In a crowded Canadian training camp featuring plenty of new faces, perhaps no player has a better opportunity to make his mark than Sam Adekugbe.
The Canadian national team have 23 players in camp ahead of Tuesday night’s friendly against Ghana at RFK Stadium (7 p.m. ET, CanadaSoccer.com), but Adekugbe is one of only two regular fullbacks, along with Sporting Kansas City’s Marcel de Jong.
With the 20-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps defender just one month removed from his first senior cap (coming on as a sub against Belize in World Cup qualifying), the Ghana game could be a key moment to prove himself ahead of the next round of World Cup qualifying, which begins in November.
“Every young player wants to play for the national team and to be in the mix among other good, talented young players and senior players — it’s amazing,” Adekugbe told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “But at the same time, you still want to show the coach that you don’t just deserve to be there, you also deserve to be starting, and that’s something I want to push on, too.”
Adekugbe isn’t the only young member of the Whitecaps looking to catch the coaching staff’s attention in this camp; he’s joined on the roster by 19-year-olds Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos. Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert, 22, is also a regular contributor for the national team, though he’s away for this camp.
“It’s a sign of what Vancouver’s all about, which is producing young players that are going to come in and play for the national team,” Adekugbe said. “To be able to play with them and come up through the system where we’re all on the same phase, it’s exciting.”
It’s also helped build a sense of chemistry within the national team, Adekugbe said — something that might have been tough to do, given the presence of five national-team newcomers and numerous others with limited senior-team experience.
Even with the wide assortment of players fighting for their places on the national team, Adekugbe is pleased with what he’s seen from the entire group, as far as team-building goes.
“It’s easy to play together when you get along with the guys, and that’s what’s so good about this team,” Adekugbe said. “There’s a great camaraderie amongst the players, and a great chemistry, even though we haven’t played with each other.”
They will get a chance to test that camaraderie in a game situation against a dangerous Ghana team that, although missing a few key players, will provide a stiff challenge for the Canadians. Adekugbe is ready for it.
“I’m of Nigerian background, so it’s exciting for me to play against a rival,” Adekugbe said. “The Black Stars are obviously a good team, but I think it’s a chance to show how far the team’s come since Benito [Floro has] come in to coach.
“We’ll roll our sleeves up and we’ll take it on. We have nothing to lose. It’s a friendly match; we’re going to go into the game with confidence and hopefully play good football and get a good result.”
A strong performance from Adekugbe could help bolster his case for inclusion on the Canadian roster against Honduras on November 13 — which would be made even more special by the fact that the game is being played at BC Place in Vancouver.
But Adekugbe isn’t getting wrapped up in the bigger-picture implications of this friendly. For now, he’s just hoping to earn some playing time and show everyone watching that he belongs.
“Every game is a chance to audition yourself for the coach and show you belong here,” he said. “That’s what every player wants to do.”