With friendlies against World Cup hosts Qatar (Sept. 23) and Conmebol regular Uruguay (Sept. 27) looming, several players are heating up at the right time. A previously out-of-form striker is back amongst the goals while a key midfielder is riding high after his UEFA Champions League debut.
Here is a sampling of Canadian internationals who stood out this weekend.
The program’s all-time leading scorer (24 goals) left it late, but Cyle Larin is back among the goals following his first start for Club Brugge in the Belgian top-flight club’s 2-0 win over RFC Seraing on Saturday.
Larin only registered about 72 total minutes in his first six league appearances for Brugge. He eclipsed that number with one start and finally capitalized on an opportunity. Yet strangely, the 27-year-old’s performance could be described as tepid before he converted the game’s opening goal.
But that’s Larin in a nutshell. When he scored 19 goals in 31 matches for Turkish Süper Lig side Besiktas in 2020-21, there were several games where the former Orlando City SC striker drifted in and out of the action. The same was true with Canada until he eventually converted in the key moments and was their top scorer (13 goals) in a World Cup Qualifying-topping performance.
It goes without saying this start – amid fixture congestion for Brugge as well – comes at an ideal time with the September window just around the corner. With only Jonathan David in top form for Ligue 1’s Lille, Larin needs to keep playing in order to solidify his place as a starter at the World Cup. Otherwise, someone else will pounce up top.
It’s September and Stephen Eustaquio already has three times as many starts for FC Porto to begin the new campaign than he did during his first four months at the club, initially joining on loan from Paços de Ferreira last winter.
The Gil Vicente victory last weekend clearly impressed manager Sergio Conceicao enough to hand Eustaquio his UEFA Champions League debut against Atlético Madrid on Wednesday, arriving in a 2-1 loss at the Spanish giants. A splendid display in midweek kept him in the lineup over the weekend against Chaves, as well, maintaining strong form in the Primeira Liga.
Not coincidentally, Eustaquio remains influential in the final third, particularly with his distribution and late runs into the box. With Canada head coach John Herdman preferring a double pivot in recent matches, it’s very possible we’ll see that same setup at the World Cup.
Therefore, the more comfortable Eustaquio is around the opposition’s penalty area, the more effective the midfield duo will perform on both sides of the pitch.
Another week, another routine performance for Alphonso Davies, albeit in a 2-2 draw with Stuttgart on Saturday. Davies even picked up his first assist of the German Bundesliga season on Bayern Munich’s opening goal after a weaving run down the left flank before cutting inside to set up Mathys Tel.
Not for the first time, Davies was occasionally roaming inside on the dribble when the situations presented themselves and appears to be gaining more comfort with that responsibility. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC homegrown product was chipping in with the odd shot that stings the goalkeeper’s gloves, too.
As long as that continues heading into this September window and on the road to Qatar, the 21-year-old Davies will be fully revved up come World Cup time.
It’s probably ideal that Herdman likes deploying Johnston at right back off the ball and as a right-sided center back as part of a back three in possession. That way, the 23-year-old can provide defensive solidity while chipping in with the odd bursting run down the right flank, as we saw in Montréal’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Columbus Crew on Friday that clinched an Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs spot.
This just adds to the intrigue surrounding Johnston’s role at the World Cup, although this September window could be a preview of what’s to come. The offseason trade acquisition from Nashville SC started as a proper right back in June, so if that continues, it’s safe to say Johnston is the go-to option on the right side no matter the position.
Sam Adekugbe didn't pick up an assist last week for Turkish Süper Lig club Hatayspor, but is about as steady a Canadian player as there is right now. Statistics don’t even do Adekugbe justice because he’s constantly in the right spot at the right time when defending, which is why the left back ascended into a starter’s role during World Cup Qualifying for Canada.
Even in a losing effort to Konyaspor on Saturday, Adekugbe was a dynamic threat in the final third while shutting down the entire left flank. It’s performances like those that remind Canadian supporters why the 27-year-old former Vancouver homegrown is as key to Canada’s success as every other regular starter.
The two-way dominance is why a potential left-sided duo with Davies at the World Cup is a salivating prospect for Canadian supporters.