January was a transformative month for the Canadian men’s national team. Wins in Honduras and at home to the U.S. – coupled with the El Salvador road victory on Feb. 2 – all but guaranteed its qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Fans could start monitoring flights to Doha with relative comfort.
An arguably superior development transpired that month, too. Nine Canadian-eligible players secured loans or permanent transfers to new clubs in the transfer window. Many of those moves were steps up in terms of the quality and size of the respective teams.
For instance, Stephen Eustaquio joined Porto on loan with an option to buy from Pacos de Ferreira. Now he’s transitioned from mid-table obscurity to a league title and into the Champions League, provided reports are correct and he joins the Dragoes permanently.
Ike Ugbo was loaned to Troyes in Ligue 1 from Genk, an admittedly big club in Belgium with a rich history. But moving to a top-five European league, especially to a club under the City Football Group umbrella and scoring crucial goals to help it avoid relegation, is a positive development.
Of course, the grass isn’t always greener. Eustaquio learned this lesson having settled for a rotational role at Porto when he was starting regular at Pacos. Ditto for Richie Laryea at Nottingham Forest after arriving from Toronto FC four months ago.
However, like Eustaquio before him, Laryea has started to capitalize on his recent opportunities.
The ex-TFC defender was an unused substitute eight times and often didn’t make the matchday squad for Forest. Djed Spence, who appeared destined to return to parent club Middlesbrough in January, stayed put and Max Lowe was also shining at left wingback in Steve Cooper’s new-look 3-5-2.
Not only were both of Laryea’s potential roles occupied, Forest began a tremendous run of form, losing just two league games upon Laryea’s return from national-team duty in January. That led to The Reds to the promotion playoffs and are potentially weeks away from returning to the Premier League.
But Laryea’s luck changed a few weeks ago. Forest had to make up a few games, so heavy fixture congestion meant Spence would have to rest. Plus, Middlesbrough was in the playoff fight, which would rule Spence – a contracted Middlesbrough player – ineligible in a potential playoff matchup between the two clubs.
Ultimately, Middlesbrough missed out on the final day but Laryea still received five appearances in the final six matches, including a start in Saturday’s draw with Hull City.
Even with 10-20 minutes to showcase his abilities in matches versus Fulham and Swansea City, Laryea still dazzled spectators with his patented forays into the final third.
“He’s a really, really good guy. Calm, relaxed, has bought into what we are doing. His family are over here. He’s completely engaged,” said Cooper on April 21. “He’s taken not playing as much as he would have liked – none of them take it well – but he’s taken it professionally. I’ve explained to him, the situation, and he accepts it.
“He’s part of what we’re doing here. He’s part of the squad. If he’s called upon, I’m sure he’ll be doing everything he can to make sure he’s as ready as he can be.”
Laryea wouldn’t be at this stage of his career if it wasn’t for his dedication and resolve, going from TFC trialist to a national-team stalwart in less than two years.
It’s fitting, then, that Laryea’s patience and determination led to his full debut on Saturday. The 27-year-old completed 37 of his 39 passes and two of four dribbles while winning six of his eight defensive duels with two interceptions and a tackle in 77 minutes.
Laryea and Forest now face fellow Canadian Daniel Jebbison and Sheffield United in the playoff semifinals. The first leg at Bramall Lane is this Saturday with the return game at City Ground on May 17. The winner takes on Luton Town or Huddersfield Town with promotion on the line.
There is technically one Canadian in the Premier League, as Theo Corbeanu is contracted to Wolverhampton Wanderers. But it’s possible that another will join him next season, with Laryea standing a decent chance of being that man.
OTHER UPDATES AND ANALYSIS
• In 90 minutes, Alphonso Davies produced his best performance for Bayern Munich since returning to the field in April. He completed four dribbles, 72 of 84 passes, including 6-for-6 in the final third and one key pass.
• For all of Lille’s tactical shortcomings and its overall struggles, one goal in 19 games for Jonathan David in 2022 has to be concerning for potential suitors this summer. That run continued after another goalless performance in Friday’s loss to Monaco.
In fact, reputable Lille-based newspaper La Voix du Nord reported that some clubs are starting to sour on David due to this dry spell. Couple that with Lille’s €50 million ($68 million) asking price, that could lead to the 22-year-old staying with Les Dogues for another season.
• Congratulations to Jessie Fleming and Chelsea for winning a third consecutive WSL title. Fleming was a second-half substitute in the Blues’ 4-2 win over Manchester United, picking up about 15 minutes off the bench.
While she isn’t a key starter, Fleming received double the minutes for the English champions compared to 2020-21. That bodes well for next season with the Women’s World Cup on the horizon.
|Season||WSL Minutes (Apps)||Champions League Minutes (Apps)||FA Cup Minutes (Apps)||League Cup Minutes (Apps)||Total Minutes (Apps)|
|2020-21||494 (14)||180 (4)||73 (1)||183 (4)||930 (23)|
|2021-22||1139 (20)||193 (5)||406 (7)||144 (2)||1882 (34)|
• About 18 months ago, I highlighted Evelyne Viens’ form with Paris FC in Ligue 1. She was on an absolute tear for the mid-table club, to the point where the women’s national team couldn’t ignore her. That form hasn’t translated to club and country since leaving France but that seems to be changing.
Viens is averaging 0.49 expected goals (xG) and 0.37 expected assists (xA) per 90 in her first 600 minutes with Kristianstad in Sweden. She’s produced three assists but only one goal, which means the 25-year-old could be due for a goal explosion if this form continues.
• If there was anyone still sleeping on Ike Ugbo, they’re awake now. Ugbo converted his fifth goal for Troyes since joining on loan in January, and it came against PSG in a stunning 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes. This is a striker’s finish, as the kids say.
Depending on Saint-Etienne’s result on Wednesday against Nice, Troyes could be safe for another season in Ligue 1, thanks largely to Ugbo, whose loan contains an option to buy.
• Club Brugge is officially on title watch after defeating Union Saint-Gilloise 2-0 on Sunday, pulling level with the previous league leaders in Belgium with two games remaining.
Interestingly, Tajon Buchanan was deployed as a right wingback for this match. He wasn’t as involved compared to previous games, yet he still had his moments.
• We have another confirmed Canadian champion in Europe with Stephen Eustaquio’s Porto edging Benfica 1-0 to lift the Primeira Liga title. Eustaquio was an 87th minute substitute to help his side close out the victory.
• Besiktas drew 1-1 with rival Fenerbahce as Cyle Larin started as part of a strike partnership with Michy Batshuayi for a second consecutive game. The switch to a central role, similar to how he’s deployed with Canada, has clearly aided Larin in front of goal as he should’ve recorded a brace if not for the post and solid goalkeeping.
• Atiba Hutchinson was a late substitute, picking up eight minutes in Sunday’s draw. Luckily, Hutchinson started last week and racked up two assists in a pivotal victory, bolstering his case for a new contract.
• Meanwhile, Sam Adekugbe began his weekend on a high after setting up Hatayspor’s late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with champions Trabzonspor on Friday.
The first half was slow-going for Adekugbe as Trabzonspor locked down that left flank, until the second 45 minutes when the Canadian full-back picked his moments to pop up around the box.
• Down in the Championship, Junior Hoilett and Reading finished their season with a 1-0 loss to playoff-bound Luton Town on Saturday. Even in defeat, this game exemplified my favourite quality of Hoilett’s: maneuvering through tight spaces and progressing the ball into the final third.
• As mentioned, Daniel Jebbison and Sheffield United will face Richie Laryea’s Nottingham Forest in the playoffs after United beat Fulham 4-0 on the final day. Jebbison had 15 minutes off the bench to close out the game.
• Despite their best efforts, Theo Corbeanu and MK Dons couldn’t complete the two-goal comeback in the League One promotion playoffs against Wycombe Wanderers. The Dons salvaged one goal but should’ve had an equalizer, at least, having peppered Wycombe’s goal with 29 shots.
On the bright side, Corbeanu started and had five of those attempts. These two were easily his best opportunities of the game.
Here is how Corbeanu fared at MK Dons via his statistical radar.
• Scott Kennedy played the entire second half for Jahn Regensburg in their loss to Heidenheim on Sunday and looked solid throughout the 45 minutes.
• Derek Cornelius’ loan to Panetolikos expires in December, but the club has some decisions to make this summer. Greek reports state that Cornelius’ loan could be extended, or a €400,000 ($544,000) purchase option would be picked up before flipping him to another team. With some key injuries at the back, though, everything is up in the air.
• Milan Borjan and Red Star Belgrade moved one step closer to another Serbian SuperLiga title as the reigning champions defeated Radnicki Nis 4-1 on Sunday.
• Stefan Mitrovic scored Radnicki Nis’ lone goal, his 10th of the season, in that defeat to Red Star. European football is now out of reach for the club with two games left, so all the focus is on Mitrovic’s next move and whether he’ll receive a call-up to Serbia or Canada’s senior team for their respective Nations League campaigns in June.
• Dayne St. Clair is performing so well that we’re almost at the point of expecting brilliance every week. The Minnesota United goalkeeper was outstanding and nearly notched another clean sheet if not for a late Brandon Vasquez winner.
Those saves are downright unbelievable. At this rate, it’ll be tough for Canada coach John Herdman to not hand St. Clair a start in June.
• That puts Maxime Crepeau’s status as No. 2 in doubt. He hasn’t performed poorly at LAFC by any means, although Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union highlighted the difference between St. Clair and Crepeau right now.
The goals Crepeau conceded weren’t poor goals to concede. Perhaps he could’ve come out to stop the initial cross on the first goal but the second is simply a well-placed strike.
There is a trend emerging, though. Crepeau was one of the busiest goalkeepers in MLS last season with the Vancouver Whitecaps and is now one of the least active in terms of shots on target faced (SoTA).
|2022||Los Angeles FC||10||10||900||1.00||1.00||2.60||1.70||61.5|
That’s led to Crepeau saving 7.7 goals above expected in 2021 to 0.5 below expected this season. It’s admirable to deliver clutch saves when a goalkeeper’s team is peppered with shots, yet it’s a tougher mental challenge to pull off those crucial stops when he’s cold.
• So much for Mark-Anthony Kaye not being as active in the final third compared to his LAFC days. He scored for the Colorado Rapids last weekend and nearly repeated the feat in Saturday’s loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Kaye generated three shots and launched a few line-breaking passes as the Rapids pushed hard for the equalizer to no avail.
• By now, the readers are aware of Raheem Edwards’ exploits this season. The L.A. Galaxy’s 1-0 win over Austin on Saturday was another solid performance for Edwards, as he split time in a proper full-back role and as a proper winger in either half.
There are two big takeaways from those clips above. Firstly, Edwards loves progressing the ball – he’s averaging 10.7 deep progressions per 90 minutes this season – and he can lose concentration off the ball at times. That tends to lead to a lot of space to exploit down the left.
Additionally, the synergy between Edwards and Marky Delgado is palpable. Comb through the pass maps from the Galaxy’s season and Delgado is the player who combines the most with Edwards. Don’t discredit how impactful that partnership has been for the 26-year-old’s explosion in 2022.
• Having tracked Belal Halbouni for more than a year, it’s a relief to have access to Regionalliga footage to properly monitor his progress with Werder Bremen II.
Halbouni finished the full 90 for Bremen in its 1-0 loss to Lubeck on Saturday. You can watch the 22-year-old’s performance below (No. 13 in green).
• Simon Colyn is doing everything he can to stay at PSV Eindhoven permanently. He scored his fifth goal of the season in Jong PSV’s draw with Dordrecht, which is also his third tally in his last seven games.