That all starts Tuesday afternoon when meeting host nation Qatar in Vienna, Austria (1 pm ET | OneSoccer) for a tune-up before playing a Group F opener against Belgium on Nov. 23.
For a team that topped Concacaf’s Octagonal qualifying process, there’s a decidedly different vibe after June’s matches made headlines for the wrong reasons, following a player/federation labor dispute.
“It doesn’t feel like maybe the highs of qualifying right now,” said Extratime’s Andrew Wiebe. “It feels like a little bit more uncertainty given what happened in June with those friendlies that got disrupted with some of the negotiations going on with the federation and the players. They’re not in the same form maybe, injuries playing a role."
The big injury concern, Extratime’s David Gass said, stems from a “level of panic in central midfield.” At least two big names won’t be available for head coach John Herdman, while another is just coming back from an injury following a midseason trade.
“You look in central midfield, that’s the real concern,” Gass said. “Atiba Hutchinson is the backbone emotionally, experience-wise with this team. He’s injured. There’s more going on at Beskitas it sounds like on top of the injury as well. His replacement, Jonathan Osorio, he is no longer part of this camp. He is injured.
“The next replacement up, Mark-Anthony Kaye, the last time we saw him he got a red card in World Cup qualifying, proceeding to have his worst MLS season we’ve seen since he emerged with LAFC. [He was] in Colorado, was traded to Toronto, picked up another injury, is finally back.”
Another question spot, Gass said, comes at striker. Cyle Larin’s not first-choice at Club Brugge in Belgium after a move away from Turkey's Besiktas, creating some concerns up top alongside Lille star Jonathan David. During qualifying, the former Orlando City SC No. 9 became Canada’s all-time leading scorer (24 goals) after posting 13 tallies to lead the region.
“This was a guy who almost led the planet in goals scored in qualifying and I’d argue was almost their most important player,” Gass said.
It’s not all doom and gloom by any means. But Les Rouges will decidedly hope to reach firmer ground, testing themselves against non-Concacaf opponents for the first time in several years. During this window, they’ll also play South American powerhouse Uruguay on Sept. 27.
“When Canada qualified, everything was great, everyone was playing at a high level at their club,” Gass said. “There was depth, there was options and I would argue nothing is as good at that time.”
For more from Extratime, check out the latest episode here.