The Canadian men's national team's 25-man roster for its final three World Cup qualifiers was announced on Sunday, with 19-year-old CF Montreal midfielder Ismael Kone among the surprises to make the cut.
Kone, who was born in the Ivory Coast, has made seven appearances – logging nearly 500 minutes in those games – for Montreal across all competitions this season. That includes starts in the Concacaf Champions League against Mexican giants Cruz Azul and Santos Laguna. The teenager scored his first goal for the club in the team's 3-0 win over Santos on Feb. 23.
The youngster is also coming off a monumental performance in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Atlanta United on Saturday, picking up a goal, an assist and drawing a penalty for Montreal.
“One thing that I have seen consistently is just a fearless mindset,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “I think the game this weekend [versus Atlanta United], he was able to show that sort of resilience that I think is really important to be part of this team where you can make a mistake and come back and produce a performance like he did.”
Minnesota United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair is the only other player who was not part of the January squad. St. Clair has started Minnesota's last two games, keeping clean sheets in both matches. The likes of Montreal's Sebastian Breza were among the other candidates to be Canada's No. 3 shot-stopper.
Alphonso Davies remains out as he recovers from mild myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Bayern Munich is hopeful that Davies can return to the pitch in time for the Champions League quarterfinals versus Villarreal, with the first leg kicking off on April 6.
"We were desperate to have him in to be part of [clinching a World Cup berth],” Herdman said. “To help him experience all of the effort he put in over these four years. But there are bigger things ahead and his health, anything around the heart, is so precarious. I think 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."
Midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and defender Richie Laryea were both included despite a lack of match fitness. Luckily for Herdman, Eustaquio started in Porto's 1-1 draw with Lyon in the Europa League last Thursday and looked solid in his longest start to date for his new club.
Whereas Eustaquio has five appearances and around 120 minutes since his Porto debut on Feb. 6, Laryea has yet to play a single match for Nottingham Forest after joining the Championship outfit from Toronto FC in January. The 27-year-old's last game was with Canada in the 2-0 win over El Salvador on Feb. 2.
Combined with the long layoff due to the MLS off-season, Laryea is far less in shape compared to previous windows with the national team.
"You have always got those concerns as a coach,” said Herdman. “But I think you don't underestimate, either, the power of the human will and the human potential. Players like that can turn it on when they need to.
"What we know is they might not be able to turn it on for 95, 100 minutes but there will be a period in the game where these players will suffer a bit. But at the end of the day, they have showed a resilient mindset and if I believe the science and everything that science told us, we would not be where we are at now.”
Should any injuries or suspensions occur during the window, there is a select group of players on standby, who are usually domestic-based for ease of travel in case the team requires an emergency call-up. L.A. Galaxy defender Raheem Edwards is among them after an impressive start to the 2022 season. It wasn't enough to land Edwards on the roster but Herdman still acknowledged the 26-year-old's recent form.
"He did well at the end of last season so he has been in our reckoning now for a period of time and certainly his few games for LA Galaxy, his shift to left-back, has transformed him."
Canada, who remains undefeated in the final round of World Cup qualifying through 11 games, opens the March window against Costa Rica on Thursday in San Jose.
A victory over Costa Rica would automatically clinch a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November. A Canada draw, plus Panama and the U.S. failing to beat Honduras and Mexico, respectively, would also be enough. Even a Canadian loss along with Panama not defeating Honduras and the U.S. losing to Mexico would secure the berth.
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade), Maxime Crepeau (Los Angeles FC), Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United).
Defenders: Sam Adekugbe (Hatayspor), Derek Cornelius (Panetolikos), Cristian Gutierrez (Vancouver Whitecaps), Doneil Henry (Los Angeles FC), Alistair Johnston (CF Montreal), Scott Kennedy (Jahn Regensburg), Richie Laryea (Nottingham Forest), Kamal Miller (CF Montreal), Steven Vitoria (Moreirense).
Midfielders: Stephen Eustaquio (FC Porto), Liam Fraser (KMSK Deinze), Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Colorado Rapids), Ismael Kone (CF Montreal), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC).
Forwards: Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge), Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jonathan David (Lille), Junior Hoilett (Reading), Cyle Larin (Besiktas), Liam Millar (FC Basel), Ike Ugbo (Troyes, on loan from Genk).