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