CANADA vs. MAURITANIA
Thursday, Oct. 6 | 3 pm ET | Grand Stade de Marrakech, Marrakech, Morocco
In 2013, the Benito Floro era in Canadian soccer began with a match against Mauritania. In 2016, the post-Floro era will begin in the exact same way.
But much has changed since then, beyond the arrival and departure of the Spanish manager. On the down side, the Canadian team has once again fallen short of reaching the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying, with their World Cup drought stretching beyond the three-decade mark.
On the plus side, however, the player pool has benefited from the unexpected arrival of the likes of Scott Arfield, Junior Hoilett, Steven Vitoria and Fraser Aird, and the emergence of newcomers like Manjrekar James and Jordan Hamilton. All of those players will be with Canada for their friendlies against Mauritania and Morocco (Oct. 11).
The order of the day in these matches will be for interim head coach Michael Findlay, who was an assistant manager under Floro, to ascertain how certain players will fit into the program’s long-term plans.
Though Sam Adekugbe, Jay Chapman, Russell Teibert and others were on Findlay’s radar, but unavailable due to injury, this camp will still give players like Hamilton, Marco Bustos and Anthony Jackson-Hamel a chance to show what they can do at the international level.
With neither team heading to the next World Cup and the game being played on neutral ground, the odds of this being an all-time classic are slim. Even so, Findlay and company will hardly want to come home empty-handed after the long journey to north Africa.
Canada played a pair of games in Oliva, Spain against Mauritania to open the Floro era back in 2013: a scoreless draw followed by a 1-0 win for the African side. Floro brought a massive 33-man roster to that camp, trying to hit the ground running in his assessment of the Canadian player pool.
Findlay’s brought a more manageable 23-man squad to this camp, and already has a decent idea of what those players can bring. As for what he expects from the Mauritanian opposition: “It certainly will be a very physical encounter. We’ll need to be aware of that, given that we have traveled, and make sure the players are in the best possible condition.”
The last time Canada was in the World Cup was 1986, the current year is 2016, and the soonest they could possibly return to the World Cup is 2022. How’s that for outlook?
Now, depending on how big-picture you’re willing to look, the ongoing transformation of the grassroots game (which has been in the works for over a decade already) actually does give the Canadian team reason to have a somewhat optimistic outlook about what future World Cup qualifying cycles will hold.
And as it relates to the immediate near term, Findlay indicated that no players have definitively ruled themselves out of future selection for Canada, even after the recent World Cup qualifying exit. He also said the influx of young players is providing some veterans with a source of inspiration to keep wearing the maple leaf.
Besides, there’s always next year’s Gold Cup to look forward to! The Gold Cup is always a source of excitement and positivity for Canada, right?
While Canada have only just seen their 2018 World Cup ambitions go up in smoke, Mauritania has already been out of the running for nearly a year. Mauritania beat South Sudan over two legs in the first round of African qualifying last October, but were then eliminated by Tunisia in the second round a month later.
The team also came up short in their attempt to reach next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, though a shocking 3-1 win over South Africa in September 2015 did help Mauritania finish second in their qualifying group.
In five total matches in 2016, Mauritania have two wins (over Gabon and Gambia), two draws (Gambia and South Africa) and one loss (Cameroon).
Editor’s note: They’ve played Gambia twice this year, that’s not a typo.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Canada – Jonathan Osorio “Finally… the Oso has come back… to Canada.” Yes, fans of the Toronto FC midfielder were channeling their inner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at the news he’d be making his first appearance on a Canada roster since summer 2015. Now, can he bring the creative flair he shows with TFC to the national team?
GOALKEEPERS (3): Milan Borjan (PFK Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK Fotbol/Sweden); Simon Thomas (FK Bodø Glimt/Norway)
DEFENDERS (9): Fraser Aird (Vancouver Whitecaps); David Edgar (Vancouver Whitecaps); Manjrekar James (Vasas Budapest/Hungary); Doneil Henry (AC Horsens/Denmark); Marcel de Jong (Vancouver Whitecaps); Karl W. Ouimette (Jacksonville Armada); Adam Straith (Fredrikstad/Norway); Maxim Tissot (Ottawa Fury); Steven Vitoria (Lechia Gdansk/Poland)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Scott Arfield (Burnley/England); Marco Bustos (Vancouver Whitecaps); Jamar Dixon (Ottawa Fury); Junior Hoilett (unattached); Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC); Samuel Piette (CD Izarra/Spain); Tosaint Ricketts (Toronto FC)