Herdman: Canada veterans "earned the right" to play for Nations League trophy

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The highly-anticipated Concacaf Nations League roster announcement for the Canadian men’s national team finally arrived on Wednesday, as coach John Herdman named the 23 players who’ll attempt to win Canada’s first trophy in 23 years.

Canada open their Nations League Finals campaign against Panama in the semifinals on June 15 (7 pm ET | OneSoccer in Canada; Paramount+, Univision in United States). Should they advance, they’d face the winner of the other semifinal between the US men’s national team and Mexico at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Here are three things we learned from Wednesday’s roster announcement.

Experienced heads

Only five changes were made from the March squad, which included Kamal Miller’s late injury withdrawal. Miller was eventually replaced by St. Louis CITY SC defender Kyle Hiebert, who won his first cap in Canada's 4-1 win over Honduras on May 28.

Miller is back this time, though, along with veteran midfielder David Wotherspoon, forward Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett, who was also ruled out of the March window with an injury.

That means 20 of the 23 players named to the roster participated in Canada’s historic 2022 World Cup cycle.

“These players have certainly earned the right to be two games away [from a trophy],” said Herdman. “Those Nations League games are tough, and they've worked hard, so for some of these players, this is groundbreaking.”

By that logic, calling up familiar faces is understandable. This group navigated the tricky waters of Concacaf World Cup qualifying together, topping the table in convincing fashion and earning the team’s first World Cup appearance in 36 years.

These players deserve to finish what they started: A road to winning the men’s national team’s first trophy since 2000.

No Morris: A pipeline gap for Canada

There was some optimism that Columbus Crew midfielder, and dual national, Aidan Morris was going to accept an invite from Canada for the Nations League.

Canada Soccer has targeted Morris, who is eligible to play for Canada through his father, as early as November, according to The Athletic – even with the 21-year-old representing the US at the youth level and earning a senior debut in a January friendly against Serbia.

It’s still unknown where Morris’ international future lies. He wasn’t named to the US men’s national team’s roster for the Nations League, but Canada have been clear that they value Morris significantly.

“It's a tough one because I think the young lad understands the opportunity here in Canada, but his heart’s with the US,” Herdman admitted when asked about Morris’ status. “He's not quite ready to make a commitment to Canada. He wants to explore the opportunity with the US.”

Morris isn’t the first prospective Canadian to be capped by another country’s youth teams. The likes of Daniel Jebbison (England), Luca Koleosho (Italy), Stefan Mitrovic (Serbia) and now Niko Sigur (Croatia) have represented other nations at youth level in recent months. That reality poses a major gap between Canada and their competition.

“We aren’t creating enough youth opportunities to ensure that people fall in love with the opportunity of Canada,” Herdman stated. “I think that's a huge challenge for our country at the moment. Having one youth camp a year or limited opportunity to qualify for World Cups, largely due to a lack of preparation, I think these players aren’t building the affinity and the love of the jersey.

“The US have been able to create a great opportunity system for their players, albeit they've got different budgets and economies of scale to Canada, but we've got to start competing in this area. There's just too many conversations now that you're having players that have got affiliations and have friendships and the program knows them inside out and they've bought into becoming a starter on the team that they're building a dream for.”

As far as the program has come over the past few years, it’s still apparent that there’s a long way to go when it comes to providing more clear pathways for players. Morris isn’t the first to possibly slip through, and, until that changes, he may not be the last.

No room for MLS standouts

The decision to name an experienced roster meant there was no room for certain MLS standouts this season.

CF Montréal midfielder Mathieu Choinière is chief among those excluded. The 24-year-old has been on fire for his hometown club, starting every single match apart from the season opener versus Inter Miami.

There’s also Jacob Shaffelburg and Lukas MacNaughton at Nashville SC, with the latter coming into his own since being acquired from Toronto FC. On the bright side for Canada, they’ll have plenty of domestic-based options to lean on for the Gold Cup, which kicks off five days after the Nations League final. Perhaps that’ll be the chance for Choinière and Co. to solidify their places.