On November 13th, two days from now, Canada will open the 2018 World Cup qualification process in earnest. While the team has played (and won) games against Belize and Dominica in CONCACAF qualifying, it is Honduras that will always hold a place in Canadian soccer lore as the opposition where dreams go to die.
Canada was defeated in our last attempt at World Cup qualification 8-1 by Honduras. The memory haunts many Canadian fans to this day.
However, a new Canadian squad has arisen, with new faces, new legs and a renewed confidence after winning a series of qualifying matches, and earning an important draw against African powerhouse Ghana. This new squad will feature a host of Impact players, as well as a smattering of local talent from nearby Ottawa (le Fury d'Ottawa FC) and Québécois who ply their trade in Europe.
I don't think I am understating anything when I say that this is the most competent team Canada has fielded in a decade.
GK- Simon Thomas | NOR / Strømmen IF
GK- Milan Borjan | BUL / PFK Ludogorets Razgrad
GK- Kenny Stamatopoulos | SWE / AIK Fotbol
Personally, I have nothing against any of these players. While none are ‘elite' calibre keepers, they are all experienced journeymen who do their clubs proud, and will certainly help Canada in its quest to qualify for the World Cup. I do not think I am alone in hoping that Maxime Crépeau is one day starting on the senior team. His addition will offer a local alternative to CONCACAF matches.
Wandrille Lefèvre | CAN / Impact Montréal
Karl W. Ouimette | USA / New York Red Bulls
Fraser Aird | SCO / Glasgow Rangers FC
Samuel Adekugbe | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
André Hainault | GER / 1. FC Magdeburg (potentially injured)
David Edgar | ENG / Sheffield United
Dejan Jaković | JPN / Shimizu S-Pulse
Marcel De Jong | USA / Sporting Kansas City
First, I'm happy to see so many Impact Academy products on the roster of the national team. Karl Ouimette especially has developed into the kind of centreback we all knew and hoped he would. He had a very impressive year with New York, and I cannot wait to see him bring that intensity to Honduras and El Salvador. The same statement applies to Lefèvre, who has been studying and playing under the tutelage of Laurent Ciman. One noticeable absence however is Maxim Tissot, who could anchor the left flank of defense and provide offensive depth, especially if experienced journeyman André Hainault is injured, as is rumoured. Fraser Aird recently joined the Canadian squad, and will look to solidify his place in the starting XI, providing much needed experience on the back line, or in midfield.
Tosaint Ricketts | TUR / Boluspor FC
Atiba Hutchinson | TUR / Beşiktaş JK
Julian de Guzman | CAN / Ottawa Fury FC (Captain)
Russell Teibert | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Will Johnson | USA / Portland Timbers
David Hoilett | ENG / Queens Park Rangers
Samuel Piette | ESP / Deportivo La Coruña
Adam Straith | NOR / Fredrikstad FK
Kianz Froese | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Tesho Akindele | USA / FC Dallas
The middle of the pitch is the strongest asset for the national team. Anchored by stalwarts like Québec born Samuel Piette, and captain Julian de Guzman, and aided by skilled attackers like Johnson, Hoilett and Hutchinson Canada has the ability to outposess nearly anyone in CONCACAF. Add to this lineup 2014 MLS rookie of the year Tesho Akindele, and Canada is truly fielding its first ‘elite' midfield.My only criticism is that our midfield can be susceptible to a counter attack when numbers move forward too fast. The only midfielder who is purely defensive minded is Piette, and he usually is the only one left screening the defense when things go rough. He'll need help if we are to avoid another Honduran disaster. This group is more than capable, and I'm certain they'll figure it out.
Cyle Larin | USA / Orlando City SC
Lucas Cavallini | URU / CA Fénix (potentially injured)
If Canada's midfield could be described as ‘elite' our attack could be described as ‘work in progress'. Cavallini is a fantastic player, and has been doing exceptionally well in the Uruguayan first division, however he is rumoured to be injured for the upcoming qualification, meaning Canada might have to call on an older player. If Benito Floro is reading, Patrice Bernier and Olivier Occéan are both looking for a call up last I checked (along with Edmonton attacking midfielder Hanson Boakai). However, the unknown quantity is MLS 2015 rookie of the year Cyle Larin. He has had an impressive season, scoring more goals than many rookies will in a career. However, he is young and quite inexperienced on the national team. He also will have guys like Akindele playing behind him rather than Brazilian legend Kaka. He is good enough to become an elite goalscorer one day. Let's give him the space to do it.
Benito Floro | CAN / Canadian National Team
Floro is an enigma to me. I don't know enough about Spanish soccer to care about his past, and I'm so enthralled in the fact that two Canadian coaches are among the best in North America right now (Marc Dos Santos in the NASL and Mauro Biello in the MLS) to bother reading about it. Looking at the last 2 years, he's coached Canada to a win against Jamaica and a draw against Ghana, as well as some small victories against CONCACAF minnows like Dominica. He has also had a smattering of sobering losses in there as well. I don't know what to expect.
November 13th in Vancouver (broadcast on TSN/RDS TBD) at BC Place against Honduras.
November 17th in El Salvador (broadcast TBD) in San Salvador against their national team.
Seriously, this is the most competitive the Canadian team has been in at least a decade. Anyone who cares about l'Impact de Montréal, FC Montréal or le Fury d'Ottawa knows that the future of our homegrown players lies with their ability to succeed internationally. We should all care about these games.
This is the year that ‘Soccer has arrived' in Canada. Trophies and record crowds came to Ottawa, Montréal brought us into the Champions League spotlight and Vancouver won its first Voyageurs Cup. If there was any year that the national team could make history, it's this one.
Edit: Due to injuries stated above Manjrekar James | HUN / Diósgyőri and Marcus Haber | ENG / Crewe Alexandra have been called up into the positions of defender and forward respectively.