It’s a basic principle of sports, especially at the international level: Depth is good.
When a team has depth, it has healthy competition for spots, increased sharing of knowledge and expertise among a wide pool of players and protection against the inevitable injuries to starters. When a team doesn’t have depth … well, it doesn’t usually have success.
That brings us to the recently announced roster for the USA’s January camp. All but one of the 26 invitees play in MLS, and yet the assembled American squad (even lacking stars such as Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley) would still be a force in CONCACAF – heck, they might even qualify for the World Cup.
On the other hand, Canada – ostensibly fielding their strongest-possible squad in every qualifying cycle – haven’t even played in the Hex since 1997, never mind made the big show. Yes, our countries may share many things – a border, a top-flight professional soccer league, a love of Justin Bieber’s music (go on, admit it) – but a men’s national team awash in depth is not one of them.
But let’s go deep into imaginary land and pretend that, somehow, Canada had qualified for the 2014 World Cup, and would also be staging a month-long preparatory camp this month, comprising entirely players currently plying their trade in North America. (Yes, players from the Scandinavian leagues – and unattached players – would also be available, but that’s besides the point.)
What would that roster, assuming head coach Benito Floro would be needing a mix of players at all positions, look like?
John Smits (FC Edmonton) – The Eddies’ 25-year-old backup ’keeper would likely be Canada’s starter, despite just 14 games of NASL experience.
Quillan Roberts (Toronto FC, pictured right) – Best known for scoring a goal at the 2011 U-17 World Cup, the 19-year-old TFC Academy graduate has yet to play a senior minute for the Reds.
Maxime Crepeau (Montreal Impact) – Roberts’s teammate in 2011, and also a graduate of his local academy, the 19-year-old Crepeau also has yet to play a minute of senior pro soccer.
Doneil Henry (Toronto FC) – Already a TFC stalwart at age 20, Henry has also been a favorite of Floro’s during his tenure thus far.
Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC) – The 22-year-old #NastyLeftBack would be a #StartingLeftBack for this side, despite some troubles with TFC in 2013.
Maxim Tissot (Montreal Impact) – The 21-year-old Homegrown player logged his first MLS minutes in 2013, scoring a crucial late-season goal that kept Montreal’s playoff hopes alive.
Karl Ouimette (Montreal Impact, pictured middle right) – The 21-year-old Homegrown player logged his first MLS minutes in 2013, scoring a crucial late-season goal that kept Montreal’s playoff hopes alive. (Unlike Tissot, though, Ouimette earned a senior national-team call-up.)
Paul Hamilton (Carolina RailHawks) – The 25-year-old center back was on the NASL’s Best XI in 2012 with FC Edmonton; he’d previously spent time with the Whitecaps Residency as well.
Mallan Roberts (FC Edmonton) – Considered by some to be the top center-back prospect in Canada, the 20-year-old recently became eligible to represent the country in international play.
Will Johnson (Portland Timbers, pictured below right) – The 26-year-old reigning Canadian player of the year would be a fixture on any Canadian squad, and has said he looks forward to the challenge of being a national-team leader.
Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact) – Despite another solid campaign for Montreal and a third-place finish in voting for Canadian player of the year, the 34-year-old didn’t get a look under Floro. He’d definitely be at this imaginary training camp, though.
Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC) – The 23-year-old played twice as many minutes for Canada than for TFC in 2013, so he’d unquestionably be part of this squad.
Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC) – A standout rookie campaign made the 21-year-old a regular for club and country – here’s hoping 2014 doesn’t bring the sophomore jinx.
Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps) – Slow and steady seems to have paid off in Teibert’s development, as the 21-year-old blossomed with Vancouver and the Canadian national team last season.
Kyle Porter (D.C. United) – A breakthrough year in MLS led to a similar breakthrough for Canada in 2013 for the 23-year-old winger.
Shaun Saiko (San Antonio Scorpions) – Highly touted during his time at FC Edmonton, but unceremoniously released this offseason, the 24-year-old is still looking for his first senior national-team cap.
Kevin Harmse (San Antonio Scorpions) – Remember him? The 29-year-old TFC alumnus was San Antonio’s first-ever NASL signing, and has nine Canada caps under his belt.
Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC, pictured right) – He’s old enough to have fathered some members of this team, but DeRo – even at 35 – would still be Canada’s top goal threat.
Caleb Clarke (Vancouver Whitecaps, on loan to FC Augsburg II) – We’re cheating a bit with this one, but 20-year-old Clarke is technically a Whitecaps player, and his German team is on winter break, so he could come along.
Emery Welshman (Toronto FC) – The 2013 first-round pick has exactly five minutes of pro experience, but the 22-year-old would still be one of the top available strikers.
Frank Jonke (FC Edmonton) – He was only repatriated to Canada (from Finland’s top league) last month, but the 28-year-old would be part of this side in search of his second national-team cap.
Carl Haworth (Ottawa Fury FC) – He didn't get regular MLS time after Montreal drafted him, but the 24-year-old has national youth team experience, and was Ottawa's first Canadian NASL signing.
While the USA’s January camp might challenge for continental supremacy, Floro would find it challenging simply to assemble a full roster (this list only includes 23 names, after all).
And if you think he could just add the likes of Camilo Sanvezzo, Gershon Koffie, Felipe Martins or Kofi Opare, think again. While all have expressed an interest in representing Canada, none of the first three are currently eligible to do so (and would need to spend several more years in the country before they were), while Opare’s eligibility situation remains unclear.
There are any number of reasons why Canada hasn’t produced enough top-quality players to keep pace with its CONCACAF rivals, and any number of possible solutions. But for now, Floro has no choice but to go forward with the depth that he’s got.