The usual suspects like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David have been on fire for weeks and should enter the World Cup in top form. However, recent developments have opened up a few spots on John Herdman's final 26-man roster.
On both ends of the spectrum, here are some encouraging and worrisome signs among the player pool before Group F play begins Nov. 23 against Belgium
Without any hyperbole, Canada’s best player has played like it for the past few months for Bayern Munich.
Davies’ influence in drifting inside from left back has led to him becoming one of the Bundesliga’s leaders in attacking sequence involvements. Keep in mind, he’s the only non-forward in the top 10.
It sure seems like the Vancouver Whitecaps FC product is ready to take the World Cup by storm.
To be in the Ligue 1 Golden Boot race with PSG superstars Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar is a testament to a player’s quality.
But David’s nine league goals to date with Lille isn’t the most encouraging sign of his tremendous season. It’s the fact he’s stayed constantly involved in games, even when he doesn’t score or assist.
Doing so as a lone No. 9 will also alleviate the pressure on Herdman to start with a strike partnership with other forwards suffering from a lack of playing time.
Calls to start the three-headed monster of David, Davies and Tajon Buchanan are gaining momentum by the week.
Buchanan’s added creative freedom to operate in central areas with Club Brugge only adds fuel to the fire. The 23-year-old New England Revolution alum is comfortable executing quick give-and-go’s and making third-man runs into the box, which means all three players can play off each other in different areas of the pitch.
That’s massive if teams decide to sit back against Canada to protect a lead and prevent counter-attacking opportunities. A fluid frontline will enable the Canadians to break down those deep blocks, with Buchanan likely playing a pivotal role.
The glut of forwards, especially out wide, will make it tough for anyone outside the usual suspects to crack the final roster.
However, Theo Corbeanu has the best chance of doing so. It took him a while to settle at English Championship side Blackpool after joining on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. But he’s produced the goods with three goals and one assist, with only Jerry Yates scoring more among all Blackpool players.
What will really catch Herdman’s attention is Corbeanu’s defensive work rate. Two of his goals were created thanks to the 20-year-old recovering possession high up the pitch and pouncing on the counter-attack. If he keeps working off the ball, then there’s a chance of Corbeanu getting a spot.
Joel Waterman’s 2022 season with CF Montréal was nothing short of revolutionary. Sure, he’s not the fastest and occasionally catches himself pressing too high up, but every Canadian center back has a major deficiency. Plus, Waterman is only one of a handful of in-form right-footed center backs for Les Rouges.
The X-factor for Waterman is his distribution and calmness under pressure. He has yet to see the pitch over a few Canada call-ups, but surely there’s room for a defender who possesses that trait and has chemistry with a sizeable contingent of the team.
Eleven months ago, David Wotherspoon tore his ACL after receiving eight caps for Canada in 2021.
Thankfully for Wotherspoon’s World Cup chances, he’s received three appearances totaling around 50 minutes for St. Johnstone with the tournament on the horizon. The 32-year-old appears to be finding his footing again in the Scottish Premiership, but he needs to be starting soon to truly boost his chances.
Wotherspoon was a key member of Herdman’s squads before his injury. He also fills a vital role that few midfielders provide in that he stretches opposition lines and progresses the ball through tight spaces. Canada having few in-form midfielders doesn’t hurt his odds, either.
Another week, another Besiktas game without Atiba Hutchinson in the matchday squad.
Time is running out for the 39-year-old to build match fitness. Only three games remain until the Turkish Super Lig pauses for the World Cup, and Hutchinson has not played a single minute since the preseason when he suffered a bone bruise.
It goes without saying a veteran – who can help a young team navigate some sticky situations – entering a tournament without any rhythm would be a hindrance for Canada. But Hutchinson, the program’s all-time caps leader (97), will surely do everything to make sure he’s fit and available.
The above copy could apply to Jonathan Osorio, too.
These two friendlies against Bahrain and Japan could help Osorio tune up for the World Cup, but a months-long hiatus from the pitch for one of Canada’s most reliable midfielders doesn’t help.
A 13-minute stint off the bench on Saturday was Larin’s first appearance for Club Brugge in nearly a month. But the same concerns apply to the national team’s all-time leading scorer. If he isn’t a consistent starter at club level in Belgium, then he will likely struggle in marquee games.
It happened against Mexico at the 2019 Gold Cup. It occurred again versus Uruguay in September. Heavy touches and moments of self-doubt in front goal plagued Larin, so it’s unknown if he’ll be a useful option as a starter for Canada at the World Cup.
The outlook isn’t as bleak for Ike Ugbo, but being relegated to late-substitute status at Troyes isn’t going to benefit him.
The glass-half-full approach is Ugbo’s knack for creating separation from defenders, a talent that never evades him no matter how little he’s playing in Ligue 1. But clearly Herdman would prefer having a striker not named Jonathan David in some sort of flow.