The dream is a reality for the Canadian men's national team, which is going to a World Cup for the first time in 36 years. Now the anticipation begins to build as November approaches.
This Canadian player pool is arguably the deepest it has ever been, although there are some intriguing questions leading into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. That includes the eventual squad. Head coach John Herdman seldom changed his roster throughout the Octagonal, so logic dictates that we can expect a similar team at the World Cup.
However, a lot can change over the next seven or eight months. Players can gain or lose form, they might transfer to new clubs during the summer transfer window and they might fall out of favor with their respective teams. There are multiple factors that could influence Herdman’s decisions when deciding his 23-man roster for Qatar, which could leave a previously reliable player at home.
Here’s a full roster prediction, as sorted by position group, and three burning questions surrounding Canada’s 23-man World Cup roster.
- Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade)
- Maxime Crepeau (LAFC)
- Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United FC)
Just like the entirety of the qualifying cycle, Milan Borjan and Maxime Crepeau are locked in as the No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Borjan was previously linked to Major League Soccer when he appeared to be on the brink of an exit from Red Star Belgrade, although he’s seemingly reclaimed his spot to close out the season in Serbia. His contract does expire next June, though, and with the summer transfer window on the horizon, he could eventually exit Red Star.
Regardless, Borjan is 34 years old and the No. 1 goalkeeper for a World Cup nation. He shouldn’t have an issue finding a new club if he departs Red Star.
Crepeau is about as reliable a No. 2 goalkeeper out there. LAFC’s shot-stopper has started the season on a high, despite a significantly lower workload compared to his Vancouver Whitecaps FC days. That speaks to his quality if he can produce significant saves after long periods of inactivity.
The No. 3 spot will be up for grabs, though. If Dayne St. Clair retains his place as Minnesota United FC’s starter, then he’s the clear choice. Herdman called up St. Clair for five different windows over the past year and cap-tied the 24-year-old in June. Rightfully so, too, because St. Clair is a tremendous shot-stopper with good command of his box and very boisterous.
On the fringe
There is no shortage of options for goalkeepers, even within MLS. Thomas Hasal has slowly grown into the No. 1 role with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sebastian Breza has won the job at CF Montréal. If St. Clair does not receive enough playing time over the next several months, one of those two will duke it out as Canada’s No. 3.
- Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
- Sam Adekugbe (Hatayspor)
These two are no-brainers. With only 23 players available and so many solid left-back options for Canada, some quality players will be sacrificed.
Davies, for all intents and purposes, is listed as a left back but we know he can be deployed further forward, even as part of a duo upfront.
It’s hard to fathom, but Davies missed half of Canada’s qualifiers during the Octagonal and did not skip a beat. A Canadian side with Davies involved, especially at this stage of their development as a team, is a scary thought.
Then there is Sam Adekugbe, one of the revelations of the qualifiers for Canada. His two-way abilities – specifically the dribbling, vision and defensive awareness – make the 27-year-old a valued and practically indispensable member of the squad.
On the fringe
Cristian Gutierrez was the regular backup during qualifying. Even though he’s slated to earn regular minutes with the Whitecaps, it’s difficult to usurp Davies and Adekugbe when there are a finite number of places on a World Cup roster.
- Kamal Miller (CF Montréal)
- Scott Kennedy (Jahn Regensburg)
- Steven Vitoria (Moreirense)
- Doneil Henry (LAFC)
Herdman has occasionally named five center backs for qualifying windows, the March qualifiers included. The four names above were involved along with Derek Cornelius.
This is where the roster begins to leave some dependable players on the outskirts. Kamal Miller and Scott Kennedy have turned heads during qualifying to the point where if they aren’t called up, it will draw the ire of Canadian fans. They are arguably the two top left-sided center backs in the pool right now, and one can rotate in for the other so it’s a perfect complement.
Steven Vitoria is the only man at risk, but not because of his on-field performances. Vitoria’s contract with Moreirense expires in June and the club risks relegation from the Primeira Liga in Portugal.
At 35, Vitoria could theoretically play for another couple of years but he was unable to start three consecutive games in such a tight window. That said, if his club situation is clearer after the summer and he is playing, then he’s a certain inclusion.
Vitoria’s so-called backup, Doneil Henry, has been solid in his last couple of starts for Canada and is now a reliable veteran defender at LAFC. That is surely enough to keep his spot for Qatar, as long as he stays fit.
On the fringe
Derek Cornelius will be unlucky to miss out because he is a key starter for Panetolikos in the Greek Super League and has grown immensely as a player since he joined on loan from Vancouver. Cornelius is calmer when building from the back, especially under pressure, and he has improved his defending in open space, with stronger anticipation.
However, Cornelius has only played in one game, the 0-0 draw with Jamaica on Oct. 11. He did make every squad since that window but as it stands, he is the man on the outside. The same is true with the likes of CF Montréal’s Joel Waterman and Toronto FC newbie Lukas MacNaughton, unless there is an injury or the likes of Vitoria haven’t resolved their club situations.
Same goes for Mathieu Choiniere, who can play at left wingback or right wingback. Ditto Gutierrez. But their times will come, maybe as soon as the Concacaf Nations League in June.
- Richie Laryea (Nottingham Forest)
- Alistair Johnston (CF Montréal)
As is the case for the rest of the backline, these two are locked in.
Richie Laryea added to his folklore during the window by remaining a starter and dominating during the March window, even though he’s yet to debut for Nottingham Forest. That time will come soon, so he should be in a better rhythm by the start of the World Cup.
Alistair Johnston is about as indispensable as they come for Canada, too. Plus, he’s a World Cup coach’s dream with his ability to play as a center back or right back. That means it’s a justifiable decision to call up four central defenders as opposed to the occasional five.
On the fringe
CF Montréal teammates Mathieu Choiniere and, especially, Zachary Brault-Guillard are the obvious fringe names that would be in contention. Ditto for Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty at Toronto FC if he grows into his new position.
However, just like left back, it’s difficult to crack a 23-man list when there are two indisputable starters ahead of everybody else.
- Stephen Eustaquio (FC Porto)
- Samuel Piette (CF Montréal)
No surprises with Stephen Eustaquio here. He is one of Canada’s most important players and a sure-fire starter in Qatar for what could be his coming-out party in front of a worldwide audience.
Samuel Piette missed the March window as he recovers from an ankle injury that he suffered in January’s win over Honduras. When fit, though, Piette was the go-to for Herdman. The 27-year-old received call-ups for every roster before this month, and logged 475 minutes in 12 appearances for the national team during this cycle, including the Gold Cup.
Piette isn’t a key starter like Eustaquio but he’s a useful substitute and, most significantly, he helped Canada qualify for the World Cup. That will carry weight for Herdman when he chooses his squad.
On the fringe
Liam Fraser is the first surprising omission of sorts. Like Piette, Fraser received several call-ups in the past 12 months and only missed was November. The major change from 2021 to now is Fraser is a regular starter for the first time in his career with Deinze in the Belgian second division. That’s why fitness will ultimately determine the Fraser-versus-Piette debate.
Additional names such as Ralph Priso will have a shot if he earns more minutes with Toronto FC this season. Head coach Bob Bradley values him highly and there is lots of season left in MLS for Priso to make his argument.
- Atiba Hutchinson (Besiktas)
- Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC)
- Mark-Anthony Kaye (Colorado Rapids)
It would be cruel to not call up Atiba Hutchinson after nearly 20 years and 90+ games of service for Canada. Even if Hutchinson leaves Besiktas after the season and can’t find a club, there has to be one club on this side of the Atlantic that will give him a shot to prepare for the World Cup.
With Hutchinson deployed at center back in the March window, he is basically two players in one now. It could enable Herdman to leave a defender at home to make room in the midfield.
Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye made up a regular trio with Stephen Eustaquio for a handful of games in 2021 for Canada. It’s been less common with Herdman relying on a double pivot, but both players have received regular starts for the national team despite that tactical tweak. Not to mention they are regular contributors and that will be valued when the final selections are made.
On the fringe
This will omit the exciting Ismael Kone, who has gotten off to a brilliant start with CF Montréal. The 19-year-old also appeared very comfortable in the cauldron of Estadio Nacional against Costa Rica on March 24. That is nothing new for Kone, though, who has already played in two of the most intimidating stadiums in Concacaf, having started in the Champions League versus Cruz Azul at Estadio Azteca.
If Piette returns to the fold and Montréal coach Wilfried Nancy leans on the veteran over Kone, that will bolster the former’s case to make the squad. As complete as Kone looks to begin his young career, it cannot be forgotten how rapidly he’s risen through the ranks.
Should Piette struggle for form or pick up an injury, Kone will likely be in contention again but if not, he will be earmarked for the 2026 cycle if this progression continues.
David Wotherspoon’s ACL injury was terrible timing. He provides qualities that few midfielders in the player pool offer. Wotherspoon can find gaps between defenses, make runs to stretch the opponent’s shape and create quality chances.
If Herdman drops a forward or center back to accommodate a sixth midfielder, that could be Wotherspoon. Many forget that the St. Johnstone man played in eight games for Canada in 2021, including as a starter in the 4-1 win over Panama in October
- Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge)
- Junior Hoilett (Reading)
- Liam Millar (Basel)
It was bound to happen, but Tajon Buchanan returning to top form for Canada in March was a relief for Canadians. He did everything but score against Costa Rica before he eventually converted versus Jamaica and looked dominant throughout these qualifiers.
Buchanan’s newfound positional flexibility is an interesting wrinkle, too. The 23-year-old can play on either wing as a forward or wingback and can partner with a striker in a pinch as well. Like Atiba Hutchinson and Alistair Johnston, Buchanan might be two players in one, which frees up a spot for a player on the fringe.
It’s easy to forget Junior Hoilett is a key figure for Canada, yet that’s what he is these days. The combinations with Sam Adekugbe versus Jamaica were breathtaking and that ability to progress the ball in tight spaces is so valuable for the Canadians. Hoilett is absolutely going to Qatar if he avoids injuries.
Liam Millar isn’t as relied on as Hoilett or Buchanan, but he’s a regular callup for Herdman and if he continues this form with Basel for the next seven months, then Millar will be on the plane with those two.
On the fringe
Theo Corbeanu has been a revelation at MK Dons in League One. The 19-year-old is a constant scoring threat and is slowly rounding into a playmaker from the wing.
However, this is another case of the players in front of him also being in top form and more regular contributors for Canada. It’s unfortunate for Corbeanu, who has been excellent for months now, but it’s the reality.
Maybe if Corbeanu rejoins Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer, impresses in preseason and plays a role in the Premier League, he can build an even stronger case before November.
- Jonathan David (Lille)
- Cyle Larin (Besiktas)
- Ike Ugbo (Troyes)
- Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
These are the controversial choices, not because of the players, per se, but the number of forwards.
Realistically, Herdman could bring only three forwards to Qatar and no one would bat an eye. But he’s loyal to his group, and even if Lucas Cavallini isn’t banging in goals for the Vancouver Whitecaps, he will be included in squads. Otherwise, Cavallini would have been dropped in October when he was battling fitness issues and a decline in form.
Therefore, if any of those four players risk the drop, it’s Ike Ugbo. Although, Ugbo is the one unique striker in the squad who can operate as a poacher and stretch defenses. That will come in handy, even as an impact substitute.
On the fringe
Dual nationals such as Daniel Jebbison have been hot topics for Canadian fans for months. Jebbison, 18, is as talented a youngster that Canada has in the potential pool, but he’s in England’s youth setup and not a regular starter for Sheffield United in the English Championship.
If Jebbison receives a call, it would be for Nations League this June. It’s unlikely he’ll be on the plane, though, if he eventually commits to Canada.
Other players like Richie Ennin at Russian Premier League outfit Nizhny Novgorod and FC Eindhoven’s Charles-Andreas Brym are longshots but still on the radar for other call-ups in the future.
- Goalkeepers (3): Milan Borjan, Maxime Crepeau, Dayne St. Clair
- RB (2): Richie Laryea, Alistair Johnston
- CB (4): Kamal Miller, Scott Kennedy, Steven Vitoria, Doneil Henry
- LB (2): Alphonso Davies, Sam Adekugbe
- DM (2): Stephen Eustaquio, Samuel Piette
- CM (3): Atiba Hutchinson, Jonathan Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye
- Winger (3): Tajon Buchanan, Junior Hoilett, Liam Millar
- Striker (4): Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Ike Ugbo, Lucas Cavallini
1. Does Herdman stay loyal?
There is a reason why Herdman has called up consistent squads for qualifying, even as far back as the first round in March and June last year.
A settled roster leads to more camaraderie on the pitch, allows a team to build a tactical identity and for a coach to determine his best XI.
But there are some overlooked qualities that are just as important.
“There’s a group of men that have been committed since the beginning of this [qualifying campaign], some of them traveling to Haiti, some of them traveling to Orlando to play Bermuda in March, when you had massive COVID risks, some have been right on the journey since 2018, and others even longer,” said Herdman on Tuesday ahead of the Panama match.
“There’s a loyalty to people who’ve committed to the journey. There’s a loyalty to those players that have showed up every window. And some, they may not have contributed massively on the pitch, but their contribution off the pitch. When people really understand how teams form and team spirit and culture, it’s as much about what you do off the field.”
There will be players who deserve a call-up to the World Cup based on merit. Herdman will surely understand that and acknowledge it. But team chemistry comes first and it won’t be sacrificed unless it’s absolutely necessary.
2. Are veterans at risk due to uncertain club situations?
Atiba Hutchinson is arguably the greatest Canadian male player of all time. He is the appearances leader for the men’s national team, the captain and is still a quality player at 39 years of age.
But Hutchinson is dealing with a reality that many players face at some point in their careers. His contract expires in June and Turkey’s Besiktas appears to be willing to let him walk to cut the club’s wage bill and freshen up the team.
That leaves Hutchinson in the lurch. He can return closer to home to prepare for the World Cup, but no one knows what’s in store for the veteran midfielder.
The same applies to Steven Vitoria. His contract is up in June as well but Moreirense is facing relegation from the Portuguese Primeira Liga. They are two points adrift of the relegation playoff and three away from safety at the time of writing, though, so there is time to salvage their season.
Yet that doesn’t make Vitoria’s situation any clearer. He’s 35, and lots of center backs can play at a high level until their late 30s, but Vitoria is an older 35 due to the wear and tear on his knees. He has MLS experience, so if Moreirense either gets relegated or doesn’t keep Vitoria, a team stateside could take a flier on him.
Regardless, this is worth monitoring over the next few months because these are key questions for Herdman and his staff to answer.
3. Will new dual nationals crack the roster?
Daniel Jebbison isn’t the only dual national on Canada’s radar. Lucas Dias, Marcelo Flores and Stefan Mitrovic are just a few of the several talented young players who are Canadian-eligible but remain uncommitted.
Whether it’s US men’s national team fans, Canadians or any other country, fanbases are always excited by dual nationals. They are hot commodities, especially if they are contracted to big clubs like Flores (Arsenal) and Dias (Sporting CP).
The Canadian passport has become alluring in recent weeks. With that comes interest from dual nationals that may or may not be on the radar.
“We are going to have Canadians popping up all over the place and this Canadian passport now has got unbelievable value,” Herdman stated. “We have to thank Alphonso for that. I'd like to say this team has made a mark on that value of the Canadian passport but a lot of that lies down to Alphonso and winning a Champions League and playing at Bayern and this group of men have sort of cemented it now.”
Mitrovic is currently with Serbia’s U21 team in Euro U21 qualifiers and while he is open to playing for Canada, he is keeping his options open. Same with Dias, who is also eligible for Portugal and was capped at the U16 level for the Portuguese. Jebbison is surely in the same boat. Flores might be leaning towards Mexico, having already debuted for the senior team in a December friendly versus Chile.
But that won’t stop fans and media from following up regularly with Herdman, who is striving for more players to play at the highest level possible.
“I'm hoping to see people like Alistair Johnston, people like Kamal Miller, make the next step into those top leagues in Europe. When you are No. 1 in Concacaf … And you see those American boys playing – all of them – in Champions League clubs, it's a bit of a head-scratcher when our Canadian boys are still playing in MLS.
"We are fighting on a number of levels. It's not just qualifying, it's making sure that we have all of our players playing at the top [leagues in Europe].”