With those September friendlies against Qatar (Sept. 23) and Uruguay (Sept. 27) looming, several players are heating up at the right time. Five Canadians vying for a roster spot either scored or assisted a goal across various European leagues over the weekend. If that form continues, they’ll almost surely earn a call-up this month.
Here is a sampling of Canadian internationals who stood out this weekend.
A positional switch from an inside-forward role off the right wing to No. 9 wasn’t a smooth transition for Jonathan David in Lille’s previous two matches. They reinforced the narrative he can’t properly thrive as a lone striker if Lille don't play vertically, dynamically and don’t allow the forward to roam across the pitch.
Thankfully, David was afforded that freedom to roam as part of a fluid front four as he completed a brace to help Lille beat 10-man Montpellier 3-1 on Sunday. All of his shots and key passes were created by the 22-year-old dropping deep and arriving late into the box.
If the other Canadian strikers – namely Cyle Larin – can’t maintain their form by the World Cup, this could serve as a template for the national team. Head coach John Herdman has consistently deployed his wingers in free-roaming roles, so replicating Lille’s front line in a flexible 3-4-3 is feasible.
The UEFA Champions League group stage begins this Tuesday. As such, several participating teams rotated their lineups over the weekend to prepare for those opening matches.
Stephen Eustaquio was one of the beneficiaries ahead of Porto facing Atlético Madrid on Wednesday. He secured his first start of the season with the Dragões and capitalized by setting up both goals in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Gil Vicente.
It’s not uncommon for Eustaquio to chip in with the odd assist via a set piece or the occasional foray into the final third. Interestingly, though, he’s been meandering towards the box in his last three appearances for Porto and the second goal encapsulated it perfectly, bursting into the box and squaring a ball for Galeno.
Eustaquio is Canada’s midfield anchor, the man tasked with orchestrating their buildup from deep-lying positions. Having that confidence to push forward is imperative with Herdman prioritizing a double pivot in midfield in recent games for the national team. The only way it’ll succeed against top-tier opponents is if Eustaquio is involved in sequences like we witnessed on Saturday afternoon.
Therefore, the more often Eustaquio charges into the opposition’s half, the better.
It might seem strange to see a defender’s name after the latest edition of the Canadian Classique delivered another thriller in the form of a 4-3 win for CF Montréal over Toronto FC at BMO Field on Sunday night.
However, in a match that featured 10 Canadian starters, Miller had a major impact on both sides of the ball. His goal helped fuel Montréal’s comeback and he kept Federico Bernardeschi in check for the majority of the 90 minutes.
As well as Canada’s defense performed through World Cup qualifying, there’s a sense that a lack of pace on the turn could be exploited by faster, more technically gifted attackers. That’s why containing the Italian international and maintaining his composure on the ball while under pressure from TFC’s high press is a positive development.
If Theo Corbeanu doesn’t crack the final World Cup roster, it won't be due to a lack of effort. Missing the cut for September might sting more, though.
Corbeanu struck for the third time in four matches for Blackpool, netting the lone goal in Sunday's 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town in the English Championship and continuing his fine form over the past few weeks as an inverted left winger. It’ll be difficult to crack either the September or World Cup roster given the plethora of wingers Canada possesses, but the 20-year-old’s stock is certainly rising by the week.
The only competition possibly under threat is Liam Millar, who also plays as an inverted winger off the left for club and country. He hasn’t been involved in a goal in his last five appearances for Basel after a hot start and only managed to be a consistent threat in one of those games.
Perhaps there’s a window of opportunity for Corbeanu to sneak into September’s squad and the World Cup roster after all.
Genk freezing out Ike Ugbo from preseason had a debilitating effect on the 23-year-old striker. He finalized a permanent transfer to Troyes while this occurred, but arrived in France completely out of rhythm.
It took around 230 minutes across five games, but Ugbo finally logged his name onto the scoresheet as Troyes secured a vital 1-1 draw with Rennes after being reduced to 10 men at the 27-minute mark. The former Chelsea man was the sacrificial lamb in order for Troyes to reshuffle their tactics after the red card, but not before grabbing the opening goal on Sunday.
The timing couldn’t be more ideal. Cyle Larin isn’t a regular at Club Brugge and Lucas Cavallini is facing a lengthy suspension for the Vancouver Whitecaps, meaning Ugbo and David are the only two viable options for the September window. Plus, if Vancouver miss the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, Cavallini will lose match fitness leading up to the World Cup.
Whether Ugbo and David interchange with one another or form a partnership up front to maximize both of their strengths remains to be seen. But the goal should spur him on towards Doha.
Nobody needed a standout display as much as Scott Kennedy. The defender had only logged around 140 minutes in six games in all competitions this season for Jahn Regensburg without a single start before Saturday.
It was a stark contrast to the last two campaigns that led to his rise up the ranks. Kennedy, previously a key player for the 2. Bundesliga club, was suddenly in danger of losing his place for the World Cup to the likes of Derek Cornelius, who picked up where he left off last season in Greece with Panetolikos.
Not only did Kennedy start and finish the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Holstein Kiel, he helped his team keep a clean sheet and played in a familiar role.
Normally, the 25-year-old has rotated with Kamal Miller as Canada’s left center back, usually as part of a back three when the team has possession. Jahn Regensburg ended up switching to a 3-4-3 for this game with Kennedy sliding into the left-sided role.
If Kennedy played well enough to keep his place for the next few weeks at club level, this should help him reclaim his seat on the plane to Doha, as well as the upcoming September window.