Voices: Joseph Lowery

World Cup outlook: Are Canada’s established MLS players rising or falling?

After finishing on top of the Octagonal during Concacaf World Cup Qualifying, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the Canadian men’s national team right now. They’ll be at the World Cup later this year for the first time since 1986, drawn into Group F with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco.

With only a couple of international breaks remaining before the tournament starts in November, it’s important to monitor how some of Canada’s established MLSers are performing at club level. Which players are in the best form and may be on Canada's Qatar roster? And which players need to pick things up a bit? Let’s run through the data on some of Canada's key domestic performers to find out.

Just as a quick note before we get started: Players like Montréal’s Joel Waterman and Zachary Brault-Guillard, Toronto’s Ayo Akinola, Vancouver’s Cristian Gutierrez and Houston’s Tyler Pasher are on the bubble for this exercise.

Stock: Rising

Canada have some real talent in goal right now. Dayne St. Clair, who didn’t play a minute during the final round of World Cup Qualifying, has been excellent this season for Minnesota United. According to FBref, St. Clair’s shot-stopping numbers are the second-best in all of MLS. He’s saving Minnesota just over half a goal every single game. He’s on pace for an Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year-type season.

It’s going to take a lot to unseat Milan Borjan as Canada’s No. 1, but St. Clair is doing pretty much everything he can in MLS right now. He even won Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire honors in Week 3.

Stock: Steady

Like St. Clair, Crepeau is largely stuck behind Bojan on Canada’s goalkeeping depth chart. Still, he’s been an every-game starter on the best team in MLS this year following an offseason trade from Vancouver. Crepeau’s shot-stopping numbers are just okay: the 28-year-old is in the middle third of MLS goalkeepers in post-shot xG minus goals allowed per 90 minutes, per FBref.

Still, Crepeau has done nothing to lose his place in the national team so far this season. He’ll almost certainly be on the plane to Qatar in November.

Stock: Steady

I love watching CF Montréal, in large part because Kamal Miller is an absolute wildcard as Wilfried Nancy’s left-sided center back. Miller loves to dribble. He’s second among center backs in the league this year in attempted dribbles per 90 minutes, according to Second Spectrum. Miller is dangerous moving forward and is fully capable of running right past you with the ball at his feet.

Miller hasn’t been exceptional defensively this season, but he brings real offensive value on the left side of both Montréal and Canada’s backlines.

Stock: Falling

Doneil Henry played in some big games for Canada during qualifying, but unfortunately for him, he’s mostly been stuck on the bench for LAFC this season. With Mamadou Fall, Jesus David Murillo and even Sebastien Ibeagha ahead of him in Steve Cherundolo’s center-back depth chart, Henry has only played 133 minutes so far this season. Plus, they’re reportedly close to singing Italian all-time great Giorgio Chiellini at center back.

It seems fairly clear at this point Henry isn’t going to be a regular player for LAFC, which doesn’t bode well for his already diminishing minutes with the national team.

Stock: Steady

After playing in all 14 of Canada’s games during the final round of World Cup qualifying, Alistair Johnston made his way up to Montréal from Nashville to play on the right side of Nancy’s backline. Johnston sometimes plays slightly higher up the field for Nancy than he does for John Herdman, which could be why some of his underlying numbers are just so-so in 2022.

According to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, Johnston is 31st out of 67 fullbacks/wingbacks with at least 500 minutes played in goals added per 96 minutes. He's rock-solid for one of the East's contenders, even if he doesn't jump off the page statistically.

Check out his first goal for CFM below, an extra trait he hasn't always shown in MLS:

Stock: Falling

Samuel Piette is back! An ankle injury kept him out for the end of Canada’s qualifying campaign, all of CF Montréal’s Concacaf Champions League run and the start of the regular season. Piette has now played in each of Montréal’s last six games.

Still, Piette is in a difficult spot right now when it comes to the national team. Once a regular starter, Piette doesn’t appear to be one of Herdman’s first-choice players in central midfield. Getting back to full fitness is a great first step towards reclaiming some minutes for Canada. But unless Piette really starts shining for Montréal (which isn’t happening right now), it’s going to be difficult for him to leapfrog some of his international teammates.

Stock: Steady

Given how bad Toronto FC have been this season, you could make an argument here Osorio’s stock is falling. Osorio’s numbers aren’t up to where they were in 2021. According to FBref, the 29-year-old is averaging 0.27 non-penalty xG+xA per 90 minutes, which is down from 0.35 last year.

But I’m not sending him down with Toronto’s sinking ship. His mobility and off-ball movement have really helped Toronto FC, and he’s second on the team in goals with three so far in 2022. Even with Toronto’s struggles, Osorio’s spot in the Canada squad is clearly not in question. He's a true bright spot for club and country.

Stock: Steady

Mark-Anthony Kaye wears a lot of hats for the Colorado Rapids. Sometimes, he wears his “normal central midfielder” hat and other times he wears his “Robin Fraser has asked me to play as a pseudo-winger so I’m going to hang out in the right halfspace” hat. That’s the hat that Kaye wore over the weekend in Colorado’s game against Seattle.

Regardless of the hat he’s wearing, it’s safe to say Kaye has been good, but not great in 2022. He reads the game well and has been a useful passer for the Rapids this year – Second Spectrum has Kaye in the 85th percentile for backline-breaking passes per 90 and in the 76th percentile for shot assists per 90 among midfielders with at least 500 minutes this year.

Like Osorio, Kaye’s position as a key player for the national team is almost certainly not in any peril. He’s also got three goals on the year, which is one off his career-high in MLS.

Stock: Rising

Ismael Kone’s stock might be rising more than any player on this list. When Piette was out for the first chunk of the season, Kone (19) swooped in and ate up most of the available minutes in central midfield. The teenager even got himself called up to Canada’s roster for the final World Cup Qualifying window back in March.

Since Piette’s return to the field, Kone’s minutes have dried up a bit. Still, he’s an incredibly graceful midfielder who can impact the game with his driving runs on and off the ball. Per Second Spectrum, Kone is in the 92nd percentile among central midfielders with at least 500 minutes in MLS this year in attacking runs per 90. He's formed a nice partnership with Victor Wanyama, too.

After breaking into Canada’s squad in March and becoming a regular for Montréal, Kone might just be heading to the World Cup later this year.

Stock: Rising

Don’t look now, but Lucas Cavallini is having his best-ever MLS season. Now, that’s not a very high bar, given Cavallini has never scored more than six goals in a single season. But hey, he’s already scored three goals this year and he’s played some pretty solid soccer for a Vancouver Whitecaps team that's been gutted by injuries.

Per Second Spectrum, Cavallini is in the 87th percentile in non-penalty xG per 90 minutes among players in MLS with at least 500 minutes played this year. He’s only in the 57th percentile among strikers in that same statistic, but his numbers are better than they were in 2021. Because there are some question marks after Cyle Larin and Jonathan David in Herdman’s striker depth chart, the door might be open for Cavallini if he can boost his production just a little more.