Canada exhales: Alphonso Davies returns for Bayern Munich before World Cup


We’re nearly a month out from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which means it’s crunch time for several Canadian men’s national team players to lock down their spots on the final 26-man roster.

Alphonso Davies returned to the pitch after a brief hiatus due to a bruised skull and was back to his best. Meanwhile, one of Canada’s hottest scorers kept up his form over the weekend.

Here is a sampling of Canadian internationals who stood out last weekend, with the Group F opener on Nov. 23 vs. Belgium fast approaching.

Canadian fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Davies returned to the Bayern Munich lineup in Bundesliga action a week after suffering a bruised skull in the Oct. 8 draw with Borussia Dortmund.

The injury forced Davies to miss the midweek UEFA Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen, so the layoff wasn’t as drastic compared to his spell on the sidelines while he recovered from mild myocarditis last winter. Regardless, it was encouraging to see the Canadian superstar megging, sprinting and dribbling his way through Freiburg’s defense in a 5-0 rout Sunday.

Davies was routinely shuttling the ball into the left half-space and causing a ruckus for Freiburg, as has been the case all season. Nowadays, though, he’s releasing the ball quicker, which is noteworthy from a Les Rouges’ perspective.

Davies has often been accused of playing “hero ball” for Canada. At times, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC homegrown product retains possession too long and attempts to weave his way through a defense when a simple pass for a teammate would be a safer option.

Whether it’s a case of overconfidence or wanting to shoulder the burden, if Davies begins to distribute quicker with Canada, it might be tougher to stop him than initially anticipated.

Another week, another Jonathan David masterclass. 

At the risk of sounding repetitive, David’s consistency in his first 11 games of the 2022-23 season can’t be understated. He’s now scored in four consecutive matches after netting a brace in a 3-0 victory over Strasbourg on Friday, and is tied with Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar atop the Ligue 1 Golden Boot race. That’s obviously no small feat.

The CanMNT coaching staff will love that achievement. But they’ll be happier with David’s overall performance. The constant runs in behind, the fact Lille are playing vertically and with a high tempo just like Canada like to do, and the chance creation are all brilliant developments.

In back-to-back games, David could have easily finished with a pair of assists if not for last-ditch defending from Lens last week and then against Strasbourg. The selflessness to set up teammates while providing a legitimate scoring threat will lend credence to the idea Canada head coach John Herdman can utilize the forward trio of David, Davies and Tajon Buchanan in Qatar.

If there was any doubt regarding Ismaël Koné's World Cup status, he likely removed any lingering thoughts in Sunday night’s Eastern Conference Round One game at Stade Saputo.

Koné, who scored an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs winner for CF Montréal in a 2-0 victory over Orlando City SC, was named man of the match after a dazzling display in his 80 minutes on the pitch. Even if he didn’t score, Koné's fluidity on the ball was excellent to watch. The silkiness on the dribble was mesmerizing. His ability to manipulate space between Orlando’s lines made the difference.

In every way, Koné was impacting the match and this is the exact kind of performance that led to his first Canada call-ups last March. The fact Koné isn’t afraid of the bright lights or the big moment, and embraces it, is exactly why Herdman has trusted the 20-year-old.

It’s also why Koné is all but guaranteed to be on the plane to Doha, and surely command (at least) a seven-figure transfer fee down the road.

All five Canadian starters were solid for Montréal, but a special mention goes out to Alistair Johnston for his two-way abilities against Orlando in CFM’s playoff opener.

Defensively, Johnston is a rock. That’s expected. But the crosses he was hitting from the right flank into Orlando’s box were causing all sorts of problems for Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and his defenders. Two of them deserved to be converted after 10 minutes and shortly after the half-hour mark.

Johnston should be a regular starter at the World Cup, whether it’s as a center back or right back. Ideally, though, with his growing confidence in the final third and vision, utilizing the 24-year-old’s attacking qualities in a fullback role might be the play next month, especially if Johnston keeps this up.

Albeit in Chaves' 3-2 defeat to Valadares Gaia in the Portuguese Cup, Steven Vitoria yet again proved why his aerial dominance will be an X-factor for Canada at the World Cup.

Canada were a legitimate threat on set pieces with Vitoria lurking in the box, so the more opportunities he receives with Chaves, the more confidence he’ll build entering the World Cup to potentially snatch a decisive goal.

The ability to compete in aerial duels with some prolific forwards is most important. It’s no secret Canada’s defense is weak in the air, so they’ll be leaning heavily on the 35-year-old to bail them out in those situations.