Generally, such roster announcements come equipped with some anodyne variant of “a good mix of youth and experience.” But under new head coach Octavio Zambrano, evidently the team is eschewing the customary Canadian self-effacement to make a bold declaration – that they intend to score goals and win games.
And y’know what? They just might do it.
For the sake of context, we’re obligated at this moment to mention that, yes, the Canadian team hasn’t won a game or even scored a goal in the Gold Cup since 2011.
But here’s some more important context: of the 23 men on this year’s roster, only eight were on the 2015 Gold Cup team. A majority (14) are making their debuts at the continental showcase tournament, while elder statesman Patrice Bernier is set to make his first Gold Cup appearance since 2009.
Those 14 Gold Cup newcomers provide, if you’ll pardon the turn of phrase, a good mix of youth and experience. Crucially, though, a good share of the fellows who’ve joined the ranks in the last two years are ones who give this team a boost in the attack.
Famously, both Junior Hoilett and Scott Arfield came onboard during Canada’s failed qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and both could be starting as outside midfielders in their first Gold Cup tournament. If so, they’ll have more-than-adequate cover on the wings from the likes of Toronto FC standout rookie Raheem Edwards and wily youngster Michael Petrasso.
At striker, 23-year-old Anthony Jackson-Hamel has made himself impossible to ignore in 2017, with five goals in 10 games for the Montreal Impact and two goals in four games for Canada (including the winner in a friendly against Curacao earlier this month).
Also up front is the mercurial Lucas Cavallini, who’s spent the last five years scoring goals in Uruguay while declining calls to the national team. Could this be the moment when the 24-year-old, who’s already cap-tied to his birth nation, finally becomes a regular fixture for Canada?
And of course, if we’re talking “dynamic,” no one fits the bill better than Alphonso Davies, the 16-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps FC attacker who got his Canadian citizenship just in time to be part of this Gold Cup squad. He earned his first cap in that Curacao friendly, and wasted little time in earning his team a penalty with some of the fancy footwork he’s already becoming known for.
There are also players who’ve already been through the Gold Cup grind that will benefit from the arrival of a new, attack-minded manager who’s looking for troops in the years-long march to Qatar 2022.
Jonathan Osorio and Russell Teibert – both of whom found themselves on the outs with former manager Benito Floro at one time or another – stand to gain the most. For evidence, look at the energy that Teibert brought as a sub in the Curacao friendly, Zambrano’s first game in charge of Canada.
Meanwhile, Tosaint Ricketts will have the opportunity to establish himself under a new manager. He was a trusted and beloved starting winger under Floro, but has shown in his year at TFC that his greatest value may be as a dangerous super-sub. With Jackson-Hamel and Cavallini (and potentially Edwards, based on the starting lineup against Curacao) available to start, it will be interesting to see how Zambrano employs the speedy 29-year-old.
Ironically, we’re speaking of Canada’s attacking prowess without mentioning the team’s top striker, Cyle Larin. The 22-year-old Orlando City SC man was left off Canada’s 23-man roster. He could, however, still take part in the 2017 Gold Cup; his presence on Canada’s 40-man roster means that he could be swapped onto the 23-man roster for the knockout stage, should Canada make it.
And though we’re reflexively inclined to assume that’s a moot point, based on Canada’s three-and-outs the 2015 and 2013 tournaments, there’s wisdom to be gained from the fine print appearing at the bottom of the screen during infomercials for medical products: Past performance does not guarantee future results.
A group including heavyweight Costa Rica, middleweight Honduras and obligatory-CONCACAF-question-mark French Guiana will be very difficult to escape, even if a third-place finish could be enough to scrape into the quarterfinals.
Falling short of the knockout round at this tournament would not be a cataclysmic disappointment for Les Rouges; slumping out of yet another Gold Cup after three goalless games, however, would.
Fortunately, with Canada boasting a retooled roster, fresh energy behind the bench and a dynamic new demeanor, that’s simply not a scenario we’ll need to earnestly consider.