Zambrano calls for more depth, competition as Canada look ahead to 2022

Octavio Zambrano - Canadian national team - in Houston friendly

HOUSTON – The Canadian national team made strides in 2017. But the program is far from reaching the goals set by head coach Octavio Zambrano, as Sunday’s 1-0 friendly loss to El Salvador at BBVA Compass Stadium, a benefit for victims of Hurricane Harvey, reflected.

Canada hadn’t lost to El Salvador in 20 years prior to this meeting, but Zambrano noted afterwards that the occasion provided a useful opportunity to gauge different players and the positions they can play.

“Fact of the matter is that when you see it in a good test like we had today against El Salvador, then it’s much easier to reach a conclusion,” said the Ecuadorian, who gave playing time to a number of young and unproven faces.

While the 2018 World Cup in Russia is still months away, Zambrano already has his sights set on Qatar. Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup is his top long-term goal for Les Rouges.

The medium-range mission for Zambrano is to broaden and deepen his player pool. While he admits the program progressed by leaps and bounds this year, he was quick to point out the persistent problem that reared its head again in Houston.

“Our depth issue was evident today. We miss a few important players and our level drops. This is a fact,” Zambrano said. “That’s not good. We have to maintain a good level even though we have some players that are not participating.”

The former LA Galaxy coach believes the newly-sanctioned Canadian Premier League can help in this regard when it debuts in 2018 or 2019, providing more opportunities for Canadian players and giving him a chance to track more national-team talent.

“That’s going to give us the ability to look at Canadian players play week-to-week,” Zambrano said on Sunday. “As a country, as a coach, we don’t have that luxury.”

Establishing a Canadian league by 2019 is “very important for us,” he noted, adding that he also hopes to see Canadian players earning more minutes for the nation’s three MLS clubs.

Zambrano has only been Canada’s head coach for seven months but in that short time, he’s made believers of his squad. Toronto FC midfielder Raheem Edwards praised his coach after the loss.

“Credit to Octavio, he’s been great,” Edwards said. “He's instilled confidence in us. This is a team that now believes that we could do well and qualify for the World Cup.”