How much progress has the Canadian men’s team made under John Herdman?
We’ll get a good idea over the next few weeks when Canada competes at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, its first major tournament since Herdman took over as coach last year.
Here’s what you need to know about the Canadian team set to compete at the Gold Cup.
When and where is the Gold Cup being held?
The tournament begins Saturday and concludes in the first week of July.
The round-robin portion of the competition runs from June 15 until June 25, and the knockout stage begins on June 29 with the quarterfinals. The final is scheduled for July 7 in Chicago.
Sixteen cities across the United States, Costa Rica and Jamaica will stage games.
Canada opens its World Cup account on June 15 against Martinique in Pasadena, Calif., before facing Mexico on June 19 in Denver and Cuba on June 23 in Charlotte.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge for every team,” Herdman said after announcing his 23-man roster. “It’s going to be a tough schedule and I think the realities are that you have three tough games as well. When you analyze Martinique, Cuba and Mexico they all pose a different challenge to Canada.”
He later added: “The minimum is to get out of the group stage and then roll with what the tournament throws at you.”
To consult the full tournament schedule, CLICK HERE
What are the opening round groups?
The 16-nation field is divided into four round-robin groups. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals.
Below are the four groups, with the team’s current FIFA world ranking in parenthesis.
GROUP A: Mexico (18), Canada (78), Martinique (unranked, as it’s not a member of FIFA), Cuba (174)
GROUP B: Costa Rica (38), Haiti (100), Nicaragua (129), Bermuda (175)
GROUP C: Honduras (61), Jamaica (56), El Salvador (71), Curacao (82)
GROUP D: United States (24), Panama (74), Trinidad & Tobago (93), Guyana (175)
To see the group standings, CLICK HERE
What does the Canadian team look like?
The usual cast of veterans were named to Herdman’s squad, including midfielders Atiba Hutchinson (81 caps), Will Johnson (43) and Samuel Piette (40) and goalkeeper Milan Borjan (41).
Borjan and Piette, as well as Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio and Russell Teibert of the Vancouver Whitecaps (both 23 caps), will all be playing in their fourth Gold Cup.
Hutchinson, 36, will be making his sixth (and likely final) Gold Cup appearance to tie Julian de Guzman’s national team record. Hutchinson last played in the tournament in 2011. In total, 16 players on Canada’s 23-man roster have previous Gold Cup experience.
There are also 11 players on this team with fewer than 10 caps, but one of them is Alphonso Davies, the 18-year-old whiz who plays with German club Bayern Munich. Davies may lack international experience, but he has made an impact for Canada, with three goals in nine appearances. He was also named to the 2017 Gold Cup all-star team, he finished in a tie as the tournament’s top scorer, and won the competition’s Best Young Player award.
Of Canada’s seven Gold Cup debutants on this roster, all seven are 22 years of age or younger, including a pair of uncapped MLSers in Toronto FC’s Noble Okello and Kamal Miller of Orlando City. The other Gold Cup newcomers are defenders Zachary Brault-Guillard (on loan with the Montreal Impact) and Marcus Godinho, as well as teenagers Jonathan David, Liam Millar and Derek Cornelius.
Notable squad omissions include defenders David Edgar and Samuel Adekugbe (both dealing with injuries). Others who didn’t make the cut were Ballou Tabla, Tosaint Ricketts, Dejan Jakovic, Tesho Akindele, Raheem Edwards and Anthony Jackson-Hamel.
“I think selection for the Gold Cup is always a bit of a challenge when you look at players’ individual circumstances,” Herdman said.
“Whether it’s personal or injury, and where they’re at in their pre-season development, what they need for themselves first and foremost to keep their careers moving forward, and combining that with a non-FIFA window, selection is a challenging process, of course.
“It’s been also an exciting one because I think all the players that Canada has on that roster give them a chance to push high into a Gold Cup placing. They’re there and they’re hungry and they’re absolutely committed to take this team as far as they possibly can.”
Canada’s Gold Cup roster
Goalkeepers: Milan Borjan, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia); Maxime Crepeau, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Jayson Leutwiler, Blackburn Rovers (England).
Defenders: Zachary Brault-Guillard, Montreal Impact, (MLS); Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Marcus Godinho, Heart of Midlothian (Scotland); Doneil Henry, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Kamal Miller, Orlando City (MLS); Ashtone Morgan, Toronto FC (MLS).
Midfielders: Scott Arfield, Glasgow Rangers (Scotland); Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich (Germany); Junior Hoilett, Cardiff City (Wales); Atiba Hutchinson, Besiktas (Turkey); Will Johnson, Orlando City (MLS); Mark-Anthony Kaye, Los Angeles FC (MLS); Liam Millar, Kilmarnock (Scotland); Noble Okello, Toronto FC (MLS); Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC (MLS); Samuel Piette, Montreal Impact (MLS); Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS).
Forwards: Lucas Cavallini, Club Puebla (Mexico); Jonathan David, KAA Gent (Belgium); Cyle Larin, Besiktas (Turkey).
How good is this Canadian team?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question.
There’s no doubt that Canada has looked solid since Herdman took over the reins last January. In that time, the English coach has widened the national team player pool by blooding several youngsters and capping players who had other international options, most notably Tabla.
Canada sports a perfect 6-0-0 record and has conceded just one goal during the Herdman era. The team also comfortably qualified for Group A in the inaugural Concacaf Nations League, which kicks off in September.
But most of the wins came against teams that can be charitably described as weaker opponents – an 8-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands and a 5-0 win against Dominica are hardly impressive.
The real test will come at the Gold Cup. Not only will this be the first time that Herdman’s side will compete in a condensed, competitive tournament (instead of friendlies and qualifiers held months apart), but the level of competition will be much stiffer for the Reds.
Canadian fans will watch with keen interest when Canada takes on Mexico in the group stage to see how they do against the best team in the Concacaf region, and a side that they have historically struggled against in international play. If the Canadians finish second in Group A behind Mexico, as most pundits expect them to do, a showdown with Costa Rica, another Concacaf heavyweight, likely awaits them in the quarterfinals.
There’s also pressing questions being asked about Canada’s defensive depth – or, more accurately, the lack of defensive depth. Several veterans are missing, most notably David Edgar, and Doneil Henry was hobbled by an injury in the weeks leading into the tournament. Herdman will likely have to use some players out of position – maybe even deploying Hutchinson as a centre back. Can the back line hold firm? Time will tell.
“Every man selected has to be ready to play,” Herdman admitted, while also adding, “the stronger players are going to play the majority of the minutes in the tournament.”
How do the players feel about this Gold Cup?
In a recent interview with Sportsnet, Jonathan Osorio called this Gold Cup “probably the most important one” for Canada in terms of it serving as a barometer of where the team currently sits in the Concacaf hierarchy.
“Yes, we’ve had great results in the Nations League [qualifiers] and we’ve taken care of business how we should have, which is what good teams do. But in the end, it matters the most in these tournaments against the top nations, and that’s what proves that you are a great team,” Osorio said.
Likewise, fellow national team veteran Atiba Hutchinson expects big things from this Canada team at the Gold Cup.
“There’s so much talent in this team. We’ve never had this kind of talent in attack that can create chances on their own. … There’s a lot of quality on this team and we go into every game knowing that we’re going to create chances, whereas before we’d be playing games and in the back of our heads we didn’t know if we’d get one or two chances. It’s a different mindset in how we approach things, and lot more confidence,” Hutchinson told Sportsnet.
Has Canada ever won the Gold Cup?
Canada beat Colombia in the 2000 final in Los Angeles to claim the Gold Cup. It is still the only trophy the Canadian men’s team has won at senior level.
After just barely getting out of the group stage – they won a coin toss with South Korea after tying for second in their group – the Reds turned it on the knockout round, upsetting Mexico in the quarterfinals and then Trinidad & Tobago in the semifinals.
Captained by Jason deVos, Canada received wonderful individual performances from a number of key players, including goalkeeper Craig Forrest (named tournament MVP), forward Carlo Corazzin (the competition’s top scorer with four goals) and defender Richard Hastings (who won the Gold Cup’s best young player award). Forrest, deVos and Corazzin were also named to the tournament’s best XI.
To read more about Canada’s victory in the 2000 Gold Cup final, CLICK HERE