CANADA vs. GHANA
Tuesday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m. ET
RFK Stadium | Washington, D.C.
On Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, fans of the men’s national team have plenty to be grateful for.
The team ranks have been bolstered by a wave of reinforcements for their friendly against Ghana, including former fence-sitters Junior Hoilett and Fraser Aird, self-imposed absentee Lucas Cavallini and newcomer Wandrille Lefèvre. The timing couldn’t be better, as the friendly comes exactly one month before Canada begin play in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, against Honduras at Vancouver’s BC Place.
With Will Johnson and David Edgar (who was on the original roster) out with injury, and veterans Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman not on the roster, the Canadian coaching staff will be using the friendly to evaluate more inexperienced options ahead of next month’s qualifier. Assistant coach Michael Findlay has headed up the Canadian training camp, with head coach Benito Floro coaching Canada's U-23s at the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament.
Even though the Black Stars will be missing some key players of their own (including André Ayew and captain Asamoah Gyan), the world's No. 25-ranked team will present a big challenge to the Canadian side. Fans of Les Rouges will be hoping that facing such adversity might help the team’s new faces bond quickly and solidify the team’s preparation for a vital month ahead.
Roster notes: Kyle Bekker, named to the original roster, will miss the match due to injury and has been replaced by Charlie Trafford. David Edgar was also on the original roster, but was not replaced.
The senior men’s national teams of these two nations have met just once before: way back on June 2, 1985, during a tournament held in South Korea. Canada won 2-1 on the day.
The most recent meeting – any level, any gender – came at last year’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup, when Ghana recorded a 1-0 upset victory at BMO Field in Toronto.
The aforementioned influx of newcomers to the program (which also includes youngsters such as Marco Bustos of the Vancouver Whitecaps) has certainly lifted spirits within the Canadian side. If nothing else, that good news has glossed over the team’s last result, a shaky 1-1 draw in Belize last month, which was good enough to see the team through to the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying.
The question, of course, will be whether – and how – the likes of Hoilett, Aird and Cavallini can be integrated into the lineup. Floro has preached the importance of adherence to a defensive-minded system and has shown little flexibility in terms of formation and tactics at either the senior or U-23 level.
While Canada’s goalless performance at the Gold Cup proved frustrating, the approach has paid dividends on occasion; last autumn, Canada nearly earned a result against then-world No. 3 Colombia, before churning out a 0-0 draw in Panama City the following month (the team’s first result in Central America in a decade).
Overall, Canada have a 5-2-4 record in 2015, including three wins and a draw in four World Cup qualifiers, conceding more than one goal just once in those 11 games (a 2-1 loss to Iceland). But the team’s ability to jell and succeed against Ghana could prove a good portent of their true outlook with two big World Cup qualifiers looming.
The year began with heartbreak for Ghana, as a run to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations ended with a dramatic 9-8 loss on penalty kicks against Ivory Coast. The team kept busy with five friendlies in the spring and summer, all against African opposition, finishing 2-2-1.
While Canada has already played four World Cup qualifiers this year, Ghana will not begin their quest toward Russia 2018 until Nov. 13, when they meet either Comoros or Lesotho (who meet in the second leg of their qualifying showdown on Oct. 13).
The game against Canada is one of three autumn friendlies that Ghana will use to prepare; they will play a pair against fellow African heavyweights Ivory Coast later in October. Head coach Avram Grant has picked just 18 players for the friendly in D.C., including two MLS-based newcomers to the team in Lloyd Sam and Kwadwo Poku.
The real tests will not come for Ghana until next year, but this friendly will be a good opportunity to see how the likes of the Red Bulls' Sam, NYCFC's Poku, Columbus's Harrison Afful and Chicago's David Accam (just four lifetime caps) might fit into the scene once their World Cup qualifying campaign really gets rolling.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Junior Hoilett
There are a half-dozen names that could have gone in this space, but since we need to choose one, we’ll go with the player who’s been the Canadian team’s “white whale” for nearly a decade. Hoilett, 25, has spent half of his life playing the game in England, including several years in the Premier League, but has never before played in the Canadian kit. He’s not in the best form at QPR but retains the playmaking quality to pose problems for Canada’s opponents.
Ghana – Lloyd Sam
MLS fans know just what to expect from the veteran Red Bulls winger, who’s in his fourth season with New York. But the 31-year-old, who was born in Leeds and played a decade in England before heading stateside, has never before suited up for Ghana, despite it being a years-long ambition. With his paperwork now sorted, Sam can begin dreaming of potentially suiting up for the Black Stars at the 2018 World Cup.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Simon Thomas (Strommen/Norway); Milan Borjan (Ludogorets Razgrad/Bulgaria); Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden)
DEFENDERS (8): Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps); André Hainault (Magdeburg/Germany); Nana Attakora (San Antonio Scorpions); Adam Straith (Fredrikstad/Norway); Manjrekar James (Diósgyöri/Hungary); Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City); Karl Ouimette (New York Red Bulls); Wandrille Lefèvre (Montreal Impact)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Fraser Aird (Rangers/Scotland); Kianz Froese (Vancouver Whitecaps); Junior Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers/England); Tosaint Ricketts (Boluspor/Turkey); Maxim Tissot (Montreal Impact); Marco Bustos (Vancouver Whitecaps); Manny Aparicio (Toronto FC); Charlie Trafford (KuPS/Finland)
FORWARDS (4): Marcus Haber (Crewe Alexandria/England); Simeon Jackson (Barnsley/England); Jordan Hamilton (Toronto FC); Lucas Cavallini (Fenix/Uruguay)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Razak Braimah (Cordoba/Spain); Fatau Dauda (Ashanti Gold/Ghana)
DEFENDERS (6): Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew); Phil Ofosu-Ayeh (Eintracht Braunschweig/Germany); Jeffery Schlupp (Leicester City/England); Gideon Baah (HJK/Finland); John Boye (Sivasspor/Turkey); Edwin Gyimah (Orlando Pirates/South Africa)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese/Italy); Afriyie Acquah (Torino/Italy); Mubarak Wakaso (Las Palmas/Spain); Lloyd Sam (New York Red Bulls); Bernard Mensah (Getafe/Spain); Alfred Duncan (Sassuolo/Italy); Kwadwo Poku (New York City FC)
FORWARDS (4): Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa/England); Abdul Majeed Waris (Lorient/France); David Accam (Chicago Fire)