CanMNT embrace "horizontal culture" as veterans, youth unite to key new era

TORONTO – A new day is dawning for the Canadian men's national team.

Six teenagers, including Alphonso Davies, Liam Millar and Jonathan David, took to the pitch in Canada's 5-0 win over Dominica at BMO Field in Concacaf Nations League qualification on Tuesday night. Three of them – Ballou Tabla, Alessandro Busti and Zachary Brault-Guillard – made their debuts.

“It's exciting,” said coach John Herdman post-match. “When Ballou came on, you've seen that combination play between him and [Jonathan] Osorio; that quality. [Dominica] were well organized: a deep, tight block we had to break down, so it was required.”

“Even young Zach coming on, the quality in his movements and pace,” continued Herdman. “It's the blend of the veterans as well. [They] have done a fantastic job to take the fear away from those players, to make them feel comfortable in the culture; allow them to go out and play like they've been part of this team for a long time.”

Added totemic veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson: “They hit the ground running; wanted to go out and express themselves. They're young, got a lot of talent, and they've got confidence. It was a chance for them to play for Canada, put on a show for everybody watching.”

Symbolic of the new day was Tabla, who had other international options, sealing his commitment to Canada with his first cap.

“I'm happy to first play for the national team; I'm proud,” said the Montreal Impact academy product. “I'm home; happy to play in front of my family, the fans, and to play for Canada.”

There is a striking difference in this new generation.

“To see Tabla's first touch; like, 20 stepovers,” noted Herdman. “It's a different breed of player, the type that fans want to see. And when you support them with the quality of people like Atiba that can find them, there is a lot more to come.”

It is in that mix of veterans and youth that the basis for success is laid.

“The dynamics are good,” said Davies. “As young players, we bring that energy in the room. And the veterans bring that leadership.”

The injection of youth began in last summer's Gold Cup, where Davies won the tournament’s Golden Boot and Young Player awards.

“It was needed, the team was evolving,” said Herdman. “Alphonso's injection in the Gold Cup was a game-changer. We had added players like Scott Arfield, that brought real quality, but the x-factor was what Alphonso brought: real attacking quality.

“All across the team I wanted to add that youth, that spirit, that fearlessness,” he continued. “When you've got leaders like Atiba, Scott around the team, you've got good people, seasoned pros that aren't going to pull the rug out from underneath these kids, try to beat them up and bully them mentally. They're not those sort of guys. You could sense that this is a good group of men; young players can flourish in this environment. The senior leadership are helping these young players; there is still more to come over these next four years.”