It has been since November of 2019 that the Canada Men’s National Team played a competitive game. They lost 4 – 1 to the USA in Orlando FLA after the euphoria of beating them 2-0 in Toronto in October of 2019. The COVID situation is causing havoc globally and affecting life as we know it. The soccer world is not immune to this with leagues and tournaments globally being delayed or completely shut down. CONCACAF has been forced to change their qualifying process. As of July 26 a new format has been announced, with games starting in October of 2020. With this in mind, John Herdman has some interesting decisions to make for the national team starting lineup. The talent level has increased with the emergence of youngsters like Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich and Jonathan David of Ghent in Belgium, but there remain some big holes that need to be addressed.
With the talent John Herdman has at his disposal, trying to find the proper balance will be difficult. At the same time, there is not enough time to experiment with formations and personnel. Once the schedule is released, with a clogged fixture list, it will be straight to qualifying with few friendlies . I believe the best way forward would be a 4 2 3 1 formation to keep things simple.
The goalkeeper position is not that deep, but full of promise. Milan Borjan of Red Star Belgrade has had the number one position for a few years now and at 32 is a very good shot stopper. Yet, he is not the greatest at distributing the ball and has been prone to coughing up the ball when forwards have been pressing. Nonetheless, he has been decent when called upon. His backup will be Maxime Crepeau of Vancouver Whitecaps, who has been improving every year and was a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bad Whitecaps squad. And finally, I would go with Marco Carducci from Calvary FC as the third string keeper.
The backline might be team Canada’s biggest concern going forward. It has been prone to making some serious gaffes, most notably in the Gold Cup quarterfinal versus Haiti in 2019. I am sure it is an area which gives John Herdman and his coaching staff some worries. The centre back position is the major problem. There is some promise in future prospects, but for now I think we need to make do with what we have.
In the 4-4-2 formation, my two starting centre backs are Derek Cornelius of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Steven Vitoria of Moreirense FC in Portugal. Cornelius is fast on the ball and makes good decisions. Vitoria, even though he is 33, adds some much-needed experience and can organize the backline.
For subs I suggest first Doneil Henry of Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea. If he hadn’t been so mistake prone in the past, I would have him ahead of Vitoria. By all accounts he has been very solid in Korea and has been playing a lot, so hopefully his added experience will make him more dependable in the future. Manjrekar James of Danish club FC Midtjylland, who was off the radar in the last in year, has recently been playing a lot more for his club and would make a quality sub. Kamal Miller of Orlando could fill this spot as well as LB. Finally, Amer Didic of FC Edmonton, despite being 6’4, is very agile and does have some quickness.
In the fullback position Canada has some decent talent on both ends; guys who possess some decent skill and speed. At right back my starter would be Richie Laryea from Toronto FC. He had an extraordinarily strong season in 2019 with both club and country, and was very instrumental in helping TFC in their playoff run last year. Behind Laryea I would go with Zachary Brault-Gilliard from the Montreal Impact. He is a similar player to Laryea, but at only 21 he is definitely a player for the future .
The left back position is where it gets interesting. Alphonso Davies, who is Canada’s best player and one of the top players in CONCACAF, has had a breakthrough season at Bayern Munich mostly playing as a left back. This is a position he had never played before this season, but he has performed brilliantly in it. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in speed. Despite this, on the Canada squad I think Herdman should use him as a winger where his true talents are seen. Instead, I am going with Sam Adekugbe who plays for Valerenga in Norway. He is decent going forward and is a good crosser of the ball. As far as his replacement, I am going with Kamal Miller of Orlando. He may not have Adekugbe’s ability to go forward but he is very stable defensively.
This is Canada’s main strength as they have some real depth in this area. I believe they have one of the better midfields in CONCACAF; something I would not have said a few years back. There is some real competition for playing time which is a good sign.
At the CDM position it is a toss-up between Samuel Piette of the Montréal Impact and Steven Eustaquio of Portuguese club Pacos de Ferreira (On loan from Cruz Azul). To me, you cannot go wrong either way; but I am going to go with Eustaquio as the starter since he is good defensively and may have the edge in attacking.
Beside Eustaquio, I would choose from LAFC Mark-Anthony Kaye. He has been stellar at his club, helping them become one of the better clubs in MLS in just two seasons. He is very good defensively and also a great passer of the ball. Liam Fraser of Toronto FC makes a good replacement for Kaye; he was solid in the win vs the USA coming on as a substitute after Kaye was injured. Fraser needs more playing time at the club level and with Michael Bradley occupying the same position, a loan to CPL would be a good idea given he is only 22.
At center attacking midfield there is another toss up between Scott Arfield of Rangers and Jonathan Osorio of Toronto FC. Both play a similar game and are very capable when called upon. In the end, I would go with Osorio. He plays a pivotal role at TFC in the central midfield position, can make great passes and does score on occasion. Arfield is also excellent on the attack, but I just think Osorio is a bit better defensively. My left winger is Alphonso Davies as his speed alone can worry defenders. He can also create chances offensively, is not afraid to take on defenders, and is maybe the best Canadian soccer player since Dwayne De Rosario. For his sub I would go with Junior Hoilett of Cardiff FC. Hoilett can play either wing effectively, is not afraid to take on defenders, and can score the odd goal.
On the right wing I’m going with Jonathan David of Ghent, who can also play as striker. David has great speed, can read the game effectively, is a very smart player, and can score effectively. His replacement would be Tesho Akindele of Orlando FC. Akindele is not as talented as David but has proven at club level to be a decent player and a regular starter who slots the odd goal every now and then.
The striker / forward position is an area where Canada throughout the years has really struggled with. There has been some flashes now and then with guys like Dale Mitchell in the 80s Alex Bunbury in the 90s and more recently Dwayne De Rosario, but scoring goals has always been a major problem in tournaments and games.
The national team starting lineup has much better options for forwards compared to years past. Depending on the formation Herdman goes with, he can employ either Davies or David upfront. With my formation, however, I am going with Lucas Cavallini of the Vancouver Whitecaps as my striker. Cavallini has been a proven striker at club Level in Uruguay and Mexico as well as the National team. He can also create chances for other teammates effectively. For his backup I am going to go with Cyle Larin of Belgian side Zulte Waregem. Larin has exploded on the scene in Belgium scoring tons of goals and has really improved his play in the recent months. Of the two I just think Cavallini is a bit more versatile whereas Larin is more static.