We’re less than 90 days away from the FIFA 2022 World Cup, and only a couple of weeks out from a marquee September international window for Canada – the last showcase before the big dance in Doha, Qatar.
A number of Canadian players continue to impress in their quests to crack the final 26-man World Cup roster, while a few key contributors are back to their best at an ideal time for the national team.
From across Europe and in MLS, here’s a selection of the top-performing Canadian internationals across the globe this weekend.
A muscle injury prevented Alphonso Davies from playing last week, but he returned to the Bayern Munich starting lineup as they settled for a 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.
The Vancouver Whitecaps product has traditionally been deployed in two separate roles for club and country. He’s the main man for Canada, usually scoring or assisting with regularity while having the freedom to roam across the pitch to influence games. It’s been a very different story for Bayern at left back, though, where he’s just part of the Big Red Machine.
That’s seemingly changed in the last two matches. Davies is drifting inside more often on the dribble and played a significant role in both Bayern goals against Wolfsburg two weeks ago, as well as Leroy Sané’s 83rd-minute equalizer on Saturday.
Davies has never struggled with the transition from club to country, but there’s no doubt the 21-year-old will benefit if this trend continues. He’ll likely be Canada’s most important player at the World Cup, so if he’s anywhere near as vital for the Bavarians, it’ll only help the Canadians’ chances in Qatar.
Of all the positions in Canada’s player pool, winger might be the deepest. Davies, Tajon Buchanan, Junior Hoilett and Liam Millar have been squad regulars. Charles-Andreas Brym and 17-year-old dual national Luca Koleosho have been given looks, too.
That’s why cracking the final World Cup roster is a Herculean task, barring any late injuries. Davies, Buchanan, Hoilett and Millar are essentially locks, but Theo Corbeanu is doing everything in his power to join them.
Corbeanu scored his first goal for Blackpool last week and added his second of the season in Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Bristol City in the English Championship. In fact, the 20-year-old was a menace in the second half, registering three total shots and routinely beating defenders on the dribble, which is one of his greatest strengths.
The caveat in all of this is that Corbeanu only came on for the last 11 minutes of play. He’s still adapting to his new surroundings on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, so the winger has already experienced some rough patches after he was taken off at halftime in the 1-0 loss to Swansea City on Aug. 13.
However, it might’ve lit a fire under Corbeanu because he’s currently experiencing his best run of form since arriving at Blackpool. That could even force Herdman into a difficult decision come November.
Saturday was a productive day for Canadian players, including Steven Vitoria. He opened his account for Chaves, who beat Sporting Lisbon 2-0 in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, and continues to impress at the back through four starts – particularly in the air.
That form and consistent playing time is a major benefit for one of Canada’s most important players. At 35, Vitoria needs to be in top form for the World Cup because he’ll be relied on heavily, especially in aerial duels where the Canadian defense is susceptible.
Speaking of center backs, there might be a riot in Montréal if Joel Waterman isn’t called up for the September camp. His form for CF Montréal has been breathtaking and was on full display during Saturday’s 2-0 win at Chicago Fire FC.
But it’s not just the form that warrants a call-up. Canada are lacking in right-footed center backs, apart from Vitoria and Doneil Henry, but there will be options for the middle of the back three whenever Canada are in possession. Alistair Johnston is really the only option for the right side.
Waterman also has recent experience on the left side, having filled in for the previously-injured Kamal Miller. That only bolsters the 26-year-old’s case for a call-up in the September window for friendlies against Qatar and Uruguay. Let him test himself against two World Cup-bound opponents and see if there’s a spot for him on the 26-man roster.
If there’s one area where Canada have depth, it’s goalkeeping. Milan Borjan is the undisputed No. 1, but he’s kept honest by two of Major League Soccer's best goalkeepers in Maxime Crepeau (LAFC) and Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota United FC).
St. Clair is a huge reason for Minnesota's status as a solid contender for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, thanks to his top-drawer performances week in and week out. He experienced a brief rough patch prior to the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, but bounced back with MVP honors vs. Liga MX’s All-Stars, and in the three league matches since.
Before the 2022 season, the No. 3 job for Canada was up in the air. Thomas Hasal (Vancouver), Sebastian Breza (Montréal) and a few others could’ve claimed that status with St. Clair struggling to lock down a starting spot in Minnesota. Not only has he won back the position, but he’s also threatening Crepeau’s spot as the heir apparent to Borjan when he decides to retire. It might not affect anyone’s World Cup spot, but the post-2022 goalkeeping battle will be fascinating if St. Clair finishes this season strongly.
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